Sermon for the 15th Sunday after TRINITY, September 24, 2017
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world… for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
I WANT TO SHARE with you what just happened to me in Tulsa. This is about you as much as about me. The difference it makes in you and in me will tell a story of God’s love in this world, and how He sets us in the place to do His will. In no way is this a tale of personal glory. God forbid that I should glory in myself, rather my glory is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Tulsa is a peaceful place. People there are friendly. It’s Christian country; there’s a church in every city block. Our hotel was across from Oral Roberts University with 4,000 very beautiful and happy college students. The Anglican cathedral of All Saints, about a mile away, is stately, set among many trees on a small hill set back from 91st Street. Every face welcomed us, and our friends came from across the country, even as far away as Chico, California. With so many bishops and canons in fuchsia cassocks, there was purple everywhere. Meetings and rehearsals behind us, we got ready for Thursday morning.
There in the cathedral, clergy wearing red stoles, four mitres borne on four episcopal heads, we addressed the altar. Familiar parts of the Mass were offered, then a collect, epistle and gospel for the occasion. The archbishop addressed us from the pulpit. Letters testifying to the qualifications met both by me and Canon Blair Schultz of the Diocese of the Atlantic States were read out. Blair and I went forward. We were questioned, and we responded firmly. Then we laid our lives down, cross-form, on the carpet as the ancient invocation of the Holy Ghost was intoned over us. ‘Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest…’ Then Blair, and then I went forward, knelt, and the hands of all the bishops were laid on our heads. We were given this ring, and a pectoral cross to wear as signs of our office. Our heads were anointed with blessed oil, and we held a Bible with the archbishop as he offered each prayer in turn. And it was done.
Archbishop Morrison has made it clear to us new suffragans that we have not left our priesthood behind, but for a time have added the office of bishop. Bishop is the English extraction of the Greek word episcopos, which means overseer. It is an office both of administration and of shepherding. We are to defend the true faith and drive out strange and erroneous doctrines. We are to measure the adequacy of priests and see that the people are served well. And we bring special sacramental blessings, such as confirmation and the ordaining of priests and deacons. And we travel to do these things.
So what has changed? You will see little change in my daily ministry here in Chico. I will still wear my black clergy shirts most days. I will be your rector and celebrate the Eucharist here at this altar most Sundays and Wednesdays of the year. To this church, I will still be father. I have said repeatedly, if you don’t call me ‘bishop’ when you see me, please don’t apologize. I am still ‘Father Hansen’ to you. Father isn’t a term of office so much as a loving family name. You are still my family. I will wear these things very infrequently here, the cope and mitre, for those signs of office are for a visitor. I will wear them elsewhere when I’m called to go out there. My two signs of office, the pectoral cross at my neck, and this episcopal ring, will be the evidence that I bear the office of bishop. So, how do you call me? Say ‘bishop’ or ‘your grace’ (if you want to really throw me). And if you say ‘father’ please don’t be embarrassed or apologize. No such apology is needed. I like the term.
People have asked me repeatedly how it feels. That’s hard to say. I am still sensing the differences and haven’t found words. What I do sense is a new strength and a new position to approach people without feeling foolish to connect with them positively. It was happening on the plane coming back. My ambassadorship has been officially recognized and now strangers—far from being annoyed—are being blessed. There is a mantle with me and it’s the mantle of others before me. I guess that’s all I can tell you to describe what I sense so far.
All the special clothing and gear for the bishop was bought by you, and other friends, in support of the ministry and I thank you. I chose them, as I always choose vestments, to glorify Christ, not myself.
When challenged about His unique mission and position, Jesus himself said, “If I were to bring glory to myself, my glory would mean nothing. My Father is the one who gives me glory… I know him, and I do what he says.” John 8:54-55 At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven for His apostles: “I have given them the glory that you gave me. I did this so that they are united in the same way we are. I am in them, and you are in me. So they are completely united. In this way the world knows that you have sent me and that you have loved them in the same way you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given to me to be with me, to be where I am. I want them to see my glory, which you gave me because you loved me before the world was made.” John 17:22-24
That prayer was for His apostles, and I am now a successor of those for whom Jesus was praying. We have been given some of the glory Jesus had from His Father. In this, we bishops are united together in Christ. If we can remain in loving union, the world will know God has sent Jesus and His love has been given to all. We are all called to come where Jesus has gone, and to be where He is even now in this world. He wants us to see His glory, as Peter, James and John saw it on the mountaintop. The love of the Father for the Son is eternal, and that love now includes us—all of us.
Peter had a conscience pang, seeing his Lord alive again after death and knowing that he hadn’t backed Him up when the going was deadly. He had lied and said he didn’t know Him three times. Now, at the lakeside, the fish breakfast over, Jesus took Peter aside. The Lord gestured toward the others, saying, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” John 21:15 They were not completely agreeing in this, because Jesus used the word agape, for godlike sacrificial love, while Peter answered with phileo, or brotherly love. Peter knew his own heart, that he was deficient in that love he’d failed to display the night of Jesus’ arrest and trial. Nonetheless, Jesus commanded him, “Feed my lambs.”
It’s the role of a shepherd and in God’s economy, there is no more noble assignment. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David were all shepherds. And Jesus, Himself the good shepherd, makes it clear the tending sheep is a worthy occupation. The shepherds of Bethlehem were the first people outside the holy family to know that Christ was born.
I am now a shepherd. I bear no staff, for that’s the symbol of the bishop ordinary, or diocesan bishop, which for us is Bishop Donald Ashman in Los Angeles. Actually, he is in Wyoming today, tending sheep way out there in a church made of logs. He can’t make all those journeys, so he’s asked me to share the load with him, and my first episcopal visit will be Redding in three weeks. From time to time that will be my blessed duty and I will leave you to the care of our excellent deacons. In this way you will all share the work of the shepherding of Christ’s flock.
Peter was told three times to feed Christ’s lambs. Then Jesus told him how he would die by crucifixion. “You will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18 Peter, having fully owned the guilt of denying Christ that night, was now fully forgiven and commissioned, yet he never felt worthy of the honor of the likeness of Christ’s death by crucifixion. So he asked to be crucified upside down. He would not glory even in his death.
St. Paul didn’t cling to glory either, though we celebrate his amazing accomplishments and read his epistles for rich messages in living the faith. He wrote one such letter to Galatia where Christian converts were being led to take Judaism first and Christianity as an add-on, as though the law made you justified. Paul was angry about the teachers of this aberration. Of them he wrote, “Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save. And even those who advocate this don’t keep the law themselves. They only want to boast and claim you as their disciples. As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” Galatians 6:12-14
May my boasting, my glory, the best thing that I can say of myself from this day forward be that Christ was willing, for my sake, to go up on that cross and die, so that I might be with Him forever. That’s a lot to claim, and the highest gift anyone ever gave anybody. I have just been made a bishop, but with all of you I share the astonishment that God’s own Son would come down to this tiny planet in person, take on human flesh and human life as a man, suffer the scorn and ridicule of foolish and unfaithful people, even the denial of His favorite apostle, and be thrashed and nailed and hung up naked to die with a broken heart. And He did it so that your sins and mine would no longer be the barrier we built between us and His Father. He tore that barrier down with His nail-pierced hands. And in dying, and in crying out, “It is finished!” He has done the heavy lifting, the great work, which compared to all that I have done and will ever do, makes my efforts truly tiny. I know that. He has done it all, so that my small effort will join to that of many others and bring glory back to Him. To Him. Not to me.
So, if you see me slipping into the Imperial role, putting on airs, making myself something you never thought was me, or more importantly, Christ in me: I invite you this day to hold me accountable. Just say, “Father Hansen. Please remember who you are.” I don’t need more than that. I hope. “Father Hansen” ought to do it. That will be a call upward, not down. I shall glory only in the cross of Christ by which I am crucified to this world.
I lay on that carpet with the song of the Holy Spirit being sung by Canon Dart last Thursday, and the many buttons on this pretty cassock and its matching shoulder cape were digging holes in my sternum and ribs. My glasses were pressed to the floor with my forehead and nose taking on the pattern of the rug. It took an extra minute or two for the song to begin, as the organist hadn’t gotten the cue. As I lay there in the figure of the cross, my fingers just touching those of Canon Schultz to my right, I was truly uncomfortable, and then… I wasn’t. I gave myself to the position of being crucified on the floor. I had laid my life down, and now what was my comfort to me? Comfort? We are promised a Comforter, but that’s not about physical ease or pleasurable feelings. He comes to strengthen us, to let us know we are acceptable to bring our sacrifice to be offered. Our lamb is certified for God’s altar. We can now make our offering. I made my offering, and He owns this body and the rest of my life. What happens to Peter Hansen from here on is secondary. What this servant of Christ does in the power of the Holy Ghost for the sake of Christ’s flock is first. God forbid that might I glory in anything but His cross and what it means to you. Christ is all in all. We have no better savior.
KEEP, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.