The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori: Intimately Connected in Harvest Work

EYE opening liturgy

Bethel University, St. Paul, MN

Come Together! We are intimately linked in this harvest work

23 June 2011

I have several reminders on my desk - things that help me stay connected to a world far bigger than whatever thing I'm working on at the moment. One is a picture of the Tarantula Nebula, taken by the Hubble telescope - a reminder that this universe is far larger than any of us will ever be able to visit, except in imagination or through the data that scientific instruments send back. The Hubble pictures aren't completely accurate, but they are a sign of what it's like out there.

Another reminder is a sign the Bishop of Missouri gave me: "The buck stops here." It's attributed to Harry Truman, but it's a reminder that my work is to do what I can, rather than say, "oh that's not my problem."

Another is a picture of women carrying jars of water on their heads past tall desert sand dunes - a reminder that how I use water or fuel is intimately connected to the ability of people across the globe to live - that I am part of their survival, and their thriving.

I also have several fossils on my desk - two of them are at least 60 million years old - ancestors of modern squids and octopuses. They are a reminder that God's creative spirit is always at work, changing what we know, like those ancient shelled creatures, into something we may not initially recognize, like a soft-bodied squid or octopus.

And finally, amid all the papers and piles of things to do, there is a picture of a Navajo shepherd, watching over her scattered flock under a dark and looming sky. It's a reminder that the shepherd is called to watch the weather as well as look for water and pasture, and that those scattered sheep are an important part of the shepherding - the flock itself has some responsibility for its health and life.

I carry all those images around to remind me that we are intimately linked with the wider web of creation, with human beings and other parts of creation, and we are part of an evolving universe, which God is continually urging to grow and develop and change. We understand that the human part of that evolving creation is meant to keep growing up, into what we call the full stature of Christ. That's mostly about recognizing that we aren't the center of the universe, and that our life depends on all the other parts, especially the ground of life we call God.

We're here as the body of Christ also interconnected with its various parts, and with all the rest of creation. Our life and health depend on how we care for all those parts. We're here to discover those connections and intimate links, and to discover what's evolving in our midst - what the growing looks like around here.

I see those intimate connections and a body that is increasingly interested in, looking for, and doing something about, the parts beyond itself. Across this church, congregations and dioceses are building partnerships to care for people who've lost their homes to floods and tornadoes, to dig water wells in sub-Saharan Africa, or rebuild churches and schools in Haiti. People are looking to see who's hungry or homeless, and doing something about it.

Some of you are helping to build a new home for the Johnson family. We hope it will be a very green building that uses no more energy than it produces. That building will be a reminder of our intimate connection with other human beings in Minnesota, with those women in Africa in search of water far from where they live, and with other creatures who depend on the atmosphere and planet we all share, and who like all of us, are affect by the pace of climatic change. Many of you will go out after this gathering to do more of that connecting work - repairing homes, feeding the hungry, discovering the cultural richness of this part of the world.

We all have reminders that keep us focused on what's most important, and this gathering for "church" is one of them reminding us who we are, and whose we are, and why we're here. We are literally re-membered here, put back together as the body of Christ in this place. We remember what Jesus asked of us, to love each other as he loves us, and to break bread as a reminder. We break open the word of God together, to remind us of possibilities we haven't yet discovered, to remember that God loves all life into existence, and that we share in that creative work, as the hands and feet and hearts of Christ in this world.

I met a very present and physical reminder last weekend in Virginia. People from across this church who partner with the Episcopal Church in Sudan came to learn more about the situation in Sudan, and to be equipped to do their work more effectively. There were two bishops from Sudan, and a number of Sudanese who have settled in the United States. We heard about the rising violence in Sudan, along the border between what will be Southern and Northern Sudan after partition on 9 July.

One of the members told of a project in Southwestern Virginia later this year that will pack non-perishable and highly nutritious meals for Sudan. We heard about a Sudanese musician, Emmanuel Jal, who fled the violence in Sudan at the age of 7, but was captured to become a child soldier. A British aid worker rescued him when he was 11. Today he is a peace rapper, raising funds for schools and youth leadership work near his hometown in Southern Sudan. His campaign is called "Lose to Win," and he challenges people to give up something they value and dedicate the money to the needs of people in South Sudan. You can learn more by watching his documentary, "War Child."

At one point at that meeting somebody looked around the room, and said, "how grey we are!" She meant the Americans, for the Sudanese are almost all young adults. One of the Sudanese bishops is the first of the "lost boys" to become a bishop. He was a small boy when he fled the war in his homeland. Others like him spent years running from the soldiers or waiting in refugee camps. Many resettled here, and today they are a growing part of this Church. But the question has haunted me - where are the young partners who could be working toward the reign of God in Sudan?

That question is part of why we're all here. We're only going to continue to grow up into the full stature of Christ, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves as we discover the image of God in neighbors and strangers, friends and people who might be enemies, in foreigners and people next door, immigrants, refugees, the differently abled. They and we are the building blocks of the body of Christ. We begin to love God with all we are and have by recognizing that all we have and know and are is a gift, meant to be returned, and used for the good of all. We build the reign of God in our own day together, and only together, with all of God's children.

And we all need help - from each other, and those reminders we carry around. You will find lots of them here in sharing stories, pictures, music, and even the pins and little gizmos from Honduras and Texas and Alaska. Those encounters and reminders will change you, if you let them. They are signs of God at work in us, among us, and around us, and all of them can help deliver us from the service of self, as the prayer we started with put it. The cool cup of water, or opening yourself to the gift from another, transforms us into builders God can use. Those reminders are tools for the work of transformation. So spread out, make new connections, and find some trustworthy reminders.

Find reminders, and be reminders!

Any reminders here?

Get connected!

Get connected, and heal the world!

[Taken with permission from the website of The Episcopal Church.]