Sunday, July 30, 2006

Growing Into God

SJF • Proper 12b • Tobias S Haller BSG
Elisha said,“As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
Has anybody here ever been annoyed with someone pestering them in what seems a childish way? Maybe a co-worker won’t stop humming an irritating tune, or stop with the practical jokes; or a friend just won’t stop chattering in a movie theater. And perhaps you’ve found yourself saying to this person, “Will you please grow up!” Now, the interesting thing about this expression is that you would never say it to a baby. Nothing could be sillier than to shout, “Will you please grow up,” to a crying baby — even if that is how we might feel! Because what we really mean when we say, “Will you please grow up” is that the person should act their age! We don’t so much want them to grow up as to act in accordance with who they already are.

So growing up is about becoming who you are meant to be, realizing your potential. We all start small and dependent, full of promise but devoid of performance.

Leo Ravenhill tells of a tourist group visiting a quaint little village. One tourist sees an old man sitting by a fence, and asks him, “Were any great people born in this town?” The old man looks him up and down before replying, “Nope; only babies.” For no one starts out as a great person — we all start as babies and need to grow up.

This growing up, becoming all that we are capable of becoming, requires letting go — the child needs to let go of its parents, the parents need to let go of their child. If we are to grow to complete maturity we need to be let go, and to let go in return. A bird that is never pushed from the nest will never learn to fly.

I’m not sure how many of you may have seen the film The Last Emperor. It tells the story of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. Now if anyone ever needed to grow up it was Pu Yi. Through his childhood he was sheltered and protected, constantly restrained by the protocol of the forbidden city. He was still being breast-fed when he was 13 years old! He always seemed free to have his own way, but in truth he was completely controlled by the careful manipulation of his chamberlains and servants, who directed him like master puppeteers with invisible cords. So when his world fell apart as the Japanese invaded in the 1930s, and then again in 1949 when the Communists took over, poor Pu Yi had a lot of growing up to do — and it was a very painful process! It took war and revolution, the destruction of an empire and a nation, to bring this man to true freedom and the knowledge of his true dignity — not as the Emperor, but as a human being. He had to let go, and he had to be let go.

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Our scripture readings this morning tell us a good bit about growing up — this process of letting go, of being let go. Mark’s Gospel shows us Jesus the patient teacher trying to nudge his disciples out of the nest. They are all at sea, straining against the wind and water, and Jesus strolls out, not to rescue them, but as Mark notes, intending to pass them by. He is giving them a chance to grow up, to trust that he who chose them can also be trusted to preserve them; that he who fed five thousand with a few loaves and fish can lead them to safe harbor. But the disciples aren’t ready —their hearts are too hard — and instead of steering the boat to follow him to safety, they collapse in terror. I can surely imagine the tone of voice with which Jesus must have said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” — like a patient math teacher whose pupils just can’t grasp an equation. The disciples simply aren’t ready to let go, even if Jesus is.

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When we look at our reading from the Old Testament, the situation at first seems similar. Elisha says he’ll never leave his beloved teacher Elijah. Elijah just can’t get rid of him! Three times Elijah tells him to let him go, and three times Elisha refuses. Finally Elisha accepts that Elijah will be taken from him, and he asks for a double share of his spirit — no easy request. But in this act of willingly letting go, accepting that his master and teacher must leave him, Elisha shows that he is mature enough to receive the gift, that he has faith and trust in God and in his master, and he inherits the promised double portion of the Spirit.

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And it is with the Spirit that I will end this meditation, by turning to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, picking up a theme I began two weeks ago. In today’s passage Paul talks about what it means to grow up — to be no longer a child blown about by every wind of doctrine, but being firm in the truth that God has provided us in the person of Christ. The wonderful thing about growing in unity in Christ is that it isn’t about uniformity: the various members of the church are completely united but individually gifted: as they grow they diversify!

