Sermon for the West Tennessee Convention, Lift Every Voice
A week ago I was in
Epiphany is transforming the whole community, including the train stop outside the front door. They got the drug-infested alley behind the school building closed â itâs now dedicated to a playground and ball field. The collision repair shop across the parking lot is in their sights as well â they want to buy it and turn it into housing, for some kids to board during the week, and for families in crisis. I suggested to the director that they shouldnât change the name â because they are all about collision repair. They provide massive social support for the students and their families, dealing with health, housing, and employment issues. A sizeable percentage of their students are referred from the state childrenâs services, as abused or foster children.
This is reconciliation in action. It is the kind of reconciling ministry into which every Christian is baptized. If you look in the back of the prayer book, at the Catechism, it will tell you that the mission of the Church is to reconcile the world to God and each other in Christ. Thatâs what we promised to do when we were baptized. It is the vocation of each and every one of us, not just those of us who wear funny clothes or stand up front.
How and why is this reconciliation? The children at Epiphany school have to look the director in the eye and shake his hand every day before they can go in the door. It is a way of reminding each one that she or he is beloved, that all are Godâs treasured possession, as Exodus puts it, and like the Hebrew people, they too are being delivered from the slavery of wretched and hopeless poverty. Itâs a sacramental reminder that somebody cares â that Godâs love has flesh in that place, and will reach out a hand and look you in the eye to remind you of it.
Reconciling work goes on throughout the day â feeding hungry stomachs and hungry brains and hungry hearts, connecting gifts and interests with the resources to let them grow and mature into the full stature of Christ. Reconciliation connects families with the resources needed for a life of dignity â with home and heat, health and meaningful work. And a reconciled community is built in the process â the place looks a great deal like a middle school version of the reign of God. An 8th grade African-American girl gave the sermon the day I was there, and it was a fine example of connecting the pain she sees in kids in her city with the good news of the gospel.
God calls you and me âtreasured possessionâ as well. Weâve been brought out of
Reconciliation, at its root, means to take counsel together. It means spending time in conversation to begin to see the image of God in one who has been at a distance. One of the most powerful images of reconciling community is Rublevâs icon of the Trinity. Itâs the kind of conversation I spoke about yesterday â spending time in the presence of another, living together, with or without words. Prayer as listening (obey, again) is an example of conversation with God. Building community grows out of that kind of abiding with others and with God. Our vocation is building community that looks more like the reign of God.
You have gathered in this place to make decisions about how you will live in this community called the Diocese of West Tennessee. Your reconciling work is about how your common life can bless the larger community â it is about how you reconcile among yourselves, but it canât stop there. Your internal work must have consequences for the larger world. That is the cross-shaped and self-denying work, for it means turning the focus away from our private wants toward the healing of the world. It is a source of abundant life and grace, of the sort of which Jesusâ passion and resurrection is our central icon.
The work of this Convention and this Diocese is in part to discern your gifts, and in part to mobilize those gifts. Peterâs letter is pretty clear about what that looks like: love each other, and serve with whatever gift youâve got. But donât just love each other, he says, maintain constant love for each other â work at it! â and you will discover that it will get you past the errings and wanderings that divide you (that multitude of sins). The act of loving service will itself produce reconciliation. I hear it every time I go to
A group from the Diocese of New York came to see me on Tuesday to talk about All Our Children, an initiative they hope will encourage every congregation in this country to partner with a public school, so that every student has an experience of Godâs love in human flesh.
How and where are your gifts meant to be put to work? How can your conversation with the larger community produce reconciliation? Iâve heard lots of examples here â work with school children; mission partnerships with
How are you going to be reconcilers in this world? How will you be priestly people? What will you give in return for your life?