The children of Abraham have ever been reminded to care for the widow and orphan and the sojourner in their midst, who were the refugees and homeless of the time. Jesus charged his followers to care for the least of these and proclaim the near presence of the Reign of God – in other words, feed the hungry, water the thirsty, house the homeless, heal the sick, and liberate the captives. We cannot ignore the massive human suffering in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, nor in Asia and the Americas. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and our lives are bound up with theirs. The churchwide ministry of Episcopalians has included refugee resettlement since the refugee crisis of World War II. It continues today through the leadership of Episcopal Migration Ministries, and I urge your involvement, action, and support. Read about their work below, and share these opportunities with friends and co-workers. You will discover anew the power of good news in the face of the world’s tragedies.
We’re celebrating the martyrs of Uganda tonight, but I’d like to start by inviting you to remember some of the martyrs of Province IV. These are a few who have given their lives as a witness, some actually in death, others in the purpose to which they gave their lives:
- Martin Luther King, assassinated for a vision of equality. 1968
- Jonathan Daniels, shot to death for believing and acting for the equal dignity of all people – he offered his life to protect Ruby Bridges. 1965
- The martyrs of Memphis, nuns and priests who cared for yellow fever victims and died as a result. 1878.
- Manteo and Virginia Dare, the first baptized on these shores, lost in the mists of time with other members of the Roanoke Colony. 1587.
- Frances Joseph Gaudet, prison reformer and educator, African American and Native American, who gave us juvenile justice courts. 1934
- Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (Raleigh, NC) and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright (Georgia), African-American educators who insisted on the equal dignity of all people. Wright founded Voorhees. 1964 and 1906
- John and Charles Wesley, godly witnesses in Georgia – Methodists and Charles a hymnist. 1791 and 1788
- William Guerry, bishop of South Carolina, who sought to bring Episcopal Church support to Voorhees, and episcopal ministry to African-Americans, murdered in his office by one of his priests. 1928
- Henry Delany, born a slave, educated at St. Augustine’s, educator, evangelist, and bishop for African-American congregations. Also 1928.
- James Weldon Johnson, poetic witness (Lift Every Voice and Sing), as well as diplomat and peace-maker here and in Latin America. 1938.
- William Porcher DuBose, theological witness, chaplain, and professor at Sewanee. 1918.
- George Freeman Bragg, Jr. North Carolinian priest and writer who argued that African-American congregations should work for sustainability, rather than live on charity. 1940
- Samuel Ferguson, born in South Carolina, Bishop of West Africa and founder of Cuttington College in Liberia. 1916
We have living martyrs, too, like Duncan Gray, Jr. and Chip Marble, persistent challengers of church and society toward the full and equal dignity of all human beings.
There are many kinds of martyrs, and an ancient Irish tradition tells of three. Red ones have their lives taken from them – like Jonathan Daniels and Martin Luther King. White martyrs give witness through lives of holiness or particular sanctity – like those who tend yellow fever or Ebola patients. The Celts speak of blue or green martyrs (glasmartyrs) who turn that color as a result of extreme asceticism or sacrifice – think of a hunger striker or the Dorchester chaplains. And in the same way that we speak of all the baptized as saints, martyrs are witnesses to the love of God in human flesh, whose lives are given for the sake of God’s world: leaders, social transformers, teachers, poets, diplomats, engineers and inventors, anyone who gives evidence of the sacrificial love of God in human flesh.
Sacrifice is part of what Habakkuk is chiding people about when he confronts them for protecting their goodies – what he calls “setting your nest up high to be safe from harm.” He’s especially concerned about unjustly accumulated goodies, but I think we’d have to say that it applies to almost anything we’re overly possessive about. The martyr takes that nest egg down off the shelf and puts it to use for the love of others.
What’s in your nest? Books? Privacy? Dollars? Particular skills and talents, creativity? Even the secrets we’re afraid to share have the potential to be liberating when the story is told. The act of giving away makes almost anything sacred when it’s done for the love of God. That is really the key to martyrdom, to being a witness.
The martyrs of Uganda were Christian converts, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, who were put to death by the king Mwanga. His father Mutesa had permitted Church Missionary Society and Roman Catholic missionaries to work in the royal compound beginning in 1876. The king was jealous enough of his territory that he didn’t let them work farther afield. Mwanga was 18 when Mutesa died, and he was curious about this new religion – until he heard about monogamy (he had 85 wives), and that England, who had sent these people, was ruled by a woman. Both ought to tell you that women in that society were little better than slaves. That status also applied to most of the members of the court. The king was also nervous about what an oracle had told him – that he could be overthrown by “a man who came to Kampala through the jungles to the east.”
Hearing of Bishop Hannington’s journey toward Kampala in late 1885, Mwanga sent soldiers to assassinate him. A few months later, one of his pages who had become a Roman Catholic confronted the king about the murder. The king ordered him executed, later relented, but the message arrived too late. The king was wont to use these young pages sexually, but the ones who had become Christian declined his advances. It appears not to have become an issue until the king returned from an unsuccessful hunting trip in May of 1886. None of the pages was willing to greet him, and he killed two that night. The next morning he summoned all the pages and demanded the converts renounce their faith. The Christians all refused. He sent a number to be burned and others to be castrated. A number were marched miles to their place of execution and on the way they worked to free the Muslim among them – successfully. He later told the story, becoming a witness himself.
The boys or young men prayed and sang hymns as they marched to their deaths and as they waited for the flames to consume them – on the feast of the Ascension. The only wailing heard came from the executioner, whose son was among them. The witness of these young Christians quickly spread across the land, and many people joined this new faith. Uganda became the birthplace of modern African Christianity. 
These martyrs and their story are one of the reasons the Anglican Church of Uganda has had so much difficulty with TEC in recent years. Some in that church believe we deny their primary witnesses by welcoming gay and lesbian people. Yet there are other witnesses, including Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who was defrocked for his pastoral ministry with gay and lesbian Ugandan Christians rejected by the Church.
There are many kinds of witnesses. Jesus challenges his friends to recognize that they will be rejected, some will fall away, and there will be plenty of false prophets trying to lead them in other directions. Yet those who love sacrificially, who are willing to take their treasures out of safe keeping and spend it, will find what they’re looking for. Life abundant comes from giving it away – whether it’s our fondest political prejudice or fattest wallet or most prized possession, idea, structural conceit, favorite candidate…. Let it go and find life returned a hundredfold.
So, provincial synod, who’s going to be a martyr here or at General Convention? What’s in the nest you’ve put up on that shelf for safe-keeping?
The way to give witness most like Jesus is in openness and vulnerability. The work here and in Salt Lake will be far more abundantly fruitful if we go with open hands, open hearts, and open minds – traveling light – to discover what God is up to in all these other folks around us. Together, we can be a witness to the love of God for those who are not members of this institution called The Episcopal Church.
Desmond Tutu counts the roots of his own vocation from the witness of Trevor Huddleston, who gave him a deep sense of his own dignity and creation in the eyes of God. Huddleston’s prayer is often heard in Africa: God Bless Africa; Guard her children; Guide her leaders. And give her peace, for Jesus Christ’s sake.
We might use the same frame here: God, bless your Church. Guard her children, guide her leaders, and give the world peace through her witness, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our savior and redeemer.
We must begin by giving thanks for the support of your families through these years. We give thanks for the years you graduates have spent here, for what you have learned and the myriad new experiences you have had, for the relationships you have built with other students and faculty and staff. If this community has done its work, you are leaving here much changed – transformed, even. Life is about ongoing transformation, from its very beginnings, through the rapid growth of childhood, maturing into the fine young adults you are, and, God willing, for decades beyond. A sage once said that the day we stop learning – and being transformed – is the day we begin to die. This may be the last opportunity you’ll have for a long time to be a free-range learner.
That doesn’t mean you have to stop, but you will have to be intentional. At the end of 9th grade my Latin teacher gave me a Greek grammar because I’d asked if he would teach me. It took me 15 years to get around to pursuing it, but he inscribed a message that helped keep that dream alive: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Learning and exploring are key to transformation – of ourselves and of the world around us. Focusing our attention and energy begins that process, whether it is the toddler who wants to taste every object within his reach or the polymath who wants to taste the world with her mind.
Where will you turn your attention? What will you live for, and what will you seek to transform? That vision, urge, lure, or passion is your unique gift. It should begin to answer those ancient questions about why we’re here, our reason for living, and the meaning of existence. Will you – literally or metaphorically – climb Himalayan peaks, descend into ocean trenches, plumb the depths of cellular mysteries, pursue an end to HIV, end poverty, or solve an ancient mathematical conundrum? Your wonder and curiosity are already shaping your adventure. What lies urgently before you, what is calling to you out of the misty future, what’s luring you toward greater being?
There are myriad worthy answers to those questions, and it is our life’s task to find answers that meld our inner leadings and the gifts of our created nature. There are also other ancient answers that can soon prove deadly. Discerning the difference is quite literally vital. We can go after riches or control or leisure as ends in themselves, but we are likely to discover that those ends only end in using others as instruments and commodities, and ultimately destroy our own humanity. If we choose adventures that draw in others to build stronger and more fruitful communities, we will find life expanded in the process. Our task is to give ourselves away – when we do, we will find that we receive more than we have given.
We discover the meaning of our lives in a variety of ways. Alexander Papaderos was a child in Crete during WWII, and by the age of 10 was working with the Resistance. One day a German motorcycle crashed in front of his house. After the soldier was taken away, the boy found a piece of the broken side mirror and put it in his pocket. He kept playing with it, and discovered that he could reflect sunlight into holes and under rocks to expunge the shadows. As he grew up, he began to understand that shining light in dark places was the passion that drove him and gave meaning to his life. The institutions he founded and the relationships he built focused on peace-making between peoples and nations (Greece, Crete, and Germany), helping human beings find right relationships with the earth (agricultural reform, spirituality and ecology), and teaching those skills to young people.
The passions that drive our lives come in an amazing diversity of forms. The creative and life-giving ones are almost always turned outward to serve others. The reading we heard from Luke reflects the driving passion of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s his mission statement – ‘I came to bring good news and encourage the poor, to set prisoners free, and heal the blind,’ he says, ‘and to share God’s dream for us all.’ He claimed this ancient dream that Hebrew prophets had been announcing for centuries – a dream for a healed world where people live together in peace because there is justice. In that interdependent community no one goes hungry, people live out their full lives without violence and war, children play freely in the streets, there’s no need for prisons or reason to steal, because every person has the basic necessities of life and enough left over for feasting and celebration. It’s a passionate vision of earthly justice, where human beings live in right relationship with one another and the earth.
Passion has two faces, both stemming from its root meaning of suffering. The more familiar one is about the fierce energy that drives us toward one another, sometimes aided and abetted by hormones! Most of us have experienced that kind of passion, where suffering has most to do with separation from our heart’s desire. Passion is the deep yearning rooted in human need for connection, meaning, and relationship. Our lives are incomplete if we exist in isolation; infants waste away without human contact; and prisoners subjected to solitary confinement begin to suffer emotional trauma and mental illness. Isolation quite literally dehumanizes, for we are made for relationship. The constructive passions that drive our lives draw on that energy to build deeper connections and stronger communities.
The other side of passion speaks to the cost of relationship. Jesus of Nazareth was arrested, tortured, and executed by the Roman Empire for the dream he espoused, and encouraging people to change the injustice around them. He was promoting a revolutionary turnaround, though not a violent one. The painful and deadly response to his leadership is called his Passion. That kind of opposition and imposed suffering comes to many with deeply held dreams, for the cost of achieving a vision always involves transformation. Something must die or be lost in order for the new to grow.
Find your passion, and keep exploring, for the dream you have now may not be as full or abundant as the version you will see down the road. Be open to those changes, even if they are profoundly painful. Deeper meaning and significance come with growth and transformation, which usually requires some dying. When I was launching into the world as you are, I was bound for graduate school in oceanography. Eight years later, I had a Ph.D. and a post-doctoral fellowship. By the time it ended, there were almost no jobs or research funds in my field. For several years, it seemed the dream was lost. But other people helped reflect light into the darkness of that loss, and eventually I found the dream transformed – to a different sort of fishing and exploring – and discovered that what I’d learned could be useful in new contexts. Passions may seem to die, but their energy can be transmuted if we’re patient – i.e., willing to suffer.
Keep exploring and examining your interior life and the life of the world around you. What is life-giving, and where are you being drawn? Follow that, and let go of the idea that the road will always run straight for a lifetime. Be prepared for detours and new discoveries.
Keep tuning your passion to sing with the dreams of others. Let go of any sense that achievement or success depend on you alone, for we are all in this together. When one human being flourishes, we are all uplifted; when one suffers, we are all diminished.
Shine your light into the shadows, and live to serve that greater whole. Do your part for justice, however large or small a part you think it is, and dream of a world where all humanity and all creation live together in peace. Passion for that vision will get you into trouble, but it is most definitely the right kind of trouble. Nothing else is truly worthy of our lives, and there will be no true joy without that passion. We’re meant to spend ourselves, and be a bit reckless about it. Be of good courage, lean on your friends, and celebrate with joy when passion calls. Live with passion – and rejoice. That is what it means to be fully alive!
Episcopalians have a prayer that names “this fragile earth, our island home.” We’ve been praying it for nearly 40 years, yet many are only beginning to awaken to our wanton abuse of this planet. We profess that God has planted us in a garden to care for it and for all its inhabitants, yet we have failed to love what God has given us. We continue to squander the resources of this earth, and we are damaging its ability to nourish the garden’s diverse web of life.
