John Hines Day
October 6, 2011
The Rt. Rev. David M. Reed, MDiv ’83, DD ‘08
Bishop Suffragan – Diocese of West Texas
Christ Chapel, Seminary of the Southwest
Amos 7:7-9a; Ps. 18:21-36; II Corinthians 4:5-12; Luke 9:23-26
Jh. In the Name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
INTRO: It’s a privilege and a blessing to be with you for this celebration of the life and ministry of John Hines, 4th Bishop of Texas, 22nd Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and most importantly for our purposes here today, without which there wouldn’t be a here, here , for us to celebrate, Founder of Seminary of the Southwest almost 60 years ago. Born 1910, died 1997…the child of God, and heir of the Kingdom.
When Bishop Hines announced his plans for this seminary, the first to be established in the 20th century, he dreamed of a seminary fully engaged with the culture, interpreting Christian theology in terms the modern world could understand and led by a faculty of intimidating intellect, stupendous scholarship, amazing good looks and rigorous yet incredibly merciful teaching methods. The seminarians from West Texas would like their professors to know that they feel the dream has come true.
It is an honor, and humbling, to be invited to preach on such a day as this, to stand in this chapel and this pulpit made possible by the vision and energy of Bishop Hines, a passionate and prophetic preacher. And to do so with his family and friends, and some of the clergy who were here when this place was built—it’s all a little intimidating. What was I thinking when I said yes? I haven’t preached here since my Senior Sermon in 1983, and am grateful to the dean for giving me another chance. It feels just the same, except I’m not being graded…well, yes, I guess I am…
The bishop’s passion and prophetic leadership grew out of, of all things, his love for Jesus. He could not imagine that following Jesus could lead anywhere else but to the poor, the overlooked, the alienated, the oppressed—to lead him to stand against segregation, apartheid and poverty. The Incarnation illumined his life and his ministry, and in the crucified, dead and risen Christ, he found the grace, the strength and the stubbornness to enter into and stand with those who suffer. And not just stand there, gawking like a turista, but to talk about it boldly, to call and recall the comfortable and secure Church of his day to pay attention to Jesus.
“The more you genuinely concentrate upon the person and ministry of Christ,” he told a gathering at the College of Preachers, “the more you will be driven into confrontations in his name with the powers of darkness and with the demonic structures that demean human life and frustrate and scar the human spirit.” Standing in this prophetic tradition, your dean said in a meeting last spring, “If we don’t tell the world it’s crazy, who will?” Or I guess the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel work, too: “If you want to follow me, deny yourselves, take up your cross, and come on.” I looked up Bishop Hines’ obituary in the NY Times, and this was my favorite line: “He was accused by critics of overlooking administrative detail as he focused on social issues.” May that be engraved on all our tombstones.
It’s not easy being a prophet, and it’s even harder when you’re on the inside, and Bishop Hines was way on the inside. He was bishop and presiding bishop when that still carried a lot of weight and opened a lot of doors. And yet, not counting equality with the social movers and political shakers a thing to be grasped, he saw his office and authority as instruments and leverage for God’s Kingdom, ways in which he could confront the demonic structures that demean human life, go up against the love of power with the power of love, and get in the face of his own beloved Church and say, “Pay attention to Jesus.”
I suspect that one of the reasons most of us have a hard time hearing prophets—I mean, besides the fact that they’re usually talking about us—is that it seems to be a fine line between being a prophet and being a jerk. Real prophets seem to be pretty disinterested in their identity as prophets, don’t seem to dwell on it; it’s not about them, they say, and their words aren’t even their own. They seem overtaken by God’s Word. Fake prophets seem to be self-conscious, concerned with how they’re doing, maybe even enjoying how they’re upsetting everyone. Real prophets are heart-broken by the work God gives them. There’s plenty of righteous anger, but they are speaking against the people they love…because they love them. Who else will bother to tell these people they’re crazy?
