Welcomes You

Opening Worship - Rochester Diocesan Convention

Diocese of Rochester, NY
Saturday, November 9, 2013

From all I have seen of this diocese, your boundaries do indeed enclose a pleasant land, as the psalmist puts it.  You are planted here, as Ezekiel says, with hearts of flesh, for living here in this land as God’s people.  There is joy abundant in this place, for those who know the abiding presence of God.  All of that knowing and belonging and believing is grounded in belovedness. 

When Jesus was baptized, he heard a voice from heaven say, ‘you are my beloved, and in you I am well pleased.’  God says the same thing to every one here:  “you are my beloved, and in you I am well pleased.”  When we were baptized, we promised to extend that reality to the world around us.  That’s what those promises are all about – continuing to learn and incorporate and turn toward that belovedness, sharing that reality with the world around us, loving neighbors, respecting the dignity of every human being, and building communities of justice and peace, so that the beloved community continues to grow and expand to include all that is.

How do we know we’re beloved?  It starts with those who love us before we’re terribly conscious – effective parents and loving family.  Later we get continuing hints from people who treat us with dignity:  the courteous TSA agent, an encouraging teacher, the grocery store clerk who remembers you from last visit.  We have deeper and abiding experience in more intimate encounters – in faithful relationships in families, church communities, with colleagues and fellow community members.  An essential part of what we’re for as students of the beloved one is expanding the sphere of awareness about being beloved.  That is what it means to share the good news, and to be Christians in the world.

Your work in Steuben County is a wonderful example – as Amish, Episcopalians, and hungry members of the local community are fed, loved, and gathered in to become one, beloved, community.[1]  All the work we do, our very reason for being, our prayer and worship and service, is directed toward that kind of community.  It’s the ground of the prayer we pray more than any other, “your kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”  We live in hope for a world where all human beings know they are beloved of God, find evidence of it in the ways other people treat them, and respond in kind.  Knowing that we are beloved undergirds our ability to bless the world around us – other human beings and all of creation.  That is the beginning of abundant life for which God has made us and it is what God sends us into the world to be and do – what we call mission.

Some 25 years ago the Anglican Communion began to use a framework to speak about our engagement in this dream of God to create beloved community everywhere as the Five Marks of Mission.  It’s a large framework, big enough to need the partnership of people everywhere.  No part of the church can do it all – and most of it takes place in daily life outside what we have long thought of as “church.” 

Mark 1:  proclaim the good news of the KG – is about sharing that dream of a beloved community – we hear echoes in one of the promises of our baptismal covenant.

Mark 2:  teach, baptize, and nurture new believers – is about forming beloved ministers, people who are here to serve rather than be served, and to offer the gifts of their lives for bringing this dream to reality.  That teaching and formation may take place mostly inside what we call “church,” but it is practiced in the “world” in daily life.  The work you are doing on vocational discernment for all the baptized fits here.  Read pages 13-24![2]

Mark 3:  respond to human need through loving service – looks like Jesus’ feeding and healing ministry, and all the ways he urged us to engage the “least of these,” companioning the sick and imprisoned, giving food and drink and shelter to those without, comforting the grieving.

            The recent cuts to food stamps mean more people are hungry here.  How is your congregation responding?

            What about the lonely and hopeless?  A priest in New Jersey started a chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew for young inmates.  There are now 80 members in that prison – praying, studying, and serving that vision of a beloved community.  Your ministry at Industry Detention Facility grows food and trains residents for work on the outside.

Mark 4:  transform the unjust structures of society, challenge violence, and promote peace and reconciliation – is not only about asking why so many are poor, but working at community-wide levels to support that vision of a beloved community.  This is where we start challenging the inertia and self-centeredness that keep us from loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Your Rural and Migrant Ministry is a way of trying to address injustices in immigration law and employment practices.[3]  This is about voting and direct advocacy with lawmakers, as well as convening community conversations to challenge prejudice and discrimination.

Mark 5:  care for the earth – because it supports us all, and the health and flourishing of each part of creation is vital to the health and flourishing of all.  Creation Week Camp (St. Mark’s, Penn Yan), and the myriad gardening and farming ministries in this diocese are examples.

The Episcopal Church has come to embrace these 5 Marks of Mission as a way to examine and organize our common life, in the same way we might use a rule of life or the Ignatian Exercises to reflect on our internal spiritual life. 

These marks are also an antidote to the problem James and John were wrestling with – who’s first, or most important, or best at being a disciple? – because the response to God’s mission can only be made by the interconnected community, the body of Christ, or the body of God’s creation.  When we are serving, rather than setting ourselves up to be served by others, we quickly discover there is little or no jockeying for position.  Indeed, Paul challenges us to “outdo one another in showing honor”[4] and to “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”[5]

The budget you are considering moves in this direction.  You’re proposing to spend 10% on mission in local communities and 10% on global mission.  The Congregational Development and Communications work is about equipping missioners for service in the church and in the world.  So is the half of the budget that’s designed to support work by, with, and on behalf of God’s mission partners in this diocese.  Framing it in a missional context helps us see that this isn’t about one faction lording it over another, one group winning and another losing, but about shared resources for building a beloved community.  You could teach the state and federal governments something about that!

It takes hard work and continued collaboration – negotiation, even – to build a community of blessing. Recognizing our own wounds as well as the dignity with which we’ve been created lies at the root of that growth in community.  Economic challenges in this part of the world have brought depression if not despair to many.  Yet even that experience of loss can aid the journey, as the grieving discover hope through the companions who stand with them.  We can’t know what it is to be beloved in isolation – we have to show and remind each other. 

How is the beloved community already present?  What makes your heart sing?  That’s a sign of the near presence of God, as the psalmist notes – fullness of joy, and hands full of pleasure.  Joy and fullness are signs of building that community.  Now, where is more of that needed?  Where are the places it’s absent?  Go there, be there as God’s beloved, look and listen to the realities people experience, and help to name the beloved.

There is a remarkable story emerging in Europe right now, as a trove of art that was confiscated by the Nazis or hidden from them is being rediscovered after 70 and 80 years.[6]  The evil that led to hiding it is being redeemed as the creative abundance of those artists comes to light once again.  The Jewish tradition calls that kind of healing tikkun olam, the repair of the world.  It’s a glimpse of the Reign of God as relationships are repaired and belovedness affirmed in all sorts and conditions of people – and their art. 

What does that repair work look like in your neighborhood?  Who are your partners?  Put your passion to work there – for that is where God is sending you.  Go and be love in the world, and build the beloved community.  You will find joy and fullness, in abundance.


[2] Button handed out at this Convention, urging that people read this section of the new vocational discernment handbook – for vocational discernment by all the baptized.

[4] Romans 12:10

[5] Hebrews 10:24