I’m pleased to be back here, visiting with you all again and to share in your holy celebration of the Mass.
Us brothers in the Society of Saint Francis just returned from New York City, celebrating our 100th Anniversary in the Americas.
In a new biography of our Franciscan order, written specifically for this Anniversary by two of our more gifted brother-writers, they record,
“In 1908, a group of friends and acquaintances were spread across the United States. They were connected by their love of the Episcopal church, a desire to see a deepening of their tradition’s Catholic elements, and a commitment to reviving religious communities, particularly those with Franciscan values. They believed that these values were the only thing that could combat the rampant materialism and neglect of the poor they observed around them.”
And so, 11 years later, on the evening of September 14, 1919, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in New York City, the Order of St. Francis was born. The men who helped start the order, including our American founder, Father Joseph, took up the cross of Christ to spread the teachings of our Nazarene king through the example of St. Francis of Assisi. In 1967, the Order of St. Francis merged with their Church of England counterpart, the Society of St. Francis, and took its current name.
Last Saturday, at 11 AM, at the same feast of the Holy Cross, the brothers and sisters of the Society of St. Francis from the United States, England, Australia, Korea, the Solomon Islands, as well as members and representatives of over half a dozen American and Canadian men and women Anglican religious orders and communities, with representatives for the Diocese of New York, and members of Roman Catholic religious orders, alongside parishioners and priests from New York City and across the United States, as well as two Bishops Protector, and the current Presiding Bishop, all these descended once again to the Church of St. Luke in the Fields to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of our Franciscan community.
Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, delivered a soaring homily to all gathered for this important occasion. If I may, I’d like to share with you one or two excerpts of the Presiding Bishop’s sermon that stood out to me and which you can hear for yourself on Bishop Curry’s Facebook page.
Speaking of the church’s tendency to focus in on itself rather than out towards the people of God, Bishop Curry said,
“Go back to [Saint] Francis and [Saint] Clare, go back to the Franciscan movement. It was a revolution that turned the church upside down which is actually turning it rightside up.”
Bishop Curry implored those present to make “Jesus and his way of love at the center and not my own self-interest. The church has gotten itself in trouble,” he said, “whenever it has been as the center” and not Jesus, not his love.
Bishop Curry continued, “The more Jesus and his way of love is at the center of my life, your life, our lives, the life of this church, the life of those who claim to be Christians, the more Jesus is at the center and his way of love is our way of life, then we will find our life.”
After his homily, in the presence of all the congregation, sacred ministers, and brothers and sisters, our American community vested two new men with the brown habit. Mister Edward Bassett and Mr. Robert Gee took as their new names in religion Brother Columba (after St. Columba who helped bring the Gospel to the British Isles) and Brother Gregory (after Pope Saint Gregory the Great, one of the most influential popes of all time). I trust you will see our Brother Gregory and Brother Columba here very soon as well. We are very lucky to have such humble and devout men of God in service to our Lord and in service to God’s people.
After their clothing ceremony, our Brother Thomas made his first profession, submitting himself to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as countless brothers and sisters have done before him. In the presence of all, the head of our order in the Americas removed the rope of a novice with its one knot, symbolizing a promise of obedience, and gave Brother Thomas the triple knotted rope, symbolizing Brother Thomas’ acceptance of the three vows.
In almost three weeks time, at 11 AM on October 5 at Grace Cathedral, we will have a Centenary Celebration for those of us who live on the West Coast. Our Bishop Protector, the Right Reverend Robert Fitzpatrick of the Diocese of Hawaii will celebrate Mass and the Very Reverend Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus of Grace Cathedral, will deliver the homily. We hope to see you all there.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus introduces us to a character often referred to as the dishonest manager or prudent steward (depending on which bible notes you are reading). The manager, we are told, is fired by his master because he was squandering his master’s property. But, before his master can fire him, the manager goes to all those who owe his master money and allows them to lower the amount of money each one owes the master. The debtor who owed 100 jugs of olive oil now owes 50. The debtor who owed 100 containers of wheat, now owes only 80 (Luke 16:6,7).
When the master finds out what his manager has done, instead of rebuking him, he condones his manager’s shrewd actions. Our Lord says, “His master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” (Luke 16:8).