This is what lies behind Paul’s baptismal language — beginning with unity, passing through universality, and ending with diversity: there is one body and one Spirit, one call, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father — of all — who is above all and through all and in all. But to each — to each — he gave grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift: and each individual’s gift is different yet works together for the unity of the body.

There is a biological reality to this movement from one to all to each: every human being starts as one single cell, a fertilized egg. As it divides into additional cells they specialize under the direction of that amazing DNA molecule that is identical in all the cells but directs each in its own way — this one becomes a nerve, another a blood cell, another skin, another bone. If all of the cells were the same, we would not and could not be what we are: we would be like the Blob — a giant amoeba that can only digest. But instead the body grows with differentiation — different cells equally part of the one body, all directed by the same DNA, but each doing different things for the good of the whole body, knit together in every ligament and joint, each part working together as one. Maturity requires differentiation as much as it requires unity.

So part of maturity means being an individual — as a psychologist would say, being individuated — not being tossed about by what other people say or think or feel. To be mature is to have one’s own sense of self, and the ability to exercise one’s own gifts but not tokeep them for oneself alone, but for the good of the larger body, and its growth towards the end that God intends. Rabbi Hillel, who was the teacher of Saint Paul’s teacher Gamaliel, once said something along these lines: “If I am not for myself, who will be; but if I am only for myself, what am I. And if not now, when.” Each individual will have the maturity to stand for him or herself — but not to stand for him or herself alone, but in unity with all — and this happens in the now that is given to us anew each day. Perhaps Paul learned this lesson from his spiritual grandfather Rabbi Hillel.

For what is important in all of this is the direction of the growth: it is not growth away from God or from others, but growth into Christ, and for the good of the whole church. For while I’ve talked today about growing by letting go and being let go, that is not the same thing as abandoning or being abandoned. A loving mother will let her child take its first few steps by letting go, but those supportive hands are never very far away. A loving father will teach his son to drive, but will sit right there in the passenger seat, ready to assist when needed. And God, when God wants us to grow, lets us go but does not abandon us. God’s Spirit is always near, dwelling within us in the many gifts the Spirit gives: gifts that help some to grow to become apostles, some prophets and evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipped for the work of ministry with spiritual tools and spiritual resources. It is the one Spirit working in all that gives this growth to each with many gifts.

God does not abandon us like children in a storm-tossed rowboat, but speaks the truth through the Spirit poured into our hearts, helping us to grow up into him who is the head, into Christ. It is the love of God working through the Spirit that lets us grow by letting us go without abandoning us, letting us become what God wishes us to be.

Jesus has his eye on us even if it may seem from time to time as if he intends to pass us by. And if we truly are not strong enough to pull the oars of our little lives into his wake, and follow where he leads, he will as a patient teacher turn back and board our boat. But if his Spirit working in us gives us strength to bend our hands to the task of ministry and mission, and the courage to trust in him and follow him, what joy is his, and what joy is ours! A child knows the joy of riding a bike the first time without training wheels, and a parent knows the joy of watching that child gain that feeling of freedom and maturity. Christ has made us free, but he has not abandoned us. On the contrary, Christ has his eye on us; he is waiting for us to take up the work he has given us to do — has equipped us to do through the Spirit — so let us do so, sisters and brothers in Christ, to the honor and glory of his name.+

Monday, July 17, 2006

Called and Sent

SJF • Proper 10b • Tobias S Haller BSG
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Beginning today and for the next few Sundays, we will be hearing a course of readings from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It is a joy to leave the troublesome Corinthians behind! For while Paul’s letters to those folks are full of the problems of a divisive and fractured community, his letter to the church in Ephesus shows us the church as it is meant to be — a church not without its tensions, but in which the tensions combine to strengthen the whole structure, as in a building the stresses of weight and pressure are what hold it together. One of the great wonders of architecture is the skill that allows an architect to use the weight of the structure pushing down to make it rise even higher. In the great gothic cathedrals of the middle ages, the weight of the vaulted roof is transferred down the columns and into the walls and the buttresses — the whole thing in a wonderful dynamic tension that allows the structure to stand tall and proud.

Even in our own little Saint James Church, you can see how the weight of the high central roof over the nave is transferred down the ribs along the ceiling, supported by those pointed arches running east and west, down into the columns and off to the side aisles, through those arches running north and south, into the walls and the buttresses that you can see from outside. It is in the balance of those forces pressing down and pressing in that allows the church to rise and stand — much as your pushing down on the arms of a chair lifts you up!

In his letter to the Ephesians Saint Paul takes up this sort of imagery: the language of balanced tension, of mutual submission, which is the cornerstone of the church’sstrength and which allows it to stand.


Now like any good architect, God had a plan in mind before the construction began. And what a construction this was to be! Not just a simple earthly structure, but one which would gather up all things in heaven and earth, each element to find its place in the final finished masterpiece. And the amazing thing that Paul attests to in the opening of this letter, is that we are not just elements in the construction, but are to be let in on the plan itself: the mystery of God’s will, which God set forth in Christ, who in some marvelous sense is the plan to be completed in the fullness of time. We have been, as Paul insists, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, destined for adoption as his children, redeemed, forgiven, and having gifts lavished on us all out of keeping with what we deserve.


Thus Saint Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians by reminding them that God has chosen them. To use language more reflective of Paul’s time, God has elected them. Or to use the language of our Gospel today: God has called them.

Now it is quite natural that when one is going to set about a task, the first thing to do is to assemble the ingredients. Whether you’re working in the kitchen or in your garden, whether you’re building a model airplane or a house, you want to have all the tools and supplies within arm’s reach. There are few things more inconvenient than being stuck holding a mixer or a paint brush or a trowel — or a plumb line — only to discover that you need the sugar that’s up on the top shelf, or that you run out of paint or cement, or left your marking pencil on the other side of the room.

I’m sure not a few of us here have had the experience of buying a piece of furniture from IKEA or similar store. I say “furniture” advisedly, because what you’ve actually bought is a box containing all the parts you need to make a piece of furniture, with a picture of what you want on the outside of the box, along with the instruction sheet inside. Fortunately each and every part is marked and labeled with little sticky labels saying “A” or “B” so that you can tell the top of the shelf from the bottom of the shelf, and the front from the back. And if you follow the instructions, the plan that is laid out, you will, with some skill, end up with a piece of furniture that looks more or less like what was shown on the picture on the box.

Well all of us, like the Ephesians, are like those bits and pieces that God is going to put together to make the church, following the plan that has been kept in reserve from the beginning of time. And each and every one of us is marked, marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, and each of us has a place in the finished construction, according to the plan which is about being carried out. Everyone is gathered together and is about to be assembled.

It is no accident that the earliest name for the church is “the assembly.” It is the group that is called together, assembled to become something greater than each of its individual members could be alone.


But there is more to this church, this assembly, than simply being assembled. And we see that in the opening words of today’s Gospel: “ Jesus called the twelve to him, and began to send them out two by two.” Jesus calls, he assembles — but then he sends. And here the imagery shifts from an architect constructing a building to that of a commander with his troops. Jesus assembles his forces and prepares them to be sent forth with their marching orders: to travel light and to live off the generosity of those to whom they go — not to take extra food or extra clothes or extra money, but to rely instead on the generosity of the people they will encounter in their mission.

As with so much else in the Christian faith, this presents us with a paradox — but it is that same paradox of tension in unity that holds a building together. We are called, we are assembled, we are brought together — but not simply to be together. Rather we are called together to receive our marching orders: to go out into the world that God has made and that God has redeemed. For he has revealed his plan to us, and most importantly has revealed that it is not just for us — but for everyone who will receive it. This plan for the fullness of time was meant to gather all things up into him, things in heaven and things on earth — beginning with those he first called together, but growing year by year and decade by decade and century by century as the word went forth, carried by those apostles and their successors, who traveled light, lived off the land, and spread the word of peace.

It is a high calling, my friends. It is an even higher sending. We have not simply been honored by being chosen for the team — we have been equipped to play the game. We are not called together simply to be but to do. At the end of our worship today, here in this place to which God has called you, keep in mind that your going forth is as important as your coming in: for you too are marked with the Holy Spirit, and charged with a task, sent to spread the good news, the redemption promised in Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glory. Glory to God whose power working in us can do more than we can ask or imagine; glory to him from generation to generation in the church and in Christ Jesus our Lord.+

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Ministry of Followership

SJF • Proper 9b • Tobias S Haller BSG
He could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
The verse that I just read, which comes near the end of today’s Gospel reading, is one of the most amazing verses in the entire Gospel. “He could do no deed of power there.” What makes it amazing is the fact that the “he” in question is Jesus Christ. Think about that: Jesus could do no deed of power there, except to cure a few sick people. To do more than that, he was powerless. Jesus Christ, the Son of God made flesh, was powerless!

Now if anyone made that claim without the support of the Scripture, no doubt he’d be branded as a heretic or an unbeliever. But there it is in black and white — in his own home town and among his own people, Jesus was almost completely powerless. So what was it that robbed him of his power, which was abundantly manifest in all the other towns round about? What was it about his own home town that rendered him unable to do the wonderful things he did elsewhere?

Was it something in the water? Was it a subterranean deposit of kryptonite? Was it something about the city itself — some ancient curse on the city left over from the days of the Exodus? No, it was much simpler than that. It wasn’t the city, but the citizens.

There is an old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt,” and this was certainly true of the folks in Nazareth. And it was that familiarity and that contempt that robbed Jesus of his power. The folks in Nazareth knew Jesus from when he was a little boy; and they knew as well that he’d been born some few months shy of nine — a slur they continued in the mocking question they asked in our reading: calling him the son of Mary and not the son of Joseph! They knew him from when he made mud pies in the puddle out by the waterhole. They knew him as the fresh kid that used to talk back to his teachers. They knew him as the carpenter who got his head full of wild ideas and disappeared into the wilderness — only to return surrounded by stories of miracles performed everywhere else — but not there in his own hometown. And so with chips on their shoulders the size of railroad ties, they confronted him with the contempt reserved for someone who has supposedly made it big somewhere else but doesn’t look like much here — because “they knew him when.”

And this attitude of disbelief, of judgment, of offense and antagonism, made it impossible for Jesus to do a deed of power there. He could not lead them where they were unwilling to follow.


This is a lesson for anyone who wants to be a leader, whether in the church or in business. Being a leader of a congregation, I take the ministry of leadership very much to heart. But also being someone who serves under obedience to a bishop of a diocese, and to a Presiding Bishop as part of a whole church, I also take to heart the flip-side: the ministry of followership. Just as being a leader takes certain skills — patience, wisdom, inspiration, the ability to communicate — so too it takes skills to be a good follower: common sense, willingness to listen, trust, and perseverance. And these ministries go together in the dynamic and exciting work we call the church. A leader without followers is on a lonely path; and followers without a leader — as Jesus would say, sheep without a shepherd — are lost.

The people of Nazareth think they know who Jesus is — what they really know, however, is their memories of the boy and young man growing up, memories that are getting in the way of any new experience, of any new revelation of the Jesus who is now among them, full of grace and power. He can do nothing new for them, because all they can think about is what is old. They will not follow him because they can’t imagine there is any place that he might lead to which they haven’t already been.


This is one kind of bad followership. But there’s another kind that can be just as destructive, just as much the a spanner in the works of the church. This happens when, instead of dissing the leader, putting him or her down, people go to the other extreme and imagine that their leader can do no wrong — that he or she is perfect, or must be perfect.

