The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in June 2006.  She serves as chief pastor and primate to the Episcopal Church's members in 17 countries, 109 dioceses and three regional areas.  She joins with other principal bishops of the 38-member Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion, seeking a common cause for global good and reconciliation.    

Over the course of her 9-year term, Bishop Jefferts Schori is responsible for initiating and developing policy for the Episcopal Church and speaks on behalf of the church regarding the policies, strategies, and programs authorized by General Convention.  She has been vocal about the Episcopal Church's mission priorities, including the United Nation Millennium Development Goals, issues of domestic poverty, climate change and care for the earth, as well as the ongoing need to contextualize the gospel.  The Presiding Bishop is charged to speak God's word to the church and to the world.
Bishop Jefferts Schori's career as an oceanographer preceded her studies for the priesthood, to which she was ordained in 1994. She holds a B.S. in biology from Stanford University, an M.S. and Ph.D. in oceanography from Oregon State University, an M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and several honorary doctoral degrees.  She remains an active, instrument-rated pilot – a skill she applied when traveling between the congregations of the Diocese of Nevada, where she was elected bishop in 2000 and ordained to the episcopate February 24, 2001. At the time of her election as bishop of Nevada, she was a priest, university lecturer, and hospice chaplain in Oregon.
Bishop Jefferts Schori grew up in the Seattle area and has spent most of her life in the West. Bishop Jefferts Schori and her husband, Richard Miles Schori, a retired mathematician (topologist), were married in 1979. They have one daughter, who is a captain (pilot) in the U.S. Air Force.
Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in June 2006.  She serves as chief pastor and primate to the Episcopal Church's members in 17 countries, 109 dioceses and three regional areas.  She joins with other...
June 21, 2006

Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori preached the homily at the Closing Eucharist June 21 at General Convention in Columbus, Ohio. The text of Jefferts Schori's homily follows:

Homily preached the General Convention's Closing Eucharist
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
The Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Grow in All Things into Christ
Lections for the Reign of Christ
Colossians 1:11-20
Canticle 18
John 18:33-37

This last Sunday morning I woke very early, while it was still dark. I wanted to go for a run, but I had to wait until there was enough light to see. When the dawn finally began, I ventured out. It was warm, and still, and very quiet, and the clouds were just beginning to show tinges of pink. I ran by the back of the Hyatt just as two workers were coming out one of the service doors. They were startled, I'm afraid, but I nodded at them, and they responded. I went west over the freeway, and encountered a man I'd seen here in the Convention Center. Neither of us stopped, but we did say a quiet good morning. Then I found a lovely green park, and started around it. There was a man with a reflective vest, standing in the street by some orange cones, as though he were waiting for a run or a parade to begin. I said good morning, and he responded in kind. Around the corner I came to a bleary-eyed fellow with several bags who looked like he'd just risen from sleeping rough. I said good morning to him too, but I must admit I went past him in the street instead of on the sidewalk. Then I met a rabbit hopping across the sidewalk, and though we didn't use words, one of us eyed the other with more than a bit of wariness. Around another corner, a woman was delivering Sunday papers from her car. She was wary too, and didn't get out of her car with the next paper until I was a long way past her. Back over the freeway, and a block later, two guys seemingly on their early way to work. We nodded at each other.

As I returned to my hotel, I reflected on all those meetings. There was some degree of wariness in most of them. There were small glimpses of a reconciled world in our willingness to greet each other. But the unrealized possibility of a real relationship -- whether in response of wariness, or caution, or fear -- meant that we still had a very long way to go.

Can we dream of a world where all creatures, human and not, can meet each other in a stance that is not tinged with fear?

When Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world, he is saying that his rule is not based on the ability to generate fear in his subjects. A willingness to go to the cross implies a vulnerability so radical, so fundamental, that fear has no impact or import. The love he invites us to imitate removes any possibility of reactive or violent response. King Jesus' followers don't fight back when the world threatens. Jesus calls us friends, not agents of fear.

If you and I are going to grow in all things into Christ, if we're going to grow up into the full stature of Christ, if we are going to become the blessed ones God called us to be while we were still in our mothers' wombs, our growing will need to be rooted in a soil of internal peace. We'll have to claim the confidence of souls planted in the overwhelming love of God, a love so abundant, so profligate, given with such unwillingness to count the cost, that we, too, are caught up into a similar abandonment.

That full measure of love, pressed down and overflowing, drives out our idolatrous self-interest. Because that is what fear really is -- it is a reaction, an often unconscious response to something we think is so essential that it takes the place of God. "Oh, that's mine and you can't take it, because I can't live without it" -- whether it's my bank account or theological framework or my sense of being in control. If you threaten my self-definition, I respond with fear. Unless, like Jesus, we can set aside those lesser goods, unless we can make "peace through the blood of the cross."

That bloody cross brings new life into this world. Colossians calls Jesus the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead. That sweaty, bloody, tear-stained labor of the cross bears new life. Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation -- and you and I are His children. If we're going to keep on growing into Christ-images for the world around us, we're going to have to give up fear.

What do the godly messengers say when they turn up in the Bible? "Fear not." "Don't be afraid." "God is with you." "You are God's beloved, and God is well-pleased with you."

When we know ourselves beloved of God, we can begin to respond in less fearful ways. When we know ourselves beloved, we can begin to recognize the beloved in a homeless man, or rhetorical opponent, or a child with AIDS. When we know ourselves beloved, we can even begin to see and reach beyond the defense of others.

Our invitation, both in the last work of this Convention, and as we go out into the world, is to lay down our fear and love the world. Lay down our sword and shield, and seek out the image of God's beloved in the people we find it hardest to love. Lay down our narrow self-interest, and heal the hurting and fill the hungry and set the prisoners free. Lay down our need for power and control, and bow to the image of God's beloved in the weakest, the poorest, and the most excluded.

We children can continue to squabble over the inheritance. Or we can claim our name and heritage as God's beloveds and share that name, beloved, with the whole world.

Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori preached the homily at the Closing Eucharist June 21 at General Convention in Columbus, Ohio. The text of Jefferts Schori's homily follows: Homily preached the General Convention's Closing Eucharist...
November 3, 2006

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at her November 4 investiture service, which was set in the context of Holy Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral. The full text of Jefferts Schori's sermon follows:

 

Investiture
4 November 2006
National Cathedral

Where is home for you? How would you define your home? A friend in Nevada said to me just before I left that he had thought I would only leave Nevada to go home, and in his mind, that meant Oregon. But in the six years I spent there, Nevada became home. The state song is even called, "Home means Nevada." And for a place filled with folk who have come from elsewhere, that is quite remarkable – all sorts and conditions of rootless people trying to grow new roots in the desert.

So where is home for you? Des Moines or Anchorage or Taipei or San Salvador or Port au Prince?

What makes it home? Familiar landscape, a quality of life, or the presence of particular people?

Some people who engage this journey we call Christianity discover that home is found on the road, whether literally the restless travel that occupies some of us, or the hodos that is the Way of following the one we call the Christ. The home we ultimately seek is found in relationship with creator, with redeemer, with spirit. When Augustine says "our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee, O Lord" he means that our natural home is in God.

The great journey stories of the Hebrew Bible begin with leaving our home in Eden, they tell of wandering for a very long time in search of a new home in the land of promise, and they tell later of returning home from exile. And eventually Israel begins to realize that they are meant to build a home that will draw all the nations to Mount Zion. Isaiah's great vision of a thanksgiving feast on a mountain, to which the whole world is invited, is part of that initial discovery of a universal home-building mission, meant for all. Jesus' inauguration and incarnation of the heavenly banquet is about a home that does not depend on place, but on community gathered in the conscious presence of God.

In Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost said that "home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." We all ache for a community that will take us in, with all our warts and quirks and petty meannesses – and yet they still celebrate when they see us coming! That vision of homegoing and homecoming that underlies our deepest spiritual yearnings is also the job assignment each one of us gets in baptism – go home, and while you're at it, help to build a home for everyone else on earth. For none of us can truly find our rest in God until all of our brothers and sisters have also been welcomed home like the prodigal.

There's a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work – shalom. It doesn't just mean the sort of peace that comes when we're no longer at war. It's that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it's a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it's a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, it's a vision of a world where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God. Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. It is that vision of the lion lying down with the lamb and the small child playing over the den of the adder, where the specter of death no longer holds sway. It is that vision to which Jesus points when he says, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." To say "shalom" is to know our own place and to invite and affirm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God.

You and I have been invited into that ministry of global peace-making that makes a place and affirms a welcome for all of God's creatures. But more than welcome, that ministry invites all to feast until they are filled with God's abundance. God has spoken that dream in our hearts – through the prophets, through the patriarchs and the mystics, in human flesh in Jesus, and in each one of us at baptism. All are welcome, all are fed, all are satisfied, all are healed of the wounds and lessenings that are part of the not-yet-ness of creation.

That homecoming of shalom is both destination and journey. We cannot embark on the journey without some vision of where we are going, even though we may not reach it this side of the grave. We are really charged with seeing everyplace and all places as home, and living in a way that makes that true for every other creature on the planet. None of us can be fully at home, at rest, enjoying shalom, unless all the world is as well. Shalom is the fruit of living that dream. We live in a day where there is a concrete possibility of making that dream reality for the most destitute, forgotten, and ignored of our fellow travelers – for the castaways, for those in peril or just barely afloat on life's restless sea.

This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years by the vision of shalom embedded in the Millennium Development Goals – a world where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, women and men treated equally, and where all have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic health care, and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation. That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us. It is God's vision of homecoming for all humanity. [Applause]

The ability of any of us to enjoy shalom depends on the health of our neighbors. If some do not have the opportunity for health or wholeness, then none of us can enjoy true and perfect holiness. The writer of Ephesians implores us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – to be at one in God's shalom. That is our baptismal task and hope, and unless each of the members of the body enjoys shalom we shall not live as one. That dream of God, that word of God spoken in each one of us at baptism also speaks hope of its realization.

The health of our neighbors, in its broadest understanding, is the mission that God has given us. We cannot love God if we fail to love our neighbors into a more whole and holy state of life. If some in this church feel wounded by recent decisions, then our salvation, our health as a body is at some hazard, and it becomes the duty of all of us to seek healing and wholeness. As long as children live exposed on the streets, while seniors go without food to pay for life-sustaining drugs, wherever peoples are sickened by industrial waste, the body suffers, and none of us can say we have finally come home.

What keeps us from the tireless search for that vision of shalom? There are probably only two answers, and they are connected – apathy and fear. One is the unwillingness to acknowledge the pain of other people, the other is an unwillingness to acknowledge that pain with enough courage to act. The cure for each is a deep and abiding hope. If God in Jesus has made captivity captive, has taken fear hostage, it is for the liberation and flourishing of hope. Augustine said that as Christians, we are prisoners of hope – a ridiculously assertive hope, a hope that unflinchingly assails the doors of heaven, a hope that will not cease until that dream of God has swallowed up death forever, a hope that has the audacity to join Jesus in saying, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

And how shall that scripture be fulfilled in our hearing? In the will to make peace with one who disdains our theological position – for his has merit, too, as the fruit of faithfulness. In the courage to challenge our legislators to make poverty history, to fund AIDS work in Africa, and the distribution of anti-malarial mosquito nets, and primary schools where all children are welcomed. In the will to look within our own hearts and confront the shadows that darken the dream that God has planted there.

That scripture is fulfilled each time we reach beyond our narrow self-interest to call another home.

That scripture is fulfilled in ways both small and large, in acts of individuals and of nations, whenever we seek the good of the other, ifor our own good and final homecoming is wrapped up in that.

God has spoken that dream in us, let us rejoice! Let us join the raucous throngs in creation, the sea creatures and the geological features who leap for joy at the vision of all creation restored, restored to proper relationship, to all creation come home at last. May that scripture be fulfilled in our hearing and in our doing.

Shalom, chaverim, shalom, my friends, shalom.

[Congregation responded: Shalom]

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

 

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at her November 4 investiture service, which was set in the context of Holy Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral. The full text of Jefferts Schori's sermon follows:   Investiture 4 November...
November 5, 2006

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at Washington National Cathedral's 11 a.m. All Saints' Sunday liturgy on November 5. During the service, Jefferts Schori was formally seated in the Presiding Bishop's official chair at the cathedral. The full text of Jefferts Schori's sermon follows:

Good morning. I read a fascinating editorial last weekend anticipating All Saints Day -- and in a secular newspaper, no less! The Roman Catholic church is apparently considering sainthood for a man who was executed in 1957. Jacques Fesch was accused, found guilty, and eventually guillotined for killing a police officer in the course of a robbery three years earlier. A year after his conviction, while he was in prison, he underwent a profound conversion that began a season of radical amendment to his life. He spoke of his experience by saying, "the spirit of the Lord seized me by the throat." The archbishop of Paris began the canonization process twenty years ago, and there is some hope that one day this man will be named a saint.

Saints - the holy ones, the elect, the baptized, the heroes of our faith - they are understood in a variety of ways. Basil the Great said about them in the fourth century: "The Spirit is the dwelling place of the saints, and the Saints are a place for the Spirit to dwell, as in a home, since they offer themselves as a dwelling place for God and are called God's temple."

We might say that saints are those who find a home "on the way," in the course of following Jesus. And sometimes the encounter is very much like being seized by the throat. It must have seemed that way to Lazarus, and probably to the people standing around as he emerged from the tomb: "unbind him, and let him go!" Jesus' own experience was no less shocking, even though the words in translation seem a bit tame: Jesus was deeply moved. He was greatly disturbed. He began to weep. In the Greek it says something more like he was "gut-wrenched." Jesus was in breath-stopping agony at the death of his friend and the grief of his sisters.

Saints are those who are vulnerable to the gut-wrenching pain of this world. Some of us have to be seized by the throat or thrown into the tomb before we can begin to find that depth of compassion. And perhaps unless we are, we won't leave our comfortable narrow lives - or our remarkably nasty ones - to wake up and begin to answer that pain.

In the early church, baptism was meant to be that kind of life-altering encounter. New saints spent three years in the readying, and then were taken in the dead of night into the crypt, stripped naked, and drowned - only to emerge filled with new breath, doused with sweet-smelling oil, and given a new white robe. What you and I do on Sunday mornings today sometimes seems a pale imitation, yet it can have every bit the same effect. Two weeks ago I met a 40-something man I baptized and confirmed two years ago whose life has taken a remarkable turn - from ordinary daily dullness toward meaning and deep compassion and an awareness of God in every part of his life, and the willingness to change his community into something that looks a good deal more like the dream of God.

When we remember our baptisms in the sprinkling in a few minutes most of us will probably cringe. We don't like to get wet. But I hope and pray that you and I can welcome those surprising drops as a tiny reminder of what is meant to happen to us, over and over again, day after day after day. Die to the old, be unbound, come out into abundant life in service to the world. Wake up, and notice the suffering around us.

It is the willingness to experience that pain which more than anything else marks us as saints. The pain of the whole world - those who agree with us and those who might be called enemies. The pain of creation, abused for our pleasure. The pain of a six-year old child in Ghana, sold into slavery, to bail a fishing canoe and repair nets for 100 hours a week so that his parents might eat.

When Wisdom insists that souls of the righteous are at peace, it can only be in a world where those divisions and evils are ended. It is a dream of shalom, when all peoples and all creatures have come home at last. But it is also a dream that can be at least partially realized in our own day. Whenever two children make peace on the playground, the saints can rejoice. Whenever two or three fish-slaves are set free, shalom abounds. The hope of the saints is without bounds, for it insists that shalom is possible in this life, and not only at the end of all things.

There is a fascinating line in the midst of that Wisdom reading that says, "in the time of their visitation they will shine forth and run like sparks through the stubble."

In the time of their visitation - is this the visit of God among the righteous? Or is it an occasion when the saints show up? The word that's translated as visitation might also be translated oversight, or realm of service. In Greek, it is episkopeis. When the saints turn up, or when the Spirit makes a home in the saints, then the saints begin to burn and set the world alight. Their oversight, their ministry, their ability to see and influence and pastor the world, is set afire. All the saints are meant to run like sparks through the stubble, through that dead and no longer fruitful stuff, the dross of this world. You and I are supposed to get lit and set that flame to burning by our willingness to be vulnerable to the suffering around us.

In western Oregon for decades the usual way to clean up the fields after a crop of grass seed was harvested was to set the stubble afire. Clouds of noxious smoke filled the skies, and often drifted for dozens of miles. Air quality issues have led to other ways of controlling the smoke output, but burning is still the very best way to sanitize the fields and get rid of the stubble. What do you think? Can we make holy smoke?

The episkopeis of the saints, their ministry, cleans the fields of that which cannot survive in God's dream of shalom, it burns away whatever limits that dream or cannot contribute to it. The ministry of governance, whether in the legislature, the polling booth, or in raising a child, is meant to prepare the ground for a new and abundant crop of life. Most of us here this morning will have an opportunity to exercise that kind of ministry on Tuesday. Will you consider your vote as an act of "running through the stubble?" Would that we might all be able to answer, "I will, with God's help."

Let the pain of this world seize us by the throat. Listen for Jesus calling us all out of our tombs of despair and apathy. May the shock of baptismal dying once more set us afire. This place we call home is meant to be a new heaven, a new earth, a holy city, a new Jerusalem. It is the sparks in the stubble that will make it so.

Turn inward for a moment and greet the spirit planted within you. When we come to the peace, turn to your neighbors and greet the saints, the fire-lighters in this field. Welcome, saint! Burn brightly and transform this world into God's field for life, full measure, pressed down and overflowing, meant for all humanity and all creation. Burn!

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at Washington National Cathedral's 11 a.m. All Saints' Sunday liturgy on November 5. During the service, Jefferts Schori was formally seated in the Presiding Bishop's official chair at the...
November 13, 2006

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at Executive Council's opening Eucharist November 12 at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Chicago. The full text of her sermon follows:

 

Proper 27, Year B
12 November 2006
All Saints Church, Chicago, 11 a.m.

Beware of the folks who like long robes, respectful greetings, and the seats of privilege. Oh - who might that be?

They devour widows' houses and say long prayers for the sake of appearances. Ouch.

Surely that cannot have anything to do with us. Who devours widows' homes and prays for appearance's sake?

I knew a woman twenty years ago who, every year at stewardship season, used to tell the story of what had happened to her in college. She'd joined a somewhat fundamentalist religious group, and been strongly encouraged to tithe her income. She got into deep trouble because she put that pledge first, and it challenged her ability to feed herself and keep going to school. She may not have been a widow, but her living was being devoured.

There's a piece of most of us that would like to say - oh, just give ten percent, and you've done your duty. Whew. Check that one off. On to the next item. (And the implicit expectation is that everybody else should do the same.)

But there seems to be something rather more complex going on here - both in the gospel and in the reading about Elijah and the widow. Elijah has been in hiding from King Ahab, being fed by the ravens until even the stream of Cherith dried up. God has sent him off to beg food from a widow in Zarephath. He's been learning how to be dependent, to live on what God provides, (and one presumes, to be thankful for whatever the crows turn up with). But when he finds the widow he's been sent to look for, she is willing to give him water, but she balks when he asks for food. She's got one meager meal left, and intends it for herself and her child. You can almost hear her, "we'll have one last morsel, and then we'll lie down to die."

Elijah asks for the last of her food, and the last of her child's food, and promises that God will provide food for her until the drought has ended. That's a heart-rending request, and a pretty wild bet she's being asked to take. We tend to see this as a simple matter of trusting in God to provide, but it is a remarkable gamble nevertheless. She doesn't know this God Elijah promises will care for her, and it becomes that much more of a courageous act to trust the word of a stranger. After all, no one else has turned up to help, not since her husband died.

We don't get to see the underlying motivations in the immediate context of the gospel story, but the setting implies that gifts to the Temple are involved in a proper religious life. The wealthy give liberally, and the poor widow gives two small coins. We have to notice, however, that Jesus does not judge either act - he merely watches. And then points out that the widow has given all she had to live on. There is something highly intriguing going on here, something that's not evident in the translation. The word that's translated "poverty" is in Greek the word hustereseos, from husteresis. It's related to the English word hysteria, and they all have their root in the word for womb. It probably reflects the kind of abject poverty a widow was likely to have experienced in that culture, but the reality is that the desperation known by the terribly poor knows no gender. Hysteria seems like a pretty predictable and understandable response to not knowing where the next meal will come from, or knowing that your child is almost certainly going to die. Even today, widows and mothers of dependent children are the likeliest to know the most desperate poverty, both here and across the globe.

These widows are willing to bet their all in the hope that somebody, even a God they haven't met, will respond. It is much the same motivation that leads the poorest to buy endless lottery tickets, or lonely widows and widowers to send back every invitation from Publisher's Clearing House. It is the same motivation that leads the somewhat better off to visit Las Vegas, gambling away every penny in their pockets, as well as a chunk of next month's paycheck. People who understand that hysteria often prey on the hungry - and lots of us have probably received emails purportedly from African widows promising a major payoff if we will assist with a funds transfer. I received a slyer one in October, apparently from a bishop I know in Kenya, saying that his wife was very ill in Uganda, and he needed funds for an emergency heart operation for her - cash only. It took several rounds of emails before I got suspicious.

And yet, that desperate, hysterical, even foolish hope for deliverance ends in salvation. Happy and blessed are those who trust in God. You and I have to be willing to be foolish enough to believe that God will feed the hungry and set the prisoners free, and open the eyes of the blind. We have to be willing to make that last desperate bet - and bet it all - if we're going to follow this Jesus.

The widows know they haven't got any other recourse.

But the long-robed ones, those of us who have the leisure to wear our party clothes once in a while, tend to stand and point our fingers at that ridiculous gamble. Oh, we've done our part, whether it's ten percent or some other figure, and we assume it's enough. We're much more interested in playing it safe than risking it all.

Maybe you've heard that old story about the three clergy who are discussing how to divide up the weekend's collection. One of them says, "well, I go out in the back yard and draw a circle on the ground. I throw the money up in the air, and what comes down inside the circle goes for God's work. I keep what falls outside." Another one says, "well, you have it almost right - I go out in the yard and draw a circle and throw the money up, but I keep what comes down inside the circle, and give the rest to God." The third one says, "you guys have it all wrong. I take the money outside and throw it up in the air. If God wants it, he can take it while it's up there." Somehow, I think we're invited to throw it up in the air and pick it up off the ground and put it all to work - to feed the hungry, and heal the blind, and get justice for the oppressed, and care for the stranger, and sustain all widows and orphans.

The long-robed ones can stand around and point fingers, or calculate percentages, or we can figure out how to cure the hysterical desperation of poverty.

Let's go back to that strange word one more time. The widows are hysterical in their desperate poverty because the fruit of their wombs is in danger. In Hebrew, the word for compassion (rahamim), most often used of God's merciful compassion, is the plural of the word for womb. God is merciful toward the fruit of all wombs. And Jesus reminds us to be compassionate and merciful in the same way God is compassionate and merciful.

Be merciful, join the hysterical, companion the friendless.

And all it takes is all we have. The invitation is to ante up, and bet it all, just like Jesus.

The whole thing, every bit - mind, body, and soul. It's not our money or our life - it's the whole thing.

The Most. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at Executive Council's opening Eucharist November 12 at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Chicago. The full text of her sermon follows:   Proper 27, Year B 12 November 2006 All Saints Church,...
December 1, 2006

Investiture
4 November 2006
National Cathedral

Where is home for you? How would you define your home? A friend in Nevada said to me just before I left that he had thought I would only leave Nevada to go home, and in his mind, that meant Oregon. But in the six years I spent there, Nevada became home. The state song is even called, "Home means Nevada." And for a place filled with folk who have come from elsewhere, that is quite remarkable – all sorts and conditions of rootless people trying to grow new roots in the desert.

So where is home for you? Des Moines or Anchorage or Taipei or San Salvador or Port au Prince?

What makes it home? Familiar landscape, a quality of life, or the presence of particular people?

Some people who engage this journey we call Christianity discover that home is found on the road, whether literally the restless travel that occupies some of us, or the hodos that is the Way of following the one we call the Christ. The home we ultimately seek is found in relationship with creator, with redeemer, with spirit. When Augustine says "our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee, O Lord" he means that our natural home is in God.

The great journey stories of the Hebrew Bible begin with leaving our home in Eden, they tell of wandering for a very long time in search of a new home in the land of promise, and they tell later of returning home from exile. And eventually Israel begins to realize that they are meant to build a home that will draw all the nations to Mount Zion. Isaiah's great vision of a thanksgiving feast on a mountain, to which the whole world is invited, is part of that initial discovery of a universal home-building mission, meant for all. Jesus' inauguration and incarnation of the heavenly banquet is about a home that does not depend on place, but on community gathered in the conscious presence of God.

In Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost said that "home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." We all ache for a community that will take us in, with all our warts and quirks and petty meannesses – and yet they still celebrate when they see us coming! That vision of homegoing and homecoming that underlies our deepest spiritual yearnings is also the job assignment each one of us gets in baptism – go home, and while you're at it, help to build a home for everyone else on earth. For none of us can truly find our rest in God until all of our brothers and sisters have also been welcomed home like the prodigal.

There's a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work – shalom. It doesn't just mean the sort of peace that comes when we're no longer at war. It's that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it's a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it's a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, it's a vision of a world where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God. Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. It is that vision of the lion lying down with the lamb and the small child playing over the den of the adder, where the specter of death no longer holds sway. It is that vision to which Jesus points when he says, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." To say "shalom" is to know our own place and to invite and affirm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God.

You and I have been invited into that ministry of global peace-making that makes a place and affirms a welcome for all of God's creatures. But more than welcome, that ministry invites all to feast until they are filled with God's abundance. God has spoken that dream in our hearts – through the prophets, through the patriarchs and the mystics, in human flesh in Jesus, and in each one of us at baptism. All are welcome, all are fed, all are satisfied, all are healed of the wounds and lessenings that are part of the not-yet-ness of creation.

That homecoming of shalom is both destination and journey. We cannot embark on the journey without some vision of where we are going, even though we may not reach it this side of the grave. We are really charged with seeing everyplace and all places as home, and living in a way that makes that true for every other creature on the planet. None of us can be fully at home, at rest, enjoying shalom, unless all the world is as well. Shalom is the fruit of living that dream. We live in a day where there is a concrete possibility of making that dream reality for the most destitute, forgotten, and ignored of our fellow travelers – for the castaways, for those in peril or just barely afloat on life's restless sea.

This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years by the vision of shalom embedded in the Millennium Development Goals – a world where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, women and men treated equally, and where all have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic health care, and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation. That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us. It is God's vision of homecoming for all humanity. [Applause]

The ability of any of us to enjoy shalom depends on the health of our neighbors. If some do not have the opportunity for health or wholeness, then none of us can enjoy true and perfect holiness. The writer of Ephesians implores us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – to be at one in God's shalom. That is our baptismal task and hope, and unless each of the members of the body enjoys shalom we shall not live as one. That dream of God, that word of God spoken in each one of us at baptism also speaks hope of its realization.

The health of our neighbors, in its broadest understanding, is the mission that God has given us. We cannot love God if we fail to love our neighbors into a more whole and holy state of life. If some in this church feel wounded by recent decisions, then our salvation, our health as a body is at some hazard, and it becomes the duty of all of us to seek healing and wholeness. As long as children live exposed on the streets, while seniors go without food to pay for life-sustaining drugs, wherever peoples are sickened by industrial waste, the body suffers, and none of us can say we have finally come home.

What keeps us from the tireless search for that vision of shalom? There are probably only two answers, and they are connected – apathy and fear. One is the unwillingness to acknowledge the pain of other people, the other is an unwillingness to acknowledge that pain with enough courage to act. The cure for each is a deep and abiding hope. If God in Jesus has made captivity captive, has taken fear hostage, it is for the liberation and flourishing of hope. Augustine said that as Christians, we are prisoners of hope – a ridiculously assertive hope, a hope that unflinchingly assails the doors of heaven, a hope that will not cease until that dream of God has swallowed up death forever, a hope that has the audacity to join Jesus in saying, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

And how shall that scripture be fulfilled in our hearing? In the will to make peace with one who disdains our theological position – for his has merit, too, as the fruit of faithfulness. In the courage to challenge our legislators to make poverty history, to fund AIDS work in Africa, and the distribution of anti-malarial mosquito nets, and primary schools where all children are welcomed. In the will to look within our own hearts and confront the shadows that darken the dream that God has planted there.

That scripture is fulfilled each time we reach beyond our narrow self-interest to call another home.

That scripture is fulfilled in ways both small and large, in acts of individuals and of nations, whenever we seek the good of the other, ifor our own good and final homecoming is wrapped up in that.

God has spoken that dream in us, let us rejoice! Let us join the raucous throngs in creation, the sea creatures and the geological features who leap for joy at the vision of all creation restored, restored to proper relationship, to all creation come home at last. May that scripture be fulfilled in our hearing and in our doing.

Shalom, chaverim, shalom, my friends, shalom.

[Congregation responded: Shalom]


Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Investiture 4 November 2006 National Cathedral Where is home for you? How would you define your home? A friend in Nevada said to me just before I left that he had thought I would only leave Nevada to go home, and in his mind, that meant Oregon. But...
January 6, 2007

I applaud the focus of the Clinton School of Public Service on training and educating leaders for global service, and seeking equity for all. Those are great and noble aims. If leaders do not hold out a large and ambitious vision, little passion or ability to achieve it will develop. This school builds on a heritage of those who have sought to exemplify that kind of lofty vision.

We have this week buried another who worked from a large and ambitious vision. While Gerald Ford had less time than many others in the position for which he is best remembered, his funeral reminded us all of the need for healing of the hurts and ills in this world. His act of pardon, most unwelcome at the time, brought this nation healing, and he himself paid the price. Mercy is not altogether a popular virtue. But the compassionate urge toward healing and healing for the whole world is what motivates mercy.

That deep sense of righting the wrongs and injustices of this world is needed in ever-increasing abundance. We need creative and compassionate leaders who can help to find healing in Darfur and the Middle East we need them today, as we needed them in Ireland and South Africa in the 1980s and 90s. There will be equally deep need in human communities as you move into this work and leave this place.

The search for equity, if we understand it to mean the basic dignity of each human being, underlies many of the world's great religious traditions, especially those with which this part of the world is most familiar. The three Abrahamic faiths Judaism, Christianity, and Islam seek a broad vision of peace with justice, known as shalom or salaam. Judaism embraces the great visions of the prophet Isaiah, of a banquet spread on a hillside, of a city set on a hill to which all the nations will come, and those visions find their specificity in a community where the hungry are fed, the ill healed, prisoners set free, the blind have their sight restored, and the poor hear good news about liberation from oppression.

Jesus'€™ first reported act of public ministry (in Luke's gospel) is to read from that vision of Isaiah's, and to say, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." In doing so, he claims that vision as his own. Christians seek to make that scripture reality in this day as well.

Islam draws its very name from the understanding that peace comes in submission to the will of God, of living in right relationship to God and other human beings. Islam, shalom, and salaam all have the same root in a word that means a good deal more than simply "peace."

That vision of peace with justice, where no one oppresses the poor, where all are able to live at liberty, where no one'€™s God-given potential is limited because of unchosen accidents of birth or life €“ gender, race, class, disability, illness €“ lies behind the work of prophetic leaders. Prophetic leaders, which I desperately hope you are becoming, are those who can dream big dreams of a world restored, and challenge the political systems of our day to move toward those dreams.

In our day, that vision of a world restored, a world where the poorest have enough to eat and access to education, health care, and the basic necessities of dignified human life, is exemplified in the Millennium Development Goals. The Goals are a concrete vision of the possible, achievable by the year 2015, and include:

  • feeding the one-third of the world'€™s people who go to bed hungry each night
  • primary education for girls as well as boys
  • improving maternal health care
  • reducing childhood mortality rates
  • preventing and treating AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases
  • working toward gender equity and the empowerment of women
  • ensuring environmentally sustainable development
  • building global partnerships for development, with a focus on debt, aid, and trade

These frame a bold but achievable vision which challenges all the peoples and governments of the world. In order to reach those goals, the developed nations will need to increase their giving to development work €“ and the United States, while generous, gives at a significantly lower percentage than many other industrialized nations. Those large and industrialized nations, together with global financial institutions, will need to continue the good work of international debt relief begun in the Jubilee year of 2000. The developing world, in partnership with others, will need to attend to issues of accountability, transparency, and the misdirection of public resources for private gain. South Africa's Archbishop Ndgungane'€™s Africa Monitor project is a solid approach to those challenges which is just beginning to take shape. The people of the world will need to continue to challenge their governments to live up to this bold vision that brings together developed and developing nations to better the lives of billions of people.

The world needs the kind of leadership that can dream big dreams, challenge old and inadequate ways, and courageously seek the best for all humanity and indeed, all creation. Those leaders you are and are becoming have a significant opportunity to build a more just and equitable world, and it will take all the gifts you have to offer €“ and some you may not yet recognize.

All great leadership begins in courage the courage to dream those dreams, and to challenge unjust and corrupt systems. That courage will be repeatedly tested and tried, but it does grow stronger as it's exercised. You will discover that telling someone "no" gets easier the second and third time. You will also discover, if you haven'€™t already, that fear usually arises in ignorance fear of the unknown person or idea, fear of what is untested or unexplored in yourself, and fear of the future. Most of those fears quail in the face of exploration.

Your leadership and its effectiveness will depend on your ability to see connections in unlikely places €“ between people or ideas that have not yet met, in understanding the interconnected web which sustains all life on this planet (and beyond), and the reality that John Donne so eloquently phrased as "no man is an island, entire of itself, but each is connected to the main. Any man'€™s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." Every single one of us, and our ability to live a full and abundant life, is diminished by the failure of our neighbors to thrive. That is true whether the neighbor is a member of our immediate family or a woman with filariasis in Namibia, a fish-slave in Ghana, or a child sold into sex-slavery in Cambodia. Their suffering limits human flourishing €“ yours, mine, and that of all humanity.

A deeply grounded sense of compassion, coupled with a grand and global vision, can change this world. My tradition calls that vision the reign of God, or the commonweal of God, and while your motivation may not be explicitly grounded in a religious tradition, you are here because you seek the betterment of all humanity.

It seems appropriate to say something about the religious motivation of leadership, especially in our day. Like all gifts, it is one that can be misused or used well. At its best, religious motivation leads to the upbuilding of all humanity and all creation, not its diminishment. At its best, such a motivation €“ rooted in any of the world's great religions €“ seeks justice and peace and abundant life, ideally for all creatures. At its best, such motivation seeks that vision on behalf of all, rather than some subset of humanity. Beware of religious leaders who are unwilling to serve the greater good, who understand that God loves only some, or that some portion of humanity is not worthy of respect or dignity. That is a hamstrung and limping version of the great dream of shalom, salaam, or shanti (the Sanskrit word for peace). As in the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., we seek a world in which all children can grow and play together, unconcerned by those accidents of birth or life that others see as all-defining. We seek a world where the poor hear good news, the ill are healed and the hungry fed, where prisoners are forgiven, set free, and restored to community, where no one studies war any more. We seek a world in which the systems that seek to maintain some in servitude or slavery are abolished, where all have the minimal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but even more, a world where all have the right to full and abundant lives at peace with their neighbors.

Achieving a world or a community that is more whole or healthy or healed or even holy (those words all come from the same root), or more closely aligned with that great vision, will require partnerships between groups and people with similar goals but varying motivations, religious and not. The ability to sort out the godly or humane motivations from those that are less than noble is part of the challenge before us all. In some sense it is the eternal dilemma that faces all social architects. If politics is the art of the possible or the art of living in community, how can it play an effective and fruitful role in building that just society? Jesus had a rather canny understanding of politics: "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16) and in Luke (16:8), "the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the children of light." Political savvy is not a bad thing, and he was clearly urging its development in service of that vision of the Reign of God.

That word, savvy, is about knowing (from savoir, saber, sapere). The public service of community building requires knowledge, and knowledge of several kinds. Religious vision and knowledge €“ what is sometimes called enlightenment €“ can inspire people to dream dreams and think thoughts that lead them beyond narrow instinctual self-interest toward a healed world of peace and justice. That kind of knowledge may be ineffable €“ or hard to put into words €“ but it does create the passion, zeal, and energy that are required to struggle toward that vision. Religious or spiritual knowing is basically about making meaning out of life €“ why am I here? How am I meant to live? And the answers usually have to do with right relationship to God, other human beings, and the rest of creation.

There is another vital partner in this quest for knowledge. Understanding the best of recent science is not a luxury, it is essential to building this vision of a healed community. Not only is the scientific method a potential arbiter of narrowly adversarial or competitive visions of reality, it is an important partner to the kind of spiritual knowing that is willing to dream beyond the mechanics of life toward equity, justice, and peace. Science is a way of understanding the workings of this world, whether at the level of quantum physics, ocean currents and weather systems, or the dynamics of human beings in community. It is a way of knowing what we have to work with, and can lead to testable hypotheses about the most effective means of changing what is.

The kind of political work, living-in-community work, that you are equipping for here is a vital piece of changing this world into something that is worthy of our aspirations. That savvy, however, must be a partner joined to the whole of human possibility of which religion speaks and to the reality and givenness of this world, of which science speaks. Without the transcendent, politics can become mere manipulation, without science, blind. Together this enterprise can build a more whole, healed, and yes, holy, world for the ultimate benefit of all humanity and all creation.

I applaud the focus of the Clinton School of Public Service on training and educating leaders for global service, and seeking equity for all. Those are great and noble aims. If leaders do not hold out a large and ambitious vision, little passion or...
January 7, 2007

When was the last time someone called you ‘beloved’? I don’t know about you, but it’s not something I hear out loud very often. Most of us do get to hear, at least occasionally, someone say to us, "I love you." But there’s something rather more remarkable about being called "beloved." It’s even more intimate, more embracing, tender, comforting, renewing – more divine.

"Here is my servant, my chosen one, in whom my soul delights." That is what God says to the bringer of justice in Isaiah. "You are my child, the beloved; with you I am well pleased." That’s what God says when Jesus is baptized, and that’s what God says to each one of us as we are baptized – "you are my beloved, I delight in you."

God calls us beloved in baptism, and then invites us to live as a beloved one. Knowing that we are beloved is what gives us the courage to take the new path of living as a Christian. We choose a new path in baptism, as God has chosen us. And we don’t just choose that new way once, but over and over again, for 10 or 20 or 50 or even 90 years. It’s a path that may lead us to surprising challenges, as Isaiah says, to be covenant, and light, giver of sight and liberator – and to be those things for the nations. When you got up this morning, is that what was in your mind – to be light to the nations? or liberator of the captives? That is what this new path is all about.

That path is about God’s work of compassion and justice. The beloved build a new community, a new society, out of love for their neighbors, because they know themselves beloved. God doesn’t just choose the baptized, after all. We are all made in God’s image, Christian and not. There’s a part of us that wants to insist that we’re the chosen ones – well, yes, of course we are – but that there aren’t any other chosen ones. The baptized are those who have had the public opportunity to claim the status of beloved. But it is not unique, much as we might like to think so. All God’s creatures are beloved, but those who know it, and have claimed it and been claimed in baptism, have a special responsibility.

We speak of that responsibility in two complementary ways – as the Great Commandment (to love God and love neighbor as self), and the Great Commission (to go and make disciples of all nations). They are intimately interrelated, and both are reflected in the baptismal promises we will reaffirm in a few minutes. We love God and our neighbors as we make that love evident in a variety of ways: by sharing prayers and fellowship, by our openness to a continuing conversion of life, by speaking and doing good news with others, by seeking justice, making peace, and seeing and affirming the dignity of Christ in all people.

We have partners in this work outside our own communion, as Peter recognizes. He is abundantly clear that God shows no partiality, and welcomes all who do right. The godly is displayed in deed. Peter knows that Jesus comes from God because of what he does – he goes around doing good and healing people. Peter is able to see his fruits, and can tell what sort of family tree he comes from.

Baptism is about that kind of fruit-bearing, feeding, and healing work in all parts of our lives, and that work can be done with greater effectiveness when we find those other partners of whom Peter speaks. That search for others who are also trying to heal the world is part of the Great Commission. Making disciples is not only about baptizing the unbaptized. It is equally involved in seeking out the good and healing work going on around the world and seeing behind that work the act of one who is God’s beloved. Surprisingly enough, we have even called it baptizing something when we want to wrap something good into the church. Patrick did it in evangelizing the Celts, and the church did it by scheduling Christmas at the darkest time of the year on top of a pagan festival. We’re meant to be looking out for the good in this life and recognizing its source. We often pray in the Eucharistic prayer, "open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us." Well, God is at work in people who don’t even recognize that there is a God, and when we can recognize that, we have begun to make a disciple, even an unconscious one, and we have perhaps become a better disciple ourselves.

Before I ever went to Nevada, I read about a feeding program on the outskirts of Las Vegas called Friends in the Desert. It was and still is hosted in an Episcopal church, and its primary mission was born in the hunger of men, women, and children literally living in the desert outside their doors. Years after its beginning, it continues to feed 50 to 100 people a day, 365 days a year. The kitchen serves a hot meal six days a week, and on Fridays those who come get a sack lunch for Saturday. The congregation has its coffee hour in the Narthex on Sundays so that the hungry can be welcomed in the parish hall. This ministry is supported financially and by the physical labor of people from all over the Las Vegas Valley – not just Episcopalians, who work a few days a month, but by Mormons and Baptists, Roman Catholics and Hindus, Buddhists and Boy Scouts, student groups and the non-religious. St. Timothy’s has reached out in partnership to claim gospel work that is the baptismal responsibility of Christians, but also the response of others who have intuited something about the beloved nature of all humanity.

Last fall, just before I left Nevada, a friend of my husband’s asked me to visit. This eighty-something Chinese-American man was a long-retired sociology professor and a polite but vocal agnostic. He had decided to stop having transfusions for his terminal blood disorder, and said he just wanted to talk. We had a lovely pastoral conversation and he died a couple of days later. But what struck me more than his desire to wrestle with questions at the end of his life was what his wife said to me. She had come late to the meeting, because she had been at St. Timothy’s helping to feed people. I asked her how or why she had become involved in a Christian ministry, and she said, "well they really know how to make a difference, and they welcome anyone who wants to help." There is some powerful evangelism going on in that place, and it’s going in several directions – at the very least to those who are being most obviously served a meal, and to those who are doing the serving, and to the larger community, overtly Christian and not.

Now that’s the kind of healing, reconciling work we’re all commissioned for when we’re baptized. That is being light to the nations, and giver of sight to the blind, that is being covenant, that is setting captives free. If we know we are that well loved, it’s a lot easier also to see the people we meet as beloved, and to help them know themselves beloved as well. Making disciples may have more to do with helping that awareness of being beloved than anything else.

Jesus knew he was beloved. When he was baptized, he heard, "You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased." I imagine that that is what he finally remembered as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. Knowing we are beloved is what will give us the will and strength to walk into dark places, to go into hell for the sake of other beloveds. Knowing ourselves beloved is the source of our ability to keep those baptismal promises.

Close your eyes for a minute, if you will. Relax into those pews, hard as they are. You might imagine that pew as the arms of God enfolding you, as a father or a mother or a lover. Hear the voice of God saying, "you are my beloved, and I delight in you." And again, "you are my beloved, and I delight in you." Breathe in that awareness as you draw each breath, "beloved, delight." Now open your eyes and look around. Imagine God saying the same thing to your neighbors, "beloved." Notice someone you don’t know very well, and hear the same voice, "beloved." Now think of someone who’s difficult to get along with, and hear it again, "you are my beloved, and I delight in you."

Then comes the tough part. In the week that lies ahead, all of us are going to be faced with challenging encounters, whether it’s a driver who won’t yield the right of way, an unthinking stranger in the grocery store, a child acting out, a frustrating co-worker, or a vindictive neighbor. When we are next faced with one of those, can we remember to listen for that voice saying, "beloved"? Even if we can begin to ask the question, "would God say that to him?" we’ve begun to liberate someone from prison – and the prisoner may turn out to be us, or the person we wanted to define as beyond the scope of God’s love.

Being baptized means joining the throng who know themselves beloved. And it means joining the body who will keep trying to see the rest of the world also as God’s beloved. One more time, "you are my beloved, and I delight in you." Remember that tomorrow morning when you look in the mirror – "here is God’s beloved." And go out and meet the world, and welcome the other beloveds with the same passion Jesus did. "Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words." (St. Francis of Assisi)

When was the last time someone called you ‘beloved’? I don’t know about you, but it’s not something I hear out loud very often. Most of us do get to hear, at least occasionally, someone say to us, "I love you." But there’s something...
January 9, 2007

One of the significant challenges in our life as a church has to do with reaching out to the unchurched. I come from a part of the country where few people are active in religious communities, and the culture is quite clearly non-Christian.

That makes evangelism a rather different proposition than it is in communities where most people know the basic shape of the Christian story. If we are going to be effective in reaching out to those beyond our walls, we are going to have to learn new language and ways of telling our story.


I taught a World Religions course in a secular university for several years. The course required students to attend several worship services in traditions outside their own (if they had one).


They had to find the house of worship, join in as much as was possible and reasonable, and later write a reflection paper on their experiences. The students often told about their surprise when they were welcomed as human beings and their chagrin when they felt they only were being received as potential converts and/or possible monetary additions.


