Saturday, August 31, 2013

Only One Moving Finger

Dear friends,

The sermon notes that follow are the beginning of a process of thought that has not yet reached its maturity.  I am pondering what it means for us as Anglicans to have lost our privileged position in society even as we remain a means of God's saving compassion in a world focused on privilege, prestige and power.  I hope that you will be patient with me as I work these thoughts out, whether in future sermons or essays.  In the meantime, may God give us hope, guidance and joy.


RCL Proper 22C (Series 2)
1 September 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Sirach 10.12-18; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13.1-8, 15-16; Luke 14.1, 7-14
         On the 15th of October 1906 the sometime Anglican Bishop of Shanghai died in Tokyo where he had retired in 1883.  His name was Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky.  His life’s pilgrimage began in Lithuania as the son of Jewish parents, continued to Germany, then to the United States where, after time spent in the Baptist and Presbyterian churches, he became an Anglican deacon.

         He answered a call for missionaries to China and, during his travel to Shanghai, he learned how to write the Chinese language.  From 1862 to 1875 he served in Beijing where he began his translation into Mandarin of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.  In 1877 he was elected Bishop of Shanghai and, in addition to his pastoral work, founded Saint John’s University, some of whose alumni established Saint John’s College at the University of British Columbia.  He also turned to translating the Bible into Wen-li, another form of the Chinese language.

         But Schereschewsky’s tenure as Bishop was cut short by Parkinson’s disease and he was virtually paralyzed by the disease.  He retired as Bishop in 1883 and then spent twenty-three years in Japan.  During those twenty-three years he continued his translation work having the use of only one finger.  When interviewed four years before his death about his disability, Schereschewsky said, “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years.  It seemed very hard at first.  But God knew best.  He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.”

         In all of our readings today there is a common thread:  Walk humbly with your God.  The author of Sirach expresses it simply, “Pride was not created for human beings” (Sirach 10.18a).  But let us not confuse humility with groveling, self-denying abasement.  Humility mean recognizing who we are, what are our gifts and what role is God calling us to play in the great drama of salvation.  Perhaps Bishop Schereschewsky did not achieve all his dreams for his ministry in China, but he left a foundation in his translation work that later Christian missionaries and teachers built upon.  With one finger he gave the Christians of Shanghai and the surrounding region the resources necessary to share their faith with others.  And he did it well.

         I cannot help but think that we Anglicans are living through a time when the pride of our past has come home to roost.  After centuries of assuming our place at the head of the table, we are being asked to vacate our privileged position and to move to a less exalted place.  Our heritage of beautiful buildings, inspired music and dignified liturgy serves as a constant reminder of who we were while, at the same time, presenting us with a challenge:  Who do we wish to become?  What gifts do we bring to life in the twenty-first century?  What role is God calling us to play in contemporary society?

         I will not try to answer these three questions today, but I can say that I believe that many Anglicans are willing to walk humbly with our God.  We are seeking to embody in our lives and in our public ministries the qualities the author of the letter to the Hebrews describes:

  • Learning to love our neighbours as ourselves.
  • Showing hospitality to strangers, especially to those who have no knowledge or experience of the Christian faith.
  • Remembering those who are held prisoner to hopelessness, hunger, homelessness and addiction.
  • Honouring the loving relationships with which God gifts us.
  • Building up the lay and ordained leadership of our communities.
  • Doing good and sharing what we have.

Losing our privileged place in society may be the best thing that has ever happened to us.  We have been liberated to return to our roots, a movement begun in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, empowered by the Spirit to share with God in the work of renewing the creation.

         Setting aside the sin of pride and taking on the mantle of humility does not mean denying the wisdom we have gained over two thousand years or denying the knowledge and skills God has given us to meet the needs and concerns of our neighbours and our world.  Mrs Lucardi, my Grade 8 algebra teacher, once said, “It ain’t boasting if it’s true!”  There are things that we know; there are things that we may do better than anyone else.  But humility also is found by acknowledging what we do not know or do not do well.  Humility means partnering with others and becoming a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

         So, my friends, the summer has come to an end and we’ve work to do.  Part of that work is clearing our garden of the weeds of centuries of Anglican pride and planting the seeds of Christian humility.  It is a humility that celebrates what God has done for us and for all creation as we ask for the wisdom to know what God would have us do in the coming year and beyond.  It is a humility that dares to use the wisdom, knowledge and skill we have in companionship with others, whether of our faith or not, who will bring their own wisdom, knowledge and skill to our common task. 

         Remember this:  God’s work may only require one finger, a finger guided by the Spirit and strengthened by the love of Jesus.  With such a finger God can do great things.  Amen.

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