Last Sunday after Pentecost 2015, Christ the King

Gospel: John 18:33-37

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

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“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” This was Jesus’ reply to Pilate’s question about the character of Jesus’ kingship.   Jesus was coming to the end of a path that was revealing to him and to his followers his true, divine nature.  What a realization that must have been – for Jesus to know, with such certainty, that it was for this that he was born.

I wonder how many of us could say the same about the life we are living?  How many of us could look closely at how we spend our days and say, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world.”

For two decades I had driven past the Pecos Benedictine Monastery, on my way to hike and fish in the remote sections of the Sangre de Cristo Range in Northern New Mexico. I had always been curious about the series of low-lying adobe buildings loosely connected to a bell tower at the center of the Pecos monastic grounds.   This particular year, something compelled me before I left my home in Austin, while planning my annual retreat into the wilderness, to place a call to the monastery office.  Fr. Bob, who returned my call after Morning Prayer, had a voice so serene and so welcoming, that I immediately decided to spend a few days with the monks.

During my stay I helped out in the kitchen, worked a little in the garden, prayed with the monks through lauds, vespers and compline.  And I wandered the thousand acres of mountains and valleys that lay behind the monastery.  While peeling potatoes and washing dishes I got to know one monk in particular – a novice named Brother Patrick.  Brother Patrick was almost as wide as he was tall.  Dressed in a white habit, characteristic of the ancient Olivetan branch of Benedictines of which he was a member, he rather resembled a giant marshmallow.  He had a Hobbit-like demeanor – displayed in his reluctance to venture much beyond the monastic grounds and by his characteristically hairy feet.

Our conversations were wide ranging – theological, philosophical, personal and historical.  Patrick was Irish Catholic, and though reared in London, he still harbored no small measure of resentment toward the Church of England.  In fact, since I was Anglican, he seemed to hold me personally responsible for the 16th century burning and looting of the monasteries throughout the English countryside.

Returning from a hike one afternoon, I found Brother Patrick sitting outside in a rattan chair, an empty seat beside him, seemingly waiting in anticipation of my return.  No sooner had I claimed my seat, and began untying the laces of my hiking boots, than I heard Patrick say, “Roger, I think you should be an Anglican priest.”

I continued to untie my leather laces, allowing the enormity of that idea to sink in.  It wasn’t the first time that someone had suggested that I might be well suited to ordained ministry.  My mother, who will be 97 in January, would tell you that I was called as a child.  But I really I wasn’t listening – until that moment with Brother Patrick.  Still, I protested.  I told him I was too old, that my children required all my spare energy, that I had a business to run, and that I had neither the time nor the money for seminary.  Patrick replied, “Roger, I want you to talk to your Bishop.”

I said, “It doesn’t work like that in our church.  First you have to talk to your local priest, then you form a discernment committee, and then the vestry has to support you and then you go on to diocesan committees.  It’s just too much.”

Patrick said, in his hobbit voice, “I think you should talk with your Bishop.”

That evening, I was in my cell, waiting for vespers, when I heard a knock at the door.  It was Brother Patrick.  He said, “I have something for you.” And he handed me a small black box.  “Open it,” he said, with a sly smile on his face.

Amid the crinkling tissue paper inside the box, I found a pearly white clerical collar.  I looked, quizzically, at Patrick, who responded with an order.  “Put it on.”

Obediently, I wrapped the collar around my neck and Patrick fastened it in the back.  “Now stand in front of the mirror“, he said.

I moved toward the cracked mirror, mounted above the sink, and for the first time in my life, I could see myself as a priest.  It took a concrete visual image.  In my stubbornness and resistance, it wasn’t enough for me, as it had been for Samuel, to hear God’s voice calling in the night.  I needed to see a manifestation of God’s directive in front of my very eyes.

After leaving the monastery and returning home, it might have been easy to take up my former life and ignore the voice I had heard and the vision I had seen.  I might have moved on, where it not for the fact that over the course of the following year, about every six weeks, I would receive a phone call.  And the persistent voice on the line would say, “Roger, have you spoken with your Bishop yet?”

That hobbit-like monk made it clear to me that it was, “For this I was born, for this I came into the world.”  I can assure that it has been a great gift to be able to spend my days attempting to live into the life that God had in store for me from the beginning. I pray that each of you can know the joy of finding yourself in alignment with God’s purpose for you and for the world.

Yet, just as surely as God calls individuals, God calls congregations.  Our official birthing, as a congregation, took place at the Diocesan Convention in February 2008, when we were designated as an official mission of the Episcopal church.  I think it became clear to us very early on that we were not going to be just another ordinary church.  The kind of radical hospitality we offer, the way we take diversity and inclusion seriously, our truly welcoming spirit has set the people of All Saints’ apart.  I believe that is was for this that we were born, for this we came into the world.

And now we may have before us, the opportunity to live into that calling in a way that we could have not imagined seven years ago.  Delegates from All Saints’, Congregation Etz Chaim and the Bentonville Islamic Association have now substantially completed a proposal that paints a picture of how the three congregations could live together under the same roof, maintaining separate religious identities, but cooperating on projects, learning from one another, and perhaps most importantly, providing an example to a world filled with religious strife, of a place where Jews and Muslims and Christians live together in mutual respect and harmony.

It is anticipated that in January, each of the three congregations will have determined their willingness to take on this enormous challenge.  If the project comes to fruition, it will be the first time in history that the three Abrahamic faiths have built a common house of worship.  Here in Bentonville, Arkansas, of all places, we have been granted a unique opportunity to take a substantive stand on behalf of unity and against fear and hatred of the other.

And it may very well be that it is for this that we were born, for this we came into the world.

 

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