SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV’D ALLAN B. WARREN
III AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT, BOSTON
APRIL 19, 2015, THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
From the Epistle this morning:
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
I’m pretty sure I’ve told you this story before, but I’m going to tell it again. It’s a good story. It’s a true story, and it has a point. So, why not?
Quite a few years ago when I was a student at General Seminary in New York City, a good friend, who lived next door to me in the dormitory, was hired for a Sunday morning job at a large, stuffy, very fashionable, very rich, and very low church in Greenwich, Connecticut. As part of the job, it would be his task twice a year to preach at the Sunday morning services. Now I ought to tell you that my friend was a flighty and rather extravagant person. His ideas and his actions were most of the time unpredictable and always completely outrageous. That, of course, was one of the reasons I was fond of him. But – I ought to say as well – his temperament was not one to turn out clear and comprehensible sermons.
His first sermon in the fancy suburbs was a week or so away. Yet, strangely enough and out of character, he had been working very hard on it. Even so, everything he produced was utterly incomprehensible. I had no idea what he was talking about, and after taking a second look at his own composition, Jeffrey found that he himself had no idea what he was talking about.
Time passed, and as the dreadful day drew new, Jeffrey became rather frantic. One night he rushed into my room and shouted, “I’ve got it.” His plan – and it was more a plan than a sermon – was to climb slowly into the pulpit, to stare down at the congregation with a gaze both solemn and fierce, and begin chanting first softly, then wildly and at the top of his voice:
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.
We both fell over and howled with laughter. For can’t you just imagine the reaction? A silent and uncomfortable embarrassment . . . and then chaos. The all too wealthy, all too fashionable, all too disinterested congregation would not have stood for it. The rector would not have stood for it. The curates would not have stood for it. Jeffrey would have been pulled down from his pulpit-perch, stripped of his cassock, and sent packing back to New York where such fanatics and lunatics by nature belong.
But you know, that would not have been such a bad sermon – not a bad sermon at all. In point of fact, this “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus” is just what a sermon is supposed to be: the proclamation of the risen and present Jesus, the proclamation of Jesus alive and active and gathering God’s people together.
Not a bad sermon, but don’t worry, I’m not going to do this this morning – I already have. But really and truly, when I or any other person is appointed to take to the pulpit and be preacher in a church, the intention should be the proclamation and the explication/explanation of Jesus, the profound meaning and the living reality of the man Jesus: who he is, what he taught, how we come to know him, where he is taking us, what he expects of us, and what he does in our lives. Jesus – the name which St Paul tells us is “above every other name,” the name at which “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” ( Phil. 2:9, 10 )
For you see, Christianity is peculiar among the world’s religions. Peculiar, in that its founder is its content. Let me say that again. Its founder is its content. Moses may have been a founder in the long tradition of Judaism, but he is not its content. He was a prophet. Mohammed, as well, was a prophet in Islam. The Buddha was a teacher. Jesus, however, who was a teacher – yes – and a prophet, is much more than that. Notice the present tense. He is the content of the faith. He, Jesus – crucified, risen, living now, mystically present among us in bread and wine, in Scripture and in prayer. Jesus - changing our lives, gathering us together, and renewing all creation – Jesus is what Christianity is all about.
As my good friend Will Willimon told us two weeks ago, when Jesus shows up things begin to happen. Church happens and people are changed and made alive.
* * * * *
My friend didn’t preach that sermon. In fact, Jeffrey didn’t last long at the fancy Greenwich church. He left, as they say, “by mutual consent.” But again, the sermon – if that’s what we call it – might not have been such a bad one. Its virtue and its vice would certainly have been its bare and skeletal directness. Perhaps though, before such a comfortable and disinterested group it would have been appropriate. Maybe the shock tactics would have worked and given some of the people in the pews pause for thought. And who knows ? Who knows? Jesus might well have shown up in those secure suburban hearts and changed some lives.