Sermon for the 179th Diocesan Convention
Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor: By the guidance of your Holy Spirit, grant that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight; through Jesus Christ, our Judge and Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
In the name of our God of the still, small voice … the God of the earthquake and storm and wind … the God who hears our whispered prayer. Amen.
Can you hear them?
In a whisper … in a murmur … in a conversation … in a shout… in a roar…
Can you hear the prophetic voices all around us?
We are the people of the voice of the prophets, Miriam and Ruth, Deborah and Moses and Elijah, Jeremiah and Isaiah, people who spoke with God and then conveyed God’s story, God’s wishes, God’s warnings, God’s love to the people of Israel.
We are the people of Mary Magdalene and of Paul and Peter, who took the story of Jesus into all the world, and of countless missioners and pilgrims who carried the story from a tiny rural outpost in the Middle East … and their faith spread throughout the Roman Empire and then moved out as far and wide as their feet and voices could carry it.
But I’m talking about the prophetic voices of today.
Can you hear them?
Listen again to today’s Collect: “Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor: By the guidance of your Holy Spirit, grant that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our judge and Redeemer.
So, can you hear them?
They are the voices we need to hear – even though we may not like what they are telling us.
They are the voices that speak without a sound – but confront us with the conflict between who we are and who we say we are.
They are the voices that may speak ugly words. They are voice we cannot ignore.
They are the voices that offer hope and a future – and it is our job to make sure that they do not speak alone.
Yesterday in my convention address I talked about getting outside our doors and listening to those we meet on the streets, in the labor pools, and the food pantries, at the shelters. Many of the people we meet there are the people Jesus listened to, the people he hung around with, the people on the margins.
Jesus knew then what those of my age heard in the 1960’s in the words of Simon and Garfunkel: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway halls and tenement halls.”
Listen with me to those prophetic voices.
Turn back to last August, when the front page of virtually every newspaper – in print and online – carried the photo of a shell shocked 5 year old Syrian boy, sitting in an ambulance, covered in dust and blood, having survived an attack near his home in which his brother died. His soundless voice calls out to us. How do we respond?
Any day you like, listen to the voices of religious fundamentalists who preach a gospel of fear, who turn young men with no hope for jobs and advancement and meaningful lives into suicide bombers and terrorists. These voices – that fed the hungry with the fast food of terror and extremism – call out to us. How do we respond?
Listen to the voices of incarcerated young black men, shackled to lives of poverty and violence. Listen to the voices of their worried parents who wonder whether their children will come home safe at night. These voices – that want only what many of us take for granted, safety and security, hope and a future – call out to us. How do we respond?
And listen to the voices of our fellow Episcopalians all around Western New York who are feeding the hungry, reading to children, healing the sick, visiting the prisoners, making safe spaces for LGBT youth, supporting undocumented workers, and clothing the shivering. These voices call out to us. How do we respond?
There are prophets of doom out there and prophets of joy. Those who are doing their best to keep pain in circulation and those who work tirelessly to bring peace and justice to their neighbors. Which voices will we listen to? How will we respond?
How will we create a community where the voices on the edges are heard and responded to?
The great Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen tells us: “Community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive, not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own. The question for us therefore is not, ‘How can we make community?’ but ‘How can we nurture giving hearts?’”
So how do we develop those giving hearts and then – as St. Benedict said – listen with the ear of our hearts to the prophetic voices around us?
I think we do what our reading from the Gospel of Mark tells us this morning. We put the lamp of the Gospel up on the lampstand and let it shine for all the world to see.
We let it illuminate the dark corners. We carry it into the dimly lit places, to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. We take the Gospel message of God’s love out of our churches and carry it in a grand procession to the public school, the office, the bowling alley, the diner.
It really is possible to be a good and faithful Episcopalian and to love Jesus – and to say so out loud.
Will you do that? Will you live your faith out loud, in the light of that Gospel lamp? Will you show that you have heard those prophetic voices by the way you live your life, by the way you take violence and hate out of our vocabulary, inside and outside the church, and substitute peace and healing, joy and hope?
Mark tells us what else we need to do to brighten up the world with that Gospel lamp. We need to scatter seed on the ground, watch and wait as it sprouts and grows, see how it ripens, and then harvest that crop.
That’s our job: to get out there and grow the Gospel. We don’t always know how it is going to grow and often our crop is a surprise – but that’s God’s part of the bargain.
When you leave this place in a few minutes, you will be going out to work sites that plant seeds of that Gospel harvest which nourishes this community. This is Gospel work. This is responding to the call of those prophetic voices. This is the work of giving hearts. Listen to the prophetic voices when you get on that bus in a few minutes and venture out into this city. Listen to those that cry out for justice and those that speak words of equality.
Will yours be a prophetic voice? Will you speak the words of Jesus and do the work of Jesus, and live your faith out loud in the light of the Gospel lamp?
In the name of our loving God. Amen.