Sunday, September 13, 2015

judged with greater strictness

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

'Not many of you should become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.'

Those words from our Epistle today are ones that bishops and priests should not only know by heart, but would do well to reflect upon daily. Indeed, it might be no harm if they were to print them out and place somewhere they will see them frequently and thus be reminded of them – the door of their office, near their desk, or some other place they are likely to be on a regular basis. I confess that I had not thought to do so before now, but as I was writing this sermon I took time to pause and do just that – and they are now printed off, laminated, and blu-tacked to the door of my office.

Now, at first glance this verse might seem a bit ominous. Not only does it contain the word 'judged' but it is included as part of the phrase 'judged with greater strictness.' But, I don't think they are intended to frighten or put potential clergy off. I prefer to think of it as giving them a fair warning. It is a reminder that all Christians will be judged; and those who answer God's call to be leaders in his Church will be held to a higher standard so that they will preach the truth boldly and live it out exactly. I like to think of this verse as God's way of whispering in the ears of his bishops and priests to help them keep in mind of the importance of the role he has given them and to stiffen their resolve to carry it out faithfully; just as he consoles them, if they should feel daunted at times, with those words of St Paul from Ephesians that God equips those whom he calls for the building up of His Church.

And what is the work God entrusts to his clergy; to all leaders of his Church, of course, but the clergy are the most visible of those and generally make up the bulk of them. There are, after all, many things that clergy do. Think of the typical priest in the parish and the various administrative, pastoral, and sacramental/liturgical tasks they carry out. In that context I think it is useful to think of Christ. He did many things also – preaching, teaching, healing, the working of signs and miracles. But first and foremost he was our Saviour. He did all those other things as well; but he did them to further the primary task of his ministry, which was the saving of souls. Consider the of the words of our Lord we heard from St Luke's Gospel today: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?'

What does our Lord mean here by 'lose their life' but lose their eternal life in heaven? And so that his disciples may save their souls and enter into that eternal life, he tells them what they must do – deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. There are to be as like him as they can possibly be. They are to be holy as he is holy.

And just as Christ's work was the salvation of souls, so too the work of the priest and bishop is, first and foremost, the salvation of souls. All of the work in the parish and diocese is subservient to that. The time spent maintaining churches, for example, is not primarily because we have a love of architecture or a particular desire to see the built heritage of the nation preserved – although, of course, some may have a personal interest in such things. But first and foremost it is so that the buildings themselves may express the desire of God's people to give glory to him and so that they may have a fitting place to come together and worship him.

And just as Christ sometimes had to say things those who heard him found uncomfortable to listen to, we should not be surprised if there are times when it is the same for the priest or bishop to say things that their flock will find challenging; for it is the same Gospel that they are called to preach. And knowing that it is for the salvation of their soul, those who feel challenged should welcome that challenge. Just as the priest or bishop should keep in mind that even though the stricter standard to which they will be held will not be applied to their flock, nonetheless they will be judged; and it is their task to do everything the can to ensure that those entrusted to their care will not be found wanting when the day of judgement comes. Amen.

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