79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church: July 12 sermon by Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis
The following is the text of the sermon that Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, preached at the General Convention Eucharist on July 12, 2018.
In the name of the One, Holy, and Living God.
Please be seated.
Well good evening Saints! How we doing tonight? I mean, it’s been a day, right? It’s been a week. It’s been a couple of weeks for many of us.
It is an honor to stand in this place and bring a word as we begin to close out our time at this 79th General Convention. And you know we’re at that point in the convention that is most like the end of a road race – you know I like to run races every now and again, and there’s always a point when someone is holding up the sign that says — “you’re almost there”!
But it’s not really. So, but really, we are actually almost there.
And this has been quite a convention, hasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been more hopeful for the Episcopal Church. Right? You can tell, can’t you? There is something different, there’s something different in the air — and God knows we need it. There has been, I think particularly in these days, a time of stretching, and experiencing new ways of being together, witnessing boldly as we’ve stood with the hurting and vulnerable, worshiping in many languages, and diving more deeply into the call to be the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. We know, I hope we know, that being the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement is not a cool catch phrase made perfect for bumper stickers and t-shirts — it is a deep dive into a way of being, a way of living — a way of loving.
Twelve days ago we gathered from across the world to tend to the business of the domestic and foreign missionary society of the Episcopal Church. And with few exceptions we have spent most of our time pretty close to here, you know, kind of confined to a few square miles of this convention center. And I can’t quite put my finger on it but I know this — from the moment we got here some two weeks ago to today, we are not the same. We are not the same. From the lament, and confession, and commitment to amendment of life at the “Me Too” listening session that began our time, to the Spirit-filled Revival – I mean, we did a Revival, y’all, like big time! I mean, you know, and I know we’ve been doing these across the church, but really, we did a Revival, in Texas, so you know, we went big, and it was something that I never thought we would see. And then, the public witnesses we have made on the matters of gun violence and immigration, and then our reconciliation and reunion with the Diocese of Cuba — yeah - we have been living a liturgy, folks, we have been living a liturgy these past ten days and God is reshaping this church.
By now, right now, we are shifting our attention and I’m wondering – my question for the night really is, if you are ready. Are we ready? And are we ready to go? And I know that the hour is late – check my watch – the hour is late, and you’re probably already beginning to shift towards home, beginning to pack, doing all the things we need to do to depart from this 79th Convention, and I want to know whether we are really ready to go and do this thing?
Because, there’s something different.
We are being sent forth, commissioned anew by Jesus to go out to all the world and make what we have done here matter. We’re being sent forth to make what we have done here matter not just to us, the Episcopal Church, but to the world. Our Presiding Bishop has been preaching, and teaching and encouraging us to Go and I want to know if we are ready! Because with all due respect to the Saints from Nevada, what has happened in Austin better not STAY in Austin — so I wanna know, are you ready to go?
Are you ready?
We are not unlike Jesus’ first disciples who were commissioned by Jesus to go. The eleven, you remember, met him on the mountain in Galilee, and though some doubted, Jesus remained clear and commanded them: Go, therefore and make disciples, students of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now the action in Matthew’s Gospel comes pretty rapidly at this point in the book. And so it is after Jesus is crucified, died, and buried and after Mary Magdalene and the other Mary find the tomb empty and are met by the risen Jesus that we get this new commandment. Their first reaction, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, their first reaction is fear, but you notice they get beyond their fear, they get beyond their fears and they follow Jesus’ instructions. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that if Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had stayed in their fear, we would not be here tonight. Amen? We would not be here. It is not lost on me that the women are the first to be told to go and tell the brothers to meet Jesus in Galilee. Let the hearer understand, let the hearer understand that we can believe the women the first time.
And to their credit, to their credit, the eleven did believe the women, and they followed directions, and they went. I can give a credit, you know? Gotta give ‘em credit, where it’s due. And so there on the mountain the eleven worshipped Jesus, and even in their doubt they showed up, and were commissioned to go and teach others in the way of Jesus — the loving, liberating, life-giving ways of Jesus trusting that he would be with them to the end of days.
