Oh, my Lord! Let the whole Church say Amen! Say it again. Say it one more time! Amen! I’m out of breath for ya. This is a blessed night. It is a blessed night. We gather this night. Many of us are Episcopalians. Many of us are from other Christian traditions and families. Many of us are people of good will of no particular denomination or stripe. Some of us are probably Republicans. And, some of us are probably Democrats. Some of us are probably independents. But all of us are children of God. All of us! All of us! And that’s what we celebrate this night. We come together as the children of God. Like that old song used to say when I was a kid,
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in his sight.
All! All! All!
Allow me if you will then, to on your behalf thank all of those who have made this night possible. We thank you! We thank you! We thank you! And allow me also on your behalf to the thank the bishops and people of the Diocese of Texas. Thank you, Texas! Thank you, Texas! Thank you, Texas! Texas! Texas!
Well I’m in an awkward position because I have a feeling we are the only thing standing in the way of food. This is an unenviable position. So let me hasten to my text. From the New Testament, the Gospel of John, near the end of John’s gospel. In fact some scholars say chapter twenty ends the gospel. But if you look in your Bible, you’ll see there’s another chapter. And scholars have all sorts of theories about whether chapter twenty-one is an addition, an extension, or an appendix. I’m not a scholar. I’m a country preacher, and I know preachers, and you do too. I’ve got a feeling John finished his sermon in chapter twenty, the plane was landing, and he remembered somethin’ else. And took off and came around again. That’s what happened. So on his first landing, which is chapter twenty, he almost brings it to conclusion. And he does so with these words:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these few are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
My brothers, my sisters, my siblings, God wants you to live. God wants us to live. God wants this world to live. God wants us to live! You can almost hear it in the text. John is tryin’ to land the plane, and he says there are many other things that I could’ve written, but these few things that I have written, in this whole Gospel of John, the stories of Jesus turning water into wine, the story of Jesus meeting old Nicodemus, the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman that Bishop was talkin’ about, by the well, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 folk, (ain’t she wonderful [referring to interpreter]?). All these stories, the story of Lazarus, the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, the story of him being raised from the dead, I could have told you more stories. This is Jesus Christ we’re talking about! This is not John Doe! This brother was incredible! I could be telling you stories all night, and you’d never get your barbecue! But these few stories I have told you so that you might come to believe. And believing means just trust. It doesn’t mean you understand. It doesn’t mean you got it figured it out. It means I’m just going to trust you. These have been written so that you might believe that Jesus really is, really is the Messiah, the Christ, the human face of God, the incarnation of God’s love in the life of a human person. Or as the Nicene Creed says:
God of God,
Light of Light,
Very God of very God
This is not John Doe we’re talking about! These have been written so that you might believe. That he really is the sign, the ultimate seal of how much God loves you. And this has been written so that you can have life. Life. Real life, not life you can barter for on E Bay. Real life! Life that the world did not give, and the world cannot take away. Life! Life! And in John’s gospel it’s incredible . . . I wanna make sure, how ya’ll doin’? I wanna make sure. We want to make sure everybody’s in. If you look at John’s gospel, the theme of life is woven from beginning to end. At the beginning of the gospel with that wonderful poetry,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God. In him was life.
And that life was the light of the world.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
This is life! Life with God! Life! And it goes on. I’m not making this up. It’s in the book. He says in the sixth chapter, “I am the bread of life.” In the fourth chapter, he says, “I am the waters of life.” In the third chapter, Jesus meets, he meets, he meets the first Episcopalians. It’s true! I am convinced that Nicodemus in the third chapter of John was the first Episcopalian. If you read the text carefully, it says that Nicodemus, who was a member of the Pharisees, probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the high court, he was a sort of an aristocrat, smellin’ like an Episcopalian to me! But even better than that, John’s gospel says, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Only an Episcopalian would try to get close to Jesus when nobody was looking. That’s an Episcopalian! But Nicodemus was alright, ‘cause when push came to shove, Nicodemus defended Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin. And Nicodemus got with Joseph of Arimethea and made provision for the burial of Jesus. That’s also an Episcopalian. My reason for mentioning that, it was in the conversation with Nicodemus that Nicodemus said, “You know Lord, I want to know more about your teaching.” And Jesus said to him, “Nicodemus, don’t give me that jive. We’re not on Oprah Winfrey”. He said Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” In the Greek it can be translated, born again, born anew, or born from above. And the point, I think, the only reason to be born is so that you can live! God wants you to live! God wants us to have life, and God wants all of his children to have life! I could go on but I won’t.
It goes on in John’s gospel, he says, “I am resurrection and I am life”. He says in the fourteenth chapter, “I am the way, and the truth and the life”. In the tenth chapter, “I have come that you might have life.” And then at the end of the gospel, I’ve written all these things so that you might believe and have life! The whole point is life! Life abundant meant for each. Life for rich folk and life for poor folk. Life for Democrats and life for Republicans. Life for Independents! Life for Deputies! Life for Bishops! Life for everybody! Life! Life! Life! Life. Life. And the truth is it’s so easy to be deceived about what makes for real life. John’s gospel noticed that Jesus wasn’t talking about biology. Biology is important. ‘Cause you got to start somewhere. But that’s the basics. I mean the truth, is we are all human beings, and biologically that is who we are as human beings. But biologically, we are simply part of the animal world. We’re basically like that pigeon in the House of Deputies. I leaned over to President Jennings and said, “Madam President, ya’ll got a pigeon in this house.” But that’s basic biology. We’re part of the animal world. And I’m going to be careful here, because I know Bishop Katharine is in here somewhere and she’s a scientist. I don’t want to get out of my pay grade, but I think my eighth grade teacher taught us in living things that members of the animal world have certain characteristics, that among these are three: they breathe, they eat, and they make more of their own kind. Respiration, (sounds better in Spanish, I like that), respiration, consumption, and reproduction. They eat, they breathe, they make more of their own kind. My wife has two cats who can do that. Actually they’ve been to the vet they can do two out of the three. And that’s fine, but the truth is, life is more than that. Jesus said as much. Is not your life more valuable than even the sparrows? Those priceless creatures of God, you are of more value than the sparrows. You need clothes, but how much do you need? Consider the Lillies of the field. They grow, they spread. They toss. They turn, and even your heavenly Father takes care of them. And how much more valuable are you? I’ve come to show you life! Not just biological life! Not just existence! Not just surviving! Not just getting by! To have life! Life as I dreamed it!
Life as I intended! God wants you – are ya’ll with me? And the truth is, I’m convinced, that love is the key to life. I have a theory, and I know there’s some theologians in this room, I’m gonna be careful, but I’m convinced that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is selfishness, and hatred is a derivative of selfishness. Yeah, I think we’re onto something here. See selfishness, or self-centeredness, or as the ancient mothers and fathers used to say that hubris, false pride, yeah, that false, self-centered pride that puts me in the center of the world, and you and God and everybody else on the periphery, that selfishness, it is the root of all evil. It is the source if every wrong. It is behind every bigotry. It is behind every injustice. It is the root cancer of every war. It is the source of every destruction. That selfishness destroys homes! It will destroy churches! It will destroy nations! And left untethered, it will destroy creation! Selfishness! Selfishness! Selfishness! Selfishness!
And love is the cure. I had to say that briefly at a wedding recently. I had to get it in in a little bit of time. I’m not going to go too much longer with you all either. But love is the Balm in Gilead. Love will heal the sin-sick soul. Love can lift us up when the gravity of selfishness will pull us down! Love can bind us together when selfishness will tear us apart. We actually have a television show which is the incarnation of selfishness. And actually there’s another word for selfishness, believe it or not. It’s called sin. That’s why we have Lent, a season to deal with sin. But love is the cure. We got a television show, and you know the one I’m talking about. It’s the television show Survivor. Now it’s just a television show, I know. But think about the premise of the show. The premise of Survivor is that you put all these people on a desert island, and the goal of their life, is to find life by getting everybody else kicked off the island. That’s a parable of selfishness! ‘Cause eventually selfishness gets everybody kicked off the island! And there’s nobody left but you! And you are incredibly boring by yourself!
But love brings us together. Love heals the wounds. Love can lift us up. Love is the source of setting us free, and it is the root source of life. In fact the truth is the only reason we’re here is because of love. Give me another minute or two. I mean stop and think about it for a moment. We Christians believe in God. We believe in one God, and yet we believe in God the Holy Trinity. Am I right about that? Please say that with more confidence, it really is true. We have one God and yet we know this one God in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But we don’t have three gods, one God! We just know this one God in magnificent ways! We got ourselves a many splendored God! And God you see, the Holy Trinity is our tradition’s way of telling us that God can embrace individuality and multiplicity all at the same time! God is not worried about uniformity. God can have unity and diversity, not uniformity at the same time. Ya’ll hear what I’m gettin’ at now? The truth is God has in God’s self everything God that needs to be whole and to be fulfilled, and to be complete. St. Augustine of Hippo, no flaming liberal to be sure, Augustine of Hippo once said, that the Trinity means that God is a community of love in God’s self. And First John, chapter four, verse says, “Beloved let us love because love is from God, and those who love are born of God, and know God because God is love. God is love! God is love! And guess what, guess what, that’s the reason we’re here! God is the Trinity. God had all the company God needed in God’s self. Which means God did not need y’all! God did not need the world to be a headache. But love moves over and makes room and space for the other to be. Love says, let there be light! Love says, let there be a world! Love says, let there be Andy! Love says, let there be Byron! Love says let there be Deena! Love says let there be Hector! Love says let there be Jeff, well Jeff, let me think about it. Love, the reason we are here, the reason there is a world because God is love. We are here. We have life because of love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another.” And after he rose from the dead, he asked Simon Peter, “You want to follow me now?” It’s not about mechanical following. He says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said, “Yeah Lord, you know I love you.” “I want you to take care of my sheep. Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Lord, I just got through sayin’ I love you. Yes I love you. You knew that.” “Then take care of my sheep!” He says, “Simon son of John, DO YOU LOVE ME? If you love me, you will overcome your self- centeredness, and another will take you by the hand, and may lead you to where you do not want to go. But it won’t be all about you any more. It will be about following me!” And then Jesus said, “Now follow me.” The key to following Jesus, the key to being his disciples, the key to life is love! Is love! Is love. It’s love.
