July 2017 Convocation Newsletter
It’s pretty hot for camel hair right now. You may not have had locusts for breakfast, but I can tell you where to buy protein bars made from cricket flour. And I saw honey for sale in the exhibit area. This may be an Episcopal convention, but we are all supposed to be John Baptists and Jane Baptists. Our task is to build that straight road, knock down the privileged heights, fill in the sloughs of despair, and make the road flat enough for all God’s people – and that includes Baptists, Episcopalians, Jews, Hindus, and “nones.” We’ve been baptized into Jesus’ baptism as well as John’s, and called to the kingdom work all the prophets proclaim: to be light in the darkness, strength and comfort for God’s people, gathering the lambs and leading ewes to shelter, and showing the healing power of forgiveness. That is the road to the peaceable kingdom.
Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si, released a few days ago, certainly has stirred a great deal of comment, much of it negative. Consider, for example, the New York Times' columnist Ross Douthat's response. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The "letter" is huge, with 246 paragraphs divided among six chapters. The Pope fights on two interrelated fronts, ecological degradation and economic injustice. He proceeds from a very detailed description of the situation of humanity on our planet that is unrelentingly grim, to a bright hopeful promise that real change can happen. It will be very widely read, and due to the weight of the Roman Church's one billion Christians, and their leader's popularity, Laudato si will make an impact politically as well as upon the major environmental and economic debates of our time.
I like to speak briefly about the Kingdom of god or and the Kingdom of Heaven, as it is referred to in the Gospels. What is this Kingdom? Where is it? Who belongs to it? Well, first of all, we modern people do not have kings, unless you are British, of course, and even there, we do not think of monarchs as being in charge of our lives. The Kingdom of God. How do we translate that? Well, modern people say the ‘Rule of God’, ‘the reign of God’, where god is, where God’s will is done. Jesus tries to get this across in many different ways. The Kingdom of God is like a man who sows a seed on the ground, that sprouts, and then he takes a sickle to it. Or like a mustard seed, a tiny little thing, and when you sow it into the earth, it grows into a great big bush.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) is one of my favorite poets because of the sheer beauty of his language, including words he invented. Some of his poems celebrate and give thanks for the beauty of the world — and they open my eyes to it, even when I do not understand his every word! Hopkins was an Oxford-educated Jesuit priest, so of course he expresses gratitude in the language of his tradition. But when you read the body of his work, it's clear that his spirituality has a universal reach, rooted in respect for the sacredness of all life in all its diversity.
I have been on a pilgrimage of 16 years here in Italy, getting to know a little bit more Africa because I have met so many Africans while I have been living here, and indeed working very closely especially with people drawn from West Africa, from the nations of Nigeria, Ghana, and Sierra Leone, just to name three. But of course, Africa is much bigger than just its west, just as in the hymn we sang moments ago. There’s north, there’s south, and there’s east as well, within the continent, that rich continent of Africa. Rich in every sense, but rich most of all as we celebrate this feast of the Holy Trinity in the way that God’s grace is poured upon it. And the praises of God resound that. Praise the Lord. Alleluia.
'Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.' Thus Romans, Paul writing to the Romans. well, 'We do not know how to pray as we ought' . . . I understand that. But what about the rest?' The ‘spirit interceding in us with sighs too deep for words? It is very odd what Paul is saying here. It as if we are caught up in the life of the Trinity, and prayer comes from God, by God, to God. What about me?
“In the fullness of time . . .”This is a well known phrase in church circles. We hear it in scripture: “But in the fullness of time God sent his son, born of a woman”; we hear it in our liturgy: “In the fullness of time, reconcile all things in Christ, and make them new…” It speaks beyond the simple appeal to a chronological measurement. Rather, the fullness of time conveys the truth that God intimately dwells within the dynamic of the present moment. It declares an activity as much as it declares a time-frame. Those familiar with Greek lexicon will hear. . .
Today is a great day in the life of this parish, St. Paul's Within the Walls, Rome, as we come together to baptize, to confirm and to receive. We have this wonderful Gospel of John for the sixth Sunday of Easter, and it is absolutely perfect for the occasion: ‘There is no one greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.' It so happens that that the King James’ version is instead often quoted as ‘greater love hath no man than this.’ It is often thought that this verse, in particular, is something fresh and new that the disciples would have had never heard before. But in fact, the ancient world believed . . .
It is my great privilege tody to be here today to confirm these eleven fine young people, to receive in the church one fine young man, and to present my official letter of institution to your priest in charge, Father Christopher Easthill. The verse of the Bible that struck me as I prepared my sermon is in the first letter of John. ‘We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.’ It goes on...‘How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees his brother and sister in need, and yet refuses help. Little children let us not love in speech, but in truth and action.’ The middle verse there – ‘how does God abide in anyone who has the world’s goods’ is a bit weak in the translation. King James’ men as they translated this, did it literally…