Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Happy Mother’s Day. I’m glad to see everyone this morning – in person. What a year. For a year we were not able to gather for indoor, in-person worship, and yet all over the Church congregations adapted. We learned new ways to worship, new ways to proclaim the Gospel, and new ways to do ministry. And certainly, St Andrew’s has led the way.
Thank you for the new ways you learned to worship together, serve one another pastorally, and serve your neighbors beyond the church. You are to be commended for your creativity and your sacrificial service. I cannot say I’m surprised at your response to the pandemic, for creativity and sacrificial giving have been part of your DNA for a long time. But we would all agree that loving one’s neighbor by staying apart from one another is not natural, and not how or who we are created to be. It has been a sacrifice.
In the meantime, I look forward to gathering for our indoor, in-person (and live-streamed) annual diocesan convention here in Amarillo in October.
You are a wonderful parish, with an historic culture of outstanding lay leadership, along with an embarrassment of riches among your clergy: your new rector, Jared Houze; a new assisting priest named Jo Craig; a newly ordained priest – still less than 24 hours – Miriam Scott; and six deacons, Chris Wramplemeier, Dede Schuler Ballou, Dave Blakely, Mildred Rugger, Courtney Jones, and Tammy Breitbarth.
We’ve always wondered what to call a group of deacons; Chris the Archdeacon has come up with the perfect term: a Disturbance of Deacons. Deacons are called to disturb us on occasion, so don’t blame the deacons if you are feeling disturbed. You can blame me, but really you need to blame the ordination vows in the Book of Common Prayer: a Disturbance of Deacons. At any rate, let’s show our gratitude to all of the clergy who serve St Andrew’s.
Today we celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation, as twelve Christians are confirmed or received into our Tradition. To you twelve, we want you to know that we count it a privilege to be a part of your lives on this significant day. And later during this service, this entire gathering will make a vow to do all in our power to support you in your life in Christ.
Every time we celebrate Confirmation we say together the Baptismal Covenant, reminding ourselves that we are called into the Body of Christ for a purpose beyond ourselves: to proclaim and embody the Good News of God’s love for all people.
All people. Today’s story from the Acts of the Apostles takes us back to a time in the early church, when it was debated as to whether all people were included. It’s in this 10th chapter of Acts that Peter has his epiphany that God shows no partiality, and as today’s passage says: “the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” Peter says: “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
This is a pivotal moment in the Acts of the Apostles – a pivotal moment in the early Church. And if we keep reading, chapter 11 in the story takes us to a time and place that might resemble our own context in 21st century North America. It takes us to the time and place where baptized people were first called Christians in the city of Antioch.
According to the Book of Acts, Antioch is where the first disciples of Christ were called Christians. (Scholars believe it was a derogatory term.)
A metropolitan city, the third larges in the Roman Empire (behind only Rome and Alexandria), Antioch was a cosmopolitan city where people of all cultures freely mingled – perhaps not unlike a large American city. Situated geographically in the Roman province of Syria, quite naturally the population would be Syrian. But, it would have a large Jewish colony, as well. And the influence of Greek culture would be huge.
And it is the move to bring the Gospel to this city of Antioch – and specifically to Greek culture – which triggers the first rapid growth of Christianity. It’s where a growing Jewish sect which follows the Risen Christ meets Greek culture – and the Gospel message takes off. The conversion of the Greek world is dramatic.
So, what would attract a people like the Greeks to Christianity? The Greeks were brilliant, and the Greek influence on this emerging new religion can never be underestimated; they will actually help shape this emerging new religion. Just for example, look at the prologue to John’s Gospel, beginning at the first sentence: “In the beginning was the Word.” The Word. In the Greek language, it’s the Logos, which is a Greek understanding of a Universal Reason or Universal Mind. It is a brilliant Greek insight.
The Greeks help shape the emerging new religion, but what would attract them to the people and the message in the first place? What would attract a people so brilliant in the area of philosophy, and science, and the arts to this new religion? How could a culture which put such a premium on the mind and reason, who sought Truth primarily through intellectual inquiry, who through mythological deities made sense of divine action in the world – how could they be open to conversion to a Jewish sect, now called Christians (a derogatory term)?
After all, the Greeks had in their culture already the wisdom of rare philosophers, like Socrates, and Plato, and Aristotle, and many more. They had a world view with classical hero gods, like Zeus and Apollo and Hercules and Atlas and Dionysus – theological aspects of each deity would eventually be applied to the Christian Trinity.
Already, they understood gods as both transcendent and as immanent (as beyond and as near) – just as Christians understand the One God. They wrestled with the problem of evil. They put a premium on ethics. They sought meaning in life. They believed in an afterlife. Their theological bases were covered. So, what in this new emerging world view coming out of Jerusalem could be so attractive? What about it was so compelling? What about it was different enough to convert?
And the answer can be given in one word: Love. This new message, this new Gospel revealed in and through Jesus of Nazareth, proclaims something unheard of – something radical and attractive: it proclaims, declares, and even demonstrates that God loves us. More than Creator, more than Divine Ruler, more than Judge: God loves us. That’s the new message: Love.
And that love is expressed through the sacrifice, suffering, and universal compassion of the Word Made Flesh. Unlike the Greek hero gods, the Christian Divine Archetype (to use Greek terminology) surrenders. Jesus of Nazareth surrenders. In the eyes of the world, on Good Friday, he actually lost. Jesus surrenders power and ego and self – empties himself.
And following Jesus, all one has to do to know God is to surrender. Rather than strive through effort to achieve union with God, surrender. That’s a very attractive message to a culture which has been seeking union with the Divine through the intellect, through brilliance and strength and culture and beauty and knowledge – all good things, by the way. Surrender, rather than strive or achieve or attempt to earn favor.
Richard Tarnas, author of “The Passion of the Western Mind,” says: “In contrast to the Greek focus on great heroes and rare philosophers, the Christians proclaimed a universal salvation, available to all – slaves as well as kings, simple souls as well as profound thinkers, sick and suffering as well as strong and fortunate.” [Tarnas, p116]
The Christian Gospel as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is first and foremost a Gospel of Love, proclaiming God’s love for everyone – and such Love sacrifices, such Love shows compassion (suffers with), such Love surrenders.
An emerging religion from Jerusalem proclaims to a sophisticated, intellectual, Greek culture the new message (the Gospel) that God loves them. That’s our message today, and always. That is the main thing. It was true in Antioch. It is true in Amarillo.
Love. That’s the difference whatever one’s context. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God. Love is the Gospel we are called to proclaim and embody in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one God, in Whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.