A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003 and beyond
July 27, 2003 10 AM The Episcopal Church of Gethsemane, Minneapolis,
We are bound by our common love but that does not mean that we give up a sense of
mission-mindedness and what's important to us.
Please sign my guestbook and
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Let us bow our heads for a moment of prayer: O God of history and of our hearts, so much has happened to us during these world-wind days: we've known death and birth, we've been brave and scared, we've hurt, we've helped, we've been honest, we've lied. We've destroyed; we've created. We've been with people; we've been lonely. We've been loyal. We have betrayed. We have decided. We've waffled. We've laughed and we've cried. You, O God, know our frail hearts and our frayed history, and now another day begins. O God, help us to believe in beginnings and in our beginning again, no matter how often we've failed before. Help us to make beginnings; to begin going out of our weary minds into fresh dreams, daring to make our own bold tracks in the land of now. To begin forgiving, that we may experience mercy. To begin questioning the unquestionable, that we may know truth. To begin disciplining that we may create beauty. To begin sacrificing that we may accomplish justice. To begin risking that we may make peace. To begin loving that we may realize joy. Help us to be a beginning for others. To be a singer for the songless, a storyteller to the aimless, a befriender of the friendless. To become a beginning of hope for the despairing, of assurance for the doubting, of reconciliation for the divided. To become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed, of comfort for the sorrowing, a friendship for the forgotten. To become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn, of sweetness for the soured, a gentleness for the angry, a wholeness for the broken, of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth. Help us to believe in beginnings, to make a beginning, to be a beginning. So that we may not just grow old, but grow new each day of this wild, amazing life you've called us to live with the passion of Jesus Christ. In the name of the living God. Amen.
It is our joy to welcome you to the downtown historic Episcopal Church of Gethsemane. You know, we have this trouble with finding seats in this church every Sunday like this. And if you believe that, I have a bridge that I can sell you, and only for a quarter. It is so wonderful to see all of you here. We welcome the Union of Black Episcopalians, Episcopalians gather from around the country celebrating the 35th anniversary of our organization. We welcome the members of ESME, The Episcopal Society of Ministry and Higher Education, which has been meeting for the last few days. We welcome those of you from the community who are here. We welcome Gethsemane members. We welcome people who are here for General Convention and attended meetings. We have been waiting for you to come. We are glad that you are here.
This place has been an active part of General Conventions west of the Mississippi. In 1895, the first, the opening Eucharist of the first General Convention west of the Mississippi was held here. In 1976, when the ordination of women was finally passed in Minneapolis at General Convention, this was the place that was the house of prayer for all people. For this was the place that provided office space for many of the warring factions in the Church. And somehow there was enough space and enough of the love of Jesus for us to recognize our connectedness in the Spirit, even though we had very different leanings. And somehow, this Church is still standing to become the house of prayer for all people in year 2003. And we pray it will be a place where all are welcome.
It is a day in which we have the debut of the Gethsemane CD, the compact disc, "Jazz in the Garden", and we are grateful to the members of this congregation, the members of the Jazz in the Garden band for people who understood that jazz, that music is a universal language, that captures the hearts and souls of all people. And though we often and usually sing classical and traditional music, we've been willing to stretch ourselves into a new genre, into a new medium. And the result of that has been this CD. We hope that you might decide to buy it, this is not a commercial or anything but they are $20.00. Someone said, "Well, I've never paid that much for a CD," this is a fundraiser for Gethsemane. And the music that you'll hear in today's service will be music that is, by and large on that compact disc. We are also grateful to our parish musicians, and to the members of the pick up choir and to the Gethsemane choir who have come together today to raise their voices and praise to God. In some ways, representing the new community that is life in this society. Thank you choir, we are glad to hear you.
You know, people in the pews don't care much about General Convention, unless it's happening next door to you. And so we'll talk a little bit about stuff that will be related to that, but I hope it will be related to us as people trying to live a life of love and peace and generosity a world, quite beyond the next fourteen days of the gathering of the Church. We are happy to welcome today, the former mayor of Minneapolis, Sharon Sales Belton, who is connected deeply to this congregation in that, she understood that the gymnasium that we have in this building, which was in terrible disrepair, needed not to be a poor gym for poor children, and so she got together with us and with the Target Corporation and used her influence as Mayor and helped people come together in a wonderful collaboration of government and corporation and non-profits to create the Malik Sealy Gym of Dreams , which we hope you'll get a chance to see downstairs, which is probably four or five hundred thousand dollars worth of free labor with the hearts of people around this community. Welcome back to Gethsemane, Mayor Belton.
And now I want to get to the gospel -- because that is, after all, why we are here, friends. And in the gospel today from John we hear a familiar story about the feeding of the five thousand. Everybody knows that story, and our tendency is to focus on the miracle. How on earth did those few pieces of bread and fish feed all those folks? You know, and people will say, "well maybe they had them in their picnic baskets already," or, "maybe their hard hearts were turned to generosity." You know, I'm not really interested in that today. I want us to look at the aftermath of the feed. Because, you know, the disciples were very concerned that there would not be enough food to go around. How on earth can we make this happen? Well not only did the five thousand get fed, according to this version of scripture that we read today, but there were fifteen baskets of food left over. It would kind of be like our culinary group, here at Gethsemane, with the food left over from their catering the Union of Black Episcopalians gathering. And you know, you look at that food and wonder, what on earth are you to do with it? Perhaps take it to a shelter or feed people who are hungry. The disciples were commanded to gather up the fragments, that none be lost.
Gather up the fragments. Imagine if you'd been at a picnic with five thousand people, how difficult it would be to get all those fragments of food picked up from around the way. They weren't told to pick up some of the fragments. They weren't told to pick up some of the food. They were told, "Gather all the fragments, that none be lost." You know, I think that can be a mandate for us as we prepare for General Convention. That we gather up the fragments, friends, that none be lost.
That we remember that in gathering up the fragments, on that day, a movement was started. Those disciples were turned from skeptics into believers. They came to understand that what they thought couldn't happen because they had a mentality of scarcity, could indeed happen because of the gift of God's gracious abundance. And you know the Church right now, as society right now, is stuck in a scarcity mentality. Umm-hum. We think about what we don't have. What we did have that we don't have anymore. What we don't have that we can't share. And therefore, we hold unto ourselves that which is ours, and we figure, "I've got mine, you get yours." We chuckle. But it is true. And I believe that a movement started on that day on that hill.
Do you all know the definition of a movement? A movement is something that exists to change peoples' lives. It moves. It grows. It expands. It challenges the status quo. It causes revolutions. It upsets people in power. It turns over tables and it turns lives around. As people of the way, my friends, we are part of a movement. I want you to remember that. Because movements are that on the one hand, but institution, on the other hand, is what happens to a movement when it grows up. Are you all with me? You see, when a movement grows up it creates a structure. It has meetings. It funds the structure. It exists to maintain order. It exists to perpetuate itself. It resists change, and it is totally predictable. (The laughter wasn't quite so loud that time.) We are people of a movement, people of the way, who have become an institution, who need to call ourselves back to a memory of ourselves as a movement, existing to change people's lives. Moving, growing, expanding, challenging the status quo, causing revolutions. Realizing that at the heart of very revolution is human kindness. Upsetting people in power, turning tables around and turning lives around.
We in the Union of Black Episcopalians, as we celebrate our 35th anniversary, recognize that we are doing it right in the octave of celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the march on Washington. Another picnic by a mountain. Another opportunity for people to gather up the fragments, that none be lost. A revolution started by what some considered to be communists out there on the mall in Washington. A revolution, a movement started, that can't be stopped. But the question is, forty years later, thirty-five years later: Have we become complacent? Have we forgotten how to set a table in the wilderness? Do we remember that as we gather for this national meeting or for any meeting to which people come with various opinions about how life ought to be led, that it really is a family reunion? How many of you when you are getting ready to go to a family reunion are excited to see every person who's gonna be at the family reunion? Now you know there are people, you love them all, but you know there are people that you'd just rather not see. But, they're gonna be at the table with you. You know that there are members of your family with whom you can't be in conversation about politics because everybody at the table will get indigestion. You know there are people in the family who have always thought you are rather odd, and so they will ignore you. But you are none-the-less related by blood and connected as a family. And we are, all of us, members of the fractured family of God. Who gather together, like it or not, connected deeply to one another by our common love of Jesus Christ. And we need to remember that, otherwise we fall into being an institution and not a movement.
And we in the UBE are part of a progressive group called "The Consultation". You know, in the world these days you have not heard the big "L" word: "liberal" used lately, have you? That's become kind of a sin, so we are part of a progressive group called "The Consultation". And we have a platform going into General Convention, and it's a very simple one: "In our mission-mindedness, while we recognize that mission is about going into the world and proclaiming the good news and baptizing and teaching, we understand that the way that we can further God's mission is to do justice, make peace, and be accountable." Do justice, make peace, and be accountable. And so we have to name some of those things. Some people like to like justice and do mercy. They think justice is a thing to like; we must do justice. That means putting our bodies where our mouths are. It means taking stands once again, in a world in which taking stands has become kind of out of step with everything else.
We need to deal with civil liberties. Are you with me? The war on terrorism which is supposed to be the war against terrorists is a war on the civil liberties of the American people. So we need to deal with civil liberties and we need to find actions that prey on people to be deplorable and urge the Church to take a strong stand against them. We need to continue our commitment to anti-racism. We need to look at criminal justice reform. We need to look at environmental justice; be clear about the status of women once again in this church and in the world, especially as salaries for every woman, women in every category of employment in the church range from five to nine thousand dollars less than men's salaries. We need to deal with issues of economic justice. We need to look at baptismal ministry in a multi-cultural church, which honors who we are and how we do what we do. We need to look at our support for the world and what it means to be in relationship with the world rather than fighting against the world; how we take our place. We need to look at what it is to make peace. We need to look at war as unjust. And in a decade of non-violence, strongly support peace and justice studies in education so that people will know more about what it is to make peace. We need to remember the word that some of us learned as young children in the '60's. And we learned it as young Black children because it was the word that the first young black woman to ever win the national spelling bee had to spell. It's the longest word in the dictionary - and it was "antidisestablishmentarianism". We were convinced that the person who was spelling against her only had to spell "angel". But antidisestablishmentarianism was really about the separation of church and state. So that, those of us who now try to hang out under a banner of the prince of peace and get called anti-American need to understand that we love America and are for America but we are against hurting other people.
