THE SERVANT BISHOP IN A SERVANT CHURCH
Sermon preached at the Enthronement of the Rt. Rev. Harold Nutter,
Everything looks and seems so splendid it's a shame to rock the boat; but the boat must be rocked.
It is somewhat of a shame to rejoice with my old friend, Bishop Nutter, on his consecration and enthronement and then say to him, "Bishop get away from that throne; you might get to like it. The only throne your Master had was a rough hewn cross from which he reigned in agony."
It has been a great joy for me to see so many of my old friends, the clergy of this Diocese, walking about in solemn procession. It seems too bad to have to point out to them that the only solemn procession your master took part in found him astride a jackass or stumbling beneath the weight of the cross.
This is indeed a day and an occasion of great rejoicing--for this Diocese, for your new Bishop, and for the Church in general. I hope I do not spoil it too drastically by pointing to the realities of Servanthood in contrast to the inconsistency of Triumphalism. I do not criticise the mood of triumph for this day and this hour, but I do pray my brothers, "let's not get used to it; let's not get to like it, let's not deceive ourselves!" All the motions of Triumph are so comfortable for us sinners, it is hard for us to remember that if we are being true to our Master we ought to be down on all fours washing each other's feet.
Bishop, get away from that throne; my brothers, suspect these processions. The true cause of God is where people are hurting, where people are wandering confused, where people are asking the ultimate questions and are ready to receive an answer, and for too many people no valid answer is being given.
My first official occasion in this beloved Cathedral was to be one of two representatives of the Kings College Student Body at the consecration and enthronement of William Henry Moorhead in 1938. In the 33 years between that consecration and this one the world has changed dramatically, what causes people to worry has changed amazingly, the forces that dehumanize people have developed their awe-full skill, the increase in numbers and dollars and miles to the farthest horizon have dwarfed man. The noise of our space-ships taking off for the moon drowns out the lonely cry of people wondering where they are, and who cares.
In the single generation, marked by that consecration 30+ years ago and by this one today the situation into which the Church is speaking has been dramatically changed. The awe of the beauty of a Cathedral has, for many millions, been minimized by awe of high-rise apartments. The hero-worship of leaders with moral fibre has been markedly reduced by hero-worship of those who can make the fast buck, or develop the best mind-changing machine.
In the face of this changed human situation the Church must find the ways to recover its servanthood, and to minimize the times when we are trying to impress people by our victories. We must learn what it means to live under the motto: "Down with Triumphalism; up with Servanthood."
Our Lord said "I am among you as he that serveth." St. Paul summarizes the Gospel in these words "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant."
The Church must learn to be the embodiment of this servanthood, but even more difficult, the Bishops must learn what it means to be a Servant Bishop in a Servant Church. For the Bishops must not expect the clergy to be Servant Priests in a Servant Church except they are shown the way by a Servant Bishop.
Let us examine the chief marks of such a Bishop.
(1) If worship is our first and most important work, as it certainly should be, the Bishop as Chief Liturgical Officer must see what is happening to the people of God as they come to worship, must be continually asking the question, "What God is being worshipped by these acts?" Is it the God of history and ancient practice? Is it the God mentioned in the second half of the Gloria Patri--"as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be." Is it the God of esoteric dignity? Is it the God of competition with other Churches? Is it the God of the Old Testament only with a Leviticus list of "does and don't?"
Or is it rather a worship that makes clear the God of Love, and finds expression both in the conversation of Love in prayer and the acts of love in humility. How can the Bishop demonstrate in worship that the God he worships is lovingly dedicated to his children? God Himself has died for them in Jesus Christ; what can the Bishop lead his clergy to do in public worship that keeps the public action of the Church consistent with the Mighty Acts of God for His People?
(2) If the Bishop is to be "Pastor Pastorum"--the Pastor of his Clergy and their families--how does he exercise this pastorate as a servant in the face of the in-built authority relationship this Church has at least outwardly demonstrated? What happens to those hang-over words "My Lord" if "My Lord" sees himself and is to be seen as servant? The Bishop in a Servant Church sees himself under compulsion to be so close to his clergy that he knows even before they ask, or (more often) when they are too proud to state the help they need, and takes steps to provide it. The Servant Bishop in a Servant Church becomes the head of the household when death strikes a priest and in many other emergencies; at least for a while, the Father in God becomes Father in deed.
(3) If the Bishop is to interpret and administer the Canons of the Church how does this Servant do this without being legalist but yet being just--just to the Church as a whole and just to the people before him? How does such a servant act when discipline is called for? Where marriage decisions must be made? When rulings about the laity are involved? It is easy to know how decisions are made and communicated from a throne, but how does the Servant Bishop adjudicate from the slave kitchen? The journey of the Church in Apostolic time was frequently from slave kitchen to slave kitchen. After Constantine the Church too often proceeded from "throne room to throne room" and the Church has only by miracle and the continuing grace of God, survived.
(4) If the hands of the Bishop are to continue as prominent as they have been in Ordination and Confirmation how can the Bishop be sure his hands stay close to his heart? Much is said about the Bishop as "Confirmation Machine"; if he is, this is what the Church has made him, and this is what he has allowed himself to become. No Bishop who sees himself as Servant will ever really be trapped into being a "mere dispenser" of the Sacraments as other kinds of dispensers provide bubble gum or coffee! The more the Bishop sees himself as Servant the easier it is for him to allow himself humbly to be the vehicle God uses for the conferring of that special grace as promised. From the slave kitchen it is easy to be the vehicle of the grace of God; from a throne it becomes too easy to develop a confusion as to who is God--the Bishop or God Almighty.
(5) So long as the Church places such a business administration load on the Bishop, for just that long will the most difficult problem of the Bishop be that of doing all this as Servant. All these contracts to sign, all that real estate to administer, all those committee meetings to attend, all those letters to write, all those people to see! The main danger is that he becomes servant to the wrong slave master--the agenda of the Church's business--rather than Servant to God who died that all might be bought back from their sins.
Yet the business must be done, and it must be done well or the Church's resources are wasted. Much more of it could be done by lay administrators than people realise but even then the final word and decisions can so often be made only by the Bishop. How does he preserve his Servanthood when so often he must act like a Real Estate Manager? How does he serve when so often he is called upon to dictate?
The Rev. A. LeDrew Gardner some thirty-five years ago taught me much about the New Testament concept of ministry as bound up in the word huperetes, which literally is translated "under-rower". The picture is that of the ancient trireme with three banks of oars out of both sides of the ship, and in the hold three layers of slaves, each chained to his seat and his hands chained to the oar. There was one slave to beat the time for rowing, and one with a whip to beat the slaves if they did not row. The slave chained to his seat and chained to his oar was huperetes.
Now where is the Bishop in this picture? Certainly he does more than beat the time! And certainly he does not beat the slaves! I see him in the midst of the stack of slaves, chained to his seat as they are, chained to his oar as are his fellow priests. He pulls his weight on his own oar, but he also spends a great deal of time encouraging the weary and disconsolate, upholding the ones who can't seem to take it any more, and trying in every way he can to shift the weight to himself, take the sting of the whiplash himself if it will spare his brother slave.
Our Lord has said "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." Our job is to do the lifting up, we often act as if we thought we were to do the drawing! Our job is to hold high the Life and Death and Resurrection of God in Christ Jesus. Our job is to demonstrate what he meant by "I am among you as he that serveth" by being the living witness of the same kind of Servitude He entered for us.
In the years immediately before us the witness which comes from thrones will not be so easily acceptable as the witness which comes from slave kitchens. The noise of our triumphant solemn assemblies will not be so happily heard as will be the grunts and groans of the Church as it tries to "tool itself up" to minister to the needs of man--the great, broad areas of Housing and Welfare and Dope Addiction and Employment and Education and Discrimination.
If there ever was a God so myopic as to care only about Church buildings and the congregations that meet in them, that God is dead. If there ever was a God who was more concerned about the welfare and conduct of acolytes than with firemen and policemen, that God is dead. If there ever was a God who was more concerned with liturgical choreography than the running to and fro of his confused people as they look for answers that God is dead.
There never has been such a God. But the Church has done all it could do to establish that kind of a God to reign in triumph, and to certify the Church as a triumphant and victorious "Ecclesia"--"specially called out groups". And therefore the Church staggers; therefore the Church's statistics decline, therefore the Church is seen as an anachronism, therefore the Church is seen by many as being over against Christianity.
Only the Recovery of Servanthood will rescue the Church and the world. Only an Episcopate and a Priesthood that girds itself with towels and gets down into the muck of human need can confidently expect the grace of God to move through these hands, and these tongues, and these brains and this brawn to achieve in God's world what God would now achieve if His People are to be whole.