Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Keeping First Things First

Somehow it seems like cheating for a blogger who's also a preacher to post a sermon. But I'm feeling a little naughty tonight--just a little, that is, so I'm only going to post the last four paragraphs. (Should you be so masochistic as to want to see the entire text, go to my parish website and follow the yellow brick road.)

But a setup is necessary: The gospel yesterday was from Mark 10, with the Zebedee boys asking Jesus if they can be his special go-to guys after the inauguration, the other ten pitching a fit, and Jesus setting them all down to say, "Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." And now we join my sermon in progress, as I come in for a landing:

In the economy of the Kingdom of God, time is too short and the mission of the Church is too important to give much slack at all to anyone’s ego, whether that ego is individual or collective. A stagnant church is full of egos that want stroking. A dying church is full of egos that get stroking. But a healthy church, a faithful church, is by necessity and definition also a servant church.

Thinking locally, as St John’s continues to live into the vocation that was embraced by our founders 156 years ago, we will know ourselves more and more to be a servant church. We will develop a collective heart for our neighbors—our weekday neighbors downtown, our 24/7 neighbors all over central Stockton, and our regional neighbors throughout San Joaquin
. We will be so consumed by serving our neighbors that we will have little time for anxiety about mere institutional survival. The primary sign of our servant ministry today is that we are on the brink of closing the Budget Shop. Our reasons for doing so are sound, but the way we do it, and how we use the resource of that property, will speak volumes about our commitment to servanthood.

Thinking at a diocesan level, we will know ourselves to be a servant church, not by bathing indefinitely in the refined waters of our theological and moral orthodoxy, but by how we use the gifts that have been entrusted to us—including the gift of orthodoxy—for the furtherance of the larger Church’s mission. The decisions we make in this diocese, including and especially some decisions we will make in convention on the first weekend of December, will have a tangible impact not only on ourselves, but on other Episcopalians throughout the country and other Anglicans throughout the world. When the clergy and lay delegates assemble in Fresno six weeks from now, we will make faithful decisions only to the extent that we know ourselves to be a servant church.

Finally, thinking at the level of the worldwide Anglican Communion, to the extent that we pat ourselves on the back for our open-mindedness, good taste, and beautiful worship, and then retire to the wine and cheese reception, we will have betrayed our inheritance. Anglicanism, quite frankly, was conceived in sin and midwifed by political expediency. We have no abiding reason to remain permanently separate from either the mainstream of western Catholicism from which we diverged four and a half centuries ago, or from the evangelical movements, symbolized by Methodism, that diverged from us two and a half centuries ago. We have prided ourselves on being a “bridge” church. Right now, we have some gaps in our own living room that need to be bridged. Either we will claim the grace to bridge those gaps, or, I suspect, God will just bench us and send in replacement players. We will learn how to be a servant church or we will no longer be a church. My prayer is for the former, of course—that Anglicans will persist in our willingness to forego all preferences of our own, and grow a heart for the unity of the whole church, that we may serve God’s kingdom not by our pride, but by our willingness to become extinct for the greater glory of God and for the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory for ages of ages. Amen.

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