With the encouragement of my boss at St Mary’s, I’m passing around word that we’re looking for a Vice Provost for the cathedral. It’s not a training position, not a curacy, but a position for someone with experience. It would perhaps prepare you for subsequent service at a senior level, or provide a setting to ratchet down from a senior position which has become too onerous. I’m especially calling for the attention of my friends Stateside; St Mary’s is looking especially for help in consolidating the growth of the past few years and moving forward into the next phase of our congregational life.
I will add as a strictly personal note that it might be easiest for a single person. Margaret and I have had a degree of vexation with visas, ourselves. But you know I love Glasgow, and the congregation is at a very promising juncture of its corporate life. Wonderful, strong music program; liturgically deliberate but not very high church; good overlap with University community, though there’s probably work to be done enhancing that connection; my non-stipendiary colleagues are tremendous to work with; and I have very high regard for the Provost, who is a strong presence in the Scottish Episcopal Church, a lively intellect, and an accomplished preacher and congregational leader. He and I take different views on a number of topics — in some cases, very different views — and we can hold those divergent views with respect and clarity (I don’t try to undermine him, he doesn’t try to override me). That’s an important indicator, I think; too many clergy respond insecurely to difference, and they redouble (overt or covert) hostility to anyone who doesn’t sign on their dotted lines, and that can be a perilous, frustrating position for a member of staff. I haven’t seen that in Kelvin, and I appreciate that immensely. So that’s my non-stipendiary-clergy-team view of the position; I don’t have any role in the search process, so there may be aspects of the position that I’m entirely wrong about. Send a query (to the cathedral), or write to Kelvin, or just apply and see what happens.
I preached this morning, too, which went moderately well. “Moderately,” because it became clear during my reading of the gospel that my microphone wasn’t on (and it’s important that we all be miked). As I processed to the pulpit, I fiddled with all the buttons and connections, and everything seemed to be in order. I extricated the main power pack, the on-off switch, and the mic itself from multiple layers of clothing and vestments, and our MC dashed off to grab a spare, which I manipulated into place (sort of) while standing at the ready to being the sermon.
Once I got going, the sermon part was fine (apart from occasional unanticipated squawks from the back-up mic, which gave me a start). Since we at St Mary’s are moving ahead into a new phase, for which our Vice Provost will play an essential role, and because congregational growth (change!) usually occasions stress and disruption, I preached o the Colossians text — hoping that by working together and thinking theologically together, we can keep our bearings through any storms that may come our way.
11 July, 2010
Proper 10 C
Amos 7:7-17/Col 1:1-14/Lk 10:25-37
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Maybe some folks here recall those old B-grade Hollywood Western movies that filled theatre screens toward the middle of the last century: the 40’s and 50’s and 60’s. A lot of those movies use the same set of characters and the same basic plot. There’s the Lovely Young Widow who’s been left with growing children to raise, and the rundown ranch to manage; she’s trying to Make It On Her Own, since her husband died. There’s the Bad Guy, who threatens the young widow — he makes improper advances and threatens to take over the ranch if she won’t accommodate him. There’s the Good Guy, sometimes a sheriff, sometimes a mysterious out-of-towner, who steps up to defend the widow. And there’s often a local minister, a minister who’s usually a real nothing in these movies. The star of the movie is the Good Guy — John Wayne, or Randolph Scott — who shoots down the Bad Guy in the closing scenes. The minister is played by a character actor; if he’s not drunk and useless, he just stands around looking feebly pious. The movie shows us that the minister can’t do anything to help the Widow out of her troubles. You can almost hear John Wayne saying, “Wal, you pray for her, Padre — I’m a-going out after Bad Billy.” And then the Good Guy solves everybody’s problems simply by shooting the troublemaker.
Those old films remain popular, whether in their mid-twentieth-century Wild West setting, or their late twentieth century law-and-order urban setting, or in their science fiction space setting, because they’re so unlike the complications that surround us outside the comfortable walls of the theatre. In the dark of the cinema, problems disappear in 90 or 100 minutes as somebody shoots down the desperado, or wreaks vengeance on the drug-dealing gangsters, or blows up the Death Star. Outside, in daylight, it takes patience and wisdom to work to restore justice to our worlds. In the theatre, the Bad Guy is unambiguously bad; the movies usually end with the villain dead, partly because if they showed the villain on trial, he might plea bargain for a lesser sentence, or he might be acquitted in the end. In the daylight world, sometimes accused villains turn out to be innocents who were fit up by deceiving wretches. Indeed, sometimes in the daylight world we have a hard time figuring out just exactly who or what the problem is — and if we rush to take action, if we swagger into the saloon with guns a-blazing, we only make even greater problems for ourselves and for everyone around us. We reinforce the power of wickedness when we take hasty action, even in the name of justice.
So the epistle reading for this morning carefully sets things out for us. Yes, it says, it’s vitally important that we bear fruit in every good work — that fruit-bearing is a sign that the word of truth lives among us, and that we place our hope in the gospel. The gospel living within us, kindling our hope, will never let us stand idly by, twiddling our thumbs and dithering and duffling. The word of truth doesn’t send us scuttling past the wounded traveller of this morning’s gospel parable. Jesus appointed us, each and every one of us, and above all, all of us together, to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.
But the epistle also weaves its instruction about fruit-bearing with the equally important vocation of patiently growing in the knowledge of God, filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. However much we might be tempted by the Hollywood solution of isolating a troublemaker and wiping him out, we stand under an even more important command that we seek to understand God’s ways and God’s will before we provoke any showdowns on Main Street. Action needs spiritual understanding, and wisdom needs to bear much fruit in action.
We need both action and understanding in order to grow. Now, sometimes church people want to talk only about “growing,” only about numbers — usually they’re the ones with crowded buildings and large paid staffs. And sometimes church people argue that it’s more important to be faithful than to be numerous, and they remind us that true prophets often stand bravely alone against the great numbers of idolaters and scoffers. (They’re frequently people from smaller congregations and lonely buildings.) And it is true indeed that Jesus warns his disciples that they aren’t going to win any popularity contests by taking up their cross and following him. But it’s also true that Scripture tells, time and again, that where the Word is truly preached and the power of the Spirit set to work among the people, that onlookers will marvel at the great things happening among us. Just as the gospel bears fruit and grows in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit right here among ourselves from the day we heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.
The difficulty is that growing brings challenges, and those challenges are the kind that don’t settle conveniently into the Western-movie Good Guys versus Bad Guys scenario. As St Mary’s grows — and I have every confidence that we are on the brink of a significant phase of growth — as St Mary’s grows, we owe it to ourselves and to one another to do all we can to face the challenges that come along with growth wisely. Moreover, and more importantly, we owe it to the saints who built and sustained our congregation long before we arrived here, and to the saints around the city and around these islands and over the whole world, with whom our prayers, our hopes, our ministries, and our proclamation of the gospel are linked in solidarity. We grow with strength that comes not just from our own hearts and sinews, but from hearts and sinews that strove here generations ago, that prayed here decades ago, that built and polished and sang and preached and went forth from here empowered by a Spirit that means new life. And we owe to every congregant. present and past and future, and to every visitor, and to everyone who lifts up St Mary’s in their prayers from around the globe, we owe to every one of them the wisdom that will not confront growth on Hollywood’s rapid-fire Good Guys and Bad Guys terms, but will embrace the verses from this morning’s epistle lesson: “[B]e filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and under–standing, so that [we] may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as [we] bear fruit in every good work and as [we] grow in the knowledge of God. May [we] be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may [we] be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”
By devoting ourselves patiently to learning ever more deeply to understand, to know, to be wise, we can work together through any problem that may come with our new growth. By devoting ourselves to bearing fruit, by caring for wounded strangers, by sharing the inheritance that we have from the saints, by enduring every challenge patiently, our ministries here — and beyond the walls of this our splendid spiritual home — our ministries will proclaim the radiance of loving and thankful hearts to a city and a world that fidget and hunger and stretch out uncertain hands for the sustenance that streams so amply, so freely from the walls, the altars, the fonts and stalls and pews of this holy place. And if we will venture forward to grow in love and knowledge, in service and understanding, there can be no doubt that seekers will clamour to receive what St Mary’s offers in such glorious abundance.
In the Hollywood version of the complex, multidimensional stresses that come from a congregation that’s willing to step up and grow, there might be just one Good Guy who saves the town and the Young Widow by killing the enemy. But as you will have noticed, sisters and brothers, this is no Hollywood; and the drama in which we all play pivotal roles will not be resolved by targeting Bad Guys and driving them away from our community. Instead, we can gather — Widow, Minister, Youngsters, Ranch Hands, Bartenders, Sheriffs, Cowhands; Priests, Levites, Samaritans, travellers; saints and forgiven sinners, all together in learning and serving in the power of the Spirit. We can face every challenge that confronts us and say, “We will not resolve our problems by shooting them, or by chasing people away. We will not yield to impatient coercion. Our strength derives from the our solidarity with one another, with all the saints in light, and we have faith that the God who has rescued us from the power of wickedness will give us strength to grow into whatever lies ahead for us, trusting not in six-shooters and showdowns but in the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.