Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Owners Reps

One of the facts of my life is that I attend a lot of meetings. Most of the time most everyone in the room knows everyone else; but sometimes that’s not the case. So occasionally we go around the room introducing ourselves and saying something about our position.

The thing is, everyone in the room knows my position. Certainly, all employees to: I have my own portion of Orientation to speak about spiritual care in our hospital. But, even those who aren’t employees have some idea. I wear clericals when I work, and so everyone in the meeting has some idea of my title.

With that in mind, I decided some years ago that I wanted to come up with some title more interesting, or at least more fun, to share. I’ve introduced myself as being responsible for celestial engineering, or for metaphysical rehabilitation. However, most often I’ve introduced myself as “the owner’s rep.”

There is some logic to that. Mine is an Episcopal hospital in an Episcopal health care system. My bishop is Chair of the Board of our central hospital, and serves on the Board of the health system. He cannot attend the meeting of the Board of every institution in the system, including mine. So, I made the argument some time ago that I should attend our Board meetings on his behalf, representing him and the diocese.

And, blessedly, our leadership and staff are aware that this is an Episcopal hospital, in no small part because everyone sees me in orientation. They hear regularly, too, that the leadership of the system takes seriously that we are faith-based. So when I introduce myself as “owner’s rep,” I notice that folks laugh, but they listen.

What brought this to mind was the lessons heard not so long ago for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. Think, for example, about the story of Abraham. Three strangers came past his tent in the heat of the day. He offered them hospitality – shelter, food, and rest. That was, after all the custom; and for a nomadic herdsman like Abraham, strangers could mean both news and entertainment, stories of the world beyond daily experience.

At the same time, it became quite clear that these strangers were not your run-of-the-mill travelers. It became clear that they were at least owner’s reps. We may go back and forth as to whether they were messengers of God, or God himself; but we can be certain at least that they were owner’s reps. “Where is Sarah?” one said. “I’ll be back this time next year, and Sarah will have a baby on her lap!”

And Sarah laughed. She laughed, she said, uncertain how much to hope for such a blessing: “After all this time, will I really know that joy?” For, after all, those around her would have seen her barrenness not simply as sad but as cursed. And, indeed, she was embarrassed – embarrassed to have laughed and embarrassed to have hoped – so that when the stranger said, “Why did she laugh? Is anything too wonderful for God?” she denied it. But she did laugh, and knew she laughed; and when, within the next year, she indeed bore her son, she named him Isaac – “Laughter.” She laughed, but she listened; for he who spoke was clearly at least the owner’s rep.

In the same way, Jesus sent out the apostles; and when he did, he shared his authority. “Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” They became the owner’s reps, sent out “to the lost children of Israel” to proclaim the presence of the Kingdom of the God they already knew. Jesus certainly prepared them for difficulty and for rejection; but he also prepared them for those who would listen, for those who would receive the apostles’ peace. And there were certainly those who did listen, listeners both human and non-human; for if Matthew does not share with us any results, the parallel telling of this episode in Luke does: the “returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’.” We can’t be sure whether they laughed, although surely some did; but we know they listened.

We, too, have been called to function as “owner’s reps.” We are, after all, members of the Body of Christ, called, like the Apostles, to continue carrying into the world the word that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We are committed to it again and again in the Rite of Baptism. It’s all right there, especially the commitments tin the Baptismal Covenant, whether we were baptized with these words or simply repeat and affirm them at the Easter Vigil and when the Bishop visits and every time we witness someone else’s baptism. We say we will “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” What could more directly connect us to this mission of the Apostles? We say we will, “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” That is, after all, what Jesus sent the Apostles to do. We embrace the mission when we pray God “Send them into the world in witness to your love.” The them is the baptized – which is to say that the them is us.

Of course, Jesus prepared the Apostles for a lot of resistance as they made their proclamation – resistance in the world, and especially resistance among those who would “hand [them] over to councils and flog [them] in their synagogues.” At the same time, he prepared them for those who would accept them, who would greet them in peace and receive the peace of the Apostles – the peace of Christ – in return.

By the same token, I know we can also expect resistance as we go out in our own time to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to proclaim that the Kingdom is available now, and that there is peace for those who live in it. The world we live in, the time we live in, seems as little suited as any in history to peace of any sort, including the peace of Christ. It seems so focused on the daily pursuit of this fiscal and political economy as to preclude attention to any other kingdom. I am convicted, however, that if we live out our faith with authenticity, sharing the peace of Christ, others will hear in us the God whom we represent. They will see in us the acts and the authority that proclaim the presence of the Kingdom. They will receive through us the peace of Christ, and learn to share that peace with others.

All it takes is for us, by God’s grace and empowered by the Spirit, to carry out our mission: to proclaim the presence of God’s kingdom, and the love and peace that Christ offers to all who will live in it. If we will do that, they will recognize us, too, as the “owner’s reps;” and they may laugh, but they will listen.

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