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The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe

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10.13.19

Immigrant Attitudes

Category: Bishop's Sermons

Speaker: The Rt Rev Mark D.W. Edington

Tags: disciple, belonging, wonder, principle, immigrant

October 13, 2019    All Saints’, Waterloo    Fortieth Anniversary of the Founding

Text: 1 Peter 2:9b: “... in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts
of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

There is an awful lot competing for the small amount of time in this sermon, a great many things I want to talk about with you. For so many reasons I am delighted to be here—and not a little bit intimidated, too.

It is the fortieth anniversary of this wonderful parish, and that by itself is a tremendous cause for celebration and reflection. You have the blessing of being a young church, a place where the six people we will receive today can still meet some of the people who made this all happen, who can be connected in living memory to the founders.

Our church makes a lot of being old. We have in the Convocation what I’ll bet is the oldest church building in the entire Episcopal Church; it’s a thousand years old. Old things give us a sense of confidence and certainty—but young churches show us that God is still alive and at work in the world.

I grew up in an All Saints’ Church, so I have a particular fondness for any church that delights in that name, and—truth be told—All Saints’ Day is my favorite feast day of the church year. The very first place I lived in other than my hometown in the middle of America was Brussels, and I have the fondest memories of that time as a college student.

And then of course there is the event that took place within these walls just about exactly a year ago this coming weekend. It is a little odd to come for the first time to a place where your life was changed forever—some time after the change happened.

So there is a lot on my heart this morning as I’ve prayed about this time with you. I did all my homework, I read everything Sunny sent me, I read up on the history of Waterloo, I even went into the sub-basement of the Cathedral and found all of the old records we have about the founding of All Saints.

I have the preacher’s predicament of too much material.

But then I read through the parish website and I found what you’ve been telling the world about this day. Do you read the website? This is what it says: “Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Immigrant Attitude.”

Immigrant Attitude. That got my attention. Maybe because for the first time in my life, I am an immigrant. I have a new and much keener appreciation for the experience of dislocation and alienation that goes with leaving the place of your birth and moving to a new country.

And that has been the Christian story for two thousand years. From the moment Mary Magdalen leaves the garden and the empty tomb, we are an immigrant people. So what does it mean for us, for us disciples, to have an immigrant attitude?

   

There is something of a paradox here, reflecting on how disciples need to have an immigrant attitude when we are taking a moment to celebrate forty years of having this community, this home, to gather in-—to call home. By definition, immigrants are people who aren’t at home.

But of course, the truth is—we could be here four hundred years, and we will still be immigrants.

Most of us are, in a very specific way, immigrants. I would guess that only a small percentage of the people of All Saints are people who were born in Belgium.

But we are immigrants in more ways than that. The Episcopal Church is an immigrant to Belgium. We are not native to this place. We are latecomers. We are aliens.

And here is something even more challenging. We are immigrants in our own culture. From the time of Charlemagne, Europe was Christendom—the realm of Christianity.

Those days are well and truly over. We are aliens in our own land, immigrants in a culture we fashioned. Today, we are people of faith in the midst of a culture that is radically secularized—to the point of hostility toward the claims of faith and toward the communities faithful people make.

If you come to worship in an Episcopal Church in Belgium, you are an immigrant no matter where you were born. We are all equally aliens. So what should our attitude be?

   

The readings we heard this morning are not the readings they’ll be listening to in every other church in the Convocation this morning. They are the lessons appointed for the occasion of the anniversary of the founding of a church—the very thing we are gathered here to do.

And wouldn’t you just know, there are some helpful clues for us about what our immigrant attitude should be as we move forward toward the next forty years as witnesses and workers on the Way of Love here in Waterloo.

First, there’s Jacob. In the story we heard this morning, Jacob is a little more like a refugee than an immigrant; he is on the move, getting out of town just in time and headed toward his uncle’s house. He’s in the no-man’s land between one safe place and another—and he is living pretty precariously.