We need to be accountable for mission. We need to make sure that mission happens in all communities, in all places and in all ways. We have sometimes had a romance with the suburbs and have forgotten the center city, and have forgotten people in the center city. We have forgotten that suburbs are about sub-urban, and that we must seek the health and welfare of the city so that all of us can be strong. We need to make sure that beyond antiracism training we follow up with our serious call to a non-racist multicultural church in society and continue doing that work. We need to make sure our budget is mission-driven and accountable. We need to recognize that the ordination of women, while passed in Minneapolis in 1976 is still not a reality for some in this church. We need to recognize that we are, first and foremost, mission-minded people, called to be in relationship and to share the love of Jesus Christ wherever we go. If we don't do that, than life will never forgive us, and we will not be doing justice, making peace, or being accountable.
The news media will tell you that the only issues before the Church are about sexuality. Right? And that's the stuff that we don't ever want to talk about. But, as we remember and honor Bishop Dennis, Bishop Walter Dennis, the retired Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of New York, at this UBE conference - we remember that his greatest concern before he died suddenly this spring was that there were not enough people in the Church willing to stand up. Not enough people in society willing to stand up, speak up, show up, make a difference, and make their voices count, not counting the cost, and not being afraid of what the backlash might be. In 1957 he stood in the pulpit of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and pronounced homosexuality to be morally neutral. 1957. And here we are in 2003 still worrying about what that means in other people's lives. The Union has been very clear that it stands in solidarity with all, for if they come for you in the morning, they will be coming for us at night. We who have been rejected must never reject others.
The Church said it wasn't ready for a black bishop in 1919 when Bishop Denby was consecrated. It said it wasn't ready for a woman bishop in 1989 when Bishop Barbara Harris was consecrated. It says we are not ready now. "We have to talk about it and think about it some more," some say. We need to recognize that if we wait until we are all ready, we'll all be dead. If we are unable to recognize that God takes what God chooses and makes it worthy, and that our job it to pray for the spread of the kingdom, and not worry about what someone else is doing with his life. That if we can redirect our minds to mission, the world might be different. If we could redirect our minds to mission we might be more than 1% of the population. If we could redirect our minds to mission and to a movement, people would want to join us. The 20/20 movement in the church is just that: a grassroots effort to have people redirect our minds to what it is to do justice, to be accountable, to make disciples of others, so that we may follow the one who started the movement and who is the way.
Now friends, we have before us, a mandate to gather up the fragments that none be left behind. What are the fragments in your world? Who are the fragments that you'd rather leave up there on the picnic grounds? The people you don't get along with? The people who have positions different than yours? The people that have been mean and nasty on the Internet over these last few months? The people who you've heard might be standing in one place or another? We who have been rejected need never reject others. We need to take the high road of continuing to stand for justice and mercy and peace. We need to continue to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters who don't want to be in relationship with us. My mother taught me that you can say hello to a dog walking down the street wagging its tail and it does not have to speak back to you.
In scripture we are told that you offer your peace; you go from house to house, you offer your peace. If it is not accepted, what happens to your peace? It returns to you. And so I invite you; I invite you in these days ahead to be prayerful mission-minded disciples of Jesus Christ, who understand that we must do justice, that we must be accountable. That we must show up, speak up, stand up, let our voices be heard, have the moral courage to challenge the status quo. Remind the Church that we are a movement. Remind the Church that we live in a world of hypocrisy and mendacity, and that we need to speak a word of truth. Remind the Church that it will not live if it continues to only be an institution. What is a movement, my friends? It is something that exists to change people's lives. It moves, it grows, it expands, it challenges the status quo. It causes revolutions. It upsets people in power, it turns over tables and it turns lives around. The Episcopal Urban Caucus has the most wonderfully creative handouts during this time: they are handing out emery boards. And written on the emery boards are the words, "Be abrasive, or Be smooth".
The last thing that will come up before the Church will be the blessing of same sex unions. And we have entertained America over the last number of weeks in the press with questions about how that should or should not be, what it means, where we go. I hope that that we will be among the people who will realize that God gives us the gift of love. We are to share that love. We are to be that love. And that we are to claim that blessing that has been given to us. That has been given to our forefathers and mothers and that will be given to those who come behind us.
...Claim the high calling
angels cannot share...
to young and old the gospel message bear.
While we in sleep, our duty hath forgot,
God slumbers not.
Stay awake, my friends. Gather up the fragments that none shall be lost. Amen.
My site has been accessed times since February 14, 1996.
We are bound by our common love but that does not mean that we give up a sense of
mission-mindedness and what's important to us.
Please sign my guestbook and view it.
Statistics courtesy of