7:30am Sermon – May 20, 2012

May 20, 2012 – 7th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Acts 1:15-17,21-26; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.


I wonder whatever happened to Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus. The lesson from Acts tells us that he was put forward with Matthias, on the ballot so to speak, to fill the slot vacated by Judas as an apostle. But he wasn’t selected and we never hear about him again. You’d think a guy with three names who was good enough to make the finals would be someone we might remember but he’s a stranger to us. Scripture never mentions him again. I’ll go ahead and get to the main point: you and I should be more like Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus. We should be willing to serve and willing not to be remembered by anyone. Just to do the work we are called to do should be enough reward for us.

Some of you might remember reading about or hearing me talk about my favorite figure in the archives of St. John’s, the third rector of this parish – Mr. J.H. Morrison. He was preceded by someone I can identify with more but respect much less, Nathaniel Knapp. Mr. Knapp served as rector from 1844-1848 and he apparently had a mean streak. Our history book says euphemistically that he lacked personal magnetism. The congregation was in the first church building, on the northwest corner of this block, behind the church as it is now. And the parish grew at first under Mr. Knapp’s leadership but then Mr. Knapp began to chide the congregation for not growing quickly enough. He apparently spent more time counting the sheep than feeding them. And in 1848 he resigned to become rector of Christ Church in Mobile saying that there just weren’t enough parishioners here to merit his staying any longer.

Along came Mr. Morrison from Richmond. And quietly but surely the parish started growing again. That rector served only five years here and people learned very little about him – his chapter in our history book is only a page and a half long, and he is the only rector of this parish whose picture could never be found –  but very soon the congregation was too big for the little brick building it was in. The Vestry recorded a resolution in 1852 which called for the construction of a new church as soon as it was expedient. An architect was hired, the famous Wills and Dudley firm from New York, and they were charged with designing a gothic structure that could seat 500 people, 5 times more than their present membership.  Everyone remembered the ornery Mr. Knapp when he left but no one remembered much at all about Mr. Morrison, yet clearly something significant happened in his tenure.  Mr. Morrison, it seems clear, was more concerned about attracting people to the Lord than to himself.  Nobody remembers Mr. Morrison; nobody remembers Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, but they sure sound like people to emulate.

Have you ever heard God tell you, This isn’t all about you? When your children make mistakes, are you more concerned about what everyone will think about you than you are your child’s welfare? When you pray about a situation, are you so busy trying to control the outcome that you forget that this just might turn out to be the very best thing that has ever happened to you? When you get hurt, do you ask, Why me?? When you speak with others, are you more focused on what you will say next than what is being said to you? When you make gifts, are they really gifts, or are you trying to buy approval and affirmation? Do you listen when you pray, or are you too busy telling God what he should do? Do you approach faith as a way to get more happiness out of life? Are you willing not to be remembered? Do you serve or do you need to be served? Do you rise and fall on someone else’s behavior or the way they treat you? Are you angry at stupid little things? Are you manipulative with your affection or your money? Do you think you’d be happy if only someone else would change?  Do you think so much about the things that are beyond your control that you forget to take care of the things that are your responsibility? When you roll out of bed, is your first thought ever, How can I be faithful to my Lord?, or is it always about what is on your calendar that day? Do you take everything personally? Do you think there has to be a clear answer to everything and that you’ve got it? Do you find yourself exaggerating and embellishing things to make yourself look better? Are your problems always because somebody else is a jerk? Is everything a mirror in which you see yourself, or a window through which you see the Lord? Life isn’t all about you!

In his prayer for his disciples, and for us, that we read in our gospel lesson today, Jesus asks that we might be in the world but not of the world. God continually is calling us to be in the world in increased measure. We are not to retreat, to run and hide, to stay here where things are as we like them. We are to work in the world, to be leaven of the kingdom of God, to spread hope, to be faithful to the Lord, and for our lives to point more to God than to ourselves. Even those who talk about God in every breath are sometimes more about themselves than they are God: Look at me, I know God! Often our attempts to bring people to the Lord are more about trying to make others more like us than they are about trying to invite others to be who God wants them to be. If you’ve always got the answer, you’re probably wrong most of the time.

Jesus is still at work in our lives to help us be in the world but not of the world. To be of the world is to focus more on ourselves or how things are for us than to focus on God and the marvelous grace he is showing at every point in life. To be of the world is always to be thinking about big things and to forget the simple little things that are so important.

As Easter comes to an end and the season of Pentecost approaches, maybe it is time for us to downsize our thoughts about ourselves and to allow the freshness of the Lord to blow through our hearts. Look for the Lord instead of looking at yourself. It is he who saves us and not we ourselves.