23 October 2011/Proper 25A – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8/Matthew 22:34-46
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore
As You Know
Paul’s First letter to the church in Thessalonica is the earliest of all New Testament writings – perhaps in the early 50’s of the first century.
One commentary writes, “The letter reflects the life of a congregation that was devoted to its faith and strongly aware of its separation from the society in which its members had until recently found their standards and values. At the same time it was also a community that was threatened by social pressures and at times outright persecution to turn back to the life from which they had come. Paul wrote to encourage the church, stressing that opposition is simply something to be expected.” (Oxford Annotated NRSV, p.291NT)
We have known such separation. And we have known similar social pressures. Outright persecution may be too strong a word, but opposition and conflict have surely characterized life in this place since the Parish Meeting one year ago this weekend. We can safely say that in some very real sense, Paul is writing to us.
I have always felt a particular kinship with this letter. As it begins, I could very well begin our time together on this day.
I give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in my prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
When Bishop Sutton asked me to shepherd this continuing congregation of Mount Calvary Episcopalians, we had not met. Although you no doubt saw me and heard me speak at the meeting the week before when as a member of the Standing Committee I accompanied the Bishop as he addressed the assembled congregation. I spoke of the kinship I felt for Mount Calvary, having served a church that was founded the same year (1842)by Bishop Wittingham for the same reason: to establish an Anglo-Catholic sensibility in the Diocese of Maryland as a way of enriching and diversifying this corner of God's vineyard.
I was uncertain as to what I might do, how I might serve those of you who courageously have withstood the social pressure to follow those who were choosing to abandon our communion and go to Rome. Still, separation was not and can never be easy. But you knew both who you are and whose you are - and knowing that you sought sacramental and pastoral care.
It is, for me, quite fitting that for our last Sunday together in this chapel as this congregation, that this portion of Paul's letter to the Thessalonians is the appointed reading. From the very first days of my ordained ministry I have held the vision of ministry Paul describes as that for which I would always strive - "As you know, and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us." I Thess 2:5-8
When asked to describe my ministry, this is always the scripture I have in mind. You have given me the gift of serving you as Paul suggests, gently, with no pretext, tenderly, determined to proclaim the Gospel of God in Christ, but also to offer you my own self. These past months together have been a gift to me. Your perseverance has both inspired me and brought me closer to God, closer to others and closer to my true self.
I have also come to appreciate more fully those who share this building with us. Despite what can be described as an awkward situation, the hospitality and courtesy extended to me has been genuine. As I have tried to represent Christ and this diocese in this place, I have felt accepted by nearly all those who worship here. I cannot begin to understand the journey upon which they have embarked, but as I have learned from the Hindus, there are many paths that lead to the summit - all streams lead to the sea. Perhaps one day the meaning of this difficult separation will become clear to us. In the meantime, we have had each other, and more importantly we have had Christ Jesus by our side every step of the way.
Believe me when I say, I do not want to leave any more than you do. I will miss each one of you more than I can express. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have served you this past year, and to hold you in my prayers every day.
As Paul writes in that very first document of Christian witness. "Now may God our Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way...and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all persons, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." I Thess 3:11-13
I frequently turn to a little book - a reinterpretation of that cornerstone of Anglican Spiritual Formation, the Rule of Saint Benedict - called Always We Begin Again (John McQuiston II, Morehouse Publishing, New York:1996,2011). Benedict, like many spiritual leaders throughout the history of mankind, recognized that each day, each moment of each day, is an opportunity to begin anew. This book has sustained me, and I hope it will sustain you as you move forward with Christ into a new chapter in your Journey with Jesus. Each time you open it, let it speak to you. Each time you open it, know that I will continue to hold you in my prayers. Each time you open it may it bring you closer to God, closer to others, and closer to yourself. As you know, and as God is my witness, you are God's beloved. God is well pleased with you and will continue to guide you every step of the way. Amen.