[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Sandye A. Wilson, rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew and Holy Communion in South Orange, New Jersey, preached at the Vigil Celebration and Eucharist, sponsored by the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE), in honor of the next presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael B. Curry.
The service was held on Saturday, Oct. 31 at 11 a.m. EDT at the D.C. Armory.
A video of the full service follows. Wilson’s sermon begins at 41:50 and the full text is below.
Sermon for The Vigil Eucharist for the Installation of The 27th Presiding Bishop
Saturday, October 31, 2015
The Armory, Washington DC
The Reverend Canon Dr. Sandye A. Wilson
God is good…all time.
Let us pray:
Let us be still and know that we are not God!
Let us be aware of God’s continuing and compassionate presence.
Let us be sensitive to our particular strengths and weaknesses.
Let us be open to new faces, new ideas, new ways.
Let us be quiet long enough to hear God’s voice and long enough our neighbor’s cry.
Let us be fair, let us be friendly, let us be faithful.
Let us be adults in the world and yet still always be Children of God.
Good morning saints! What a joy it is to be with you in this place, in this community, on this great getting up morning! Thanks be to God for this time together. You are in the ‘hood. It is good to be here on this Eve of All Saints, giving thanks for the ministry of the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori on her last day in office, and on the Eve of the Installation of the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Michael Bruce Curry, gathered together at this Eucharistic Vigil of reflection and hope. Thank you, Bishop Curry, for your kind invitation to preach today, thank you National Union of Black Episcopalians for providing a venue in which the Body of Christ gathered may worship the Living God in the ‘hood, in the Washington, DC Armory. Thanks to all of you who have made major contributions to this day and thanks to those who have given to this day in any way. Thanks to the UBE Planning Committee. We are grateful to Almighty God and to you. It is delightful to note today, that the church is not following the world. Tonight our clocks in the United States are turned back as our church moves forward. Chronos says go back; kairos says move forward in the fullness of time–in God’s own time.
On this eve of All Saints, All Hallows Eve, on this historic occasion, we are reminded that we stand on the shoulders of the ancestors—those who have gone before us and who have born the weight of the struggle in the heat of the day. Some were famous and others’ names will never be known, but they are all important to God and to us. We remember today the many ways in which their faith, their struggle, their hope and their belief in a better way of life for those who would come after them, sustained them, strengthened them and inspire us. These ancestors we remember today include Bishop and Mrs. Curry’s parents, Father Kenneth Curry, Dorothy Ada Strayhorn Curry, Mabel Robinson Clement, Troy Rufus Clement, Frank Jones and other Currys and Strayhorn family members who stand on that far-too-distant shore. We remember also Bishops John Burgess, John Walker, Walter Decoster Dennis, E. Don Taylor, Quinton Primo, Frank Turner, Jay Walker, the Reverends Charles Smith, Michael Marrett, James Woodruff, Waylon Melton, Pauli Murray and Sister Althea Augustine.
In Hebrews we read :
Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
These ancestors, without us, will not rest in peace. They have done their work, but if we do not do our work, they will never rest in peace. So as Bishop Curry has reminded me,
this one is for the ancestors
those who came before
those who labored through
a hard and bitter bondage
who toiled through unspeakable
lived in the midst of harrowing hopelessness
who learned the way of Jesus
and believed against belief
and hoped against hope that
soon I will be done with the troubles of the world
soon evil will cease from troubling
soon the weary will find their rest.
And if it is for the ancestors, we are reminded that a torch has been passed to a new generation that includes the greatest generation, The Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Y, Generation Z whom we call the Boomlets, and everyone behind them. They have done their work and they leave this church and this society in our hands to do the work that God gives us to do. Carl Daw said it well when he penned the word of a wonderful song:
God Has Work For Us To Do
(words by Carl Daw, music by M. Miller)
Till all the jails are empty and all the bellies filled;
Till no one hurts or steals or lies, and no more blood is spilled;
God has work for us to do, God has work for us to do
Believe in the promise, “I make all things new”
God has work for us, work for us to do.
