Archive for August, 2008

The Gospel in Partnership

Sunday, August 31st, 2008
Philippians 1:5


A Commonwealth Partnership

Listen in love for the cadence of mystery that befalls us in gospel partnership…

I thank my God…for your partnership in the Gospel.

Our commonwealth is in heaven.

Rejoice in the Lord always.

He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.

Have no anxiety about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Again I say rejoice.

All these inspired sentences come to us from Philippians, including today’s text, the first, which names the partnership of the Gospel.

You are surrounded by intimations of partnership. Take a walk today down Commonwealth Avenue. Abigail Adams will greet you. Yes, she will reach out to you from the women’s memorial. Look hard into her eyes and listen for the echoes of a not too distant past. It is all around you. Not far from where you stands near Fairfield, George Washington mustered his troops, as the Revolution began. Here you are! Bunker Hill, Old Ironsides, the Boston Harbor with its aroma of tea leaves! Enjoy it, don’t miss it. Your time will go by fast.

We lived an hour from Buffalo for many years. You would be surprised how many people in western New York have never seen Niagara Falls. ‘Oh, yes, I meant to go last summer. I will get there some day’. We lived about an hour from Montreal for some years. You would be surprised how many people in the far north country have never been up Mount Royal. ‘We were going to take the kids, but then something came up. We will get over there some day.’ We lived in New York, on the upper west side, right on the Hudson River. You would be surprised how many Yankees fans have never taken the road up to West Point. ‘I just don’t like to drive that much. One day I will get there’.

Abigail, Commonwealth, Boston, New England, the whole earth await you. Don’t disappoint them. Make a pastoral call on life. Be good to life and life will be good to you.

Abigail and John Adams lived out a remarkable partnership. Theirs was a bond, a friendship, a fellowship of rare, real love. You may access some of their shared life through their letters

Listen, for just a moment, Abigail to John:

That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing on of Friend (MDF, 110).

Listen for just a moment, John to Abigail:

It is a fortnight to day Since I had Letter from you but it Seems to me a month. I cannot blame you for one of yours is worth four of mine. (MDF, 370)

Abigail and John lived in partnership. Their historical koinonia is a harbinger, a foretaste, of what gospel partnership can be.

What Paul Means by Partnership

Paul writes not of an earthly Commonwealth Avenue, but of a commonwealth in heaven, a commonwealth of heaven (Phil 3:20). Partnership is the crossroad we take to get to the heavenly commonwealth. Koinonia, partnership, is a way of being in life, a way of living in the world. It is the rigorous character of fellowship that finally turned the Roman Empire upside down, lasted through twenty centuries, and to this day beckons young people and others to another side of the street. With this one word, Paul identifies his running mates.

We are awash this week in running mates. It is a good term, running mates. Those with whom we choose to run the race do say a great deal about who we are. So the Spanish simply say in their refrain, ‘dime con quien andas, y dire quien eres’.

While Paul will later name individual partners, he begins with a broad embrace of all his readers, and now hearers: I am thankful for your partnership.

For Paul the church is an eschatological community. The church is a living body, wherein the whole is far more than the sum of the parts. It is an organic expression of mutuality wherein persons are understood to be made for community, and persons become human persons in a trans-subjective, transpersonal, setting for re-socialization.

One of my mentors, R Scroggs, used to say that, for Paul, the church’s characteristic marks are joyful liberation, reciprocal mutuality, gracious equality, communal discernment. The church is both separate from and participatory in the world around, and so must ever think twice, both of its own joyous existence and of its role as God’s arm in the world.

The way of good living, gospel partnership, is revealed, apocalypsed, to Paul. All our readings today bear similar witness. The burning bush is revelation. The song of the psalmist heart is revelation. The marks of fellowship are revelation. The recognition of the Christ comes by revelation. All our readings prepare the way for partnership.

