Luke 6:27-38, Genesis 46:4-15
There’s an old story about the author and theologian C.S. Lewis, on his way out for drinks with a friend. Approached by a beggar asking for money, Lewis emptied his wallet and gave the stranger everything. His friend then said to Lewis, disapprovingly, “He’ll only spend it on drink,” to which Lewis responded, “If I kept it, so would I.”
Today’s Gospel reading is about love. More specifically than that, though, it’s about the risk inherent to genuine love. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. …love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” This is not just about doing good and being loving; Jesus is talking here about showing others love even when it is obviously risky, even when it obviously might result in our own pain or loss.
This is not the law and order Jesus many of us may have grown up with, the Jesus who commands us to do what is socially acceptable for the sake of a well-ordered society. Equally, though, this isn’t the Jesus we’re often likely to encounter in progressive, well-educated circles either. I grew up being told not to give money to beggars, because they should get a job. Once grown, and having rejected that teaching, and having moved from a red state to a blue state, I still get told not to give money to beggars, because I should really be giving that money to a shelter, and voting for the right people to enact official homelessness policies, because I don’t want to encourage someone not to use services that may better their situation, and I don’t want to fuel a person’s addiction or irresponsible use of money.
Simon Gibbons, First Priest from the Inuit, 1896
In the calendar of the church, we remember today a Canadian missionary priest of the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia, Simon Gibbons, who died on this day in 1896. Simon Gibbons was an Inuit, a member of the indigenous people, a majority of whom inhabit the northern regions of Canada. He was the first Inuit to be ordained to the priesthood.
Simon Gibbons was born in Labrador, and both his father and mother died before he was six years old. He was raised in an Anglican orphanage, showed early signs of being very gifted intellectually, and eventually went on to King’s College in Nova Scotia. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1878. He began his ordained ministry on foot as a missionary in the northeastern tip of Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island. On Cape Breton, the “nor’easters” and the snows begin in November, and by April the typical snow accumulation is 10-12 feet. Winter temperatures typically drop to 5° or colder. Simon Gibbons regularly walked in snowshoes a one hundred-mile circuit on the island to the many small communities to comfort the sick, to teach the hope of Christ, and to administer the Sacraments of the Church.
As a pastor, Simon Gibbons was described as “very joyful.” He was also very industrious. He eventually moved onto the Nova Scotia mainland, where he was appointed the rector of a parish on the northeastern coast. He pastored a multitude of people, and supervised various building projects for the church. He was greatly beloved. He was also greatly spent in his physical stamina. His health had been compromised in the strain from his arduous earlier ministry as a missionary on foot. He died at the age of forty-six.
The Gospel lesson appointed for today mirrors the life and ministry of Simon Gibbons. Jesus was saying, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Simon Gibbons heard this message, and he went out as what Saint Paul called “an ambassador of Christ.”[i] I find it impossible to imagine taking on a missionary ministry in any way similar to Simon Gibbons. The mere thought of it sends shivers into my spine. Simon Gibbons is an amazing example of why the church commemorates the holy ones from times past. The reason we remember such souls is not that we are to replicate their life and ministry. Rather, it is for us to draw inspiration from their lives to encourage us in our own life and ministry.
When we awaken in the morning, we can be reassured both of God’s presence and God’s provision – that we will be companioned by God and equipped by God. We can also be assured, with the dawning of each new day, that God has given us a mission, which is why we are still alive. Ignatius of Loyola – the 16th century founder of the Jesuits – said that the purpose for which we have been given life – and why our life has been sustained into today – is “to know God, and to love God, and to serve God.”[ii] We are all missionaries. By our own cultural heritage, by our own geographic setting, by our training, education, life experience, and unique access to certain people, we are to bear the beams of God’s light, and life, and love, knowing that God is with us and that God will provide.
Some years ago my younger brother, Kyle, was visiting us here in the monastery. I adored him. He was a career Air Force officer for more than 20 years, he was lay minister, he was married, and he was the wonderful father of eight children. Eight children! I remember saying to him on this visit, “I don’t know how you do it. How do you juggle your life and all your responsibilities with such amazing grace?” He looked at me rather incredulously and said, without a pause, “This is what I was made to do. This is the glove that fits.” And then he said to me, “What I don’t understand is how you do what you do as a monk. That to me is impossible.” We both chuckled because we both had found our respective vocations, our very unique callings, and we were thriving.
