Let us pray: Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and
understanding, be present with us as we seek your will for the renewal and mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis.
Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide
us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to
pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen
Three thousand, six hundred and thirty seven miles. That’s how far I had to go to come home to Indiana. That’s how far I had to go to understand what it really means to come to the river. Last month during the House of Bishops meeting, while walking along the Chena River in Fairbanks, Alaska, a member of the Gwich’in tribe, told me stories about the importance of the waters. The waters—rivers, streams, and lakes of the great interior of Alaska are the life-blood of the peoples there. The great interior was only accessible by the rivers until air flight become more common. The waters were the way in and the way out. The waters also provide fish and fowl to supplement the caribou that are hunted for food. The waters make life possible and they are protected and revered.
As I walked along the Chena River, shoulder to shoulder with Gwich’in tribal elders and my brother and sister bishops, I became keenly aware of my desire to know the waterways of my new home, Indiana. And I don’t mean, just know where they are. I left Alaska with a desire to understand how the waters have shaped our diocese—both the geographic contours of its borders and its life and history. Our waterways tell a unique story too. We can speak of 19th century steamboats that made settlement and trade along the Ohio River possible and profitable. We can speak of the Wabash River that defines our border to the west and creeks with names like Sugar and Walnut. Smaller rivers like, White, Blue and Big Blue that course through our interior. I’ve taken to running along our river fronts and canals whenever I can in order to see from a different angle the life our waterways make possible.
How fitting it is, to begin this new phase of our life as the Diocese of Indianapolis by coming to the river. I find that I’m always drawn to water—the living waters of baptismal renewal continually beckon. I long for the mighty streams of justice to flow unimpeded. I keep water close to stay hydrated, owning more water bottles than I want to admit all the while trying not to leave them behind at every parish I visit. When I rowed crew I was fixated by the movement of a boat that was 60 feet long but only 20 inches wide that could slice through water like a razor if the rowers were in sync to achieve swing. But I struggle to swim and keep my body balanced in the water learning to trust, over and over again that the water will indeed hold me.
Though we border none of the Great Lakes and have no ocean-front property, I’ve never seen as much water as I have in Indiana. We have had our fair share of floods and water events over the years, as St. Paul’s, Jeffersonville among many others, can attest. And yet, God beckons us to come to the waters, the living waters that will sustain us, guide us, and deliver us as seek to be faithful to the mission to which God has called us. And that mission, much like that of Apostles Simon and Jude who we commemorate today, is none other than to make known the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
Where ever we situate ourselves in this diocese, I pray that we would never forget what is central, the mission of reconciliation, love and mercy in Jesus Christ connects us like the waters that streak across our landscape. It takes a lot to stay afloat these days, but truly, if we forget what is core, I believe we are sunk. If folks ask, why have we gathered here in Jeffersonville and New Albany, we can do what the Gwich’in of Alaska do—we can tell a story. You might think of what that story may be for you.
We can tell a story of what it means to come home to the area where some of our first congregations began meeting in the 1830s and how they exist to bring a little reconciliation, mercy and love into the world. We can tell a story, first-hand some of us, of the effects of the opioid crisis on our families and communities and our desire to bring a little, mercy, and healing into the world. We can tell a story of being reminded that we are connected to people of good faith and good will from Lafayette to Muncie to Richmond to Evansville to Bloomington to Indianapolis and how good it feels to not have to go it alone. And if you happen to be asked why you would spend two days of your life at a church meeting, tell a story—kind of the way our consultant Susan Czolgosz invited us to do during our listening sessions. Tell a story of a time when God’s presence was palpable to you. We can all learn how to say that sharing time to break bread, learn, pray, organize for transformation, and dance (maybe) with folks who can tell a similar story, is a great way to spend some time. I hope that’s what we are doing here. Telling a story of reconciliation, mercy and love is what sharing the good news of Jesus is all about.
There was a second take-away I had from that visit to Fairbanks, Alaska. I noticed that because Gwich’in people have been in the Episcopal Church for generations—the story of the people of that tribe and many Alaskan communities is entangled with Episcopal Church history. To inquire of an individual is essentially, to inquire about the tribe which is to inquire about the church. They are so intertwined. And so I heard story after story about life in the interior of Alaska and how it is intimately tied to relationship with God and one another. There is no “I”—only we. I came back home to Indiana hungry to know more of your stories. And I know I’m not the only one hungry to hear the stories that make us who we are. I want to hear how God is moving in your lives—through the highs and lows, of not just church. But life. I hope we never forget that the whole point of any of this is not to glorify and praise God alone—but to be able to walk through this world as people known and loved by a community. A beloved community where if there is an I, there is always a, “we”.
Whenever we gather wouldn’t it be great if the the story-telling was so rich that we would be renewed and invigorated for the journey to come? We are surrounded by living water—just look around you. All around you—right here. May God continue to call us away from the safety of the shore to explore new waterways. The world wants to tell us that stretching out beyond our comfort zones is scary. That reaching out to the other is not worth the risk of relationship. That giving up power and privilege and position in order to serve and lead like Jesus is foolish. That we don’t have enough time, enough money, enough people resources, enough innovation to work for the reign of God. Do not believe it! In this moment—especially in these times, we must summon our relational courage to know Jesus more deeply and know one another and the neighbors around us—be they in Martinsville or Mithon—as beloved friends.
Trust the living water. It will hold us. May we ever be connected by the waters of baptism and the blessed waterways that sustain natural life that we would be agents of God’s reconciliation, mercy and love. Amen.