Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stewardship as Leitourgia

The Feast of Saints Simon and Jude
28 October 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Deuteronomy 32.1-4; Psalm 119.89-96; Ephesians 2.13-22; John 15.17-27
            In today’s reading from the Gospel according to John we hear some very hard words about discipleship and the opposition that followers of Jesus should expect.  Such hard words should not surprise us.  The way of Jesus is not an easy one, even for those who choose to follow it, and it is a way that challenges those who benefit from inequalities in our world.  Even democratic governments, from time to time, find the followers of Jesus uncomfortable and try to muffle our voices and our criticisms.

            This was a reality that Simon and Jude knew all too well.  Conventional wisdom associates Simon with the Zealots, a political movement willing to use violence to overthrow the Roman authorities.  They were, in fact, people who today would be identified as terrorists.  But somewhere along the way, Simon met Jesus and his life was changed.  I am sure that his former compatriots thought him a traitor and there were probably occasions when Simon’s life was not easy.

            On the other hand, Jude is thought by some to have been a brother of Jesus.  This is not the time to go into an in-depth exploration of the possible family connections, but there is no doubt it cannot have been easy to be related to a man thought to be a miracle worker by some, an inspired teacher by others and a political and religious threat by the authorities.  But Jude was numbered among the Twelve, the inner group of the early Jesus-movement.  With his colleague, Simon, Jude is counted among those apostles who were martyred within twenty years of his brother’s death and resurrection.

            What Simon and Jude came to realize is that following Jesus is a public work for the common good.  Being public meant that Simon and Jude were identified as leaders of a movement and anonymity was not an option.  Being part of a movement for the common good meant that Simon and Jude were compelled by their belief in the resurrection to speak out and to call others to join in this movement.

            Saint Faith’s is very familiar with these dimensions of Christian discipleship.  Under the leadership of Peter Davison and Andrew Pike, this parish entered into the renewal of public liturgy that began in the late sixties and early seventies.  We could not hide our commitment to worship that spoke to new generations of Christians for whom Tudor English and clergy-dominated worship no longer had meaning.

            This parish also was among the earliest proponents of the ministry of women in every dimension of the church.  The late Dr Mary Murray was the first woman to be elected to various offices in the Diocese of New Westminster.  Saint Faith’s provided a curacy for Elspeth Alley, one of the first woman ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada.  Her shoes were filled by other women culminating with the appointment of Paula Porter Leggett as Rector in 1998.

            This heritage, the heritage of saints and of this parish, is an embodiment of leitourgia, a Greek word meaning ‘a public work for the common good’.  Its English derivative, ‘liturgy’, is sometimes used to describe worship, but I want to explore its broader meaning with you today.

            Leitourgia is 'public' because it is neither secret nor reserved for a select few.  What God is doing for the world with and through and sometimes despite the Christian assembly is intended to be broadcast far and wide, our doors flung open to any and to all who would enter.  God appeals shamelessly to the 'wrong kind' of people as well as to the 'right kind', however we might define those terms.

            Because we worship and serve in full view of those who are not part of our movement, we cannot ignore them and try to hide ourselves behind our doors and walls.  This is not something this parish has ever been tempted to do, but we cannot afford to forget the public nature of our faith and of the path we have chosen to follow as Christians.

            Leitourgia is ‘work’ because it requires effort as well as accomplishes something.  Christian life becomes less than leitourgia when we do not practice for it, when we no longer examine closely the reasons why we are doing and saying what we are doing and saying.   When leitourgia is at work in and through us, lives are changed, communities transformed and God's shalom becomes evident to the blind, the deaf and the voiceless.

            Leitourgia is 'common' because it both involves the 'things' and 'stuff' of human life as well as being shared by all.  'God's public work' is not an abstraction but uses our journeys and passages, our food and our drink, our language and gestures to convey the mission that God is accomplishing in the world.  Further, when Christian faith and witness become the possession of a particular individual or particular group, then we experience a deformed expression of leitourgia, this frivolously hospitable act of God.

            Leitourgia is 'good' not only because God is good but because it embodies what God envisions as the 'good'.

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"  He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6.6-8)

            'To do justice' is to ensure that the dignity of every human being is protected and that no one becomes a means to my ends.  'To love kindness' is to love chesed, covenant loyalty, steadfast love.  'To walk humbly' is to remember that, although we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are not God.

  • The ‘good’ is present when others see us creating life-giving and life-sustaining community.
  • The ‘good’ is present when others see us proclaiming the good news of God in Jesus of Nazareth.
  • The ‘good’ is present when others see us manifesting costly witness to the good news which we proclaim.
  • The ‘good’ is present when others see us offering self-giving, self-sacrificing service and agency to our neighbours.
  • The ‘good’ is present when others see us teaching our faith not only in word but in deed, practicing a life of integrity.

            As we contemplate how we shall exercise our stewardship of the gifts God has given us, let us remember that our gathering for worship is a ritual expression of how we follow the way of Jesus once this assembly is over.  Worship plays a role in stewardship because it reminds us of our public work for the common good.  Bishop Augustine of Hippo is reported to have lifted the bread and wine of the eucharist with these words:  “The gifts of God for the people of God.  See who you are.  Become what you see.”

            Through our baptism and our participation in the eucharist God reveals us to be agents of leitourgia, a people who are called to be a gift to the world.  Leitourgia joins  diakonia as one of the dimensions of the stewardship we exercise in communion with Simon and Jude and the generations of believers who have come before us.

Let us pray.

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  [Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 304]

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