So, Scroggs: “because of grace, persons are able, insofar as at any particular moment they live by faith, to use their faculties without distortion which self-anxiety inevitably creates, without the repression of energy and function which is caused by the exhausting and exhaustive project of securing the self. It is the freedom from fear, life now secure as a gift, which gives one confidence to try, even in the face of obstacle and danger.” (PND, 187)

Here are some guidelines, according to Paul, that mark out where the crossroad of partnership comes upon the commonwealth of heaven: freedom, peace, love, mutual upbuilding.

Koinonia is a new way of being in the world. The world finds a new way of being in Koinonia.

Partnership is one place where the great religious traditions of the world find common ground. It is an opening to a different way of being in the world. I give you Martin Buber:

The life of human beings is not passed in the sphere of transitive verbs alone. It does not exist in virtue of activities alone which have some thing for The realm of Thou has a different basis…

When Thou is spoken, the speaker has no thing for his object. For where there is a thing there is another thing. Every It is bounded by others; It exists only through being bounded by others. But when Thou is spoken, there is no thing. Thou has no bounds…

When Thou is spoken, the speaker has no thing; he has indeed nothing. But he takes his stand in relation. (I and Thou, in passim)

A verse from Paul, readings from our tradition, a voice from the another religious tradition—all of these open up an avenue for you, an avenue of meaning, belonging, empowerment, enjoyment.

What Partnership Means for You

Now you will need to ponder, a bit what this means for you on August 31, 2008. Coming to church, and hearing about koinonia, suddenly changes the news reports about running mates.

Running mates are not only the province and problem of televised campaigns and presidential candidates. You will be nominating your own running mates over the next few years.

A strong partnership has such a powerful influence. Think of the athletic teams you have known that have shown such powerful partnership that they became virtual unstoppable. Think of the couples in leadership, the wives and husbands you have known, who have influence because of their shared commitment. Think of the pastors and lay leaders in congregations, who, when the yoke can be set and shared well, move heaven and earth. Think of the faculties who bring out the best in each other, and so are far more than the sum of their parts.

For our newly arriving students, freshmen and others, the forging of partnerships, the chance at koinonia, will be at the very heart of what happens, for good, in the very quickly passing span of four years. Here is their prayer, and ours too:

Bless our friendships these four years, we ask

Help us to grow in kindness

Help us to listen in silence

Help us to acquire the gentle arts of comraderie

Teach us to speak heart to heart, soul to soul, I to Thou

That when we leave we may have befriended and been befriended

And so have found our own identity, our second identity, our selves.

Bless our decisions these four years, we ask

Help us to grow in confidence

Help us to perceive consequences

Help us to learn to choose and to choose to learn in choosing

Teach us to decide with grace, with passion, with humility

And so by choosing found our own identity, our second identity, our selves.

Bless our intuitions these four years, we ask

Help us to acquire a vocational tongue

Help us to honor what lasts, matters, counts

Help us to have courage to become who we are

Teach us not to cut against the grain of our own wood

And so by hearing our calling to find our own identity, our second identity, our selves.

Yet, the matter of matriculation, of entry upon a new path, is one that greets most people in the autumn of the year, particularly in the gathering of religious communities, like our own.

A real partnership of the Gospel will depend upon a common hope. It is not enough for us to recall the common faith of John Dewey. It is not enough for us to recall the common ground of Howard Thurman. On a reliable, common hope hang our future. What are the features of the common hope, this partnership, this partnership of the Gospel? We have preached some of them this year. T. Something temporal. A heart for the heart of the city—a longing to heal the spiritual culture of the land. U. Something universal. An interreligious setting. L. Something of love. A developed expression of contrition. I. Something imaginative. A keen sense of imagination. P. Some real power. An openness to power and presence. A capacity for partnership, heart to heart, that rests on a faith in the partnership of God in the Gospel.

The human being for all his and her faults, has a capacity for wonder, for love, for courage, for the mutuality of work in partnership, on which this fragile globe depends. The best speech I have heard was by Mario Cuomo, who at the close said he would like to be remembered by one word, ‘participant’. As Charles Darwin’s exhibit reminds us, for all the changes that reason and experience have brought us, which we need not fear: “there is a grandeur about this view of life…” Nearby we have leading thinkers who write about imagination with creativity and about creation with imagination.

Are We Open to Partnership?

Hear the Good News. The God to whom Jesus prayed, and of Whom Paul spoke, and in Whom we live has opened up a heavenly prospect, an eternal meadow of fellowship. We are left today with a lasting question. Are we open to partnership? Are we open to a kind of life formed in the Gospel of Partnership? Are we ready, willing and able to live as the gospel teaches?

We need one another. We need healthy partnerships: of learning and piety, of church and school, of school and university, of pulpit and lectern, of words and music, of lay and clergy, of women and men. To the partnership of the Gospel we turn, for labor, in love, in the next decade. Will you respond? You are gathered here today for a reason, the partnership of the Gospel. Will you act?

Are we ready to live as those who remember Romans 12: 1-9 (recited)?

Howard Thurman wrote:

For this is why we were born: People, all people, belong to each other, and he who shuts himself away diminishes himself, and he who shuts another away from him destroys himself.

Will you embrace the partnership of the Gospel?

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean

Rebirth of Wonder

Sunday, August 24th, 2008
Philippians 1: 1
Romans 12: 1-8
Matthew 16: 13-20


Opening

Who would not smile to return home to this pulpit?

I ought to pay you for the privilege of standing here, let alone speaking here.

I am told that Winston Churchill called Commonwealth Avenue the loveliest street in America. From the vantage point of this Chapel Nave, on a glorious summer Sunday, in the embrace of a loving congregation, within earshot of all New England, it does certainly seem so. Commonwealth. Our commonwealth. The street where you live, at least, the street where your spiritual life quickens. Commonwealth, lovely Commonwealth.

And I am not even pausing to honor, to celebrate the physical beautification of our avenue, our promenade, spacious street, our Commonwealth.

Walk up to Marsh Chapel from Arlington some Sunday afternoon. Like today. Say hello to those you meet in the park:

Arlington St.: Alexander Hamilton

Berkeley St: Gen. John Glover

Clarendon: Patrick Andrew Collins, Fireman’s Memorial

Dartmouth: William Lloyd Garrison

Exeter St: Samuel Eliot Morrison

Fairfield: Women’s Memorial (Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, Phylis Wheatley)

Gloucester: Domingo Sarmiento

Charlesgate: Lief Ericson

All these stories, these biographies, carry us along Commonwealth. They tell us a little bit about who we are. They remind us. They point out shadow and they point to light. They point out shadow and they point to light.

Soon, this fall, we shall give ear to the announcement of a fuller commonwealth. We will allow the guidance of the lectionary to point us toward Philippians, Paul’s loveliest letter, the loveliest street, if you will, in the far off land of Pauline literature. I am told that Philippians is the loveliest street in Paul. There we will meet statues in memory of exemplary people, as the first verse of the letter reminds us. Paul. Timothy. The saints in Philippi. The overseers. The deacons. Turn the corner a few streets, I mean chapters, later. Epaphroditus. Euodia. Syntche. Syzygus. Wonderful! We shall scour, scour the syllables of this epistle, awaiting announcement of a fuller commonwealth.

You can recall, I know you can, the epigrammatic fullness of this new land, this fuller commonwealth, announced in the letter to the Philippians, which, in a few weeks, our lovely lectionary will deign to show us.

There is a resonance to beauty. That is why Winston Churchill recalled our Commonwealth. And that is why we remember Paul singing from prison to Philippi:

I thank my God…for your partnership in the Gospel.

Rejoice in the Lord always.

The Lord is at hand.

If there is any excellence…think about these things.

He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Stand firm in spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

Complete my joy by being of the same mind.

Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.

God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Whatever gain I had I count as loss for the sake of Christ.

I count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Have no anxiety about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.

