Propers: For All Baptized Christians, BCP pg. 928
Good Morning! My name is Mary Catherine Young, and I am the chaplain for campus ministry in lower Manhattan here in the Diocese of New York. I am thrilled to be here as part of the Diocesan Acolyte Festival. I am a lifelong Episcopalian and first became in acolyte in 6th grade, and continued into my adulthood.
As a priest I have also led many acolyte trainings, and now that I am in New York I’m still learning, particularly the mysteries of the thurifer and regular use of incense in worship! So let me first say I thank you for your ministry and for the chance to be a part of this celebratory event with you.
I am a younger sister. That means that I have an older brother, who always seemed one step ahead of me – he was faster, stronger, had more friends and always seemed to be having more fun than me at any given time. Not only was I a little sister, but my older brother was “cool.”
I’m not sure that jealous is the word I would describe to use my feelings toward him most of the time – it was more like COMPLETELY annoyed. I didn’t need to be “cool,” but it would have been nice to win something at least ONCE in a while. This is probably how I became a bit of a cheater when it came to playing cards…
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am confessing to you and God and Bishop Sisk, here and now in this great big cathedral that I have cheated when playing cards.
The first time was pretty easy – just a game of Go Fish, and my brother had to go to the bathroom and unwittingly laid his cards down on the floor, so I took a little peek. The stakes weren’t high – but for the next few rounds I seemed to get a lot of good guesses…
As time went on, the games we played became more complex, and I got a little bolder “Hey would you go get me a Coke?” And I’d take a peek at the draw pile to see what was coming up…plan my next few moves. The stakes were still not very high – we weren’t playing for money, or candy – just bragging rights. And sometimes, not every time, but sometimes I actually won – though now that I think about it, it wasn’t much to brag about.
I hadn’t actually won. I hadn’t actually accomplished anything except giving up the place where I was sitting – the place of the kid sister who was tired of losing at cards. Turns out, what I was really doing was taking someone else’s seat away from them. I was stealing. Had I stuck with the seat I was supposed to be in, I might have gotten better at cards in a different way, a more honest way, if only I had been willing to play by the rules for a little longer.
By the way, my older brother isn’t stupid. Once he figured out what I was doing,
he didn’t want to play cards with me anymore. Turns out, the stakes were a little higher than I thought at the time.
In today’s Gospel two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, have decided that they are tired of their perceived place in the line-up of Jesus’ followers. They think that they are very clever, asking Jesus if they can do something more for him, something special, something worthy of a little extra recognition. Worthy of getting the best seats in the house…
Don’t get me wrong, they love Jesus, they believe in him, they are followers and teachers on his behalf – but what they really want in this moment, is some kind of show in return of how much he loves them back. They offer themselves, not out of a desire to serve, but out of a desire to be lifted up above others, to be the winners of Jesus’ greatest favor. But Jesus doesn’t play that game and he is not about to let them cheat at cards.
James and John want to sit on Jesus right and left side – they think that the two standing next to Jesus will have the most power and authority over everything and everyone else around them when Jesus’ rule comes into being.
When Jesus’ sits on the high throne everyone will be looking at him, and won’t be able to miss to two people sitting closest to him. And that’s true. When you think of Jesus on the cross, high above the ground, suffering to take his last breaths, drinking from the cup that has been given to him, the companion image is the cross on the left and the cross on the right, two others who suffer alongside of Jesus, two others who entered into glory that very day – but those two figures were not honorable or exalted. They were not James or John, or any of the disciples. They were two others who were convicted of crimes and sentenced to die in a manner not fit for a king. I’m not sure anyone would want to change seats with them.
Perhaps if James and John had listened to Jesus a little more closely, they would have heard him saying, again and again that baptism as a follower of Jesus is baptism into death, even death on a cross.
The symbol is so powerful to us, so meaningful, that in most churches the procession, at the opening of our worship, is led by a crucifer carrying a cross, with a torch bearer on either side – a visual trinity of characters, in some places even preceded by smoky incense that symbolically prepares the way for royalty, but practically was used to cover the smell of death.
Our processions are beautiful – they are often celebratory in nature with choirs and colors, sometimes banners, flying streamers and invitations to lift up our voices in songs of worship and praise – but they are also important reminders to us of our call to follow the cross, not for our own glory, not for the desire to be seated up front where everyone who looks to Jesus will be sure to see us right up there with him, but as participants in the work that Jesus was and still is calling us to do.
We’re in this for the mission – we’re in this for the sake of those who do not know that they are loved, for those who suffer at the hands of power that is corrupt.
To undermine power that is so corrupted that those who have it believe that the resources they can afford are theirs for the taking. We’re in this for the care of those who are in prison – those who are condemned to die that we might show them that they too may see the kingdom of God and enter into glory. We’re in this for the children who are hungry because their parents can’t make a living wage.
We’re in this not to be Jesus’ right hand men and women, at the center of attention but to go to the places Jesus led his disciples to again and again – out of the limelight, to the people on the margins, to the colony of leprous outcasts, to the beggar on the street, to the children the disciples tried to shun away.
Baptism in to Jesus’ death also means being a recipient of new birth – bringing new life to those who are stuck in the place of suffering, stuck in the place of emptiness, loneliness and death. Being a friend, a companion who knows the truth of resurrection in our own lives, so that we might draw others into their on experience of transformed resurrection life.
The word acolyte, derived from its Greek root acolytos, means helper, companion, servant. It doesn’t mean, look at me I’m the center of attention! I get to wear these awesome outfits and play with fire in church – although those could be considered fringe benefits!
No, it means being a committed fellow on the journey, sometimes lighting the pathway to help others know the direction to go, sometimes carrying the cross of Christ high in the air to remind us of who it is we are here to serve – who it is at the center that we are called to point to when we go to the edges and draw others in with us.
Here in this cathedral there is a beautiful example of that in the rose window.
If you look all the way to the back of this massive worship space, there is a circle, filled with circles, and at the very center is a figure that is Jesus, the Christ. Do you see one person on his left and on one person on his right? No. What you see a community of persons, saints, apostles, followers, teachers, students, clergy, acolytes, scientists, musicians, mothers, fathers, children standing shoulder to shoulder in a circular form, singing, dancing, holding one another, caring for one another – not stepping on someone else’s foot or back to get a better look, or a better seat, or a better card from the draw pile, but all rejoicing in the community that has Christ at it’s center, so that together we are a community that can
turn outward and reflect that love into the world.
Back then I may have been an impatient kid sister, and today, out there in the world, you may be a 4th chair player in the band, or the second best high jumper on the track team, or a kid wishing to sit at a better lunch table, You may be a grown up waiting a promotion, or to meet the love of your life… but here, in this place, in this time, in this worship, in this community that is centered on Christ – we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, dancing, singing and praying.
Cheating at cards doesn’t get us here – It is our faith and our commitment to companionship and servanthood alongside of each other that allow us all to be torch bearers in the world, that so desperately needs the light of Christ shined into it, (far more than it needs someone to win a card game) in Jesus name. Amen.