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Bishop Iker’s Sermon at the Opening Eucharist
for the 23rd Annual Convention of the Diocese

Friday, Nov. 18, 2005 • All Saints’ Episcopal School Chapel, Fort Worth

Donna and I are very proud of our middle daughter Jennifer, who is a medical assistant in a physician’s office. One of her primary duties is to prepare patients to see the doctor by weighing them, taking their vital signs, updating their charts and so on.

Some months ago while checking in a sweet, elderly lady, the patient noticed by daughter’s name tag and said: "Iker – that’s not a very common name. You wouldn’t be related by any chance to Bishop Jack Iker of the Episcopal Church would you?"

And when my daughter said, "Yes, he’s my father," the little old lady went on to say with delight, "Oh, I’m an Episcopalian! He’s my Bishop – what a wonderful man he is! We just love it when he comes to our parish! You must be very proud of him."

My daughter smiled and nodded in agreement. And then after a brief pause, the patient patted my daughter on the arm and said, "You tell your father the Bishop not to worry about it – Jesus wasn’t very popular either."

Popularity is important to all of us, is it not? We care what other people think about us and say about us. We want to be liked and well thought of by others. Some of us go to great lengths to make a good impression on others and may even be willing to change our attitudes and opinions based on the company we are with at the time. Its the old problem of peer pressure, and its not just a teenager temptation. We prefer to go along in order to get along, and so at times we keep quiet or imply our agreement in order to avoid conflict.

But when you try to project a positive image to others, be careful that you don’t overdo it. I know of a man who was so impressed with himself that when he met a someone new, he always wanted to tell them all about himself, about his many accomplishments and attributes and opinions – " me this and me that – I did this and I did that." And finally he would say, "Now enough about me – what do you think about me?"

Even Jesus was concerned about what others said about him. One day, you will recall, he asked his closest friends: "Who do men say that I am?" What are the people saying about me? What kind of an impression am I making? But then he turned the question to the disciples themselves and said: "But who do you say that I am?" Jesus was not concerned about popularity or success or about making a good impression on others. He was concerned about drawing the disciples into a recognition of who he was and of calling them into a personal relationship with him as Savior and Lord. He came to do the will of the Father, whether it was popular or not. Sometimes it made him friends, and sometimes it made him enemies. This is why in so many Gospel scenes Jesus is depicted as being in conflict with the authorities or under attack over one controversy or another. But Jesus was in all things obedient to the Father, regardless of what it cost. He was obedient unto death, even death on the cross.

And what about you and me? And what about the church of our time? And what about this diocese? Are we overly concerned about popularity and acceptance and the opinions of others? Do we go along in order to get along? Are we swayed by opinion polls and surveys and majority votes? You may have noticed how in recent weeks the media is always reporting on the President’s latest approval rating. Every other day or so there’s a new poll: "Do you approve of how the President in handling this situation or the other?" – as if polls should determine how he leads and what he decides is in the best interest of the country.
Leadership cannot be based on popularity polls – nor can the truth, nor can the discernment of the will of God. The ways of the world are not the ways of the Kingdom of God. The Church must resist the temptation to compromise the Truth in order to attract more members or to be more acceptable to contemporary society. As Dean Inge of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London once said: "He who marries the spirit of the age will find himself a widower in the next."

All of this is especially difficult for Americans, who want to be on the cutting edge of things and tend to see everything in democratic terms. "The majority voted for it and that settles it." And this view creeps into the religious realm as well. But the Church is not a democracy; it is a Kingdom. God is not elected, and He is not swayed by opinion polls. The Ten Commandments are not up for a vote or subject to revision. Divine revelation, the authority of the Scriptures, and the historic doctrines of the Church are not a matter of opinion polls or even convention votes. Sometimes the truth may be very unpopular, indeed. As Isaiah the prophet reminds us: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord." (Isaiah 55:8)

Early on in the life of the New Testament Church, we read in the Acts of the Apostles, how the followers of the Way (as the first Christians were called) suffered physical abuse and imprisonment for their witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter and John were beaten and thrown into jail, and the authorities strictly charged them to stop teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus, but they would not. Instead, they replied: "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) Yes, there is a time when obedience to God will require disobedience to secular authority, when adherence to "the Way" will put us at odds with the majority. But what is most important – popularity or faithfulness to God?

The Church in our time needs courage to proclaim an uncompromised Gospel, to put doing God’s will above all other concerns, and if necessary to suffer rejection, persecution and loss, as the cost for being obedient. We cannot limp along divided between two opinions. We must choose whom we will serve. This means that we must be willing to endure the ridicule and the sneers, at times even from fellow Christians. Let us pray for boldness and courage in the days ahead, that we may face the challenges that confront us without fear or timidity. Let us bravely pursue God’s agenda for His Church and for His world, not being sidetracked by distractions or conflicts, but being faithful and obedient to the Word, that He has given us to proclaim, whatever the cost, wherever it leads us.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth