Saturday, December 1, 2007

Institution of the Rector at Church of the Transfiguration, NYC

Church of the Transfiguration, New York, New York
Sermon for the Institution of The Rt. Rev’d. Andrew St. John
as Rector of the Church of the Transfiguration
by Br. Adam D. McCoy, OHC
St. Andrew’s Day, Friday 30 November 2007

Deuteronomy 30:11-14
Romans 10:8b-18
Matthew 4:18-22
Psalm 19:1-6

I can't help myself. William Jude's old tune, Galilee, just will not leave me alone. Join me, if you like...

Jesus call us; o'er the tumult
of our life’s wild restless sea,
Day by day his clear voice soundeth,
saying, “Christian, follow me.”

Which of us has not had the tumult of a life’s wild restless sea? My guess is that there is not a soul here who has not been tossed about, worried about the future as we cast our gaze out to sea. If we cast our nets from the safety of the shore, will we get any fish worth catching? If we launch out in our boat in hope of a greater haul, will God prosper us in our fishing? Will we be safe? Where might we be headed as we sail on under a power not our own, as the shore recedes from view, as the day grows longer and the night comes on? Will we arrive at the destination we desire? What if the storms grow stronger? What might we have to pitch over the side? Will we even reach shore alive?

My guess is that every one of us has had this frightening experience, if not actually at the seashore, then in our lives, for which the tumult of the sea is such an apt metaphor . I have. I know your new Rector has. This parish certainly has. And so has our Church.

In the story we have just heard from St. Matthew, Jesus meets Peter and his brother Andrew, and then James and John, casting their nets on the shore, no doubt watching the weather and the waves with a practiced eye, wondering whether they should launch out into the deep, but on the lookout for trouble if it comes. Jesus calls them: “Follow me.” “Folowe me, and I will make you fisshers of men,” in Tyndale’s translation. “I will make you fishers for people instead of for fish.” (Matthew 4:19)

This is the apostolic call: Follow me. Come work for me, go fishing for me. This word of Jesus comes to those he chooses in the midst of the tumult of the sea of their lives and the busy-ness of their craft and their hope of honest gain. And the miracle is that this word is heard. All four, without hesitation, immediately drop their nets and follow him. Twice Matthew repeats it – immediately -- twice, as if to underscore how remarkable their response is. The Word Incarnate speaks the word and immediately those whom he has chosen hear him, drop their nets and follow him.

Our readings this evening center on the communication of the Word of God, on hearing and responding. Moses tells the people of Israel that the word he is speaking, the Word of God for them in the Law, is not up in heaven or across the sea, needing a special messenger, but as close as their mouth and their heart. Moses’ point is that since it is so close, Israel should have no trouble knowing what God wants them to do and doing it. “The word is very near to you.” (Deut. 30.14)

St. Paul’s midrash on this passage identifies this very word as the Word of faith: the resurrected, reigning and saving Lord Jesus himself. But then Paul goes on: It is not enough that the Word is near to us, in our mouths and in our hearts. The Word demands to be shared. For the apostolic work it is not enough to hear. The hearer must act, must follow, must work. Everyone who calls upon the Lord is invited to enter the new Israel of God, says Paul. Everyone, without distinction. But how will people know about it? Someone has to be sent. Someone has to announce good news. Someone has to get to work on it. Someone has to go fishing.

One of the evidences that Paul’s letters were probably composed by dictation to a secretary – one might say, by preaching aloud to that poor secretary – is that Paul is always interrupting his train of thought to answer objections, taking little side trips into points that might otherwise be missed. Anyone who preaches without a written text knows about this ... and so do their congregations! Here it seems to occur to Paul that there may be problems, even after the wonderful process of the apostolic calling, which he renders with such appealing rhetoric –

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10: 14-15)

It occurs to Paul that, even with this great organ peal of ministry commissioning, there are going to be people who hear but are not moved, who will have heard but won’t act. The preacher may be called with every spiritual grace and sign, taught in the best schools by the best professors, examined by the wisest of the elders, ordained by the most grace-filled and apostolical bishop, placed in the finest parish with the most faithful, insightful, generous and gifted congregation, the most beautiful and useful and well-maintained buildings, in the midst of overflowing talents of music, liturgy, education, and zeal for the good of others, in whose need we meet Christ himself. The whole church in fact may proclaim the Word of God in its most attractive and compelling forms. We may cast our well-crafted, well-maintained nets into the sea with our greatest skill and energy. But sometimes the catch is not what we thought we would get. This is what I would like to call the Apostolic Mystery. The Word is sent forth, but its result is not always what we expect.

