At a certain point in his ministry, Jesus expanded his mission to the outlying territories, commissioning 70 disciples and sending them out to heal, to prepare for his upcoming arrival, and to preach a simple message: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (see Luke 10)  They go out in pairs and they’re to be fixed, solely, on that kingdom and its message.  They carry pretty much only what’s on their back, and they go in haste – “greet no one on the road,” Jesus tells them.  They are solely dependent on God’s intervention, and their only livelihood is to knock on doors and spread the message.

This is what we tend to think of as the dominant form of evangelism: door knocking.  I don’t know if this makes me a bad priest, but I’ve never knocked on a door to talk to a complete stranger about God or their faith life or the Christian church.  Nor have I ever started a conversation by saying, “Let me tell you about Jesus…”

But I tend to think that I’ve won some souls to Christ and I’ve been a decent-enough ambassador of God’s good news.  Sure, I’m a work in progress, as you are, too.  And I’ve never gone out with an agenda to convert people and I, too, am comfortably surrounded by plenty of creaturely comforts.  But through my life’s witness, in general, and, from time to time, my own words, I know God has acted through me.  I think it’s time to spread that good news, as well.

The Episcopal chaplain at the University of Maryland – one of the campus ministries in our Diocese of Washington – has been developing over the years what he’s called “relational evangelism.”  It’s not door knocking, and it’s pretty agenda-free.  Maybe some might say it’s not evangelism, per se, but I can see God acting in and through this kind of strategy, too.  It’s all about relationship.  Think about it: as you get to know someone, what do you learn first about them?  What they do, where they grew up, if they have a family, and other basic facts of life.  Then, over time, as a relationship develops, that person might share with you their hopes and dreams and aspirations; what’s on their heart.  After even more time that person might share with you their struggles and sufferings and shortcomings.  God is in that, even when God’s name isn’t necessarily used and even when you’re not trying to get that person to come to church or accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  In fact, the degree to which you, yourself, open expose your own deeper hopes and hurts will determine the degree to which that other person will do the same.  In that truth, then, there is the gentle yet profound hand of God working, developing something new, something truly worthy of being called “good news”, something which is life giving in the boldest sense of that term.  What’s to say that relational evangelism isn’t as effective or gospel-sanctioned as knocking on doors or setting out to win souls to Christ?  Who’s to say that God isn’t acting in and through that deepening relationship, and your own ability to show forth His grace in you.

On a campus of 41,000 students, the Episcopal campus ministry in College Park, Maryland might attract 41 or so … and that’s on a good day!  That handful of students and inquirers and faithful are getting what you get in the Episcopal Church every week, every time we gather for worship: they and you are getting a full dose of Jesus.  Ours are not necessarily “seeker friendly” services, although we try to be welcoming and hospitable at the same time.  What we’re doing in here – and they are doing at the University of Maryland Episcopal campus ministry – is giving people a full taste of God in Christ, in the hopes that you and I will continue to become the Body of Christ on earth.  That’s why I paraphrase a sermon from St. Augustine every time I invite you to come and receive Holy Communion; in just a few moments you’ll hear: “These are the gifts of God for the People of God.  Become what you receive: the Body of Christ.”  We’re all works in progress, of course, and no one among us has got it all figured out.  But in our destination as well as in our journeys – as broken and marked by fits and starts as they surely are – we are reflecting or, I should say, we are capable of reflecting God’s abundant, just, gracious, and life-giving kingdom, right here on earth.

It doesn’t matter, then, how many people are in worship – whether it’s a tiny campus ministry on a huge university campus or a small parish church in a rural setting or a grand cathedral.  It matters, only, how deeply a few might touch and taste the kingdom of God, right here on this side of heaven, and in being touched might, in time, touch others and share His grace – even when they’re not trying, even when they’re not using the right ‘buzz’ words, only as relationships deepen and they find themselves standing right in the very place where God would have them be: which is the now and the present of their lives.

