Ready! Set! Go! – Br. James Koester
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If you are anything like me, and I have been around long enough to know that none of you are like me; but I have also been around long enough to know that you are all like me. You all have your own interior cycles of feasts and fasts. Sometimes this interior cycle is connected to the calendar. Sometimes it is even connected to the liturgical cycle of the church. But sometimes it is connected to your gut. You find yourself thinking or feeling or pondering something and you don’t know why or where it has come from and then, days or weeks later you understand. Right, you think. That’s where it is coming from.
I have been thinking about my father a lot these past couple of weeks. It happens every year at this time, and I don’t need to look at the calendar to know why. His birthday was on the 13th and the anniversary of his death is this Friday. It happens every year. Soon after Christmas I start thinking about him more and more.
One of the things I am remembering this year are the conversations he and I would have after supper. We’d talk about what I was learning in school; or whatever the question that was on my mind. One of the things that we would talk about the most was … church. He would tell me about these strange places (at least to me, at least then) that used incense and sang chant! We talked about history, and the history of the church. It was from him that I developed a real love for the Church, and while he would be surprised to hear me say this, I think it is in part because of him that I am a priest, and maybe even a monk.
It was from my father that I first learned about the English Civil War and the struggle between King Charles I (the Charles, by the way, of the Charles River) and the forces of Oliver Cromwell. Part of this struggle was over the necessity of bishops in the Church. King Charles once famously pronounced “No bishops, no Church”. It was downhill after that for Charles and he lost the support of Scotland, where he had imposed bishops on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. He then lost his crown and ultimately lost his head. (Now I know the English Civil War is much more complicated than that, but that’s for another time and another place.)
Now as Anglicans we are justly proud of our bishops. We are not simply the Anglican or English Church, we are also the Episcopal or Bishops Church. We are a church with bishops. One of the things which bishops do is connect us. They connect us across time and place, not only with another parish down the street, but across the country and around the world. But so too do they connect us through time to all that is past and all that is yet to be. We call this ‘apostolic succession’ and if you are curious enough you could trace a family tree of sorts of our Brother Tom all the way back to the apostles. (Again, I know that apostolic succession is more complicated than that, but that too is for another time and another place.)
One of the things that bishops do, in theological jargon, is guarantee our catholicity and our apostolicity. Bishops remind us that we belong to something much bigger than this collection of people gathered in this one place (our catholicity) and they remind us that we belong to the same church as our ancestors, and indeed the apostles (our apostolicity). We proclaim this Sunday by Sunday and day by day in the Creeds: We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. But when we proclaim that, we are saying much, much more than simply “we believe in a church with bishops”. We are saying something about the nature of the church.
As you probably know, our word ‘apostle’ comes from the Greek for ‘sent’. An apostle is simply someone sent on a mission. And that, is how we get to today.
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
While we don’t think of him as such, we could in fact think of Jesus as an apostle of God: someone sent on a mission with a message to proclaim: a message of release, recovery, freedom and favour.
In the same way, Jesus sent others out on similar mission. To Mary Magdalene he said:
But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and
your Father, to my God and your God.” ’18Mary Magdalene went and
announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that
he had said these things to her.
To his disciples he said:
19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always,
to the end of the age.’
It would be one thing for us to say, well that’s Mary Magdalene, or that’s the disciples; that’s their job. But we can’t. The apostolic nature of the church rests with us who proclaim Sunday by Sunday that: We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We believe in a “sent” church. We believe in a church with a mission. We believe in a church with a message to proclaim: a message of release, recovery, freedom and favour.
But ah you say, I have never been sent; I have never been told to go; I have never been given a mission or a message to proclaim. I wouldn’t know what to do or say.
But you have. You have and you can. For just as we proclaim Sunday by Sunday that: We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church so too have we been “sent” week by week and day by day: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!
Our liturgy ends, not with an admonition to head off to the Square and find a cappuccino, a gooey pastry and The New York Times but to go and love and serve in the name of the Lord. Like Mary Magdalene, like the disciples, even like Jesus we have a message to proclaim, a message of release, recovery, freedom and favour.
That one little word, go, sums up who were are. We are a ‘sent’ people. We are an apostolic people. We are an apostolic church, not because we have bishops, but because we are sent out with a mission: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!
I wonder what your week would look like if the liturgy ended not with a dismissal wrapped in liturgical language, but with a school bell announcing the moment of the final day of school before the summer holidays. Or better yet, I wonder what your week would look like if the liturgy ended with a starter pistol marking the beginning of a race. Because the dismissal marks, not the end, but the beginning. What would your week look like if you left this place as excited as an 8 year old counting the seconds to the final bell, on the final day of school before the summer holiday? What would your week look like if you anticipated the dismissal the way a runner does the starting pistol the day of the Boston marathon? What would your week look like if you took seriously the dismissal to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” and did so because you had a mission to do and a message to proclaim and you were so excited you couldn’t contain yourself?
We are an apostolic church, not because we have bishops, but because we have a mission. We are an apostolic church, not because we have bishops, but because we are sent.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the
doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of
the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the
disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21Jesus said to them again,
‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’22When he
had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy
Spirit.23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you
retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Jesus was sent by the Father to:
proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And so too have you. Jesus was sent by the Father to proclaim release, recovery, freedom and favour. And so too have you.
So to King Charles I would say this: we are a Church, not because we have bishops, but because we have a mission; we are a Church not because we have bishops, but because we have been sent; we are a Church not because we have bishops, but because we have something to proclaim; we are a Church, not because we have bishops but because we have release and recovery, freedom and favour to proclaim to all people.
So, are you ready? Are you really ready?
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After his agony of prayer in the Garden, knowing that he was heading to arrest, torture, disgrace, abandonment and death, Jesus’ word to his disciples was “Rise, let us be going.”
Very relevant, very true.
Being confirmed this coming Sunday, it fits in so well.
This is beautiful! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for reminding me that I am expected to “Go into the world and serve the Lord…..” I am in a new home in a new city. Help me to find the work that is here for me (aside from greeting others with a smile and warm words praying for my new neighborhood, and joining a Bible study with several neighbors). I do take care of a housemate who has developed some memory issues and is a cancer and heart attack survivor. We are in our mid-70’s. I just feel as if there is more I should e doing.
Beautiful! Thank you!
Yes. I love the sense of excitement. What a joy when it happens in the “late seasons” of life.
Brother James I read through your message and thought it had a lot for us to think about. It means a lot to me to go to communion each Sunday and am glad we have a message at it. Always remember Mom saying the service grows on you, Mother was baptist but always came to our services and made sure we all attended Sunday School. I think we have been very fortunate. Thanks for that message James. Jane
Thank you for the reminder that we are a “sent” church. One of the choral responses to our benediction that I like to use in our church is a short song called “Send Us Out” (John Michael Talbot). Another one I like to use is from the hymn “Bring Forth the Kingdom” (Marty Haugen).
Inspirational sermon, Br James! Holy Communion is the gun shot that propels us to be sent and serve the Lord and your homily gives us the energy and determination to compete and win the race of spreading the message of Jesus Christ and our church., a great finish line to cross. Thanks for the spiritual lift off!
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Br. James, this is such a good sermon. I pray that God will make me ready
to go, to hear, to listen and to practice some R & R (release and recovery)
to know real freedom and favour. Thanks!