Servants, Sacrifice and Creation: A Vicar’s sermon

A sermon on October 18, 2015 (Year B – Proper 24 ) by The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar

In the Name of the creating, restoring and transforming God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   AMEN

I’ve been waiting.
Waiting for a Sunday in this season of Creation, the unofficial mini-season within the mega-season called Ordinary Time,
I’ve been waiting for a Sunday when the readings align, connecting the Christian Gospel with the cosmos, the way of Jesus with the creation and care of this fragile earth, our island home.

And today is the day.
Oh it may not seem obvious at first.
But it’s there.

In the Gospel Jesus teaches us, as he so often does, to be servants.
Servants of God and servants of/to one another.
Not in an “I’m the master you are the servant” kind of way, but in an
“I’m a servant, so if you follow me, you will be a servant, too.” kind of way.

Jesus says:
“…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

And so we sing on Maundy Thursday:
“Won’t you let me be your servant
let me be as Christ to you….”

I don’t know what comes to your mind when you consider this image of servant.
Foot-washing, perhaps.
Or maybe giving up something you like in order to do something you think you are supposed to do.
I don’t know –
Give up dinner at a fancy restaurant in order to give more money to those who are hungry.
Or maybe when you think of being a servant á la Jesus,
you think of martyrdom,
willing to give up you very life for another, or others.

It is tempting to think that Christian servanthood is all of this and more.
In which case, we might as well add to the list,
to be a servant of God is to take care of God’s Creation, the environment.

But I want to stop the litany there.
And say that Christian servanthood is actually not about making the world a better place,
or making yourself a better person.
It isn’t about martyring yourself –
(though Christian servanthood can indeed lead to martyrdom.)

No, Christian servanthood is not about these things.
Rather, Christian servanthood is, as today’s Gospel reveals,
Christian servanthood is about drinking the cup that Jesus drinks.
It is about being baptized with the baptism with which Jesus was baptized.
It is about offering ourselves in sacrifice, yes.
But not sacrificing ourselves to other human beings
or to a political ideal,
or even to a religion.

Rather, Christian servanthood is about offering ourselves in sacrifice to God,
about giving ourselves to God, in Christ.

Sometimes, here at the Church of the Advocate,
and indeed sometimes in every church,
we can get so caught up in the music,
or the beauty or even the playfulness of the liturgy,
or our own need for communion with one another and with God,
that we can lose track of the reality
that a big chunk of what is going on in the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy is actually
sacrifice and formation,
sacrifice and formation for servanthood.
And it is not just Jesus who is being offered as a sacrifice – in bread and in wine.
But it is you and me.

We pray for it, you know.

In the old Eucharistic prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, we prayed:
And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee…”
“…. we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, whereby we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies…”

Elsewhere we pray “Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice.”
Or, in another Eucharistic prayer:
“Grant that all who share in this bread and cup may become one body and one spirit, a living sacrifice in Christ.”

We may lose sight of it, but in truth we come here, week by week, to sacrifice ourselves to God, to join with Christ in his sacrifice.
That’s what the whole offertory thing is about, you know.
We give of our labors, symbolized in the bread and the wine,
“from God’s creation,” yes,
and also the “work of human hands”.
We give of our lives,
symbolized by our offertory procession,
our souls our bodies, our minds,
the cash, the food, put in the basket.

When we drop that dollar or that box of pasta in the basket,
we are, in effect, getting into the basket with it.
We are being lifted up at the altar along with the bread and the wine.

Even what we call this particular piece of furniture says something about what we believe is happening here.
Notice that we call it an altar, not a communion table.
A communion table is something that the faithful gather around in order to hear the story of the last supper and to realize themselves as a communion of faithful people.
An altar is something that the faithful gather around as well.
But then we are offered up, lifted up,
right along with Jesus,
we are lifted up, given to God and blessed,
given to God and blessed and transformed by God.
Then sent back into the world.

We are about sacrifice here.
Sacrificing our selves, our labor, our lives, to God,
being united to Christ in his sacrifice,
drinking the cup that he drinks.

And the result isn’t a choice, a decision, of how to behave:
“Today, I am going to be a sacrificial, suffering servant, because Jesus was, and that is what I am called to be.”
Rather, our sacrifice stems from a choice to allow ourselves to be formed and transformed.
Formed and transformed by the community,
Formed and transformed by the sacrament,
Formed and transformed by God.

It’s like putting the emphasis on a different syllable
and discovering we’ve been mispronouncing the word all our lives.

Remember that liturgy both expresses what we believe and who we are,
and shapes what we believe, what we become.
It is through this sacrifice, made week after week,
ideally augmented by some stillness and contemplation through the week,
that we are formed, that we are transformed,
to be the people of God in the world.

Over time, you know, we become like the people we spend time with,
the people we admire.
We pick up a phrase, a mannerism, a style.
We don’t choose to do it, it just happens.
Well the same thing happens in a cosmic dimension here,
if we let it.

It is through this sacrifice, made week after week,
that we are, in some strange way,
united to Christ,
united to God
united to one another|
united to all of God’s creation even.

Through it, in it, by it,
suddenly, or not-so-suddenly,
we find that our work for justice,
our willingness to go the extra mile for a neighbor in need,
our willingness to provide food to the poor,
to visit the sick and those in prison,
to be mindful of our energy consumption,
our willingness, our desire, our passion even,
to do any of these things,
is not borne of political ideology
nor of guilt,
nor of duty,
nor of a desire for self-improvement.
But rather it is borne of God.
It emerges from the oneness that we realize with God in Christ.

So that when we hear the
poetic waxing in the book of Job,
it isn’t something separate from the rest of what we do and who we are.
When we join our voice to the voice of the Psalmist,
it isn’t just a pretty song.
When Pope Francis comes forth with an encyclical about the environment,
and we hear the way in which that encyclical integrally connects our care of the environment to our care for the poor,
it isn’t something coming out of so-called left field,
the pope getting involved in secular politics.
It is, rather, a seamless part of the whole fabric of our lives and faith.

So it is that we can join our prayer to his, saying,
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty. ….

Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty!

O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.….

Do you see the connection?
The Gospel calls us to be servants of God.
That servanthood is borne, not of our choice to do good or be good,
but of our willingness to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice,
a willingness to be formed and transformed into the likeness of Christ,
at one with the God,
at one with one another
at one with the world in which we live.
creatures, waters, air and all.

Let all God’s people say.