This is what happened in the Corinthian congregation to whom Paul wrote — that same troublesome congregation that was a source of so much woe to Paul and later to Clement. The Corinthians were, it seems, extremely impressed with people who were very, very spiritual. They loved it when their leaders spoke in tongues, and exhibited all sorts of other fabulous powers. They had fallen under the spell of some that Paul called “super-apostles” and had begun to look on Paul himself as a bit of a second-class act. I mean, he wrote these great letters, but when he showed up, he was just this guy, who put his toga on one shoulder at a time just like everybody else.

Well this attitude just pulled on Saint Paul’s last nerve, and in the portion of his second letter to the church in Corinth from which we heard today, he has become a mite sarcastic. Speaking of himself in the third person, he talks of one who has been carried away into the heavens and heard eternal secrets and mysteries. He builds himself up - but only to lower the boom. He builds himself up, but then says, this is not the point. It isn’t mystery and miracles and revelations about which one should boast. It isn’t about the resumé: it’s about getting the work done. It isn’t about the minister — but the ministry.


The church has lately fallen into a situation not unlike that of the Corinthians: we’ve gotten very focused on the perceived strengths and weaknesses of our leaders. If you look at the profiles that parishes put together in seeking a priest, or dioceses in seeking a bishop, it is clear that in many cases the people are searching not for leadership, but magic! They want someone who will turn around a dying church or diocese, increase the membership, repair the old buildings, inspire the youth and reinvigorate the elders, and all without increasing the budget! Oh, and if the priest can walk on water, that would be great!

The problem is that the only priests and bishops who appear to walk on water are the ones who are treading on the submerged bodies of their drowning congregations!

This quest for perfection was brought home to me in my experiences at General Convention. I served on the committee that was charged with reviewing the six priests who had been elected as bishops in the months prior to the meeting, to offer a final recommendation on whether they should proceed to the final consent by the clergy and lay deputies. In all but one case, there were few problems. Each candidate was introduced by the current bishop, and then warmly endorsed by a number of folks from their electing diocese.

In one case, however, there was a problem. But the problem wasn’t with the people that knew this bishop-elect best, the people of his home-town, so to speak. The people who elected this man, who had served for a decade in their diocese as the current bishop’s right hand man — they were enthusiastic about him: they had seen him at work. People from all over the spectrum, conservative and liberal, urban and rural, supported him and assured the committee that he was the right man for the job, and would continue the excellent work he had done as canon to the bishop, once he was promoted to the office of bishop himself.

No, the problem was not with the home-town folk, but with the candidate himself, for he had a blemish on his personal life: he had been through two failed marriages, and was now married a third time. What would we be saying to the world if this man were allowed to be a bishop?

It is a tough question; and we wrestled with it for a long time on the committee. Ultimately it came down to the same question raised in the Corinthian church: is it the perfection of the minister’s life, or the work of the Spirit evident in his ministry that takes precedence. I suppose we’d all be happier if every minister were perfect: but as Scripture reminds us, there is only one who is perfect — and even he was rejected by those who could not see his perfection through the blindness of their own expectations.

God’s power is indeed made more glorious in that God uses such broken vessels as all of us are to do his work — for God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

Yes, it’s true this man was married three times — and yes it is true that that isn’t good. But God can make use of imperfect people to do his perfect will. Why, Jesus himself even once made use of someone who was married not just three times, but at least five times — and she became an apostle to her people and brought them the saving message of the gospel like life-giving water welling up in the desert of their lives. And there she is: we’ve even got that five-times-married woman in a stained glass window right here in Saint James Church! Her story has been told for nigh on 2000 years, and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed she will be remembered when many others, perhaps more perfect than she, are long forgotten.

For she is remembered not because of who she was but because of what she did: when the saving word was given she accepted it, and instead of keeping it to herself, this follower became a leader — she received the word and carried it to her people, and she brought them to Christ. What is important is carrying out the mission — not the character of the missionary.

Ultimately good followership is as important as good leadership. And even more ultimately, we trust and know that God will work through all of our failings: the failings of leaders as well as the failings of followers. Paul reminded the Corinthians that Jesus wasn’t received with open arms — but had his arms stretched out upon the cross for our salvation. Jesus wasn’t popular and celebrated, but despised and rejected — and it is in this weakness that God’s power is manifest.

For God’s power, even made powerless by the unbelief and rejection of those to whom Christ came, whether in Nazareth or Jerusalem, where he was done to death by the very ones he came to save — — God’s power is made perfect in this weakness. For even though the weak flesh perishes, yet in the power and glory of God so too it rises, imbued with Spiritual power that puts to shame all mere earthly skill.

Such is the nature of our true leader and shepherd: will we undertake the ministry of followership, each of us in our own station, each of us with our own gifts and strengths — and weaknesses — to do God’s work in building up the church? If he leads us, will we follow? +

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Manner of the Lord

Proper 7b - Saint James Fordham - Tobias S Haller BSG
Jesus asked them, Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?
Two questions are asked in today’s Scripture readings: Who is this that darkens counsel with ignorant talk? and Who is this that the winds and sea obey him? Thinking about these questions can help us answer the Big Question: Why are we here? and help us to understand what it means to be made in the image of God.

The first question comes from the last part of the book of Job. God finally speaks after a long silence. God has listened to Job’s three friends as they try to get him to admit he’s a wicked sinner — he must be, or why else would he be suffering? God has heard Job claim his righteousness. And God has heard a young man try to defend God — as if God needed a defense.

So finally God speaks, to settle the argument. But when God speaks, it is not to provide a comforting answer to the question, Why do the innocent, and even worse, the righteous, suffer? When God speaks it is to reveal a deeper truth, to help Job — and us — see our place in the universe.

Job and his companions have been debating the meaning of life, the universe, and everything — just as we do. Finally God says, “Who is this that darkens counsel with ignorant words? Pull yourself together, and let me ask you questions.” And, of course, the questions God asks are beyond human skill to answer. That is the whole point. God is saying, in a not-so-subtle way, Just who do you think you are, anyway? You are not the center of the universe — I am. You do not make the universe run; you don’t even know how the universe runs.

Human pride is such that we often put ourselves at the center of the universe, and sometimes act as if we were in control. People have very powerful control needs. We are haunted by the fear that if we aren’t in charge, then no one is in charge.

Think for a moment what that means: to fear that no one is in charge if we aren’t. Isn’t this just a kind of faithlessness, that doubts the loving providence, maybe even theexistence, of God? We forget that God assigned us as the stewards, not the owners, of creation.

This human presumption led to the human fall — thinking we should take charge “as if we were gods.” And human mistrust of God’s sufficiency was the crack through which the serpent wiggled his head, in his wily tempting: “Oh, you will not die... are you sure God is telling you the whole story? maybe God doesn’t want you to touch the fruit because you might become like him? Pride and fear are powerful motivators to wrongdoing!

They led us to forget that we were placed in the garden to tend it, to care for it — as servants, not owners. We sometimes like to imagine we are the descendants of the lord of the manor instead of the gardener and the upstairs maid! Instead of doing as God said, Adam and Eve decided, “We’d better take the fruit and become gods ourselves, because who knows if God can be trusted to take care of us. It’s every man and woman for him or herself, and the devil take the hindmost.” And he did!

The tragedy was that humankind was already like God — made in God’s image and likeness, and didn’t need a fruit salad to become like God! So what belonged to us by original blessing, we lost through original sin. And as a result, rather than tending a garden, humankind was reduced to struggling with the hard soil, forcing it to produce what formerly grew in plenty.

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Human distrust — let’s be honest and call it lack of faith — is also displayed in our Gospel for today. The disciples cry out to Jesus in the midst of a storm on the lake, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus confronts faithlessness with a bold question, as bold as the ones God posed to Job, “Have you still no faith?”

We are often no better; we are often in the same boat as the disciples. We look at the world around us, and see all its horrors: disease, destruction, terrorism, war. And our frantic fear doesn’t help us, it just rocks the boat more, as we run from side to side, wringing our hands like Olive Oyl crying for Popeye to come to the rescue.