I know how to be abased and I know how to abound.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Again I say rejoice.

Let all men know your forbearance.

For all the joy and sparkle of these verses, they cannot finally overshadow Philippians 3:20. I bring it as your focus for the preaching of the gospel in this season. And why would I not? How could I not? How could I keep it from you? How could I keep from singing?

Philippians 3:20 (RSV): Our commonwealth is in heaven.

Ours is a heavenly commonwealth, a divine commonwealth. Our true home, our homeland, our real citizenship, our land, our mother tongue, our real selves, in short, our commonwealth is heaven. Along our own Commonwealth Avenue, to this spiritual commonwealth we shall train our ears, and tune our hearts, and attach our wills in this season.

For Paul and Timothy found a rebirth of wonder, and so can you. Paul and Timothy found a rebirth of wonder, and so can we. Wonder seized them. They called it ‘apocalypse’. Wonder is a close, not exact, not precise, not final, not exhaustive, not conclusive, but a close rendering. It is good news for a world that lacks not for wonders, but only for a sense of wonder. (Chesterton).

Two experiences brought them home to wonder. One was an awareness of shadow. The other was a delight in light.

Shadow

Ah, shadow. I remember standing with JAT Robinson, a year before he died, standing in the lovely autumn shadows of University Street in Montreal. He said: ‘as I get older, I am more attentive to the shadow that hovers over our life’.

You might think of sin by way of shadow.

There is an insidious shadow, barely visible, but present. You can barely see it, if at all. You can barely hear it, if at all. Its approach is poetry in motion, fog on cat feet, coming quietly to the back door, dressed to kill.

Most marriages are in far less danger from the occasional direct assault of envy or lust than they are in danger from the quiet dying away of the bond itself. No time spent in talk, and holding, no play, no rest. A year, three, ten. Little cat feet, and suddenly, insidiously, the roof falls in. Most souls are in far less danger from the occasional direct assault of a temptation, to gamble wages or to steal by lying or to take advantage of the weak or to murder a partner, than they are in danger from the nearly silent approach of lifelong addictions. To alcohol. To drugs. To work. To food. To…just what is it that you cannot live without this week? Most churches are in far less danger from the occasional direct assault of a fire, or an unmanageable political conflict, or the machinations of a single verbal arsonist, than they are in danger from the slow, secret advance of unloving habits of inhospitality. God knows, as does the shadow, that it takes time, time, to ruin a home, a soul, or a church.

Or a country.

A direct attack usually incurs a direct response, wise or foolish or both. As Niebuhr showed, groups know how to defend themselves, from labor unions to nations. While you and the neighbor barbecue into the end of another summer, or generation, look around and see if the shadow Paul and Timothy noticed, with which they wrestled to death, lurks around you. The indirect advance of shadow stalks the heart, the dream, the soul. The imagination. And then, slowly, inexorably, one forgets. Have you forgotten the love you had at first? That is a question found in the Bible. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? That is a question found in the Bible. Slowly, delicately, shadow overtakes the love we had at first. Slowly, delicately, shadow bargains the soul for the worl
d.

What profit is progress if its price is the loss of community? What profit is the desire for unlimited goods if its price is the loss of what matters? What profit is the spiritual commitment to ‘MORE’ if such a gain means a loss of real life? What does it profit a main to gain the whole world, if he loses the love he had at first?

So Leslie Dunbar: “we must live together as a people bound together by ties of mutual respect, not as a people armored against each other”.

So Vaclev Havel: “Hope is not prognosis, but a willingness to work for what is good”.

In words like these, we see behind the shadow, past the shadow, a glimmer of light.

Light

Ah light. Light shines in the memory of your true commonwealth. Direct your feet to the sunny side of the street. Paul and Timothy and others, drenched in shadow, saw light. They had a rebirth of wonder.

I put it to you in formula: “when conviction is quickened by imagination there is action that makes a difference”.

Our commonwealth is in the sunlight. In wonder. We may need a little illumination of imagination today! We may even need an Imagination Proclamation about life together, about community in the age of progress, about health for the soul, about the dance between soul circumstance! Shadows covering the imagination can imprison every bit as much as the Roman cell did so to Paul. Our commonwealth is in the sunlight.

Imagine…

If the prisons in this country were half-empty and the streets free of vagrants.

If every generation received a better education than the one that preceded it.

If every man or woman who wanted a job could get one, and not one person was thought ‘redundant’.

If schools and hospitals and churches and charities were overfunded.

If men and women were getting along so well that abortion and abuse were virtually unheard of.

If budgets, public and private, were set with a clear eye, a frugal eye to the future, without being based on borrowing from the next generation.

If the measure of success in this great country were formed not against the question of individual progress, but against the desire for the common good.

If democracy, not only of voice and vote, but also of education and endowment and employment and environment were our song.

If we could go to bed at night, not as those who all the day have been rivals for position and power and privilege, but as those who have worn an easier yoke and a lighter burden, that of real community, as those who have helped one another.

If the criterion for medical care were simply, ‘how sick are you’.

If the communal virtues, the signposts of health—responsibility, frugality, a sense of limits, respect for authority replaced those of mere success, ‘progress’.

If every kid around the world had enough to eat.

If the love of Jesus Christ, and the fear of disappointing Him, and the hope of meeting him in glory, and joy of working in his fellowship were all that we deeply wanted, all that we deeply needed?

Imagine that.

Too idealistic? Really?

What does it profit…

Have you forgotten…

Our commonwealth is…

Closing

Friends. We shall need to choose our course, our homeland, our citizenship, our commonwealth, our home, our horizon. This fall, and this year, the Apostle Paul will remind us. Our commonwealth is heaven. May it be so, and may we live it as so.

George Bernard Shaw, as usual, had it close to right: ‘You see things as they are and say, ‘Why’? But I dream of things that never were and I say,
‘Why not?’

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

The Least and the Greatest

Mark 10: 35-45

Robert Allan Hill

October 22, 2006

Marsh Chapel, Boston University

Who taught you about power?

Who taught you by precept or example about the use of authority?

Think for a minute, or for a good stretch of a lifetime, about those who modeled for you the spiritual dimensions of leadership. Unreflectively we follow their lead if reflectively we do not assess their example. And every one of us has power, exercises some authority, and leads, especially in our example. None of us deconstructs our own identity in culture as fully as we might. And we need to. Let there be no secrets where the issue is power. (Wouldn’t that be heavenly?) We are only as sick as our secrets.

Carlyle Marney used to ask us: “Friend, who told you who you was?”

The Gospel today asks of us a narrower question: who taught you about power? The Gospel today tells us that authentic authority, real responsibility are a matter of the heart. What are your models of power? Do they include at least a little Shaker simplicity, a little Ambrosian authority, a little steady service?

Shaker Simplicity?

Is one the heartfelt happiness of simplicity? Heartfelt leadership is ultimately simple.

It is intriguing that the Gospel lessons about living, in Mark, are set in the humble reaches of the lake country of Galilee. Writing in Rome in trouble in 70AD, there must have been some comfort, some folkloric encouragement for the persecuted urban Christians in these polished memories of Jesus teaching along the shores of Galilee. There is beauty along the lake. There is calm along the lake. There is peace along the lake. There is serenity along the lake. Along the lake there is space and time to sift, reminisce, remember, sort. The still waters still restore the soul to stillness. Today’s regatta, outside our Chapel, at the head of the Charles, in its pristine beauty and vigorous discipline, bring a kind of peace, too.