I take this from the scriptures, of course; in particular, the wonderful story about Elisha and Naaman which can be found in 2 Kings chapter 5.  Naaman, we learn, is a decorated and notorious military commander, but he suffers with an awful case of that debilitating ancient disease: leprosy.  From a slave girl, Naaman learns about a certain prophet who lives in Samaria – that being Elisha – and sets out to find him and, hopefully, find some healing and relief.  When, through a series of events, Naaman and Elisha are poised to meet, the prophet doesn’t even come out of his house.  No, Elisha sends word that that great General is to go to the Jordan river and dip in and out seven times.  That’s it.

What’s Naaman’s response?  He’s enraged, insulted, and hurt.  He’s not at all pleased.  “He won’t even come out of his house to greet me?!” Naaman says, insulted, his ego surely bruised.  Add to that, why would Naaman take a dip in that little, dirty, trickling creek – the Jordan River – while back in his home there are much more beautiful, lush rivers?  He left and headed for home, not only let down but enraged, the scriptures tell us.  A servant approached Naaman, however, and gave him a little nudge: “If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  At that, Naaman went to the Jordan, washed seven times, and he was healed.

What did Naaman go to Samaria to see?  A prophet, a man, someone to heal him?  Or did he, in fact, go to a foreign land only to find what was in front of him the whole time?  Removed from his comforts and distractions, perhaps Naaman was able to see the truth for the first time – that God, his God, was always already working in him and all he needed to do was the simplest (and yet hardest) thing in the world: listen, trust, pay attention.  So often in life we overlook the simple things, the present reality, those gifts which stand right in front of us, day after day after day.  This life, for one, and those who accompany us on our journey – our friends and family and co-workers and associates.  All of these are gifts.  Opportunities to show forth our own innate talents, as well as those challenges which remind us that we aren’t perfect – that this life is all about stumbling forward, and doing so with the courage to remember that we need God’s grace and good friends. All of these are gifts, presents in the fullest sense of that word.  And it’s all been right in front of us, these incredibly simple and straightforward things which we, too often, overlook on our attempts to become better or different or someone we’re not, yet.

“The kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus preached and told his disciples to say the same: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  I hope you know this and, truly, I hope you get a small taste of this today, in worshiping, in hearing and receiving and taking and becoming.  And I hope you not only have the courage to let this truth in but also to let it out, to share it in your life and in your own relationships.  Not by way of an agenda or mission but simply and wholly because you can’t help but want to become His Body and live in the freedom of His kingdom, alone.


A sermon preached at St. George’s Episcopal Church, Valley Lee, Maryland


This week, St. George’s hosts WARM.  An acronym for Wrapping Arms ‘Round Many, WARM is a network of faith-based organizations in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, who provide shelter and food for persons who are homeless.  It started four years ago, and we were one of the first host sites.  More than that, we helped start the conversation which led to WARM.

One December, now several years ago, we were put in contact with a veteran who had a high-school aged son.  They were homeless.  Given that they were father and son, they came up against roadblocks in social services – there were places for women and children, or for children, or for men, but no resources to help a father and son, together.  Stupid, I know.  We put them up in a local hotel and, meanwhile, arranged a meeting between leaders of faith-based organizations, social services, and the county.  It was a good meeting and we determined that – yes – the social service system is broken but they, the social service community, don’t have the spare time and extra resources to fix it.  Moreover, we realized, the faith-based community needed to step up and the social service community needed to partner with us.  Over the course of that winter and spring, a group formed and came up with the name and concept of WARM.  Step one.

WARM is step one.  The system is broken; we all know that.  But the way to fix it is not by conventional means – more money, more government.  Those things are equally broken.  No, the only way to fix it is to transplant it, to get the social ills and problems out of the dark corners and into the reality of everyday people, and especially people of means.  Hence, the genesis of WARM – exposing the reality of homelessness and poverty and brokenness to people who have homes and means and resources; an eye-opener, relationship-builder.  Whatever profound new developments and transformations of social service may come, they can only come from the building of this bridge.  But that’s step two, and we’re not yet there.

Not yet, because we haven’t accomplished, let alone, embraced step one.  It’s challenging, I know.  We haven’t yet entered into real relationship with those we welcome as guests.  Don’t talk to me about “clients” because the genesis of WARM is a more radical agenda – people of means, just as much as guests who are homeless, are the clients.  And until that distance is overcome, let’s not talk about step two.