Well, I’m going to stop now. I’m getting older now. That’s an understatement. But you know the older I get the more I am convinced that we waste a lot of time in life in stuff that does not give life. And some of that’s human, we’re human. And that’s okay I’m not puttin’ all that down. But at the end of the day, we’ve gotta live. We’ve got to live in a world where little children are not separated from their parents at our borders. We gotta live in that kind of world. And the work of love is to make a world with the possibility of life for all is real. That is the work of love. And I really believe that’s why I am a Christian, better yet why I’m a follower of Jesus. A very faulty one, by the way, but a follower nonetheless. But I am because I believe Jesus was right. The way to life is the way of love. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor. And while you’re at it, love yourself. That’s the key. Well, all this is predicated on a prior conviction, a conviction that (To audience and referring to interpreter: We do this all the time, you should have seen us in Honduras. We were even better.) It really is based on a conviction that God knows what God is talking about. Think about that for a second. Everything I’ve said, everything I’ve said is based on the conviction that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. That God knows what he’s talking about. If he doesn’t, then ya’ll might as well go eat barbecue right now!
I realized that years ago. I was a parish priest in Baltimore – Diocese of Maryland, there’s probably somebody around – and our youngest daughter was probably three years old, and my wife went off to teach school, and I think our oldest daughter went off with her, I can’t remember now. But they would go out and then I would take the young one to nursery school. (To audience and referring to interpreter: I don’t know what my sister said, but you all obviously enjoyed it.) Okay. So anyway, I’m there at home, I’m with Elizabeth and we were waiting a little while before we went off to school. And so I said, “Elizabeth I need you to go and put your raincoat on.” And she looks back at me, at three years old now, and here I am the rector of the rector of St. James Church, the third oldest African-American Church in the Episcopal Church. A historic church, the church that gave you Thurgood Marshall. Yeah! This is a serious church! Yeah! So here I am the rector of St. James and here’s this little three year old person. I said, “Elizabeth go put your rain coat on.” And she said, “Why?” I said, “Because it’s going to rain.” She ran to the window in the living room, and looked out the window and said, “But it’s not raining outside”. I said, “I know that, but it’s gonna rain later.” She said, “Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain.” See you got to know the source of authority. I said, “I know Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain, but Al Roker said it was gonna rain.” I tried to explain to her about weather forecasting, and I showed her the newspaper. And I finally said, “Why am I doing all this? Elizabeth just go and put your raincoat on!”
So we left the house and got in the car, and drove off to nursery school. And so I took her in school. And I came back out and I sat in the car. And I sat in the car. I said I can’t believe that little thing. She actually thought she knew better than I do. Here I am the rector of historic, St. James. Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray, they all came out of that church. Yeas! Here I am and she actually thought she knew more than I did. I spent more time in seminary than she’s even been on the earth. And she actually thought she knew more than I did! And it occurred to me that that must be what we look like to God! That’s what! And I have this fantasy of God putting his hands on his cosmic hips, and just saying, they are so cute! They think they know so much, but don’t they know that I was the one that called this world into being in the first place? Don’t they know that I created the vast expanse of interstellar space? Don’t they know that I told old Moses, go down Moses, way down in Egypt land, and you tell old Pharaoh, let my people go? Don’t they know that I’m the author of freedom? Don’t they know that I’m the creator of justice? Don’t they know that I’m the God of love! Don’t they know that I came down as Jesus to show them the way, to show them the way of love, to show them the way to life, to show them how to live together! Don’t they know how much I love them! How much.
My brothers, my sisters, my siblings, we have work to do. To stand for Christianity, a way of being Christian that looks like Jesus of Nazareth. A way of being Christian that is grounded and based on love. A way of being Christian that is not ashamed to be called people of love. So go from this place and be people of the way. Go from this place as people of Jesus. Go from this place as people of love! Go from this place and heal our lands! Go from this place and heal our world! Go from this place until justice rolls down! Go from this place until the nightmare is over! Go from this place until God’s dream is realized! Go from this place and help us live!
God love ya! God bless ya! And GO!