Yet, though our lesson is ostensibly set in the country, up in the North Country lake region, make no mistake: these few phrases are crafted in urban Christianity. We have, exegetically, an ‘alto aria’ in Mark 10. Very little of what we hear today, and through this season of readings, comes out of the history of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the church, like we, that is struggling in these pages for a sense of power’s use. That is the second level or line in a Gospel reading. Surely #4 the baritone of tradition will follow. Surely #3 Mark, in his tenor editing, will intervene. Surely #1, the ethereal Soprano of the Nazarene echoes still. But the earliest struggles of the early church are visible here, in the dominical sayings about power. In #2, the alto voice…

Mark 10: 35ff is a place where the priority, of Mark is clear. Mark is the earliest gospel. Notice how his successors cringe at his composition. Most tellingly, Matthew removes the selfish request from the lips of the disciples, and has their mother ask! But then Matthew still has Jesus respond to the disciples! Matthew, ever the scribe, pins the responsibility on their ‘Momma’, like many today telling ‘yo momma’ jokes.

Luke simply erases the passage, and so ‘spares the twelve’. They too knew the embarrassment of inherited Scripture: what is your sense of the most offensive? John, the Jews…Psalms, dash their children on rocks…Genesis, rape and violence…David (not a children’s story)…household codes in Colossians, and assumption of slavery and of patriarchy…I

These readings come around and we mutter, ‘Is this really necessary?’

THE SCRIPTURE IS A LIVING TRADITION—the earliest writers were utterly clear about that (Luke is so embarrassed he eliminates the whole passage. Matthew has their mother ask!—and John Wesley assumes he is right!).

Mark wants to show that the disciples, as do many in his own church, intentionally miss the point. The point? There is no real greatness, there is no real leadership, without humility, none without suffering, none without pain, none without public rebuke, none without the patience of Job, none without a pastoral heart for those who experience the consequences of decisions which others make. If, in your work, you have shown humility, known suffering, felt pain, had rebuke, summoned patience, found empathy—for all the cost, take heart. You are not far from the leadership kingdom of heaven…

The intonation of glory is a clue that we are reading from years after Golgotha. The stark reference to the cup of sorrow bears a memory of Golgotha. The knowing, counter knowing of the question about baptism, and its portents reveals the hurt of Golgotha. The shadow of grief that darkens this discourse is the shadow of the Cross of Christ. And the final phrase is unmistakable in its reference: to give his life as a ransom for many.the Christian community, we ourselves included, may not ever be unclear about the potential abuse of power. That particular portal to blindness has been nailed, nailed shut.

Who taught you what you know about power?

Said John Wesley, repeatedly, “if thine heart be as mine, give me thine hand”.

And Calvin: What is the chief purpose of human life? To glorify God and enjoy God forever.

There will come a day when you wake up to the purity of the heart that, as Kierkegaard said, is to “will one thing”. That is conversion, often wrought in power struggle.

You may come to a morning hour, even this one, in which you sense a new opening, a desire to live a life that makes God smile. You will become kinder, happier, more generous, more forgiving. This is the purpose of being alive, to speak and act and be in a way that brings a smile to the divine countenance.

Again I remind you of the Shaker community. In their work, their dress, their furniture, their devotion, their relations, the Shakers lived simply. The heart of their simplicity, and ours at our best, is the desire to “live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called”. Every renewal in Christian history has had this feature: Paul mending tents, Augustine chaste again, Luther and Erasmus cleansing Rome, Wesley a
nd his coal miners, Latin American base communities, and every spiritual nudging in our own very human church.

Who are you trying to please? And how? And why?

Think of someone you have known who lived with a heartfelt, powerful simplicity.

Who taught you about authority?

There is an authority that is visible in every person who has found the freedom of vocation, the freedom to live with abandon. Look around at the windows in this charming Chapel, following worship, and you will see the faces of women and men who found a simplicity, a way to live with abandon.

Ambrosian Authority?

Is another model the heartfelt affirmation of the common good?

Mark 10:35 is one of the few spots in the earliest gospel at which the emerging institutional needs of the church are visible. Christianity wrestled with formational questions in the first century: For whom is the gospel? What are the definitive texts? And especially, who shall hold authority? What, How, Where. And Who?

