Sermon for the Atlanta Annual Council
Weâre celebrating the feast of William Temple today, and the first suggestion of something unusual is that this isnât the date he died; itâs the date he was baptized. Maybe thatâs a hint that his witness has more to do with incarnation than death and resurrection.
The focus of his ministry was almost always on healing division â social, theological, religious, and national. He was a man of strong opinion who insisted that a personâs belief reaches maturity only through vigorous conversation, and responding to the opposing views of others. He was a reconciler, but he was most definitely not a pacifist; in fact, he called himself an anti-pacifist. He was widely criticized by other religious leaders for not condemning the Allied blanket bombing of
He was a big man, physically, and one poet [Ronald Knox] begins to describe him ironically like this: âA man so broad, to some he seemâd to be Not one, but all Mankind in Effigy.â He was indeed a leader of remarkable breadth, a representative of all Godâs people, and a follower of Jesus who strove to, as the collect put it, ârejoice with courage, confidence, and faith in the Word made flesh, and â¦ to establish that city which has justice for its foundation and love for its law.â
William Temple may be best known for reminding us that the church is the only human institution that exists primarily for those who are not its members. Thatâs a challenging view to some Episcopalians â that the church isnât here primarily for our benefit, that the churchâs basic job isnât to take care of us or meet our needs.
The churchâs primary task is to help us care for, heal, and reconcile the world. We do that by becoming like the one we worship, into whose family we are baptized, and whose members we become as we share in his body at this table. We become what we eat here, we become the living water with which we are washed, we become what we worship, we become whom we emulate.
John speaks of how this begins: âno one has ever seen God; it is Jesus, God in the flesh, who has made God known.â As we become part of the body of Christ, we share in that mystery and that ministry.
Where do you discover the word becoming flesh? Or letting the mystery hidden in God be made known, as Ephesians puts it? Jesus himself would point us to the poor, or the treasure of the poor, in the phrase of St. Francis. Jesus calls the poor blessed, for they know and receive the kingdom of heaven. Where people are most vulnerable, most aware that all they need can only come from God, Godâs mystery is being revealed there â the power of God made known in weakness, the wisdom of God made evident in the worldâs foolishness.
I had a message from the Bishop of Taiwan a couple of days ago. He wrote to tell about the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot, which hit the southern end of
One of the Episcopal churches in
Whatâs it been like here, in the aftermath of your own floods in September? The loss of life was much smaller, and the community has responded, but your bishop tells me that the shelters are closed and almost finished with their work. Healing from other floods, like those in
What about the kind of enduring disaster thatâs represented in the poorest inner-city neighborhoods? Who sets up camp and stays in the inner city, after one teen is murdered and another raped? Who mentors young girls in danger of being exploited? Who encourages a larger view of the world with kids who only know fast food, a fast buck, instant gratification, and 23 minute TV answers? Who ministers to and with the mentally disabled? Only people who know that death is not the last word. Only those who follow one who hangs in, even through death and violence and degradation and rejection.
We discover the word becoming flesh in the treasure of the poor, those who are poor in the worldâs eyes, those who are radically dependent on God for hope, for life, and the possibility of new life. Some speak of that treasure of the poor as reflecting Godâs own poverty â that God has nothing to give but Godâs own self. If weâre going to follow a God like that, we have to begin to discover that radical poverty of dependence. It is only in accompanying the poor, joining in solidarity, that we will find Godâs treasure. If we want to find the kingdom of heaven, weâre going to have to let some of that poverty rub off on us â in water, and meal (whether frugal or feast), and incarnate encounter. When we let go of the worldâs protections, we just might discover the treasure of the poor.
Poverty isnât just about what you have in the bank. Poverty is about where you look for hope. The world calls rich those who can look to the bank for hope. The blessed look to God, and the incarnate sharing-of-self evidence of God in Jesus and his followers â there is the treasure.
Where are you looking for treasure? Are you willing to look in the midst of those who are starving for hope?