Sermon: Thomas Bray

Two Irishmen are sitting in a pub having beer and watching the brothel across the street. They saw a Baptist minister walk into the brothel, and one of them says, “Aye, ’tis a shame to see a man of the cloth goin’ bad.”

Then they see a rabbi enter the brothel, and the other Irishman says, “Aye, ’tis a  shame to see that the Jews are fallin’ victim to temptation.”

Then they see a catholic priest enter the brothel, and one of the Irishmen says, “What a terrible pity … one of the girls must be quite ill.”

There are a number of sayings that all amount to the same idea: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” “Saints are made when no one is looking.” The idea being that who we really are is the person we become when we are alone or when we aren’t around anyone that we think actually matters, like the person who goes to a restaurant and is all “please” and “thank you” with the waiter when in the company of others, but who treats them as a servant if no one else is around. Certainly we can kick our shoes off and put our feet up, but the hope is that our public and private lives closely resemble each other. Thomas Bray who we celebrate today also believed this to be true.

In 1696, he was commissioned by his Bishop in England to oversee the work of the church in the colony of Maryland. He visited for two and half months, but in that time he discovered that the church was in a state of decay, and that the clergy and laity were poorly educated. To rectify the problem of education, he established 39 lending libraries and formed two organizations that are still active today: the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG). As for the poor quality of the church and the clergy, he established an additional vetting process.

The journey across the Atlantic from England would take about two months. It was a difficult and dangerous trip, but Bray expected the clergy to act like clergy even then, so he would inquire of those who were arriving about the behavior of the clergy on board to determine, “whether… he gave no matter of scandal, and whether he did constantly read prayers twice a day and catechize and preach on Sundays, which, notwithstanding the common excuses, I know can be done by a minister of any zeal for religion.” Even when no one or in this case, no superior, was watching, the clergy were to behave appropriately and fulfill their ordination vows.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus gave his disciples instructions as to how they were to behave while out in the world proclaiming the Good News, as did Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Thomas Bray expected the clergy to follow the instructions they had been given, and we also, as disciples and ministers of Christ, should live out our lives, both publicly and privately, accordingly. Why? St. Peter writes, “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.” (1 Peter 2:12) Why? Because the opposite is also true. If we conduct our lives dishonorably, then we bring scandal to the church and to God.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” (Matthew 5:14a) and then instructs us by saying, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) However, in order for that light to shine with the pure righteousness of God, it must also shine in our private lives, even while we are sitting alone in our rooms, for it is there that our true character is revealed.

Examine your life and work to bring your private and public self into concert with one another, so that the glorious light you shine out here is the same that shines in here, in your heart.

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