Till age and race and gender no longer separate;
Till pulpit, press, and politics are free of greed and hate:
In tenement and mansion, in factory, farm, and mill
In board room and in billiard hall, in wards where time stands still,
In classroom, church, and office, in shops or on the street;
In every place where people thrive or starve or hide or meet:
By sitting at a bedside to hold pale, trembling hands,
By speaking for the powerless against unjust demands,
By praying through our doing and singing through our fear,
By trusting that the seed we sow will bring God’s harvest near.
God has work—work for us to do.
This is our work, dear friends. Bishop Michael – the seed sower – is calling us into the Jesus movement, and many people have challenged me about the meaning of the movement. Some are concerned that we must be more than social workers in communities. Others worry that the movement takes us away from the “institution”—but friends, what is a movement? A movement is something that exists to change people’s lives. It moves, it grows, it expands. It challenges the status quo. It causes revolutions. It upsets people in power. It turns over tables and it turns lives around. As people of The Way, we are part of that movement. Institution is what happens to a movement when it grows up. It creates a structure; it has meetings; it funds the structure; it exists to maintain order; it exists to perpetuate itself. It sometimes resists change and it is totally predictable. We have become the institution and we are being called to find ourselves forward into the Jesus Movement, so that we exist to change people’s lives; moving, growing, expanding, challenging the status quo, causing revolutions and realizing that at the heart of every revolution is human kindness; turning tables and turning lives around.
On November 4, 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected, many people who voted for him stood outside with tears streaming down their faces, filled with such joy, believing that the nation would change overnight because of his election. People were filled with hope that he would be the new Messiah, to lead us to the Promised Land and certainly to reform this nation into a place of liberty and justice for all. Soon after the election, President Obama invited us to get up off our duffs and get to work on transforming this society. Then he made decisions with which some people disagreed, and suddenly he wasn’t quite as popular as he was! We didn’t elect you to ask us to do any work—we elected YOU to do the work! God has work for us to do as we bear Christ in this world! No leader can do it alone. No leader can do it alone. The ancestors started the work for us, the baton has been passed to us —They, without us, will not rest in peace!
On March 13, 2013, Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio was elected 266th Pope. Many were excited about his election—believing his option for the poor and his deep commitment to climate change and justice—meant that he could and would change existing structures in the Roman Catholic Church. In our euphoria about his election and good spirit, many were surprised when the Pope looked around like Jesus on that mountain in the feeding of the 5000, looked at us, and said, “there are millions of hungry people in this world: YOU feed them! YOU sacrifice so that we have a healthy climate to leave to generations yet unborn. You be Jesus’ hands and feet and heart in the world. There are decisions he has made and will make with which you will disagree. He is calling us to a place in the Jesus Movement. But no leader can do it alone. The ancestors started the work for us—They, without us, will not rest in peace.
In Salt Lake City, on June 27, 2015, when Bishop Michael Curry was elected, many were euphoric! More selfies were taken with him, a smiling Bishop sharing his joyful witness, than anyone could imagine! We think we invented selfies, but the first real selfie was one the Mount of Transfiguration when Peter begged Jesus to stay on the mountaintop and keep things exactly as they were. Jesus told him they could not stay in that place. They had to leave that mountaintop and go down to the places of ministry and change and life. There are two problems with selfies. The first is that they are a freeze frame in time. They capture the present moment for all time. The second is that they sometimes engender confusion about who has what role. Sometimes we are convinced that if we are in the selfie with someone else, we become that other person and we know better than they do, how to do their job. So Bishop Michael is elected and he invites us to get up off our duffs and do the work of transformation and reconciliation called for in the Jesus Movement. He invites us to gather up all the fragments of our frayed humanity, that none be lost and they none be left out. He invites us to live into and become the love of Jesus in a world desperate to know and feel that love. He invites us as Episcopalians to sing out, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He is inviting us into a love fest of discomfort, because we can’t choose who Jesus will give us to know and to love as companions on the way. The more he calls us to work in the vineyard of the movement, the less time and energy we will have to gossip anything but the good news of the gospel or to second guess why someone else does what they do. Let our new selfies be of each of us and the work of transformation and bearing Jesus Christ into the world. Let our selfies be of our engaging in real, adaptive change rather than technical solutions to problems before us. Put those selfies up beside our selfies with Bishop Michael and both photos will come alive.
