Friday afternoon as the group of Idaho pilgrims were getting off the bus in front of this building for our pilgrimage, it was learned that the bus would not return until later than expected. In my flip manner I said that was fine, we’d just fine a bar and enjoy a drink until he got here. As I said that, a young man passing by, perhaps in his mid twenties, stopped and said he liked that plan and he would join us. But first, said he, pointing to this cathedral, “You must go in that building. It is absolutely incredible! It’s wonderful!” What a wonderful testament to the ministry of this place, for I suspect that young man’s life will forever be different because he was here. And so here we are. And it is incredible.
I bring you greetings from the Episcopal Church in Idaho, its one-and-a-half dioceses. All of the Episcopal Churches in Idaho could fit, volume-wise, inside this building. But we are there and doing the Lord’s ministry across the state of Idaho.
It was a great joy for us in the Diocese of Idaho this past May to have Dean Baxter with us at our annual convocation, where he shared his experience of the power of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to transform lives, to transform and shape his life. It was a wonderful gift to the people of Idaho.
Each week as I prepare for visitations in the diocese, the staff of the diocese prays for the places I will be visiting on the coming Sunday. This week has been no different. This Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul has been in the prayers of our staff–and across the diocese today all our congregations are praying for you–for your mission in this part of the vineyard and for the ministry you share in the world around you.
The cathedral church in Idaho is located right next to the state capital building, and in two years it will celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the consecration of its building. (That’s old by Idaho standards.) The name of our cathedral is St. Michael’s Cathedral. And while you might guess that it is named for the archangel, it is not. Rather, it is named for St. Michael Fackler, whose sainthood was bestowed upon him by his parents at birth. They named him “St. Michael.” That would certainly thrill a young person in today’s world, eh?
During our nation’s Civil War Fackler showed up in Boise, a small, rough and tumble town of traders and miners on the banks of the Boise River–an oasis in the midst of the desert. Fackler began a congregation there, and when they built their first building it was known by one and all as “St. Michael’s Church”–the name has stuck.
Fackler left Idaho at a later date to return to the East Coast. His trip took him to the Pacific Coast, where he boarded a ship headed south. When the ship arrived in Panama, the passengers transited the Isthmus of Panama and continued the journey on another ship across the Gulf of Mexico. Somewhere on that journey, cholera broke out among passengers and crew. Fackler, being the priest he was, had an extensive ministry comforting the sick and dying, burying the dead and consoling those who grieved.
Ultimately Fackler himself became sick and died from the disease but not before his courageous and faithful response to those in need was observed and later noted by a fellow passenger, Samuel Clemens. Indeed, his ministry among his companions on the journey made quite an impression on Clemens, for Clemens later wrote in very positive terms describing Fackler’s ministry on that trip. Might we conclude that the old cynic was deeply touched with the witness made by Fackler? I think so.
A very clever advertisement recently landed on my desk. A personal note was written on a Post-It note, stuck to a page torn from a magazine. The note said, “Harry–Try this. It’s really good.” Signed “J.” The article was touting a newsletter sharing ideas about how to get organized. The heading reads “Success without Sacrifice.” While it is true that I need constantly to work at staying organized, paying $97 to subscribe to a newsletter designed to help me get organized promises “success without sacrifice” only to the one writing the newsletter.
But think what it promises: success without sacrifice. What a great idea. You can have your cake and eat it, too. You can lose the pounds without giving up anything of the things you love to eat and drink. You can have the perfect relationship with another without committing to anything. Indeed, a lot of folks every day fall for the promise of something for nothing, success without sacrifice.
And the young man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Interestingly enough, our Lord’s response was not so much direction as it was an invitation. After determining that the young man was faithful to the Law, Jesus was moved with love for him and invited him to “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor . . . then come, follow me.”
The young man was shocked. You see, he really expected to be affirmed by Jesus for what he had already done, even if it really did not cost him very much. He wanted, like so many of us, success and affirmation without sacrifice. But Jesus, knowing that anything of value has a price, opened for him the way to eternal life, and that way demanded sacrifice. Let go, said Jesus, of that which gives you security, that which defines your identity. Let go of it all and join my group of disciples. Hold back nothing and you will know eternal life.
But there is more instruction in our Lord’s response to this young man than perhaps meets the eye. I want to suggest that in Jesus’ words–”sell what you own, and give the money to the poor . . . then come and follow me”–we hear the words that give meaning to life, eternal life.
To sell what we own is an invitation to let go of whatever binds us, whatever holds us back from being present in the world. For some it is our wealth that keeps us from being in relation to the world, our gated communities and secure buildings being but a visible sign of our separation from the rest of the world. For others it is the illusion of being in control, being the boss, the decision maker. For still others, what we need to let go is perhaps the supposed power we have garnered from a lot of hard work. A more subtle form of being bound is found when our fears inhibit us, keep us from sharing God’s love and the Gospel where we live and work; or worse yet, when we hoard God’s love, living as though there is not enough to go around. Whatever it is that binds us, we, like the young man in the Gospel reading, are challenged to let go of what keeps us from engaging the call of Jesus. Indeed, unless we can let go of that which binds us, we may well miss the opportunity to see eternal life.
But letting go is only the first step. Once we let go, we are called in some way be on mission. For the young man Jesus’ instruction was to give his money to the poor. He was challenged to get down in the dirt, the disease and the differences that the poor embody. He was challenged to enter into a relationship with all sorts and conditions of human kind, not just his kind of human.
And thus it is for you and me. If we are to experience eternal life, then we are to be on mission, to engage the world by being present in the midst of war and tumult, poverty and famine, disease and depression: we are called to be the hands and heart of Jesus in the world. Too often we Christians treat our faith as though it is some sort of consumer product. Or put another way: while we tend to think of ourselves as consumers of religion, the Gospel’s call is for us to be distributors of the good news by our presence in the world, by our presence with the poor, the neglected, the sick, the hungry, the grief-stricken, the homeless, the hopeless. And that can happen only as we let go of that which binds us and trust that God in Christ will be present with us as we reach out in his name.
But Jesus did not just admonish the young man to let go. In his invitation he added, “Then come, follow me.” Jesus invited the young man to be in relation with him, to be a disciple by following him to the kingdom.
And this invitation to be in relation with Jesus is ours today also. Indeed, in a few minutes we will be called to the Table where Jesus will once again places himself in our hands, holy food and holy drink for his people. He calls us to be in community with him and all who join around this table, for it is here that he feeds us for the work of mission in the world.
This Cathedral, named for the apostle of community (Peter) and the apostle of mission (Paul), is a holy place where we are invited to follow Jesus and from which we are sent forth to serve the world in his name. In this place Jesus leads us to the table, and from this place Jesus sends us to the leper. Like the young man we are called to let go of that which binds us, that which holds us back from sharing the joy of eternal life, and to follow Jesus by serving the world in his name. We are called to be on mission while living a life that can only be sustained by community, by the body of Christ.
Certainly in his dying, St. Michael Fackler did just that. He reached out to serve the sick and dying, to comfort those in grief. He gave all he had as he followed Jesus into the midst of community, those with whom he journeyed across the seas and to eternal life.
We began our worship this morning praying that God’s grace would precede and follow us. And it does. Each of us is a beloved child of God, and there’s nothing we can do to change that. And each of us is surrounded by God’s love. We are invited, with the young man of today’s Gospel story, to let go of that which binds us, to become engaged with the poor as we go forth in mission, and to follow Jesus into the Kingdom, into the holy community of relationship with Jesus and one another.
And when we, like the disciples in the Gospel reading, despair that we will not be freed of that which binds us, remember how Jesus encouraged them. They asked, “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus responded, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
To God be praise and glory. Amen.