St. James, Hyde Park, NY
Feast of St. James of Jerusalem
October 30, 2011
"The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock." Getting here has had something in common with that storm and flood, only it’s been snow rather than rain. Yet this house continues to stand fast.
Your lengthy history in this place has been filled with illustrious ancestors as well as the less well known. The priest in this place when the Bard School was built was a Roosevelt, and that extended family has continued to contribute to the life of this place for almost a hundred and fifty years. Franklin Delano Roosevelt served on the vestry here for most of the first half of the last century, and Eleanor was buried from here. You have built with many kinds of rock.
The eternally significant part of your life, and what will keep you grounded and lively well into the future, has to do with the kind of road you build going out from this house. Jesus’ narrow gate and hard road may seem too difficult to those who might be tempted to build on sand, but that road will only endure if it’s built of the same rock as this place. People have been sent out on that road for 200 years, and we will be today: “go forth in the name of Christ” or “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Go out, and be Christ for the world. Go build a road toward the reign of God, and use the same stuff you’re finding here. This house won’t last unless it is used to build that road – your life depends on the renewal of giving the rock away.
That road to life goes out into the world to find the image of God reflected in our neighbors, nearby and far away. And when we find that image of God, we’re meant to do the same kind of work Jesus did – to be the rock that brings good news to the poor, healing to the sick, freedom to captives, and teaches others about that good news road. Some people think there’s only one lane on that road – either the kind of community building ministry that’s called social justice, or the kind of kingdom building ministry called evangelism. Those are actually parallel and inter-penetrating paths on the same road toward the good news of God’s reign. After you’ve gone some distance down the road, it becomes pretty difficult to tell which lane you’re in.
That’s what James means by saying faith without works is dead. You have to be able to travel down the middle of this road, with one foot in each lane, or you’ll never navigate the dangers and potholes at the edges. Getting too far over on one side of the road will quickly lead you off into the dry and dusty desert where there is no life, only rules and empty theological postulates. The other side runs off into swampy quicksand, where the pain of the world will drown you if you can’t find the rock on which the road is built. Life is found in keeping to the hard ground, and meeting the flesh and blood image of God all around us.
There are plenty of travelers on this road, some a long way ahead of us, like Eleanor Roosevelt. She followed a path remembered for her inordinate passion for creating a society that looks a lot more like the reign of God. She was deeply grounded in both faith and works, and she built a road not only for women and the disenfranchised here in the US, she also helped build a road of peace among the nations.
There are plenty of other travelers on this road as St. James makes a way toward more abundant life for the community here and farther away. You are feeding the hungry, helping to house the homeless here and repairing the damaged and inadequate homes of others in North Carolina. You are literally giving the gift of life to others through blood drives, and you are teaching and bringing good news to children as they learn to read in your company.
What about the quieter voices and voyagers on this road? Like all the saints we mark and remember in the coming week, there have been countless faithful roadies in this place, setting out coffee and cookies for funerals and celebrations, filling a basket for the hungry in a cold trailer, welcoming the stranger, and going out into the snow to find a homeless wanderer.
Yet the road is never smooth. There have been landslides and fires, like the near-destruction of the building 25 years ago. It was faith that got you through that disaster, convinced that there was still a reason to gather in this place and be sent out to do God’s work in a cold and hungry world.
Your task today and in the years ahead is to stay grounded, bringing good news to the hurting, healing to the sick, and confidence to the wandering. This road leads to abundant life for all. At the end of this road, we’re all meant to live together in peace, well-fed and feasting, with the blessings of life openly available to all. There will be no reason for war in that future, because there will no longer be despair or starvation, or the desire to dominate. The road to that future is found on the way, the way out of here into the world. We have a taste of that future gathered here, but it is meant to be shared and made evident and available to all.
Two hundred years of faithfulness is a good start down that road. Keep building on the rock. Blessings on your journey.