We get “precariously.” We know about feeling precarious. But Jacob manages something that should teach us how to be disciples. Even though he doesn’t feel safe, he doesn’t ever lose his capacity for wonder—his willingness to open his eyes to visions, and his ability to see God at work around him.

And that is how his unsafe place becomes a place filled with awe and the presence of God. The immigrant attitude of Jacob is to set aside fear in favor of wonder.

Jesus in the temple has a different kind of immigrant attitude. First of all, he shouldn’t really an immigrant there. When he was much younger, it was the place he felt most at home in. Remember that story? When he hangs around at the Temple after his parents have started home after a pilgrimage festival?

But what he finds in the Temple today is a wide distance between the high principles of the faith and the daily practices of the religion. He’s suddenly become an immigrant in his own home.
The covenant of love and faithfulness that God made with Abraham has been reduced to empty observance and profiteering.

And so Jesus makes a dramatic show of what it means to live by principle. It’s terrible liturgy. But it’s profound and authentic witness to God’s truth.

The immigrant attitude of Jesus is the crazy idea of demanding that the place he’s in live up to its highest values. Jesus in the temple teaches us, those of us who are immigrants by virtue of being disciples, that we should dare to imagine living by principle and not by profit. And we should dare the place in which we live, wherever it is, to do the same.

So our immigrant attitude is to be on the eager lookout for wonder, because that’s where God is most at work.

And our immigrant attitude is to dare to live by our principles, rather than by our culture’s compromises.

Well, okay—but being an immigrant is a little like being like an uprooted plant. It is the experience of being disconnected and cut off from the people you belong to. These days we are so focused on the things that make up our individual identity; to be an immigrant is to lack the most essential aspect of identity—a community of belonging a group that would claim you as its own.

This is the last part of our immigrant attitude. It’s the part about belonging—not just about where we belong, but to whom we belong.

We learned in seminary that the first letter of Peter is in fact probably not a letter, but the text of a sermon that was preached in the earliest church on the occasion of a service of baptism. The message of that sermon is to teach the faithful people of a young church that they have become part of something much larger than themselves.

They know themselves to be the people on the margins of society—the servants, the slaves, the poor, the problem children. Those are our ancestors in the faith. Those are the outcasts who built the church we have inherited.

They didn’t really belong to the communities they lived in. They weren’t citizens, they had no money, they counted for nothing. They weren’t part of anything that mattered.

And the immigrant attitude they are taught—the immigrant attitude we are taught—is this: No matter where you come from, no matter what you have or don’t have, when you become part of the church, you take on a new identity. You become part of a great people doing great things.

It is an identity more important than your gender, or your nationality, or your race, or your orientation, or your language, or your alumni club—or even your denomination. When you become part of the church, you become a disciple. You take on an identity that for the rest of your life will transcend and shape all the other ways you define yourself.

And there is one last thing about this. We all come into this place being taught by our culture that we belong to ourselves; that we answer to no higher authority, no greater purpose, than ourselves.

But when we become part of this community of immigrants, we don’t belong to ourselves anymore. When we join up with these people, we become God’s own people. It is God’s love we witness to in the world; God’s justice we work to bring forth; God’s hope that lights our path; and God’s kingdom we intend to build.

This sounds wonderful. But it’s actually hard. We are not all that comfortable with the idea of belonging to something greater than ourselves. We’re taught that that’s somehow a compromise, or a loss of our freedom. The kingdom of God may sound like a nice place, but one thing it is not is a democracy.

Still—that is what we are called to be. That is what it means to be part of a church. Forty years ago, a group of faithful immigrants who knew they belonged to God and to each other put together their sense of wonder, their determination to live by their principles, and their hope to become part of a larger people, and they built this church. That was their immigrant attitude.

So today. as we thank God for their beginnings, may we also ask God to renew in us the gift of their attitude, so that we may take up their unfinished labors and move onward to where the God we belong to is calling us to go. Amen.