The answer to our dilemma, the way to bring the boat home safely to port, is to rediscover, in and through Jesus Christ, our proper role in creation, our proper role as stewards and as people of faith. What Adam and Eve were given in the beginning was dominion: lordly stewardship. We were not lords of the manor, but called to act in the manner of the Lord: for we were made in the Lord’s likeness, the Lord who is also a servant and a steward, who loves and cares for all he has made.

This is where we find the answer to the disciples’ last question: “Who is this that the seas and wind obey him?” It is Jesus, who is the Lord — the Lord who serves and saves. If we can learn to exercise lordship in the manner of Jesus — and we can, for we are made in his image, and as Saint Paul says we are his ambassadors — perhaps we can understand what it means to be stewards.

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So what kind of a Lord is Jesus? First, Jesus is the original: “the firstborn over all creation.” He is the answer to God’s persistent question to Job, Who, who, who? The answer: Jesus the Christ! He is the one who was there at the beginning, as our Creed affirms: God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Through him all things were made, and without him nothing came into being.

He is also the answer to the disciples’ fearful question, Who is this who can give orders to the sea? Jesus can still the waves on the Sea of Galilee because it is he who placed a compass on the face of the deep, who stretched forth the line upon it, who shut in the seas with doors, and laid the cornerstone of the earth while all the morning stars sang together for joy. Christ’s stewardship is from before time and for ever.

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Second, Christ’s stewardship is loving. His word to creation is Peace. He stills the stormy sea like a mother calming a crying child, “Peace, be still.” He doesn’t yell and shout; a quiet word will do it, a wordspoken in love. Jesus loves the sea, for he was there at its birth, as God says to Job, shutting the doors upon it to protect it like a loving parent who puts window guards on the windows and a gate at the top of the stair to protect the toddler in his terrible twos, gently dressing the sea in clouds, and making diapers from the fabric of the peaceful night. This is the caring stewardship of a loving God.

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Finally, the stewardship of Christ is self-giving, not self-preserving. His stewardship reaches out to others. “Why are you worried?” he asks. He will provide, even unto death. For his stewardship is not “of this earth” — that is, not worldly. This is why the worldly-wise, Caiaphas and Pilate, and many others since, couldn’t and can’t and never will understand him.

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So what about us? Can we be like Christ, who is original, loving, and self-giving? Can we serve in the manner of the Lord? Yes, we can. For as Saint Paul says, Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. “Why are we afraid? Have we still no faith?” If we have even a tiny faith, we can be like the mustard seed that unexpectedly grows not into a mustard plant but into a mighty tree so magnificent that it provides a home for the birds of the air, and shade for the creatures of the field. That is creative, original, lordly stewardship! That is the lordship that is ours after the manner of Christ, from the very beginning, when we were made in God’s likeness.

Through this blessing of oneness in Christ, we can take our part in the loving stewardship which embraces and holds together all creation, caring for it with the skills God gives, in self-giving love and charity, as ambassadors of Christ. God has entrusted us with this ministry of cosmic reconciliation.

When we accept this, we can pass through the labor pains we experience in life, along with the whole creation, as it waits with eager longing for us to take up once again the role of stewardship we were given long ago. The whole creation is waiting for us — for us — to accept our destiny, our true identity as children of God. All God’s creatures are waiting: the birds flock and circle around us; the cats and dogs look up at us expectantly, waiting for the door to be opened; the horses stamp their hooves and snort impatiently; the fish and whales are gathering in schools; the spirits of the blessed wait in hope, while the devils in hell tremble in fear; and far out in the endless reaches of space the morning stars are holding their breath, waiting to burst into joyous song once more, when the whole creation is reborn — and we become all that we are meant to be — through the original blessing of the Father, the loving stewardship of the Son, and the outpoured gift of the Holy Spirit.+