Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Blog by Sam Todd: Sermon given at IONA graduation

Day of Pentecost 2011


We celebrate two things today. The first is the seniors’ graduation from the Iona School for Ministry. It is no mean feat. It has demanded astute time management, a devoted determination to persevere, and an eagerness to learn which entails a willingness to be taught – not a quality universal among adults. These adults have been faithful to their vocation and to their assignments.

Each year at this time someone says to me, “You must feel very proud”. Actually I don’t and I have asked myself why. The main reason is that we are celebrating something you have accomplished, not something I have. I am not sure I could have done what you have done with all the other demands upon you. Another reason I am not puffed with pride is the poignancy of your departure. I have become accustomed to your faces. Every other Iona Sunday when you have flown off to your various homes and missions, I have known you would come flying back next month. But now you will not. And I will miss you.

A third consideration which constrains pride on my part is my acute awareness that all we have done, all you have done, is but preparation for the great task that awaits you. Today the preparation ends; the mission remains. Two years down the road if the kingdom of God is being revitalized and strengthened in your locale under your leadership and by your servanthood I shall take tremendous pride in having helped equip you for your ministry.

The other thing we celebrate today is Pentecost which was itself a graduation. Sometimes called the birthday of the Church, it is actually the baptism of the Church. The same Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus at his baptism now anoints the twelve disciples who are, collectively, Christ’s successor on earth. On this day the disciples become empowered apostles, those sent. Our word “disciples” comes from the Latin “discipuli” meaning students. Today the students become teachers and preachers.

St. Luke tells us they began preaching immediately in the native tongues of those present: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, Arabs. What an incredible spectacle! Did that actually happen? I often wished I could have been there to see and hear for myself until I realized that I don’t know any of those languages; so I still would not have known what was happening. I might have just thought them drunk (v. Acts 2:13-15). What is indisputable is that the Gospel was in fact preached to Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Egyptians, Indians, Greeks, Romans, Gauls, Germans, Slavs, Celts. The gospel was eventually preached throughout South America and North America, in sub-Saharan Africa, in Australia and New Zealand. It is being preached today to great effect in China where the Christian faith may be spreading faster than any other place on earth and producing martyrs as well (v. The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity p. 653).

The apostolic mission is on-going because the entire world must be reconverted in every generation. Each day hundreds of children are born into this world knowing nothing of Christ. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things “(Rom. 10:14f KJV). The life of the world is still at risk, millions of human souls still spiritually malnourished. The need is the same, the mission is the same, the stakes are the same. Today our graduates receive a certificate of completion. Saturday, God willing, they will receive the Holy Spirit for the office and work of a deacon to be proclaimers, bearers and icons of the glorious gospel.

What is that gospel? We often say with St. Paul that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (II Cor. 5:19). Actually it goes beyond that. For, what is wrought in Christ and by Christ is not merely the reconciliation of a lost love, the restoration of a previous relationship, but the creation of something unprecedented: the union of divinity and humanity. In the 4th century, Gregory of Naziansus said of Christ, “He shares in the poverty of my flesh that I may share in the riches of his Godhead” (Theological Orations 38). In the same century Athanasius put it more baldly: “God became man in order that man might become God” (Of the Incarnation 54). These two statements are so bold, so mind-boggling, so apparently arrogant that we might dismiss them as crazy new age heresy did they not come from the two saints who more than any other were responsible for the Nicene Creed, the very definition of orthodoxy. Actually, St. Peter had anticipated them. Listen to his epistle: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,… that through these you may …become partakers of the divine nature” (I Pet. 1:3f RSV).

Today, Pentecost, marks the completion of a circle of grace begun with the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas when “the Babe …first revealed his sacred face” (Hymn 82:2) but which actually began some months previously with our Lady’s insemination. Of these two bookends, Lancelot Andrewes wrote, “It would not be easier to determine whether is the greater of these two: the mystery of [God’s] incarnation or the mystery of our inspiration. For mysteries they are both. And in both of them God is manifested in the flesh. … Whereby, as before he of ours, so now we of his [nature] are made partakers. He clothed with our flesh, and we invested with his Spirit” (Works Vol. III, pp. 108f).

The Annunciation and Pentecost, the two bookends of our celebration of the Incarnation, have heavenly spectators. Some paintings of the Annunciation show the host of heaven peering down as Gabriel accosts Mary and, as Scripture puts it, “she was troubled at his saying and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be”(Luke 1:29 KJV). The heavenly spectators wait with bated breath to see what answer she will make God. Her response was, in John Donne’s phrase, to become her Maker’s maker (“Annunciation”, Holy Sonnet 2).

Today also, legend has it that the hosts of heaven are again peering down, watching as Pentecost unfolds, the archangel Gabriel now standing next to the ascended Christ. As the events end Christ says, “Now it begins”. Gabriel says, “There are not very many of them, Lord”. “They will bring others”, Christ replies. “They have not received a whole lot of training, Lord”. “I did the best I could in the time I had” Christ says; “now they will have the Holy Spirit to guide them”. “What if they fail?” Gabriel asks. “I trust they will not fail”, Christ answers. Gabriel persists, “But what if they do fail, Lord? What is your back-up plan?” Christ says, “I have no other plan”.

