Presiding Bishop's Sermon at General Convention Opening Eucharist
Four and a half years ago, I had the great privilege to join in the consecration of a new bishop, one who told an amazing story about the journey that had brought us all to that place on a cold night in
Ezekiel is talking about a changed heart, but in an even more radical sense he means a heart transplant. Ezekiel is speaking to a disheartened body, yearning for home, aching to be reconciled, impatient to end their depressed and heartsick state. Any parallels?
Heart transplants are at least possible in this era of human history â brain transplants arenât yet â but Ezekiel is also talking about a brain transplant. His people understood the heart not as the seat of emotion, but the seat of decision-making, the critical faculty of judgment we talked about yesterday.
Look and listen again. Ezekiel says the body will be disinfected (I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean), and then comes the surgery (a new heart I will give you, and a new spirit). This is about a new way of understanding and acting, new life that comes from living in a new way.
We didnât hear it this morning, but Ezekiel goes on to report Godâs word about the consequences of this new heart: âI will summon the grain and make it abundant, and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field abundant, so that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.â He also notes that this abundance will prompt the people to repentance for their misdeeds, and that the towns will be repopulated, and the desolate land brought into production again. Godâs garden,
A new heart results in renewed creation â that reconciling mission weâre so fond of talking about. We receive this new heart from an organ donor who has given his life that all might indeed have more abundant life.
Hearts renewed stay that way, living flesh not hardening into stone, when they continue to share that new life; the exercise of pumping keeps a heart healthy. Ezekielâs hearers need a heart transplant because they have forgotten the source of their life and blessing, they have turned inward, they have become small and fearful. Their new life, like that of the dry bones he speaks about in the next chapter, will come as they receive the moist breath of a life-giving God, as they take in hope and possibility and the creative spirit of God, even in the face of crisis.
The Episcopal Church in the
The heart of the ECP began in the missionary heart of this church, as the heart of this church has its origins in missionary hearts farther east, going back over many centuries to the sacred heart in whom we all find our home.
That transplanted or expanded heart has much to do with ubuntu. It is a recognition that the one Body of Christ has many parts, each essential to the functioning and flourishing of the whole, and no one part can be the whole. It is a deep and abiding acknowledgement that together we are whole, and cannot be whole otherwise. When the parts of this body are working together, they discover both their gifts and their limitations. The little toe plays an important role in balance, but it canât smell, even if it is occasionally odorous. The elbow canât run, even though the energy it gives to a pumping arm can add stability and power to the whole body in a sprint.
The Episcopal Church in the
The first missionary bishop in the
That is still our mission work â taking good news and rebirth and offering heart transplants to the languishing. The heart of this church will slowly turn to stone if we think our primary mission work is to those already in the pews inside our beautiful churches, or to those at other altars. We are in cardiac crisis if we think we can close the doors, swing our incense and sing our hymns, and all will be right with the world. The heart of this body is mission â domestic and foreign mission, in partnership with anyone who shares that passion.
Jesus has already given this body a new heart. Every time we gather, the Spirit offers a pacemaker jolt to tweak the rhythm of this heart. The challenge is whether or not weâll recognize and receive that renewed life, whether the muscle will respond with a strengthened beat, sending more life out into the world.
If you read Ezekiel a bit more closely, you discover that the delivered promise of full larders and planted fields and repopulated cities is followed by repentance, by metanoia, getting a new mind â and a new heart. Once abundance is recognized, people begin to feel their hardened hearts. Abundant life is not only promised, but realized, and when we notice, we begin to accept the transplant. We will find more abundant life only in being poured out in giving life to the world.
So, how will this heart push more lifeblood out into a languishing world? Can you hear the heartbeat?