A few weeks ago I had retired as the Presiding Bishop of a mainstream denomination, a position I held for 15 years. One of the things that had weighed heavily on my heart during my tenure was all the 'trappings' of office. Namely the vestments and all the fancy-schmancy 'stuff' and the rules and regulations regarding such things. Now, vestments are nice, and I admit that I own a few, although I had given away dozens of albs, chasubles, and copes as I was always uncomfortable wearing such things. In fact, I no longer wear religious jewelry of any sort. No, I have not lost my faith, but I no longer put 'faith' in those things. I prefer to let the way I lead my life demonstrate to others who I am, and not 'brag' about being a Christian, by what I wear, but rather how I live.
Recently, a fellow from another denomination posted some very derogatory remarks about us when someone posted a photo of her ordination ceremony on Facebook. He ridiculed and stole the joy that she had that day by commenting that 2 of the people in the photo were not vested properly. But had he known the facts he would not have made such a ridiculous comment. Had he been aware of the facts, he would have known that one woman who was only wearing a chasuble and not an alb was my wife, who had just had cancer surgery and the alb would have been too tight against her sutures. We were just happy that she was alive and able to walk on her own and we could not have cared less if she did not have the alb on under the chasuble. The second fellow he complained about had given his alb to one of the people who was to be ordained that morning because that young man could not afford an alb. So, he took his off and gave it to him as a gift.
The complaining fellow was an ordained minister of another large denomination, but he was more concerned about a photo of an event he was not a part of, than he was about the Gospel message that is proclaimed by every one of the people in the photo.
The Brother who was elected to my former office when I retired, had given a marvelous homily on that beautiful morning, as he was 'vested' with the clothing of office. He pointed out, ( as I have felt for a long time) that the clothing he was attired in, and the jewelry and crozier he was vested with had absolutely nothing to do with the message of the cross. It was simple tradition, and no tradition can save anyone. He would rather preach in a suit and tie, or polo shirt as a humble servant than look like the King of Hearts in a deck of cards, something I too said many years ago.
Today, he posted a letter to the church talking about the pure simplicity of the Gospel, and how fallen humans have convoluted and distorted it so much so that there is more emphasis on appearance than on preaching. I wrote him a letter thanking him for that, and he responded, and together we share those two letters on this blog:
Letters between Brothers.
I read, and re-read your message on simplicity several times. Well done, Bro! Out of curiosity I (and I know I should refrain from doing, only gives me agita) perused some other 'churches' and their communion partners. Amazing how so many of the same names keep popping up, including some who went out from us. What a dizzying array of titles, honors, and accolades they bestow upon themselves. They look and sound like the knights of yore. And the vestments look so sharp and crisp.
I wonder how many actually preach on a Sunday morning, or hold the hand of a dying hospice patient as they take their last breath, or console widows and orphans in need. Or shelter persecuted Christians. I wonder if those persecuted Christians are impressed with the photos of these carnival barkers in clergy attire.
I wonder how many of those pompous asses actually become the hands and feet of Jesus. I know their hands work, they can type a computer keyboard.
But can their feet be shod with the Gospel?
Or are they too busy giving themselves their own pats on their backs?
Just my daily observation.
The true Gospel, what a marvelously simple thing.
Response from Brad;
Thanks, Bro-- it was something heavy on my heart, and has been for a long time. I often wonder how many people would actually devote themselves to the ministry of the Gospel, if they knew up front that no one besides God would ever know their name. And I can't help shake the feeling that every title, every fancy vestment, and every self agrandizing position of pride we treasure in this world, will be a mark of shame and disgrace before Christ, and the countless faithful martyrs who lived and died known only to their Savior-- and who God honors far more than us.
If God Himself can condescend to offer us the simple Gospel of salvation, who are we to muck it up with our own prideful peacockery? But I suppose that is the curse of our time.
Yes, the message of the Gospel is simple and pure. For some reason I don't think The Lord cares how much you wear or how much you know, until you show how much you care.