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Episcopal Church House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson: “You have put into daily practice the baptismal promise to love our neighbors as ourselves”

February 21, 2010
Office of Public Affairs
During her February 21 sermon at Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Omaha, Nebraska (Diocese of Nebraska), Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, told the assembly, “You have put into daily practice the baptismal promise to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

President Anderson preached at the church during the Episcopal Church Executive Council meeting, gathered in Omaha.

The full text of the sermon follows:

February 21, 2010

Church of the Resurrection Episcopal Church, Omaha, NE

During the Executive Council meeting

Bonnie Anderson

President of the House of Deputies

The Episcopal Church

Thank you for the kind invitation to be present with you today in this sacred and holy place. Thank you to Father Emerson and thank you to the lay leadership in this parish.

Today, the first Sunday in Lent, was designated by the General Convention as Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday. I know that the holy people of God in this holy place know about Episcopal Relief& Development. In fact, front and center on your webpage is a “give to help Haiti” button and Episcopal Relief & Development is where your contributions are headed. Thank you.

I know also that you have an active ministry to people in need in this local community through Resurrection House, which is part of the Episcopal Service Corp. And of course, the ministry of this congregation through the CORE outreach center. We give thanks this morning for your many ministries to “the least of these” and on this special Sunday, we give thanks for the ministries of Episcopal Relief & Development, healing a hurting world on behalf of us all.

Thank you for not trying to go to Haiti to help the people there right now. You have chosen to give funds to support those who know best how to do this important work at this time. OUR Relief & Development Agency. EPISCOPAL Relief & Development has the relationships, the expertise, the compassion and the name EPISCOPAL ensures that we will work with the people “on the ground” and who best know the needs of the people where they live.

At this time in the life of the Diocese of Haiti, the largest diocese in The Episcopal Church, the people of Haiti are busy getting their most basic needs met. Right now they don”t need any company. Can you imagine what it would be like if your house became a disaster area for some unexpected reason and hundreds of people came to help you clean it up? A few people who know what they are doing would be great. Like Episcopal Relief & Development. Too many visitors at this time is actually an added burden.

After seeing all that this congregation does to fulfill the great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, I would say that you have put into daily practice the baptismal promise to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Have you ever noticed how your life experiences kind of “add up”? If you think about past events in your life there are some that stand out and they accumulate build upon each other. Kind of like depositing money in the bank, these important life experiences add up to drive us, to encourage and enrich our spirits and to bring us ever closer to wholeness – always becoming the person God created us to be. These experiences are our spiritual capital.

Lucy Greeley, a favorite author of mine says, “Sometimes even the briefest moments capture us, force us to take them in, and demand that we live the rest of our lives in reference to them.”

When I was in undergraduate school in California I met a guy who came through the campus recruiting students to ride the bus down to Alabama and join the “freedom train”. He was very compelling. I still recall the hours of conversations I had with him that gave me initial insights into the trademarks of debilitating racism.

In my Old Testament course, Rabbi Rosenberg made the history of faith and struggle of a marginalized people come alive. I learned about God acting in their lives.

From Professor Byron, an expert in criminology who lived with master criminals Leopold and Lobe in prison, I learned about prison and crime and what it meant to make it a personal discipline to regularly visit prisoners at the Youth Prison just outside of town.

All these events added up for me to this life lesson: Not one of us is free, not one of us has dignity unless we all are free, unless we all have dignity. We are in relationship with each other. God as made it so. That is the moral truth that drives each of us and through our “hindsight glasses” we can see how our life experiences have been built, one upon the other, to equip us to do the work we are called to do.

Some say that these are tough times. Even though we are in tough economic times, environmental threats, terrorism, – the list goes on, I think that the tough times we are really facing is the ownership of our soul. Here”s why:

As economist Jeffrey Sachs has said, For the first time in the history of the world, we really have the resources, the capability, the capacity to eradicate world poverty. The tough question is: will we do it?

The tough times we are really facing is the threat to the freedom of humanity. Remember, not one of us is free, not one of us has dignity unless we all are free, unless we all have dignity.

At the very core of our spirit is the call to love our neighbors as ourselves. And before we can really begin loving our neighbors, we need to know how we love ourselves. How do you love yourself?

Loving our neighbors as ourselves requires way more of us than simply being kind. And most of the basic ways we love ourselves are not available to 2/3 of the world population – our global neighbors.

We love ourselves by making sure that we are well fed, that we have a safe and comfortable place to sleep, that we have good education, that we have opportunities to use our talents and intellect, that we have good health care and good dental care, that we can get to places we need to go, that we have some pleasures of life – like vacations and pets and listening to music and using disposable income.

Our neighbors are the people on the street who ask us for money when we are on our way to the theatre or the grocery store – or Starbuck”s.

Our neighbors are the global poor who we know only from pictures in magazine ads and news stories. Our neighbor is the homeless woman who we serve in the soup kitchen line who asks us for real butter instead of margarine on her bread.

These, as well as many who we have not met, probably never will, are our neighbors and, in order to be true to our baptism and the promise we make to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every human being, in order to be true to our commitment to Jesus Christ, we have to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We have to make sure they are not hungry, they have safe comfortable dwellings, they have good education, health care, and even the pleasures of life-maybe some artwork or shoes, or even hand lotion.

There is something inside each one of us, that relentlessly strives for wholeness. Maybe it”s is what we call our “spirit”. I know in my heart of hearts that my freedom and dignity, what I was created to be, is deeply connected to your freedom and dignity. It is connected to the freedom and dignity of people we will never know. The seeds of this truth have been planted over the years in each one of us by our life experiences. All this spiritual capital continues to grow in each of us.

Finally, in these “tough times” when our very souls are at stake, we, all of us gathered here, are called upon to lead with confidence and humility, when we are not serving as a leader, we are called upon to follow with confidence and humility, we are always called upon to meet disagreement and conflict with generosity of spirit, but with singleness of heart and unity of purpose.

I wonder, if we truly love our neighbors as ourselves, creating a balance of power rooted in Christ, perhaps if we are able to see the connections between global poverty and dignity and our baptismal promises and then act upon these connections, perhaps if we demonstrate to a hurting and fearful world that God is love, the world as it is and the world as it should be will be closer together.

Together, we have the capacity and the resources to create a sustainable environment for and with our neighbors. Will we do it?

In the true faith may we remain, in Jesus may we find hope, against exploitation of the poor may we help, against our faults may we fight, our bad habits abandon, the name of our neighbor may we defend, in the work of mercy may we advance, those in misery may we help, every danger of sin may we avoid, in holy charity may we grow strong, in the well of grace in confession may we wash, may we deserve the help of the saints and the friendship of Jesus win. Amen

Adapted from Celtic Night Prayers

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