In the Book of Amos, just after the passage we heard about Amos’ waking-dream about the plumbline used to test the sturdiness and straightness of a wall, the priest Amaziah reports to King Jeroboam that Amos is stirring up trouble “in the middle of the house of Israel.” He characterizes him as both a political subversive and a religious nutcase. The priest then goes to Amos and says, “Go, please, just go away. Go home to Judah and earn your living prophesying there.” Amos rejects both labels and responds heatedly, “I’m no prophet and not a prophet’s son, either. I’m a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees.” (According to my advanced research, that does not involve putting clothing on trees, but harvesting and cutting up figs.) Then he says, in effect, this was not my idea. “The Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14-15) He was all caught up in this prophetic Word.
I don’t get any sense that Bishop Hines spent much time wondering if he was a prophet. He was a priest, then a bishop, and always a churchman who loved the Church, and loved the Lord of the Church. He was trying to follow him. Only someone who loves the Church and has a lot of confidence in God’s purposes for the Church could have devoted so many years to challenging his people to take up the cross and have real life. If you think of time as the measuring out of our lives, then in a very real way, Bishop Hines laid down his life for the love of Jesus.
Times have changed, of course, and the Church is not the way it was when Bishop Hines served it. But I’ve come to suspect that the Church has never been “the way it was.” We live in a time of anger, despair, fear, division, and distrust. And that’s just within the Church…What were you all thinking when you said yes? How will the prophetic Word be heard in our own day, in a culture whose interest in the Church seems to be descending to the level of reality TV: if it’s not about sex, power, fighting, yelling and bad behavior, who cares? How do we get a hearing for God’s Word?
I don’t know if God has called or will call any one of you to be his prophet. Best not to worry about it. But know for sure that he has called you through your baptism into a prophetic movement, a countercultural Way that is against the world for love of the world. Because Jesus is our true Prophet, his whole Church is prophetic by nature. Listen: You are here, for Christ’s sake…you’re here on a Thursday morning, in this chapel that a passion for the Gospel built. Have you not heard, and have you not seen, that gathering for worship, week by week, is an incredibly countercultural and prophetic act? (I was dragging my vestments in here earlier this morning, and walked right into Morning Prayer. What could I do, but stop and join my prayers to the prayers of those stopped to be recollected to God, those who stepped out of all their busyness to remember they have been set free, and to remember who now owns them. How countercultural is that?) Where else will people hear this life-giving Word? Where else will people be caught up in this Word, pressed down, sifted and transformed? And we come, week by week, not to hunker down and escape—we’re crazy if we think we can be at ease in Zion these days– but so that we can be comforted and confronted, strengthened, fed, lit up, and sent back out there, convinced that “in here” and “out there” are all the same to God.
In your time in this seminary, you will feast on words, you will be overstuffed with words, and they aren’t always going to taste like honey-dipped scrolls. But the point– what makes it all worthwhile—is not that you become really, really smart, but that you be transformed… made into God’s holy people…that your heart gets changed. You will find that you begin to look out these chapel windows differently, that you see differently, maybe with the eyes of Jesus, and that you have a language of hope and joy with which to describe what you see and know. It could just be that you get carried away by it all and end up doing something bold and prophetic, and people will say, “Well, yes, but he’s a political subversive, a religious nut,” or “Well, you know, she’s not much of an administrator.” And you’ll care, but not that much, because you’ve been caught up in a movement that takes your breath away and gives you the breath of God, the living Word…I think it’s something in the baptismal water.
Because Jesus is a prophet—calling for repentance, saying the hard and hope-filled truth, announcing and embodying this Kingdom, pointing to this new thing God is doing– the whole Church is, by nature, prophetic, standing like a cross jammed into the ground, recalling us…them…everyone and each one…to the redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus. To us has been given the compelling Word that sends us out again and again to confront all that demeans and destroys life, to stand with those who suffer, to overcome the love of power with the power of love, and to always, always, pay attention to Jesus. AMEN.