17th Sunday After Pentecost 2019: Walking Worthily Of Our Vocation.
I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called,
2 With all humility and meekness, with patience, supporting one another in charity.
3 Careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)
The Great Vocation of the Priesthood
From 1974 to 1992, an auxilary Bishop of the Diocese of Providence, R.I., has paid more than $1 million dollars to settle lawsuits that accused him and other leaders of covering up abuse by several priests. The Bishop testified in a 1990 lawsuit that he did not take seriously allegations - made by both parishioners and assistant priests - that a Priest was molesting boys. The priest was convicted, served a short sentence, moved to New Jersey, committed more crimes and died in prison. In another Rhode Island case, That same Bishop in 1989 promised to "take care of it" when another Priest was accused of misconduct with boys while working at a Haitian orphanage, according to a former orphanage staffer. The priest was brought back to work in the Providence diocese. More recently, he allowed six accused priests to stay on the job in Vermont, then later gave their names to the state attorney general and suspended them.
In the 1990s, confidential reports of AIDS in Africa were prepared by members of religious orders for top church officials. In 1994, the late Sr. Maura O’Donohue wrote the most comprehensive study about a six-year, 23-nation survey, in which she learned of 29 nuns who had been impregnated in a single congregation.
Nuns, she reported, were considered “safe” sexual partners for priests who feared they might be infected with HIV if they went to prostitutes or women in the general population.
Four years later, in a report to top religious superiors and Vatican officials, Sr. Marie McDonald said harassment and rape of African sisters by priests is “allegedly common.” Sometimes, when a nun becomes pregnant, the priest insists on an abortion, the report said.
These and more recent events go a long way to encourage Catholics suspicions of a lot of rottenness amongst the Clergy from Priest all the way to the top. But what I want to illustrate from this is the meaning of the word worthy. We say, "The man proved to be unworthy of his vocation to the Priesthood" Or: "He was living unworthily of his high calling." What I mean when I say this is that the Priesthood merits a higher level of integrity. The Priestly calling on ones life is worthy of greater moral vigilance and higher character. The Priesthood deserves a better man.
Understand that even though I said, "The man proved unworthy of his vocation," what I am focusing on is the worth of the vocation to the Priesthood...not the man. I am saying that the value of the priesthood should have kept the man from desecrating it. In other words, the honor and value of these mens' position as priests should have been worth so much to them that they would not dare bring it into disrepute. The greatness of their calling should have constrained them to lead a life worthy of their call. But it didn't, and now the public has much less regard not only for priest, but worse, for the Church!
In our epistle reading for today starting with Ephesians 4:1 Paul urges us Christians "that we walk or live worthy of the vocation in which we are called" This does not mean that we should try to deserve our place in God's favor. It means that we should recognize how much our place in God's favor deserves from us. The focus is not on OUR worth but on the worth of our calling.
Living a Life Worthy of Our Calling
In Ephesians 4:3 the way to lead a life worthy of our calling is to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Verse 2 tells us how to maintain spiritual unity: "With all humility and meekness, with patience, supporting one another in charity."
What Is the Unity of the Spirit?
Part of the answer is found in verses 11–13. Here Paul says that Christ has given to the church "some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors, For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God"
In other words God has given the “called out” Church, ordained Priest and Clergy to help perfect us saints, for the guiding and directing of the Church, and for the edifying of the Church. So a question to ask is, how does a Clergy, that does not walk worthy of there calling to the priesthood, expect to have a people who walk worthy of their calling in Christ Jesus?
It reminds me of the time in Matthew 23 where Jesus spake “to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” Seven times he calls the Clergy of that day hypocrites. Four times he refers to them as blind and as blind guides. Twice He calls them fools and once he refers to them as serpents and vipers.
He said things like “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” (vs 25) “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (vss 27-28) “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
The Clergy over the years have not been walking worthy of their vocation. And it did not start in the 1960's with the tearing down of our faith. It did not start with what some call 50's Catholicism, where we saw Catholics living the faith with religion in one hand and materialism in the other. It did not even start between the years 1517 – 1648 where the Church clergy helped give birth to a protestant formation by not walking worthy of their vocation as Priest. Much of what we see today was happening even then.