RICHARD MEUX BENSON (1824 – 1915) Founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist

While we were hosting WARM, the Episcopal Church was remembering Charles Gore and Richard Meux Benson, a bishop and priest who, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, helped renew Anglican monasticism.  Gore was a bishop who, as a younger man, “founded the Community of the Resurrection, a community for men that sought to combine the rich traditions of the religious life with a lively concern for the demands of ministry in the modern world.”  Benson founded the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), sometimes called the Cowley Fathers after the name of the parish Benson served and in which the Society was born.

At the heart of both communities is an intentional embrace of poverty.  It’s what Richard Meux Benson called “the law of poverty – the less of earth, the more of heaven.”  To S. W. O’Neill, one of the original members of SSJE who had travelled to set up a mission house in India, the Father Founder wrote, “Try to keep the house as much to native simplicity; and keep the chapel also seemly for worship, and clean, but within the limits of religious poverty.”  Benson further urged O’Neill to avoid the English:  “…Keep clear of the English as much as possible.  I know the bishop’s anxiety to get chaplains for English work, but that is not our purpose, and it must damage real mission work.”  Living in true simplicity means real poverty, and that’s what Benson urged his Brothers to do, not because being poor is a value in itself but because it enables real and ready relationships with the people with whom they were called to mission.  So Benson: “Large premises are a serious hindrance to poverty. I would much rather our mission should do its work – principally witness, prayer, preparation – with as little of external surroundings as possible. If I were in your place, I think I should pack up most of the things you took out, and leave them in a box. One could not refuse many presents, but I felt them to be in many ways grievous ‘impedimenta’ to missionary life.”  In fact, the only way to transform is to pack it up and leave it in a box.

Kingdom transformation comes when we’ve fostered real relationships, when we have met the humanity of the other, not to mention the divinity, on an equal field, as brothers and sisters and, yes, as my brother’s keeper.  Doing so, requires that we get the stuff and the divisions out of the way – that we put it in a box and leave it.  What the world needs is a new form of advocacy and, indeed, new voices to advocate for those who are on the margins of our society – and there many, too many on the margins.  But advocacy will not happen without awareness.  And awareness will not happen without relationship.  And relationship does not happen when people of means treat those without as clients, not siblings.


The Kingship of God is a scriptural concept and expresses a spiritual truth: God, the creator of all, is in charge of this world.  And we are members of that kingdom.  As such, our lives are worked out in the context of a world which is neither chaotic nor random but ordered by love and maintained in justice, an orderly world which is a kingdom, the very Kingdom of God.

Jesus himself was called King by several of his followers.  During his lifetime on earth, Nathanael called Jesus “King of Israel” after Jesus said he’d seen Nathanael by a fig tree. (Jn. 1:49)  The crowd used the title as a derisive one, mocking him while he hung on the cross: “He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now…” (Mt. 27:42, also in Mk. 15)  Those Magi  went in search of the child “born King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2), and even Pilate asked Jesus if he was, in fact, a king. (Jn. 18:37 & Mt. 27:11)  The title was, from time to time, ascribed to Jesus after the ascension.  Writing to Timothy, Paul confessed that Christ is “King of the ages” (1 Tim. 1:17) and called him “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (1 Tim. 6:15)  For obvious reasons, John’s Apocalypse abounds in language about Christ the King, the righteous victor who will overthrow the wicked powers of this world: Jesus is “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5), “King of the nations” (Rev. 15:3), and “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16, also 17:14).  Jesus talked about his kingdom, and he made mention of kings in many of his parables, such was the association readily made for his listening audience.

Jesus never called himself King, though, nor did he accept it when offered.  The title he seemed to prefer was ‘Son of Man’ or ‘Son of God’, and yet Jesus resisted people making a ready connection between him and the great messianic hope of the people.  The Messianic Secret of the gospels – the reason Jesus tells people to keep quiet that he is, in fact, the Christ – is because a commitment to discipleship must be the result of an organic faith, growing from the inside out, not following a leader like we are so readily programmed to do.  The titles we employ – King, President, CEO – carry so many associations that they have the dangerous tendency to inhibit a truly heart-grown faith, the only thing which will lead to that kingdom within, the only thing which creates true discipleship.