Jesus’ message here can be summarized as this: We, the “children of the light”—the children of the new Covenant—should aspire towards the same shrewdness, or, as other translations say, wisdom or astuteness, of the manager with the gifts God has given us.
Instead of chiding us, Our Lord is inviting us to use our gifts for the greater glory of God.
The fruits, the results, the children of this age we know all too well. How many times have we observed or experienced first hand the fruits of this age? How many times do we encounter on the Internet or television or seen up close the fruits of rampant consumerism, gross individualism, extreme selfishness, feelings of worthlessness, apathy, the destruction of our planet, the misuse of our bodies, or the modern enslavement of the human person?
How many times have we been promised that more technology, more electronics, more stuff, more money, more sex, more of this, more of that will finally bring us the peace we desire, only to realize it never arrives?
It never arrives because, when Christ is not the center of our lives, when we turn away from others and from God, when we reject his invitation to love, as the Presiding Bishop might say, we start getting ourselves in trouble.
Jesus says to us today, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Other Bibles translate the word for wealth as “mammon” which has a much more serious and far-reaching definition than simply “wealth”. Mammon is all those riches that are associated with evil, with the devil, with the snares of the children of this age. To have money is not a sin, just as to not have money is not a grace in itself. But, as St. Paul says in his First Letter to Timothy, it is “the love of money [which] is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). When our love of this world supersedes the love of God; when our minds, our attitude, our loves, our desires, are solely on the things of this world, then we become more and more a child of the age rather than a child of the New Covenant.
Today, Christ invites us to discern anew what innumerable gifts God has placed before us and how we may use them for building up of the Kingdom of God.
No gift granted by God is too small, just as no person is too small or insignificant in the eye of the Lord.
Our response to the world of change ought to be as shrewd as the manager in today’s parable. In our little Episcopal churches scattered throughout the nation, what are we doing with those congregations we still have? How are we using what we have—whether it be time, money, our connections with people, our talents, our spaces—for the greater glory of God? “How, O Lord,” we might pray, “can I be more shrewd a steward of what you have given me?”
I know I don’t have to tell many of you here about how to use the gifts God has given you. As soon as Brother Jude and myself walked into this house of worship a few months ago, we knew there was something different about you from other Episcopal churches. To see so many young people and families here compared to other churches we’ve visited is a rarity (not just in Episcopal Churches but churches in this country in general). I know I don’t have to tell you all to strive to put Jesus at the center of your life because so many of you are doing so. But it’s the people that aren’t here, who may not make Jesus and his love the center of their lives that need to hear this message. And since I can’t be there to preach directly to them, the church needs you, more than ever, to preach that message of love.
Although he never actually said it, the often misattributed quote to St. Francis does seem applicable to many of us who are perhaps not the most outgoing. The quote often goes something like this, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” Although there is no record of St. Francis ever saying that, our Lord said something similar to his disciples before he suffered death. On the night he was betrayed, our Lord said to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Jesus doesn’t say to us, “If you wish to follow me, go to seminary first, learn some theology and then come back and see me,” or “Unless a man purchases the New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, he cannot be my disciple.”
What God invites us today is to simply live into that which we’ve already known as Christians. And what we’ve known is this: God has gifted us a soul of infinite value because it has been purchased for us by the Blood of Jesus Christ. No other affiliation, no other title, no other association in our lives supersedes the new life granted us in him. No one among us can simultaneously serve God and mammon. God’s claim on our souls is exclusive and not up for negotiation. There is no power imaginable that could snatch a soul away that nestles itself next to the heart of God.
No matter how small or insignificant, no one or no act of kindness is useless to the Lord in building up his kingdom. No one is of little value to God. Everyone of us is the apple of God’s eye. Everyone of us can bring an offering to our Lord. Everyone of us is called to be as shrewd or wise with our own gifts as Christ calls us to do today.
My brothers and sisters, as we continue our celebration of this Eucharist, as we prepare our hearts and minds to truly receive Christ’s Body and Blood, let us resolve that this day, this week, this year, or just even this moment, no one but God will command the ship of salvation. No one but God will be the axis upon which our life revolves. Not one but God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—deserves all our praise, all our worship, all honor, all blessing, and every good that finds its origin in the mind of God.
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church | Belmont, CA
Holy Family Episcopal Church | Half Moon Bay, CA
September 22, 2019
Proper 20 Year C
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org