Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Bishop Magness' Sermon Nov. 13, 2011
Pentecost Season/A Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, TX (111113) A Sermon by the Rt. Rev. James B. Magness Isaiah 42:1-9 Luke 4:14-21 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me! “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind....” Each November around Veterans Day we engage in a pause as we remember the men and women who have served their country through being Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. These remembrances began almost a century ago with the creation of Armistice Day observances when World War I ended in Europe. Today we honor and remember persons who have worn a military uniform and who have served their country; who have blessed us by serving us. Often we describe their actions as patriotism, a term that engenders suspicion in the hearts and minds of some of our fellow Christians. At the root of their suspicion is a foundational concern – a concern of whether or not of people of faith in the risen Lord Jesus can be faithful believers and simultaneously serve their country in a military uniform. That thorny conundrum begs a question that probes even deeper into who we are and what we do as God’s people. * What makes a person of faith? * How are people of faith formed into the persons whom God wants them to be? * How should people of faith live out their lives? We have some clues to the question of formation in the reading from the Gospel of Luke about Jesus' formation. To unpack this question of formation I want to do a moment or two of Bible study with you. In the gospel of Luke there were three formative events in which Jesus was formed. Do you remember how, according to Luke, Jesus started his ministry? Think for a second. Yes, that's right; Jesus went down to the Jordan River to meet up with his cousin John and experienced John's primitive version water baptism. Everyone who saw what had happened knew full well that Jesus was, from that moment on, a marked man; Jesus was one with God his Father. How did they know that? Because when he was baptized the voice of God was heard to say, "You are my beloved Son..." At that moment the spirit of God DESCENDED UPON Jesus. Here Ends Jesus' Preparation Part I. Do you remember what happened next? Of course you do; Jesus went off on a 40 day wilderness fast and retreat when he was in mortal combat with Satan for his soul. Satan tempts Jesus to take an easier life path; one devoid of sacrifice and suffering. In response to each temptation Jesus kept his focus – a focus on the mission his Father had given Him. In the end the victorious Jesus was FULL of the Spirit. Here Ends Jesus' Preparation Part II. The next formative event is what we have in the reading we heard this evening. Jesus walks into the temple on the Sabbath, as the text tells us “…as was his custom ," to open a scroll of scripture to read about the power of God, his Father, to bless the poor, the captives and the blind. Considering where Jesus was, in the center of Jewish worship - the temple, and who Jesus was - the son of a common family, you'd have to be a bit crazy to go into the midst of such a potentially hostile crowd and say what Jesus said. Yet, through this act Jesus was filled with the POWER of the Spirit. Here Ends Jesus' Preparation Part III. You can see the linear progression. The Spirit descends upon Jesus. Jesus is full of the Spirit. Finally, Jesus is filled with the power of the spirit. And it is a good thing, because Jesus’ life is just about to get crazy. From this point on, both friend and foe alike, will never leave him alone. The power of the Spirit has filled Jesus because things are just about to get crazy and mission is about to happen.// In the 1940s there lived a man by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a German pastor, a theologian, and ultimately a martyr. During that time he was in prison because after a long dark fortnight of the soul, he decided that the ruthless and controlling German leader Adolph Hitler had to be assassinated; and Dietrich decided that he was the one who had to perform this act. However, Dietrich was apprehended and imprisoned before he was able to carry out the deed. While awaiting execution he was critical of the German Christian church. How, he wrote, could the Christian church in Germany allow a man such as Hitler to exist without challenge? In one of his letters from prison he wrote about what he described as “religionless Christianity.” His idea of Religionless Christianity is of a faith that is devoid of all of the outward appearances, trappings and structures of religion; but goes to the actual heart of what it means to be a Christian, especially a Christian servant. The true servant of the risen Lord is a person whose mission flows from the heart. The emerging connection is between servanthood and mission. Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught us that there is a cost to being a servant engaged in mission - that through being a missional follower of Christ you could even be called upon to give up your life - for the sake of the lives of others. Over the years I've heard people say that true faith - true religion - is in the heart and can't be seen. Though I am not going to ask for a show of hands, I wonder how many of you believe in such a theory of the invisibility of faith and true religion. You see, I believe that the invisibility of our faith is a comfortable myth of which we've convinced ourselves. I believe that you have to be able to SEE faith in action if it is going to be real. • Faith is about reaching out to your neighbor / when reaching out to your neighbor may call for you to go through a public baptism. • Faith is about sacrificing for your neighbor / when there is an easier way that would be far less costly. • Faith is about responding to your neighbor's needs / when to respond to those needs will place you in a very hostile situation. It has occurred to me on more than just a few occasions that there are times and places in life when you have to be a little crazy, both as individual believers and groups of believers, to stand up and proclaim your faith in the risen Lord. However, the real "crazy" happens when the actions of your life bear witness to what you believe. This "crazy" is no less than "crazy like Jesus." When the power of the Lord's spirit is upon you, you are willing to walk into potentially hostile environments in the same way that Jesus walked into the temple. When you get crazy like Jesus, the scripture is being fulfilled in your life. As members of the body of Christ we are called to recognize that our world is marked by "... the reality of sin and the brokenness of the world... (God beckons us to follow) as the Spirit leads... (us) into the world to participate in God’s mission… (We know God’s mission is being accomplished when we hear the) creation itself, ‘…groan inwardly’ as all await release from the bondage of sin .” Our mission is to take the fullness of God – all God's creative and redemptive energy – to bear upon our world. We are the ambassadors and the emissaries whose work it is to bear witness – often without fanfare and in the midst of horrendous, compromising and complicated settings. Our calling is our mission to all God’s children as together we exercise the power of God – the same power Jesus came to know and use in the temple that day so long ago. The Episcopal priest/chaplains who represent you within the Armed Services are quite familiar with how and where our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen live out their lives. Your chaplains know that service members are men and women who have learned to embrace the values and virtues of honor, loyalty, courage, integrity and commitment. Your chaplains know that they embody these values in some very hostile environments that some of us can only grasp in the fantasy of our imagination. Yet for them it is no fantasy. It is real and is all tied up with mission – for our chaplains and for many others in uniform, who also are people of faith. * When a Soldier comes to one of my chaplains in a wounded warrior rehabilitation program at a sprawling Veterans Administration hospital and says, "Chaplain, I think I've lost my soul," I know it is about to get crazy, crazy like Jesus when mission starts to happen. * When a Navy explosive ordinance disposal officer sitting in an overseas USO passionately tells my wife the story of his inability to stop 4 suicide bombers from killing over 40 people in a packed Roman Catholic Church in Iraq, I know it is about to get crazy, crazy like Jesus when mission starts to happen. * When one of my chaplains is at the Dover Air Base Mortuary to meet the caskets of returning service members who had been killed in an aircraft crash in Afghanistan, and the wife of the pilot with two small children in tow comes up to him to ask where God was when her husband was killed, I know it is about to get crazy, crazy like Jesus when mission starts to happen. Such questions and statements bear witness to the incredibly difficult environment in which service members work and with which their families have to cope. Yet, also this is a witness to our call to Christian mission - into the midst of brokenness. Mission, after all, was what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was doing when he decided to end Hitler's life; he engaged in a dilemma wherein the greater good was deemed to require that he break one of the foundational understandings of people of God - that you do not kill. No one ever said that mission was safe, easy and devoid of sacrifice. Military people have a keen understanding of what it means to embark upon mission and the planning entailed to be successful. They know that to engage in a mission is to enage in sacrifice. Have you ever wondered how so many of the posthumus recipients of the Medal of Honor were able to sacrifice their lives? Though often we say that they did what they did for their country, which may be true, more so I am convinced that their heroic sacrifice was for the sake of their battle-mates whose needs they consiered to be more important than their own. This is the behavior that exemplifies the heart of Jesus - who gave his life that we might live. There is a certain craziness about having the heart of Jesus. You see, in our culture it is more than just a little countercultural to consider the needs of the other to be more important than your own - to break stride with the mantra, "enough about you, what about me." When you consider the needs of the other to be above your needs, you've opened the door to the possibliity of mission. The mission of gospel proclamation is about to happen, and it is about to get crazy like Jesus. The mission of Jesus is at the heart of a servant. It gets crazy when the rawness of a person's soul is laid open before you. Do you know what it feels like to be in front of a person who opens her soul up to you? Recently one of my priest/chaplains described a situation when a commander of troops in Bagdad took him to see the wreckage of an armored vehicle that had been destroyed by a roadside bomb, a bomb that killed two of his Soldiers. My chaplain told me about the commander's intense description of what it was like to be at the head of a convoy of vehicles and hear the explosion behind him; knowing full well what would come next. My chaplain told me how very small and weak he felt in the presence of the commander's powerful words. Then he said he knew that the power of the Holy Spirit was in their midst. The chaplain knew that his mission was to stand there and be a physical reminder to the presence of God. The mission at that moment involved very few words and lots of silence. That was the craziness of that moment when he learned the truth of Isaiah's proclamation: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind..." I am very proud that our franchise of the Christian church has a a serious mission to service members and veterans. Part of that mission involves a significant outpouring of pastoral care for people who hurt, but an even larger component of the mission is our calling to share the redemptive good news of God in Christ. We have this mission because we care about and for God’s children, ALL of God’s children. As I said earlier, November is the time of the year when we remember the sacrifice of our Veterans. These are men and women who have served and sacrificed for us - often for the sake of their faith. Many of these men and women felt compelled to address the dilemma between faith and military service. In the end, the men and women who chose to wear the uniform knew that for them the responsible action was to serve. The mission of our church, through your military chaplains, goes where our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen go. In time of war and in time of peace, we care for the service members who serve and have served us; service members who give and have given much; some gave all they had and, as vividly we are learning today, some gave even more than that. I will conclude with stanzas from Laurence Binyon's 1914 poetic remembrance, For the Fallen, ultimately used for the first Armistice Day. I offer this as a tribute to those who wore the uniform of their country, whose lives were given for us and whose sacrifice is known only to God: They went with songs to the battle, they were young. Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe. But where our desires are and our hopes profound, Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, To the innermost heart of their own land they are known As the stars are known to the Night; Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them. May their souls and the souls of all the righteous rest in Christ. AMEN.