Pentecost – Proper 9
2 Kings 5: 1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6 (1-6), 7-16; Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
A fellow priest and friend, The Rev. William Brooks, was the chaplain at Episcopal High School here in Houston when I was a student there. I remember Rev. Brooks, whom we all called “Dub,” (he still goes by that name today) remarking on the kind of clerical collar her wore one day. Dub wore what clergy shirt makers call a “tab collar” which is the kind of priestly collar worn by many Roman Catholic clergy – a small white collar inserted into the shirt, as opposed to what you see Carissa and I wear mostly, which is this white plastic collar that goes all the way around our necks that kind of looks like a dog collar.
In any case, the tab collar worn by Dub Brooks was unusual to me, and I remember one day talking to Dub about it at Episcopal High School. Because it was white, and square in nature, Dub referred to his collar as a “projection screen,” as indeed it did mimic a miniature projection screen we all see in movie theaters, classrooms, and conference rooms. We have a projection screen in our parish hall upstairs.
I asked Dub, “Well, what do people project onto it?” And he said “Oh, all kinds of things. People project their concepts of God on me, both positive and negative. People project their opinions of the church and religion, both positive and negative.” Dub continued: “They also project their expectations on me. They project their expectations that I pray on their behalf, that I be spiritual on their behalf, that I do the work of God on their behalf.” That’s a lot to project on such a small screen, I thought.
I’m not sure if I feel the same about wearing a collar or not. I don’t think I do. But I agree with Dub about the pressure projected onto him. I think many clergy feel it to some degree. If I ever feel pressure or projection from others coming to me, my healthy response, which I confess I do not always do, is to surrender it to God. All of it. Surrender the compliments, the praise, the criticisms, the anger directed toward me. I do so because the projection, whether positive or negative, whether complimentary or derogatory, is not really who I am. I am neither. A wise priest whom I admire once said “a person is never as good as others say they are, neither are they as bad as people say you are.”
I say all this because I believe this idea of surrender and release is at the heart of the Gospel reading we hear this morning. In the story from Luke’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus sends out seventy people in pairs to cure the sick, and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. Why? If Jesus is God, why does he need the help of others to carry out the ministry of healing? I don’t think Jesus does. I think Jesus could have easily done it all himself, if he is truly God. I think the reason Jesus empowers seventy people to go out into the word and heal it is to set an example for us, to teach us to be better than we are.
Jesus is modeling servant leadership, raising up leaders, and empowering them to go out into the world. And those seventy are successful, and they return telling Jesus everything that they accomplish. The people Jesus sends out were not experts. They weren’t trained, they didn’t have degrees, they weren’t perfect, they had flaws just we do. They were regular people who were able to do the miraculous because of their closeness with God. That was it. That was all it took.
Today is Abundance Sunday at St. Andrew’s. Today we offer and surrender our abundant blessings to God at Eucharist in gratitude for all that God has done for us. And that is part of the work in recognizing abundance, seeing it in our lives, and thanking God for it. But there is an equally important response to God’s abundance, and that is how we choose to steward God’s abundance in our lives. There’s that word: “stewardship.” I know, I’m not supposed to say that word except in the Fall during our pledge campaign, but I honestly I can’t talk about abundance without it.
Like the seventy sent out by Jesus, we also are sent out. We also have work to do. Some of that work is here in the church, and much more of it is outside our doors. As we celebrate our abundance today, we do so acknowledging our responsibility to be good stewards.
Today as you thank God for your abundance, and as we celebrate this weekend the abundance of the freedoms granted to us in this country, what is God calling you to do hear at St. Andrew’s? There are many opportunities: you could sing in our choir, you could serve at the altar, you could read the lessons on Sundays. You could host a coffee time (there are spots available in July!) You could sign up to be a Lay Eucharistic Visitor and bring communion to the homebound. You could join our altar guild. Serve on a breakfast team at Lord of the Streets, volunteer at the Heights Interfaith Food Pantry. You could sign up to be an usher or a greeter. You could volunteer at our Rhythms of Grace service and meet the delightful families that come there. You could teach Sunday school in The Parlor. If any of those things interest you, let me know and I will be happy to assist you in getting involved. We all have a responsibility to be good stewards of God’s abundance here at St. Andrew’s and in our community.
I close with a story of a conversation I had with a member of another church (not here) who wanted to bring to my attention some concerns she had about the church and the programs offered there. I listened to her, aware that my clerical “projection screen” was receiving the full brunt of this woman’s projections onto me. I gratefully acknowledged the value of her ideas, and said “It is wonderful that you are so concerned and interested in this. You are the very person the church needs to head up this program! Will you take the job?” Her reply was immediate: “Well…no. I don’t want to get involved. With all my commitments, and the hours I reserve for my family, I just don’t have the time. But I would be happy to advise you anytime.” To which I said, “And that’s the problem. I already plenty of advisors. What I need is someone who will work.”
The harvest is plentiful. I believe the laborers are many, not few. What will you steward? AMEN.