Evensong EYE - A Celebration of Diversity and a Call to Equality

Villanova University, PA
July 11, 2014
Katharine Jefferts Schori

Hello, EYE!  This body has gathered from many parts of The Episcopal Church – Taiwan, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, and 82 dioceses in the United States.  We speak many different languages and we come in many shapes, sizes, colors, attitudes, and abilities.  We are black and brown, blonde and bald, bold and bashful, beef-eaters and berry pickers, occasionally bleary-eyed, bored, and boisterous, and all of us beloved, baptized members of this Body of Christ, marked for mission.  Underneath all those outward differences, we are one body that weeps when it’s wounded and rejoices when we discover the spirit at work in a new way.  We are one because we’re all children of the same God, and we’ve been sent to work together to help heal the world.

You’ve been out and about in this city today, discovering its diversity, both its need and its blessings.  Each one of you has a story to tell about the encounters of this day.  I hope you’ve been moved and marked and changed by someone or something you encountered today.  I hope you’ve told that story to somebody here – or told the world through a tweet or social media post. 

Let me tell you a story.  I was in San Diego not long ago for their diocesan convention, and on the way back to the hotel we stopped at a light where a man was asking for help.  He had a cardboard sign that said “homeless and hungry – please help.”  As we pulled up and read his sign, the driver handed him a sack lunch and a bottle of water.  The convention had sent people out with lots of lunch bags, encouraging them to be like Jesus and share those bags, packed with food, prayer cards, and social service info.  They call this ministry “Blessings in a Bag.”[1]

A friend from northern California told me another story about blessings.  She drives the same route quite frequently, and sees similar sights at intersections.  One day she finally felt bold enough to pull up and ask how she could help the woman in a wheelchair whose sign said, “Hard times.  Anything helps.”  The woman told her she’d love to have some peaches – or at least some fruit – or a granola bar.  My friend noted that the peaches weren’t ripe yet, but said she’d remember.  And then the woman in the wheelchair said, “Are you OK?  I haven’t seen you for a while.  I was wondering where you were and if you were OK.”  My friend reported being startled that this woman kept track of the regulars in her neighborhood. Now my friend keeps a box of granola bars in her front seat.  The next time she found the woman she gave her the box and asked when she would be there so she could bring some ripe peaches.[2]

Each one of those people is telling a story about what God’s world is supposed to look like, and helping to make it happen.  Those who ask for help are reminding us of God’s dream for all creation.  Every part of God’s creation has a part to play – and it will take all of us, working together, to heal this world.  It begins by telling the story. 

Healing begins in pointing to the current brokenness AND the dream for wholeness.  That’s why Jesus says he didn’t come for healthy people, but the sick.  That’s why he hangs out with people in trouble, and people who get ignored by others, that’s why he has dinner with people who don’t get invited to the party or chosen for the team.  Until we have some awareness of the healing that’s needed, we have no need of him.  That’s really where baptism starts.  Baptism marks us as partners in God’s dream for healing the world. 

When we’re baptized, most of us don’t fully recognize what it’s going to mean for our lives.  Even those who are baptized as adults keep growing into a bigger understanding of what God has in mind.  It takes years to get a sense of what it means to help build a world of peace and justice.  It begins as we connect our own stories with the big story about God and Jesus and being loved so completely.  We learn that more deeply every time we tell a story about where we’ve seen that love in action, bringing healing or justice. 

When we meet somebody who’s hurting or hungry, we’ve got a choice.  Will we engage or ignore that person?  If we connect, we can share something of that good news – that all of us are loved beyond imagining, and that we’re willing to show that love in concrete ways.  It may start by feeding somebody who’s hungry, but it doesn’t end there.  We can feed someone a meal, but if nothing changes, that person is going to be hungry again in a few hours.  That’s where the longer-term and bigger-picture work of transformation starts – asking why this person is hungry, or why so many people are standing on street corners asking for help. 

Those questions are a prod from the Holy Spirit:  why is this happening?  What needs to change?  It’s the Holy Spirit acting more like a mosquito than a dove.  But we can’t hide inside the tent – even the holy tent – to protect ourselves.  That holy mosquito is going to get in anyway, and pester us and make us restless until there is justice for all.[3]

Think about it – mosquitoes bite when you aren’t noticing.  They’re looking for blood to feed the next generation.  The mark they leave starts to itch and keeps on itching.  It’s hard to ignore, and if we watch somebody else scratching, we’re all going to start itching.  I think we ought to pray that the Holy Spirit keeps after us like that, and keeps us itching until the world is completely healed.

Some of us think mosquitoes are just a nuisance.  I’ve certainly wondered out loud why God created them.  But when there are mosquitoes are in the neighborhood, people don’t sit still – they get up, wave their arms, run around, and try to do all sorts of things to get rid of them.  Mosquitoes have certainly motivated a whole lot of people to pay attention to malaria and the burden it causes in sub-Saharan Africa.  Most of us have seen those mosquito nets Episcopal Relief and Development calls “nets for life.”

We all need to be bitten, marked with an itch for what the world could be like.  God’s dream needs the different gifts of all sorts of creatures to respond – even mosquitoes or the human version called prophets.  One of them said his job was to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”  In spite of his profession as a boxer, Muhammad Ali was a pacifist.

We’re not going to live in peace until everybody can sit down and share God’s great picnic banquet in peace.  In the meantime, we need people with an itch for justice.  It comes in many different shapes, colors, orientations, languages, but it’s the same thing, under the skin.  It’s called “marked for mission,” “ruined for life,” a prophet of justice, baptismal ministry.

Come, Holy Spirit, descend on us like one of God’s mosquitoes, make us itch for justice, and put us to work with ALL your wondrous creatures.  Drive us out there to meet our hungry and hurting neighbors, and don’t stop until the world is at peace.  Keep itching!

[2] The Rev. Kay Rohde, personal communication, 5 July 2014

[3] Augustine – you made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in you.