"For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch."--ST. MARK 13: 34.
OUR Lord's public ministry was over. For the last time He had gone forth from the temple which had been the scene of His teaching, and was seated with His disciples on the slope of the Mount of Olives looking across the valley toward the city of His love--and of His despair. Around it the shadows of the falling eventide began to gather. The day of His personal visitation to the men of Jerusalem was done, and He sat brooding over their tragic failure to understand. Already, as in a vision, He saw the Roman eagles gathering about the doomed city, like carrion birds closing in upon their prey. But beyond it He must also have seen, in far perspective, the outline of that other golden city, the New Jerusalem, "which standeth fast forever."
But what lay between these two? What was to bridge the gap and span the chasm, making "a way for the ransomed to pass over"? Where He seemed to have failed, who could hope to succeed? Slowly and solemnly He addresses His disciples, unfolding before them, in a parable, the powers and purposes of His world-wide Kingdom.
It is a timid little band to which He speaks. Did He, I wonder, have moments of questioning as He looked into their bewildered faces and realized how ill-prepared they were for the great task which must be laid upon them? If so, there is no sign of it beneath the calm quietness with which He describes the characteristics of the Kingdom which they were to establish in His Name. "For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch."
It is a great text--too great, perhaps, for the necessary limits of an occasion such as this. But the preacher may at least hope that it will not prove inappropriate as the keynote of a gathering which has chosen as the topic for its consideration: "The Church--the Body of Christ." For it seems to me that, wrapped up in the story of the departing householder, we have our Lord's own summary of the provision He was making for the continuance of His Mission in this present world.
His declaration is fourfold. He tells them of two great endowments which He is leaving as a reservoir of power for them, and of two absorbing occupations in which they are to employ these noble gifts.
i. "He left his house." His Church, in its outward and witnessing form, was to remain in the world, as the projection of Himself, incarnate in His members in the realm of time and sense. And this house was to be:
(a) A witness to His rights of possession. Though departed into a far country, the householder had not surrendered his property nor abandoned his home. Indeed, he had provided that the life of that home should go on more actively than before. Its order and efficiency would be a perpetual witness to the rule of the unseen owner.
So does the Church continuously witness to the sovereignty of her unseen Lord. He has left His House as a sign that the kingdoms of this world are of right the kingdoms of the Lord and of His Christ. For it is His House always--a fact which we do well to remember. The Church is not merely a venerable institution, nor a moral policeman, nor a humming factory of good works--but the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ, whose purpose is, above all things, to witness to the Divine presence in, and possession of, the hearts and lives of men.
(b) That house was also to be the home of His servants. It was to have a common life, motivated by a common purpose, producing a Divine Society, a blessed brotherhood. Thus early did He indicate to them the social implications of the Christian Gospel.
(c) That house would stand as the pledge of His speedy return. What does it mean when you pass a home whose doors and windows are open to the sun and whose busy servants go cheerfully about their daily tasks; where the joy of good accomplishment and the thrill of eager expectation are in the air? It is the sign of a Master not far distant, who even now knows what is being done for His cheer and welcome, and whose early return to reward His faithful servants may be confidently expected.
Such is the Church which He sees as He looks out into the future: She speaks of Him and for Him; she witnesses to His sovereignty in the world which He has made; she is the mystical mother of men, binding them into a Brotherhood of peace and power; she bears perpetual testimony to His speedy return.
Greatest of all endowments, richest of all blessings, He left--His Church!
2. "He gave authority to His servants." This was an endowment of power.
(a) They were, first of all, to govern the household.
For His home was to he, not an aggregation but an entity; not an organization only, but an organism; controlled, responsive, harmonious.
We are not over-eager, in these days, about authority, particularly when it applies to ourselves. Perhaps one would rather exercise than experience it. It is a little surprising that some of our brethren who have traveled to another communion in search of authority were so restive under the authority of their own.
However that may be, responsibility for governing His household must have been inherent in the act of Him who "left his house and gave authority to his servants." It is not timely, perhaps, to speak of the episcopate as a part of Christ's conscious purpose. About that rock, upon which His Church is founded, the waters of controversy have boiled, and still are boiling. It is timely, however, to call attention to the growing feeling among groups which in the past have broken with the authority of the episcopate, that something very real and important has been lost thereby. This was indicated by events connected with the recent Lambeth Conference, and in other movements of our day. Some are inquiring anew into the working of episcopacy, and are coming to believe that this method by which the ancient Church ruled its house still has much to commend it.
(b) "He gave authority to his servants," to represent their Master. Again, it is His authority, not theirs. This is evident from the Greek word used; it is exousia, not dunamis; derived, and not inherent power. How important it is , that we who exercise the powers of the priesthood should remember this fact. When we call the Church the Body of Christ, it is no mere figure of speech. We are always and only His ministers. We take one of His children in our arms at the font, but it is He who baptizes; we may speak His word of pardon to the penitent, but it is He who absolves; we may sign His cross over the kneeling congregation, or over the broken bread, but it is He who blesses or consecrates. With what reverence and high regard, with what sense of dignity and honor, His minister should serve! But how pathetic! nay, how tragic, is self-assertion, or self-importance, or pomposity, in him who is the hands, and the lips, and the feet of the Christ!
His Church and His Authority. This is the equipment which our Lord promised to those twelve men whom He was trusting to convert a world to His rule.
