In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Being informed by the selfless love revealed and articulated in the Gospel, my sermon in the form of a charge begins with words from Exodus and will end with a charge from the Epistle lesson this morning.
“I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself”- the word of God through Moses in calling the Exodus people. the people of Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This morning I bid you to be a kingdom, a diocese of priests and a holy nation, and I invite you to heed the words of Yahweh, the words to Moses, to accept the invitation to be born on eagles’ wings and to view our Church and to view our diocese. Come with me upon my wings in the spirit of the name you have given me to be your leading eagle; soar with me and let us reflect on that which we see.
First, the broad view. Who are we as God’s people in this diocese and in this state? As we soar and view our own identity from a different perspective, from a greater height, I am reminded of that wonderful passage regarding the nation Israel, that wonderful passage that I think applies to us as a diocese, “Out of the least of the tribes of Israel, out of the least of the tribes of Judah, out of the least of the Dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States, you have been called and chosen.”
You have been called and elected in a special way to carry out God’s mandate, not only in this place, but to provide leadership as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation for the entire Church. “Out of the least of the tribes.” We are not a powerful diocese. We are not a big diocese. We are not a wealthy diocese. In fact, we are the poorest diocese in the Episcopal Church. We are a relatively small diocese, made up of a large number of congregations in a relatively small and remote state. When the name of the Episcopal Church is uttered, one hardly associates it immediately with the upper midwest and the Dakotas. If we look at our history on the east coast, in New England and in the southwest, the establishment of the church there, if we view how we have grown and how we have spread as a family within the larger Christian family certainly our diocese has not played a prominent role in a historical sense. In such, we are one of the least of the dioceses, We do not exercise a great deal of influence and power by virtue of numbers or by virtue of wealth or material possessions, and yet my brothers and sisters as we soar and as we hear God’s word to Moses and God’s call to us. we are reminded, we remember that God has elected us, charged us and invited us to a special ministry that celebrates the fact that even though we are small in the eyes of the world and perhaps even in the eyes of the Church, what I see as I soar with you is that we have brought a powerful message to the rest of the church and to the state of South Dakota and that message is reconciliation. It is the role that we have exercised in inviting God’s people in this state to be reconciled with one another by virtue of who we are as a diocese and what we are as a kingdom of priests.
Reconciliation for us in the Diocese of South Dakota is not an option, it is a necessity. If we are to minister and take seriously our identity, we must realize that God has called us, a small and insignificant diocese, to be about the business of reconciliation because it is who and what we are as a people. We can be and do no other in response to the mandate of the Gospel to be reconciled to God by being reconciled to one another.
As I soar and view the state and think of the wonderful ecumenical cooperation that I have experienced with my brothers and sisters in Christ from the different churches, something that will be symbolized for me today as I travel from here to Pierre to participate in a statewide service of healing and reconciliation, I want you to know that your diocese, the clergy and the lay leaders in your churches have provided leadership for that reconciliation and it hasn’t been easy. It has come at a great cost. At times, it has threatened to divide us as a people. When I think back on past conventions of this diocese, our coming together and struggling with what it means to be a bi-cultural, better a multi-cultural diocese, I am amazed and humbled by the gift of God’s grace in our common struggle. It has not been easy but I think as we now soar and reflect, we have attempted to be faithful.
The healing has begun, but much pain remains. At our opening Eucharist, when Father Winters shared his powerful message with us, you may recall that the Gospel from Matthew was a recitation of that invitation to Evangelism and to be a kingdom of priests. It was about the laborers and the harvest . . the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few.”
As that Gospel was being read I was transported on eagle’s wings back in time some 8 1/2 years ago. I recalled Mobridge and my first Diocesan Convention when I came among you and I didn’t know who you were or what you were up to. It was cold, I had the flu, and I was trying to make sense out of the issues, resolutions and budget. I didn’t have Mary Husby to help me out or Ginny Slechta to keep me straight. The Gospel lesson for our opening service was the same as last night’s: a plentiful harvest and too few laborers.
We have come full circle. That Gospel served as an inspiration for the vision that we called TIME. To Increase Ministry Effectiveness. It was clear to me that the harvest was plentiful and the laborers far too few and so we set out to increase the number of laborers, to increase the number of ministers through intentional efforts in recruiting and training deacons, increasing the education and the competence and commitment of our priests and in trying to stir a sense of evangelism in all of God’s people, all of you as prime ministers of the Church. And now here we are 8 1/2 years later, hearing the same words, recognizing the same call, discerning the same need. Substantial progress has been made, but much remains to be done.
Reconciliation is not something that can be set forth in a resolution and accomplished within a year. I wish that were the case. Reconciliation points to the human condition of sin and separation and reminds us that the Church’s business will always be reconciliation. There will always be a plentiful harvest and too few laborers. There will always be a need for us to address the face of sin and the need for us to be a redemptive community wherein forgiveness, restoration and sanctification of life are realized. That is what it means to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. That is what it means to be a diocese. The harvest is plentiful and the laborers too few, and we see that as we soar. We see a rich harvest and thank God for what I see as a new awareness and commitment to the ministry of reconciliation.
Yesterday we had resolutions dealing with the care of our earth, ensuring that we will pass on a good and healthy land to our children and to our grandchildren. What we were doing yesterday in discussing reconciliation with one another by being reconciled with the earth and by taking care of that which gives life and that which supports life was theology. We were talking theologically about incarnation and what it means to be a people of God that celebrate the goodness of life and sanctity of creation. That is what it means to be a kingdom of priests and that is what we were doing. I heard in those resolutions a renewed call on the part of this Diocese to this Diocese and state to advance the work of reconciliation in a new way.
In the past 8 1/2 years I have sensed in you a growing ministry of reconciliation between peoples, and I have heard and seen you provide leadership in that reconciliation. What I heard and sensed yesterday was God’s Spirit working in and through us to continue that work by calling all of us to be leaders in protecting and caring for our Mother, the earth. I suspect we have been given that charge and given that vocation because we don’t have much else. We don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have extensive programs. Our people are our program.
“Out of the least of the tribes…” what we do have is that which God has so freely given us, a creation in which we are called to exercise stewardship as co-creators. Perhaps the most important thing that the Diocese of South Dakota can do in conjunction with other churches in the state is to continue to boldly speak a prophetic word of repentance and reconciliation for all people and with the earth itself. It won’t cost us in terms of huge budget increases. The fact of the matter is that we have significantly increased our budget, doubled our endowment, increased the number and quality of trained lay and ordained ministers. However, that which I will remember most is that, with very little, we have tried, as God’s people, to accomplish much. Whether or not we have been successful, I don’t know. I do feel we have been faithful, and God will be the judge of our success and also of our faithfulness,
So my sisters and brother, as we soar together on eagles’ wings, as we survey the vast expanse of this state and larger Church, I call you to a sense of humility in reminding you whose you are. Perhaps “one of the least of the dioceses” in terms of power and influence, but I think a diocese that has touched the heart and the soul of the larger Church for the past several years, as we have shared our ministry of reconciliation, as we have offered our pain and need for healing and as we have invited others to come to this state, to this church and experience God’s love in a community of holy faces’, spaces and places.
And so I leave you with a charge, a charge coming from the Epistle, a charge that summarizes in some way what I have been trying to say and the basis for all that I said, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him or her speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him or her view it as with the ability which God supplies that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever, Amen.”