For these reasons, then, Jesus and Pilate have what seems an unnecessary argument in Pilate’s chamber on the night our Lord was handed over to be crucified. (Jn. 18:33-37)  Pilate wants desperately to maintain order on that clamorous night, and it seems he’s aware that Jesus has been wrongfully accused.  “Are you King of the Jews?” Pilate asks, exasperated by the proceedings.  Jesus answers in an odd way, not answering the question with a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.  “How’d you hear that?” Jesus asks.  Pilate shoots back, “Look, tell me, what have you done?”  Jesus gives an unusual answer once again, mentioning his followers and talking of his kingdom.  “Aha!  Then you are a King,” Pilate snaps back, thinking he’s caught Jesus.  “You say that I am a king,” Jesus says, and again goes off on a seemingly disconnected musing about truth and his followers and pointing to his work of reconciling all things in Him: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Jesus doesn’t deny his kingship, not at all.  The fact that we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King is meet and right so to do.  That God in Christ is King of everything is a standard of faith and a profoundly comfortable truth (…well, I suppose it’s decidedly uncomfortable if you are already a worldly power or principality).  And Christ’s Kingship has profound consequences for the ways in which we live in this world, amidst these powers and principalities.  Officially instituted in 1925 with Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Quas Primas (In the first), the Feast not only affirms the scriptural witness about our Lord’s Kingship but also made clear in the early 20th century – a time of growing fascism and vitriolic nationalism – that the Christian’s supreme allegiance is due only one ruler, Christ the King, in heaven.

This is why Jesus makes Pilate squirm through an oddly philosophical conversation about kingship and kingdom on that heated night.  What Jesus points to in not taking on the title “King” is that it is God’s nature to give and give freely and give of God’s very self.  As Lord of all, God has everything, indeed, is everything.  God is complete in Godself, the very fullness of Being.  In God, there is no gift that is not shared (in truth, the opposite it impossible; if it’s not given freely it’s not a gift).  The gifts of God, being that they are, by definition, of God are also, by definition, shared.  God knows no other way than to give freely, vulnerably, fully. There is, then, in God, only blessing.

As ruler of all, we short-handedly call God “King”.  Moreover, He could very well establish  that fact by having us pay continual homage, receiving as a monarch our fidelity and love and service.  But God doesn’t establish his dominion by power; no, he does the opposite: He makes Himself vulnerable, becoming one of us, even dying for our sake in a humiliating, dreadful means of public execution, dying so that we may live.  Our Lord doesn’t ‘lord’ over us in the way we would otherwise associate with the term “king” or “monarch”.  On the one level, He models for us selfless, unconditional love.  On a much deeper level, however, He does this because He is this; by God’s nature He is selfless, generous, vulnerable and blessed – hence that greater mystery we call the Trinity, a mutual, egalitarian, self-giving monarchy of the One who is Three and the Three who are One.

The identity and nature of God cannot, therefore, be summed up in words like “King”.  After all, God is not what God says He is, nor is He what we say.  No, God is is who God shows himself to be by acting meaningfully and decisively in history and our lives.  Faith, in turn, is not intellectual assent to a series of beliefs – God is King – but, rather, an experience of the living God, the experience of knowing that one’s life caught up in the life of God, the creator and lover of all.

We are called to a beatitude life, a life of supreme blessedness, which means we are called to share freely and with humility the gifts we have been given.  Especially in this fast approaching season of gifts – gift-giving, gift-buying, gift-wrapping, gift-getting – it’s counter-cultural to celebrate that the only true gift is the one which is given away, freely, and used for the wellbeing of all – shared, not owned; given away, with no expectation or hope of return.

That’s what the gospels call a beatitude life, a life marked by blessedness, not fullness, not giftedness.  Sharing of yourself in some small reflection of the way in which God, who is and yet never accepted the title, King of kings and Lord of lords, shared – freely, vulnerably, for the life and blessing of the world.


Excerpts from a sermon preached at St. George’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, 25 November 2012, the Last Sunday of Pentecost and Feast of Christ the King.  For the full text of the sermon, click here.