Built-in Priestly Ignorance

  It happens also to teachers. You preach, you teach, you see lots of people over the years, and for the most part you have no idea what, if any, effect you have had. A priest is generally in the seed-planting business, and the one who got this whole Christian thing going said that some are planters and others bring in the harvest. With plants, the time from seed to harvest is usually just a few months. With students, with Christian souls, the time is longer.

    I was speaking to other clergy about this. We preachers throw a lot of words out there, week after week, and we seldom get so much as a glimpse of what God is doing with those words. Yet in our own case we know that sometimes, when we were on the receiving side of a sermon, a line or an image got stuck in the brain. It might have just been a passing thought of the preacher’s, a throw-away side comment, but of all the words of the sermon it’s the only thing we remember.

    There was one, some 35 years ago. My first rector, Fr. Michael Webber, was preaching on Easter Day on John 20:1-18. Mary was the first to find the tomb empty; she thinks someone has taken Jesus away. She goes back and tells the disciples. Two run to the tomb and look in and see the burial cloths but no body, and they go back to tell the others. But Mary had followed them. She was outside the tomb. She was weeping. Father Webber made the point: they didn’t even see her. They passed her by. I don’t know what else he said, but I’ve never forgotten that.

    We who teach, we who preach, we never know what God will do with our efforts. Once in a while the curtain gets pulled back a wee bit and we see how we had a hand in God’s good work. In my case, it’s often a surprise. And nice as it is, I think it’s better, most of the time, not to know—to remain ignorant. It is God’s work, after all; our part is mere participation.


    There’s one other thing I learned from Father Webber. Every year he said, “Turkeys taste better after church.”

    Happy harvest-time. Happy Thanksgiving.


    Out & About. This weekend there is proof—if anyone needed proof—that yours truly has lost his marbles. I am leading a retreat for a diaconal program in the diocese of the Arctic, part of the Anglican Church of Canada. When people aren’t wondering why I would leave Dallas in November to go to the Arctic circle, they are asking whether I have polar bear spray. If this is turns out to be my final blog post, you’ll know why.

    But assuming I return, I am to teach the Advent class at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, on “An Adult Christ at Christmas.” The class will meet on Sundays at 10 a.m.: Nov. 26, Dec. 3, and Dec. 17.

    The next Good Books & Good Talk seminar will be on Shakespeare's King Lear on Sunday, November 26, at 5 p.m. also at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Anyone who reads (or watches) the play is welcome to join the conversation.

    There is still time to register for the Christian Ethics course at the Stanton Center, which will meet on five Saturday afternoons, roughly one per month, from January through May. I will be teaching this course. It involves reading and writing before each class, but no exams or other papers. (Auditors only do the readings.) In-person discussion of the assigned texts is the backbone of the course. For more information, drop a line to Erica Lasenyik,

The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: