Saint Mark the Evangelist Church, Norman, OK
1 Kings 19, 15-16, 19-21 + Psalm 16 + Galatians 5, 1, 13-25 + Luke 9, 51-62
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Father Brian Buettner is either at the end or at the beginning. The poet, T.S. Elliot in those a amazing words might propose that it does not make any difference which one we call it as long as it is part of the exploration, the journey that ultimately brings us back to where we started, where as he suggests, we shall know the place for the first time.
Father, you have walked down that aisle many, many times. As a teenager you carried the cross, the candles, the thurable, and more recently I saw you carry the Gospel Book. Now today, you come empty handed as it should be. You have nothing to bring here but yourself; and the church that gathers here needs nothing more than what you bring. You have arrived where you started, and this is the wonderful mystery into which you rose up from the floor of Our Lady’s Cathedral yesterday.
Jesus is on his way to be “taken up”. That is the goal of his life. There is a plan, there is a strategy. His life is no series of unplanned or unexpected events. He knows where he is going, back to where he started, back to the Father. The only way is to Jerusalem, and in Luke’s Gospel, that is exactly where he started when at age 12 he sat in Jerusalem’s Temple with the elders. When Jesus arrives at Jerusalem this time, he will know the place for the first time. Now he will know what lamb will be sacrificed. Now he will know that Passover is not simply an event remembered from the past, but an experience to be lived in obedience to the Father’s will. Now he will know what Elijah’s words to Elisha meant: “Keep on doing what you do or start doing what God has called you to do, but you can’t do both; so make a decision.”
This is the problem with the Samaritans. They decided to keep on doing what they were doing, and there is no point in seeking revenge. They are like you and me, answerable for our own choices, and there is no way to know if it is the final choice. Then Luke gives us those three who unlike the Samaritans want to make a different choice. The uneasy thing about their story is that their choices are not between good and bad. It is a good thing to bury your father. It is a good thing to say farewell to your family when you leave. Those are good things to do; but maybe there is a better choice. We have no idea how they responded to what Jesus says to them. Luke does not tell us, because perhaps, they too are really you and me. Keep on doing what you’re doing. It might be your last chance, or when the choice is not between good and bad but rather between good and better, which one will you chose?
It is then about choices, and this celebration today is about one of them. It is not however a celebration of choice Father Brian is making today and every day of his life except that by sitting before us this morning he reminds us that there are choices for us to make. The choice is not just about vocation, but how one follows Jesus within the vocation that uses the gifts God has given us. Like you and me, that man is making a choice about beginning – the beginning of a life of exploration, an exploration that will take us all to the place where we began, into the loving heart of the Father. Our lives too are not just a series of accidents or unplanned events. For all of us there is a plan a strategy to get us to the place to where we started.
Our calling is to be “taken up”: to be taken up into the glory of God’s presence, back to the paradise, the garden, where in all innocence and in holiness without any barriers or shame we could stand in the presence of our God and enjoy God’s company. The trouble haunting those disciples was that they did not know where they were going. They wanted Jerusalem all right, but they wanted the Jerusalem of power and influence, splendor and glory: the stuff of its past. They wanted a King, but what they got was what they needed, a prophet.
Father Brian, our church still needs prophets but too often it wants kings. It is 45 years since my First Mass of Thanksgiving. This church of ours has changed a lot and will keep on changing; but it still needs prophets. The role and ministry of priest in the New Covenant is an integration of the Old Covenant’s priest and prophet. Sacrifice and Sanctification will be your mission as priest more often by your presence than by your words; but also, and even more often, you must be prophet who can stand in the midst of every tragedy, trial, and misery and point to the presence of God.
You must become as much John the Baptist as you become Jesus Christ among these people of God. You must be able to point and say, there is the Lamb of God in places and in faces where no one else would ever imagine the presence of God. The priest and the prophet announce the truth that God’s love will never go away. The priest and prophet is not a substitute for us. He tells us about ourselves and God. He acts out in his own person with all its human limits the fact that God will never desert any one of us.
The wonder that we celebrate today is that we know someone with the willingness and daring to put himself forward as a vulnerable example of God’s unyielding and undying love. The bread and wine we put before him and over which he prays calls us into the presence of Jesus who loved us beyond death; and no betrayal by family, friends, enemies or self can separate us from the bonds of His Spirit. The goodness of that God has found a voice again, and the voice will be his. Listen and follow. When it’s time to choose, choose the best so that at the end of our exploring, we will arrive at where we started and know the place for the first time.