Katharine Jefferts Schori

The 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

Pledge Offering Sunday

November 21, 2010
Katharine Jefferts Schori
I visited an Episcopal school and a church in the last two days, and at both of them I was told that people think they look like Hogwarts. This place, of course, bears no such resemblance. Young adults (and their elders) continue to be deeply fascinated by JK Rowling’s stories of mystery, the struggle between good and evil, and the good a young man with rather unusual powers can do, together with a group of his friends.

We know a deeper and more eternal version of that story, and the world around us is desperately hungry for it. They’ll even stay up until midnight to see it dramatized.

At one of those Episcopal Hogwarts, an adolescent girl told me a story about praying and not having her prayer answered. She said that therefore she didn’t believe in God, and then asked me why I do. We talked about God not always answering prayers the way we want, but that it doesn’t mean God isn’t interested. I said I don’t think I’d want to believe in a god who did everything I asked. I told her that I was raised in a family that took me to church, and that the community called church is an important part of why I’m a Christian. I’ve met the holy here, over and over again.

Whether we’re discouraged or grieving, rejoicing or confused, the faithful people around us show us evidence of God. They speak to us about God, and sometimes they speak for God. We keep telling the old, old stories about God – God who comes among us as a human being, and God’s ongoing presence and work in our midst. The people called church have certainly helped me hear the voice of God. They or we become “God with skin on,” and we may be the only evidence of God a person ever gets.

That is an important part of why Trinity is here. You give evidence of God, and God’s love, to thousands of people every year – to visitors awed by the majesty of this place; to children and adults in Boston (and elsewhere) in need of food, shelter, or mentoring; to children, youth, and adults who come looking for God, filled with questions of why.

The feast we celebrate today is about the kind of God we believe in. It’s Christ the King – the final word on the last Sunday of the church year – with a gospel account that’s filled with mockery, power plays, and the world’s evil. Luke tells a powerful story, and this king can only be understood by looking back to the beginning of his story. In Luke, Jesus begins his public work in his home-town synagogue. He reads from Isaiah, telling his hearers why he’s there and what he’s up to: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). He’s going to be like that shepherd we heard about in Jeremiah, who will reign as a king of justice and righteousness. Before he’s done, Jesus says one more thing to the people in the synagogue, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). He’s telling them that the king is already there among them – and their reaction is pretty telling. When he reflects on the fact that it’s usually only outsiders who listen to prophets, they try to throw him off a cliff.

The gospel we heard this morning is the other end of his story about the king. This is the coronation and enthronement ceremony. This is a king who will give all he has and is for that work of bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, healing the blind, and freeing the oppressed. This shepherd king goes looking for the lost and scattered, and at least one of the other political criminals being executed alongside him gets it: “When you come into your kingdom, remember me.” Jesus’ answer, “today you will be with me in paradise,” is a bookend for his words in the Nazareth synagogue, “today this scripture is fulfilled.”

Finding and gathering up the lost is what paradise is all about, even when you’re hanging on a cross. This kingdom doesn’t depend on the world’s definitions of power. This kind of royal power grows in being given away, and shared with the likes of us. Eventually the world’s power cannot stand in the face of it. Mahatma Gandhi knew it, Martin Luther King knew it, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela know it, Mother Teresa knew it, and this congregation knows it.

This body of Christ, gathered here in this place, gets crucified in small ways all the time – when you can’t get over the hurdles to starting the preschool, when you have to lay off staff, maybe even when the roof leaks, or you think you have to choose to serve one group rather than another. You seat the king on his throne when you give yourselves away: when you heal the blind and the sick through Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health), hard at work in Haiti; when you welcome the lost, like that teenager wanting to know why or how to believe in God; when you release the captives through College Behind Bars or work with court-involved youth; when you bring good news to the poor as food for the hungry, mentors to middle schoolers, music for all whether or not they can afford to pay for it, or the Trinity Preschool when it’s eventually resurrected in this place. Did you know Trinity sponsored a nursery for the children of working women until 1936?

The power of this king lives beyond the grave. I’ve seen it. The mocking of the fearful can’t stop it. The powers and principalities of evil can’t stop it. And yet this king’s power is gentle and warm and embracing to those in need of comfort or strength. This king commands legions by kneeling. This king challenges the powerful by giving away all pretense of earthly power.

This king’s friends join the merry, holy dance by giving themselves away. You can go watch a movie at midnight to learn something about this, but you can also come join this body, and give yourself away. It does mean dying to the world’s ideas of power, which scares most of us to death, but we can learn. And once we start, we begin to discover not only how much more alive we become, but also how freeing it is. Jesus was often charged with being a party animal because he was utterly free to rejoice at the presence and working of God in any moment. He knew how to celebrate with his friends, and he knew how to suffer and die with them. That’s not a bad way to live or die. We learn by letting go of the puny substitutes for paradise – like money, or prestige, or thinking we’re really in control. Life is far more interesting and joyous and rewarding – and challenging and meaningful – when we start letting go. For most of us in the so-called developed parts of the world, that starts with money, because it represents the world’s power and security in almost everything we do. Money is a tool, and can be a great resource for good if we don’t use it as a control mechanism. Maybe a better way to say it is that money can be a resource for kingly power if we are not controlled by it. It’s something like those wands that Harry Potter and his friends use – they can be tools for good or things that end up controlling those whose hearts are set on the wrong goals and ends.

An expanded version of that adolescent’s question confronts all of us: what kind of a god do we believe in, and why? And what are we going to do about it?


Bishop Jefferts Schori


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