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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Connecting Spirits. Engaging Minds. Welcoming All.

I have said these things to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

A sermon for the Celebration of New Ministry
and the Institution of
The Rev’d Canon Robert Alan Schiesler, Ph.D.
as Pastor of The Episcopal Church of
St. Mark,Grand Rapids, MI
October 20, 2007
The Rev’d Elizabeth Kaeton, preacher

Joshua 1:7-9 – Psalm 147:1-7 – Collossians 3:12-17, John 15:9-17

Please pray with me: (sung)

You've got to give a little, take a little,
and let your poor heart break a little.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.

+In the name of the Triune God, who is Lover, who is Love, who is Beloved. Amen.

I’m going to start by abusing the privilege of this pulpit once more in order to make a few personal remarks. I simply must begin by saying what a real delight it is to be here with you for this wonderful celebration of your new ministry together with Bob Schiesler and his amazing life partner and spouse, Mary Novello. I trust you understand that they are simply on loan to you from the Diocese of Newark. We do expect them to return one day.

I will rush to allay your anxiety and say that we know, in all probability, they won’t. Bob and Mary will make their home here with you. They will love you and you will love them and your love will grow deeper year by year and, before you know it, you’ll look up and say, “My, where has the time gone?”

I know this is true for me at my little church, The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, NJ. I’ll mark my sixth year with them in March and in some ways, it feels as if I’ve just gotten there; and in others, I wake up in the morning asking, “Haven’t we always known and loved each other?”

No matter what the previous day has held, no matter how difficult the deliberations of the previous evening’s meeting, I always wake up and say, “Thank you, God, for calling us together in this incredible gift of the mission and ministry of our Baptismal Covenant.”

That’s the way love is. That’s the kind of love Jesus was talking about in the words from the 15th Chapter of the Gospel of John which we just heard. He said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

It’s the kind of love you’ll need if you are going to live into the challenge of your mission statement: “Connecting Spirits. Engaging Minds. Welcoming All.”

You know, I must have looked at that mission statement three or four times before it really hit me. It’s such a simple statement that the challenge of your mission can be deceiving. You have set a very high standard for yourselves, you know: Connecting spirits. Engaging Minds. Welcoming all.

You may think you are Madison Avenue slick but this is a profoundly counter-cultural statement! Everything in our world, our society, our cultural reality mitigates against these three value statements.

Connecting Spirits? The “Age of Terrorism” has made isolationists of us all. We live our daily lives with a hermeneutic of suspicion. We have been reduced to measuring the human potential to do harm to whether or not a person carries more than three ounces of liquid in their suitcase. We are all for “freedom and justice for all” unless, of course that comes to our neighborhood. Then, the NIMBY effect begins to kick in – Not In My Back Yard. Connecting spirits, indeed.

Engaging Minds? Well, I think the relentlessly swift nature of the ‘Information Age’ ironically does not engage our minds. I think some of us have taken a wrong turn on the Information Superhighway and ‘googled’ ourselves into incomprehension.

For many of us, news reports have been reduced to what can fit into the ‘scrawl’ at the bottom of our television sets, as we ‘multi-task’ and listen to the newscaster speak in a serious of ‘sexy sound bites’. We seem not to have time for anything more.

Tell the truth: When was the last time you read an entire in-depth report on any subject which covered a two or three page spread in the New York Times (as if that were the gold standard for information)?

Furthermore, I believe that the profligation of the use of labels held in polar opposite tension – Democrat and Republican, Conservative and Liberal, Feminist and Traditionalist, Sunni and Shiite, Muslim and Jew, Christian and Secular Humanist – has the effect of disengaging our minds.

It not only allows us to automatically file people by title and dismiss them, it also has the effect of disengaging our minds, allowing us to really believe that there are irreconcilable differences between, say, Anglicans and Episcopalians.

Welcoming All? Well, okay, but here’s my question: What do you do after you’ve said, “Hello?” Sure, we’re pretty good as a denomination about welcoming all, but for many of us, it stops right there. Welcome. Come in. Make yourself to home. Here, fill out a pledge card. What’s that? How do you run for Vestry? Oh, look! There’s Fr. Bob! Why not ask him?

What’s that? You’d like to have your relationship with your partner blessed? Oh yes, of course, we know you’ve been members here for 10 years. Yes, of course, you are a great couple, and we really appreciate your pledge. And you know it’s not me or us, for goodness sake, but well, your manner of life is a challenge to the rest of the Anglican Communion. Of course you’re welcome HERE, but you just have to be patient until the rest of the world catches up.

