Sunday, July 21, 2013

9 Pentecost

July 21, 2013

Colossian 1.15-28, John 10.38-42

 + A few weeks ago I preached about “lone wolves” in the church. Specifically, I preached about how there is no room for lone wolves in ministry. Well, I have a confession to make. My words have come back and condemned me (as they sometimes do). I did some lone wolf things this past weekend.

As you now, we had the wedding of Kathy Hegge and Eric Rehm here at St. Stephen’s on Friday afternoon. It was very nice wedding. But, what a lot of people don’t know is what goes on behind the scenes of such events. There is a lot of work going on.

I think, many times people think when they come into the church, that stuff just magically happens. Flowers get arranged, the altar gets set, chairs get set out, etc. etc. Well, for this wedding, as with any wedding, planning had to be done. The frontals on the altar had to be changed.  Readings has to be printed. Chairs got set out. Doors were opened and the air conditioned put on. And on and on.  Little details that maybe no one really notices had to be attended to.

Well, I did it. I know.  I could’ve called Lavonne, who was on altar guilt, to help out with some of these things. But, back before I was ordained, one of the invaluable ministries I was trained in, by the wonderful Clotine Frear, was to be a wedding coordinator. It was a good thing for a future priest to be trained in. The attention to detail is important, especially for a High Church, Anglo-Catholic like myself.

The problem with this, is that I got busy over the last few days and I found myself on Friday afternoon, after the wedding, a bit, shall we say,  drained. I think our organist James Mackay can attest to his. I think he was a bit drained too for all the work he was doing with the music for the service.

Certainly I was drained from the heat. At one point in the service, I was wearing about five layers of clothes—clericals, cassock, surplice, stole, cope.

But, more than anything, I was drained from lone wolf ministry.  And, even worse, drained spiritually as well. I realized, all of a sudden, that although we were doing these things in the church and for the Church, I had just gone a good long time without really thinking about God or prayer. Not a good things for your priest to do.  Yes, I had prayed the Daily Office faithfully during this time. But I hadn’t really THOUGHT about any of  it. My thoughts were not on God all the time.

Which is also another pitfall of lone wolf ministry. We become so intent on the job that needs to be done, that we stop thinking about the real purpose for the work we’re doing.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, as I sort of collapsed, I found myself looking at an ikon. It’s ikon of Jesus—one of my favorites. An ikon, as most of know, is a sacred and holy image.  In the Eastern Orthodox Church, ikons are pictures which are sacred because they portray something sacred.  They are a “window,” in a sense, to the sacred, to the otherwise, “unseen.”

As I gazed at this ikon, I found myself thinking about not only the Gospel reading for this morning. I found myself thinking about how, being the lone wolf that I was being, I was really being a Martha.  But, as I pondered this ikon of Jesus, I also thought about the Pauls’ Letter to the Colossians, that we also heard this morning.

In that letter, in the original Greek,  Paul uses the word “eikon” used to describe the “image” of Christ Jesus. Our reading this morning opens with those wonderful words,

“Jesus is the image of the invisible God…”

Image in Greek is eikon. As I pondered, as I gazed at the ikon, all these things came together and  I suddenly sort of “got it.” As I pondered Paul’s letter, I realized that, yes,  Paul does see Jesus as the image or eikon of God. Jesus, for him,  is the window into the unseen God. And, I had to admit, even in that tired state, that’s exactly what I believed as well.  

To me, Jesus is very much that eikon of God. When I see Jesus (even in the ikon), I see God.  When I gaze upon the face of Jesus in icons, I feel as though I am truly gazing upon the Face of the Divine. And I have no doubt that is exactly who I am seeing.

I don’t know about you, but I do need things like icons in my own spiritual life.  I need help more often than not in my prayer life. If I don’t have that help, I fall into my lone wolf tendencies.   I need images. I need to use the senses God gave me to worship God. All of my senses.  

I need them just the way I need incense and vestments and bells and good music and the Eucharist.  These things feed me spiritually.  In them, I am actually sustained. My vision is sustained.  My sense of smell is sustained. My sense of touch is sustained. My sense of taste is sustained. My sense of hearing is sustained. And when it all comes together, I truly feel the Presence of God, here in our midst.

I can’t tell you how many times I have stood at this altar and during the singing of the Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God—and I have actually looked down at that broken bread and into that Cup and have felt, amazingly, that real Presence of Jesus, right here, in our very midst. I have looked upon it and seen Jesus. And in seeing Jesus, I truly have gazed upon God. I have been made aware in that holy moment that this truly is Jesus on this altar. This truly is the Sacred and Holy Presence of God, here in our midst.

I can’t tell you how many times I have gazed deeply into an icon of Jesus and truly felt his Presence there with me, staring back at me with a familiarity that simply blows me away.

And for those of us who are followers of Jesus, who are called to love others as we love our God, when we gaze deeply into the eyes of those we serve, there too we see this incredible Presence of God in our midst. 

This, I think, is what Paul is getting at in his letter. We truly do meet the invisible God in the Presence of Jesus—whether we experience that presence in the Eucharist, in the hearing of God’s Word, in ikons or in those we are called to serve.

For years, I used to complain—and it really was a complaint—about the fact that I was “searching for God.” I used to love to quote the writer Carson McCullers, who once said, “writing, for me, is a search for God.” But I have now come to the realization—and it was quite a huge realization—that I have actually found God. I am not searching and questing after God, aimlessly or blindly searching for God in the darkness anymore. I am not searching for God because I have truly found God. I found God in this person, Jesus. And, strangely, after all my lone wolf ministry on Friday, all my Martha-like behavior, I, with that ikon, was able to now be Mary to that Martha.

Certainly in our Gospel reading for today, Mary  also sees Jesus as the eikon of God.  Martha is the busybody—the lone wolf. And Mary is the ikon-gazer.

On Friday, I was Martha.  And then later on, I was Mary.  And I think many of us have been there as well. It’s seems most of us are sometimes are either Marthas and Marys,  But, the reality is simply that most of us are a little bit of both at times.  Yes, we are busybodies.  We are lone wolves. But we are also contemplatives, like Mary. There is a balance between the two.

I understand that there are times we need to be a busybodies and there are times in which we simply must slow down and quietly contemplate Jesus.  When we recognize that Jesus is truly the image of God, we find ourselves at times longingly gazing at Jesus or quietly sitting in his Presence.  But sometimes that recognition of who Jesus is stirs us.  It lights a fire within us and compels us to go out and do the work that needs to be done.

But unlike Martha, we need to do that work without worry or distraction. When we are in Jesus’ presence—when we recognize that in Jesus we have truly found what we are questing for, what we are searching for, what we are longing for—we find that worry and distraction have fallen away from us. We don’t want anything to come between us and this marvelous revelation of God we find before us.

In that way, Mary truly has chosen the better part. So, let us also choose the better part. Let us be Marys in this way. Let us balance our lives in such a way that, yes, we work, but we do so without distraction, without worry, with being the lone wolf, without letting work be our god, getting in the way of that time to serve Jesus and be with Jesus and those Jesus sends our way.  Let us also, however, take time to sit quietly in that Presence and to gaze longingly at the Jesus who is more than just another human.  Let us, rather, look into his face, let us look deeply into his eyes, and see there the fullness of God that was pleased to dwell there. And, in that holy moment, we will know: we have chosen the better part, which will never be taken away from us.


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