The Bishop's Homily, 7/11/13

The Right Rev. Gladstone B. “Skip” Adams, Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, presented this inspiring homily at our July 11, 2013, Celebration of the Life and Mission of St. Thomas' Church.

 
A priest and his people gather around God’s holy table and make Eucharist – a response to the beauty, wonder and grandeur of our Creator and all that God has made and proved for the reign of God to be realized among us. We then do the one thing we can do:  Celebrate a Thanksgiving, a Eucharist.  THEREFORE, we keep the Feast.

 

It has been said that all Christian ethics is a “therefore” ethics. I would add that all Christian action, all Christian service, all Christian worship, springs, even leaps from the “therefore.” In Christ we see the pattern of God’s continual self-offering. We see it on the Cross in a specific way – Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us – but that is the pattern of the whole creation in the way God has woven it together. We are the pattern of the whole creation in the way God has woven it together. We are called to participate with God in this manner of being while on the planet. Therefore, because God has done this, that is, offered himself to us in one another and the entire creation through stars, planets, music, a beautiful soufflé, the garden in the back yard, bread, wine, a humming bird flitting about, the person next to you tonight, we keep the Feast. St. Thomas’ as priest and people – your call is to keep the Feast and repeat God’s pattern of self-offering over and over again. You, we, practice it here, in holy drama, so that we can do it out there.

 

Of course, the beauty of it all is that God is doing this all of the time and it doesn’t even take well-planned liturgies and weeks of preparation to pull it off. Don’t get me wrong -  I love well-created and thoughtful liturgy – even encourage it. Yet Jesus, the 12, the crowd of 5000, pulled it off at the end of a day on a Galilean hillside some 2000 years ago as he took 5 loaves and two fish, blessed them, broke them, gave  them – you hear the pattern, yes?  Took, blessed, broke, gave.

 

I learned something about that, God’s feast for God’s people, when working in the Dying and Destitute Home of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, some years ago. I had had a rather difficult and intense morning. Three folks had died and we had brought in several others off of the street to de-lice and treat, and to give comfort even in their dying. People with cholera, AIDS, dysentery, leprosy.

 

Along about noon I needed to step away and take a break. Walking on a crowded Calcutta street I hadn’t gotten too far when I became aware of a man coming toward me. I was trying very hard to practice averting my eyes to avoid being engaged. But as we got closer to one another, I realized he was approaching me – the obvious westerner in a sea of brown skin. I felt my defenses going up.  I couldn’t get around him, however, I had to stop and our eyes met. Clearly he was not in good shape. Then these words came forth from his lips, in English, “Could you give me some money for bread?” My mind was racing. I had plenty of money for bread. But Mother Teresa herself had told us not to give money to people on the street. I stuck to my rehearsed lines ‘ “no I’m sorry.” hoping for it to be the end of our encounter. “But I really am hungry,” was the response in mild protest “Oh God” I thought – not swearing, but a prayer.  All of my defenses dissipated, but rather than giving money I went to the corner, bought some bread for 2 rupees, mere pennies, and gave it to the man. Now I’m done! Guilt assuaged.

 

Then all heaven broke loose when he said to me, “Won’t you have some?” Now more warnings are playing in my head. Don’t eat food off the street. What of disease?  All I wanted to do was go for a walk. So I did the only thing I could do and said, “Yes.” And so we did, sit and eat, as George Herbert said, right there, much to my chagrin, on a dirty, crowded Calcutta street, with people, rickshaws and animals milling about. Then he pulled out a cloth from his belt, laid it on the ground, took bread, broke it, then he gave some to me and waited for me to partake first. So we ate together in silence with no sense of the passage of time. He then folded the cloth over the leftover bread, stuffed it in his belt as we stood, bowed to each other in the manner of Hindu greeting and went on our separate ways.

 

Rehearsing the history of Israel, the Psalmist asks in Psalm 78, “Can God set a table in the wilderness?” This was answered for me for all time on that street in Calcutta. Not only can God do so, God calls us to do the same!! It is the hope of Isaiah’s prophetic vision of Israel’s restoration we heard tonight, where the poor are invited to the joyful banquet. For Isaiah the feast is desacralized from the temple ritual and plopped right into the daily life of real people. It is taking this altar and setting it up wherever God’s people find themselves – for Isaiah it is a movement away from the sanctuary to the street – your street, a Calcutta street, the parking lot of the local grocery store, an Ithaca high school, the food pantry, your own dining room table. Isaiah’s vision is to be St. Thomas’ vision. “Taking it to the streets” as the Doobie Brothers opined.

 

I wonder if we remember that the early Christian community, when gathering for Eucharist, did not first consider the image of the Last Supper as the primary Eucharistic imagery. It was first the feeding stories of the 4 or 5000 as in the Gospel tonight. The community’s Eucharistic gathering was more an anticipation of the full reign of God where all are fed, perfect equity and justice obtained, where all have access to God’s bounty as the perfect Icon of God’s community of love in thanksgiving. In the 5 loaves and 2 fishes of Luke we see Jesus’ Kingdom mission – of feeding the hungry creation – all ate and were filled, there was even the abundance of left-overs. To celebrate Eucharist as priest and people is to share this mission. It is why you, St. Thomas’, exists as priest and people.

 

Since each of us, by virtue of our baptism, is a priest, symbolized in the one ordained, each of you is called to be setting up God’s altar, to live a life of thanksgiving, sometimes setting the table yourself and sometimes having it set for you. God calls forth your participation, yet the good news is God is doing it anyway. The bread we hold up here belongs not to us as St. Basil would remind us,  but belongs to God and therefore the whole world. This altar only has integrity insomuch as it becomes the altars we set out there, or better, the altars God is setting for us out there at which we preside and celebrate.

 

Jesus’ priesthood, the priesthood of the Hindu man on the street, your priesthood, is to give us a vision for our life of faith that is not to be merely prudent, sensible, safe – all the things I wanted to be on that Calcutta street – but too often can lead to a stale, stagnant, passionless Christianity. It leaves us unchanged and the world remains very hungry.

 

No. The call of St. Thomas’, the reason God has brought you together as priest and people, is to be God’s “therefore.”

 

Because God is beauty, abundance, generosity, grace, THEREFORE we keep the Feast. We practice it here, so that we can live it out there.