Saturday, June 11, 2016


Tomorrow is the Sunday between Ascension Day and the Sunday of Pentecost. Several years ago Fr John, who was pastoring our congregation temporarily while we were ‘between priests’ preached a homily that was very significant on this Sunday, and I want to bring it again to mind.

οτε ουν ελαβε το οξος ο Ιησους ειπε• Τετέλεσται, και κλινας την κεφαλην παρέδωκε το πνευμα.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:30 NIV

‘It is finished,’ or as Fr John, our beloved pastor paraphrased it in his sermon, Mission accomplished.’

The word ‘mission’ reminded me of an incident early in my working career.

My first reliable job in Portland’s woodworking industry (I was trained as a furniture-maker, my family trade) was in a European-style frameless cabinet shop. I did double duty as the night shift lead man supervising a crew of mostly teenage boys assembling carcasses, and was also the panel saw operator, with an off-bearer assisting me. Larry was 19 and I was 29 years old. He was a tousle-haired artist, and two of his younger brothers worked the assembly crew as well.

One night, when we were filling out tracking tickets (this was before the days of computer generated labels), Larry started thinking out loud to me. ‘I wonder what Spencer meant when he told me to watch out for you.’

‘Huh?’ I said. ‘Yeah, he said, Watch out for Norman. He’s on a mission,’ responded Larry. (Norman is my English name, the only one I had at the time.) So, I guess my reputation as an evangelical criminal started early and had already attracted the attention of my new boss. I never thought of my life as a mission, but since giving my life to Christ at the age of twenty-four years, it hadn’t occurred to me to leave Him out of my daily conversation and activities. He was and is always there, with me. What could I say?

Back to Fr John’s sermon.

It was the Sunday between Análypsis (Ascension Day) and Pendikostí (Pentecost). Of all the priests I’ve ever known, Fr John is closest to the evangelical simplicity of the apostles and early Christian fathers. He always starts out by addressing us, ‘Fellow Christians and friends,’ and continues speaking, never above our heads nor below what the Word has spoken, never watering down or gussying up. This Sunday was no different. His theme and message was simply, Jesus Christ came of His own free will to earth, to live among us, to tell us and show us what the Father is like, to teach us how to live according to what is right in God’s eyes, and finally, to do what no one else had the power to do, to die for us as one of us, and to descend into Hades and empty it of its captives, taking them as tribute to His Father. Only He could do these things, because He is the Only-Begotten Son and Word of God, ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (John 1:18) και λόγος του θεού (John 1:1).

Jesus Christ had a goal, a mission, that which He voluntarily undertook for the salvation of mankind. Ordinary human beings, but particularly Christians, used to have goals, used to have a mission in life, but now, this is largely a thing of the past. Instead, the world harnesses us into worldly schemes denominated by what it calls ‘mission statements,’ but which are usually just jargon covering up nothing or worse, camouflaging dangerous and dehumanizing goals. After all, the enemies of man are still there: the world, the flesh, and the devil, in no particular order. The world has robbed us, he said, of our goals, our mission in life, leaving us our freedom to do little more than run around in circles.

What the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, does with us is much different. He reveals to us, brings to our minds, all that Jesus said, all that the scriptures hold out for us, so that we can have goals, so that we too can have a mission. How else can we expect to hear the words, Well done, thou good and faithful servant,’ if we had no mission in life, but wandered and meandered, circling like an airplane trying to land where there is no airfield... or simply nothing?

And what of my mission? What do I have to present to the Lord when I come to face Him? Will He forgive my failed life, even though I tried to make up for it in my later years? Will I be one of those who say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but don’t do and didn’t do what He commands? I know that I am unworthy of salvation and have been an unprofitable servant, but I still trust Him, saying,Jesus, I am Yours. Save me,’ (cf. Psalm 119:94 Jerusalem Bible) and, I have faith, even when I say, I am completely crushed’ (Psalm 116:10 JB).

Is my mission accomplished, or is there still more that I have to do before I too can say, Tetélestai’?

No comments: