[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached the following sermon Oct. 18 at Emmanuel Church in Geneva, Switzerland.
Emmanuel Church, Geneva
18 October 2015
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
There is much to celebrate in the long history of this congregation, begun for American expatriates in 1873. You also have much to celebrate in the nearly ten years of Father Beach’s ministry and leadership here, and in the confirmation of four earnest young people today. They are the next in a long line of those who have kept the faith in this place.
As we began this service we asked God to preserve his works of mercy, so that the church might persevere in keeping the faith. It’s as important to look back at your history as it is to reflect on how you’re doing that today, and to look forward to the ways this congregation will continue to serve a transformed future.
We all have some idea of what it means to persevere in keeping the faith, but what does it mean to preserve God’s works of mercy?
Emmanuel has shifted its focus over the years, from its beginnings in serving the privileged Americans who came here as titans of industry and diplomats, or to enjoy the lake and surrounding countryside. A former US president laid the cornerstone in 1877. This congregation began to expand its sense of mission by founding an English library for the whole community. After nearly disappearing in the first half of the twentieth century, Emmanuel grew by leaps and bounds after the Second World War, as commercial interests brought workers here from a greater range of social classes. But before long those businesses began to move their workers elsewhere. In recent decades, the diversity of this congregation has expanded, bringing together people from many lands and nations, people with truly global connections and sensibilities.
Through these 140+ years the faith has been kept in this place, sometimes by just a few persevering souls. Yet God’s mercy continues to flow into and through this community out into a world in a world with a deep need and hunger for mercy. Praying that God will preserve and sustain those works of mercy must mean both keeping people aware of God’s mercy and helping that mercy to keep working in our lives and those of others.
God’s works of mercy become evident only as God’s people see and recognize them and partner in acting compassionately. We have to notice, and then join in. Africa Night is a joyous example, as people from many different homes who have found love and made a home in this place come together to celebrate the different gifts from other homes, and in the process enable works of mercy in Liberia and elsewhere.
We didn’t hear a lot of questions about who was going to sit where last night – chairs appeared when they were needed, and people moved around from one chair to another. There wasn’t a lot of competition over who’s most important – though we did consider who the best dancers were! Who’s most important doesn’t matter when people are focused on the need and suffering of others.
When Jesus asks James and John if they can drink his cup and take his baptism, I don’t think he means just come and suffer. He’s asking if they’re willing to join him, and the rest of his body. Are we willing to join the poor and drink what they’re drinking, or have compassion for Syrian refugees and the many deaths they suffer? Clearly the works of mercy here are going to search for a new and resurrected life in Liberia after Ebola. That’s what a suffering servant is all about – the ability to suffer with others, to have compassion and stand in solidarity with those who seek justice, or sit in the sickroom with one awaiting death, or keep a hopeful vigil until new life dawns.
Isaiah wrote about the suffering servant in the aftermath of the exile – when Jewish leaders were carted off to Babylon after their nation was conquered. They remained faithful, remembering God’s works of mercy and awaiting more. Their religious tradition was transformed in exile – synagogues emerged and the study of Torah grew and developed. Ultimately the suffering of people in Babylon brought new life to their fellow Jews who remained in the land around Jerusalem. When Isaiah speaks of the suffering servant, he’s talking about the people of Israel.
Christians share that history and vocation. The shape of our liturgy – with psalms, prayers, reading of biblical texts, and teaching – grew directly from the synagogue worship developed during exile, with the addition of a holy meal, shaped by Jesus’ Passover meal. We come together in communities like this one to be fed and transformed – to remember and experience God’s mercy – and then we’re sent out into the world to recognize where it’s happening now. We’re meant to look for suffering and joy, and enter in, for that is how we keep the faith. Remember, discover, experience mercy and compassion here in the body of Christ, and then go out and share what you have received, and you will discover even more.
That’s really the basic rhythm of Christian living, and it is the rhythm that begins to be imprinted in us at baptism. Baptism joins us to compassion himself, and confirmation is a celebration of our commitment to be compassion in the world. The suffering servant for us is the body of Christ – with many members, each made in the image of God, each with unique gifts, and together meant to be light and life for the world.
Preserve your works of mercy, Lord, that we may be your servant in the world, proclaiming and becoming good news for the poor, healing for the sick, deliverance for the captives, and light for those who dwell in darkness.
What about who sits next to Jesus in the kingdom? I think the answer is actually pretty simple. The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe had their convention this week in Paris. On Fridays the cathedral hosts lunch for neighbors who are homeless or hungry for food and companionship. Originally the convention was supposed to join that gathering, but the kitchen staff couldn’t handle a four course meal for 180 people. We had sandwiches, and the neighbors were served an elegant meal. Jesus was in the parish hall, dining with the neighbors. His friends were sitting on his left and his right, in front of him and behind him. For he said, “whenever you fed the hungry, or gave drink to the thirsty, or sheltered the homeless, or delivered a prisoner, you did it to me…. and those who did it to the least of these… will be members of my kingdom… and sit at my right hand and my left.” He had friends in the nave as well, eating sandwiches.
Go sit with the poor, welcome the refugee, comfort the grief-stricken, and visit the prisoner, and you’ll be sitting with Jesus. I can’t imagine a better place to sit. Let us know if you find one.
 Ulysses S. Grant