Watch below: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us:” A sermon preached by the Rt. Rev. Dr. DeDe Duncan-Probe, eleventh Bishop of Central New York, at the service of Holy Eucharist for the 153rd Diocesan Convention on Saturday, November 13, 2021. Also on this page: a recording of the entire worship service, a link to download the worship bulletin, and a transcript of the Bishop’s sermon.
Download the Worship Bulletin for 153rd Convention Eucharist.
Transcript of Bishop Duncan-Probe’s Sermon at the 153rd Convention Eucharist
Come, Holy Spirit: Speak to us. Give us ears to hear you and courageous hearts to respond. Amen.
In case you’re wondering, the Gospel sounds a lot like the Old Testament reading today, and that’s for a reason! When Jesus gets up in the temple and reads this passage from Isaiah, and then rolls up the scroll and says, “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing,” it’s a very powerful moment. He’s standing up and saying, “Yes, I am.” The message of God to us is unchanged, from the Old Testament, to Jesus, and from Jesus, to you.
The Spirit of God is upon us, because God has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. God has sent us to release the captives. Recovery of sight to the blind we’ll leave to Jesus, but we help people and nurture their health and healing. God has sent us to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim this the year of the Lord’s favor.
I don’t know about you but I’m not sure I can make it past “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” without getting a little bit nervous about what, exactly, this means.
You know, 2020 will go down in the history books as a time of pandemic, a time of quarantine, a time of lack of toilet paper… But what we may have overlooked is that in 2020, 9.8 million children suffered dramatically from climate change. We may have missed that in the news. We may have missed that there are people for whom food is not a guarantee, for whom clean water, clean air is not a guarantee.
And we have allowed, over the years, these issues of climate change to be partisanized, to become part of a party platform, to be politicized into categories of “for” and “against,” to be used to tear us apart in terms of our opinions, our viewpoints, or science, or whether we think climate change is human-made or a natural part of the world, and on and on.
These debates have raged and we’ve allowed them to separate us, without standing up and saying, the Gospel of the Lord commands us to care. The Gospel of the Lord says we don’t have a choice about what our opinion is, because if we align ourselves with Jesus Christ then we have come to bring good news to the poor, that they’re not alone because we are poor, we are poor in spirit, we are poor in terms of the divisions of our communities, we are poor in terms of our weariness of heart and the fatigue we’re feeling and the vulnerability we feel about our churches, our budgets and buildings and heating bills.
I think we all, in some ways, feel poor and outcast. And we wonder who’s going to help us. And we forget that God has already called us, helped us, anointed us, appointed us, and sent us.
It is a wonderful thing today that we celebrate Confirmations. On this day of our 153rd Convention, we’re recognizing and anointing people. In this space of Convention, we’re sharing this pastoral office, recognizing what it is to be a community all across this area that originally was the lands of the Haudenosaunee. In this space, where so much hurt and confusion lies, God has called us together to be Confirmed, to be Received, to renew our faith.
And those of you who are at home, and those of you who are here in person—we are all one community of faith. We are all present to each other. We are called by God to be the anointed of God, proclaiming Good News for each of us. That proclamation may take new forms or different forms. For some of us that means tomorrow in the board meeting being patient and kind. For some of us, in the classroom tomorrow it means standing up to a bully. And for some of us it means writing a letter, picking up the phone, and forgiving someone who has wronged us.
Living for Jesus is not an easy thing. Living for Jesus is to align ourselves with the very call of Jesus, saying, “What Jesus has called us to do, I too will do. I too will go. I too will offer. I too will work in the field of God.”
Now I can only imagine: “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” I have a feeling, for some of them, when it says “fixed,” that means staring unrelentingly with a lot of hatred in their hearts. I have a feeling they may not have been happy with Jesus.
When we live for God, that’s what happens. People don’t get happy with us. Sometimes, when we say “I feel the Gospel is calling me to proclaim Good News to the oppressed,” people will say “You need to sit down. What are you even on about?”
And so we stand up with courage and say, “God has called us.”
We don’t have to agree on climate change. I don’t think that 9.8 million children’s families or parents really care about our opinion of climate change. I think they want their children to eat. I think they want their children to have an education. I think they want their children to do something besides what they did today, which is hoe dirt, and hope it rains, or hoe mud, and hope it stops raining, so that plants will grow.
Here in Syracuse, while we’ve been meeting in this space, all around us people have gone without companionship, suffered from mental illness, experienced the domestic abuse that’s become rampant because of the shutdowns and the insecurities of this time.
This is a hard time, and we can get very caught up in being part of the hard time: in disagreeing, wanting to prove our point is the right point. We get so caught up in wanting to prove that we’re thinking the right thoughts, and “those people” are not. We get so caught up, not understanding that our thinking is what’s killing us. We’ve been so busy proving our points that we’ve forgotten to align ourselves with God and proclaim Jesus.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon you. The Spirit of the Lord is calling you. The Spirit of the Lord has a call for each of you. And I’m talking to you at home as well as the people physically in this space. This is our year to proclaim the Lord’s favor: not because this year is going to be easy, but because I can guarantee you it will not be. We are not “Emerging in Love” with a successful ball spike to say “Phew, that’s over, so glad we don’t have to wear masks in church anymore!”
