2 Corinthians 4:5-12
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
Today we honor John Elbridge Hines, the founder of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest. We remember his fearlessness as he led the Episcopal Church into the most difficult, divisive, compelling challenge of his generation: the legacy of slavery, the inequities of race, the ongoing suffering of citizens of this nation. We recall his powerful preaching — that very old-fashioned low tech art of personal, corporate, scriptural persuasion and conversion. We give thanks that he established this seminary, and that God has given it growth to be the place that we love and serve today.
I know John Hines through those who knew him, Dena, Charlie Cook, and Carl Shannon, and lots of others, even people I run into in my travels: Dolores Goble, from Houston, who still talks proudly of having been confirmed by him as a young woman at the University of Texas in a confirmation class of one. I have heard fine preachers interpret him in sermons on his feast day.
However, I am mindful that whenever you celebrate the past, (especially if you weren’t there) there is a risk that you will romanticize and exaggerate the accomplishments of saints of an earlier era, and compare the colorful drama of then with your own pastel and uneventful present.
It would be a terrible shame to do that, because then we would miss God’s call upon us at the present moment.
Today, when we dedicate the Loise Henderson Wessendorff Center for Christian Ministry and Vocation and give God thanks for the gift from her foundation to endow and name the center, we are taking the present seriously.
Now in the present, we are exercising, in our own way, the gift that John Hines had: of reading the signs of the times. He looked around, at reality of the world – in Jesus’ time the region of Galilee, in Hines’ the United States of America and he looked at it in light of the good news. And he discerned how the church was being called to take up the cross daily and follow Jesus.
We are reading the signs of our times and recognizing and naming the world’s brokenness and hurt. We are feeling the pressure and experiencing the lure of God’s call. Our Vocation.
For the drama of the present moment is indeed as intense, and the suffering as severe as in the time of John Hines. The gospel makes a claim upon us to speak and to act – to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In the present moment, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home, and their wounds are not yet healed. Their families need to be held up and cared for. They are traumatized, broken, disoriented – these are the ones whom Jesus went with, those who showed faith.
The graduates of the Loise Henderson Wessendorff center will be serving these, they will listen for their questions, listen them into speech, hear them into healing. Bring them a word of hope.
Whole families without health insurance get sicker and sicker – the old, the babies and go en masse to the ER. Graduates of the masters programs in counseling and chaplaincy will care for the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. They will minister to them, in the translation of the scripture, “wait upon them.”
Graduates of the Henderson Wessendorff Center for Christian Ministry and Vocation at the Seminary of the Southwest will offer healthy food to the spiritually hungry, who are high on junk food but famished for the Word of God.
To postmodern, media-overloaded, surfers, driven to distraction, they will seek together for the peace which passeth all understanding.
God calls gifted people, from all walks of life, to come and study for ministry as counselors, chaplains, teachers, and spiritual directors. They come to be well trained in the clinical methods of their fields, and to be grounded in the Christian tradition, formed in its patterns of prayer. In their listening, questioning, pastoring, they invoke the prophetic vision of the new creation spun out by the prophets and embodied in Jesus.
In a violent dog eat dog world, human beings are chemically programed for survival at the expense of the unfit, and the laws of the marketplace are the only reliable rules, contrast and summon Amos’ vision of God’s justice measured with a plumb line, straight and true, against which the violence and greed of Israel would be judged.
Weave Isaiah’ vision of comfort to those who mourn in Zion, a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Recover and put into new words (or even old words) the vision of the human being, made in the image of God (Genesis 1) and (Genesis 2) molded from dirt and infused with the spirit of GOD.
The human being, us, our sister and brother, as made of clay, basically mud, or even hard fired shiny china, but even so, able to be shattered by force, by childhood trauma, by a roadside bomb, back into the dusty elements from which we were formed, and yet even then, precious, worthy, holy, beloved.
Paul recovers and weaves the prophetic vision:
“We have these treasures in earthen vessels (clay jars) so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
Jesus invoked the prophetic vision and preached the reign of God. He taught the paradox at the heart of reality that it is by losing one’s life that you ultimately save it. He performed that paradox in his passion.
It is God’s call upon us at this present moment to invoke this prophetic vision, through the work of the Loise Henderson Wessendorff Center for Christian Ministry and Vocation of the Seminary of the Southwest. Let us pray that we will be swept up into that same arc of prophetic preaching, shared with John Hines, with Amos, with Jesus, and with Paul, the vision of the new creation.