Sermon Preached at the 79th General Convention of
The Episcopal Church
12 July 2018
The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows
Bishop, Diocese of Indianapolis
Good evening Saints! It is an honor to stand in this place and bring a word as we begin to close out our time at this 79th General Convention. We are at that point in the convention that is most like a road race, you can almost see the finish line and folks on the side are cheering —“you’re almost there”!
This has been quite a convention. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been more hopeful for the Episcopal Church. There is something different in the air — and God knows we need it. This has been a time of stretching, experiencing new ways of being together, witnessing boldly as we’ve stood with the hurting and vulnerable, worshiping in many languages, and diving more deeply into our call to be the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. We know that being the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement isn’t a cool catch phrase made for bumper stickers and t-shirts—it is a deep dive into a way of being, a way of life — a way of love.
Twelve days ago we gathered from across the world to tend to the business of the domestic and foreign missionary society of the Episcopal Church. With few exceptions we have spent most of our time confined to a couple of square miles of this convention center. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I know this—we are not the same. From the lament, confession, and commitment to amendment of life at the “Me Too” listening session that began our time, to the Spirit-filled Revival, to the public witnesses we have made on the matters of gun violence and immigration, to our reconciliation and reunion with the Diocese of Cuba—we have been living a liturgy these past ten days and God is reshaping us.
But now we shift our attention and I’m wondering if you are ready. Are we ready to go? I know, I know, the hour is late, you’ve been working, packing, doing all the things you need to do to depart from this 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and I want to know if we are ready to go and do this thing?
We are being sent forth, commissioned anew by Jesus to go out to all the world and make what we have done here matter. We are being sent forth to make what we have done here matter not just to us, but to the world. Our Presiding Bishop has been preaching, teaching and encouraging us to Go and I want to know if we are ready! With all due respect to the Saints from Nevada, what has happened in Austin best not STAY in Austin — are you ready to go?
We are not unlike Jesus first disciples who were commissioned by Jesus to go. The eleven met him on the mountain in Galilee and though some doubted, Jesus remained clear and commanded them: Go, therefore and make disciples, students of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The action in the Gospel of Matthew here comes pretty rapidly. It is after Jesus is crucified, died, and buried and that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary find the tomb empty and are met by the risen Jesus. Their first reaction is fear but they get beyond their fears and follow Jesus’ instructions. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that if Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had stayed in their fear, we would not be here. It is not lost on me that the women are the first to be told to go and tell the brothers to meet Jesus in Galilee. Let the hearer understand that we can believe the women the first time.
And to their credit, the eleven did believe the women, followed directions, and went. And there on that mountain the eleven worshipped the risen Jesus, even the ones still in their doubt showed up, and were commissioned to go out and teach others in the way of Jesus—the loving, liberating, and life-giving ways of Jesus trusting that Jesus would be with them to the end of days.
Beloved, it is time for us to leave this mountain top, and go and tell others what we have done here— what we have learned here about being the church. Sounds crazy, I know, we are talking about General Convention after all. But what if we left this place and when home to encourage others n the way of love? Encouragement is a vital practice. To encourage is to give hope, determination and guidance. It is a work of the heart. We who are continually encouraged by the sacramental, liturgical, and communal life in Christ are called to encourage a world that remains afraid. Afraid of one another, afraid of difference, afraid of being vulnerable, afraid of disagreeing, afraid of oh so many things. That fear is binding us up and creating a world where unspeakably evil things are being normalized. Our fears will not protect us. Our fears are killing us.
But we who follow Jesus are called to witness that life can be and is different when we get real with one another. We change the relationship when we share and hold the stories that are tender for us. And we can even change our hearts when we look and listen deeply to see how God is already working in and through the other. Like prayer, rest, worship and encouragement, this way of seeing and hearing like Jesus is a practice.
Practicing the way of love in Jesus means it becomes difficult to be witness to a sexist joke and let it go or overhear an unchecked comment that reinforces hateful stereotypes. Or absorb the racist micro aggression and let it pass because “they really didn’t mean it” or you are just tired of having to say something. It bears repeating that God’s dream for us isn’t politically correct appeasement—God’s dream for humanity isn’t that small. The erasure of hatred, white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia from human hearts so that we might turn to love, normalize love because of, not in spite of difference—is the beginning of God’s dream.
We have done things at this General Convention that I never thought I’d see or experience. And I don’t just mean thousands of Episcopalians clapping, mostly on beat, as if they were jamming at an Episcopal Youth Event—though that was awesome! I mean, the ways in which we have been witnessing to our faith in public. Last week the Evangelism and Church Planting Committee 11 was sent out last week two by two to have conversations about faith with people on the streets of Austin. I went out with Deputy Lee Ann Walling of Delaware and we met Keifred. There he sat at noonday drawing in his journal and he reminded me of a gospel truth I needed to hear that day—he said, our God is always on time. Now here me church, we were sent out from the air-conditioned comfort of the `JW Marriott to see where God was already at work and we were blessed in the first five minutes by a man sharing the Good News with us.
Witnessing to our love of God in Christ in public is simply about showing up and declaring to the other—I see you. I acknowledge you—you will not be invisible to me. You matter. The stories of our witness at the Hutto Detention center were heart-achingly beautiful. Showing up matters—Showing up was good news to the women waving pieces of paper in the windows of the detention center acknowledging that they were seen—another witness to normalizing love.
Beloved, it is almost as if all of Austin was commissioned to go out and teach US in the loving, liberating, and life-giving ways of Jesus—Imagine that. Because I’m pretty sure that is what this whole convention has been about. And I’m pretty sure that back home we can do the same for one another—disciple one another in the way of love.
It is almost time to go and with the words of the great commission we are being sent forth.
Lest we forget, we are being sent forth by Jesus. Is that too obvious? In our excitement to get back by home let us remember that we are being sent forth by Jesus who lived life on the margins. We are being sent forth by Jesus who chose to cast his lot with the least, the lost, and the lonely. We are being sent forth by Jesus who found himself entangled with the criminal justice system of his day. We are being sent forth by Jesus who loved his friends enough to accept their betrayal and desertion. We are being sent forth by Jesus who hung to die in the heat of the day feeling the abandonment of God and people alike. And we are being sent forth by Jesus who after he was crucified and died, rose victorious over death as he promised and returned to his friends who at first could not, would not believe it. But once they did, they began to set the world on fire with his love.
It is almost time to go. Are you ready? Being the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement means we can’t stay where we are. The Episcopal Church can’t stay as it is. Movements…move. Movements are decisions we make moment by moment to live a particular way and Saints—this is our moment. Meaning, if we were ever called to claim the counter cultural Christian mantle that is about turning the world upside down so that we normalize love instead of hate—it is now. You know the way. You know what to do. You’ve totally got this. Go!
photo credit: Brian Baker