October 8, 2008

Now, I checked this out with a wholly unscientific poll among the younger members of the PB Office staff – and got a 50/50 recognition on the theme from Star Trek, the opening that goes like this: “Space... the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no [man] has gone before.” Aside from the sexist language, it’s gone a long way into the popular vernacular as a recognizable mission statement. It’s also not so different from what Jesus tells his disciples in the gospel passage, which we might interpret in the vernacular like this:

“All authority in the universe is mine, so go boldly to all edges and frontiers of this universe, to deliver the good message: love God and neighbor, be my friends, and serve each other – and remember, not just the Force is with you, but I AM.”

If you Bexleyites are serious about claiming your place on the frontier, and every indication I have says you are, then this is the kind of way in which you’re learning to deliver that message – updated to appropriately contemporary cultural idioms, of course. Maybe you can do it in rap or anime or some newer idiom that I haven’t even heard of.

Bexley was begun by a frontier explorer. While he was still a college student, Philander Chase started sharing this message with the people in his hometown by helping to begin the congregation that became Trinity Church in Cornish, New Hampshire. From there he started bouncing around the edges of this incipient nation – to New Orleans, and Ohio, and Illinois. He was the sixth presiding bishop, and he followed a Griswold, too.

Chase started his ordained ministry in Poughkeepsie, New York, and then went to New Orleans to found a church right after the Louisiana Purchase made that territory part of the United States. Later he went to Connecticut, and then Ohio to do the same. Made bishop in 1817, he continued founding congregations, Kenyon College, and Bexley Hall. Some versions of the story indicate that Kenyon was mostly intended to be a feeder school for Bexley. Next on his journey was moving over to southern Michigan and spreading the word there, then on to Illinois, and starting more congregations and another seminary at Jubilee College. This was an apostle who loved frontiers. He wasn’t just a bishop on the move, he danced pretty close to being a wandering bishop, and he pushed the boundaries all over the place. He accepted the position of bishop in Illinois even before there was a diocese there. He’d drive the canon lawyers crazy today.

Bexley has followed a similar course, beginning on the frontier, then moving to Rochester to explore a different frontier, and then back here – again looking for newer frontiers. Welcome home, and remember that your job is to continue seeking those new frontiers. One of them is most certainly making common cause with our near siblings, and this joint endeavor with Trinity Lutheran Seminary is a great example. Jesus’ friends are not sent out alone, and the more we can discover about how to work with our companions on this journey the more effective we will be. I saw a glimpse of the possibilities when I visited the Church of Sweden a couple of weeks ago. We Episcopalians have something to learn from a recently disestablished church and the ways in which they continue to take seriously their responsibility for the whole community.

We’re remembering the Trinity in our readings today, which is fitting at many levels. We are the guests of Trinity, both the seminary and the reality of God. Our understanding of God is fundamentally relational, and it implies that our existence is meant to reflect that relationality. Rublev’s icon is a great image of that relational reality. Our existence only has meaning in relationship. There’s a marvelous Zulu-Xhosa word for it, ubuntu, that’s often translated as “I am because we are.” It’s a much more Hebraic and tribal understanding of what it means to be human, and often foreign to western individualism. It is, however, central to Christian ethics and our ability to challenge the culture around us. It should also motivate our journeying, our exploring of those frontiers. We don’t go out there simply to bring our message or impose our view of reality, but to discover the ways in which God is already at work – to bless and be blessed in the encounter. Nor do we go out there alone. The body is knit together as we journey, both with our companions and with those we encounter.

This past weekend, The Episcopal Church made a public apology for the evil and sin of slavery, out of that deep understanding that we are all part of one body, that when one member suffers all do, and when one rejoices, all may. As a church and a nation we are beginning to rediscover some of those ancient truths, which were supposedly central to our founding charism: that all “men” are created equal, and that all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Only when all members of the body are equally valued will we begin to build a more Trinitarian society, one that reflects the very nature of God.

There’s a fascinating connection with the history of Bexley Hall. Lord Bexley, who helped to fund the beginnings of this institution on the frontier, was a member of the Clapham Sect. One of his fellow members was William Wilberforce, who in 1833 was largely responsible for ending the British involvement in the slave trade. You are well endowed with a history of challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries.

That’s why all of us are here. We’ve been challenged to go out there and take the good news into dark, fearsome, and lonely places. Our mission is to go where no one has gone before, to new frontiers, engaging change, bearing the cross of relationship, and that vision of community we know as Trinity. Be blessed on your journey, be a blessing as you go, and go discover the blessings at the edge of the universe.