The collective impact of the human species on this planet is prompting many to name this the Anthropocene age – an era characterized by human changes with global impact. We are unwittingly redesigning the earth on time scales that are infinitesimal compared to previous geological and evolutionary rates. The carbon dioxide and other gases being pumped into the atmosphere are creating an insulating blanket that accumulates heat faster than it can be radiated into space. Most of those gases come from burning fossil fuels, removing forests, and producing animal protein for human consumption.
Scientists have been studying human impacts on our global biosphere for decades, and today there is clear consensus about the effects of these gases on the mean temperature of the planet. There are a few very loud voices who insist this is only “natural variation,” but the data do not lie. Those voices are often driven by greed and self-centered political interests, and sometimes by willful blindness. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always called those motivations sinful. It is decidedly wrong to use resources that have been given into our collective care in ways that diminish the ability of others to share in abundant life. It is equally wrong to fail to use resources of memory, reason, and skill to discern what is going on in the world around us. That has traditionally been called a sin of omission.
Why do we call this a crisis? The planet’s regulatory system is being altered. Like a human being with a runaway fever, the malfunctioning thermostat causes a body to slowly self-destruct as inflammation erodes joints, causes nerve cells to misfire, and prevents the digestive system from absorbing nutrients critical to life. This planet is overheating, its climate is changing, and the residents are sick, suffering, and dying.
Climate is a broad description of weather variability and environmental conditions. We are experiencing more extreme weather and more frequent hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and droughts. Sea level is rising, because ice sheets are melting and because a warming ocean expands. As sea levels rise coastal flooding becomes more likely and severe storms more destructive. The damage done by Katrina and Superstorm Sandy are examples, as is the unusual winter much of this continent is experiencing.
Shifting climate alters our ability to grow food crops in historical locales, often leading to food shortages and famines. Deserts are expanding, snow pack declining, and drought plagues a drying West, where wildfires are more frequent and more damaging, and fresh water is increasingly scarce. Commercial agricultural practices in the developed world contribute more carbon to the atmosphere, when wiser ways could be storing large quantities of carbon in healthier and more productive soils. Historic conditions are changing so quickly that species adapted to particular environments over geologic time spans can’t adapt. Warmer conditions are prompting species to seek cooler environments, with limited success, by moving higher on mountain slopes, deeper in the ocean, or closer to the poles.
Life in the oceans has additional challenges. Species that build skeletons of calcium carbonate find it harder to build or maintain their shells as increasing amounts of carbon dioxide dissolve in sea water and make it more acidic. Several kinds of plankton are already challenged. As their populations begin to shrink, other parts of the food chain get hungrier or disappear. More CO2 in the atmosphere ultimately means fewer fish, shrimp, whales, and seabirds.
Coral reefs, which take centuries to build, are also in imminent danger. As sea temperature rises, corals often respond by expelling the symbiotic algae that provide much of their food. Debilitated corals may not grow fast enough to keep themselves in reach of sunlight, and dying reefs are quickly destroyed by waves and storms. Coral reefs rival tropical rain forests as the richest and most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Both shelter countless numbers of yet-undescribed species. That diversity is a wondrous gift of life in itself, and is increasingly recognized as a potential source of healing pharmaceuticals.
The human population explosion of recent millennia, accompanied by exploitation of fossil fuels in recent centuries, have moved this planetary system out of dynamic equilibrium. Human appetites are responsible for the collapse of that equilibrium, particularly in developed nations, and many species are threatened with diminishment and loss of life. We are making war on the integrity of this planet. The result is wholesale death as species become extinct at unprecedented rates, and human beings die from disease, starvation, and the violence of war unleashed by environmental chaos and greed.
We were planted in this garden to care for it – literally, “to have dominion” over its creatures. Dominion means caring for our island home, the oikos that gives birth to economy andecology. This is housekeeping and husbanding work – caring for what sustains us all. We are meant to love God and what God has created, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus insists that those who will enjoy abundant life are those who care for all neighbors, especially “the least of these” – the hungry and thirsty, the imprisoned and sick – and that must include all the species God has nurtured on this planet.
God’s presence among us in human form changed the nature of relationship with all creation. Even those who cannot understand the duty to care for birds and sea creatures must recognize that the life of human beings depends on the health of the whole planet. The poorest human beings are soonest and most deeply affected by climatic changes, and least able to respond. Ultimately human beings with the most resource-intensive lifestyles are causing the hunger and thirst, displacement, illness, and impoverishment of climate refugees and those without resources to adapt. There is no escape from that death and destruction, for our fate is tied to the fate of all our neighbors – the salvation of each depends on the salvation of all.
A crisis is a decision point, a time of judgment. We can choose to change our destructive and overly consumptive ways, or we can ignore the consequences of our actions and slowly steam like proverbial frogs in a soup pot. We still have some opportunity to choose, but that kairos moment will not last long. We have before us this day life and death. Which will we choose?
 Book of Common Prayer p 370
 E.g., The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert. Holt, 2014.
 For a brief introduction, cf. Norman Wirzba, “Carbon and Compost,” Christian Century 4 March 2015, 28-29
 The tiny plants and animals that provide much of the food for larger creatures in the oceans
 Often referred to as “bleaching”
 Beginning with the hunting of large animal species several tens of thousand years ago.
 Genesis 1:26,28
 Greek for “house” or “home”
 Economy, ‘house rules’ or ‘home management’; Ecology, ‘study of the house’
 Matthew 25:45-46
 Deuteronomy 30:19
There’s a beautiful place in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada called Angels Camp. It’s an old gold rush town Mark Twain wrote about, in a story that made him famous. Angels Camp is the site of exquisite scenery in Calaveras County and home of Twain’s jumping frogs. Miners and prospectors built the town, and named it after Henry Angel, who started the first trading post. For eons before that, Native Americans gathered in awe to commune with the creator of all that is, in stately groves of giant sequoias. Many have called those groves natural cathedrals, and they are a New World vision of what the psalmist speaks of, that the angel of the Lord camps around those who fear him. Can you imagine angels in the midst of the redwoods? The thousands of gold seekers who came out of greed more than awe probably could have used a little more of the fear of God.
We tend to get hung up on that phrase, “fear of God.” We’re not supposed to be afraid of God (that was Adam and Eve’s problem after they ate the apple), yet the reality is that if God is God, God must be a whole lot more than we can understand or take in. Remember God telling Moses that he couldn’t meet God face to face and still live? It would be too overwhelming – Moses would simply be “undone” by encounter with the fullness of God’s reality. Places like Angels Camp bring awe and awareness of the creative force behind them – they make us aware of God if we’re open to it.
This season of the year reminds us that fear and awe are pretty closely tied – it’s what makes Hallowe’en so delicious! Kids and adults alike play with the frisson of fear that comes with being startled by the ghouls and ghosts abroad in the streets, only to be revealed as our familiars when they come into the light. We get opportunities to play with the mysteries of death and life in the guise of fun – and the disguise of assuming other identities. All of it has roots in the remembrance of saints – those who awe us by living in holy ways that offer a glimpse of eternity.
The great vision of Revelation includes a great host of those who live in eternal awe. The book of Revelation can be either aw(e)ful or awesome, depending on your perspective. It’s a strange kind of literature called apocalyptic, about what happens at the end of time as we know it, yet it offers plenty to learn about living in the meantime. Those great multitudes represent a world that has come into right relationship with the creator of all that is. They have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and persecution and the evil of the world, but they’ve come through, into another state of being. It’s a vision of what God intended in creation – no one’s hungry or thirsty, suffering or grieving. God has brought them all back to the source of life. It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t be in awe at experiencing a world like that.
Awe is where saints begin – an almost overwhelming sense of otherness, of creative possibility beyond imagining, of vulnerable respect for something beyond mere mortal capacity. It is the root of all spirituality and religious instinct, and it is where saints are born. That great cloud of witnesses gathered around the throne in Revelation have come closer to the origin of awe, yet are not undone by it.
Where do you experience awe? The wonder of a baseball team who hangs in there to win, by being more than anyone expected? Do you find awe in the luminous painted clouds of sunrise – or the birth of a child? What about the sheer grit of a woman who leaves the streets or an abusive relationship to look for a truly loving way of life? I am in awe at the ability of combatants to put down their arms and pursue peace. Is there awe in the quiet stillness of your own heart, confirming the deeper graciousness of reality, in spite of what the world throws at you?
Awe can evoke greater awareness of the presence and work of God around us, among us, within and beyond us. That has something to do with what Bishop Paret envisioned when he began to think of building this cathedral. He wanted it built near the poor, he wanted it to welcome all comers, without regard for their ability to pay for a place to rest. He said, “The ushers should be instructed to give the best seats to the plainer people, and to put those in gay clothing further off.”  We would use different language today, but you get the point – poor and rich, gay and straight, people of all colors and languages and nations, gathered here together around the throne of God.
You’re still expanding on that vision, gathering immigrants and refugees, an Igbo congregation, and your leadership that’s pushing and cajoling this city toward excellent schools for all its children. This place is a local version of Revelation’s vision. Awe becomes the right relationships of justice as it takes on flesh in human encounter and response.
That response to awe is what Jesus speaks of as blessing. Blessed are those who respond to their fellow human beings with mercy, blessed are those who work toward peace and those who respond in humility, and blessed is every one who yearns for that vision of a whole and holy community. Those who know themselves blessed become a blessing to the world, and the world begins to gather around the throne of God.
We’ve gathered around that throne today, and we’re going to invite another person into awe and awareness. These parents have experienced something of that awe, and now bring their child into the possibility of a growing encounter with the source of all that is. Every baptism is an opportunity for the rest of us to reawaken to the awe that underlies all relationship with the Holy One – awe that leads to loving God with all we are, heart and mind, soul and strength.
When we pray for Madeline Ann, and all who are renewing their baptismal vows, listen for the awe – it’s in almost every phrase: open our hearts to your grace and truth; fill us with life-giving Spirit; keep us in the communion of this body of Christ; teach us to love others with the Spirit's power; send us into the world to share the awesome love we know in you; bring us to the fullness of your peace and glory. And after she is baptized, we’ll thank God for a new life of grace, and pray for a heart that can be awestruck, filled with courage and love, and the “gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” May this and every child of God find that awe growing within, throughout life’s journey, and learn to respond with love.
We’re making a saint today, and as the song puts it, may each one of us yearn to be one, too. Be a vehicle of awe to the world, blessed and a source of blessing, in ways both concrete and eternal. Pope Francis put it this way a few days ago, and it’s more poetic in Spanish, “los pobres necesitan ‘terrenos, un techo y trabajo.’ That’s the living work of saints, recognizing the awe-inspiring image of God in every neighbor, respecting the dignity of each one, and working for justice everywhere. That is what comes of loving God with all our strength and soul and mind and strength.
Catch a little awe, and let it wonders work in you. Don’t be afraid – the angels are camped all around. Fear not, oh saints, you are a resurrected people, blessed to be a blessi
 “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (1865) brought his first major public recognition.
 Now protected in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park
 Through ERICA – Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance
 http://voces.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/28/papa-francisco-defensa-pobres_n_6063492.html The poor need land, a roof, and work.
Ignatius was a martyr. He didn’t just die for his faith, he agitated for martyrdom. When he heard the Roman emperor Trajan was nearby, he went and stood in front of him and publicly proclaimed himself a Christian. Since being a Christian was a crime against the state – essentially treason – the emperor did what he was supposed to do. He had him arrested and taken to Rome to be executed. His sentence was to be thrown to the beasts in the Coliseum, and he was likely the first Christian to die in that way – in 115 CE.
A martyr is a witness, someone who gives evidence (as in a trial) or testifies to the truth he or she knows. Ignatius gave public testimony to his allegiance to Jesus Christ, rather than the emperor or the traditional gods of the state – which is why Christianity was counted as treason. Ignatius made the ultimate witness with his very life.
Most of what we know about Ignatius is the result of seven letters he wrote to other Christian communities while he was being hauled in chains to Rome. He was escorted across the Middle East by ten Roman soldiers, whom he referred to, perhaps with some affection, as “my savage leopards.”
Ignatius was probably born in Syria about the time Jesus was crucified. There is a sweet legend told that he was the child Jesus was talking about when he said, “whoever humbles himself and becomes like this child will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” In any case, Ignatius was evidently a follower of Jesus by the time he was an adult and called into service as the second Bishop of Antioch – after St. Peter. He continued as bishop for more than 40 years, and his whole life as a Christian was a witness and a testimony, not just the last few months.
His letters tell us a lot about the debates in early Christianity – he insists that Jesus was fully human, rather than only appearing to be, and that he really died and rose from the dead. He offers a developed understanding of the Trinity; firm teaching about the order of the Church – including bishops, priests, and deacons; encouragement to see baptism as what unites the church across the world; and the Eucharist as what most sustains the Christian community. Here’s a sample: “Try to gather more frequently to celebrate God’s Eucharist and to praise him... At these meetings you should heed the bishop and presbytery attentively and break one loaf, which is the medicine of immortality…”
He is an old man by the time he’s arrested. At the age of at least 80, he knows he is at the end of his life, and he yearns to give the ultimate witness, “let me be a meal for the beasts, I am God’s wheat, to be ground fine by the teeth of lions to become purest bread for Christ.”
Most of us never have to worry about savage wild beasts or being executed by the state for what we believe. What connects us with those first century realities? The Episcopal bishops who met in Asia in September learned a lot about the challenge of being a Christian in non-Christian societies. It may not be illegal to be Christian in Taiwan, Japan, or mainland China, but it’s definitely not normative. Only 5% of the population in Taiwan and China is Christian; 2% in Japan; less than that in Pakistan; 10% in Syria – at least before the recent violence. People who leave their ancestral religious traditions are often shunned and disowned and disinherited by their families. In parts of India, every baptism requires a license from the local government. We read about Muslim women arrested for the crime of apostasy for marrying Christian men. The Christians who are being driven out of Syria today date their presence from the time of Ignatius.
Yet the more immediate connection is about the foundation of baptismal witness, which Ignatius insists is most characteristic of the body of Christ. Aren’t those responding to the Ebola crisis offering their lives as witnesses to the love of God? Liberia is one of the epicenters of Ebola, and the Diocese of Liberia has turned the campus and resources of Cuttington University over to the work of caring for the sick, burying the dead, and seeking healing for a nation – and ultimately, the world. That is a very particular kind of martyrdom.
During the 19th century yellow fever outbreaks in the eastern and southern United States, Episcopalians and other people of faith stayed to care for the sick, rather than fleeing to disease-free territory. A number of them made the ultimate witness, and the Martyrs of Memphis are remembered on our calendar of saints.
There have been plenty of unsung heroes and saints and martyrs here on the plains as well – those who tended the sick and buried the dead, who sought peace with Native Americans, the Kansans who stood up for integrated and equal schools for all our children, and those who continue to fight for justice everywhere.
Hisanori Kano was a Japanese martyr who lived a couple of hours north of here. He became a Christian as a teenager in Japan, and then came here in the early 20th century to teach farmers and serve Japanese immigrants. He was a bold and public advocate for their inclusion in American society – and the only Nebraskan interned during WWII. He became a priest and continued to serve for decades – much like the clergy and people here.
There’s an old saying that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. Today, we might say that the witness of Jesus’ friends keeps the blood of Christ circulating in the world around us. You’ve lived with that awareness about baptismal ministry for a century. Your local Ignatius, Sheldon Griswold, the first missionary bishop, put it this way in 1916, “Lay-people... must be our most active missionaries unless we are to remain a small religious body in Kansas regarded as peculiar in habit and narrow in thought and sympathy.”
The Episcopal Church today is anything but ‘peculiar in habit and narrow in its understandings.’ When we’re being faithful, we continue to offer our life for the healing of the world. It can be painful, particularly when some people decide to leave because we’re not narrow enough. A piece of our common life departs with them. Maybe we do seem peculiar to some when we say, ‘you’re welcome here, whoever you are, and we’ll hear your opinions, tell you ours, and together find ways to expand the conversation.’ As a body, we’re trying to live out what Jesus said to his disciples, “lose your life in service and witness, and you will find it.” Until Jesus comes back again, we will never end our wrestling and witnessing. For we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God – not life or death, not struggle or being called vile heretics, not wild beasts or epidemic viruses. We know that when grains of wheat die to themselves, they become part of the wild and creative possibility God continues to unfold, even if we have to push up through the dirt to find it.
What sort of martyrs do we have here? Witnesses to the love of God through 60 years of marriage. Two women, bound by baptism, who started Camp Runamok for kids from the inner city. Faithful priests who stay and serve and serve and stay some more. Friends who go to each other’s churches and learn and grow and testify to the love of God in Christ wherever they go. The nearly 60 years of witness of what is now St. Francis Community Services, transforming lives, families, communities, and the world. Your current Ignatius is walking a new journey of witness to the love of God that is teaching the wider Church about the possibilities of new models amid the goodness of old ones. Martyrs abound around here, and even though they may seem quiet, they’re offering persistent witness to the power of God to do a new thing when we’re willing to offer what we have and who we are.
So pray for good counsel together here in this Convention, make a witness of God’s love in Jesus Christ, die a little or a lot, and trust that together we can help to create a healed and reconciled world of peace for all.
 Damnatio ad bestia
 Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans
 Matt 18:2-4
 Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians 20:2
 Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans 4
 Brown v Board of Education http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/brownvboard/brownaccount.html
 Tertullian, Apologetics
 Bishop Michael Milliken announced a shift from serving both as rector of a congregation and as bishop of Western Kansas at this Convention. He will resign as rector at the end of 2014 and serve about two more years as bishop, with the aim of leading the diocese into a pattern of episcopacy that will serve the future.
Happy anniversary and welcome home! This celebration seems to have been as big an organizational problem and every bit as complex as a society wedding. A whole lot of guests have been invited, and I think almost every single one showed up at the feast on Friday night. There were no empty seats to be seen. I didn’t get the instructions about black tie and evening dress, but nobody threw me out into the darkness.
At that feast of friends and fellowship and prophecy on Friday night we noted that it was a pretty good image of the heavenly banquet that Isaiah sets out: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” We had a taste of that rich food and good wine, and Michael Blake’s prophetic words to us evoked more of Isaiah’s dream, that God will destroy the shroud of death spread over all people, wipe away the tears from every face, and swallow up death forever. Isaiah speaks to people who yearn for rebuilt cities, and homes where they can live in peace, with abundant hope – without any of the shame or disgrace that besets humanity.
This congregation is set in a community that was founded with similarly lofty aspirations. Takoma Park was named for the big mountain in the other Washington – the one in the upper left-hand corner of your map. Takoma is the Salish Indian name for Mt. Rainier, and the person who chose it for the local train stop thought it meant “high up” or “near heaven.” It’s a fitting dream for this part of the world – and every part of the world.
You claim Fr. James (C.) Dorsey as the founder of this congregation. He is the same James (Owen) Dorsey who learned a number of Native American dialects and became one of the first members of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian. His ill health repeatedly brought him back here from the Dakota Territory, to Takoma Park, after working with the Ponka and Omaha Indians. This missionary knew something of human injustice – and he, too, dreamed of building a community nearer heaven.
The congregation grew, and eventually Takoma Parish opened here in 1893 – and while it appears that “high up” still describes the worship here, the bigger dream is for a heavenly city, fit for all people to live in, where all God’s children might dwell in peace, and flourish.
How will you sing the dream song of that restored city? You have claimed this for your homecoming prayer, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, proclaim the good news of healing and wholeness every day of your lives.’ While this weekend has a lot to do with that great feast on the mountainside, we can’t simply stay here on the mountain and sing, expecting that city to appear like Brigadoon. We have to sing that song on our daily rounds in this city – on the bus and the Metro, driving across town, in the voting booth, while we’re drafting contracts, teaching children, healing wounds, and rebuilding the broken. That song has to penetrate our sometimes stony hearts, soak into us along with baptismal water, and become the bread of justice we share at this table and every table.
‘Sing to the Lord a new song, proclaim the good news of a heavenly city every day of your lives.’ That song is neither simple nor impossible to learn, but it does require all we are and all we have and the whole of our lives. It begins down by the riverside, ‘Ain’t gonna study war no more.’ It continues until ‘every voice is lifted to ring with the harmonies of liberty,’ to “sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, sing a song full of the hope the present has brought us.”
Sometimes it sounds like the blues, lamenting the brokenness around us and within us. It is also the sound of rejoicing, when we discover where God has set the table and invited the guests and shared a miraculous feast.
Will you sing the lament over Ferguson, and all the young black and brown men rotting in our prisons? Will you sing and grieve over those falling to Ebola, a virus born of poverty, and meager food supplies in Africa’s bush, that is now spreading in poor and crowded cities? Will you mourn and grieve and cry aloud over the increasing divide between rich and poor?
Will you sing with joy over every child who finds adults who care for his or her future? Will you raise loud hosannas for every woman who leaves the street to find wholeness and healing? Will you rejoice over ever human being who discovers the transforming power of meeting Jesus in the poor, starting right here?
We will continue to sing of possibility and dreams and the new thing God continues to do in our midst, even if we’ve never imagined doing it that way before. We will, with God’s help!
That parable of the wedding feast points us to the new things God is up to – and our reactions to the invitation to the feast of healing. The guests who don’t RSVP, the ones who opt for idle distractions or distracting idols, and the guests who respond to the invitation by snuffing the messenger all receive what they sowed. They find their cities destroyed. But others get invited, even dragged in, to the party. The host wants every seat and space to be filled with singers of that dream of restored cities.
But what of the unfortunate guest who comes without wedding garb? I cannot imagine that it is really about dressing up. I do believe that it’s about the state of one’s heart. Are you ready to rejoice at the feast? Or do you still have on your sour face, having been dragged in off the street to join a rowdy group of strangers who want you to sing a new song you’ve never heard before? That can be pretty tough, especially if the music is unfamiliar, or you don’t know any of those folks at the party.
I wandered into the hotel lobby last night, and found a pretty unusual scene. Mobs of young adults and not-so-young adults were on their way to the ballroom, most of them in costume, or something closer to suits worn in the Garden of Eden. I wasn’t invited, but they all looked like they were having a very good time. This morning there was a lot of glitter and sequins scattered around. I could just imagine hearing someone say, ‘well, if they’re in heaven, I’m not going!’ I asked the desk clerk this morning what was going on last night. It was a contest for “Miss Adams-Morgan,” and all about drag queens!
Well, our gospel host has invited all the usual suspects to the feast. You know who they are – everybody who’s ever been suspected of being unacceptable or inappropriate or beyond the pale. When no one else will come, the stewards and messengers are sent out to round up everyone they can find. Luke puts it this way: “go out into the streets and the lanes and compel them to come in.” The beggars of Jesus’ day, the homeless of our own day – particularly the women you are working with, the forgotten and ignored and unseen, the immigrants with papers and those without, the refugees who’ve come with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and even tipsy revelers.
Sing that song – come to the feast, sing a new world into being, rejoice at the wholeness of mercy and loving-kindness, and dwell in a city of peace. Keep building that city, one invitation at a time, with a homeless person housed, each child offered mentoring and companionship, and every city councilor or state assemblyman, mayor or president or police chief elected to do justice.
Come to the feast – you have most certainly been invited. Many are called, but few choose to answer. The reason that robeless guests get tossed out is that they are only prepared to hang out with the teeth gnashers, the ones who can only cry, “ain’t it awful what he/she/they have done,” “they’re beneath my notice,” or “see that scum of the earth!” Put on your robe of hope and possibility and help to make a feast for all God’s children. The teeth-gnashers are invited too, as soon as they’re ready.
Come to the feast, and lift your voices to sing it into being.
 Assemblyman-elect, New York 79th District; former member of the Obama administration
 Takoma actually means “snow-covered mountain” or “mother of waters.”
 Psalm 96:1-2, free translation.
 “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1928.
Have you ever had something go wrong during worship? The day after I was ordained a deacon the bishop came for a visitation. It was my job to read the gospel. We took the gospel book down the aisle, opened it, and I started to read, “The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to John.” I quickly realized something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what. Then a parishioner came up behind me and whispered, “That’s last week’s gospel.” Whoops! So I turned the page and went on, “A continuation of the Gospel according to John.” Afterward the parish deacon said to me, “Every week I make a mistake. By the end of my life, I may have made them all.”
We’re celebrating the feast of Philip today. Jesus called Philip to be one of his disciples about the same time he called Andrew and Simon Peter to leave their fishing nets. Philip appears several times in the gospels. Once when they met a big crowd – more than would fit in this cathedral – Jesus asked Philip how they were going to feed them all. Philip answered, “Well, even six month’s wages wouldn’t be enough” to feed this bunch! But a boy’s lunch was blessed and became enough for all.
Later, when Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover (during the events we remember during Holy Week), some foreigners – Greek visitors – come up to Philip to ask for a meeting with Jesus. Philip and Andrew go off to find Jesus, and when he hears the request, he responds by telling them he’s going to die, and that if they want to find their lives they’re going to have to lose them. During the final supper Jesus has with his disciples, Philip asks to see the Father, and Jesus reminds him that they’ve been looking at him for quite a while and they should have begun to get some idea of what God is like.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, his followers began to gather in groups in to remember, tell stories, and eat a blessed, holy meal. Those communities had plenty of poor and hungry people in them, and they started to designate some of their number to ensure the hungry were being fed. Philip was a member of the first group to be named to that ministry – they were called deacons. Deacon is a word that means servant or minister, and we understand that every baptized person shares in that kind of ministry. Acolytes are a great example.
Most of what we know about Philip is related to feeding people and introducing people to Jesus. The second story we heard today is another example. Philip and another deacon, Stephen, were in Jerusalem, where Stephen had been preaching about Jesus. After a while, Stephen moves from preaching to meddling, as they say. He accuses some of the leaders in the Jerusalem community of being less than faithful, and they respond by dragging him out and stoning him to death. Philip leaves Jerusalem and goes up north to Samaria. He’s been preaching there with greater success, and his community in Jerusalem has sent others to Samaria to follow up, and teach these newcomers more about Jesus. That’s where Philip gets a call to head south toward Gaza.
He runs across this Ethiopian court official, riding along in his chariot, reading from Isaiah. In the ancient world everybody read aloud, so it’s easy for Philip to recognize what he’s reading. It’s like seeing the video the next car’s passengers are watching, and running over to talk about it. The Ethiopian has been in Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, but because he’s a eunuch he can’t be a full member of the Jewish community. He knows about God, but he hasn't met anybody who will invite him into a deeper relationship. Here’s Philip’s chance to teach somebody what he learned from Jesus when he asked Jesus to “show us God.”
The eunuch asks who the prophet Isaiah is writing about. Surely he’s heard the prophet’s words as a description of him and his condition: “in his humiliation justice was denied him… his life was taken away from him.” Philip begins to tell him good news of Jesus, the friendship he offers to those who follow him, and the ways he proclaims liberty to captives and freedom to the oppressed.
It was a minor fault, but that’s what the deacon did for me when I got it wrong. We can all do that kind of work. Everybody here is meant to be a Philip or a Philippa – feeding their neighbors and telling or showing them good news.
That’s what being an acolyte is all about – being a friend of Jesus who can show the people around you what Jesus is like. He was a friend to anybody who needed one. You have a remarkable opportunity here today to make new friends from another part of the country or a different church – wow! When you’re on your way home, you might talk about what the person you shared lunch with showed you about Jesus. Philip became a friend to somebody who wasn’t welcome at a lot of dinner tables or in church. Have you ever done that?
The way you serve as an acolyte can be an invitation to come closer and become a friend – or it can be a real turn-off. Do you think your ministry as an acolyte is joyful enough to invite somebody else – or is it only a DISMAL BURDEN? If you find no joy, then I would suggest you go looking for another way to be a friend of Jesus’. There isn’t just one way to show people what God looks like, but all those ways have to show the love that God has for us. I know it can be hard to get up early in the morning you’re serving, and it can be challenging to learn all the different ways that worship is done – and believe me, every church does it differently! But we need to show others that it’s good to be a friend of Jesus, not a drag.
Those two people who reached out to me on my first Sunday as a deacon showed me that even when we get it wrong, we still have friends in Jesus’ community.
When Jesus says to his friends that they’re supposed to go and make disciples everywhere and baptize them and teach them what he’s taught them, that’s what he means. Go and make friends like the friend he’s been to them, someone who loves and forgives and encourages and sets free. That is a privilege and a joy, and there are a whole lot of different ways to do it, including swinging thuribles and lighting candles and herding cats.
And don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re supposed to do our best, remember that we are forgiven even before we ask, and that we won’t get it all perfect until the Second Coming of Jesus – at which point it won’t matter. So remember to find joy in what you’re doing. God loves you – now show the world! God loves you, Jesus is your friend, Jesus is your homie, now go find some more! Discover new friends here, and new skills, and let the world see your joy – shout it out! Jesus is my friend – let me be your friend, too!
I’ve been at two of TEC’s seminaries this past week, and both of them are embroiled in significant conflict, mostly related to financial challenges, changing realities in the world around us, and what their vision for the future is going to be. This congregation has never had any controversies about such things, have you?
Human communities are in pretty continual flux, when you think about it. Moses is reporting to his community about the new rules he’s received from God, rules for living in a radically new context. Remember that Moses has led a bunch of slaves out of Egypt, they’ve been wandering around in the desert, complaining a lot about the food and living conditions, and wondering if they wouldn’t have been a lot better off if they’d stayed in Egypt. ‘At least there,’ they whine, ‘life was predictable!’
Well, actually, it wasn’t quite so rosy. Pharaoh kept changing the rules about work and living conditions, and tried to kill off their children because the community was growing in spite of it all. The Hebrew slaves are now free, out there in the desert, and they can’t quite figure out how to deal with it. Moses is reporting back from his latest meeting with God, with some very simple rules for free people to live in relationship with God and one another. The list starts with remembering that God is God, and only God is God, not any one of them or any other thing they might construct or conceive of. The rest of the rules are about dealing justly with neighbors – don’t take away their lives and loves, their honor or their possessions. You wouldn’t want anyone to do that to you. Those are the basics for living in freedom. Love God, who has created you and everybody else, and treat all those others with justice.
Human communities are always trying to go back to an earlier idea of when life was better, safer, more predictable, or somehow easier. The reality is that it only looks that way from a distance. Paul gets it – he’s telling his friends in Philippi that he could boast of how well he kept the rules in an earlier time but now that he’s encountered God in the risen Jesus none of that matters. He’s admitting that he was living in relationship with an idol, something he worshiped instead of God. ‘I forget what lies in the past, and I press on toward what God is calling us toward’ – that vision of healing and wholeness, justice and peace we call the Reign of God. He doesn’t claim to have figured it all out, but he knows that he’s moving toward that transformed world made evident in resurrection.
From the stories and bits of your history I’ve heard, I think it’s fair to say that you’ve been through this several times, even in living memory. Life gets a bit comfortable and predictable and before long some people think that’s the way it’s always supposed to be. And then along comes some crisis – finances, a fight over some change, challenges in the community around you – and the reaction by some is to try to cling to what seemed unchanging and predictable. Unless we’re talking about God, that’s generally an illusion. Even if we ARE talking about God it is an illusion – think of how God’s creative spirit keeps unfolding the world around us. Like those Israelites in the desert, we are bound for the promised land – but we haven’t arrived yet.
I don’t know if there is anyone here this morning who was around in 1952. Does anybody remember Murray and Clare Dewart? He came here as rector in 1948, soon after he was ordained. His son wrote a letter when he learned of this anniversary celebration, telling of a vibrant congregation with a large choir and Sunday school. In this growing, post-war community all seemed well until the fears in the larger society began to intrude. Fr. Dewart was preaching about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and “blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth.” Apparently that was too much for some on the vestry, who feared he was a communist sympathizer. Joseph McCarthy’s sanitation campaign caused this parish to purge a truth-teller. Fr. Dewart and his family left here, but they survived, and went on to flourish in other communities in Massachusetts and the American Cathedral in Paris. McCarthy encouraged people to worship the idol of national purity and hermetically sealed ideologies. In spite of him the meaning of “red” has shifted in 65 years, from the vilified “red menace” to what are now termed “red states.” The Brotherhood House that became part of your new parish hall in 1905 got its start as a ministry for factory workers. McCarthy would have thought that outrageous, too. Other things have changed as well, including the kind of people we call to be priests and rectors. McCarthy would have been appalled by that, too.
Jesus ends his parable about the vineyard tenants with words about rejected stones becoming cornerstones. As hard as they try, those tenants can’t ever completely destroy the landowner’s original plans for a good harvest and a rich vintage. Some people may get it totally wrong, and may continue to do so for years, but God is still God, and the foundation of a world of justice and peace never disappears. The misguided and the evil cannot change the DNA of creation. God, and divine humor, will prevail. Today St. James is feeding people of all sorts and conditions – the poor and homeless as well as the local police department. You are working to feed starving children of all ages, races, nations, and creeds. Somehow that just might help to heal divisions everywhere – in Ferguson as well as the Middle East, in Congress and in seminaries.
Those who are being confirmed and received today, and all of us who will reaffirm our baptismal promises, are claiming that cornerstone, that DNA of healing and justice. Even when we get it wrong, even when we’re afraid the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, that divine intention remains. We’re more likely to remember and rediscover that DNA when we act like free creatures, free to worship God without fear, rather than the latest idol somebody is pushing on us.
Those idols are all around us – and they have power only if we give it to them. Consider a few of them:
“We’ve always done it this way.” [No, we haven’t. We’ve just forgotten what’s changed.]
“Christians are supposed to be nice.” [No, we aren’t. It means stupid. Jesus challenged others, and he stirred up conflict. We’re supposed to be holy, and willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness.]
“Don’t argue with me!” [We’re meant to listen to and obey God, and if we don’t argue or wrestle with God, we’re never going to grow.]
Sometimes the idols are about our self-focus: “I’m afraid, I’m not strong/smart/young/old enough…” [It’s OK to be afraid – and remembering who loves you helps to put the damper on fear.]
Moses was afraid, and he went anyway, after he argued with God. None of us has all the gifts and guarantees we want, but Jesus has been there ahead of us, and God is going with us down this road. If you want assurance of that, look at the face of your neighbor.
Press on toward that heavenly goal. And whether the road rises up to meet you, the wind is at your back, the sun shining warm upon your face, or the rains falling soft on your fields, OR NOT, know that God WILL hold you in the palm of his hand.
 Letter from Murray Dewart (fils) to St. James Parish 8 Sept 2014.
 Luke 1:74
 Nice comes from the Latin nescire, not to know.
Today, Jacob would probably be sent to a sleep lab, to see if apnea is causing his frequent midnight disturbances. One night he wrestles with an angel and wakes up with a dislocated hip. In today’s account he sleeps on a rock and has wild dreams. In other cultures people really do use rock hard pillows – they were traditional in China, and carried sacred and life-giving connotations. Not long ago a woman described learning to sleep on an antique jade pillow – it only took three days, she says, and improved her spiritual and emotional health. The pews here may not be stone, but I’ll warrant they’ve been hard pillows for 175 years of sermons.
After a lot of lost sleep and plenty of jetlag last week, most of The Episcopal Church’s bishops met in the Diocese of Taiwan– the first time they’ve ever met in Asia. Many were able to visit Advent Church outside Taipei. The diocese is only 60 years old, and the church newer than that, and it’s built in the shape of a stylized mountain – perhaps a volcano. There is a remarkable stained glass installation over the altar – like a blue and gold window into heaven. From the peak hangs a sculpture called Jacob’s Ladder, with little rungs that remind you of a gate.
The German architects who designed this church used different imagery, but the spires on your roof and the fretwork on these beams (which just might suggest a ladder!) and the windows dedicated to heroes of this community are all meant to draw us into awareness that we also stand at the gate of heaven.
Jacob is surprised about that: “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” Most of us are surprised when we discover God’s presence in unexpected locations. The bishops met in Asia to learn how Episcopalians and other Christians discover God in different contexts.
That wondering awe and awareness are central to our journey – whether climbing Jacob’s ladder, wandering in the wilderness, or in encounters with new people and strange places. There have always been people who believe that God is only available or accessible in one place, whether it’s the tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple in Jerusalem, the altar of a church, or the shrine in Mecca. All are places of encounter with the holy – and they are also icons, windows into the divine. None of them is the fullness of God’s presence; they point to God.
That confusion over the whether God is available or accessible in only one place is certainly what Jesus is upset about, and why he upsets everybody around him in the Temple. Some are turning the icon into an idol, to be appeased with costly offerings. The Temple is meant to be a house of prayer, a meeting place to be still and know that God is God. But the liturgical hubbub and riotous religious marketplace are drowning out the stillness and silence. Merchants of religion are exploiting the vulnerable in order to fill their own pockets. Some things haven’t changed a whole lot in 2000 years. Yet people are still meeting the holy in the midst of the noise and confusion of this gospel account – in the healing Jesus offers, and in the cries of children, heard as “Hosanna.”
The scrum of daily life and the noise of the marketplace still keep us from waking to the near presence of the Holy One. Have you seen the hand of God in the wondrous midnight blue of the sky after sunset or the fuchsia-painted sunrise in the last few days? Have you searched for the image of God in the face of a neighbor? Do we expect to meet Jesus in the poor? Are we willing to climb up out of the static and chaos of life to find the Spirit creating something new?
Christ Church exists to help us all wake from slumber. It might even involve taking a nap here, if we can remember to rest a while in the palm of God’s hand. There is a reason why this is called a sanctuary (it even says so on the steps outside your door!). Stop a minute and notice the miracle of breath – breathe in life-giving spirit and give thanks; breathe out fear and anxiety – and rest in God’s embrace.
This community has endured for 175 years because it continues to awaken people to the reality of God at work in their lives and in the world, and continues to prod them to go out and rouse others to realize the power and possibility of healing the world God has given us. This sanctuary is an image and an icon of the sanctuary that God intends for the whole world.
This church’s first building here in Holly Springs is now a shrine to those who died caring for yellow fever victims in 1878. Slave traders brought yellow fever to this continent along with their human cargo from West Africa, and the first epidemics erupted in North America in the 1600s. Ebola is this age’s yellow fever, and it’s migrating across West Africa right now largely because of fear and endemic poverty. The yellow fever martyrs were fully awake to the suffering around them. The world is just beginning to awaken to that suffering today. If you want to help, Episcopal Relief and Development is among those who are responding – providing medical supplies, teaching about transmission and prevention, and distributing food.
Christ Church is a community for awakening the world. Irenaeus famously said that the glory of God is a human being, fully alive. That’s your task here – to rouse this community to the fully alive, risen life of Jesus’ friends and disciples, and to dream God’s dream for healing, restoration, and reconciliation. What would it take to prompt cries of hosanna here? The food pantry and garden café are wide-awake responses to the fact that nearly half the residents here live below the poverty line. This is the second poorest community in Mississippi. What other wake-up calls are needed? I gather you’re also involved in housing and homelessness here. Imagine a city and county where every person had found a sanctuary, a home in which to dream dreams of wholeness and sleep in peace!
Jacob’s dream includes the promise that all the people of the earth will be blessed by him and his descendants. We share that legacy, if only we will wake up and claim it. Pray that the people of this land and this community will be blessed by who you are, that people will be healed of their blindness and deafness to the suffering here and around the world. You have a goodly heritage in this place – stay awake, prod the people around you to be alert to the near presence of God, and you will hear cries of hosanna. Truly this is the gate of heaven! For through you Christ’s Church is indeed meant to bless the world for years and centuries to come.
 When the congregation outgrew it, it was sold to the Roman Catholics. The present building dates from 1858.