Presiding Bishop calls listeners to remember the 'mixed reality' of being 'the image of God in earthen vessels'

Diocese of Michigan, Province V brief Council on ministries
October 27, 2007

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reminded the worshippers at Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, Michigan, October 28 that human beings are the image of God in earthen vessels.

"As long as we don't forget that mixed reality, we're doing just fine," she told the congregation which included both Christ Church members and those of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council and Church Center staff who have been meeting in at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Dearborn. "When we assume either that we've got it all right, or if we forget that we are bearers of the divine image, we've missed the point."

Jefferts Schori, who also presided at the Eucharist, preached on the Proper 25's Revised Common Lectionary readings of Jeremiah 14:7-10,19-22 and Luke 18:9-14.

The text of sermon is here.

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson read the New Testament lesson and was a chalice bearer.

The Presiding Bishop said Jesus' parable in the Gospel reading is very direct in its message about the implications of forgetting that "mixed reality." Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who are praying in the temple. The Pharisee prays "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income." The tax collector does not event look up to heaven, but beats his breast and prays, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" Jesus praises the tax collector's attitude.

"It is the tax collector's hunger, along with his prayer, that sets him right," Jefferts Schori said. "The first pray-er isn't hungry, he's already full. He hasn't the capacity to enjoy the feast that is set before him."

She told the congregation that she had overheard a lay Baptist minister speaking in a hotel meeting room across the hall from where Executive Council had been gathering who told his listeners that "fasting and prayer go together like red beans and rice." She said if one begins to debate whether one should be thinking about eating while fasting, "then comes the subtle reminder that we can't ever get it right -- or we can't ever get it completely clean and pure -- even when we try."

During the sermon, Jefferts Schori asked God to "help us to be honest enough to claim the image of God in which we are made, and help us also to be honest enough to acknowledge our hunger to see you more clearly through that image."

"Help us get out of our own way when we forget that the image we bear is neither more nor less than the image in our neighbors, and that you love us all equally -- as best beloved," she continued. "Help us to enjoy the great feast that comes in seeing you in the diversity of images all around us. Remind us that we need both beans and rice."

The image of rice and beans, both of which are needed to given the eater a complete protein, is "most poignant" in the wake of the wildfires in southern California, Jefferts Schori said. She noted that the fire department from Tijuana, Mexico, had crossed the often-disputed border between with the U.S. to help fight the fires, but had not been publicly thanked. She spoke of hearing that people and congregations in New Orleans, ravaged two years ago by Hurricane Katrina, have sent money and offers of assistance to southern California.

"The feast of red beans and rice is being made real, even in the midst of tragedy," she said.

After returning to the hotel, Council members and staff joined Diocese of Michigan Bishop Wendell Gibbs and members of the diocesan leadership for brunch, during which time they briefed the Council on the diocese's ministry.

Gibbs introduced a PowerPoint presentation about the vision of the diocese, set to the hymn "Here I Am, Lord."

After the presentation, Gibbs said that the diocese "is called to be a people of common prayer, expecting uncommon results."

He told the Council that there has been some disagreement within the diocese about the direction of the Episcopal Church but that disagreements "are handled in the manner of building, always building relationships." The result is that only one priest and some of his congregants chose to leave the diocese. However, he said, the parish remains and is growing and, he added, the vast majority of the diocese is happy to be part of the Episcopal Church.

Gibbs, who is also president of Province V., introduced the Rev. Gay Jennings, one of two the Province V representatives on the Executive Council, who briefed the Council on the province's ministry.

She noted that the province has the Episcopal Church's most newly created diocese -- the Diocese of Eastern Michigan -- and is very diverse, adding "somehow we find a way to work together."