Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Sermon on the Wesleys

The usual disclaimers apply here. I didn't deliver this sermon word for word, so this isn't exactly what I preached on Tuesday, March 3.

"The Authority of the Apostles"

On this day we remember the lives and work of John and Charles Wesley. Charles we remember for his beautiful hymns which grace our worship with their musical and poetic power.


John, on the other hand, is remembered chiefly for his role in founding what would later become the Methodist church. His theology put him at odds with the Church of England which had ordained him, but he was completely devoted to preaching the word and serving God’s people. He was involved early in the abolitionist movement and orphanages and prison reform, and for his work we are grateful.


John also advocated the use of lay preachers, and for that I am grateful even as I lack a formal training in preaching. John Wesley’s view of ordained ministry is very, very different from what we in the Anglican tradition believe, but his work, I’m sure, left the seeds for the re-valuing of the laity in recent years. He knew that the Gospel could be taught not only by learned priests but also by laborers who knew Jesus in their lives.


While not everyone is suited to preach from the pulpit and not every person should, every person does have a ministry whether they wear a little white collar or not. Every one of us has been called to a life of service to God and our neighbor. This life of service is living out the Gospel; it is bringing the Jesus we meet here in word and Sacrament out into a world of injustice, confusion, and heartache.


In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends out the Twelve “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” Not the smallest of tasks; the power of healing occupied so much of Jesus’ time, and then to add in the proclamation of the Kingdom? The apostles had a monumental task to fulfill.


But then Christ orders them to take nothing for their trip; no extra clothes, no food, not even money for these things. The apostles are supposed to find a place to stay, trust in the hospitality of strangers, and then go out into the city and preach the Gospel and heal the sick. Trusting in God and in the hospitality of strangers, they were to go out and proclaim the Good News to the neighboring towns.


How effective could the apostles be if they were supposed to take nothing for their journey? How could they focus on preaching and healing if they had to worry about what they were going to eat, where they were going to stay? This concern later led the apostles to ordain deacons to assist them; how could they focus on teaching if they had to wait on tables all day?


Today we would say that it would be irresponsible to send people out so ill-equipped. Won’t they need some supplies? Some money to get a room for the night? Some food? How can they be effective preachers and teachers if we don’t give them any supplies?


But Christ commanded them to take nothing for their journey. The apostles would have to live as vulnerable strangers in the land. They would have to hope that others would invite them in to stay the night and invite them to share in their food. In return, the apostles could give only the message of God’s kingdom and the healing of diseases. While healing diseases might be a very welcome gift, the proclamation of the kingdom which heals our hearts and minds and world might not be so welcome.


The apostles would have to live, then, as Christ lived. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and lived among us as a vulnerable human being. The Son of God was sent to us by the authority of the Father in order to draw us back to God. Christ was sent as our Messiah so that we might be made whole, that we might love God with all our hearts and minds and strength and that we might love our neighbors as ourselves.


But Christ did not bring anything with him except the power to heal and to teach. When tempted by the devil in the desert to turn rocks into bread, Jesus refused. His power and authority was not to serve himself, to provide for his own needs but to provide for the needs of God’s people, for our needs. And his living out the Gospel is why people were amazed at his words, for he taught as someone with authority, as someone who heeded his own message and whose good fruits were evident!


So the apostles were sent out like Jesus. While it wasn’t read today, the Gospel reads that Jesus called together the apostles and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. Their power to heal the sick came from God, and they were sent out to do so. Their power and authority was to be of service.


But Christ didn’t give them the power and authority to proclaim the Gospel, to preach the good news about the kingdom of God. This power and authority was not to be given but instead to be lived. If the Gospel could not be lived by those teaching it, then of what use was it? If the rightness of the teaching was not evident in the lives of its teachers, then how could it be right?


By living as vulnerable people, the apostles were given the chance to rely on God and to have faith in God and in God’s people. Their authority was in living out the freedom of the Gospel. They could not wander about, thinking that their job was to preach the Good News which others were then expected to follow. They had to be ready to serve and to accept help from others and to proclaim the Gospel of a God made flesh to save us. They had to live these things, and that is the root of their authority.


And so lay people, just as deacons, priests and bishops, are called to preach the Gospel. And they are called to preach it in living it out. Their authority to live the Gospel comes not from the ordination to Holy Orders but from baptism, as that is our call to the Christian life. Our baptism sends us out, and the Gospel becomes evident in our lives.


So you today may not feel eloquent, but do you live the Gospel? You may not give a brilliant sermon on the Scripture readings for the day but do you live the Gospel? Do you live as a witness to Christ Jesus who came to us that we might live a new life in God? Do you live as a servant to your neighbors around you, caring for the needs of those you love and the needs of those you do not or cannot love?


If you do, then you have the authority to proclaim the Good News because you’re living the Good News. The teaching that comes from the example of your life has authority because its rightness, its faithfulness to God is evident.


So go out there, and preach the Gospel by living it.

1 comment:

Country Parson said...

Well done and well said