Presiding Bishop preaches at Nashotah House

Remembrance of Deacon Terry Star

Posted May 2, 2014

Feast of St. Philip and St. James
1 May 2014
Nashotah House, Wisconsin
Evensong, remembrance of Deacon Terry Star

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

It is a great joy and privilege to be here and I am grateful to your dean for the invitation.

            Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways. Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.[1]

This community and others like it exist to remember that, to learn it so deeply that we become fully free to go wherever we’re sent – for God is already there, at work and speaking the creative Word, before we arrive. God is present with us and before us, wherever the journey leads. That deep knowledge sent Kemper and Breck and others out here in the 1840s, knowing that God’s work was here and they had a part in it, in the wilds of the “kettle moraine.” It’s striking to see that geological phrase in the middle of the note on your ecclesiastical history, but it’s deeply fitting. Think about it. A moraine is a pile of rock debris that’s been pushed and left by glaciers, and the kettle reference is to pools of water that form when the ice contained in that glacial refuse melts. It’s a wonderful Easter image of stone moved and a baptismal pool remaining, in the midst of God’s wild creation.

Nashotah House was founded to both share and discover the creative Word of God – to share what Christ-bearers know of the presence of God in their own lives, and to discover where the Word has been speaking in other languages and contexts – and to bring them together, in the shadow of the cross and the green and dawning truth of Resurrection. People who live a missionary ethos can do no less. That is what it means to follow the path of Wisdom and her prophet.[2] Jesus did tell his disciples that he would go ahead of them, wherever they were sent.[3] We, too, are sent to tell out what we know and discover of God’s eternally creative, renewing love calling forth greater life.

This day brings several examples who have walked the way of Wisdom, what Proverbs calls the path of righteousness and rising day. Philip and James are not the best known of the circle of twelve, particularly James, who is usually distinguished by being called “the Less.” In other words, he’s not one of the famous ones, neither the son of Zebedee nor Jesus’ brother. “The less” is certainly not the world’s usual way of recognizing distinction! There’s a church named for him in Marquette (Northern Michigan), which is fittingly known as “Little Jimmy’s.” But his status as “the less” is very much what Jesus calls servanthood – losing one’s life in order to find it, taking the last and lowest place rather than the highest, serving in solidarity with the least of these.

Philip is better known. He is an earlier follower of Jesus’, called right after Peter and Andrew, and he challenges his friend Nathanael to come and see what God has been up to.[4] Jesus asks Philip to figure out how to feed the 5000.[5] At the last supper, Philip asks Jesus to see God, in the blockheaded way more typical of Peter, and Jesus says, “you’ve been hanging around all this time and you still don’t get it?”[6] Philip’s bio is pretty typical for growing Christians. He’s probably best remembered for baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch.[7] Now he’s got it! He’s hanging out with foreigners and outcasts and marginal people, and discovering the Word of God at work – and blessing what he finds in that man’s hunger. To this day, the Christians of Sudan give thanks that Philip sent them the gospel through that eunuch. Philip used the pool of water at hand when the Ethiopian eunuch asked to be baptized, not unlike a kettle in the wilderness here. Are we as ready to recognize and respond to the Word at work?

This gospel offers another example of the kinds of daily encounters that greet missionaries who expect to find the Word. In the midst of the Passover celebration, some foreigners hear about this prophet and rabbi and come to Philip and James filled with curiosity and hunger – we want to see this guy, take us to him, let us in. That’s the same thing the eunuch asks of Philip – this message is for me, bring me in.

Terry Star lived that way, too. His years of work with young people on the Pine Ridge gave them a fleshy example of walking the way of Wisdom, and a fair number of them heard the invitation to come and join this motley band of roadies for Jesus. Terry’s study here only added to his conviction about the path he was on, and he continued to push the boundaries outward, so that more might hear deeper truth. He spoke the Word with unforked tongue, challenging the comfortable and comforting the challenged.

At the last Executive Council meeting in February, Terry prompted a resolution, spoke powerfully for it, and got it passed.[8] It challenges the use of racist names and mascots by sports teams, and particularly asks one in Washington, DC, to repudiate use of what he called “the R word.” He led others to embrace a wider recognition of the dignity of every human being. I understand his repeated request to the dean to invite me here as another example. He was unfailingly solicitous of other people, in spite of his innate reserve, he was curious about where the Word was at work in each one, and he lived with the kind of deep joy that is only possible when you know you are God’s beloved.

Terry Star was a witness to the love of God he knew in Jesus Christ. He was a witness not only to the Lakota people, and to his brothers and sisters here, but to the wider world. He was a gifted and faithful missionary, and he lies in the same tradition as Jackson Kemper, Henry Lloyd Breck, Philip and James, and all who follow where the prophet of Wisdom leads – into strange lands and wilderness, knowing that the Word of God goes before us.

Kemper came out here to serve the displaced and resettled Oneida as well as the invading settlers. He noted the witness the Oneida made of their lives to “courtesy, reverence, worship – and obedience to that Great Spirit in whose hands are the issues of life.”[9] He started schools to teach and foster a way of living that breaks down the dividing walls and hostility of the world, [10] to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near.[11] The way of Jesus has found fertile ground and flourished when his messengers have expected to discover the presence and activity of God there ahead of them, and have been observant and public witnesses. We veer off Wisdom’s path when we’re blind to the ubiquity of God’s creative Word.

Jesus puts it this way in the gospel we heard: ‘whoever serves me follows me, and where I am, my servant will be also.’ Are we looking in surprising places, even in those who seem outside the bounds, in the least of these as well as those who haven’t discovered their poverty yet? “Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.” 8Terry had good vision. So did Jackson Kemper. How’s yours?

[1] Psalm 139:1-3

[2] Jesus as child of Wisdom and prophet of Wisdom: Luke 2:40,52; 7:35; 11:49ff

[3] Matthew 26:32; Mark 14:28

[4] John 1:43-48

[5] John 6:2-12

[6] John 14:8ff

[7] Acts 8:26ff


[9] Holy Women, Holy Men, 384

[10] Ephesians 2:14

[11] Book of Common Prayer, 100