As we gather together today to share the community and well-being of this parish, I am drawn to the message of Epiphany, and to the question, “What is the light our parish bears to our times, and our city, and to our world?” That is the message of Epiphany, right? Amidst the darkness that shrouds the earth, God has given a light to shine. Because in the mystery of the divine word made flesh, God has caused a new light to shine in our hearts, we proclaim in the Epiphany preface at the Eucharist.
So what is the light that we, at St. Andrew, bring to our world? Our nation? Our city? We bear the light of the ancient and sacramental faith that proclaims the incarnation of God in our world today. In our faith, matter matters, and how we treat our selves, treatour neighbor, and treat the creation from which we have been formed…matters. Everypart of creation bears the image of God, of God’s beauty, God’s imagination, God’screativity. Our fellowship is not simply with one another, but with all creation.
I believe St. Andrew Episcopal Church has cultivated a reputation in this city. It is a place where the many lines that divide and define people in our culture are intentionally and mindfully blurred, if not erased. It is a place where unity and community is extended beyond our belief, our ethnicity, sexuality, politics, nationality, and all the other ways people are excluded and defined. Why does the light of inclusion and mutual respect for all people and creation shine in our midst? Because this is the faith and life we have received, it is the catholic faith passed down through all the ages, the light of common humanity reflected in the divine embrace of the whole creation through the mystery of the incarnation. The whole earth is filled with God’s glory, and who are we to diminish the glory of God in anyone or anything, simply because they are different?
We bear the light of the beauty and creativity of God and creation. When Jesus emerged in his generation, he represented a different view and voice than what had become the dominant voice of religion. Christianity, as it is wielded and perceived in popular culture, is no longer the faith and teaching of a suffering servant, but has become a battle-ram in the hands of religious and political bullies.
God incarnate in Jesus was a poet, a teacher, a healer, a community builder, a gracious guest, a humble leader, a bridge between factions and cultures, a willing sacrifice for the sake of others. The life of Jesus was beautiful, it was filled with poetic rhythm and voice. His life evolved like the seasons of the earth, from incubation to resurrection, like a seed that falls from a grain of wheat that became the bread of life. This parish walks the path and shines the light of that eternal cycle from birth to death to re-birth every year. We are not identified by the political and cultural issues and struggles of our day, for in this place people dwell together with diverse perspectives. We are identified by the eternal rhythm of eternal life as it was lived in the life of Jesus, the Christ, and as it is revealed through the seasons of the earth.
And thirdly, we shine the light of community. From the earliest documents and records preserved through two millennia, Christian community was always intended to be lived like family. In this parish we are not members, attenders, supporters… we are family.We are known, we are loved, we are embraced and welcomed, we are prayedfor…often. When one of us receives a serious diagnosis, we all bear the sorrow and concern. When any of us suffer loss, grief, anguish, we all accompany in one way or another that walk through the valley of shadows and deaths. We share many meals, together. We break bread, share the cup, offer the prayers, and pass the peace…not as strangers or acquaintances…but as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, auntsand uncles. I can think of so many examples of the light of community that shines here at St. Andrew, but allow me to offer just this one. When Harley became a member of our family eight years ago, I have watched from the beginning how she did not simply gain the Lightseys as her new and loving family, she became a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister of this parish. This church, and its many members, became her family, just as it has been for all of us. The family, here, is not perfect, but it never resigns from its intention to being the beloved community of God in Christ.
Conclusion: When Jesus emerged amidst the landscape and culture of his day, he emerged with the light of love, of divine kinship, of healing and reconciliation, of grace and compassion, of peace and favor for the poor and powerless. We too, as a parish and a people can be a light to the landscape and culture of our day. The light of the ancient and catholic faith, the light of beauty and creativity, the light of community and universal family.