Aren’t you glad that Mary said ‘Yes’ to the Incarnation before we developed a Doctrine of the Incarnation? See what I mean? You’re mission statement, if you are going to live into it, presents an enormous challenge. You’re going to upset people. In fact, if you do it right, you may just upset the neighborhood. Perhaps even the church. No doubt, the bishop – which, of course, will present a challenge to the entire Anglican Communion!

If you are doing the work of Jesus, you’ll be upsetting absolutely everyone! Because, if your work has its genesis and impulse and inspiration in the Gospel, your work will, in fact, be about this ‘crazy little thing called love’ – and THAT, dear friends is sadly, profoundly counter-cultural.

I began this sermon with a popular secular song and used it as my prayer. Bob can tell you that I often do that – because music often sums up in short order what mere words can often labor over for hours. Here’s the next verse to that great song about “The story of Love":
You've got to laugh a little, cry a little,
until the clouds roll by a little.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.

Your mission statement will only find success if you keep these sacred words from the lips of Jesus at the heart of your work: “ . . .abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love . . .” And, what are the commandments Jesus gave us? “This,” he says, “is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

That is your barometer. That is your gauge. When you look to evaluate yourselves on how you are living out your mission statement to connect spirits, engage minds and welcome all, as yourself one thing: Are we keeping the commandment of Jesus? Are we loving one another the way Jesus loved us?

It won’t be easy. If it were, anyone could do it. And, while I haven’t known you for more than an hour or so, it’s easy to see that the members of The Episcopal Church of St. Mark in Grand Rapids, Michigan are clearly not just anybody. You are God’s chosen. Jesus tells you that in today’s gospel.

Listen again as he says, “You did not choose me but I choose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that God will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

You have not chosen Bob and he has not chosen you. You have been chosen together by God to do a mighty work together in the Name of Jesus that simply can not be done any other way. What is that work, specifically? God knows. I’m quite sure I don’t know. And, neither do you. Yet. But, you know how to get to that place where you can see the vision God is calling you to bring into reality.

You do? Yes, you do. And I want to hear you say it for me. You’ve got to connect – what? Spirits! Yes, and engage what? Minds! Right And welcome who? All! Absolutely everybody!

In the words of Desmond Tutu, “All! All! All!”. Tutu quoted the words of Jesus who said, “And I, when I am lifted up, will bring all to me.” Then he added, “All. All. All. The beautiful, the not so beautiful. The smart, the not so smart. The so-called straight and lesbian and gay people. All. All. All.”

See? Easy. And, not so much. You’ll do well to listen to the prophetic call of Joshua who said: “only be strong and very courageous . . .do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

You’d also do well to listen to the pastoral instructions St. Paul first gave to the ancient church in Colossae: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other . . . .above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And, (and this is my favorite part), be thankful.” Fear of the Lord may be the beginning of wisdom, as the Psalmist says, but a truly thankful heart is the source of endless joy.

You see, it has to start in community. Build a strong community of love, and you can accomplish any mission. Indeed, this is why, in the presence of the bishop, one of the first things you did as this service began was to ‘commit (your) selves to each other in the common mission of our Baptismal covenant. Sort of reminds me of the bridge in that song:
As long as there's the two of us,
we've got the world and all it's charms.
And when the world is through with us,
we've got each other's arms.

Bob and Mary and the good people of St. Mark’s, you have chosen a very high calling in this vocation of a new ministry. You have much to celebrate and rejoice this day, for what lies ahead of you is a future which shines bright with the light of Christ. You have the good leadership of a strong bishop, a good rector and pastor, the committed leadership of your Wardens and Vestry, and a vibrant community of faith. Bishop, I hope you’ve got your running shoes on, because this place is getting ready to fly!

Jesus has instilled this love for each other in your hearts, so that you may know joy. Indeed, he says just that. Listen again, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

Yes, there are difficult days ahead. Yes, your mission statement is a great challenge. Jesus has given you these things so that his joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. If you are to know the deep joy first known by the disciples, you’ll keep the words of Holy Scriptures which we have heard today in your hearts. I trust you’ll also keep the words of this little song in your hearts. Think of it as your mission theme song – your vocational charge as you set off to do this amazing work of mission together: Indeed, I think many of you know it, so why not sing it with me?

You've got to win a little, lose a little,
and always have the blues a little.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.

Somebody in the church give me an ‘Amen.” Amen. And again I say, Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Great homily, Elizabeth.