Archive for September, 2015

“Serious, Thoughtful, and Scriptural”

Posted in Book Reviews with tags , , on September 24, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

Catechesis: A Collection of Sermons for the Christian Year

By Andrew C. Mead

Foreword by Jon Meachem

Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue. Pp. 152. $13.50

Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, called by the Right Reverend Richard Grein one of the truly great parishes of the Diocese of New York, is a parish whose high liturgical sensibilities have become the epitome of the Psalmist’s imperative call: “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, let the whole earth stand in awe of him.[1] In a volume written in commemoration of its 175th anniversary, J. Robert Wright wrote that “the history of Saint Thomas…is the story of the worship that has been offered and of the service that has been rendered, as the vision of the ‘spiritual house’ that is recorded in I Peter 2.4-5 has gradually…become a reality on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-third Street.” Wright further noted, “In a way that is rather peculiar to Saint Thomas, and endorsed by its parishioners over time and today as well, the history of this parish, the ‘symphony of Saint Thomas,’ is best orchestrated and told around the rectorships of the priests who have led it…It is largely the way the parishioners today still understand themselves and the way they want to read their history.”[2]

At the time of the publication of Catechesis: A Collection of Sermons for the Christian Year, its author, Andrew Craig Mead, was a short time away from his retirement as the XII Priest and Rector of Saint Thomas Church and from 43 total years of active parish ministry. His 18-year rectorship from 1996-2014, to quote the parish’s Vestry, “transformed Saint Thomas Church by creating a real sense of parish where there is a deep warmth and inclusion that makes visitors and strangers feel welcome…” and in which he gave “all who worship at Saint Thomas a keen knowledge of how to live every aspect of their lives with Christ as their guide, as evidenced by his preaching, teaching, and life example.” Throughout the course of his tenure, Mead’s reputation as a “builder of parishes” manifested itself. His heart for sacramental ministry, grounded in the traditions of Anglo-Catholicism, and love for his people helped make Saint Thomas even stronger than it was previously, emboldening its members to live into its mission “to worship, love, and serve our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage.” Andrew Mead’s rectorship can be summarized by these words from Saint Paul: “…Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.[3]

Thomas Long says, “…Being a ‘preacher’ is one of the most striking and public of all ministerial roles, and, in the popular mind, anyone who would respond to a call to the ministry must surely be the sort of person who is ready and willing to preach and who earnestly covets this ‘preacher’ role” (The Witness of Preaching, Second Edition, p. 19). Jon Meachem, a former Saint Thomas Vestryman, in his Foreword, describes Andrew Mead as such a ready and willing preacher, who, from the time of his 1971 priestly ordination, displays a higher-than-average eagerness for the work of the Gospel ministry, always ready to “hop to it.”[4] But although Mead does covet his role as a preacher, as those that have heard him preach and the collected sermons attest, never has he approached the preaching task with inflated ego or want of praise. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”[5] For Mead, the purpose is clear—it is all about Jesus!

Mead’s sermons are reflective of what has become, over the years, the Saint Thomas ethos: serious, thoughtful, and scriptural. They are serious by way of his unabashed commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy, proclaiming nothing more than the Gospel and the historic doctrines of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. Just like Saint Peter, Andrew Mead replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[6] For Mead, it is THE ultimate truth. It is what fuels his commitment as a Word and Sacrament preacher—preaching and teaching nothing else but Christ, proclaiming Christ crucified, died, and risen, while pointing to the altar, where the Gospel’s truth is strengthened by the living Christ in the Eucharistic sacrament. Andrew Mead is not ashamed of the Gospel. Time and time again, he has made clear that it is not himself that he preaches, but the Lord Jesus Christ. Mead’s humility has made credible the seriousness with which he has approached the preaching task.

They are thoughtful in approach. They are brief (each between the range of 900-1200 words), carefully worded, and composed with the concern of the listener (or, in this case, reader) in mind. To put it another way, they are short, sweet, and to the point. Hearing these sermons would typically take up an average span of 8-10 minutes, which was extremely helpful in keeping the hearers’ mind attuned to the Gospel’s explication, guarding against the risk of major distraction. For Mead, the time set aside in the liturgy for the preaching of the Gospel is too important and the collected sermons demonstrate well his commitment of making every moment of this time count.

