St. Cyril’s Day (Proper 8)– June 28, 2015

Mark 5:21-43

Indian wisdom says our lives are rivers. We are born somewhere small and quiet and we move toward a place we cannot see, but only imagine. Along our journey, people and events flow into us, and we are created of everywhere and everyone we have passed. Each event, each person, changes us in some way. Even in times of drought we are still moving and growing, but it is during seasons of rain that we expand the most—when water flows from all directions, sweeping at terrifying speed, chasing against rocks, spilling over boundaries. These are painful times, but they enable us to carry burdens we could never have thought possible.

Each event, each person, changes us in some way. Today we celebrate our Patron Saint, St. Cyril of Alexandria. We are the wonderful community that we are today because of the flowing of the events of the past. Some painful, some glorious. I, for one, am changed for the better by being a part of this wonderfully diverse community. I have come to greatly appreciate the strong, deep faith that has sprung from the African American culture. That deep faith can be heard and felt in the spirituals – the sorrow songs and the glory songs. I just finished a newly released book by Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina entitled Songs My Grandma Sang and he beautifully shares how his faith was deepened by a lifetime of listening to these spirituals. Their songs and sayings reflected a deep faith and profound wisdom that taught them how to shout “glory” while cooking in “sorrow’s kitchen,” as they used to say.  And I am absolutely ecstatic to report that Bishop Michael Curry was elected, on the first ballot yesterday at General Convention, as our new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Our first African American Bishop, descended from slaves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant young German theologian, came to America to study at Union Seminary in New York. Today he is rightly seen as one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century and one of the holy martyrs of the church for his sacrifice in radical obedience to Jesus and his Gospel way. His following the way of Jesus led him to participate in the opposition to the tyranny of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi ideology and state. But, before that, Bonhoeffer, while attending Seminary, became friends with an African American seminarian named Franklin Fisher from Birmingham, Alabama. Fisher would take his young German friend with him to Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. There Bonhoeffer encountered an expression of Christianity he had never known. As Curry writes, there he encountered the generation of my grandparents. He came to know people who strangely commingled joy and laughter while cooking “in sorrow’s kitchen”. He encountered the social Gospel incarnated in the nitty-gritty of life, in lived faith. He heard of a justice not compromised by any culture, of the love of Jesus that is a “balm in Gilead,” and of a freedom worth fighting for. Through these songs he felt what Doris Acker’s gospel song called a “sweet, sweet Spirit,” that clearly was “the Spirit of the Lord.” The experience of the living God of Jesus that these songs reflected would feed him in a prison cell when, like the Israelites exiled in Babylon or Paul and Silas singing in a Roman jail or Martin Luther King writing “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he would have to sing, “the Lord’s song in a strange land.” There is a spiritual power and wisdom in these songs.

So, in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, I was struck by those families that spoke of forgiveness so quickly. But then, I thought about Michael Curry’s message and it seemed like I should be saying, “Of course”, “Of course” – these are people born out of a generation of deep, abiding faith. They share the faith of their ancestors. That faith that knows there will be a time when things will be different. That faith that does not lose hope.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Some [people] see things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were and ask why not”.  Isaiah of Jerusalem was someone who understood things as they were, and yet he was someone who dreamed the dream of God and asked why not.

Isaiah was able to speak as one who dared to dream the dream of God in the midst of the nightmare that can be our world. He dreamed it and he asked, why not. Why not a world where children go to sleep fed and satisfied? Why not a world where justice rolls down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook? Why not a world where we lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more? Why not, O Lord, why not?

God came among us in the person of Jesus to show us the way to overcome our nightmare and realize God’s dream. In the words from a book by Desmond Tutu: “I have a dream,” God says. “Please help Me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing. I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that My children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, My family.”

In God’s family there are no outsiders. All are insiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Serb and Albanian, Hutu and Tutsi, Muslim and Christian, Buddhist and Hindu, Pakistani and Indian—all belong.”  Our vocation as disciples of Jesus is to live out his family values in personal living and public witness, to help God realize God’s dream.

So, join hands disciples of the faith; Whate’er your race may be; Who serves my Father as his child; Is surely kin to me.  In Christ there is no East or West; In him no South or North; But one great fellowship of love; Throughout the whole wide earth.

Creation was made for communion and relationship. To put it another way, we were made for God and each other. That is what the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is saying. As long as Adam and Eve are in communion and relationship with God and each other, they are in paradise. And when that communion and relationship is fractured or broken, John Milton’s prophetic poetry becomes painfully true: paradise is lost. We were made for God and each other.  We were made for loving relationship and intimacy with the God who created us and with each other as children of that one God and Creator of us all. Perhaps that is why, when pressed, Jesus declared that the entire religious and spiritual enterprise, the entire purpose of life itself, the secret and reason for our being, and the way our being becomes a life worth living may be found in these two truths: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Jesus said to the woman who touched his cloak, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” and Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue “Do not fear, only believe”. On this St. Cyril’s Day – as Cyril defended the concept of the Trinity – Do not fear, but believe. Join the Way, the movement to help God realize God’s dream. As this community of faith has changed and is changing because of our journey together and our relationships with each other, we can make a difference in our little corner of the world. Keep going. Light the Way. Dare to dream the dream of God. Amen.