Anglican Church of Canada
Proper 26, September 28, 2014
So lets begin with the Scriptures, which is always a good place to begin. And specifically, with the second reading, from Philippians.
I don’t always preach on Paul, I promise. But this morning, I saw no reason to resist that wonderful, powerful hymn to Christ, which takes us to the heart of our faith
What strikes me is how insistent Paul is:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ,
any consolation from love,
any sharing in the Spirit,
any compassion and sympathy . . .
He is calling them back to the basics. If there is any point to this whole faith business at all, then we need to focus on this one thing:
. . . be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
This line used to bother me. It sounds so cultish, everyone having to think exactly the same thing. Surely being an Anglican is about not having to check your brain at the door. A diversity of opinion is not something to be afraid of, but something to celebrate. I realize now that I was misunderstanding the text. Paul is not talking about what we think, about everyone having the same opinions. If you read carefully, he is clearly talking about how we think, about a basic attitude of mind. In the midst of all our differences of opinion, we share this attitude that defines us as a Christian community: an attitude of selflessness, of deference and respect and concern for one another:
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
It is, as Paul points out, the attitude, the same “mind” that was in Christ Jesus. And then he goes on to quote what was probably a hymn known to the congregation, a kind of liturgical chant that goes right to the centre of who Jesus is. The language is powerful, violent, in fact:
. . . though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
There you have it, the core of the Christian story, in just a couple of lines. This is what we believe. If all else were to be stripped away from us – our church, our customs, our doctrines, our creeds – this would be the last thing left, this the most fundamental thing we believe: that Jesus emptied himself, being born in human form (there’s Christmas); that he humbled himself to death on a cross (there’s Good Friday); and that God exalted him (there’s Easter).
If this is the fundamental thing we believe, then this attitude of mind that Jesus showed, this generosity and humility and love, is the basis of Christian ethics. It is what defines us as a Christian community. If everything else were stripped away – our liturgies, our coffee hour, our church suppers, our committees, our choir – then this would have to be the last thing left, the thing that defines us as a Christian community: that we endeavour to treat others with the generosity and humility and love that Jesus showed.
We don’t know what was going on in the church of Philippi. But we do know something of what is going on the parish of Wilmot; you much more than I, at this point.
We are in a time between rectors, a time of transition. Two weeks ago you said good bye to your rector, a very fine young priest. We are all very happy for him and Katie, and we wish him well. But there is also a great sense of loss. Six years of building relationships, of sharing laughter and tears and faith, of collaborating in productive work – of course there will be feelings of loss and grief, as Matthew has moved on to another ministry.
I don’t know how far it is helpful for you to dwell on it. We can talk about it, if you like, or not. But it is important to acknowledge it, and to sit with it. More than anything, grief work takes time; it can’t be rushed. That is one aspect of this time of transition: it is taking the time both to celebrate and mourn the ministry that has come to an end, before the parish moves on to a new rector.
If transition is a time of looking to the past, it is also of the future. It is a time of making plans for what is to come. The parochial committee is hard at work on the parish profile, trying to develop a sense of where the parish is now and the direction it is being called to take in the future.
Of course the future is uncertain. The future always is. And that will cause some anxiety – all the more so in a time where anxiety is rampant in the church. Who among us is not feeling anxious about the future of the church? And the thing about this anxiety is, we cant just make it go away. Again, maybe it’s not necessary or helpful to dwell on it too much. But it is important to acknowledge it, to be aware that it is with us. Anxiety can make us uptight and irritable and critical, if we don’t keep an eye on it.
Grief and gratitude for the past, anxiety and hope for the future. These are the givens of this time of transition. Our present reality is one of sitting with this tension, of letting God work in the tension and the waiting, and in the meantime getting on with the daily work of being a Christian community in this place. Perhaps one of the most important things we can do in this time is to continue to root ourselves in the basics of our faith; to continue to centre ourselves on Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God emptied himself, taking human form, and humbled himself to death on a cross; to continue to cultivate with one another the mind of Christ, looking to each other’s interests.
This is how I understand my role among you as Priest in Charge. This is not an intentional interim ministry, one charged with addressing specific problems in the congregation, and taking an active role in shaping a new direction. I will be hands off with respect to the visioning process; as priest in charge, that is not my job. Let God, and the proper procedures, take their part in shaping the direction to come.
My job is to see that the daily work of the church continues: the worship, as we gather here Sunday for Sunday; the pastoral care, as I get to know you, and accompany you in the challenges, and the joys, you face; the ongoing administrative and committee work, so that the ship may continue in good order.
And as I do these things, I understand my role is to sit with you with both the grief and gratitude, the anxiety and hope, that make for the special challenges of this transitional period. To sit with you, to share these experiences, in conversation and in silence, all the while reminding you to keep focussed on the fundamentals of our faith.
I will pray for you, and I ask that you pray for me. And while you should feel free to challenge me when I mess up, I ask that you do so gently, and forgive my mistakes; not only for my sake, but for the sake of the kind of community we are called to be here.
I look forward to the privilege of working with you in the months to come.