The number of times I’ve heard people say, “Well, if I have to wear a mask I’m not going to church…” Well, it’s probably good to get that out of the way. Because I’ll tell you, living for Jesus means a lot more than wearing a mask. And if that’s really what’s going to stop you, if that’s really what’s keeping you from the love of Jesus… Because when we’re called by Jesus to speak the Good News of God, people shoot at us. As they did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When we are called to preach the Good News of Jesus, people harm us. People don’t want to hear it.
It’s terrifying to think about. But God gets the last word. God’s going to meet us, in whatever we’re called to be. And we’re not called to suffer for suffering’s sake. We’re called to proclaim Jessu and trust God with what comes next. We’re called to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
We’re going to take vows in a minute, and so, since we’re going to be renewing our baptismal vows, I invite you to turn in your bulletin to the Baptismal Covenant. I say this a lot, and I’ll say it again: I think you should read the fine print. I think you should know what we’re about to say we’re going to do.
Now in the first part of the Baptismal Covenant we say who we’re making this Covenant with: God the Father; Jesus, the Son of God; and the Holy Spirit. We’re making our covenant with a triune God in whom we believe, based on Scripture and experience.
“Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship?” Will you grow in the faith? Is your faith different this year than last year? Have you learned something this year that disturbed you, where you had to work through it with God and figure out where the Gospel is again? Have you been inspired this year in some way that’s lifted your heart and drawn you closer to God? Have you forgiven someone? Been forgiven? Offered something? Been given something that has allowed you to know more fully the love of Jesus? “I will, with God’s help.” That is what this is about: to be part of the prayers; to attend church regularly, to be part of the fellowship and teaching. It means we desire to be transformed. We’re willing to change our mind. I am not in it just to be right; I’m in it to be transformed by the love of Jesus, and I will let myself be transformed, with God’s help.
“Will you persevere in resisting evil?” What is evil? Okay, Hitler, the Nazis—okay, yes, get that out of the way. People who harm people—okay, yes, get that out of the way. How about the desire to be right? How about the sureness that your opinion is the right opinion, and somebody else is just not right? That evil is breaking us. It’s keeping us from being able to talk. It’s keeping us from being able to debate and hear one another and understand one another. We’re shut down, and we’ve allowed somebody else to co-opt the conversation and it’s time to take that conversation back. And whenever we fall into the sin of wanting to argue about opinion and platforms, to repent, to change our mind: to return to the Lord and say “Lord, here I am. Send me.” “We will, with God’s help.”
“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” Will you be embarrassed? Will you, at times, sound kind of like a looney tune? Will you allow yourself to go into a situation, speak up for Jesus, and have everybody stare at you oddly? Sorry, it may have just been me… “I will, with God’s help.”
“Will you seek and serve Christ in al persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” It doesn’t matter if they love you back. It doesn’t matter if they appreciate it. It doesn’t even matter, really, if they thank you. Because you’re not doing it for any of those reasons. We love our neighbors as ourselves because we love God so much and have rooted ourselves so deeply in this Gospel of Jesus. We have to serve, because it’s in us to do it. It calls us. It keeps us up at night, and we know it’s an honor and a privilege to serve. It’s not something we take pride in, but something we take faith in. “I will, with God’s help.”
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” All the time, in every situation? Dehumanization is running rampant in our world. It’s really hard to avoid it. It’s hard to avoid dehumanization that sees one person as better than the other, to not look down on people with whom we disagree. Disdaining others is really a temptation right now. But our calling is to honor the dignity of every beloved child of God, whether we like it or not. Right now, our LGBTQ+ siblings are struggling: in the courts, in life. This is a time when our Good News matters. Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Let the oppressed go free. Let people live fully into who God has created them to be.
The Church is here, as Rev. David Rynick said this morning, to help each individual live more fully into God’s call for them. To help each of us live more fully into this Gospel narrative that’s calling us not only to be about something different than the world, but to invite the world into something different, too. “Speak Faith” was an important program this past year to learn how to talk about faith to people who might not have any. We’re always convinced they don’t come to church because they don’t want to. Maybe what they want is not to “come to church” but to be transformed in a community of faith that brings the year of the Lord’s favor, lets the oppressed go free, and proclaims release to captives: of alcoholism, drugs, fear, depression, sorrow.
What we do as a Diocese matters so much. It matters to the people we haven’t met yet. It matters to people who are afraid of us. It matters to people who are mad at us. And they might be mad for a good reason, because they look around at how hard life is and think, “Where are the Christians? Where are those people who said ‘Jesus is love’? I don’t see that here.”
We are here. We are. And when you say the things you say, those of you who are being confirmed and received and reaffirmed, you’re saying “Here I am.” Here I am to be called by God in this community. And those of you at home: in a minute I’m going to say, “Will all those who witness these vows do all in their power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” And you will say, “We will.” We’re in this together.
We’re in this together. And in this hard time when so much is pressing down, when there’s so much uncertainty and so much vulnerability and so much fear, the thing that we have together is this: to not forget who we are. To not forget whose we are. And to not forget why we are.
God is calling you to this world. God is calling this world to God.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because God has anointed us to bring Good News to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind—to those who find that partisanship isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. To let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. God is here in this Diocese.
God loves you. God calls you. God will be with you in every circumstance, that your joy—joy—may be full.