There will be days when we are convinced that we know better than the new Presiding Bishop and days when we are convinced that he is making decisions counter to the decisions we would make if we were in his shoes, but that is the nature of leadership and I would like to invite you to make a covenant today to pray for him and not prey on him. When you are most disturbed or angry over the next nine years, pray with him ASAP – always say a prayer – and find a way to communicate with each other that is joyful, generative and life-giving. No leader can do it alone. He does not believe in silo work and he is a collaborative leader. The ancestors started this work for us, they passed the baton to us—without us, they will not rest in peace.
Langston Hughes has written a poem entitled The Negro Speaks of Rivers:
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
(Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.) Source: Selected Poems (Vintage Books, 1987)
Bishop Michael, I know the movement of the river and its history in our lives as a people intrigues you. I invite you in this new ministry to walk over the river rocks to stand in the middle of the river, for it is only in the middle of the river that you can reach both sides of the shore. It is on the shores of the river that many have stood for generations staring with enmity at one another because they disagree theologically, socially, historically, and for many other reasons including that they just plain don’t like each other and have different world views. The joy and challenge of your work can be found in the words of the Most Reverend Helder Camara, Retired Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife:
The Bishop belongs to all.
Let no one be scandalized if I frequent
Those who are considered unworthy
Or sinful. Who is not a sinner?
Let no one bind me to a group.
My door, my heart, must be open
To everyone, absolutely everyone.
You and only you will be able to invite all parties to travel over the river rocks until they come to the bridge made by the sturdy, strong backs of the ancestors. Your invitation and your willingness to be for everyone in the Jesus movement, we hope, will bring folks from both sides of the shore to meet at that central place in the river, so we can gather at the river, of renewal, relationship, reconciliation, resurrection and ultimately new life for all of us. Righteous anger has its place, but it must ultimately lead us to that place of reconciliation, relationship and reflection. Once folks get onto the bridge, please remind them that there has been a table set in the wilderness, and there is a seat at the table there for everyone. And remember dear friends that when Jesus calls us to dine with each other, the proverbial place cards that identify where you sit, are permanently attached to the table so that we cannot run around and change the place cards to sit with our friends. We are invited intentionally in the Jesus movement to come to know those we might least like to know and to remember that we are all in this together, brothers and sisters, children of the living God.
Finally – and don’t you love that word? – finally, Gloria Wade Gales, a professor at Spelman and Morehouse Colleges, wrote a memoir called Pushed Back to Strength. In the first chapter she is speaking with her grandmother and is animatedly telling her about her life in the world. She says, “Grandma, it seems that every time I stand up, I get pushed down. Everytime I try to go forward, grandma, I get pushed back. Grandma do you hear me?” Her grandmother, wise beyond knowing looked up from her sewing and said, “When they push you back, they are pushing you back to strength. They are pushing you back to us—where you can get strong again. So do not be afraid, because they are pushing you back to us.” Bishop Michael, there will be days when I am sure you, like Gloria, would like to ask your grandmother about why…And on those days, as you know so clearly the Jesus of your faith and history, as you know that the God behind us is greater than any problem ahead of us, know also that you are being pushed back to the ancestors who make it possible for us to be here today. Pushed back to strength so that you can get strong again and come into our midst and challenge us to have the moral courage to be strong in this work that God has given us to do.
And so, for the ancestors,
soon love will win
soon a new heaven and a new earth
soon Glory! Glory!
This one is for the ancestors
So come what may
To God be the glory
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as in heaven
lift every voice and sing
till earth and heaven ring
This one is for the ancestors.
For if, we are able to do this together, if we are willing to recognize that since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, we can also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and we can run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
And once we do this work, dear friends, with joy, all those ancestors, all those saints named and unnamed, for whom we give thanks in these days, as they shout Hallelujah in Heaven today, will finally be able to rest in peace.