But here the note changes. He speaks no longer of what He will do for them, but of that which He will do with and through them. If one may change the word slightly, He passes from Endowment to Enduement. They are to be endued with power from on high. Two great purposes are set before those who serve Him, and these together make up the sum of Christian discipleship: They are Service and Sanctification. To take our place and to bear our part in these two lines of Christian endeavor--this is the Master's will for us. These are two sides of the same shield, two features of the one allegiance. Neither is adequate nor valid without the other. Holiness without helpfulness is barren, and helpfulness without holiness is ineffective. In His Kingdom, Work and Worship are twin brothers.
3. "To every man his own work." Each is given a task in accordance with his powers, and it is his work; something which no other can do, because in all the universe there is no other just like you, or me. God esteems personality as the most precious of all human values, and He is not willing to be served, however excellently, by automata. The Christ is not seeking robot Christians, but friends who work with that loving loyalty which should characterize the children of God.
And that work, whatever its features, and however adapted to our personal abilities and opportunities, will have but one objective--to forward and extend the interests of the Master of the House. All else is vanity and vexation of spirit.
How much simpler, and how far happier, life would become for some if we could stop thinking of what we want from God, and begin thinking of what Christ wants from us. It would bring to us something of the peace that dwelt in the soul of William Carey, the consecrated cobbler, who afterward became a missionary hero in India. When asked concerning his occupation, he replied: "My business is to extend the Kingdom of God, but I make shoes to pay expenses." To extend the Kingdom of God! Here is work enough for the greatest, and opportunity enough for the least.
The supreme task was assigned in His last word on the Mount of Ascension when He said: "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me," and our interest in extending our Master's Kingdom furnishes our own estimate of its value; it is the price-mark which we put upon our own religion. I know of no admission more sadly revealing than when a man tells me that he is not interested in the extension of that Kingdom. Does it never occur to him that the only important question is whether the Master whom he has sworn to follow is interested?
One encounters an enormous number of anomalies in these chaotic days. We seem to have Republicans who do not believe in Republicanism, delegates to peace conferences who-do not believe in peace, penologists who do not believe in punishment, married folk who do not believe in matrimony, Catholics who do not believe in Catholicity, and Christians who do not believe in the enterprise for which their Lord gave His Life!
A group of men not long ago asked: "Does China want Christ?" The answer was, "Probably not"; which brought to their faces an expression of pleased relief. It settled the matter so conveniently. The expression disappeared, however, when the speaker added, "But the question for you and me, as Christian disciples, is not whether China wants Christ, but whether Christ wants China."
The Church, the Ministry, the Mission--what more remains? A very great thing--indeed, for you and me, the very greatest--the Making of God's Man in you. This will not be done by fellowship in the House only, nor by obedience to authority, nor even by tireless service. It comes through communion with God. It is on this high note that our Lord closes His description of His Church: "And He commanded the porter to watch."
There can be no worthy service without worship; no abiding work without waiting upon Him. Yet how often the busy hands of industry are permitted to push aside the folded hands of prayer, and the bustle of good works drowns out the praises of God and of the Lamb. Especially in these days of feverish activity, when the ends of the earth crowd in upon us with their demands and their clamor, do we need the porter at the gateway of life; to challenge those who come and go, making them show cause why they should enter; to cheer the workers with the larger vision of one who lifts up his eyes unto the hills; and to keep us ever mindful of the purpose of our service, and of Him whom we serve.
We need to check over our activities by the eternal values; to serve this world cheerfully while seeking another; to make our own, as we lie down to rest, the attitude of that great soul upon whose tombstone is written: "The inn of a traveler on his journey to Jerusalem."
The Christians of the early ages, whose enthusiasm carried the Gospel throughout the known world, found His Church to be even as He had said. They lived in a glorious fellowship, they felt the stimulating influence of His delegated authority, they experienced--even the least and the lowest of them--the joy of bearing witness for Him; but most of all they lived with the light of eternity shining upon their faces. The Christ was at the door. They daily heard His words in those wonderful and solemn verses which follow our text: "Watch ye, therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh; at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all: Watch."
Brothers in Christ's Holy Church, suffer a brief word of exhortation. It is a high title which you bear--"The Catholic Congress." I pray that your deliberations may prove it to be a true one. It is a noble word--Catholic--but too often used as a badge of the sect spirit. May not our chief accent be on those Catholic principles which should unite us, rather than upon practices which sometimes divide? Never has a clear witness and a united purpose been more urgently needed.
I quote words of James DeKoven, which sound in my memory over the space of fifty years. They are as appropriate today as when they were uttered a half century ago: "Let us remember that the questions which divide us are infinitely petty in the light of the work which we are called to do. Let us find our unity, not in any intolerant assertion of our own views, but in the work--the mighty work--for Christ, and for the dying souls of men, which shall bind us to the Cross of a loving Saviour, and in Him to one another."
Dear brothers, have I helped, or only hindered and bewildered you? If the latter, forget now the preacher, and remember only the Christ. See Him sitting on the mountainside, speaking to the ages. Listen as He tells you of the blessings which He has for you in Church, in ministry, in high endeavor; but most of all, in the holy place of His Presence, where we poor pilgrims of earth may eat of that Bread which cometh down from Heaven, and be satisfied.