RCL Easter 6B
9 May 2021
Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral
New Westminster BC
As I draw nearer to my retirement from full-time stipendiary ministry, I find myself, like many others at similar points in their lives, marking endings. On Wednesday past, for example, Greg Kennelly and I participated in our last meeting as elected members of our Diocesan Council. By the time the next scheduled election of members takes place, I shall be within a month or two of retirement.
I have also been remembering mentors such as my Grade 8 and 9 English teacher, Mrs Galbraith whose husband had been taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War 2; my Grade 7, 8 and 9 civics teacher, Mr Comer, who was instrumental in organizing teachers into a collective bargaining association and later a state senator; and my seminary liturgy professor, Louis Weil, who was one of the group of scholars, clergy and laity responsible for the American prayer book of 1979 which influenced our own Book of Alternative Services of 1985.
One of the ways that I earned a little extra money while I was doing my doctoral studies in Notre Dame was by serving as a supply priest in the Dioceses of Northern Indiana and Western Michigan. Once, while presiding at a small parish on the shores of Lake Michigan, a member of the parish came up to me after the service and said, ‘Louis Weil taught you how to preside at the eucharist, didn’t he?’ When I asked how she knew, she said, ‘It’s how you use your hands, rarely if ever fussy, carefully contained, choreographed not mechanical – just like Louis.’
Some years later, after I had come to VST, established my own teaching career and begun working with people serving in aboriginal communities, I attend an international conference of Anglican liturgists. During one discussion about a particularly thorny topic, Louis voiced his opinion, I voiced a different one. After the session I went up to Louis to apologize. ‘Nonsense,’ Louis said, ‘you are not my clone, Richard. I taught you to think pastorally, historically and theologically. That means we may, from time to time, see things differently.’
Such is the role of mentors in our lives. We begin by imitation, the sincerest form of flattery. Then, one day, consciously or unconsciously, we move beyond the boundaries of our formation and do something different, perhaps even something our mentors might not approve entirely.
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. [John 15.16-17]
For me this short section of the Gospel according to John is revolutionary in what it says to us and what it implies about our relationship to Jesus, our Friend and our Mentor. Through these words of Jesus, John dares to tell us that being a disciple of Jesus may be something more complex from what we may imagine it to be. We are not servants; we are not clones; we are friends. Friends are alike and friends are unalike; our distinctiveness does not divide us but rather enriches our friendship.
To be sure our vocation as disciples of Jesus is founded on our imitation of Jesus, a life-long effort to be Christ-like in all we do, in all we way, in how we mould our hearts, minds and souls. Sometimes we succeed spectacularly in our embodiment of God in Christ. Sometimes we fail in equally spectacular fashion. But in imitating Christ, we find abundant life and sow that life all about us.
Our imitation of Jesus is honed by our reading of and reflection upon the Scriptures, especially the Gospels. We learn from each other how to love and to serve the neighbours among whom we live, work and play. In our public worship, whether we participate on-line or on-site, we practice what we preach by holding before God the needs and concerns of the whole world, human and non-human, animate and inanimate, Christian and non-Christian, near and far.
But to have Jesus as our Friend and our Mentor also means using our distinctive gifts and experiences to do ‘more than we can ask or imagine’. To be like Jesus means going where Jesus could not go in his earthly ministry and confronting needs and situations unknown in 1st-century Palestine.
Just before the portion of John’s Gospel we heard this morning, part of the so-called ‘Farewell Discourse’, Jesus says yet another extraordinary thing.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. [John 14.12]
During his earthly ministry, Jesus gathered a small community of friends who, after his death, resurrection and ascension, went out and changed their world. We who gather for worship today are the visible evidence of that great work of transformation.
As the end of this pandemic approaches, and it will end, we will find ourselves facing our own moment to do great things. We have learned new ways to share the good news of God in Christ and we will learn how to integrate them into our on-going ministry here in New Westminster and beyond. We have known the pain of isolation and separation. How will our experience of such pain transform our community life when we are finally permitted to expand our presence in shared physical space and to increase our community activities? We cannot return to the ‘old normal’; we must shape a ‘new normal’.
In all of this Jesus will be our Friend and our Mentor. We will continue our commitment to imitate him in thought, word and deed. But we will also explore going beyond imitation into faithful imagination. This imagining may lead us into unexplored territory. But I am convinced that our Friend and our Mentor will not disapprove.
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 2006, 304]