I don’t know what your new Rector thought his catch would be when he embarked on his mission as an apostle of Jesus Christ, as a committed Christian lay person, then as a deacon, a priest, and finally as a bishop. I can guess – perhaps an overflowing Australian congregation or two or three in a life’s priestly ministry; perhaps a loving, well tended, effective diocese reaching out to those in special need of God’s love and joy and peace in cooperation with his episcopal colleagues in Melbourne. Perhaps more! If we trust the Lord’s call to us, we should dream of what might be, and then work to make it happen. We should put our talents to work, and then go fishing as best we can. Our rational and conscious intentions, our preparation and our work, are all necessary, blessed by God and loved by God.

But there is also another element at work in the Apostolic Mystery of proclamation, of hearing and responding. I believe our psalm this evening hints at it:
The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

This is another type of apostolic proclamation altogether. God’s own creation proclaims. The very heavens, the day and the night, are apostolic heralds of the good news. The word is very near you, indeed. It is in your mouth and in your heart, and in the passage of time, in the light and in the dark. The skies themselves testify. “The earth is filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea” as another great hymn proclaims. God does not leave the proclamation to us alone.

The earth is filled with the glory of God. When we hear the call as a Christian community and follow, when we do the apostolic work, when we proclaim, as you do in this great parish with your tradition of holy worship, great preaching, wonderful music, generous outreach and social witness, we are not projecting a lonely voice into the void. We are joining a choral symphony already in progress. God is already doing his work, at all times, everywhere, with everyone. When we hear the call as individuals and follow, discovering the talents God has given each of us, finding the word in our hearts and in our mouths, when we each act creatively to proclaim in our own lives this great and good Gospel, we are not acting in a vacuum, but joining a world already loved and empowered by the Word. And when we commission a fine priest and bishop of the Church to lead this wonderful parish, we are asking him to join in the great mediatorial work of Christ already in progress, which has been bearing fruit in the world for two millennia, and in this parish for one hundred and sixty years. He is not alone. We are not alone. The Church is not alone. The world is filled with the Word of God through which it was made, which joins with and through the whole creation in unceasing praise to the Father. May that unceasing praise be yours here in this place.

Andrew, you have had some tumult and some wild and restless seas in your life and ministry. You cast off from the safety of the shore to follow the Lord as a fisherman, eager to be sent to proclaim the Word and the love of God that others might believe and know and live in Christ. You had no idea, really, where you were going, or where you would end up, even if you once thought you did. What may have seemed an ending is now a beginning. Listen to the chorus of God’s Word already at work all around, interpret it for your people, and love them into the Kingdom.

And you, members of this great parish, you have work to do. Listen for and hear the call of Jesus Christ even when the sea seems wild and restless. Hear his call and follow him. Take up the tools of your life’s work and make them instruments of a new work as apostles, heralds, messengers of God. Let your feet be beautiful as you bring good news. Be transfigured by the glory of God. Let the Word of God and its light shine in you and through you and from you. Look for, learn to recognize, and join with all the goodness of God’s transfiguring and transforming energy at work already and always all around you.

And to all of us here this evening: Let us tell the glory of God. Let us show God’s handiwork. Let us tell our tales and impart our knowledge each to the other. Even when we think we don’t have the words, let our sound go out into all lands, and our message to the ends of the earth. Like the sun let us run our course rejoicing as brides and bridegrooms and champions do. Let us join with all creation in the praise of the one whose Word is Holy.

No comments: