ACNA'09: Homily of the Rt. Rev Robert Duncan
June 24, 2009
The 76th verse of the first chapter of the Gospel according to St Luke says, "And You my child shall be called the prophet of the most high for you shall go before the Lord to prepare the way for Him."
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Please be seated
This is all about God's timing and God's message. We began on St. Albans Day with the Gospel that asked for sacrifice and the willingness to follow Jesus anywhere he asked us to go. And we come to this great Eucharist and it is the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. I will say as we begin I am glad this not the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist. There is such a feast in the calendar but it is not today. Today is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. As we think about what God's message to us is tonight, you have an idea because you have heard the lessons. What wonderful lessons. [Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:7-13; Acts 13:14-26; and Luke 1:57-80]
As a side note, this is the 695th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannock where William the Bruce led and Scotland won its independence. That would be a lovely distraction but I don't think that is where the Lord wants to go.
On the 24th of June 1509, Henry VIII was crowned King of England. What do you suppose is in that message? One could think about a ruler gone astray and confiscating the property of the church in an almost contemporary way. But it probably would be better to take Romans 8:28 when it says that, "...In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him." Right?
Even though it is that anniversary I don't think that is what the Lord has in mind. There is something about a 500th anniversary and God's timing in this is never accidental.
But, it is not about the past and not about what we have come out of. We have heard that message over and over again. Whether it was the gentle exhortation of Rick Warren not to be reactive in our course forward; or the vision of Edwina Thomas of this terrible war and terrible conflict and yet to go up the stairs to a room filled with wonderful treasures all available to us and to hear that that war is not our war anymore.
It was hard to hear the words of Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah this morning of the things that separate us from the orthodox, because the things that separate us from them separate us from one another. If the past had not been so hard to come out of, we would not have been tempted to applaud what we heard.
We are Calvinist Anglicans. Right? And we are not all agreed about that. And there are women in holy orders and we are not agreed about that. The Lord has brought us together not papering over the differences but to stand and be prepared to talk with brothers and sisters about the truth and unity that comes in Jesus Christ.
It is not about the past. We have been brought together for a noble work and God has blest this journey and will bless us together if we move forward in support of one another. God will sort it out.
It is not about the past. It is not about me. Yes I get to wear all the fancy stuff but it is about being the servants of God. As we were reminded, when we go down, the lower we go and the farther down we go down, the Lord lifts us up.
John the Baptist was clothed in camel's hair and ate wild honey. I have been clothed with eyebrows and I prefer to eat haggis.
God takes weird people - John The Baptist is the forerunner. He takes the really weird people and then everyone knows it is about God, not about me. The timing and the message, it is safe to say, it is about us and about HIM. It is about messengers and the message and the method. It's about messengers and the message and about the method. I want to speak to each for just a little bit. God's timing for this event for this day is so we will not miss His message. He wants us to be messengers and forerunners.
On Monday, we heard that he wants us to be martyrs and witnesses. It is about being messengers of HIM. That wonderful verse, "[a]nd you my child shall be called the prophet of the most high for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way."
Of all the days this year that we could have this Eucharist. It had nothing to do with this day, but with schedules and other obligations; but actually when a wedding fell at St. Vincent's.
But God wanted us to hear his purposes for us: that we would go before Him to prepare His way. In Luke 1, the Father, Zechariah, is speaking about his own son. Our father God speaks to us: his own sons and daughters, "You, You my child, shall go before my face. You'll be called the prophet of the most high. You'll go to prepare the way for the Lord."
He wants us to be messengers and forerunners. It's a wilderness out there. John appropriates his message in the 40th chapter of Isaiah, "Comfort, Comfort ye my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins."
The Lord didn't want us to miss these words. And that's why this is happening tonight and why it is on this feast day. It is a desert out there and there is warfare. And they are shepherd less. You heard in the anthem (John Ness Beck's He shall feed his flock) about the shepherd who will gather his sheep. That's who is coming. We are to prepare his way and in every place, get ready.
The order is that we are the warm up act. We come and He follows. You have to kill some time until the stadium fills up. We're the warm up act and He is about to come. We are all called to something new.
On the way here, we were hoping the plane wouldn't be too crowded. I was in the window - I love to look out the window at the land as we fly over - and Nara was on the aisle because of the extra space there; and this big guy in a sports jersey sat in the middle. This jersey had expletives deleted on the back but you could still tell what it said. He pulled out the big book and started reading the 12 steps.
I said Lord, "Am I supposed to talk to this guy?"
I usually don't do that on planes. So, I said, "What's you name?"
"My name is Bob. I see you reading the 12 steps in the big book and how long have you been sober?"
"I got out of recovery 2 days ago."
That would have been enough to stop the conversation until I realized that he needs to know a higher power and it was obvious he didn't. So I said, "Would you mind if I shared with you about Jesus? First I asked him if he had any faith."
"No. There was no religion, no faith in my home."
What's interesting is this is a kid from my part of the world where everyone has faith. Here was a kid that had no faith. He'd been suffering with alcohol since he was 15. Now he is 25. The longest he was sober was 7 months. He has a girlfriend and 2 kids. Both parents were alcoholics too. He needs to know that God forgives him and loves him and the power of God that could get him out of the mess he is in. Who will tell him but us?
I confess my reluctance for my place in this.
He didn't accept Jesus on the flight. But I did tell him that I would pray for him for 30 days and that I had some friends who were prayer intercessors - I didn't tell him they were an international team - and I called my intercessor right off the flight.
God is coming in the flesh, in His flesh. And our flesh, our flesh is the warm up. He wants to come into every town and village and is sending us ahead of him and has called us to be his messengers. Remember on Monday when I asked, "Are you are ready?"
"Yes," they shouted.
"Are you willing?"
"I am," the response.
I love when you say I am. Here is the wonderful thing in tonight's reading. Think about it for a minute. Look at the Gospel (Luke 1:57-80) where Zechariah starts to speak, 5 lines from the bottom, "And you child will be called the prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins."
The passage goes on. This dad who is so glad to have a son and so glad to be able to speak again because the Lord has loosed his lips and the Lord will loose yours too.
The dayspring has come on high for those who sit in darkness in the shadow of death.
John the Evangelist teaches that 'the light was the light of men and the light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not over come it.' In this message there is life. That's what I want you to see, it's all right here. They are to guide our feet into the way of peace.
What did John on the airplane need? To know he was forgiven and to know that he was loved and that there was power accessible to him. Zechariah is saying how to guide our feet in the way of peace. This is Holy Spirit stuff because this whole prophecy is Holy Spirit stuff.
Jesus is the message and there are three parts to the message. When did you last say this message? Today at Morning Prayer. The Benedictus est domine. It is one of the most recited passages of Scripture and the other is the Magnificat, "The Lord God has visited and redeemed his people."
He wants us to prepare His way by telling them about forgiveness and telling them about His love and His peace. God wants to give us his perspective on the day. As Rick Warren suggested, God is throwing things upside down, that those on the thrones will be thrown down. Liturgy is great stuff.
If you forget or miss your marching orders, go right back here to find it.
Now about the method. It is scriptural but not out of Scripture. 10 suggestions, not commandments, because they are from me not from him.
1) We must raise our identity as forerunners.
2) We must do what pleases the Lord. So the world looking in will say how those Christians love one another.
3) Welcome back the wounded. Love them and bring them to the place where they can get the message out too.
4) Call and equip a new generation of leaders: by modeling behavior, by taking them in and bringing them to Christ. You know how Jesus did this. They are never too young. One of my godsons is here tonight. They are never too young.
5) I'm going to be and Nara agreeing, your archbishop for 5 years. It's important to have clear communication in a marriage or any relationship. In the next 5 years, I want us to plant 1000 new churches. (applause) We can do that. There are 700 churches now. We can do that and we can help each other to do that. But there shouldn't be any among us who aren't trying to plant some.
6) We must be about the business of engaging Islam. And secularism and materialism but especially Islam because there is only one way to the Father. This is a matter of life and death. (applause)
7) We've also got to be about those great corporal acts of mercy in the 25th chapter of Matthew's gospel: feeding and loving the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison and being with them. Men in our diocese work in Chiros and go into the maximum-security prison for a whole weekend and men come to Christ. Every time, the men who go are blown away. The reason it happened is because they went to tell them. That's what we have to do
8) We have to be about the method of creative ministry responses. Not the way its always been done, but believed the way it has always been believed
The 9th is that we all need to get better at knowing scripture by heart. I was told by a teacher at preschool in Greensburg where each child recited a scripture for every letter of the alphabet. This is a preschool. We have to get scripture into our hearts. If you don't know it, you can't live it.
10) The last thing is to go with Paul: Praying, rejoicing and giving thanks in all circumstances. And you can rejoice because I am just about finished. You only get to be made archbishop once and people are generally willing to listen to you. (laughter and applause)
I want to remind you of what it is all about. The feast of John the Baptist and His daddy's words of prophesy over the boy, which is God's Word for us, "You will go before the Lord to prepare His Way."
Brothers and sisters lets do it together. Now. Unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all power and glory. To Him be the power and dominion for evermore. AMEN.
Grateful thanks to Cheryl Wetzel of Anglicans United for transcribing this text
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