As this passage shows, from the outset it has been terribly difficult for the Christian church to maintain its own authentic form of authority, over against the lesser models abroad in every age. I emphasize the little phrase, slave of all, or servant of the whole. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” said Paul.

Aristotle taught us to attend to the true, the good, the beautiful. In the late fourth century there emerged a good, great leader of the church, Ambrose of Milan. In just eight days he went from unbaptized layman to Bishop. His rhetorical skill, musicianship, diplomatic agility and attention to the preparations for Baptism provided the power behind his lasting influence in Northern Italy. Above all, Ambrose used his authority for the common good. Notice in the Scripture there is no avoidance of the need for leadership. Authority may be shared but responsibility is not to be shirked. What lasts, what counts, what is true and good and beautiful, finally, is what “builds up”.

The greatest teacher of the earlier church, Augustine of Hippo, came to Milan a non-Christian. From the influence of Ambrose he left baptized and believing and worked a generation to set the foundations for the church over a thousand years to come.

I find some striking parallels to the story of Ambrose in a now popular book by Jim Collins, "Good to Great." Here are the qualities of those in authority in companies that became great when they had before been good: quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated, did not believe his own clippings—a plow horse not a show horse. A plow horse not a show horse. A lot of progress can be made when we do not linger too long over who gets the credit.

Some years ago I went to a church meeting near Canada on a very cold night. It was led by our Bishop. For some reason I was not in a very happy mood, nor was I very charitable in my internal review of his remarks that evening. I do not recall his topic or theme. I remember clearly seeing him help to move hymnals, borrowed from other churches for the large crowd, so they could be returned. Snow, dark, long arms carrying a dozen hymnals into the tundra.

Who taught you about power?

Think of someone you have known who lived with heartfelt passion for the common good.

Who taught you about leadership?

Steady Service?

Is another the example of deliberate and deliberative service, of steady service, of sincere service, of suffering service?

Bultmann places our passage in his category of ‘legal sayings and church rules’. These later sayings have used a word like ransom and: ‘ taken from the redemption theories of Hellenistic Christianity’ (Bultmann, HST, 87).

The earlier warnings of suffering and death had fallen upon deaf ears…

“The basic inability of the disciples to grasp or accept Jesus’ concept of messiahship or its corollary, suffering discipleship, becomes reflected more and more in their total relationship to Jesus. The conflict over the correct interpretation of messiahship widens into a general conflict and misunderstanding in almost every area of their relationship

A few years ago Charles Rice of Drew spoke about the servant of the servants of God. He told about an Easter when he was in Greece. He sat in the Orthodox Church and watched the faithful in devotions. There was a great glassed icon of Christ, to which, following prayers, women and men would move, then kneel. Then as they rose they kissed the glassed icon.

Every so often a woman dressed in black would emerge from the shadows with some cleanser, or windex, and a cloth and –psh, psh—would clean the image, making it clear again. A servant of the servants of God, washing away the accumulated piety before her…

Rice had a revelation about service and power and authority and leadership. And through him I did too. Maybe it will work for you. As he watched the woman in black cleaning the icon, he realized that this was what his ministry was meant to be. A daily washing away from the face of Christ all that obscured, all that distorted, all that blocked others from seeing his truth, goodness and beauty. Including a lot of piety. Including pretense and presumption and position. Service that lasts is deliberate and also deliberative, it is steady service.

Think of someone you have known who provided heartfelt service to the servants of God. Steady, sincere, suffering service.

Who taught you about power?

Coda

Every one of us has some power. If you have a pen, a telephone, a computer, email, a tongue, a household, a family, a job, a community, a church—then you have some authority.

Who taught you, by precept and example, how to use it? How much of what you picked up needs keeping and how much needs to be put out on the curb?

A simple passion for the common good of the servants of God is at the heart of leadership.

Here is leadership: simple, authentic service.

Here is leadership: simple, authentic service.

Here is leadership: simple, authentic service.

For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

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