Sermon preached on the occasion of the Celebration of New Ministry of the Rev. David T. Andrews and the Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew, Pentecost Sunday, 2010
by the Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows
Wow! What a night—already. The spirit is alive and well on this feast of Pentecost and I suspect, that this is how it usually is, around here, am I right? Yeah…I had one of my parishioners checking you guys out last Sunday and she let me know, you all don’t wait till Pentecost to let the wind of the spirit blow through here. Thanks be to God!
Oh how good it is to be in this place, on this night, on this occasion. I had the good fortune of visiting your parish about 12 years ago. Your former rector, Lloyd Casson, was my parish priest back when we were both at Trinity Church, Wall Street some 20 years ago, and he helped me discern a calling to the priesthood. He had just begun his ministry here and invited me to see your gorgeous building and hear the story of your coming together as St. Andrew and St. Matthew parish.
Now, lo these many years later, I’m honored to be with you as my dear friend David Andrews is installed as your rector and you begin a new chapter in your ministries together. David has known me since I was a young seminarian preparing for priesthood and his wife Emily interviewed me for ordination. They have remained good and dear friends over the years and being here is give me a sense of coming full circle. In many ways, I would not be the priest I am today without David and Emily—so if you don’t like what I have to say tonight, you know where to cast the blame! Actually, David warned me not to tell too many jokes about him tonight—and David, I’m going to honor that request, not just because you asked, but because we’d never get out of here. So no worries.
I bring you greetings from the brothers and sisters of Grace Episcopal Church, Syracuse, New York, where I’m honored to serve as rector. It is place not unlike SaAm—a parish that is comprised of nearly 50/50 black and anglo souls who experience the kingdom of God in the richness of diversity. You probably know how rare it is to find this kind of integration and diversity when gathered for worship. It is a sadness that Martin Luther’s King Jr’s words ring all too true to this day that Sunday at 11am is the most segregated hour in America. Your parish, like mine, is one of just three dozen or so parishes in the Episcopal Church that are this mixed in color and race. Hear me? Thirty something parishes of 7500 in the Episcopal Church can claim this much black/white diversity. I used to bemoan that sad statistic and I still do in some ways, but I now am conscious to celebrate it, rejoice in it, safeguard it, and invite other communities to join us in opening our doors far and wide to peoples of diverse racial, economic, and class identities. But I’ve also realized that we cannot invite others into that way of being in community unless we are truly doing the work that Jesus calls us to do.
Now I’m not talking about doing works of justice and mercy—though, that is certainly needed and we must rightly put our gifts and resources to making the world more just particularly for the least, the lost, and the lonely. No, I’m talking about something more basic and more difficult. I’m talking about being friends. Being friends with one another and being friends with God as made known in Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but as I look at the church—the Episcopal Church in particular—I sense much anxiety about our present and our future. Actually, the anxiety is quite palpable in many communities and it stems from all kinds of things—from the disagreements within the Anglican Communion, to human sexuality issues, to financial troubles, the drain that buildings and even affording clergy can have on shrinking budgets…there is anxiety about whether there will be another generation to fill our pews, where are the young people? How to be faithful as a Christian while still respecting other faith traditions, how to grow our memberships, how to grow in the life of the Spirit that we celebrate today, how to speak coherently and clearly about our faith…on and on it goes.
We live in a time that is perhaps more polarized than any other in history. We have more information at our fingertips and are more plugged into music, news, our cell phones than ever, email comes at us quicker than lightening and we struggle to keep up with it, with us sometimes sacrificing our more important human and face to face interactions. Oh, and I’m still talking about the church here—do you get me?
And I imagine God sees all of us running around, anxious, priorities skewed, and God quotes the Talking Heads and says, Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
The technology may be different but the rest is the same ol’ same ol’. The people of God, running around anxious, sacrificing community and deep relationship for the thing that is supposed to help us do relationship. So in the old days, it would be the many laws that would get in the way of relationships—For Jews do not share anything in common with Samaritans. Or it would be custom and tradition—whites in the pews below, slaves in the gallery above. You know.
