Homily: December 6, 2015
Advent 2, YEAR C; Rev. Rena Turnham, Deacon As many of you know, I came to Gethsemane in September as “The Downtown Deacon”.
I’m working a shared position between St. Mark’s Cathedral and Gethsemane and my charge is to help “set the table” for these two very different and uniquely gifted and called faith communities, to discern mission and ministry together.
I’m here to help ask, “How might we collaborate in the downtown area? How might we engage God’s mission, here, together?”
"The Downtown Deacon” is actually kind of a goofy title, because Vant is already here among you and the cathedral already has a few deacons. And of course, we’re all downtown.
You might say that I’m just another nobody, working nowhere in particular.
In this passage we just heard this morning from the Gospel of Luke, God is working with “a nobody”, John the Baptist, and nowhere in particular… out there, at the margins, in the wilderness. It’s not happening in the people with power or where these people live and work.
That’s what Luke is drawing attention to here when he sets John the Baptist and his ministry within the context of the larger political and historical context of the time.
The Bible is full of these stories of God choosing to do his work in the least expected, most unimaginable, ordinary people and places.
Yet, somehow, we think it’s not possible for God to speak to us, or to our faith communities. In fact, most of the time, we’re not even listening. So we believe, much of the time, that God can’t possibly work in us and through us, and with us, for God’s mission.
Why is that?
And why have we forgotten that this work takes place, out there, at the margins?
Maybe it’s got something to do with what we do when we go about our own daily lives and in the everyday lives of our congregations.
I don’t know about you, but my daily life is full of tasks, many of which are about protecting me and maintaining my control and comfort.
Some days, these tasks are about what I have come to believe is my very survival—emotionally, spiritually, physically, and even financially. These tasks are generally about me and my family and maintaining a safe and secure distance from what’s going on, out there, outside of my door and the doors of our church building.
As faith communities, and as the church, over decades we’ve developed some similar ways of thinking and being; some would even say some bad practices and habits that are more about maintaining properties and growing our congregations than proclaiming the gospel and seeking and serving Christ in all persons.
We thought, we think… that if we build it, they will come.
This is what consumes much of our resources of time, talent, and treasure. Some say that we do this under the cloak of, “All are welcome.”
Who are they? Do we have enough resources to build it? What should we be doing so that they will come?
Are these really the right questions?
Is this how we prepare the way of the Lord?
David Lose, a biblical scholar and preacher, suggested that we…us…me and you, might be local “John the Baptists” and be voices in the wilderness, today.
What if our faith communities were simply places to grow and train “John the Baptists”, prophetic witnesses in the wilderness, ordinary people, carrying an extraordinary message, in the middle of nowhere?
How might that change the way we’re living, learning, and being together as communities of faith? How might this inform who we say that we are and what we do?
Today in the gospel, we hear from a street preacher who’s been eating strange stuff and wearing strange clothing. When we hear about John “proclaiming a baptism of repentance”, some us began to shift in our pew.
Let’s face it—he’s a fringe character.
I’m reminded of “Sister Pat”, who I tried desperately to avoid during my college years as I made my way to class through the streets of Madison. Sister Pat, preaching her unique brand of ‘fire and brimstone” in her wide-brimmed hat and long patterned skirt, certainly wasn’t inviting to me. She was all about repentance and saving of souls because she was convinced that the end was imminent.
But repentance isn’t about simple personal confessions and coming clean, or simply saying “I’m sorry.”
The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia”, which means change of mind and heart; it requires inner transformation that eventually shows outer change—the fruit of repentance. It’s about changing our whole way of being.
It’s about looking at ourselves in a mirror—as people of faith and as faith communities and asking ourselves if we’re living the lives we’re called to.
And does what we say and do point to who we are, and does it help us to seek and serve Christ in all persons?
Yesterday, with great fanfare and tribute, we celebrated the life of Archdeacon Irma Wyman. I heard she called Gethsemane her home at some point in her life. I came to know her a few years ago when she served on the committee for my discernment for Holy Orders.
She was challenging and thought provoking. She wasn't the warmest person I had ever met. But she was one of the most compassionate.
I’d like to share with you something that she said several years ago. It may have come from a sermon. For a while, these words hung in my home office as a daily reminder to the work I’m called to as a deacon and to the work we’re called to as baptised people and followers of Jesus:
"How will we know when we have enough deacons?
When all the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable are met;
When to gather the gifts of the church and take them to the world, and to gather needs of the world and bring them to the church, has become a habit;
When as the Rev. Canon George Osgood says, '...Deacons, going back and forth, have worn down the boundary lines that we use to keep church and world separated...';
When deacons, leading the baptized in and out, have beaten a path between the altar and the gutter so that everyone will see the link between the Blood in our chalices and the blood in our streets;
When all people respond to the challenge to live, not in the love of power, but in the power of love.”
As I sat down to pray, ponder and write my sermon this week, the events of the San Bernardino mass shooting were unfolding. As I clicked away on my computer keyboard, I got a text from a friend that read: “How’s the sermon going? Did you hear…there’s been yet another mass shooting”?
I sat safe and alone, warm and secure, in my home office, west of here in Medina.
And I wept.
How can we keep on living like nothing happened, like nothing IS happening, out there? Maybe we ought to look at ourselves and our communities, our cities and our governments…and yes… even the church, and ask ourselves if how we live contributes to a society where this in not only possible, it’s becoming an all-to-often, senseless, occurrence.
Or at the very least, what are we doing, if anything, to keep things like this from happening, by our thoughts, words, and deeds?
Our corporate and collective repentance doesn’t undo our past sins but it does unbind us from them and open us up so we can turn toward the life we’re called to live. So we can be bearers of the Good News: bright light and healing for this community and the world.
And then, only then, will it no longer be about love of power, but the power of love.
Some of you might be wondering how we’re doing a couple of months into our downtown collaboration.
Recently, I gave Bishop Prior an update on my work in my new position. I shared that I‘d been spending a lot of time focused on getting folks gathered to the table and talking about working together. He reminded me that while that was an important part of my role, he challenged me to reorient and refocus on simply concerning myself with the needs of the downtown community, to the people that live and work here… and to simply invite the good people of Gethsemane and St. Mark’s into relationship around that.
Maybe this isn’t as hard as we thought.
So I’d like to leave you with this, at the suggestion of David Lose; I’d like us to imagine together how the gospel we’re living today might be written for those who come after us.
“In the fifteenth year, of the twenty first century, when Barack Obama was President of the United States and Mark Dayton was the Governor of Minnesota, and Betsy Hodges was the Mayor of Minneapolis, and Michael Curry was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Brian Prior was the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, the word of the Lord came to Gethsemane and St. Mark’s Cathedral in downtown Minneapolis.”