Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Proper 22C St. Mary's Asheville

(Before mass)
          I’m Tom Rightmyer, the priest Fr. Norris promised “will be here at 11:00 am to offer Mass for those who cannot participate in the ecumenical service.” I am honored by this opportunity to serve.  When I was ordained in 1966 I promised God that I would take every opportunity offered to preach the gospel and to offer the sacrifice of the mass. I have served in Maryland, in Asheboro and Shelby, NC, and with the national church General Board of Examining Chaplains before I retired in 2002.  We live at Deerfield, and I’m working on a directory of the colonial clergy.

          This morning Fr. Norris and many from St. Mary’s are worshipping with our Methodist and Lutheran ecumenical partners. Let me offer some background.  

          In the Middle Ages parish churches celebrated the mass every Sunday and many also joined with monks and nuns in services of bible readings and prayer, but few received communion except at Easter. From the late 1500’s the usual Sunday morning service combined Morning Prayer, the Litany and Antecommunion – the mass through the prayers of the people. Generally 4 times a year the service continued with the Prayer of Consecration and communion – winter, spring, early summer, and fall - Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday or Pentecost, and the Sunday near St. Michael and All Angels day.

          After 300 years - in the mid-1800’s - the combined services were separated. The mass was central for Anglo-Catholic parishes and Morning Prayer and sermon were the usual Sunday service in other churches. Only from the 1950’s has everyone expected to receive at every mass, and in the 1980’s  the Eucharist replaced Morning Prayer as the principal Sunday service.  

          In colonial America the norm for Anglicans and dissenters alike was communion 4 times a year. The Protestant churches continued that pattern. In the late 19th century many churches moved from conflict to cooperation and in the 1930’s Protestant churches agreed to a common fall World Wide Communion. God is at work in all his churches, and a sign of his work in an increasing appreciation of the spiritual presence of our Lord in the Holy Communion. I’ve watched this  develop for over 47 years, and I thank God for it.

(As Sermon)
           Today ‘s Gospel ends with one of Jesus’ hard sayings, “. . . when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

          We don’t like to hear “we are worthless slaves.” We are brought up to think well of ourselves. As one preacher said, “We are self-made men, worshipping our creator.” We have no good reason for this inordinate pride. We are not “good people.” That’s a lie. We are sinners saved by grace, forgiven sinners washed in the blood of the lamb. Our Catholic faith witnessed in Holy Scripture is that we are sinners, and only by Our Lord’s sacrifice, by his death and resurrection, are we reconciled with the Father and made able to receive the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, empowered to do Our Lord’s will in the world he has redeemed. 

I recently heard a meditation on Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”  The church in our time has these confused. We do mercy – churches do a lot to help the poor and needy. We love justice – we love to talk about justice. We are keenly aware of injustice in our society and freely gather to complain when we think injustice is being done. But as the speaker continued, the last part is hard. We don’t do very well walking humbly with God.

           Like many of you I have lots of awards given me for various things. Volunteer organizations give paperweights, and coffee cups, and badges, and lots of other things. I suspect we could paper our walls with the certificates of appreciation. At diocesan convention in mid-November we’ll have lots of such awards for worthy recipients and many well-crafted courtesy resolutions of commendation.

           It is natural for those of us with responsibilities for organizational maintenance to want to give these things, and all of us are on some level glad to be recognized and given a token of appreciation. My 4 year old granddaughter, like her mother and her uncle, and her grandmother, and me – and likely you, sometimes notices that we’re not paying what she considers sufficient attention and says, “Look at me!” We’ve all got that in us, “Look at me!”

But as the hymn says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

The reality of the Christian life is that we are raised from death in sin to new life in Christ Jesus. The task of the Christian life is to grow in Christ – to place him at the center of our lives that he may increase and our sinful selfishness may decrease.

          Life in Jesus is profoundly counter-cultural. He teaches his disciples, “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”  He calls us continually to consider in every action, “Who am I doing this for?”

The Ash Wednesday gospel from St. Matthew 6 reminds us, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

We are all more or less motivated by what we get from what we do. Since Disney’s 1937 Snow White the dwarfs and others have sung, “I owe, I owe, so it’s off to work I go.” We work partly because we need the money. But there is more. Work is a generally productive way to spend time. We are defined by our work. Even at Deerfield we ask new people, “What did you do when you were working?”

And we seek opportunities to be productive.  This Tuesday from 6 am to after 7:30 pm I will work at the primary election for Asheville city mayor. Vote for one of three and then Tuesday November 5 vote again for one of two and for 3 of 5 candidates for city council. The decisions will be made by a small percentage of city voters. I encourage you to be one of them. I’ll be paid – about $10 an hour.  I appreciate the money, but I appreciate more knowing that at least at that precinct the election will be as free and fair as I and others can make it. We will share the internal satisfaction of a job well done.  “We have done what we ought to have done.”

As on Tuesday, so with the rest of life. We live and serve in gratitude for God’s gift of new life in Jesus Christ. A Ugandan bishop, exiled by Idi Amin, once  quoted to me First Peter 2:10, “Once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy.”  “. . . when we have done all that we were ordered to do, we say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”  Thanks be to God!

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