The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 30, 2011
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Almighty and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service: Grant, we beseech thee, that we may run without stumbling to obtain thy heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of our patron, Ignatius of Antioch. I took as my text a passage from Ignatius’ letter to the Magnesians. Here, in counselling the people in that city just outside Ephesus to obey their new bishop (insert joke here about our postponed Episcopal election), he tells them flat out: “we have not only to be called Christians, but to be Christians” (4:1). As far as I am concerned, there is no better advice than this. In a way it is what I try and say to you—and to remind myself—week-in and week-out. From merely saying we are Christians, we must enact our faith here in Church—by saying the Nicene Creed and receiving the Sacrament—and then venture forth into the world and put our profession and acceptance of our faith to the test.
Today’s readings only help to reinforce this lesson. Both the passages from Micah and Matthew speak specifically of corrupt religious authorities who (and now you know from whence the cliché) “preach, but do not practice.” It is an issue as relevant to us today as it was in the world of the first-century Roman Empire. Indeed, to use another cliché that definitely does not come from Scripture, it is a situation that could be “ripped from today’s headlines.” Both Micah and Matthew are clear that mere lip service to our faith is not enough. Rather all of us, especially those of us who lead communities of faith, must live and act according to our most deeply held beliefs. Matthew put it this way: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” These men demand certain things from the people, but will not assume these responsibilities themselves. In many respects they are more interested in the idea of being a leader than they are in serving the people.
What is interesting, however, is that with all this critique of religious leaders, neither Micah or Matthew suggests that we should give up on either God or religion, or even on religious leaders. Far from it, we are called to look beyond the foibles of some of our leaders and “encouraged ... to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” The key to this revisioning of ministry and the key to actually living according to God’s hope for us is the notion of service.
It is in serving, Jesus tells us in Matthew’s account, that a real leader finds his strength: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Christian leaders are called to lives of humble service, practising what they preach, caring for the people, caring for their community. It is no easy task. It is something of which those of us in my business must remind themselves constantly.
Ordained leadership, however, is not the only form of Christian leadership. Each of us as a minister of the Gospel through our baptism—and that includes each of you sitting here with me today—must also remember that we are called to lives of humble servant leadership and ministry in our varied professions and contribute to the spreading of the Gospel and to the work of the community as a whole.
Part of being a Christian, and not simply saying you are a Christian, is making a concrete commitment to being a part of the community of faith. This is what being a member of a Church and of a church community is all about. In the bigger picture, we commit to being members of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion when we are confirmed or received by our bishop. We commit to our Church by professing the creed and kneeling before our bishop who, incarnating the whole Church, lays hands on us in the name the Holy Trinity. We submit our bodies to the discipline of this rite and we enter into a covenental relationship with God in Christ through our bishop in which we agree to live lives of sharing the sacrament, resisting evil, proclaiming our faith in word and deed, serving Christ in all persons, and respecting the dignity of every human being. God willing and the Canon for Pastoral care consenting, we will celebrate Confirmation and Reception again in this Church on our next Patronal Feast. Those of you who wish to be Confirmed or Received will have the chance to study with me and prepare for this important rite in which we publically declare that we want to be Christians and not merely say we are Christians.
On the local level, we make a commitment to our particular community by officially joining our parish church. To be a member in good standing of an Episcopal Church you need not be confirmed (although it is encouraged). You simply must be regular in your attendance at worship and receiving the Sacrament and “and have been faithful in working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God” (Canons, I.17.3). In short, this means you must simply come to church and make a tangible commitment to the church’s work through volunteering and making a financial contribution. You can not simply say you belong to a Church without working to keep the church healthy and alive and full. The reality is simple, without your efforts and contributions we could not be here to practice our faith, our relationship with the God who made us and who loves us. Without you, this community could not function as God’s hands and feet in the world, celebrating the Sacraments that keep us one, and sending us into the world to be heralds of the Kingdom.
Each year at this time we ask those who call this church home to make a pledge to support our work in the coming year, asking you to offer to the Church a reasonable proportion of what you have earned in thanksgiving for the gifts you have been given by God. And yes, we ask you to do this so we can plan our budget for the coming year and know what kind of resources we will have to do our work. We also do this, however, to give each of you the chance to make a real commitment to being a part of this community, a part of its life and work. We do this so that each of us has the chance to offer something very concrete as a sign that we believe that what we do here matters and is important and that we understand ourselves to be stewards of the rewards we have been given. In this age as in every age before it, practising what we preach, putting our money where our mouth is, means making a commitment to what be believe in through the giving of our treasure and through the sweat of our brow.
As you have guessed by now, today is the start of our 2012 Stewardship Campaign and I do call on us all to think prayerfully about how we will support Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church in the coming year, think about how each of us can make this church stronger and more vital. We have done much in the last few years, let us all continue to do the work that allows us not only to call ourselves Christian, but to be Christians, to preach and to practice.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Saints Simon and Jude, 28 October 2011
© 2011 Andrew Charles Blume