I know I certainly have heard vestries and others say, “We have to grow, if we’re going to balance our budget.” But when these students were welcomed with curiosity and a genuine interest in knowing them as persons and individuals, they responded with warmth, even if they had no intention of joining the community.


Part of our evangelical task is making our worshiping communities welcoming in a deep, human, relational sense. The gospel is about radical hospitality, after all, and that is what we are meant to model.


The other side of this challenge is how we might speak good news in language and forms that people uneducated in Christianity can understand and welcome. If our language engenders fear, it is likely to drive people away. If it welcomes and invites, the possibility can be quite different.


This may not be seen in many places in the Episcopal Church, but consider your own reaction to “If you don’t believe the way we do, you’re going to hell.” Not only does hell not have much reality for the unchurched, there is an arrogance in that approach that many find repellent.


There are more subtle forms of that message, however, that are rampant in this church. We use language that is understandable only by insiders – and not just the arcane terms of our liturgy and polity (and those words themselves won’t be understood by many!).


There is an underlying message in many faith communities that says, “The way we worship (or hold Sunday school or run our vestry meetings or …) is the only right way.” And the implication that is heard is, “There is no welcome here for you if you can’t do it our way.” There is an aspect of that message that is quite un-Anglican, if we really want to live up to our value of comprehensiveness.


But even more deeply, we have to figure out how to tell our story in language that a person who doesn’t know anything about Christianity can begin to understand. I’m going to suggest that our telling of that great story has to begin in listening. Not only does it say to the other person, “Your story is of great importance, and I recognize your equal dignity by listening,” but it also gives us an opportunity to discern where to help connect that story with the larger story of God’s love known in Jesus Christ.


Frederick Buechner famously said that ministry happens when a person’s great joys meet the deep hungers of the world. We cannot engage in ministry until we recognize where the hunger is.


I have had the remarkable gift and opportunity in recent months to speak to people who don’t know much at all about the Episcopal Church or Christianity. Those opportunities have come through the secular media. Those interviews intentionally have avoided the language of Christian insiders for the reasons above.


The unfortunate result in some places has been anger when Episcopalians don’t recognize their own familiar language. Let me suggest a challenging exercise: How would you tell the great truths of our faith without using overtly theological language? How would you tell a new neighbor that God loves him or her without measure, and invite him or her to learn more? If we are going to hear that person’s story with grace, we have to leave the door open for a while.

One of the significant challenges in our life as a church has to do with reaching out to the unchurched. I come from a part of the country where few people are active in religious communities, and the culture is quite clearly non-Christian.That...
January 14, 2007

Our brother Martin had a dream, a dream born in the story of a people led out of slavery and oppression. He labored mightily to bring that dream to reality, to liberate a people still in chains and shackles 100 years after their legal deliverance. You and I know that nearly 40 years after his death we still have not fully achieved that dream. Some still live in oppression because of the color of their skin. Some still live in oppression because of their national origin and heritage. Some have arrived on these shores to work because we want their labor, but they live in oppression because we are not willing to allow them to become free and equal citizens.

The gospel is about the love God has for all of us. Week by week, we promise to show that love to the world by the way we live and act. Dr. King was a powerful witness to the ability of love to change the world – that radically non-violent form of gospel love. It means loving yourself and recognizing the image of God in yourself, and then doing the same with others. It’s not rolling over and playing dead, it’s not going along to get along. It is expecting the best of yourself and other people, but doing it in a way that builds up that image of God, that insists that we and others can grow up into the full stature of Christ. 

Non-violent loving is not necessarily easy, but it can change the world. The gospel this morning offers three concrete examples of how to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.

Turn the other cheek. We’ve usually understood that to mean don’t retaliate when you’re offended. It’s more. In the ancient world when a master hit a slave, or a superior struck an inferior, it was always with the back of the hand. Jesus’ invitation is a subversive one. It is an “in your face” kind of response to turn the head and offer the other cheek, because it catches the offender off guard. If the offender wants to continue, it will have to be by dealing with an equal. Dr. King taught people to live in a way that says, “even if you disregard me, I am a full human being and your equal.” It led to taking a seat at lunch counters and on buses. Sometimes that assertion drew a violent response, like the firehoses that were used on peaceful demonstrators. But that out of proportion response began to change public opinion, and began to change the system that permitted oppression to continue.

If anyone takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. This, too, is more than it seems on the surface. It’s the kind of response St. Francis chose. If your loan is called and “the man” comes and asks for what you’ve offered as security, don’t stop with giving your coat. Give him all your clothes, and stand there naked. In the ancient world, more so than in our own, it was extremely shameful for the person who looked on another person’s nakedness. But it’s not a tactic that is dead. In the Nigerian Delta, ongoing oil exploration and development is causing untold environmental damage and illness among the people who live there. Several years ago, after repeated attempts to negotiate with the oil companies, a large group of women marched down to the corporate offices and took off their shirts. Their action began to open the door to conversation and change.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and lend, expecting nothing in return. This is probably the most challenging. Give and lend, because none of what we have is really ours – it belongs to God and we are only stewards. And don’t expect a return, don’t charge interest, don’t ask to get it back later on. Don’t give anything with strings attached, for those strings are a kind of shackle that bind the receiver and the giver. Give freely, and set the other free in turn. Generosity is disarming – whether it’s giving money, or our talent and time, or risking our lives in the service of others. When Dr. King’s house was bombed, he began to understand that his life would probably be forfeit, but he continued to love nonetheless. Two weeks ago Wesley Autrey offered his life to save another’s under a subway train. You and I can love with abandon, we can keep on loving folks who disagree with us or hate us, and we can change the world.

Dr. King offered a life lived with that kind of freedom. His dream began in setting his own people free. His dream continued to enlarge, to setting free those in poverty, those who suffered under systems of injustice, those who were sent to war and those who were warred upon. The fullest expression of loving our neighbors as ourselves is being able to see the whole world as sister or brother. That is what it means to be merciful as God is merciful.

Nearly forty years have passed since Martin King was assassinated. Like the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, like the threat Jesus posed to the governments of his day, like the prophets of the ages since, Martin threatened the structures of oppression and domination. The systems of domination in this world strike out when their poverty is revealed, when their selfishness and shame is exposed for the world to see. That exposing of evil is the work God asks of us all. May we be tireless lovers of our enemies, ever-hopeful of seeing them in the completeness for which God created them. As long as anyone is in bondage, none of us will ever be free.

God asks us to dream dreams, love the unlovable, and have mercy on the merciless. When we do, we will join Martin in worshiping God on the mountaintop.

Our brother Martin had a dream, a dream born in the story of a people led out of slavery and oppression. He labored mightily to bring that dream to reality, to liberate a people still in chains and shackles 100 years after their legal deliverance....