Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori Preaches at General Seminary's Baccalaureate Service

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On May 19, 2015, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at the Baccalaureate Evensong at The General Theological Seminary. This service was celebrated on the eve of General's Commencement ceremonies and was followed by a dinner to honor all recipients of degrees in 2015. In her sermon, Jefferts Schori gave encouraging words to General Seminary, both as an institution and as a community. "You have not only survived this year, you have grown in ways that would not have been possible without the shock and conflict of this past year. This community has matured in its decision-making, its ability to manage constructive conflict, and its stewardship of the vocation God is asking of us all in this season."

Read the full sermon below.

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The General Theological Seminary Chapel of the Good Shepherd Baccalaureate Evensong 19 May 2015

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts SchoriPresiding Bishop and PrimateThe Episcopal Church

This community has had a challenging year, n’est-ce pas? I found myself wondering who chose the psalm for this service. It certainly sounds like someone felt duty-bound to have the last word:

“O God of vengeance, show yourself. Rise up, O Judge of the world; give the arrogant their just deserts…

“He who admonishes the nations, will he not punish? He who teaches all the world, has he no knowledge? …

Keep going, friends: “Happy are they whom you instruct, O Lord! …the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my trust.”[1]

You have not only survived this year, you have grown in ways that would not have been possible without the shock and conflict of this past year. This community has matured in its decision-making, its ability to manage constructive conflict, and its stewardship of the vocation God is asking of us all in this season.

This has been a year of dying and rising. It’s not the first such year and it won’t be the last, though I know many are praying for some respite. Those of you who have been active participants in this year of transformation have received a great blessing, though I know it hasn’t always felt that way. For many of you, it’s probably felt more like David being dragged in from his blessedly free-range life with the sheep. What do you suppose he had to say when Samuel summoned him? “Oh no, not me, leave me alone, I didn’t ask for this.”

Years ago I saw the joy of a free-range shepherd in the mountains of northern Nevada, carved on tree after tree after tree along the paths his sheep wandered: “Antonio Hidalgo, peruano, borreguero, con muchos cojones y poco dinero.”[2] David had to let go of that kind of free and open life on the range when Samuel laid hands on him. David wasn’t wholly successful in that endeavor… though he did eventually listen when Nathan came alongside and laid a hand on his shoulder.

God had told Samuel to search for the heart of a leader, not a matinee idol. David just happened to be handsome as well – though in the long run his good looks seem to have abetted his boundary issues. What the world values isn’t always what God finds most useful, but God will work with anyone and anybody.

God seems to be asking all of us to get over some of our boundary issues and to let go of some of the church’s hereditary ways. We can’t go on choosing leaders “the way we’ve always done it.” We need to be looking for leaders’ hearts – people who are courageous and maybe even a bit reckless, not risk-averse. God will work with the reckless, if they’re willing to die a little. But there isn’t much hope for growth toward the Reign of God if someone is constitutionally opposed to changing direction or meeting a different neighbor.

We live in a season when the call is about crossing old and favored bounds, when we need to leave our hermetic sanctuaries, and go looking for wandering sheep out there. There are some in here, too, and the Mennonites have helped retrieve a few.

Episcopalians will always treasure what we have loved about tradition and ancient ways, but the Good Shepherd is leading us out into the deserts and byways and cities to discover where the Spirit is working new creation. Jesus sent the 70 out to the same kinds of profane territory – and remember that at its root profane means “outside the Temple.” The risen Christ sends his disciples to Galilee in order to find him. Galilee means the district or neighborhood – and it, too, is Gentile and “unholy” territory. We can’t stay here in the safety of sanctuary if we want to discover what new thing the Spirit is up to. Jesus is not necessarily found in all the best homes – but he will certainly be found in the unholy places and the hells on earth. Where did he hang out when he walked the earth? Only very occasionally in the Temple, and far more often with drunks and party animals, tax collectors, foreigners, sailors, women of questionable reputation, the near dead and corpses…and anywhere hope and more abundant life were needed.

Seminaries and seedbeds like this one aren’t meant to be hothouses. This one receives transplants from across many of the different contexts of the Church. Yes, a little TLC is necessary at first, to counter “transplant shock.” But if it goes on too long the plant that results is only fit to grow in the greenhouse – and it’s not going to survive a radical change when it’s time to graduate to another climate. The plants that grow here need exposure to Lutheran weather – both wild and sedate; they need to experience evangelical wildfires, smoky Anglo-Catholic evenings, and the fresh breeze of Common Cathedral on a snowy street.

That’s a piece of what traveling light is all about. Adaptability is of God, and the diversity that results is creation’s reflection of the divine image. We insist that the Godhead is a Trinitarian society – unique persons who are also one. When we insist that God’s servants come in only one image, we become idolators. Welcome diversity and evidence of evolution as holy, even if it means swallowing your tongue or chewing up your fondest theological position. Give thanks that God keeps transforming us all. Give thanks for the remarkable leaders who will receive honorary degrees here tomorrow – and their witness to the creative and courageous spirit of God at work in varied climes and callings!

Travel light and open, and at each stop declare “peace to this house,” whatever sort and condition of human life it contains. Offer that peace, and stay long enough to discern the divine reflection and discover its particular gift. Receive that gift with gratitude, acknowledging its source. Listen and look for the hunger in that house, like a plant growing toward the sun – and offer your own reflection of the Son’s light. Be a healer, tell out the source of that healing, and where to find it, and the commonweal of God will indeed be near at hand.

Travel light, and don’t worry overmuch if you’re not welcomed too well. Let it go and move along unburdened by blame or anger. The simple fact of your visit has planted seeds, even if they don’t germinate for a while. Don’t forget to cover those seeds with some earth or dust or ashes – even manure helps. Move along and find some more good soil.

Travel light. BE travelling light; become light afoot and winging through the world. It moves faster than thought, for its source is there ahead of us.

When Jesus chides and confronts Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum he’s offering new frontiers and opportunities for those who can travel light and are unafraid to enter the wolves’ den. There is life and possibility there as well. You’ve found it here, haven’t you?

Go and risk who you are, and indeed you will find the commonweal of God around, within, and among you. As an alumnus of this place used to say, “Get up, get out, and get lost!”[3]

[1] Excerpts from Psalm 94, the whole of which is assigned for Evening Prayer on Tuesday of the week of Easter 7. The alteration to the lectionary involves the other two readings. The gospel is assigned for this year, and 1Samuel for the alternate year.

[2] Antonio Hidalgo, Peruvian shepherd, with plenty of guts but not much money.

[3] Paul Moore, GTS 1949, Bishop of New York 1972-1989