With each new dawn God’s calls us and equips us to be God’s own missionaries, and in ways which only we, personally, can do. Our missionary field may be as expansive as Cape Breton in northern Canada, or as focused as the neighbor next door, the clerk at the checkout counter, the person we encounter on the street. We are missionaries, all of us. That is why we are still alive.
And today we take as our own inspiration Simon Gibbons, blessed Simon Gibbons.
[i] 2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20.
[ii] These are Ignatius’ opening words from his “Foundation and First Principle” of his Spiritual Exercises.
At a time when there is so much tragedy around the Church’s witness to the native and First Nations peoples of North America, one wonders about the appropriateness of remembering a nineteenth-century man who spent much of his life as a missionary in Canada’s north. It’s hard to disentangle the very real harm that settler or western religion, culture, and institutions have done in our attempt to follow Christ’s command to go therefore and make disciples of all nations…from the desire to make known the God who is love.
An Englishman by birth, Edmund James Peck spent thirty years in the Canadian Arctic, often separated from his own wife and family for years at a time. We don’t know what Peck’s racial biases were. Like all of us though, at least all of us of European descent, he must have had some. Yet his work on behalf of the Inuit of northern Canada was prodigious. He took a syllabic writing method developed for the Cree of northern Manitoba and adapted it to Inuktitut. By the 1920’s Peck’s syllabic writing method was so widespread that most of Canada’s Inuit people could read and write, and pencils and pocket notebooks so popular, they were in great demand. In 1897 the four gospels were printed as were extracts of the psalms and the Prayer Book.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
One of my favorite places on the playground at school was the swing set. Today, I still enjoy the gentle sway of the swinging bench in the cloister garden. But, back then, I was interested in a more high-octane version of swinging. I loved to push faster and higher to see how high I could get. I tried on several occasions to swing all the way over the bar and have always been disappointed that physics just weren’t on my side in that endeavor.
As much fun as the swinging itself was, I also discovered the excitement of the dismount. You could just let yourself come to a gradual stop, or drag your feet on the ground to slow things down quicker. Or, you could time it just right and jump! The thrill of being propelled into the air and landing what felt like several yards away was such a rush! But it took a fairly careful calculation to get it just right. Too soon and I’d skid to a halt and faceplant in the gravel, which happened. Too late and I’d just kind of fall straight down and crumple to the ground, which also happened. The best was when I was when I found that sweet spot and launched in a graceful arc and touched down like an eagle. I had to be ready, I had to have momentum, and I had to have the courage to make the leap.
We remember two apostles today, by definition two who were “sent.” We know a few things about Philip and James, we know less… James was the son of Alphaeus and he is always listed among the twelve. Tradition has distinguished him from James the Great, the son of Zebedee, and it’s unclear if he is the same James as in the book of Acts, son of Clopas, the so-called brother of Jesus. But, his relics arrived from the East in Rome at the same time at St. Philips and so they have been joined in remembrance.
So when’s the last time you were in a crowd of seventy people? It’s probably been a while, maybe eight months or so. Jesus was speaking to a crowd of seventy disciples in today’s Gospel. Seventy people is not a huge crowd, it’s about half the capacity of our chapel, but it’s no small get together either. These disciples were early Christians ready to go out on mission ahead of Christ to prepare his way. These disciples were not a casual crew, they were ready to die for the cause, and some of them would. Starting a speech to such a crowd demands a solid opening line.
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” In other words, roll up your sleeves and get ready to work. Jesus knew he was short staffed and the work was going to pile up. There was no time for self-pity. There was no room for laziness. This was going to be tough work.
The Spirit spoke, Philip ran, the Eunuch asked, teaching began, water appeared, the chariot halted, baptism happened, lives were changed.
In my experience, conversion and discipleship are rarely this efficient but the elements, the rhythm, the signs are familiar. I recognize the irreducible miracle of spiritual mentoring and good teaching because I have received it. Faithful women and men have come alongside my messy, ordinary life at just the right moment. When God shows up between a mentor and a seeker, the sum is infinitely greater than the parts and everyone is changed forever. Who was your Philip? Who is your Philip today?
