View Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe’s sermon to the Diocese of Central New York at the March 14th Renewal of Vows service. A transcript of the sermon is also below.
Come Holy Spirit. Speak to us. Give us ears to hear and courageous hearts to respond. Amen.
The musical Rent has a song in it that seems appropriate for this year: 3,652 minutes. You notice that I got the number wrong. Because I was thinking about this on the way over….didn’t write it down. How do you measure a year? How will we measure this year? What will it mean to us as people of God? And especially those of us who are reaffirming our vows: what will it mean to us for our call to our lives?
A year ago, we began what we could not have known, which is no different from this year. We’re on a journey and we cannot know what comes next. We cannot know what the next part of the bend in the road may bring. The mystery of God, and the mystery of life, and the mystery of all that we know is that we live in this precious moment between what has been and what will be, what we have been and what we’re called to be.
Masks. Wearing masks, fogging our glasses, keeping us from seeing the smiles of those we love. We have learned many things that are difficult to even put into words. I’m not even sure we know all that we have seen, or heard or know. And so we come to this moment of this Gospel [John 3:14-21]. These words have caused so much pain, have been used to alienate, obfuscate and oppress people, have been used as a hammer, have been used as a vise when the message is so clearly an invitation, an opportunity, a love-filled act. “For God so loved… that he gave.”
To give out of love, invitation, an opportunity to be different. We have seen this last year: tremendous and heroic and courageous acts of generosity and kindness and love. People standing outside nursing homes and holding up pictures, people weeping for being apart and yet still continuing to pray and be together in spirit. No doubt, it has been a hard year. And in this hard year, we have celebrated some things and have witnessed some things that have changed us, I hope, forever–because they’re not new. They’re just the same old horrific story being retold. Yesterday, the one year anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s murder in her own home; juries being selected for Ahmaud [Arbery] and George [Floyd] and so many nameless others who have been harmed by racism in our country.
We’ve been pitted against one another, trying to decide whose lives matter more and forgetting that God has called each of us to work for the least among us. Not because they’re least in value, but because we have denigrated and treated them as least, as unimportant. Black lives have to matter now because they never have mattered. Tuskegee, Greenwood, redlining, bank loans, hospitals. And even this past year: COVID, access to health care. It is time for us to take deeply these words that call us not to be about alienation or further oppression. These words are calling us to understand what it is to love and to give, what it is to love and to sacrifice, what it is to love and to offer, and to give generously, even though that generosity may not be returned. We stand on a precipice, you and I, of what has been, what might be, and what is.
As I’ve spoken these words to you, by now, a woman has been raped. A child has been harmed and someone has died. Someone has been stopped by the police for doing nothing more than driving while being a person of color. Too long, we have equated life and liberty with the need to compete and get ahead at the expense of someone else. And lest you say, and I can hear you, I can hear you. We shouldn’t be political, we’re people of God. We should not talk about politics. And yet we serve a risen savior who died as an insurrectionist, who was killed by the state for saying political things that were not well-received. We not only speak about the things of the politic of the people who are gathered, we are commanded to do so. To love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength means that all that we are, the whole totality of our being, is for God’s call, use, generosity.
That we too, because of love, give. That we too, because of love, offer. Not expecting anything in return. Because we are compelled not to get, but rather we are compelled to give, because that is the foundation of all that we are as people of God. We are compelled to give; for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. And lest you get confused and think that what this means is if someone hasn’t said “the Jesus prayer,” they’re going to hell: God is calling us to be about the well-being of other people without requiring anything in return. Jesus offers you and I forgiveness this day, forgiveness for those places where we are at our worst, where we are our most selfish, our most hard-hearted, our most far, far from the generosity.
Renewing our vows. Well, I would just say, this is a moment to stop and consider if we even want to continue this service! Perhaps we should end it here. Because to renew our vows is to say something incredibly important about what we have determined our life will be about. That our life will be about the sacrificial generosity, love and giving of God. That we will gather in whatever way, in this sacred space of hybrid worship, we are gathered. I know you’re there. I can feel the gathering of God’s people in this moment. And while you can see me, I cannot see you, but I can feel the spirit between us moving and calling, urging us forward. For God so loved, God gave–and has invited us to be part of the giving. Lay people, deacons, priests, me as your bishop, all the people of God–called and offered and sent to be emissaries and ambassadors of a love that is more interested in giving than receiving, and that is sacrificial and holy.
And we take vows that we will resist evil. And when we fall into sin, that we will repent, that we’ll start over. And perhaps on this anniversary week of so much hurt and pain, it’s time for a do-over. It’s time to start over. It’s time to remember that what we do together as people of God is not contained within a building or a rite or a service. That who we are as a people of God is being the people of God for all people of God, especially those who have been left out. The sin of wanting to be right all the time, the sin of being afraid, so shunning. It is understandable we would be afraid, there’s much to fear, and there’s many people to tell us what to fear.
We could be afraid every day and have every decision we make be determined by a fear. Well, I can’t go there. I’m afraid of that. I don’t want to do this. I’m afraid of that. Well, I’m really afraid of this…
For God so loved…God gave. What decisions might we make out of love, out of the purposes that are between us?
And yes, that we will proclaim by word and example the good news of God and Christ, which means we cannot be saying the same things as other people around us. We need to be saying things that are words that align themselves with the love of God and the love of Jesus in our midst. And that is hard.
We proclaim every day, even if we’re home. And some of you, I know, have said to me, but I can’t leave my house. There’s so much we can do, wherever we may find ourselves–as this technology attests.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? If it’s not inconvenient. I mean, if it doesn’t embarrass me. We have a litany of things that are qualifications on that one, I think.
And yes, will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? Isn’t that just what being political means. That we strive for policies and procedures, that we strive for opportunity and advancement. And opportunities and advancement that might actually cost us something because we’re not giving to get. We’re following in the footsteps of our Savior, who calls us out of love to generosity.
This day we remember George Floyd, we remember Breonna Taylor. Say her name. We remember all those who have gone before us and suffered. We remember the migrant farm workers working today, we remember the nurses and doctors who are currently tired and fatigued beyond knowing, who continue to give and offer and encourage. Each of us has a part to play in this moment in the church, to find our place in the tapestry of God and to offer ourselves out of love, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and say, here Lord, am I. How might I use my skill, my ability, how are you calling me?
And I want to say something about our clergy, and I will cry. I’m so proud of you. It is hard, hard is hard. Hard is difficult and challenging. Asks so much of us. And sometimes a calling can be so onerous and you try so hard and then feel that you’re failing so much. But you have tried valiantly and done such good work. People have not been alone, even though they couldn’t leave their homes. People have not been in isolation because you have called and stood on porches, and driveways and sidewalks. You have connected people with hope and healing and love at great personal cost when you yourself were afraid and terrified too. And I’m so proud of the valiant work that has been done in this Diocese, the ways we have come together and have become stronger because of this challenge. It has not torn us apart. It as united us into something that is a force for God.
CNY Creates: sharing what we do together, celebrating the creativity in our midst and CNY Responds. The anti-racism team, the Bible studies, the online line worship, people from across the country are gathering with our parishes because of your good work. Clergy, vestry wardens, lay people, faithful people helping one another figure out how to Zoom. This thing–who knew we all needed to Zoom? I’m so grateful for your ministry that has been.
Now friends, we turn our attention to the ministry that is to be. We recommit ourselves and re-engage ourselves knowing that we are called by love. And if we want to feel peace, and hope, and, I don’t know?–good. This is the way. This is the way of Jesus for God so loved… God gave. For we so love… we give. You’re invited. Come. Let us be renewed. Let us love. Amen.