Iona School for Ministry graduation, Camp Allen

June 12, 2011 The Day of Pentecost Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104:25-35 I Corinthians 12:3b-13 John 20:19-23

Hymns:225, S280, 516, 525, S129, Veni Sancte Spiritus, 555

1,225 words

June Calendar

1 7:00 p.m. St. Mark’s, Houston, CF

2 10:00 a.m. Bishop Quin Foundation meeting, Diocesan Center

7:00 p.m. 50th Anniversary Eucharist & Reception, Ascension, Houston

3 1:00 p.m. Texas Association of Healthcare Volunteers, Dallas

5 10:00 a.m. Santa Maria Virgen, Houston, CF

7 1:00 p.m. St. James’ House, Baytown

8 7:00 p.m. The Rev. David Nelson Celebration of New Ministry, Christ the King, Atascocita

12 11:00 a.m. Iona School Graduation, Camp Allen

14-15 Executive Board, Camp Allen

15 6:30 p.m. Grace, Georgetown, Visitation

16 10:00 Church Corporation meeting, Diocesan Center

18 10:00 a.m. Deacon Ordination, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston

19 10:30 a.m. Trinity, Houston, CF

22 6:30 p.m. The Rev. Bert Baetz Celebration of New Ministry, St. Mark’s, Fort Bend

26 10:00 a.m. St. Thomas’, Houston, CF

7:00 p.m. The Rev. Stacy Stringer Celebration of New Ministry, Holy Trinity, Dickinson

28 5:00 p.m. Episcopal Night at the Astros, Minute Maid Park, Houston

29 6:00 p.m. St. Timothy’s, Lake Jackson, CF

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Build Up The Body of Love

“Build Up The Body of Love.”

A Sermon
On the Occasion of Celebration of New Ministry
The Rev. David Nelson Christ the King Episcopal Church

Texas George Kinsolving, the second bishop of Texas, in his 1902 missionary sermon at Virginia Theological Seminary wrote these words about the reformers:

[The reformers], you remember, were delegated to remodel and old system which was then, and had been for many centuries, in existence, but which somehow in the lapse of ages had got strangely out of repair, and sadly needed reconstruction. Numbers of her stones had rolled down from the walls of this Zion, and accumulated masses of debris and rubbish were visible on every hand. All things appeared to be crumbling away into decay and ruin; wild beasts of various descriptions had crept through the breaches into the enclosure, and were trampling underfoot the celestial flowers growing within, and making a fearful havoc with the trees and fruits planted in this garden of His by the hand of the Lord Himself; so that earnest and faithful men found it necessary to replace these stones in their former position, to build up again the towers, to remove the dirt, thoroughly renovate the structure and restore it to its original condition. (The Church’s Burden, Section 2, 5)

David and my friends of Christ the King, you have neither as difficult a challenge nor as great a burden in this place.

Yet it is true that there is work to do.

You exist for God.

You exist for the world around you.

You exist to glorify God and to make his name known by transforming the lives of the people around you.

You must indeed rebuild the mission of this church out into the world.

You have a solid foundation in Jesus Christ.

You have a sure footing given to you by the people through their labors during the transition time.

But together you are charged to renovate and build up, stone by stone the mission of Christ the King to the community of Atascocita and Humble which surround you on either side.

The work is clear. This congregation exists not for the benefit of itself; not for the benefit of the Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Texas.

This congregation exists for the clear work of glorifying God in worship and mission.

On Sunday you are to offer praise and prayers to God. You are to serve all those who come to you.

You are to: build a goodly community of fellowship; a community that cares for the old and young alike; a community that prays for its members and for the world; a community that offers healing.

Christ the King is a sanctuary from the world. It is a pilgrim’s way station as all pilgrims (known and unknown) make their way in their daily life lived with Jesus.

The rest of the week this place is to be used as a mission point from which your people and you leave and go out into the world. It is good for the doors to be open to all people but they aren’t coming to find you. You have to go out and find them.

You are to be like Jesus looking for the lost sheep of Israel; the people of Zion.

Today in Holy Men and Holy Women we remember Roland Allen. He is the great missiologist and missionary to Northern China and Africa in the late 19th and early 20th century.

When describing the Pentecost moment and the missionary repercussions he wrote:

They [the apostles] preached as men who were convinced that the need of [people] could be satisfied only in Jesus Christ. “There is none other name under heaven given among men,” said Peter (4.12), and St. Paul’s preaching was that “by him every one that believeth is justified from all things…” To read Acts with understanding, we must know, with the real knowledge born of experience, that the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Incarnation and the Passion, the Spirit given at Pentecost, is the answer of God to a real need of the world, that is of every single soul in the world; for in the Acts these two meet, the redeeming Spirit and the utter need, and it is the redeeming Spirit that reveals the utter need. (The Ministry of the Spirit, Roland Allen, 1960, 38)
The reality is the world is in need.

