June 9, Feast of St. Columba
“Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
– attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi
If you saw last week’s service, you would know that the terrible “E” word, Evangelism, applies to all of us as members of the Body of Christ. As I write this, I am thinking about Saint Columba of Ireland who carried the Gospel to Scotland in the 6
century and Bishop William Guery who preached the social Gospel in South Carolina in the 20
Columba was given the island of Iona where he set up a monastery, kind of a home base, for he and his monks to evangelize a confederation of Celtic speaking peoples in Scotland called the Picts. He travelled back and forth between Ireland and Scotland and also travelled through the Highlands of Scotland as far as Aberdeen to spread the Good News and convert the Picts. According to the Book,
Holy Women, Holy Men
, “Columba was kindly received, allowed to preach, convert and baptize.”
Bishop Guery, who was ordained by the Church to be a successor to the apostles, and who was the chief pastor and teacher of the people of South Carolina, evangelized and preached beginning in 1907. Bishop Guery did not receive an island but, rather, a fatal bullet wound from a distraught priest.
Bishop Guery born in 1861 at the dawn of the Civil War, and was far ahead of his time. In 1914, +William proposed a black Suffragan Bishop for South Carolina to be responsible for the ministry to African American Episcopalians, and to guarantee that all people were part of the beloved community of Christ. His proposal failed and the result was that black Episcopalians in South Carolina were separated into the “Missionary District for Negroes.” In 1928, a priest who did not agree with the bishop’s position, and who had suffered numerous familial losses and who was emotionally distraught, shot the Bishop in his office and then turned the gun on himself. Bishop Guery died five days later on the Feast of St. Columba.
Preaching the Gospel can be very rewarding as it was for Columba. But like the Apostles and the Bishop of South Carolina, it can be life threatening and life ending. When I read of Bishop Guery, it made me think of Martin Luther King and others who have died striving for justice and preaching the kingdom of God.
Since the death of George Floyd, I have been carrying Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in my pocket. While written in April of 1963, it is still poignant today –especially when he refers to the Church. Dr King wrote:
- “There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
- Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.”
Christ did not call us to sit on the sidelines; we are to be “God intoxicated” as King wrote. Both Columba and Bishop Guery were “God intoxicated” and chose to follow the example of Christ and his Apostles, carrying the Word to places both near and far. Bishop Guery preached the social Gospel in a time when many in the state of South Carolina were not ready to hear it, but he was an agent of change. Columba was welcomed by the Picts and converted many to Christianity and The Church. A good preacher like Columba, Bishop Guerry, or Dr. King can do that.
You can preach the Gospel every day, and as I said on Sunday, one does not need to stand in the pulpit to proclaim Christ. All one must do is be a “thermostat” and not a “thermometer.” Try setting your “thermostat” to “preaching the Gospel.” As St. Francis of Assisi said, “if necessary, use words.” As St.Francis, St. Columba, Bishop Guery, and Dr. King taught, all one must do is to care for your neighbors as we do ourselves and to speak up against injustice.
I am gladdened to know that many of you before and during this pandemic
are putting the Gospel into practice by reaching out to our neighbors in need.
You have reached out through the many pounds of food donated to the
food pantry, by paying medical bills of those who have been ill (through
the use of the discretionary fund), sending disabled children to a week
of camp, and visiting in person, by phone or zoom.
Continue in the Apostles’ teachings and take care of yourselves
and continue to keepTrinity’s collective thermostat set to
“Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
See you in church (when you feel ready).
Wishing you God’s peace and my love.