Bishop Skip’s Sermon for the Joint Special Convention

March 16, 2024
I Corinthians 13:1-13; Mark 9:14-29

I’ll bet that most of you have come here today to vote on whether or not our two dioceses will juncture. Hold that thought. I’d like to propose that the main event today is what we’re doing right now, that is, joining in the Great Prayer of the Church we know as the Holy Eucharist. This time of celebration intimately joins us to the one central sacrament, who is Jesus, as the outward and visible sign of who God is. If what we are about today is not first about who we are as God’s people in Christ, how we will live out our communion in Christ, and how above all things, even in our voting, we give honor, glory, and worship to him, we have lost our way.

Perhaps one way to get at this is by looking once again to that oh so familiar reading from Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth. It is read at many weddings. We understand why. But let’s look closer. What is the love of which St. Paul speaks, and to which he calls you and me in Christian community? Try this. Every time in that passage, when the word “love” appears, substitute these words: “The love of Jesus as shown forth in his cross and resurrection.” There’s not much room for mere sentimentality here. Paul’s meaning is death and new life in the living Christ. Trying on a few sentences, now we get: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have the love of Jesus as shown forth in the cross and resurrection, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have the love of Jesus as shown forth in his cross and resurrection, I am nothing.” Jumping ahead in I Corinthians: “The love of Jesus as shown forth in his cross and resurrection does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…it never ends…And now faith, hope, and the love of Jesus as shown forth in his cross and resurrection abide, these three; and the greatest of these is the love of Jesus manifest in his cross and resurrection.”

Given that, I offer you this thought as we approach, after worship, the prospect of voting. How will your vote, to juncture or not, show forth the love of Jesus in his cross and resurrection, and bring about, as best we know, the greatest possibility of being a community that tethers us to Jesus? In today’s Gospel, Jesus, Peter, James and John, have just come down from the mount of Transfiguration. They arrive to see a crowd surrounding the other disciples and an argument has ensued. What is the crowd’s response as Jesus arrives on the scene? Awe. Wonder. I’m looking for awe and wonder in this crowd, this gathering of God’s people, as the Christ shows up among us. Then back to the Gospel account, incredibly, a father breaks out from the crowd, looking for healing for his son. Sometimes, a moment of clarity as to what is necessary, comes as an epiphany. The boy’s father has that awakening and he approaches Jesus, hanging on to perhaps the one last hope he has for his boy. As the encounter unfolds, most of them thought the boy was dead. Ah, not when Jesus is around. Life erupts and so it does here today, no matter how we vote. We do have Jesus’ closing remark, however, which is, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”

What of our prayer now and all those leading up to today’s vote? I have made an assumption that we are here first to glorify God and do what we can to awaken our spirit to God’s Spirit already residing in us. Or to put it another way, we are here to open our hearts to the conversation of love and mercy that is always going on within the community of the persons of the Trinitarian God. So it is, we are here to discern, to open our hearts to the movement of God among us and within us. A reminder—”to discern” literally means, “to sift.”

Whenever I think of sifting I think of my father. He loved to garden. Across the street from our house was a lush woods with deep, moist, dark topsoil as its bed. I used to love to watch him push his hands into the soil, lift it up, and let it fall between his fingers. It was almost an act of praise, a thanksgiving, a eucharist if you will. The soil had a sweet, aromatic fragrance that infused the air around us and drew me into the dust from which I was formed. Dad taught me that the nutrients of that rich black earth were being prepared for this moment over millennia.

For the gardens of azaleas, boxwoods, figs, and roses, however, it needed further sifting. So he built a sifter, welding a large open grid steel cage, three feet by four feet, mounted on legs, into which one could shovel the earth taken by wheel barrel from the woods. A crank on one end would turn the entire contraption, and when there were chunks of earth inside that needed further breaking down, there was a second crank handle on the opposite end that rotated an interior forked blade that I would turn in order to break up the clumps. As all of this spun on an axis, a very fine mound of soil would build up under the sifter that could be taken to the garden into which the various plant life would be placed and rooted.

Where are you rooted? I invite you to carry this image into your ongoing discernment and eventual voting. We have received many words, written and spoken, over many years. We load it all into our sifters. Each of us is one in whom God delights. We honor our humanity, take all that has been offered us and place it into the sifter of our heart, mind, and soul. Maybe even now we will even have to break up a clump or two along the way, mostly within ourselves, anything that would indicate our own heart-resistance to the Spirit’s movement.

What we do now, like the father seeking his boy’s healing, is gaze upon the face of God as God gazes upon ours. We seek to be open to a quality of awareness where we know ourselves drawn by grace, know who we are as God’s beloved, and trust in the One who has called us forth, from the crowd, from the days we were born.

Now, be the sifter. Receive the richness of what Jesus has placed in you and before you. Listen. Breathe. Keep silence. Hope. Love.

Bishop Skip