Finally and most importantly, they are scriptural, the focus being not on secular politics or even the Church’s current theological battles, but on the message of the cross, on Jesus Christ Himself, died, risen, and coming again—nothing more; nothing less. Within Catechesis are sermons (37 out of hundreds) of a humble priest whose love for Jesus shines bright and comes out strong, so devoted in his vocation “to instruct the people committed to [his] charge; and to teach nothing, as necessary to eternal salvation, but that which [he] shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture.”[7] They are the representation of a distinguished priestly career fixed on the truth that the one foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

In today’s world, the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ is just as important now—perhaps more so—than it has ever been. The importance of the preacher’s commitment to this task is best conveyed through this story, told by Andrew Mead himself, from the closing page of Catechesis: “A few years ago an old friend, a distinguished priest educator, came to town to take me out to lunch. He has experienced much of the world, its glories and its sorrows. He is clear, direct, firm, and brave. I was waiting for him at our front desk. It was February. In he came, saying, ‘Hello, Andy, I have good news for you.’ He had recently retired, having completed an extraordinary career. ‘What’s the good news?’ I asked eagerly. ‘The good news,’ he said, ‘is that it is all true.’”[8]

[1] Psalm 96.9

[2] J. Robert Wright. Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (New York, New York: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), pp. XIII—XIV

[3] Colossians 3.17

[4] Andrew C. Mead. Catechesis: A Collection of Sermons for the Christian Year (New York, New York: Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, 2014), p. vii.

[5] I Corinthians 2.2

[6] Matthew 16.15-16 (cf. Mark 8.29)

[7] “The Form and Manner of Ordering Priests,” The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David (Greenwich, Connecticut: The Seabury Press, 1928), p. 542.

[8] Mead, Catechesis, p. 152.

“Boasting In the Cross of Christ” (September 13, 2015; The Installation of Paul M. Quick as Head of Ascension Episcopal School, The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , on September 14, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Galatians 6.14[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

During the course of my final year at my previous parish in Tuscaloosa, a couple of my campus ministry students and I took a trip to see the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, located 104 miles northeast in Hanceville, Alabama in Cullman County. While walking up one of the outside porticos, we came upon a tall crucifix affixed to the wall at its end. Although I had seen many other crucifixes before, the one that we saw that day was unlike any other. Whereas a majority of crucifixes show Christ hanging on the cross with a look of agony that is restrained and somewhat romanticized, this particular crucifix exhibited Christ in an agony that was not at all restrained, totally devoid of dignity, and in which the emotion made the worst kick in the gut that I had ever felt. Our Lord’s body was completely covered in scars, so much so that it looked like there was hardly any skin left on His body. Every part of His body, from head to toe, was covered with dripping blood. There were gapping wounds and pulsing veins. Looking at this crucifix, I said to my companions, “In all the times that I’ve thought about the crucifixion, I never imagined Jesus looking like this.” “How do we know that it wasn’t worse than this?” one companion responded.

Just a few minutes earlier, right up front, we heard Saint Paul say to the Galatians, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For us here in 2015, I doubt that we are shocked to hear such a thing, being that the cross has been the most well known and looked to symbol of Christianity since, at least, the second century AD. But for people during the years of AD 40-60, hearing Saint Paul say such a thing was more than likely quite shocking, primarily due to evoked real-time images similar to the description I just made of the representation of our Lord’s own crucifixion. In the Greco-Roman world, crucifixion was an execution method principally reserved for slaves, violent criminals, and political rebels.[2] It was capital punishment meant to degrade and show its victims as conquered enemies.

Yet in spite of the culture’s repulsion of the cross, Saint Paul says what he says, quite emphatically and with great seriousness. That is because for Saint Paul, Jesus Christ, the visible face of the invisible God, while hanging on an instrument meant to shame and convey weakness, took that same instrument and redeemed humanity back to God the Father, making it the instrument of our salvation and the sign of God’s ultimate defeat of sin and death. It was through the cross of Christ that “the ruler of this world”—Satan and his forces of evil—was driven out.[3] Saint Paul boasts in Christ’s cross because it gives him life, inspires him in his daily living, and he realizes that by it, Jesus has ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven him. The cross of Christ is the cross of victory, not defeat. All who have come to believe in Jesus through faith have been “baptized into his death…We have been buried with him by baptism into death” and “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father…we too…walk in newness of life.”[4] Because of the blood that was shed by Christ on the cross, He has spared us who walk in His light from the condemnation of sin.

So how appropriate it is that we, the Episcopal Church of the Ascension and School, gathered together to install, pray for, and give our support to our new Head of School, have as our focus this evening the cross, the symbol that unites us all together. We proclaim, “Ascension Episcopal School is committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment.” It is a mission greatly dependent on the cross, that victorious instrument from which come the governing principles of that Christian environment we seek to form our students within. The cross drives Ascension to be a place where its students, faculty, and administration are gentle, generous, truthful, and kind to one another, brave when facing adverse situations, and reevaluating the priorities of the heart. The primary avenue through which this takes place is corporate worship—the regular rhythm of daily chapel and frequent Eucharist—where the honing of such environment comes by way of an acknowledgment of God’s mercy, reflection on His Word, and regular reception of the Eucharistic sacrament. Through our focus on the cross, Ascension strives to be a school whose environment reflects the commandment that Jesus Himself has given us: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[5] Because of the cross and what Jesus has done, Ascension is committed to forming its students to love all of their neighbors as they do themselves and have courage to go forth from Ascension and make positive differences in the power and Name of Jesus Christ.

“Now you are the body of Christ,” Saint Paul says, “and individually members of it.”[6] Although, as Saint Paul also says, “each of us was given grace according to the manner of Christ’s gift” and that “the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped…promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love,”[7] the driving force that is charged with keeping Ascension School focused on its mission of being an intentionally Christian school committed to academic excellence is the Head of School. In defining its general role and responsibilities, the National Association of Episcopal Schools states that the Head of School serves as an important spiritual leader, embracing, articulating, and advancing the school’s Episcopal identity.[8] Tonight, Paul M. Quick, our friend and brother in Christ, ceremonially takes on the role as Head of Ascension Episcopal School.

When his immediate predecessor’s resignation was announced and it was decided that Paul would assume the role of Head of School effective July 1, 2015, I noticed a general affirmation of the succession plan. Perhaps the reason why that was is due to the fact that the Rector and school board, faculty, staff, administration, and school parents saw within Paul a similar and seminal quality that was also possessed by the New Testament apostle of the same name. Just like Saint Paul, Paul Quick is not ashamed of the Gospel.[9] To be in any sort of meeting with him, either it be one-on-one, Administrative Operations and/or Administrative Support Team, all-campus continuing professional education, and so on, an incorporation of the Good News will find some way into it. That is because Paul wholeheartedly believes in the Good News. Just like Saint Paul, Paul Quick boasts in nothing greater than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It has given him life and inspires him to live his life daily for the Lord Jesus. Paul openly acknowledges himself as a ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven sinner, that God has done a marvelous work in his life, and that in all that he does, it is the Lord Jesus that orders his steps. Paul is a man who not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk, doing so as only in the best way he can, which has endeared him to the Church and School community as a man faithful to his word and an effective witness of the Gospel among us. It is by grace and our trust in the Holy Ghost that we are here tonight to affirm Paul, offering our prayers and support for him, and in which Paul himself enters into the office of Head of School, with all of us, together, engaging in the work of ministry.

Paul, my friend, my brother in Christ, everybody here tonight is here because they love you and they support you. There are many others who unfortunately could not be here, but love and support you just the same. I love you and support you and am glad to be a member of your team. As you prepare to ceremonially take on the responsibility of Head of School, a piece of advice that I would like to give you is this: continue to boast in nothing greater than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Continue looking to the cross; continue looking to Jesus. By boasting in the cross, Jesus boasts in you and will walk with you during every step you take in this journey. By continuing your gaze upon Jesus, you will be a witness for Him to our students, being used as a vessel for His Good News, planting the seed to the truth that God does, indeed, love them. As Moses once said, “Be strong and bold; have no fear…because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”[10] Know that as you prepare to enter this new chapter of your ministry, you enter with our love, sincere prayers, and support.

May our Lord Jesus Christ, by His grace, uphold you in the service he lays upon you.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.  

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Frank S. Matera. Galatians (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), p. 231.

[3] John 12.31

[4] Romans 6.3-4

[5] John 13.34

[6] I Corinthians 12.27

[7] Ephesians 4.7, 16

[8] “Headship.” National Association of Episcopal Schools. National Association of Episcopal Schools, accessed on September 12, 2015.

[9] Romans 1.16

[10] Deuteronomy 31.6