Sermon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Daphne, AL

Dedication of new parish life center
May 30, 2009

“Encourage one another and build each other up.” We’re here because you’ve been building up, and this new building is going to encourage you to keep building each other up, and not just each other, but many, many others.

As beautiful as this is, it’s just the shell of what is to come. The foundation was laid long ago, and you’re going to continue to build this community into a spiritual house by the way you love each other. That’s what the letter to the Thessalonians is talking about. The building is merely a tool, a resource. The real work happens as you hammer and saw on each other, and how you respond to that shaping.

On Thursday, I spent some time visiting with Henri and Mugisa Isingoma. They’re friends and Anglicans from Congo. He has been elected as the next Archbishop of Congo, and he’ll take office in August. They’ve been away from home for more than a month, and New York wasn’t their last stop. He is on the Anglican Consultative Council, and we spent time together in Jamaica a couple of weeks ago. Mugisa has been visiting in the diocese of Connecticut for several weeks. Connecticut has a companion relationship with the Diocese of Boga, where Henri is now bishop. The people of Congo have been living through a war for years, the bloodiest war since the Second World War, with more than 4 million dead in the last 15 years. The violence has spilled over from surrounding nations – particularly the aftermath of the Hutu-Tutsi carnage in Rwanda.

Last year during the diocesan convention, the war intensified and people were stuck in Bunia and couldn’t get home for weeks. The road was literally reopened when Bp Henri led a caravan through, talking to and negotiating with soldiers on the way. He gets safe passage because the soldiers on both sides know he is concerned about their welfare, not fomenting further violence. He and Mugisa told me about his arrest shortly after he became bishop ten years ago, because the government thought he was a Rwandan. He succeeded Emmanuel Kolini, who went back to Rwanda as their archbishop, and the foreign minister was certain that he must also be Rwandan. Mugisa said her English was very poor, so she got out her dictionary, wrote out one sentence, “Congo government arrest Bishop Isingoma” and called up the Archbishop of Canterbury. The British foreign minister called the Rwandan government, who called the Archbishop of Congo and said “why are your people causing us so much trouble?” Henri was out in short order.

Mugisa told me of her work with women in the diocese, and not just Anglican women. She is helping to lead reconciliation work, and teaching peacemaking. One of the women in a recent meeting recognized another one as the killer of her son. Mugisa said they kept on working, telling their stories, and that it took many days, but the two women finally found some measure of peace with each other.

The Isingomas are building up the people of Congo, encouraging the faint hearted, helping the weak, and being patient with all. Together, they’re building a house that can bring greater justice for all their people.

You can do equally powerful things right here, one person at a time. The children who spend time with you during Episcopal Bay Camp will discover what it means to love each other, and to care for God’s creation. They will learn something about making peace when they struggle over toys or being first in line or how to steward the riches of this earth.

The people of this congregation, those already here and those yet to arrive, will be built up into lovers of more of God’s children. You’re going to strengthen feeble knees to stand tall and confront the pain and suffering in this world, build up tentative voices to offer good news about Jesus, and put helping hands to work to demonstrate love for those who need actual houses, or a healing hand in Guatemala or the Dominican Republic or next door.

This coast has seen lots of houses and churches and other buildings wash away. Some of them were built on sand, and some of them built too close to the beach, and many built of materials that couldn’t stand the onslaught of wind and water. But where have they been rebuilt? Some of them have gone right back up in those dangerous places, and some in safer places have languished, forgotten. The new building has happened only where there’s hope. That’s the gift you have to share. Hope for a new life, for a renewed community, for a healed world. You are meant to build in dangerous places, even places like Congo, and make peace. You are meant to build in places that are sleepy and comfortable and challenge yourselves and others to more abundant life. Everywhere you build, in each soul and every community, you bring hope.

That’s your task. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks at all times. For we are constructed of hope, and we’re redeemed in hope, and we’re built up for