Beloved, it is time for us to leave this mountain top, and go and tell others what we have seen and done here — what we have learned here about being the church. It sounds crazy, I know, ‘cause we’re talking about General Convention after all, which some might not call exactly a mountaintop experience. But for many of us, this is the height of how we come together and celebrate being the church. But what if we left this place and went home to encourage others in the way of love? Encouragement is one of the last of the great practices. We don’t talk about it enough. But it is a vital practice. Because to encourage is to give hope, determination and guidance. It is a work of the heart. We who are continually encouraged by the sacramental, liturgical, and communal life in Christ are called to encourage a world that remains afraid. We’re afraid of one another, afraid of difference, afraid of being vulnerable, afraid of disagreeing, afraid of oh, so many things. And that fear is binding us up and creating a world where unspeakably evil things are being normalized. Our fears will not protect us. Our fears are killing us.
But we who follow Jesus are called to witness that life can be and is different when we get real with one another. When we change the relationship that we have, when we share, and really share, and tell the truth, we change the relationship. When we share the stories that are almost too tender for us, we change the relationship. And we can even change our hearts when we look and listen deeply to see how God is already working in and through the other. So like prayer, and rest, and worship and encouragement, this way of seeing and hearing like Jesus is a practice. And we have to do it over, and over, and over again.
Practicing the way of love in Jesus means it becomes difficult to be witness to a sexist joke and let it go, or to overhear an unchecked comment that reinforces hateful stereotypes and just let that go. Or to absorb the racist micro aggression and let it pass because “they really didn’t mean it” or you’re just too tired to have to say something again. It bears repeating that God’s dream for us isn’t politically correct appeasement — God’s dream for humanity is not that small. The erasure of hatred, and white supremacy, and misogyny, and homophobia, and xenophobia from human hearts so that we might turn to love, is a matter of normalizing love because of, not in spite of difference — that is the beginning of God’s dream.
So, we have done things at this General Convention that I never thought I’d see or experience. And I don’t just mean – you know, like thousands of Episcopalians clapping, mostly on beat – I mean, we’re getting better all the time, though, we really are! But I mean, the ways in which we have been witnessing to our faith in public. Like last week when the Evangelism and Church Planting Committee, Committee 11, was sent out two by two to have conversations about faith with people on the streets of Austin. I went out with Deputy Lee Ann Walling of Delaware and we met Keifred. Where’s Lee Ann? There we go, Delaware! We met Keifred, and there was this man sitting in the heat of the day at noonday drawing in his journal and he reminded me as we talked to him of the gospel truth that we really needed to hear that day, I know I needed to it — he said, “Our God is always on time.” Now hear me church, we have been sent out from the air-conditioned beauty of the comfortable JW Marriott to see where God was already at work and we were blessed in the first five minutes by a man sharing the Good News with us.
Witnessing to our love of God in Christ in public is simply about showing up and declaring to the other — I see you. I acknowledge you — you will not be invisible to me. You matter. The stories of our witness at the Hutto Detention center were heart-achingly beautiful. Because showing up matters — Showing up, just showing up was good news to the women waving pieces of paper in the windows of the detention center acknowledging that they were seen — another witness to normalizing love.
Beloved, it is almost as if all of Austin was commissioned to go out and teach US in the loving, liberating, and life-giving ways of Jesus — I mean, imagine that! Imgine, then, what might be waiting for us at home. I’m pretty sure that back home, there’s a word waiting for us, too. And that we can do the same for one another — disciple encourage one another in the way of love.
So, it’s almost time to go, and with the words of the great commission we are being sent forth. And lest we forget, let us remember always that we are being sent forth by Jesus. And maybe it’s just too obvious ‘cause we say Jesus a lot, right? But in our excitement to get back to home and business as usual kind of, let us remember that we are being sent forth by the Jesus who lived life on the margins. We are being sent forth by the Jesus who chose to cast his lot with the least, the lost, and the lonely. We are being sent forth by Jesus who found himself entangled with the criminal justice system of his day. We are being sent forth by Jesus who loved his friends enough to accept their betrayal and desertion. We are being sent forth by Jesus who hung to die in the heat of the day feeling the abandonment of God and people alike. And we are being sent forth by Jesus who was crucified, died, and rose victorious over death as he promised and returned to his friends who at first could not and would not believe it. But once they did, they began to set the world on fire, set the world on fire.
So, I’m going to ask you, Saints, are you ready? Are you ready? Being the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, are you ready? Let me just tell you now, just to be sure, ‘cause this means we cannot stay where we are. Movements move, right? Movements move. Movements move. These are decisions we make moment by moment to live a particular way and Saints — this is our moment. This is our time. Meaning, if we were ever called to claim the counter cultural Christian mantle that is about turning the world upside down so that we can normalize love instead of hate — it is now. Right now. And guess what? You know the way. You know what to do. You have totally got this. Now go!