You Are Christ’s Hands – Br. James Koester
1 Kings 3: 5-12; Psalm 119: 129-136; Romans 8: 26-39; Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
Those of you who have heard me preach before may remember that one of my hobbies, indeed as my brothers in the community might say, one of my many hobbies, is genealogy. I love to wander cemeteries looking for the graves of long dead, and the not so long dead. I can be thoroughly content pouring over old census material looking for that elusive relative and I find a great deal of satisfaction in proving that the person listed in one census is the same listed in another 10 or 20 years later, ‘though thousands of miles, or whole countries apart. And while I am quite happy spending my holidays in graveyards and county archives, the task of the family historian has become an armchair hobby as I can pour over those records, and even wander cemeteries from the comfort of my chair and with the services of a good internet provider. One thing I have discovered, at least on my mother’s side of the family, is that I come from a long line of Methodists. Rare is the Anglican on that side of the family.
One thing that fascinates and rewards me is to discover the person behind the name and dates one finds in census material, or birth, marriage and death registrations. And what I have discovered is that I have a lot in common with my Methodist ancestors for many of them had a passion for personal holiness. One of them, Matthew Clark, the brother of my great great great great grandfather wrote this of himself:
in 1790, The Reverend William Losee came to Canada and preached a
few sermons along the Bay of Quinte, [near Kingston, Ontario] and returned
to the State of New York again that winter. By his preaching some were
convicted of the necessity of being born again. In February, 1791, Mr. Losee
returned to Canada, and formed what was called the Bay of Quinte Circuit,
and some lost sheep were gathered into societies, and among others this
unworthy writer, he being then in the 20th year of his age . . . .1
For those early eighteenth and nineteenth century Methodists like Matthew Clark, Paul’s words from The Epistle to the Romans that we hear today were not empty phrases but rather the call to a serious, holy and devout life:
For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the
image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called
he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.2
What fascinates me is that these folks like Matthew Clark weren’t simply interested in warm spiritual fuzzies, because as passionate as they were about the conversion of their souls they were also intent on the reformation of society. This same Matthew Clark was one of the first members of the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor of the Midland District founded in 1819 and whose explicit objects were “to prevent the increase of pauperism and to furnish relief and assistance to the indigent, destitute and sick”.3 Interestingly enough they sought to do this not simply by seeking to close some of the many “petty ale houses” that thrived in the neighbourhood, but by establishing a savings bank and a hospital. Temperance, banking, hospitals and later education went hand in hand with being called, justified and glorified by God.
In many ways, Father Benson and our Anglo-Catholic forebears would see eye to eye with these early Methodists because as concerned as they were with the dignified and beautiful worship of God for them it was linked to the issues of the day: poverty, disease and education. One of the great Anglo-Catholic saints of the nineteenth century, Father Robert Dolling declared that he spoke out and fought about the drains and sewers because he believed in the Incarnation.4 For people like Father Benson and Father Dolling theirs was no gin and lace Anglo-Catholicism but a faith grounded in the conversion of sinners and the reformation of society rooted in a belief that all people bore the image of God and that through baptism we share the inherit dignity of Christ.
Now while my Methodist ancestors might have been uncomfortable with incense and candles and vestments they would have recognized much of what we in the community say in our Rule of Life:
Our community was called into being by God so that we may be entirely
consecrated to him and through our common experience of the glory
of the Father and the Son begin to attain even now the unity that God desires for all humankind.5
But just as they would recognize in that statement a call to holiness so too would they recognize a call to action in these words:
Our vow of poverty inevitably commits us to conscientious participation
in the movement to establish just stewardship of the environment and
earth’s resources….Our vow binds us to ruthless self-examination as to
our real solidarity with the poor. In our education, preaching and political
lives we are committed to advocacy for the poor, and the struggle to
restore to them their just share of power and the bounty of God.6
As my Methodist ancestors knew and what Father Benson reminds us, is that if we are serious about what we say, then we need to be just as serious about what we do. If we are truly believe we have been called, justified and glorified by God and that through baptism we share the life and work of God then not only what we believe matters, but what we do matters as well.
As people made in the image of God, and whose hands today are the hands of Christ what you do matters as much, and maybe today even more, than what you say. In the words of Teresa of Avila
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.7
So today rejoice with Paul and my Methodist ancestors, and Father Benson and Teresa of Avila that you have been called and justified and glorified by God and because you have been changed and converted and reformed, go out and change and convert and reform the world. Do it, do it now, do it today. Do it because what you believe really does matters. Do it, because what you do matters even more.
1 Estelle Clark Watson, Loyalist Clarks, Badgleys, and Allied Familes (Tuttle Publishing Company, Rutland, VT, 1954), page 162. Matthew lived from 1771 to 1849.
3 Minutes of the Meeting of The Kingston Compassionate Society held 13 February, 1819, at Bath, Ontario
4 Father Robert Dolling [1851 – 1902] as quoted in The Idea of the Victorian Church, page 310
5 SSJE Rule of Life: The Call of the Society, page 2
6 SSJE Rule of Life: Poverty and Stewardship in Practice, page 14, 15
7 Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): Christ Has No Body
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Thank you for this reminder that we are to work and share, not just believe. My grandmother used to say repeatedly that, “Actions speak more loudly than words.” Whether it was to remind us children of a task neglected or misbehavior that was being addressed, I believe she was echoing the words of Paul, because she probably had them all memorized. Bless her memory, bless all of you Brothers, bless all of the Fellowship, and bless the members of my parish of St. Bartholomew”s Episcopal Church here. Whenever I become tired or discouraged with my appointed/chosen work, it is comforting to be reminded that I am “spending myself” trying to do God’s work, and that there will always be more to do. Thank you again. David
Thank you Brother James for these words. In the later years of my life, I am learning that the my desire (and need) to help others, is being about God’s business here on earth. I now understand that my life’s focus is a gift, and maybe my talent.
I believe that a good example of the way life should be lived is Andrew Wissemann, my brother-in-law, who died last Wednesday.
I enjoy all the posts but this one captured my attention because I too enjoy adding branches to my family tree. I am an Anglican, but way back when, some of my ancestors (the Moultons ) were Anabaptists and the records tell of their being flogged for not believing in infant baptism! In the19th century my great great grandfather was an Anglican circuit preacher along the north shore of Lake Erie. Anyhow, thanks for making all these connections between Methodism and Anglo-Catholicism ! So interesting and inspirational to read…
Yikes! Imperatives such as “go out and change and convert and reform the world” have an “Onward Christian Soldiers” zeal. It makes people like me–who suffered under the heavy handedness of evangelism–very guarded.
I believe/belove we are already loved. I don’t need to lift a finger to change myself or anything, but only be open to change. In openness lies possibilities.
I admire the social conscience of starting hospitals and schools as faith with boots, and see Teresa of Avila’s reference of compassion as living faith with ears. From my experience the greatest compassion needs to be for ourselves and our own perceived inadequacies.
Zeal and personal holiness are lethal mixed in the pot of guilt and shame. Things get messy, people hurt and souls wounded, so I will stay away or on the sidelines.
Brother James: Your words this morning are so personal for me. I now live in Kingston, but before that my husband and I lived in Bath for fifteen years.(Your note No. 3) My husband is buried in St. John’s Anglican cemetery in Bath. Christina