But it is supposed to be different for us—we who follow Jesus. For we remember how he sat with his closest friends—and even his betrayer—and gave them a new commandment to love one another—to love one another with a new standard of friendship. The kind of friendship worth dying for. The kind of friendship he’d empty himself for, give up his life for. He sat with those whom he loved, washed their feet and showed them—he didn’t just tell them, he showed them what turning the expected roles upside down and serving looked like. And then he said this is how it is to be among you. He broke bread and blessed wine and told them to do that in his name—helping them to see that the broken body and blood shed would always be part of their realities but that it could be transformed and made whole again when friends gathered in his name.
And we know this, we hear it each year as we prepare for Easter. You probably hear it preached from time to time whatever the lectionary says. But this is the deal friends—if we want to get over our anxiety about the future of the church, the future of our parishes, the future of the new ministry you celebrate and bless tonight, we must learn to befriend one another and God in the way Jesus spoke about that night: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
So let’s tell the truth about it: our inability to love the way Jesus called us to live is part of what is killing the church. I know, that’s harsh right? But you’ve seen it. And I’m not pointing fingers at individuals and saying its your fault, I’m saying, that whatever goals and objectives you’ve begun to lay out for yourselves, whatever visioning you are doing for the future of SsAM, it won’t matter if you can’t show the world Jesus by loving as he called us to love.
I want to leave you with a few words tonight as you begin this new chapter in all of your ministries. Yes, we are celebrating a new ministry—but we are also blessing the continuation of a rich history and legacy of ministry that SsAM carries forward into God’s full future in partnership with David who comes to you with gifts, vision, and a wicked sense of humor that I’m sure he’s already begun to unleash on you.
So here it is: Show and tell, build and be, and abide.
Show and Tell: Show the world Jesus—witness to his love and life in the ways only you can do. With the richness of your diversity, your history, your coming together in consolidation—you have already done some incredible relationship building by becoming the parish you are. But continue to show the world what this kind of love looks like by inviting them in—as you do so wonderfully with your music, arts, and children’s programs—but take it outside too. And as you do, don’t be shy about saying that you do these things because you love Jesus. My brothers and sisters, we have to claim him. There are lots of Christians who are afraid to talk about or say the name of Jesus, and so people wonder why we gather at all. Anyone can put on a concert or feed the hungry. But we do it because this is how we befriend the world in Jesus’ name. And we need not fear making others uncomfortable about that—because we can still claim Jesus with humble clarity that still respects and honors the different faith walks that others take.
Build and Be. Build and be a community that can tell the truth—to one another and to the world. Tell the truth about what? Everything. Tell the truth that yes, our church is dying in many places but it is waiting to rise up in others. Tell the truth that yes, it isn’t always easy to disagree and stay in relationship, but we work at it because that is the way we build the community of friendship that Christ calls us to. Be the community that tells the truth, not of what poverty and homelessness and crime does to a community—be the church that tells the truth about what it does to PEOPLE. The very precious people of God that Jesus has asked us to befriend. And not befriend like—we’ll take care of you and give you some canned goods—Jesus is talking about giving up his life for God’s beloved—all of them, any of them. What are WE talking about? But also know that the diversity you share in this community is just the beginning—continue to build on it and live the truth of God’s full image.
And Abide. Abide, dwell, live in God’s love. And abide one another. Abide your new rector. You know the dictionary has the following definitions for the word abide: To put up with; tolerate, to bear. To wait patiently for, to withstand, to remain in a place, to continue, to dwell, to persevere. Jesus says, abide in my love—and yes, let’s make a home in God’s love and dwell there richly. But recognize that there will be times when you will be simply abiding one another—you and your rector. You will grow together in God’s love and along the way you will learn to put up with one another, tolerate one another, be patient with one another, persevere with one another, and God willing, you will remain in a place—this place—together, for a long, long time.
All this of this friendship business takes time and work. And we know that if the disciples struggled in this, then we will have our own struggles too. But this is the mission—learning to love as God loves—relentlessly, sacrificially, demonstratively, deeply, truthfully, patiently. Show the world Jesus—make it plain and easy to understand. People may say, see those Christians, how they love one another. But what they will be seeing is the risen Christ, alive in each and every one of you and those you love and serve. Keep making room for the spirit to move in this place, to rock this place, and show them Jesus. Amen.