25th anniversary of Leo Frade's consecration

Trinity Cathedral, Miami
January 25, 2009

Well, it's been quite a week, hasn't it? I didn't get to go to Washington for the inauguration, but I was there for the prayer service the next day. The prayers of this last week reached out to and included almost everyone. I found it amusing that lots of people found something to be irritated about in those prayers. Back in December, one of the heads of another denomination ranted and raved when he heard that Rick Warren was going to give the invocation at the inaugural. Others got really angry when they heard that the Bishop of New Hampshire was going to pray at the concert last Sunday. Still others were annoyed about the inclusion of Jews, not to mention a Hindu woman and the woman who is head of the North American Islamic Society. Above all, if we really heard all those prayers, they were a good reminder that none of us is the whole, and that the prayers aren't directed at us, anyway. It's sort of like the story about the child saying his prayers at bedtime, and the father leans over and says, 'I can't hear you. And the kid's response comes back, 'not talking to you.

But even the griping about who prayed hasn't been able to dampen the spirit this week. The yearnings and hopes of the world have been set front and center. After the prayer service at the National Cathedral on Wednesday, I met a group of Africans, people who had come from Togo, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon, French speakers whose English was far more adept than my French. They were Anglicans, and they wanted a prayer and blessing before they went home. They said that they'd saved up their money for months, hoping that Obama would be elected, and that they could come to the U.S. to be part of this. They stayed less than two days and then flew home again.

As I traveled to Washington on Tuesday and away on Wednesday, everyone in the streets and on the train wanted to share the excitement and their hope for a new world. In some deep sense, this nation and the world have had a Damascus Road experience. Our blindness to our common humanity has been at least temporarily healed, we've remembered the ancient hope for a future where there is a place for everyone, especially those who have not historically had a place at the front and in the center.

Paul's own conversion, being knocked off his high horse and discovering his own blindness, was to a broader and more inclusive vision of who is welcome at God's table. He discovered that this scandalous rabbi who ate with anybody was even interested in his enemy, Saul the Pharisee. As Paul began to discover how well he was loved, he also began to hear what Jesus had told the disciples, 'I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Jesus didn't mean either 'bite your enemies or 'roll over and play dead. He did mean that when you know that you are God's best-beloved, then you can deal with wolves while you search for sheep. The words that are translated wise as serpents and innocent as doves actually mean something much deeper. To be wise as a serpent can indeed mean crafty or cunning, but it more likely means bold or gutsy. If we remember that perfect love casts out fear, that's a hint about where Jesus is going ' be unafraid, courageous, bold. And to be innocent as a dove doesn't mean being naïve or witless ' it means single-minded, like a robin going after the first worm in a freshly dampened lawn.

Jesus is sending his disciples out to be single-minded and unafraid in their care for lost and hungry sheep, and maybe even willing to go so far as to reform those wolves into eating carrots and hay.

Paul's conversion transforms his perspective, from being single minded about persecuting Jesus' followers to caring for them and all the lost sheep out there, and to do it unafraid of the world's tyrants.

It is fitting that we celebrate Leo Frade's quarter-century as a sheep herder on this feast of Paul's conversion. His own story shares something with Paul's ' though it was not from violence that Leo was converted. It's probably fairer to say that his conversion was prompted by encounters with violence, the kind of violence that the powerful have always used on those who have a different opinion, or a lesser place in the socio-political structures of this world. The arrogant violence of withdrawing a college scholarship because of his civil rights work, and the violence of a legal system that brought him to stand before governors and kings ' or at least judges and jailers and lawyers ' as he worked to defend the defenseless leaving Cuba. Engaging the powers often unleashes violence, as Paul himself notes, 'for this reason the authorities seized me and tried to kill me.

Leo's conversion continues. He brought with him into this church the strangely-warmed heart of the evangelical Methodist, discovered the liturgical fervor of the Anglo-Catholic, and unleashed the passion for justice of a William Wilberforce or a Martin Luther King, Jr. He believes the gospel he preaches, and he understands that it intends to set the prisoners free ' the prisoners of poverty, hunger, ignorance, illness, and hopelessness, and the prisoners of repression. He continues the gospel work to set the prisoners free, in this era particularly the prisoners of prejudice and discrimination.

He calls himself the 'bishop of everyone.

He's also unafraid to prick the prisons of cultural norms. I've heard fascinating hints about a time when he was the director of the summer camp in the diocese of Louisiana, when all the kitchen staff quit because of a T shirt he insisted on wearing. You'll have to ask him for the details.

Being wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove has its burdens, you know, particularly when you're unafraid to call the emperor's bluff or name the fact that the emperor's in the buff.

We're here to give thanks for the ministry of a Pauline bishop, for a 'fresh presence in the world of the stuffy and the dead, for the bold and selfless leader who knows what Christians are meant to be doing. He doesn't try to do it by himself, either. He's got a remarkable gift for building communities of passionate companions, joined in this work of liberation. Diana is first among them, in her work with Our Little Roses. In that case, I think it's probably more a matter of Leo saying, 'yes, dear. But it's the same thing he says to Jesus, 'yes, dear, I know your people are suffering. He said so himself in the aftermath of hurricane Mitch in 1998: [it's] 'the same when the volunteers come back covered with mud but with a beautiful smile, like the ones you get when you get to feed Jesus, when you give water to our Lord, when you get to clothe our God.[1]

Let's keep praying for more Damascus Road experiences. May they heal us so we see Jesus everywhere in the poor and imprisoned. Set us free, O Lord ' every single one of us. ¡Liberanos todos, O senor, ahora mismo!

[1] ACNS 15 Nov 1998, http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/news.cfm/1998/11/15/ACNS1776