Walking with the Saints
I first became aware of the name Phillips Brooks when I was a seminarian at Gordon Divinity School in Massachusetts, just north of Boston, where the Rev. Brooks made his mark as the Rector of Trinity Church. He gained a reputation as a superb preacher, of great stature both physically and theologically.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1860, and two of his greatest sermons were preached upon the death of Abraham Lincoln and in commemoration of those who had died in the Civil War. His feast day is celebrated in the Episcopal Church on January 23.
Brooks preached of Lincoln shortly after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865: “It is the great boon of such characters as Mr. Lincoln's, that they reunite what God has joined together and man has put asunder. In him was vindicated the greatness of real goodness and the goodness of real greatness.”
I believe this last phrase is a challenge to those of us who love the Church. How can we combine goodness and greatness in the culture of today? So much that is good does not capture our attention, let alone inspire our imagination. And so much that is great in the view of the world appears to be devoid of any genuine goodness.
In our scripture reading for January 23, from Matthew 24:24, the Bible warns us that “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” But Brooks stands (at 6 feet, 4 inches!) in sharp contrast to this depiction of some who are leaders in our society.
The question before us is, who might the Bible be referring to as our leaders, our trend-setters, our heroes, who might be among the false messiahs and the false prophets of today? And to counter their influence, how can we celebrate those who combine goodness with greatness.
Here are some suggestions, keeping in mind that greatness and goodness come in all shapes and sizes: the professional sports personality who volunteers in the public schools or at the local food bank, the politician who votes according to his conscience rather than according to political correctness, the merchant who treats a customer with honor, the parent who reads and prays and sings to a child, the person who offers a sincere “Thank you” to someone who doesn’t expect to be acknowledged, and the neighbor who invites a neighbor to church.
Can you think of a dozen more examples? I think you can, and I think you can find a practical follow-up to one or more of the options that present themselves to you!
We all have within us the potential for greatness and for goodness, even though our actions will not make the 11 o’clock news. These qualities of “great” and “good” are not mutually exclusive! Can you begin each morning thinking of how you might be both a “great” and “good” person today?
I would be glad to hear the results of this exercise. How did you practice both greatness and goodness in your journey today? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.