The Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs has released Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s sermon at Waikato Cathedral Church of St. Peter in Hamilton, New Zealand. She said in part: “The saints we celebrate today are lamps along the way – the lights of every generation who let us see that living presence in our midst.
You’ve seen them, you know them, whether they are searchlights like Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu, or those we think of as lesser lights – the neighbor who feeds our cat when we’re out of town, or the stranger who gives direction to a wandering tourist, or the folks in New Jersey who are stringing extension cords and power strips out to the sidewalk so the powerless can charge their cell phones.”
Full sermon below:
Presiding Bishop preaches at Cathedral in New Zealand
The following is the text of the Presiding Bishop’s sermon:
Waikato Cathedral Church of St. Peter, Hamilton, New Zealand
4 November 2012
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
We’ve seen major destruction across the globe this week – as an Atlantic hurricane has brought death, floods, and power outages to several nations, destroyed harvests in the Caribbean, and swept away whole villages in New Jersey. People here keep asking how things are at home. It’s a disorienting question. Where is home? My office may be in New York, but I don’t vote there or spend more than a few days at a time there. My husband lives in Nevada, and I seem to live on the road. Part of my heart is with our daughter and her husband in Alaska – and part of my heart is also in Haiti, and Cuba, and Japan, and here. In a very small way, I know that home is anywhere in the world where human relationships invite our concern or joy or solidarity with the suffering. Where is home?
We heard in the Revelation reading that God’s home is among mortals – and we know Paul repeatedly reminds us that it means “no exceptions” – slave and free, Greek and Jew, male and female – we are all one in Christ. God’s heart is here with us – any and all human beings – them and us. God’s home is in the midst of earthquake survivors in Christchurch and Port-au-Prince and northeastern Japan, and in the middle of this week’s floods in Cuba and New York. God’s home is on the marae and in the Tainui waka . God’s home is here on Pukerangiora , this hill of heavenly life on which your ancestors have continued to build booths for the Holy One. Yes, indeed, God does dwell among mortals, and they – we – are all God’s people, yearning for that vision of tears and death and mourning and crying and pain all swept away, when all things are made new.
The human journey is homeward – toward that new heaven and new earth, the city of peace and community of justice, dwelling with God and knowing God’s lively presence among us. The saints we celebrate today are lamps along the way – the lights of every generation who let us see that living presence in our midst. You’ve seen them, you know them, whether they are searchlights like Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu, or those we think of as lesser lights – the neighbor who feeds our cat when we’re out of town, or the stranger who gives direction to a wandering tourist, or the folks in New Jersey who are stringing extension cords and power strips out to the sidewalk so the powerless can charge their cell phones. Even the dim bulbs around us have a saintly role when they evoke compassion – or shine a light on our own lack of it.
When God’s spirit is known within us, we begin to shed light. Those light-bearing saints join the first saints of Pentecost. They’ve been set afire with holy passion for that home of God among mortals, that land of justice called shalom or the reign of God. That holy passion notices, connects with, and reaches out to respond to the tears and death of this world – it becomes com-passion. That fire burns when Jesus discovers his friend Lazarus is bound and shut up in the tomb. The gospel language is polite – it says he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply troubled… and he began to weep. The original is rather more graphic – it says his guts were twisted or wrenched. He’s in agony, but that pain yields compassion – and Jesus responds. That burning spirit of the living God lights a fire sufficiently hot and bright to draw forth a living Lazarus from the tomb.
Wisdom speaks about saints as living fire, running through the stubble. That stubble may seem dead, lifeless, and unproductive – like tears and death and suffering – but if it’s set afire it can bring new life in its wake. But the saintly fire-starter has to be willing to burn a bit, too.
The gospels give us another example of Jesus’ own burning – the night before his arrest, those hours in the garden. His flame is flaring brighter, bringing its own agony, but it will invite the whole world into his light-bearing and generative work.
In many parts of the church, at a baptism, a candle is lit and given to the newly baptized with the words, “receive the light of Christ.” We’re usually really careful not to let it burn anybody, and we hold it far away from a baby, but the light of Christ will not be bound by excessive caution. Fire extinguishers don’t work so well – they can’t put it out. That fire is supposed to help burn away the stubble, it’s meant to help light other fires. It is given to burn in all the saints and help us all to discover the home of God, here in the midst of the stubble of suffering.
The burning spirit of the living God has lit fires here as well. Will you burn brightly? Will you let yourself be scorched a bit? Will you feed the fire in others, and let that passion burn through the dead stubble of this world?
There’s a poem that speaks about that kind of burning, in an image of passionate living:
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night
But ah my foes and oh my friends
It gives a lovely light.
There’s a recklessness in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s image that is characteristic of the great saints – it’s an unwillingness to hold back, or worry too much about self-preservation. That kind of passion comes to many people in times of great concern or connection with those around us. We’re meant to be candles like that, saints who are willing to be fully involved in setting the world alight, in burning away the stubble, even if we get singed or consumed in the process.
The ancient rabbis tell a wonderful story about being used up: at the day of judgment Moses will ask the faithful, “have you enjoyed everything God created for you to enjoy?” That’s one side of passion, and it is the fully-aliveness that is a sure sign of God’s home within us . There’s another side of passion that is about a willingness to be wholly and completely used up, to let the candle burn completely, giving up its very last atom of wax, knowing that the fires that candle has lit in others will continue to give light.
The light in human Christ candles does drive back the night and lighten the darkness, and it will burn away the stubble, revealing God’s home among mortals.
Burn well, my friends. Burn well and light fires wherever you go. Be a light-bearer in the stubble. Be at home in God.