I want to start us off today by teaching you a new expression and a new word. The new expression is this: Kaynay Keteesis. Can you say, Kaynay Keteesis? That’s Greek for new creation. It’s in our reading for today. Has a rhythm to it don’t you think? And an alliteration that sadly doesn’t translate over into the English. Kaynay Keteesis.
The word I want to teach you, also Greek and also in our reading for today is this: Presbeian. Can you say Presbeian? Presbeian means Ambassador. Paul says in our reading for today “We are Ambassadors for Christ.” If the Greek word sounds strangely familiar, that is because our name Presbyterian is related to that Greek word Presbeian, which again, means Ambassador but can also be translated as elder. For you on this side of the room--ordained leaders in our Presbyterian church are called elders—English for Presbeians; but again, the word also means Ambassador.
Ok. On to the sermon, or rather an apology. I say apology because once again I want to talk some about seminary, which is nothing new. I feel like I have spent a lot of time talking about my seminary days from this pulpit. So if right now you are thinking, Not AGAIN—I am sorry. However, since none of you have been to seminary, at least I don’t think you have, it is something I can share with you that is new and different and I hope of some interest.
So, seminary. Seminary students have one thing in common, of course—and that is their faith. In a Christian seminary, as you would expect, all the students are (pause) Christian. But that doesn’t mean that at Wesley Theological Seminary, my alma mater, we were a homogenous lot. Anything but. Wesley Theological Seminary prides itself in being ecumenical. I was in classes with Christians of just about every religious stripe. And that school promotes diversity of other kinds. The students were male and female, of various ages, and of different ethnic backgrounds and nationalities. One of my best friends, Ezekiel, was a young black man from the Cameroon.
As you might imagine students also had a lot of different reasons for attending seminary. I signed on initially because I was a super-volunteer in the Christian Education program at my church in McLean. My church needed a Christian Educator. I had a vague notion that maybe I could BE that Christian Educator. Just needed to take a few courses. And then, of course, I got hooked on learning and stayed long enough to get my Masters in Divinity and then my doctorate.
Other students were in seminary because their fathers were ministers, so they were following family tradition; Some had been inspired by that special pastor; some had been moved by the neediness of others—they had visions of becoming missionaries, or working for non-profits in this country or abroad.
And then there were the Broken People. It is strange looking back now. I musthave lived a very sheltered life up to that point; because until I got to seminary I had never met a self-identified recovering alcoholic or drug addict. In seminary, I met, it seemed like dozens; I also met victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse; people with very serious physical handicaps; several former convicts.
These people, the recovering addicts, the former convicts and the rest, were especially passionate about their faith. They wore their religion on their shirt sleeves, their pant legs, their socks and shoes!
Maybe you on this side of the room know the singer Chris Brown? He’s 26. Grew up in Tappahannock, Virginia. So he is homegrown. He wrote and recorded the song, “Seen the Light.” Well these folks, these broken people, were definitely singing that song, “It’s been a struggle for me, wondering why I can’t get by with my life, but now I’m free, and I done did some right and wrong, but still I seen the light.”
These, what I call broken people, among my fellow seminarians, could be SO annoying! “I’ve got Jesus in my life, Jesus is my best friend, Jesus is my boyfriend.” They also had attitude—Although they would never say so, you got the impression that they believed they were most loved by God. Like we were in a contest. You’ve met people like that, maybe. They ARE annoying right?
Ok. So now I want to introduce you to William James. He was the brother of the famous novelist Henry James. William was an American psychologist at the turn of the 20th century. Just as his brother wrote books, so did William. He wrote the classic non-fiction, The Varieties of Religious Experience. It’s still in print, if you are interested in buying it—or ask me, and I will lend you my copy. I read the book, of course, while I was in seminary. In his book, William James explored religion from a psychologist’s point of view. What I have referred to as broken people, William James refers to as Sick Souls. These are (quote) “persons whose existence is little more than a series of zigzags, as now one tendency and now another gets the upper hand. Their spirit wars with their flesh, [their] wayward impulses interrupt their most deliberate plans, and their lives are one long drama of repentance and of efforts to repair misdemeanors.”
