Sermon given at Clergy Day for the Diocese of BC, January 26, 2017 at St John the Baptist, Cobble Hill.
Texts: 2 Corinthians 8:16-19, 23-24 and John 10:14-18
In attendance: all of the clergy of the Diocese of British Columbia, the BC House Sisters of St John the Divine, BC Synod Office staff, and former TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. No pressure…
The Eucharistic liturgy this day was entirely prepared and led by those of us who had been ordained last year: everything from presiding at the table to leading prayers to playing music to preaching.
Imagine being Timothy or Titus.
Young converts to Christianity and in ministry, mentored by the Apostle Paul, able to follow their passion into an exciting and adventurous life of ministry – the sailing voyages, over-land treks, different people to meet and places to explore… shipwrecks, poisonous snakes, being chased out of town…the excitement of it all! And they also must have felt all to keenly the insecurities, the fears, and uncertainties that also come with this life – at any age.
But – even with all of those different adventures and the emotions that most certainly would have gone along with them, what the church remembers Timothy and Titus for is what we commemorate today: being companions of Paul.
Paul clearly states the importance of their ministry to him in the letter to the church at Corinth that we heard read this morning: “Titus is my partner and co-worker in your service…” and we know much the same about Timothy from the book of Acts – Paul wanted to have Timothy accompany him on his mission trips. Both Timothy and Titus were considered friends, partners, and companions of Paul and were an integral part of the work that God was doing in their world.
Partner. Companion. Associate. One who shares in in anything and everything. Paul could count on these two – one a Greek and the other of both Greek and Jewish descent – to not only provide companionship while travelling together but also he could count on them to continue the work when Paul was not there, sending them into places on his behalf. Such trust. Such love. Such partnership.
It is appropriate, then, that these two who were so important to Paul in his life and ministry are commemorated on the day following our commemoration of Paul. Yesterday was the Feast of the Conversion of Paul and, in many of our communities here on the Islands and around the world, it is the feast that draws to a close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Christian Unity – The week when churches and denominations that might never gather together at any other time, set aside some of those differences to find common ground in prayer.
Granted, some of you live that reality every week as you minister in Anglican-Lutheran or Anglican-United shared ministries. Or as you minister in contexts that work very closely with neighbouring congregations, leaders of different traditions, or the Elders in your communities. Yet, each year we intentionally set aside a week to pray, as Jesus did, that we might be one as God is one.
These words that Jesus prayed as he approached the cross hold up for us the ultimate model of partnership… And that call to unity is echoed throughout the scriptures, including in our gospel this morning.
We are used to hearing this gospel in the season of Easter. On Good Shepherd Sunday. It is a gospel reading that many of you who have been in ministry a lot longer than me have probably preached on dozens of times. So with that in mind, I found myself asking, why is this the gospel appointed for our memorial of Timothy and Titus, the Companions of Paul, and what does that say to us, as gathered clergy and ministry leaders of the Diocese of BC?
Setting aside the familiar imagery of the “Good Shepherd” who lays down their life for their sheep, I became caught by the line: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them in also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Yes, there are definite challenges to us in reading this passage immediately on the heels of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – But no matter how much we might want to get into a “who is in and who is out” debate, we are reminded that there is one flock and one shepherd.
That matters ecumenically. It also matters here, in this place, right now.
Stop — and look around you. Here in this room is a small part of that one flock. In all of our diversity, our peculiarities, our histories, our dreams and passions. We are all a part of the one flock that belongs to the one Shepherd. And each one of us in this room is a representative of others – equally diverse and equally varied – who are also a part of that flock.
We all have our local places where we minister in different and varied ways, but ultimately: we are all a part of one flock that belongs to one Shepherd. And we partner with God in the mission of God, in acts of reconciliation, in ministering to the gospel. We are partners in God’s mission.
The Eucharist that we are celebrating together this morning is an intentional representation of that. All of those who are sharing in the leadership of the liturgy this morning were ordained – either to the priesthood or to the diaconate – last year. Twelve people! Craig, Selinde, Tanya, Meagan, Rob, Christopher, Alastair, Matthew, Gillian, Patrick, Marg, and Bill.
–And this morning’s liturgy comes from our commitment to each other and to each other’s ministries: that we will partner with each other, that we will be companions and support, uphold, and encourage each other. That we are all a part of one flock. That we all belong to one Shepherd.
So not only does this gospel remind us that all Christians are called to unity, but that all of us together in this room are called to unity. That “One Flock” does not mean parish or diocese, but it means church. When I build up one part of the flock, I build up the whole flock – whether that part that I build is my immediate ministry context or another context. When I build up the local church, I build up the diocese and I build up the church national and international. That these parish, diocesan, and national, and provincial divisions are administrative in nature and are not divisions in the flock.
That ultimately it doesn’t matter which parish, deanery, diocese, or province we are ministering in: we are one Church.
Isn’t that what Paul was working for? No longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, no longer male and female… And also Paul’s companions, Timothy and Titus – both Jew and Greek, working together as partners in the gospel.
What a privilege it is for us to partner with God, the one Shepherd, as we all journey as companions in building up the one flock.