Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) was one of the great preachers and leaders of the Episcopal Church. He was the Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts. He wrote the classic Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem. He also attended seminary at my alma mater, Virginia Theological Seminary. Here is a portion of a sermon Brooks preached on Matthew 26:21-22 in which he reflects on how it is that Jesus’ disciples might each wonder if he was the one who would betray him. They asked, ‘Is it I?”
It must have been that their life with him had deepened the sense of the mystery of their lives. They had seen themselves, in intercourse with him, as capable of much more profound and variable spiritual experiences than they had thought possible before. And this possible life, this possible experience, had run in both directions up and down. They had recognized a before unknown capacity for holiness, and they had seen also a before unknown power of wickedness. Their sluggishness had been broken up, and they had seen that they were capable of divine things. Their self-satisfied pride had been broken up, and they had seen that they were capable of brutal things. Heaven and hell had opened above their heads and below their feet. They had not thought it incredible when Christ said, ‘I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you to myself,’ now they did not think it incredible when he said, ‘One of you shall betray me.’ The life with Christ had melted the ice in which they had been frozen, and they felt it in them either to rise to the sky or to sink into the depths. That was and that always is Christ’s revelation of the possibilities of life.
(Philips Brooks: Selected Sermons, William Scarlett, ed., p. 151)
“Their sluggishness had been broken up, and they had seen that they were capable of divine things. Their self-satisfied pride had been broken up, and they had seen that they were capable of brutal things.” Perhaps that should be the goal of all our preaching and teaching, all our spiritual disciplines.