I love the world of technology but the world is not in need of more technology.

I love music and rock and roll but the world is not in need of more rock and roll.

I love the world of shopping and clothes and design but the world is not in need of more things to buy.

The world is not in need of some old idea of church…that crumbling constantinian church that Texas George recalled, but of a vital living missionary organism that is one with the community in which it finds itself.

Christ the King began its life at the end of the high watermark of the church 1977. We are not living in a church that existed in the 1970s or 80s but one that must reclaim from the past a new missionary spirit for the foreign culture in which we find ourselves.

The world needs people who:
Love others
Care for others.

Need and welcome others.

Who listen first.
From Ephesians: Build up the body in love…

Love God and love neighbor. We do a good job at loving God, we do a good job at loving ourselves, but we have not mastered the loving our neighbor part…We are so intolerant we have difficulty loving if people aren’t like us, don’t agree with us, don’t look and act like us….

As Paul warned us of just this challenge in the emerging church of Rome: “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions.” (Romans 14.1ff)

Yes David, you and the congregation in this place have a good foundation – solid bedrock. But you must move outside this place and space and become involved in the community around you.

The rotary, clubs, neighborhood civic associations, and schools are all places waiting for Christ the King missionaries. David, you are going to have to lead your people and let your people lead you out of this place into the world in order to show and be one with the people you are given charge over.

You see you are not given to this church. You are not this congregation’s rector you are the Episcopal Priest, missionary, and shepherd over the whole of Atascocita and when you have than in hand you can begin to work on Humble.

David, lift up your eyes and see the world is in need of Jesus and those who love and follow Jesus. They are waiting on you and your people.

Our scripture from Ephesians reminds us: You are given the gifts to do this work.

Don’t be tempted to look this way and that way for some new solution, some new church program. Love people and invite their gifts forward.

Don’t flip this way and that… but be decisive and make mistakes, make glorious mistakes.

Not from burying your gifts and treasures but by flinging wide the seeds of the Gospel’s gifts.

You see we all have much to offer.

From Paul’s letter to the church in the midst of Ephasus:
4.7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
8Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on … he gave gifts to his people.’

What are the gifts for?

12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Rolland Allen believed that the congregation and the community in which you find your ministry has all the gifts needed for ministry.

Out of an assurance of God’s abundant provision, the church claims and believes that God provides in all of us the gifts need for the fulfillment of God’s ministry in every context.

The devil and your ego are liars David; and evil will whisper in your ear that you are the only one here with vision.

You are the only one here who can do and ever does anything. You will hear the whispers of a Gollum like voice that will challenge you to see preciousness only in your ideas and words and deeds. And if you listen to these lies and untruths you will find yourself alone in an empty church.

Lift up your eyes and see that God is providing.
God provides. God is providing to you all that is needed.

You need not hold the vision alone.

You need not carry the burden alone.

You need only but ask and it shall be given. You need only knock and the doors of people’s hearts will be open unto you.

These are good people. And they are waiting to be led and invited into ministry alongside of you.

These people are God’s people here and throughout Atascocita. God is their shepherd.

Jesus is their Good Shepherd.

I have been given oversight of this flock and so these people are entrusted to me and tonight I entrust them to you.

As the service says, “These are signs of yours and my ministry in this place.”

When you stand at the altar you do so in my place.

Take care of God’s people. Take care of my people. Take care of our people.

They are good people. Follow them out into the world of their lives and make your missionary field in the spaces in which they travel during the week.

Visit them in their homes. Visit them in their work places. Ask them their story and seek to understand the vision God gives them. Listen to them and invite them into the work the church is given to do.

David, lead these people with all their gifts in changing the world around you.

Lead these people by loving them first and by loving the world around you.

Lead these people in the mission of Christ, rebuild the connection between this church and the community which surrounds you.

Lead these people with all the gifts God has given.

Promote the body’s growth.

Built it into a body of love.

Let me end where I began with Texas George. He writes in his concluding remarks to those priests to be, clergy and missionaries gathered before him:

Therefore, come up to the help of the Lord; to the help of the Lord against the mighty. The work may be slow and arduous, but in God’s time, in His way, and by His means, victory will crown our efforts in the end. “Come it will, and come it must,…. what a joy and privilege to feel that we can, indeed , help in such work and do battle for Christ and serve in His army and share in the ultimate triumph of His glorious cause. The vision comforted St. John at Patmos, when he saw the Holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, having the glory of God. St. Augustine gazed with rapture upon the same entrancing sight while the Roman Empire was crumbling to pieces around him and the Voice of God whispers to our souls, even as we speak, and bids us gaze in faith upon a like vision and even while we look it may cease to be vision by becoming transformed into a consummate reality.

David, where you have the will, where God gives you a vision, may God give you the grace and power to help as a privileged missionary to make it real in the lives of the people of Christ the King and Atascocita.


  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball