The Rt. Reverend Gladstone B. “Skip” Adams, III, tenth Bishop of Central New York, delivered the following homily on the occasion of the convention to elect the eleventh Bishop of Central New York, held on August 6, 2016, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.
I bet you think you are here to elect a bishop. Not so fast. We will do that in good time, but first we are here to glorify God and to do what we can to awaken our spirits to God’s Spirit already residing in us. Or to put it another way, we are here to open our hearts to the conversation of love and mercy that is always going on within the community of the persons of the Trinitarian God. That’s what Jesus was doing on the holy mountain where he “went up to pray.”
Today the Holiday Inn, Liverpool is our mountain. Come on. Use your imaginations! Like Jesus and Moses we come here to pray. Specifically we come here to discern, to open our hearts to the movement of God among us and within us. I remind us that “to discern” literally means, “to sift.”
Whenever I think of sifting I think of my father. He loved to garden and across the street from our house was a lush woods with deep, moist, dark topsoil as its bed. I used to love to watch him push his hands into the soil and lift it up and let it fall between his fingers. It had a sweet, aromatic, earthy fragrance that infused the air around us and drew me into the dust from which I was formed. He taught me that the nutrients of that rich black earth were being prepared for this moment over millennia.
For the gardens of azaleas and boxwoods and figs and roses, however, it needed further sifting. So he built a sifter, welding a large open grid steel cage three feet by four feet mounted on legs into which one could shovel the earth taken by wheel barrel from the woods. A crank on the end would turn the entire contraption and when there were chunks inside that needed further breaking down, there was a second crank handle on the opposite end that rotated an interior forked blade that I would often turn in order to break up the clumps. As all of this spun on an axis, a very fine mound of transfigured soil would build up under the sifter that could be taken to the garden into which the various plant life would be placed and rooted.
I invite you to carry this image through the day. We have received many words written and spoken. We load it all into our sifters. Before us on a ballot are the names of five people of God in whom God delights, each of whom has placed him or herself before the Church for a sifting out. We must honor their humanity, take all that has been offered to us and place it into the sifter of our mind, heart and soul. Maybe we will even have to break up a clump or two along the way, mostly within ourselves, anything that would indicate our own heart-resistance to the Spirit’s movement.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that only one of the candidates is God’s choice and we must figure out who that is. No. Each of the persons presented to us is a sacrament of God. They are a gift to us and through the gifts they have manifested in faithful service to God and God’s people over the years, are outward and visible signs of God’s grace. We are being called to sift out which sacrament best serves us in this time of the life of our beloved diocese.
What we do now is, like Moses did, take off the veils that keep us from listening and seeing deeply into the heart of God and one another. We gaze upon the face of God as God gazes upon ours. We seek to be open to a quality of awareness that Jesus knew on the holy mount. He was completely and transparently in that moment so drawn by grace that he knew who he was as God’s beloved and that he could place his trust in the One who called him forth.
So now be the sifter. Receive the richness of what has been placed in you and before you. Listen. Breathe. Keep silence. Hope. Love. Now, with Jesus, we pray…and somewhere along the way, we’ll elect a bishop.