How does one capture 150 years in a homily? Itâ€™s like the problem of Maria in The Sound of Music: â€śHow do you catch a wave upon the sand? How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?â€ť I suspect you donâ€™t, but now you have that melody roaming around in your head, right? And I hope you are in awe of the fact that I remembered some of the lyrics.
The past is recorded elsewhere, a past you know more about than I. I read the larger history provided to me â€“ the one ending in 1970! It is full of interesting facts. Many of your years were dynastic; pastors related by blood as well as baptismal water. It is a stunning list of gifted church workers, musicians, artists, administrators, assistants, parish workers, rostered leaders and, yes, pastors. And that stunning giftedness of people in this parish continues to this day. I am so grateful to all of you.
You can read the history. What I want to do with you today is tell you what I see here at Saint Peterâ€™s Church and what I hope we will
all see in many years to come in this community of the faithful. The church is the remarkably human body of Christ, and that body is you, all of you together, who as an evangelical catholic community are nurtured here for ministry in our Church, our City and our World.
As your bishop, I am amazed by you.
I see leaders, ordained and lay, deeply involved. I see programs that touch faith to all sorts of people in every age group. I see Eucharistic life which is here made central to everyday life. I see liturgy that finds Christ present in the assembly of Godâ€™s people, in the proclamation of Godâ€™s Word, in prayer, in song, in the gift of our Lordâ€™s own body and blood present in the rich moment when God-in-flesh rests in your hands and on your lips. And then I see this same Christ carried by you in public witness in your lives in the world. The walls between â€śinsideâ€ť and â€śoutsideâ€ť are very porous as Saint Peterâ€™s Church, thank God. The windows between what happens in this sacred place are clear, transparent for all to see and feel, thank God.
I see a parish reaching out to the 21st century. I see ministry to the ill and the housebound, to the hungry and the homeless, to the bereaved and the bewildered. I see efforts to call a halt to war on our streets and around the world. I see an impressive dedication to the aging, those beautifully wrinkled images of Christ whom many in our society find useless, a burden, a drain on our economy. I see barriers of race, sexual orientation, and creed coming down as you together sweat to promote human understanding. I see efforts to assist the poor and the vulnerable.
I see a place where all the many and varied gifts of God in artists of all kinds are given expression as a sacrifice of praise. I have been personally gifted by the Passion rendered on Good Friday, the remembrance of Yom HaShoah with our sisters and brothers from Central Synagogue, the prayer for those who have given their lives in wars, the Mass for Peace, the marking of the Days of Lent with friends from Holy Family.
In all this, and so much more, you are a church for this season, remarkably suited to challenge
a culture and a City that some characterize as the resurgence of late-19th-century rugged individualism, where what ultimately matters is the almighty dollar and the nearly-almighty â€śI.â€ť In the face of that reality, your focus is on community, the human family, that is every woman, child, and man shaped in the likeness of a loving God, and more importantly, the community gathered around the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Which leads me, now, to your future, dear Saint Peterâ€™s.
I am not a psychic â€“ some might say I am a psycho, but Iâ€™m not a psychic â€“ I am not competent to predict what the future of your parish holds for you. But I can make a pretty good guess based on words from the Second Reading which bear powerful witness to and of this congregation: â€śThey devoted themselves to the apostlesâ€™ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. . .Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate
their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.â€ť
We are called to proclaim that, in Jesus Christ, salvation is offered to every human being as a gift. And in that gift is freedom, from working your own way up to salvation, freedom from hunger, illness, injustice at the local and global level. In other words, among all that we as Godâ€™s People practice in the Name of Jesus Christ, we are called to do justice in response to Godâ€™s great gifts to us. From this altar we are sent.
But what does that mean for us? When Micah proclaimed justice to Israel he was not thinking of the United States Constitution, he was not simply saying: Give to each person what is due to each, what each person has a strict right to demand, because he or she is a human being, has rights that can be proven and have been written into law. Biblical justice was a whole web of relationships that stemmed from Israelâ€™s relationship with God. The Israelites were to provide for the orphaned and the
famished, cover the naked and bring the homeless poor into their houses, not because these unfortunate folk deserved it, but because this was how God had acted toward Godâ€™s people. This justice is not an expression of fairness so much as it is an expression of love.
The early Christians grasped that. If anyone is hungry or thirsty, naked or a stranger, sick or in prison, it is always Christ who, in them, clamors for bread or water, Christ who cries to be clothed or comforted, Christ whom you visit on a bed of pain or behind bars. And the underlying theology is Godâ€™s basic revelation: love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your sisters and brothers at least as much as you love yourself.
Such is the ministry to which Saint Peterâ€™s is called as a community of faithful people, the Body of Christ, set in the heart of the greatest city in the world. The ministry to which you are already committed, the gospel which engages you in your many activities, asks for even greater involvement from every parishioner, every person in this assembly today.
Lone Rangers will not change the controlling culture in our country and our City where the emphasis is on possessions and power, on me and my wants, on getting there first, where the race is to the swift, the shrewd, the savage. The culture will change only if Christians invest themselves and organize to feed and clothe, to offer a sense of dignity to the millions who feel unloved, unwanted. The culture will change only if Christians in massive numbers carry their Christianity into the public square, into marketplace and counting house, into law court and genetics lab, into every area where you live and move and have your being, conscious of your solidarity with every human being who has, like you, been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ.
I know. Uncounted Lutherans call this kind of talk politics, economics, social work. They donâ€™t like it. They claim that the task of the Church is to save souls, their own and othersâ€™, not to change the social structure. But they do not know Saint Peterâ€™s Church and what you have stood for and will continue, by Godâ€™s grace, to represent. The task of Godâ€™s people is to transform our earth into the realm of Christ. Need I remind you of your mission?
â€śâ€¦A communion of diverse people and communities publicly nourished by God and creatively shaping life in the city.â€ť Take hold of that mission, sisters and brothers, with all due modesty if you must, but aggressively as well.
Join in this Great Thanksgiving, this Eucharist, rejoicing that you are Deeply Rooted, Always Growing. Join in this Great Thanksgiving, that day by day awe is coming upon you, day by day you are praising God here and in your lives, day by day the Lord is adding to your number those who are being saved, day by day you are rejoicing in the grace and mercy
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen