The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, September 05, 2010

I'm back!

** Note:  I haven't posted for a REALLY long time.  My last post was my last sermon at St. Paul's, Chatham and this one is my first sermon at St. Paul's, Jersey City.  I told myself that I'd use this time between positions to write about some of the things that have been on my mind and in my worldview that I never seem to be able to get around to when I'm working.  But alas, with moving, and settling into the new place, and taking some time to visit family, and training my new dog (I got a dog, BTW!!), the month has passed and the idea box has been left untouched!


So hopefully there will be some other non-sermon posts again pretty soon...  But until then, thanks for sticking with me through the radio silence.  I'll be preaching every week now, so you can count on more frequent posts, even if it's only sermons!  But hopefully there will be a few other reflections here and there as well!

As for this sermon - it's a first sermon in a new parish, and it was a bit of a doozy of a text, so it may not fit my usual "style" (whatever that is...) but not to worry - we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming shortly!**


Pentecost 15; Proper 18C
Luke 14:25-33


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The text this morning is something of a difficult one for a priest preaching his first sermon in a new cure.

For several weeks I’ve been thinking about what I might say to you on this, our first Sunday together. I haven’t met most of you yet, so I had imagined that I might make this a kind of light, introductory speech. I thought I might begin with a little biographical sketch, tell you a little about who I am and what I stand for and how I got here. I thought I might tell a few funny stories from my Louisiana upbringing, and then bring it all to close with a very brief reflection on the text for today.

It’s often been said that the fastest way to make God laugh is to make a plan; and, if the Gospel lesson for today isn’t God laughing in the face of my plans, I don’t know what is.

The lesson for this morning is anything but light. It doesn’t exactly lend itself to a simple, get-to-know-you kind of homily. Did you hear? Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not HATE father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and EVEN LIFE ITSELF, cannot be my disciple.”

Wow. Well… Nice to meet you.

If you know anything at all about me from what you’ve heard or what I’ve written, you certainly know that by this standard, I am no disciple. And today I’m supposed to be introducing myself to you and helping to show you how we can all be better disciples. One of the most important things about who I am is the deep relationships that I have with my family. I wouldn’t begin to know how to hate my father and mother. In fact, I love them quite a lot. My brother is one of my best friends. And I have to admit, despite it challenges and temptations, I’m pretty much a fan of “life itself”. So in this description of a disciple, I clearly fail.

So perhaps this is as good a place as any for us to start. We’ll begin our time together with me being thoroughly honest with you: I am a failure. I have so very far to go before I can really count myself among Jesus’ disciples. I have a lot to learn and I have spiritual growing left to do. And if truth were told, I’d have to admit that I probably always will. I believe – and even hope – that in the final moments of my life, a long time from now, I’ll be resting on my death bed, but still learning and growing.

But perhaps that’s not clear enough for all of us. I’d imagine there are some of you for whom it is easier to several familial relationships. Perhaps it’s conceivable for some of us even to hate our families. But that’s not really the point. So the lesson doesn’t end there. The Gospel goes on to give us two illustrations about the real lesson Jesus is teaching.

First there’s the builder. Before beginning a project, the builder thinks it through. Can he see it though to the finish? Does he have what it takes? Can he give the project all that it requires?

Then there’s the warrior. Before he enters a battle, he thinks it through. Does he have the support he needs for it to end successfully? If not, what are the ways that he can re-imagine his preconceptions of success?

Though it’s never said outright, the message Jesus is sending is something like this: I want you to follow me. I want us to be friends. I want us to LOVE one another. But it won’t be an easy road. And you should know that going in. Just as builders and warriors and everyone in the world must go about their work knowing full-well what it will mean for them in the end, so, too, should you. Spirit-work is costly. I want you to do it with me, but I also want you to know that it’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy, and it’s not going to be.

So while a lighter, get-to-know-you message might have been easier or possibly even more desirable for today, this is, perhaps, the most honest first message I could have shared with you:

I am SO excited for us to begin our work together. It’s been a long time coming for both of us. We have all been doing a lot of work for years – long before any of us knew each other – we’ve been preparing ourselves this moment. Even the more immediate and direct preparations seem to have been going on for a long time. It was back in January that I first met with Canon Jacobs at our Diocesan office to discuss the possibility of coming here and serving among you. When I met with the Vestry to begin to explore the possibility of my serving here, we had to turn the heat on in the Rectory, because it was still so cold out. And now summer is waning and our time together is only just beginning.

We’ve all had a very long road to get here.

It might be tempting to sit back now and say that the work is done or that we can rest. But we can’t. The work is just beginning. It’s not time to rest yet. Not for either of us. We all have more that’s being asked of us.

And not just because we’re starting out on this journey together, but because we’re Christians. To follow Christ is a lot of work. It’s risky work. It’s exhausting work. It’s costly in ways that we can’t even imagine. But it is our calling. And when we do it, we will find that it is our joy.

We are called to give ourselves to Christ. In return, we find ourselves in Christ.

It’s been said that the most valuable gift any person can give – next to their love – is their labor. In both our lives as Christians as well as our lives as members of this community, we are asked to give both – BOTH of our most valuable gifts – both our love and our labor.

I know it’s a lot to ask. But let me begin out time together by going on record in asking it of you. And just as importantly, let me go on record in reminding you to ask it of me. We are called to give both our love and our labor to Christ and to this, the community of Christ. To claim any less – for our work to have begun on any kind of a lighter note – would have simply been a lie.

There will be time for us to tell our stories – to be light and to have fun and to laugh and to play; to get to know one another and to cry together and to support one another – in many ways that’s the work that we’re called to do. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to give yourself up that completely. It’s not meant to be easy. But it is rewarding beyond our imagining. And it is what we’ve been called here to do.

It will take time for us to grow into the community that God imagines for us, but we will do it. It will take a lot of work, but we will most certainly do it, and we’ll do it together.

So thank you. Thank you for joining me on this journey. Thank you for calling me to lead you. Thank you for taking this risk with me. Now let’s get to work. Amen.

10 comments:

Rodney said...

I think you're an amazing disciple my friend!!

Ann said...

Prayers for your "cure" -- what is that little tower on the side of the building?

Jon M. Richardson said...

Rodney - good to hear from you again!!

Ann - hehe... Thanks for the play on words. Brought me a nice Sunday night smile :)

BOTH - Thanks for reading!!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well done, Jon. You make my eyes sweat. They are very, very fortunate to have such a faithful disciple as yourself.

And, BTW, what IS that little tower on the side of the building?

Jon M. Richardson said...

Oops! Forgot to answer that! :)

I think it's mostly decorative, but it did originally have a spiral staircase in it for access to the roof of the tower. The stairs aren't there anymore, so at this point I think it's entirely decorative.

Ann said...

ooh ooh - secret staircase - a place you to hide out!

Jon M. Richardson said...

Ann - there's a REAL secret staircase in the Rectory - connecting the maid's room (now my guest room) to the kitchen. It's hidden in the closet in the room. An important first part of the tour of the house when friends come over :)

Ann said...

Oh good - we can get our coffee without awakening you LOL

Christian Paolino said...

Wow, secret staircases, hidden towers... it sound like a game of Clue!

Best of luck in your new role, and I heartily that we should try to keep learning until we draw our last breath.

Jon M. Richardson said...

Ann - you'd have to go for coffee PRETTY early before you'd have to worry about awakening me! Early bird here. And I'll make you coffee you could stand a spoon in :)

Christian - so much of parish ministry is like a game of Clue... hehe But thanks for the wishes. It's an exciting new chapter! :)