2020 Trinity VIII – The Root of All

Postulant Ken Kubo
2 August 2020

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.- St. Matthew 7:20

As we were driving back through Sedona a few weeks ago, we passed St. Luke’s Church and chose to take a little detour to check it out. St. Luke’s is the center of the Anglican Diocese of Arizona, led by the Right Reverend David McMannes. Bishop McMannes was originally consecrated under the aegis of our brethren in the Anglican Province of Christ the King, with Bishop Morse as his chief consecrator. In recent years, he has made a bit of a detour himself to establish the Diocese of Arizona as a semi-independent entity, although still in communion with the APCK. His motivation was to “tend his own garden” – to establish a cure where he was frequent in support of his local parishes, a shepherd of his local flock. As a Bishop in the APCK, he travelled from coast to coast and border to border, but with so much territory to cover, he felt that he was building only the most superficial of relationships with the congregations. A flying nun might be popular TV fodder, but a constantly flying bishop is inefficient. As the saying goes, we must grow where we are planted, but if we can’t put down roots, it’s hard to grow anything. Our own Father Del McCune of St. John the Divine – also coincidentally in Arizona – has demonstrated the power of entwining the Church with the community it serves. His healthy congregation and numerous outreach opportunities are miraculous in an age when congregations of all denominations are shrinking. His faith and ministry have brought that parish to full flower.

Part of the relative success of these two men of faith is the underlying humility to understand their limitations and sphere of influence, but to be fully present and on duty within those boundaries. Recall our Church’s origins. In addition to that little divorce issue, one of King Henry VIII’s problems with the Church was absentee bishops. Rome would settle English sees on Bishops who had estates on the continent and who would never spend time tending to the people of their English holdings. They would, of course, still pocket the rents and income from those sees and, since they did not reside there, it was difficult for the state to collect assessments or taxes. Upon becoming head of the Church in England, the King was able to assign the English sees to bishops who would be local, tending their English flocks (and, of course, within arm’s reach if the taxman should need to call). This responsibility tiered down to the parish priests, who looked after the spiritual wellbeing of all those within the bounds of their parish regardless of what church they attended (or didn’t). As a local vermiculturalist said, the best thing you can put in your garden is your shadow. You can’t help if you aren’t there.

In our current situation, St. Mary’s ministers to congregants as far away as Michigan and as close as a few miles from the Church. The electronic frontier has expanded the range of who can be our neighbors while the state’s guidance keeps you all safely outside this historic building. And yet, here you all are to join together to celebrate the Lord’s day and the glorious Resurrection that has redeemed us all. As Christians, we make choices all the time. Some of our most significant choices, in fact, are about time. We all have the same twenty-four hours in the day, so our priorities determine what will result from those hours. And we only move forward through time, so we must choose wisely because once committed, we cannot go back and reallocate those hours. You all made the choice to make worship a priority, so your spiritual wellbeing seems to be healthy. You too are part of the chain of ministry, and your time and presence in Our Lord’s garden are part of your obligation as well.

“Holy Spirit, Right divine, King within my conscience reign, Be my law, and I shall be Firmly bound, forever free” – Samuel Longfellow

Longfellow’s paradox – to be forever free while being firmly bound – rings strangely in a society of “do what you will.” We all know the saying that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Timothy 6:10), and we have seen questionable actions by those seeking worldly gain. Moreover, this leads to a number of social ills as it divides the body of humanity into classes with differing access to opportunities. Consider that the virus currently defining our reality takes a greater toll among the poor of the world. But may I suggest that the love of money is not the root cause. Evil comes when we put our personal gain or comforts or vanity over the needs (and gain and comfort) of our neighbors – and remember that we just said that our neighbors are a much wider population than just those living on your street. It is not wrong to love ourselves – just not to the detriment of others. As you’ve heard me say before, sin begins when we start loving things and using people instead of the other way round. The root of sin is asserting our will and our desires against the will of God and, likely, the protestation of our conscience. But we can choose otherwise. “I will walk at liberty; for I seek thy commandments.” (Ps. 119) To break sin’s hold on us, we make the conscious choice to follow God’s word and commandments and to do His will in the world. Our Lord’s offering of Himself redeems us without sin offerings and guilt offerings. It is in the Passion that we see our own eternal lives paid for, far beyond our ability to earn. We are made forever free. What we choose to do is strive to be worthy of it.

In the prayer garden adjacent to St. Luke’s Church is a shrine to the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus. In that shrine is a list of spiritual works of mercy which go over and above the corporal works we’re familiar with like feeding the hungry, tending the needy, and harboring the stranger. The spiritual works listed include: to convert the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive injuries, and pray for the living and the dead. I’m sure you can quickly think of examples of all of these in Our Lord’s earthly ministry. The list reminds us that being followers of the Way of Christ means walking the talk, trying to do as Our Lord has modeled for us. Remembering that we are all gifted in different ways – not all of us are natural preachers, teachers, or comforters – we walk the Way to the best of our ability. To be honest, we may struggle a bit with bearing wrongs patiently and being forgiving to those who do us wrong. We are, after all, fully human. We lean on the Holy Spirit to turn up the volume on our conscience so that we may more readily hear and heed it. When presented with a chance to choose for the good, we ask for the wisdom to make good choices. Wisdom is the root of the healthy tree in God’s garden, and the root of wisdom is the fear – or properly, awe-full respect – of the Lord. Good fruit is borne not just by a season of growth but by a consistent pattern of more good choices than bad ones. God does not ask of us to be perfect – He’s kind of cornered the market on that – just to be better. That lets our own shadow to be cast across the garden to help nurture it.

We all have our part to play in tending to the faithful with works of mercy, just reflecting the divine care given to ourselves. At the root of all our faith is love – God’s love for us enabling our love for Him and for our neighbor. You do not need to be a card-carrying minister to reach out to a person in need, someone who might just need a supportive word and a reminder that God cares about them. As a movie hero might say, “We live in this galaxy, it’s kind of up to us to help save it.” One prayer, one kind act, one conversation, one soul at a time. Be mindful and be fully present on the journey, and your patch of the garden will bear good fruit indeed.

Almighty Lord, you guide us. Help us to know the ways that you would have us walk and lead us with your light. Holy Ghost, you inspire us. Strengthen our hearts and minds that we may have the courage to choose your paths. Blessed Redeemer, you love us. Find us when we go astray and bring us safely back to your fold. Eternity Trinity, One God, be with us in our journeys, that we may choose wisely to do your will in this world and share in your eternal kingdom in the next. Amen.