Is it any wonder that the account of the Ethiopian Eunuch is a template for the ancient Christian discipleship process, what the church calls “the catechumenate?” The word “catechumen” is from Biblical Greek, meaning “one who sounds out something.” The catechumenate is a supportive and encouraging environment in which an inquirer makes a series of informed decisions to journey through to Christian initiation. We see here, in this passage from Acts, the dynamic interaction between community, scripture, and sacrament that produces a living ecosystem in which transformation and growth occur.
When the people of God are listening, paying disciplined attention to the Lectionary, bringing their deepest longings into Liturgy and looking out for signs of Life, then the Holy Spirit calls seekers to appear, teachers to emerge, Christians are formed, and vocations are discerned. For seekers to turn and bring their longings toward the Church, the Church must be intentionally showing and sharing the Gospel with the world. If the church is to be a sign of Life — a magnet for the God-given longing in all people to reconcile with God and with one another — then the Church must speak its abundant life in the terms of the times. As Anglicans, we are at our best when we engage the signs of our times with the signs of eternal life.
1 John 3:11-18 / John 1:43-51
As we move from the Festal Season of Christmas into what is sometimes called Ordinary Time what ought we to think?
When I was a newly confirmed Episcopalian in 1942, I learned that the season we are about to enter can be called the Missionary Season. An example of Mission activity is Andrew taking his brother Peter to meet Jesus.
Today’s Gospel gives us the example of Philip finding Nathanael and telling him about Jesus. Philip first told Nathanael, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael’s reply was not very encouraging, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip went on to say to him, “Come and see.” What happened then was very encouraging, to say the least. Jesus showed himself a good judge of Character. When Jesus told Nathanael he had seen him under a fig tree, there was a further revelation.
“Go forth with this message,” says Jesus, “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Observing Hebrew reticence in speaking the name of God, these disciples are to speak of the longed-for mercy, justice and compassion of God’s already present and gracious reign. In their own persons, the twelve are to do as Jesus has already done: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
In taking up this mission with Jesus, the twelve are called to radical dependence on the provision of God.
If God were to appear to you in a dream and tell you to travel to New York and walk through the center of Manhattan pronouncing God’s judgment and impending destruction of that city, how would you respond? I suspect many of us would wake up and think, wow, that was a really strange dream and perhaps share it with friends for a laugh over a coffee or lunch break. If we felt particularly disturbed by the dream, we might call our therapist or spiritual director to help process the feelings and emotions the dream conjured. Somehow I suspect most if not all of us would eventually shrug it off and forget about it. But what if this dream were to reoccur persistently?
In this evening’s Old Testament lesson we hear a portion of a comical story about Jonah who receives this very message from God. This short book is only four chapters long start to finish and the introduction to Jonah in the New Oxford Annotated Bible states that he is never even called a prophet in the text.[i] To add insult to injury, the book of Jonah is more about God’s dealings with the ‘prophet’ himself than with the recipients of Jonah’s message, therefore making Jonah the ‘circus clown’ of all the prophets. His day starts out by getting a daunting assignment from God: go to Nineveh, the capitol city of the hated and oppressive Assyrian Empire, and pronounce God’s judgment on them. I don’t think there is a single one of us who blame Jonah for his response. Jonah runs away and we shake our heads at him intuiting that this is only going to get worse.
As Episcopalians we talk about five “Marks of Mission.” To think of these as five marks of love seems to me to be a helpful reframing. God is love. And whatever mission is or is not, it is about the God of love. Indeed, we might say that mission is who God is and what God does. Christians think of God, in God’s being, as burning “with an unchecked Flame, red hot, incendiary. God does not have Love any more than He has Knowledge or Power: He just is these things.” God is love. Love without object or act (Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology Volume 1, 489, 485).
God is love. Too often we skim over such words as a rock skitting across water thrown from a boat to a shore. We touch the truth for a passing moment. We fail to plumb the depths. If, by the power of Christ’s Spirit, we could begin to experience and encounter the depths of divine love we would avoid much of the misunderstanding and malpractice that passes for mission in the Church. God is love.