And before we in the pews begin to cry out for justice and a house cleaning amongst the clergy, let me remind you that we as the flock of the Church have had a checkered past as well. Starting with the the church in Rome, where Paul calls out Jews who are condemning others for not following the law when they themselves are also not following the law, all the way to the book of Revelation where we see 7 churches that had sin amongst the people. Jesus had said to them, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” In other words, they were looking good outwardly but there heart was not in it. Some of them had also yoked the gospel with paganism. They had blended Christianity with false religions, drawing Christ stern rebuke to “Repent! If not, I will come to thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” They felt the need to be all inclusive when it comes to spiritual and moral boundaries. Because of nominal Christianity amongst the people of the church, Jesus said “I know thy works, that thou hast the name of being alive: and thou art dead.” Saint John describes lukewarmness, spiritual poverty, spiritual blindness, spiritual compromise, a people who were not walking worthily of there vocation in Christ.
Understand, that there will never be unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace as long as those of us in the Church do not walk worthily of our calling.
Now when we go back to verse 2 to see how we maintain this unity.
Neither of these stages is natural to human nature. Both are the result of the work of the Spirit in our lives. Let's look at each one briefly.
1. Humility and Meekness
The first two things that leads to unity is humility and meekness. "Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called in all humbleness and meekness." The knowledge of our high calling should make us feel very humbled. If you want to learn humility read how Jesus lived. Jesus said in Matthew 11:29, “Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart.” The first thing that we could say that we see in the life of Jesus Christ, when He lived on this Earth, is His deep humility and meekness.
Man is basically proud. We are proud of many things. We are proud of our race, our upbringing, and our family tree, perhaps. We can be proud of our education, our good looks, our intelligence, our capabilities. We can be proud of our talents, our gifts, and our positions, maybe our house or car, influential friends or it could be anything. But when Jesus came to Earth He took the lowest place that any man could ever take. He came as a servant of everyone, even though He was God; He was God manifest in human form. That is where we see the greatness of our God.
There was not an atom of pride in our Lord Jesus Christ. He never imposed Himself on people. He never made people dread Him as if He was somebody far superior to them. He was far superior to every single one. He was also their creator, the Almighty God. But He hid all that glory; it was all concealed in that flesh in which He came and He lived just like any other ordinary man. He would call Himself the Son of man meaning, “I am just an ordinary man.” There we see the greatness of God. He humbled himself. God wants us to live in humility.
Not only was Jesus humble of heart, he was meek of heart. He was gentle with all people, particularly with people who were battered by life. Jesus loved especially those who had fallen deeply into sin. He came to help such people because they are rejected by everybody else. The woman caught in adultery, the thief on the cross, rejected criminals; Jesus went to pick them up and encourage them. He saw the good points in those weak, sinful people, and He hoped for the best in everyone. You know, Jesus was a type of a person whom other people longed to be with, because He was so understanding, so kind and so gentle. Who are the people who avoided Jesus? Those who were proud, those who were hypocrites, and those who had secret sin which they were afraid He would expose.
2. Patience and Forbearance
The second two things that lead to unity is Patience and Forbearance. It is called patience or long-suffering. "Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and meekness, with patience." To be patient is to endure discomfort without complaint.
An example from the life of Christ illustrates this. Jesus was very patient with his disciples. They were sometimes thickheaded, lazy, selfish, and slow to believe. Even from a merely human standpoint, we can see how frustrating they must have been. How much more irritating it would be for God Incarnate to interact daily with these men. In spite of Jesus' miracles and words of wisdom, they tended to focus upon themselves at times and wavered in their belief about who he really was. To say that was uncomfortable for Jesus would be an understatement. Yet we do not find him railing at his disciples over their foolishness and stupidity? Or making fun of them when they make mistakes?
Occasionally he does remark that his disciples are slow to believe, or he asks rhetorically how long they will fail to have faith in him, but these are always appropriate reminders about just what was at stake for them. These were fitting and useful rebukes, not petty venting.
I am so glad that Saint Paul said we must endure one another. This frees me from the hypocritical need to think I, or anyone else in the church, am perfect. Perfect people don't need to be endured or forgiven “Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another: even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also.” (Colossians 3:13).
So In Conclusion: Let us not be puffed up with pride but be humble and meek. And let's not be impatient or resentful, but long-suffering and forgiving. Then the unity that Christ died to create will become real in the Church, and we will not bring any disrepute upon the great God who called us into his kingdom and glory.