St. Augustine’s University Chapel

March 31, 2014

A week ago I heard a remarkable story about two young women who heard a call.  They thought it was simply about becoming Episcopal priests, but along the way, they began to discover a passion for working in the “hood” on the north side of Troy, NY.[1]  They started simply walking the streets, praying, and trying to make friends in that gritty, rundown part of the city.  The unemployment rate there is sky-high, poverty abounds, and the role models for a lot of kids involve substance abuse, drug-dealing, gangs, and absentee parents.  A friend told me the story, and that lots of other people kept telling them it wasn’t safe for them to go there.[2]  But the two of them kept dreaming their dream.  They started walking the streets.  They began to get to know people, and listened to their questions, joys, and laments.  They hung out in a park, playing music, reading Bible stories, and offering snacks to any kid who showed up.  Two years ago they found an old diner for sale and turned it into a place of hospitality.  Today it’s a café that’s become a hangout for kids, teens, and people in recovery.  The whole community is changing.  It’s called Oaks of Righteousness,[3] from a part of Isaiah where the prophet sets out a vision of a healed community and says that those who live and work there will be called oaks of righteousness.[4]

I can tell you a similar story about a part of Dallas that was cut off from the rest of the city decades ago by freeway construction.  The city and most of its leaders had pretty much abandoned those 60 square blocks.  But a few saw possibilities and began to discover and encourage hope through listening to the residents.  Most of all, they said they needed a place and opportunity to build community, beginning with their kids and families.  A young priest, Jemonde Taylor, who is now the rector of St. Ambrose here in Raleigh, turned it into his parish.  Today the community is called Jubilee Park.[5]  There is a community center, gardens where people grow healthy food, cooking classes and health initiatives, improved education for children and adults, and vastly improved housing opportunities.  Jubilee Park has a vitally renewed sense of community, and its name reflects the biblical sense of jubilee as release from debt and setting all the captives free.

Faithful leaders in both those places had heard some of the same things we heard this morning – about being light to the nations and going to Galilee and being healers.  They listened deeply to what was broken in the community, and they kept looking for partners – beginning with the people who live there. 

Those leaders might have been St. Augustine students, challenged to “transform, excel, and lead.”  That is why we’re all here – to help this world become a better place, to heal what’s broken, to reconcile what’s divided, to bring the kind of justice and peace that Jesus taught.  When we love our neighbors as ourselves, the kingdom of God can be found in our midst.  The journeys of discovery that begin and grow here at St. Augustine’s can and do help to make that kind of transformation possible in the world around us.

That vision is what Isaiah is challenging people about.  He’s talking to people who feel lost and abandoned, reminding them that God has something rather different in mind.  God’s intent is to save the people, to deliver prisoners and settle them on fertile land where there is enough to eat and drink and enough more for a feast – where people don’t live on the street, exposed to the elements, where people aren’t strangers to their neighbors, but where people have come home to settle again in peace and dignity.  Isaiah promises that the road to get there is going to be easier than the journey that took them into exile and slavery.

Henry Beard Delany started this chapel a hundred and twenty years ago to encourage people to learn and share that dream and begin to build toward it.  This community of support and encouragement exists to help us all become people of transformation, leaders who will teach and encourage others to live into that dream.  As Paul says, we’re all part of the same body, and we share the same promise that God’s dream of a healed world is not only possible but it’s already happening, if we’re willing to look and listen and join the action. 

Paul says he’s already become a servant or minister of this good news, and that’s what the risen Jesus has just told his disciples – his students.  First he sends them to Galilee – and you ought to invite Bishop Curry to tell you something about his vision for going to Galilee.  First off, it’s foreign territory – it’s not where the Jews live, or the Romans.  It’s the strange land where there is precious little hope because nobody’s heard God’s dream.  It’s the part of town that’s been cut off and left to shrivel up and die.  Going to Galilee is about leaving home to love the neighbor you haven’t met yet.  Galilee is out there, beyond home and safety and certainty, but it is where you can be most alive, because living there is going to demand your strongest gifts, every bit of courage you can muster, and the ability to live with chaos, because there is no creativity without it.

Jesus says go to Galilee and when you get there, teach others about this dream, baptize them into it, and teach them what he taught so they can become agents of transformation.  That’s what “obey” really means – to listen and hear deeply enough to be transformed and joined to a different way of living.  And don’t worry so much about the details, he says, because I’ll be there walking along with you.

So, where is Galilee for you?  Where can you go into foreign territory and be most alive?  Henry Delany learned that dream while he was a student here.  He went on to become the first African-American bishop in The Episcopal Church.  St. Agnes’ hospital and nursing school was part of that dream of healing – and we pray that will one day be that again.  There’s a similar institution in Haiti, founded 10 years ago as the only four-year school for nurses in Haiti.  Most of the graduates become community healthcare providers.[6]  Hilda Alcindor, the woman who started it, shares that dream, and she’s joined with the Episcopal University of Haiti to make it possible.

Maybe your Galilee has something to do with the unique film production program here – to tell the story, spread the dream, and be a light to those who live with little hope.

Where is your Galilee?  Every single one of us has gifts for leadership, and leadership is about motivating transformation.  When we begin to be transformed ourselves, those gifts are set loose for transforming the world around us into God’s dream.

Dream that excellent dream, let yourself be transformed, and lead others toward that new community of justice and peace!