Farewell Sermon 28 April 2013 5 Easter
Emmanuel Episcopal Parish of Orcas Island
Bishop Craig B. Anderson, Ph.D.
Mitakuye Owasin! Such was my greeting when I came among you almost six years ago as your new rector. It was the subject of my first sermon and it will be the subject of my last sermon this morning. You may recall that the greeting, “Mitakuye Owasin” is a greeting used by the Lakota people of South Dakota as a reminder of who they are and whose they are for it translates as “we are all relatives.” We are related to one another as well as all creatures and creation – the four-legged, the winged, finned, as well as the earth itself and the very universe. We are part of the sacred hoop, the circle of life, the symbol of relationship, wholeness and holiness.
In Lakota the term for the Church is “tiospaye wakan” – “the holy family,” the primary focus being relationship, and in my mind, the most basic understanding of the Church as ecclesia – the people or family of God. And so Mitakuye Owasin, I greet you this morning and bid you farewell, but not goodbye for Bishop Rickel has asked me to be an Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Olympia. And I could not have picked better lessons than those appointed for this fifth Sunday of Easter. For these lessons are the essence of the meaning of Mitakuye Owasin, the family of God. The first three from Acts 11: 1-18, Psalm 148 and Revelation 21: 1-6 reveal a vision of inclusion. The Gospel of John 13: 31-35, a commandment to love. The Gospel for this Sunday and the balance of this Eastertide are taken from the farewell discourses of Jesus to his disciples. As such, they frame my farewell discourse to you.
The selection from the Acts of the Apostles recounts Peter’s vision that leads to a conversion, an expansion of his understanding of Jesus’ mission to all persons, a Gospel of radical inclusion. (v. 17), salvation is offered to all. Inclusion as the rite of initiation and adoption in Baptism where we are reborn into a more inclusive family: brothers and sisters in the family of God. And Holy Eucharist, the rite of intensification as we gather around the family table to share the sacrament of inclusion.
The lesson from Revelation expands our notion of inclusion, “The old heaven and earth have passed away” – all is transformed, expanded – death, pain, a new creation – no barriers between Creator and creation – the home of God is among mortals (v. 3).
This expanded notion of inclusion is the subject of Psalm 148 beginning with the heavenly host, the earth and all living creatures, “fire, hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, mountains and hills, trees…wild beasts and cattle and winged birds…princes and rulers of the world…young men and maidens, old and young… and finally, and in this larger context of inclusion, “The children of Israel, a people who are near him.” Hallelujah indeed! No narrow religious exclusivity, such salvation is all inclusive – the earth, universe, cosmos. How dare we think like Peter before his vision of inclusion. Mitakuye Owasin, we are called to heal the oceans, heal the sky, and heal the earth – our relatives. And only in such healing will we be healed, included, enfolded. How do we accomplish such inclusivity?
The answer, Mitakuye Owasin, is simple and yet very difficult for we accomplish it by the grace of God embodied in Jesus who was and is the paradigm of inclusion – “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) A new commandment, “love one another.” A wise theologian once said that the Ten Commandments, the Creeds, the Gospel itself could be summarized in one phrase, “to love.” Mitakuye Owasin, Jesus our brother is the definition of love; inclusive, unconditional, sacrificial love. And love is the defining quality of Jesus people. Such love is best expressed as radical hospitality, the subject of a sermon I delivered a year or so ago. This Niobrara Cross, the cross of the Diocese of South Dakota symbolizes such radical hospitality with its depiction of four teepees with open flaps; inclusion, no outcasts, the stranger is welcomed and honored.
Such love is not easy. Romantic love is easy, brotherly love is easy, neighborly love is easy, love as an ideal is easy, but what about loving our enemies, loving people we just don’t like, loving the unlovable, sacrificial love?” Mitakuye Owasin, love calls us, reminds us that we are all related and such relationship is grounded in love. As such, love is not a characteristic of God, it is the character of God. From 1 John, “For God is love and he who dwells in God dwells in love and God in him.” And when we love (agape) like Jesus, the incarnate definition of love, we become the incarnation of God, Emmanuel – God with us and in us in the most profound and inclusive way given expression in our mission statement which is the Christian mission, is to love God, and God’s creation, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” And as the poet von Goethe reminds us, “we are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” In loving God and all of God’s creation, we become God-like (theosis) in loving Jesus as Jesus love, we become Christ-like (Christosis). And as St. John of the cross reminds us, “In the evening of our lives, we shall be examined in love.”
Mitakuye Owasin, there is no word in Lakota for goodbye for such would mean that the sacred hoop of love, connectedness and inclusion as relative would be broken. In parting, the greeting is Toksha Ake, translated as “travel well” or “fare you well.”
And so my relatives, I bid you fare thee well. Mitakuye Owasin, Toksha Ake.