Three years ago I shared a vision for the Niobrara Deanery and the Diocese. In response to requests tor a copy of the address and as a way of preparing for this year’s Convocation, this months article is my address to thel984 (112th) Niobrara Convocation.
Bishop Harold Jones, Itancan, Reverend Fathers, my adopted brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, it is good to be here. It is good to be in this place with you this day. I begin what I have to say by offering thanksgiving, thanksgiving to God for this day and for this opportunity to come together to sing praises to His name and to greet and meet one another in the name of His son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am thankful for much. I am thankful for the gracious hospitality that has been shared with me these past three days. I am thankful for the persons that have come to this place.
I am thankful that you adopted me last night. I am thankful for the honors that have been bestowed upon me and upon my family. Most especially I am thankful for the quilts that you gave me last night, for it was a very cold evening!
I offer thanksgiving to God for this time and for you.
Sharing from the heart
As I thought about this morning, I had prepared a rather lengthy written sermon.
When I arrived on Thursday and watched this Convocation take shape, I realized that as I looked and as I listened, that which is central in this place is the altar. There is no lectern and there is no pulpit and I wondered about that. I thought, has someone forgotten?
Then I discovered that no one had forgotten. The sermons, the witness, the sharing that goes on here is a sharing from the heart and as I heard various persons throughout the three days share their love of Christ I was aware that no written word could replace that word that wells up from the heart.
And so this morning I would share with you some words, words of a particular kind. I would like to share an image. I would like to share a thought. I would like to share a vision.
Wanbli is a special name
First the image. Last night the image was a wonderful one. Wanbli is a special kind of image and a special kind of name. It is a heavy name, heavy with responsibility. It is a name that gladdens my heart and fills me with joy. It is a name also that I recognize that I must prayerfully live up to.
I am learning about the D/Lakota people and you will be my teachers in the days and months and years ahead.
In order to be a Leading Eagle I must first learn to fly. You will give me the wings and show me how to fly.
The eagle is a symbol of our country, these United States. It is stamped on our coinage. The symbol is a part of who we are as a people and yet I suspect that the symbol of Wanbli is a symbol that was adopted by this country from this people.
The eagle is indeed an awesome bird, a bird that flies high, that has long vision and is very strong.
As I have listened these past several days to the women gathering together, to the men gathering together and to the youth gathering together, I have heard within me and from you a call for strength, a call for perspective, a call for leadership. I am humbled by that call and yet, God willing and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I will try to live up to the name with which you have honored me.
The circle and the dance
Another part of the image, another part of the symbol and the ceremony that took place last night was the circle and the dance. Before we gathered this morning I was visiting with Bishop Harold and he said that many years ago that dance would not have been allowed. I think it is a good sign that that dance is now incorporated because the dance itself, as I understand it as a novice, included the symbol of the circle and the symbol of wholeness, a very ancient symbol.
The mandala is known to all cultures and to all people as a symbol of unity, a symbol of reconciliation, a symbol of togetherness despite the diversity and differences.
As an eagle who would lead, as an eagle who would have vision, I would point you to that circle and the coming together, the unity that was proclaimed in the dance, for the Lord is the Lord of all dance.
I am not self-determined
I suppose that there are many other things to be said about the image of the eagle and the image of the circle but I now turn to a thought.
The thought is related but slightly different and the thought is this: for the past four months I have kept within my heart and within my mouth words that at times I wanted to say, because I wanted to listen before speaking and to learn before teaching.
What I have heard and what I have learned thus far is this: I stand before a group of people, a proud people who struggle, a proud people who want to offer and to give the best of that which they have.
I have heard that. I have experienced that. I experienced that last night in the thanksgiving for the ministry of Father Brokenleg.
I have also heard something else and this is my thought. At the various meetings and the various councils that I have attended there has been talk of self-determination, self-determination of a people and of a tribe and of a nation. I would share as a white man who has been adopted by you, in that adoption I, too, yearn for self-determination
But beyond being an adopted D/Lakota, beyond being a white man, I know that I am not self-determined nor shall I ever be, and God deliver me if I should desire it in failing to recognize that we as God’s people through our baptism are God-determined.
The determination of who we are and what we are is given to us by the grace of God and we recognize that in our baptism. In baptism and the symbolism of the holy water we are drowned in terms of worrying and being concerned about self.
We are brought to new life in a determination, a covenant, a vocation, a ministry that we call Christian.
We are a God-determined people and not a self-determined people. The God that determines us, determines that we will be equal, that we will be in love with one another, that there will be justice and peace.
God-determination becomes a self-determination known to us, revealed to us, disclosed to us, in the one person of Jesus the Christ, for He was God-determined. He was the God-man. My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, I would call that to your attention.
When we talk about programs and growth and evangelism and all the wonderful ministries that are a part of the Church, let us rise above, let us soar with eagle wings to remember that as we approach God, we recognize that He is the true source of all meaning, of all identity, of all respect and of all love.
My vision quest
Finally, a vision. For the past several months I have been on a vision quest but unlike those D/Lakota people who go away and fast, unlike those wise men who go to a holy and sacred place apart from all others, my vision quest has been different.
In the first place you have fed me very well. It has been difficult to fast.
The vision quest for me has not been away from the people but with the people. In looking in the eyes and the hearts and the souls of those that I have met, a vision has been forming, a vision that I think you called and elected me to share with you. It is a vision that resulted in your taking me in as a family member and as a leader in the family, and I would share now that vision with you. It is a vision that is best seen rather than heard through words.
I would now ask for two volunteers. We see two daughters, a D/Lakota daughter and a white daughter, both children of God. The vision has to do with the young people, the young people of this Diocese, the young people of this land coming together and sharing and loving one another.
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” Have faith as a child, for in these little children you will find something of faith, faith that later gets distorted, faith that becomes cynical, faith that becomes fearful as we grow older.
The vision is this, my brothers and sisters. This is where the Church will be in a few short years, for the young always carry with them a vision.
What will the vision he?
But the questions we must ask ourselves is this: what will that vision be as they grow together or grow apart? The vision that I see as I soar with eagle wings is this, that apart from the programs, apart from the funding, the Diocese of South Dakota is here.
The question, the challenge, the charge for us is this, will we bring the children up, will we teach them to respect and share with one another so that they might know one another’s name and know one another’s ways and know one another’s family?
If we fail to do that then we fail as Christians, for the command and the words that I have heard these days is this, and this I command you: to love one another. Without the love, without the teaching of the tradition, without the sharing, without the reconciliation, all the programs, all the money, all the energy, all the ministries are for naught. It starts here and this is the future of my Church and your Church and Christ’s church.
I ask you to look now, to look hard and to look long as we join their hands. This is the vision. This is the hope of this Church. This is the unique call of the Church in South Dakota, for no other Church is quite the same.
Let them grow together in love, in peace, in hope and in Joy.
The blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with them and be with us all. Amen.
The vision remains