Homily: March 22, 2015
FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B; Rev. Theo Park (Fr. Theo's Last Sermon at Gethsemane)
Three men are hiking and they unexpectedly come upon a large raging, violent river.
They need to get to the other side, but have no idea of how to do so. So the first man prays to God and says, "Please God, give me the strength to cross this river." Poof!
God gives him big arms and strong legs, and he is able to swim across the river in
about two hours, but only after almost drowning a couple of times. Seeing this, the
second man also prays to God and says, "Please God, give me the strength ... and the
tools to cross this river." Poof! God gives him a rowboat and he rows across the river in
about an hour, but only after almost capsizing the boat a couple of times. The third man
has watched how all this has worked out for the others, so he too prays to God and
says, "Please God, give me the strength and the tools...and the intelligence... to cross
this river." And poof! God turns him into a woman. She looks at the map, hikes
upstream a couple of hundred yards, and walks across the bridge.
Okay, what about this one?
A man has been confined to his bed in his house for several weeks. He is sick, dying,
and does not expect to last long. One morning he wakes up and finds his room filled
with a wonderful aroma, a smell that takes him back to the happy days of his childhood:
the smell of home-made peanut butter cookies, his favorite treats, fresh out of the oven.
Am I dead?, he thinks to himself. Am I in Heaven? Or maybe I'm asleep and dreaming?
He decides to find out. Calling upon strength that no one realized he had anymore, he manages to pull himself out of bed, slithering onto the floor. He then decides that he is neither dead nor dreaming, and sets out to find the source of the smell for himself.
Slowly, painfully, he pulls himself along the floor of his bedroom and through the open
doorway into the upstairs hall. He then manages to crawl down the steps, headfirst,
slowly, carefully. Finally he is on the ground floor and begins to crawl towards the
kitchen. He gets to the kitchen, pries the door open with his fingertips, and is
overwhelmed by the smell of the cookies. He crawls along the floor to the table, which
he knows is full of cooling cookies. Dragging himself to a table leg, full of joy that he
has reached his goal, he pulls himself up partway and reaches his hand out for one of
the treats from his childhood. Suddenly a spatula smacks his hand away.
"Hands off!" says his beloved wife sternly. "Those are for the funeral!"
Now if that’s not a Gethsemane joke…
I had to do it, you know.
I had to start out with something that would lift our spirits, because otherwise…
Oh my! What a set of readings to go out on.
So full of gloom and doom and portent, even the Jeremiah in a way.
Not very happy sounding; not very full of the hope with which I would leave you.
And yet…we get these readings because something,
in this case the earthly life of Christ, is nearing its end;
but something is also about to begin.
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, when Christ is acclaimed as king over Jerusalem;
then there is Holy Week, a week of mourning and anticipation.
And then it will be Easter, and 50 days of rejoicing in the promises fulfilled.
Looked at thematically in that way, all of this is a blessed serendipity indeed,
one where the events of real life and the present moment
seem to mimic the eternal, kairos time of God.
So I actually think it a perfect note
on which to celebrate the end of my ministry among you
and the beginning of Fr. Phil’s.
I want to talk a little about our shared ministry and your continued work.
The past 19 months has been a time full of growth, of challenges,
of excitement, of anxiety…and I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it.
Well...maybe one or two but let’s not dwell on those.
My personal prayer throughout this time has been a simple one:
that I might serve you as you, God’s people, deserve to be served—
encouraging you to fully claim your gifts, guiding you into “best practices,”
loving you for who you are if at the same time challenging you to be more.
Additionally, to the best of my ability, I have attempted to fill the traditional priest’s roles
of educator, pastor, coach, sacramentalist, and spiritual companion.
Together we have rejoiced at baptisms and marriages and grieved over losses of life.
Together we have seen good friends leave and we have made new ones.
Together we have wrestled over weighty points of theology
and laughed over silly jokes, often enough from me…or on me;
we have expressed our tears and our anger and our joy;
and—being completely truthful—we have occasionally butted heads.
I am glad to say that I carry no lingering scars and I pray that you do not.
Through it all, again according to the gifts given me and with God’s help,
I have offered what I could as an agent of grace among you,
working with you to be worthy stewards of the talents entrusted to you.
Someone said to me recently, “We won’t let you down.”
And I was perhaps too quick to bat that away.
I said, “Oh no, don’t do it for me; do it for the Church and for the glory of God.”
I do mean those things, of course.
But you know, if I have played even a small part
in strengthening you for your on-going work,
it will be a legacy I would treasure proudly.
Your on-going work. Let us be clear that your work is far from over;
calling Phil to be your new settled vicar is only one facet in a larger process.
As I have tried to get across on more than one occasion,
you do not get to rest simply because he has arrived;
in fact you have just entered into a new phase of opportunity to get involved.
Just after the search process concluded, another someone said to me,
“There’s so much riding on this guy.”
Now I deeply respect the person who said this,
and I recognize the high state of anxiety many of you have surrounding your future,
but you will understand that I couldn’t disagree more with this statement.
Yes, Phil will be a leader in this community—
he is talented and more than capable and he will contribute both vision and energy—
but he is and always will be only one leader among many, one voice among many.
Remember what I said just three weeks ago about the trap of expectations
and do not set him up for failure before he even arrives.
To be sure, he will have certain areas of authority that are his alone,
according to our Anglican understanding of a priest’s role,
but you are the Church, the hands and heart of Christ in the world.
You are the household of God that is Gethsemane Episcopal Church,
a church family alive in Christ, a people with a mind to work.
The on-going, transformative work of the Church and its mission remains yours;
the vision and the will to carry it out must come from you, not Phil.
You build on a firm foundation, but it will take all of you working together,
now and into whatever the future has to offer,
each offering to share your very best, even all that you have,
to create a structure that will last.
If you are not involved, or if your dreams are too timid or tepid, it will not happen
and your talents will lie hidden in the ground where they will do no one any good.
Let me be equally clear about something else—
I hope I have conveyed this all along, but just in case you missed it:
you are fully capable, collectively and individually.
You have the strength, the tools and the intelligence for this task
(and that includes the men as well as the women).
You can, with God’s help, put mission before maintenance.
You can, with God’s help, be an intentional rather than a casual community of faith.
You can, with God’s help, be salt to the earth and light to the world.
You are uniquely gifted, creative, resourceful, and whole,
made in the image and likeness of God who loves you unconditionally.
We are all made in love, by love, for love,
and then we are called to be faithful disciples:
to tell others the story of what God has done for us from the beginning,
to proclaim the fulfillment of God’s promise as we see it in Jesus,
to let the Spirit turn our lives upside down as we follow Christ, calling others to join us.
If you can attempt to do this while keeping in mind the things I have just said,
I believe that they will help you to live every minute as willing witnesses to Christ,
and that with God’s power working in you
you will achieve infinitely more than you can ask or imagine.
Thank you for the privilege of this time among you.