"Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission!"
15B 2003 (August 17) John 6:53-59
One of the interesting things about life in general and the church in particular is how we can be upset by things
that in the end really don't matter. Especially in relation and comparison to other things.
The Reverend Howard Edington,
Pastor of the Shandon Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Texas tells this story in his book, Downtown Church:
Sunday night, as my uncle, Andrew Edington (college president and Bible teacher) was returning home, he stopped at a roadside
diner in a Texas hill country town to snag a quick cup of coffee. As is typical of all the Edington males, he quickly used
all the sugar packets the waitress had left on the table for him, but wanted more. As the waitress came near his table again,
he called out, "I want some more sugar, please." The crusty old gal defiantly put her hands on her hips, leaned over toward
him and snapped, "Stir what you got!"
Stir what you got! Edington goes on to say that when he moved to the Shandon
Church in Columbia, it was a church in desperate need of more property for parking and expansion. Can you believe it? The
man who owned the property adjacent to the church had been irritated years earlier by the church bells and had sworn then
that the church would never get his property.*
That would have seemed a little far-fetched but for one thing. St Lukes,
Wellington, in Alexandria, was my home parish during the ordination process. Right across Fort Hunt Road from the church was
an abandoned house. If you know anything about real estate values in that part of Fairfax County, you know how valuable that
The house was brick, had been well built, but was now almost tumbledown like so many of the old farmhouses
we see around here with trees growing inside them and through the roof. The yard was not merely overgrown; it had become such
a wilderness that except for the walk to the front door where one could see the door to the house, it would be impossible
to know that a once nice house was there.
It was an eyesore and an attractive nuisance, so the vestry of St Lukes
decided to buy it. They planned to use it as a rectory or, if not for that, for a rental property. But they would repair and
restore it to good working condition and make it attractive.
When they contacted the owner, however, they were met
with a blast. He didnt like any of his neighbors to begin with, he said. And furthermore, he moved out of the house because
the new St Lukes Church building was ugly and the real eyesore in the community. It filled his entire view from the front
with ugliness. So he had purposely moved out of his house across the street from the church and intentionally planned for
it to become an eyesore as long as the church building stood and he lived. And so it is to this day, I believe. Ill have to
look and see next time Im up that way to see which event has occurred first, if indeed it has.
But in comparison to
other things, such aggravations as these are not as significant as they might seem at first or at some time.
I first began my study of our gospel lesson for today, I thought briefly, Oh, no! Not another lesson on the Sacrament of Holy
Communion! How many times can I preach on the Bread of Life or the Body and Blood of Christ without saying the same things
over and over again. In fact one member of the Thursday morning Lectionary Study Group was going to ask his congregation to
raise their hands: Was it three? Four? Five? Six? I decided not to do that, because I was away last Sunday and thanks again
to the Senior Warden who did a great job by all accounts I have heard.
But the Gospel is an amazing thing. The more
we wrestle with it; the more we struggle with it; the more we apply our hearts and minds and souls to be open to the message
it has for us at any given point, the insight will come. And so it was.
It seems to me that Jesus is telling his disciples
to stay focused on the important things. And he was telling the congregation in the synagogue to stay focused on what was
important. Stay focused on me, he said. Thats what the Bread and wine, my body and my blood, in the sacrament are all about.
Whether you believe in transubstantiation, consubstantiation, Real Presence, Real Absence, or merely a memorial in the sacrament
the whole idea of the Gospels is to tell us to stay focused on what is important. Abide in me, however you do it. Stay focused
We all have played or watched sports. In team sports there usually is a bench of players waiting to be called
on to go in. This is true of ball sports: football, baseball, volleyball, soccer, and the like. By the time I got to the Military
Academy at West Point, I was so outclassed that making the football team as a player was not in the cards for me. But I did
become the manager And as the manager, I was able to watch the players on the bench and what the coaches were saying to them.
It boiled down to this: Keep your eyes on the ball and your mind on the game. In short, stay focused on what is important.
All of this is by way of saying I think I need to say a little bit more about the General Convention just concluded
in Minneapolis in light of the Gospel for today. And not just this short but very important passage but the whole of the Gospel
Two Sundays ago I laid out for us the two major divisive issues that General Convention would address: One
was approval or disapproval of the consecration of Canon Gene Robinson, Bishop elect of New Hampshire and an openly gay man.
