This sermon was preached at St. Stephen’s AME Church.
A man enters the Confessional box. He notices on one side a fully equipped bar with Guinness on tap. On the other wall is a dazzling array of the finest Cuban cigars. Then the priest comes in. “Father, forgive me, for it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to Confession, but I must first admit that the Confessional box is much more inviting these days.” The priest replies, “Get out! You’re on my side.”
It is quite interesting being a priest. You see the world from a different angle, because so often folks want you to see their “good side.” It’s not often that when you are all dressed up in a clerical collar that you can meet someone for the first time and come away actually knowing much about them. There are those rare occasions when someone begins talking and it seems they’ve lost the “Off” switch, but for the most part it comes down to respectful pleasantries.
You also get various reactions from people as you walk along. There’s always some who give you a hearty, “Hello, Father,” but there are others that avert their eyes. They don’t want to be seen by a priest or they have a certain disdain for clergy to the point that they won’t even recognize you as a person.
Some priests don’t think that it is necessary to walk around looking like a priest, but I do, whether the world accepts it or not. It is a way of constantly reminding folks that there is another way.
Of all the looks you get along the way, the oddest ones come from folks who have never really seen a priest up close. I was at the grocery store just a few weeks ago and the you man bagging my groceries asked, “Are you a pastor or something?” It was all because of the dog collar. Some will give you more than the once over and particularly stare at the dog collar. I mention this because I got this certain look while around several youth in their early teens. A girl – maybe fourteen – looked at me and my collar, then noticed the crucifix that I wear. Her eyes lit up a bit as she leaned in for a closer look. “Nice necklace,” she said, “it has a man on it.” “It has a man on it.” Now, it is one thing to not really know much about priest, but this girl – this fourteen year old girl – did not know that this man on my necklace was Jesus. She didn’t know the story or anything about Him. Her friend sitting next to her looked up and said, “Oh, that’s God” and I was thankful for her input, because at the time I was a bit too flummoxed to say anything.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” His name will be Jesus. He will be great. Son of the Most High. David’s ancestor. He will reign forever. He will be… a man on a necklace.
As long as Jesus is seen only as a good moral teacher, then there is no access to eternal life. As long as he is viewed simply as the epitome of enlightened humankind, then there is no sustaining Truth. As long as Jesus is only a man on a necklace, there is no salvation. As long as we, His disciples, do nothing, then we are not fulfilling his final commands: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?
So, what are we to do?
One of my favorite stories of the Desert Fathers – those men who lived in the deserts of North Africa during the 300s and dedicated their lives to God – tells of the time Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’
The founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría Escrivá, writes in his first saying in the book The Way, “Don’t let you life be sterile. Be useful. Blaze a trail. Shine forth with the light of your faith and of your love. With your apostolic life wipe out the slimy and filthy mark left by the impure sowers of hatred. And light up all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you carry in your heart.”
The Episcopal Church has been around since 1789. Since then we have had 27 Presiding Bishops – the ecclesiastical head of our denomination. In 2015 we elected the 27th, The Right Reverend Michael Curry. He is the first African American to hold that position. If you were to ask him what is the most important aspect of the church, Bishop Curry would answer it in one word without hesitation: Jesus. He is passionate about this and believes the church is called to be the Jesus Movement in this world.
He spoke to us recently via an online video and began by recalling the words of the angel at the empty tomb of Jesus, “This Jesus of Nazareth whom you seek, he is not here, he has been raised as he said he would be and he has now gone ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him. It is in Galilee that the Risen Lord will be found and seen for he has gone ahead of us.”
Bishop Curry goes on to say,
Galilee. Which is a way of talking about the world.
In the streets of the city.
In our rural communities.
Galilee in our hospitals.
Galilee in our office places.
Galilee where God’s children live and dwell there.
In Galilee you will meet the living Christ for He has already gone ahead of you.
The church can no longer wait for its congregation to come to it, the church must go where the congregation is.
Now is our time to go. To go into the world to share the good news of God and Jesus Christ. To go into the world and help to be agents and instruments of God’s reconciliation. To go into the world, let the world know that there is a God who loves us, a God who will not let us go, and that that love can set us all free.
Bishop Curry concludes, “This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world.” Today I say to you, “We are the Jesus Movement. We are the Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church branches of the Jesus Movement in Enid, Oklahoma. Go. Light up all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you carry in your heart. Go. Make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go. Teach them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us. Go. And remember, He – the Great I Am – is with us always, to the very end of the age. Amen.