Yep. Sick Souls, Broken People. I am not sure why these folks were in seminary--maybe just to tell their stories and make sense of what had happened to them--acquiring faith.
If you are on the Masters in Divinity track at Wesley Theological Seminary, which I eventually was, you are required to take pastoral counseling courses. The first course I took in Pastoral Counseling, I had to come to terms with my OWN brokenness. Who, me? Broken? Depressing course of study, that. I think the reasoning here is that you can’t really be empathetic, compassionate with broken people, or sick souls, until you own your own brokenness. In that class, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as we told our sad stories and listened to the sad stories of others.
Guess, what I discovered in that class? I discovered that We are ALL broken people!
It’s true. Every single one of us is broken. We can choose not to honor that brokenness, if it is not so damaging as to cause us to engage in that series of life’s zigzags” as William James describes, but we are all broken never-the-less. That is because, as you probably are aware, life is difficult. Life breaks us.
Did you know that the Apostle Paul, the writer of 2nd Corinthians was a broken person, a sick soul? His birth name, his Hebrew name was Saul. Paul is his Greek name. Paul or Saul was born around the same time as Jesus. Like Jesus, Paul was a Jew. Paul though, was a Pharisaic Jew--You know, those religious folks whom Jesus couldn’t seem to say anything good about? The Pharisees? Paul was also a Roman citizen. He inherited his Roman citizenship from his father.
Jesus was crucified of course. But his teachings didn’t die with him. His movement continued on as more and more people heard about and accepted his vision of the Kingdom of God. Paul never met Jesus, but he certainly knew about him; and he knew plenty about Christ’s followers. He felt that these Christ followers were a menace to the Jewish faith, particularly to the Pharisaic brand of the Jewish faith; and a menace to the Roman Empire.
Scripture says of Paul at this time, that he was “breathing threats and murder” against the Christ followers. And it further says that Paul was “ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women and committing them to prison.” Think first century Jewish version of the Nazi Gestapo.
Paul was consumed by hate and fear. Like I said. A Broken Person. A Sick Soul. However, on the road to Damascus, with bound Christians in tow, the resurrected Christ appeared to Paul in a blinding light. Paul heard Jesus’ voice coming from that light. Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The drama of that moment was enough to knock Paul to the ground. Some artists depict Paul as falling off his horse. Scripture doesn’t actually say, though, that Paul had been riding a horse. No matter. The point is that he was moved mightily.
Now, in his Varieties of Religious Experience, William James says that there is definitely something to be gained from brokenness, from soul sickness, and it’s not just compassion for other broken people. If we who are broken, which again, is all of us, own up to that which has us broken, then with God’s help, we may be able to reach a new level of spirituality; With that new spirituality we also achieve a new and higher plane of personal contentment and satisfaction. William James says that the process of new creation is “one of redemption, not of mere reversion to natural health, and the sufferer, when saved, is saved by what seems to him a second birth, a deeper kind of conscious being than he could enjoy before.”
And that was definitely the case with Paul. Soon after his Damascus Road event, Paul asked to be baptized into the Christian faith. the baptismal waters are symbolic of the drowning of the old self and the rising up as a new self. The baptismal waters have also been compared to amniotic fluid. After the Damascus Road event, Paul was born anew. He was a new creation. A what? A Kenay Keteesis.
When you experience something like what Paul experienced, it is probably true that you can’t help but become at least somewhat annoying to other people--like some of my fellow seminarians. I am sure that like some of them, Paul also wore his new found Christian faith on his tunic, his cloak and even his sandals.
And as a Kenay Keteesis Paul was moved to become, what’s that Greek word? He was moved to become a Presbeian, An ambassador. An Ambassador for Christ. From his Damascus Road experience onward, Paul traveled the Roman Empire, teaching and preaching God’s salvation often at the expense of his own safety.
So, that does seem to be the natural order of things in our lives as Christians. We own our brokenness, our own sick soul-ness. We rejoice in our salvation—God’s continued love for us, and then we just have to spread the word. We can’t hold back. That is especially true for those of us who are part of the Presbyterian tradition.
It is, after all, part of our heritage.
May it be so for you as for me. Amen