29 Apr 2012
“‘If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by what means he was saved, than all of you and all the people of Israel should know that is was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean …’” (Acts 4:9-10)
In the name …
A week ago Thursday I’m driving home from Boston with my family. It’s rush hour traffic just outside of Boston. I’m not having too good a time. But then this woman comes on the radio. Her name is Sister Simone Campbell, and she was being interviewed on the NPR program All Things Considered. I started to smile and then to laugh. One of the first things I did when I got back home was to go the website and copy her interview. She made even rush hour traffic enjoyable.
It seems that the Vatican has had enough of American nuns thinking for themselves. They have appointed the bishop of Seattle, Washington to supervise the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The Vatican has reprimanded the group, which is the largest group of Roman Catholic nuns in the country, because they have not towed the doctrinal line like they are supposed to. Sister Simone Campbell is the head of one of the organizations that makes up this Leadership Conference. I thought maybe this nun would be a little bit intimidated by a Vatican reprimand and an archbishop being appointed their new supervisor. Instead, she comes out swinging. She tells the world that the church leadership doesn’t know what to do with strong women. She tries to be nice. She says that the bishops have to protect the institution of church, but that she and the other nuns were imitating the Jesus of the Gospels. They are continuing to do what Jesus did. In her words: “What we do as women religious is minister to people everywhere who are suffering, who are being discriminated against, and we don’t ask to see baptismal certificates. ” And in all seriousness, do you think Jesus would have been more concerned about doctrine or about getting sick people to doctors?
When Sister Campbell was asked about the appointment of a male supervisor her answer made me laugh out loud in the car, during rush hour: “The other thing that we know as women is the women were the first ones at the tomb on [Easter] Sunday morning. Women get it first and then try to explain it to the guys, I mean as the women did to the apostles. So, we will try to explain it to the guys. We’ll keep up our roles from Scripture. ” The guys are the Vatican and the bishops. Now here’s a woman I would like to meet some day. She’s given her life to Christ. She is pious and reverent. And she sees simultaneously that it’s the imitation of the ministry of Jesus that is beautiful and sacred in the life of the church. She points the church, all churches, including our own, in the direction of humility and service, of caring for God’s people in the name of God. When she worships, it is not an obligation. It is the well from which she draws her strength to do God’s work in a world so full of need. Come to Bible study on Tuesday to hear of Paul’s take on this same issue. It’s what empowers her to do the hard work of church, of helping the people at society’s fringes.
And this is what she points to as causing the difference between the nuns and “the guys,” and what she said made me laugh out loud in the car again: “When you don’t work every day with people who live on the margins of society, it’s much easier to make easy statement about who’s right and who’s wrong.” This is a strong warning for everyone involved in church leadership. The work of the church is to get dirty, to help people in need, to make our society better, to teach children right from wrong, to give hope and encouragement to people who struggle every day, to help people see the presence of God around them. The judgmental church is when we get all mixed-up, when we start worrying more about what and how we pray, and what and how we worship, rather than worrying about continuing the work of Jesus. And very politely, and very concisely, she points out that this is the problem of the modern church. We’ve become overly concerned with the institution of church rather than the reason for the church, which is Jesus and Jesus’ work.
Let’s go back to today’s Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and John have been arrested and imprisoned by the religious authorities of their day. When we meet-up with them, Peter is beginning his defense. He tells the Sanhedrin that he and John were arrested for “a good deed done to a cripple,” all because that good deed was done in the name of Jesus Christ. The religious authorities of 2,000 years ago were trying to protect orthodoxy; the apostles, on the other hand, were helping a person in need. In today’s story of Sister Simone Campbell and “the guys,” who fits where? Who are the ones more concerned about doctrine like the Sanhedrin, and who are more concerned about people like the Peter and John? So really who’s acting more like the apostles?
Or let’s turn again to the Gospel and Jesus’ profession that “‘I am the good shepherd.’” (Jn. 10:11) What is Jesus’ distinction between the good shepherd and the hired hand? Isn’t it that the good shepherd cares about the sheep? The hired hand runs off, but the good shepherd cares about the flock, cares about them even more than himself: “‘I will lay down my life for the sheep. ’” (10:15) And what’s immensely important is that the good shepherd cares about the sheep themselves, not what he can get from them. He’s not protecting them to only sell their wool and make money for himself. The good shepherd, says Jesus, even cares for sheep that are not his own: “‘I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead …’” (10:16) Isn’t that the same message as when the nun said she helps those who are suffering and doesn’t ask to see a baptismal certificate? Again, who is the truest Christian shepherd here? The one who has the title or the one who acts like the Good Shepherd?
I’m thankful for church-people like Sister Campbell. They remind us all that we are so much more than institution. We are Christ’s presence in the world. May this truth inspire us and empower us to speak up for what is right, true and holy, and to do the dirty work of church among all of God’s people. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo