Year A Proper 8, 28 June 2020
Video service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
In Antioch in Syria, the followers of the Jesus way of connecting with God were first called Christians. It was derogatory, a slur. It was meant to belittle and demean. But the Christians took it as a badge of honor.
The understood, deep down in their souls, that they had taken on the name of Christ, and in so doing represented him in what they did, how they did it, and the impact and effect it had on people. The claimed the name as a badge of honor, humbly we hope, but an identifier nonetheless.
We, too, take on the name of Christ in baptism, representing him whether we think on it or not. I have told this story before, but when I was serving as a missionary in West Germany in 1989, the wall came down. I was working with the West German Baptists which had two parts, English-speaking for mostly expatriates living there, and German-speaking Baptists. When the wall came down, immediately the East German Baptists and the West German Baptists started talking about joining together. What happened was interesting. The East Germans who had nothing, but the spunk to stand up to an authoritarian regime, wanted nothing to do with the West Germans. They never had to represent Christ in any meaningful way, even to the point of torture and death. The East Germans did. They understood the price of taking on the name of Jesus.
In my article for our newsletter a few weeks ago, I mentioned how much it means to me to Represent the Diocese in official capacities for different things. In my work with the Triangle of Hope, I strive to not do anything that would bring dishonor to our Diocese nor to our Bishop. I understand that it is not me being honored or recognized. I am the placeholder. I am the symbol of the relationship. The Diocese cannot travel. I can. I stand there in the name of the Bishop.
At the beginning of Paul’s letters to the various churches, he greets them in the name of Jesus Christ. He gets it. As Teresa of Avila wrote: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” We are here in the name of Christ; we are the body of Christ.
When I stood before the Archbishop of West Africa, our dear friend his eminence Daniel Sarfo, I was there in Christ’s name and our Bishop’s, and said as much. When I stood before the King of the Ashante, I said as much. Literally, “I bring greetings from the Diocese of Virginia and our Bishop Suffragan Susan Goff…” I had shined my shoes and had on my best suit. I wanted to be at my best because I was there to represent.
I heard this story about 15 years ago, when much of the Church was looking around for ideas on best practices and often turned to business. A pastor’s conference brought in a big name business consultant, famous for some books he had written. He was intimidated because he had little or nothing to say to these pastors not claiming to be a believer himself. But heading to the conference he spent some time in the bookstore at the airport looking at the titles in the Religion section. On the Christianity shelf it was all about belief, or ideas. On the Buddhism shelf, it was all about practice. So when he got to the conference, that is what he talked about. Somewhere along the way, the Church has convinced itself that right thinking will lead to right behavior. While Buddhism acknowledged that right practice brings proper belief.
St. Francis put it this way, “Preach at all times, when necessary use words.” Or as we say in the Episcopal Church and across the Anglican Communion, “How we pray shapes our belief.” We have a book of common prayer, because we believe it leads to proper thoughts and actions. We use these words because they help us Represent, both ourselves in Christ’s name to others, and Christ to us.
I take very seriously the role I play as your rector, in my dealings with you, in my dealings with the Diocese, with my dealings around town. I receive a bulk of the honor because of the hard and generations-long work that St. James the Less has done in this town representing Jesus Christ. A lot gets projected on this collar. Most of it good, very good.
As our reading reminds us today, Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” On Wednesday, it was the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and I said that we are also Preparers of the Way, Forerunners of Christ. We are called to do that, too. And while doing that important work, those that welcome us, welcome in the one we represent. Thanks be to God!
My passport allows me entry into countries representing the power and authority of the United States government. It opens doors, in normal times, for me because of what it represents. It is a gift and an honor to carry this piece of the authority of this nation. I do not carry it lightly, especially since I recognize that the only reason I have it is because of an accident of my birth. I had no say in where I was born, or even if I was to be born. But I do have a say in how I use this gift that I have been given.
How much more important is that name I have chosen to take on, in baptism and confirmation, I chose to identify with Christ, with all the rights and responsibilities appertaining thereunto. How do you represent? Would a stranger be able to tell that you are different by how you act, even if they could not put a finger on it that it was Jesus? How about those closest to you, who see you day in and day out. What would they say if asked, “How do you know that you are Christ’s own?” In all our lives, may we represent, to Christ’s honor and glory, now and forever! Amen