The other was authorization to the Standing Liturgical Commission to begin the development of a liturgy for the blessing of
same sex unions.
The outcome was pretty much what I expected it would be. Approval was given by a majority of the
bishops with jurisdiction that is, diocesan bishops like our own Bishop Lee, for Canon Robinson's consecration. There never
was much doubt that the choice of the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire would be honored, although some of the bishops
voting yes might have had to hold their noses while they were doing it. I understand this feeling from my work on our own
Commission on Ministry. Our decisions to recommend an aspirant for postulancy and admission to the formal ordination process
and Seminary are rarely unanimous in the beginning although at the end we all sign the letter to the Bishop.
Convention did NOT authorize the Standing Liturgical Commission to begin the development of rites for the blessing of same
sex unions. Despite what the blaring screaming headlines in the Washington Post, the Times Dispatch, and the discredited New
York Times might have claimed.
And no one, not those most vehemently in favor of such authorization, equated the blessing
of a union to the blessing of a marriage. Quite a different thing entirely. At most the resolution acknowledged that in some
places some people are blessing same sex unions anyway and we choose not to throw them out of the Church. We choose to agree
to continue to disagree because we believe that God loves us all despite all of us being equally sinful when we in our time
appear before the Throne of Grace.
The extremists on both sides of these issues of sexuality have lost their focus
on the important thing. I am appalled at the use of Old Testament and Pauline proof texts taken out of all context and hurled
like thunderbolts by those opposed at those who are adamantly in favor. And I am appalled by those in favor who think not
deeply about what Jesus is saying in the Gospels and hurl sociological and suspect polling data like thunderbolts at those
who oppose them.
There is no need to go into a lengthy exegesis of all this. But let us remember what Jesus himself
said in the gospels from the Old Testament. (Mark 12:28ff)
Jesus said this during a debate that in its intensity was
like the debates at General Convention except more important. This debate was about whether or not there was a resurrection
as well as other things. And proof texts were being hurled back and forth like thunderbolts. Then Saint Mark records this:
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he
asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"
Jesus answered, "The first is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God,
the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,
and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater
Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and besides
him there is no other; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and
to love ones neighbor as oneself,--this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."
Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
There is no other commandment
greater than these. Love God with all we have. And love our neighbors all of them regardless of race, color, religion, gender,
or sexual orientation; love them like ourselves.
At the Reverend Stan Ramsey's funeral yesterday a senior priest and
I talked about how the Church has faced up to similar crises: the ordination of women -- Fort Worth, Eau Claire, Dallas, and
a few other dioceses still haven't gotten aboard, but they've stayed in the Church. And especially the difficulty with the
new 1979 Prayer Book which did lead to a schism. In fact here in this parish about 18 years ago, in the middle of a stormy
vestry meeting about using it here, the senior warden got up and stormed out, taking several vestry persons and some others
with him. They not only left the parish, they left the Church.
The senior priest told me that he had had several stormy
vestry meetings in his northern Virginia parish. At the last and stormiest, the issue was settled when his matriarch stood
up and demanded that everyone listen to what she had to say. And she said this: "No matter what Prayer Book we use, nothing,
absolutely nothing will keep me from Jesus!"
As I thought about these things and the debate over General Convention,
I thought about all the good things in mission and outreach we do here for our neighbors in our volunteer work lists so lengthy
that I'm bound to leave several out and the mission teams from Richmond who came here and gave significant help to our neighbors
in Lancaster, Northumberland, and Matthews Counties, laboring in the heat to build wheelchair ramps and paint houses. About
twenty of them in all. And I wondered what we could accomplish for our neighbors if all the time and energy spent in these
debates at General Convention and afterward could have been focused on the main thing.
And so like the coaches of
my youth, I thought "Let's keep our eyes on Jesus and our minds on mission and everything else begins to seem insignificant."
Let's keep our eyes on Jesus and our minds on mission and we, too, might be not far from the kingdom of God.
* "Stir what you got" from an InterNet source