St. Augustine of Hippo
Galveston, Diocese of Texas
16 January 2011
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
Do you know the names of any of those West Indian sailors who asked for a church where they’d be welcome? Do you know any more about their particular histories? Did any of them settle here and leave descendants?
Even if we don’t know them as individuals, we are their heirs. Each one of them could have been called Isaiah, with a mouth like a sharp sword, hidden in the shadow of God’s hand. Every one was a polished arrow, hidden in the Lord’s quiver. When the time came, when they had tired of being shunted aside and told they weren’t welcome in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day, they went off to share words with Bishop Gregg. Bishop Gregg answered their challenge, and St. Augustine of Hippo was born, having been knit together in the crucible of struggle for justice, dignity, and equality.
The servant who is formed for God’s prophetic work labors faithfully, but often gets frustrated by the lack of progress. Isaiah says, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and for vanity.” And what does God do but expand the task? Those who labor for justice on behalf of their own people often discover that their cause is the salvation of all humanity.
Isaiah labored on behalf of a divided and besieged, enslaved and hopeless people. His words of courage and strength bore an amazing challenge – ‘you will be light to the nations, to the whole world, not just your own people. Your salvation lies in being the healer of the nations.’
That message is as urgent today as it was more than 2500 years ago. The sword and the arrow of God’s word continue to pierce unyielding hearts and unjust societies. The servant whose birth we mark this weekend began his labors on behalf of the descendants of slaves in this nation, in the same cause of justice that produced St. Augustine. He labored in order that former slaves might be truly free, that his people might be able to eat and sleep and marry and work wherever they wished. And his cause expanded. His dream speech hints at it: the dream that his own children might be able to play together with all other children, and that when they were grown they might live in a nation that valued each one for their virtues rather than their color. But he kept on moving, particularly after the dark night experience in his own kitchen that he called his mountaintop – the “fear not, for you have seen the Lord” encounter. He became far more vocal and insistent that our work is peace, not war. He climbed up that mountain and kept on shining, and his light has continued to shine in spite of the efforts of some to put it out. The light of the nations has shined in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
This congregation is a light shining in the darkness as well, and your light grows stronger as you understand your mission more widely – feeding the hungry, teaching and healing the sick at St. Vincent’s, feeding those who are hungry in body as well as soul through this garden, literally feeding the hungry volunteers who labor to rebuild Galveston. Your urgent desire to serve new communities will bring light to people from nations south of our border.
Yet the work of your art show and art lessons strikes me as perhaps the most revolutionary spotlight you’re working on right now. The Bible isn’t often seen as an art book, even though it’s prompted a significant fraction of all the art that’s been produced in the last two millennia. Visual arts are a remarkable way of reflecting the image of God, both in the creativity of the people who paint or draw, sculpt or photograph, and in the work produced. The same can be said of musicians and dancers and actors. The creator of the art shares God’s own creativity in bringing that new work to light. The urge to create something beautiful or expressive reflects a desire to share in the divine, the transcendent, the holy. The creative act shares in God’s own creativity and it leads us beyond ourselves when it’s shared.
Encouraging creativity gives people dignity by supporting those acts of co-creation. It can also foster reconciliation, for it invites us all to see the world in new ways. There is something profoundly creative about Jesus’ own ministry of reconciliation, drawing unlikely people together to be fed in body and spirit.
The people of Haiti are struggling to recover their sphere for creativity. Creativity follows very soon after food, water, and shelter in the list of human needs. The Episcopal cathedral in Haiti was famous – not just among Haitians – for the ways in which it fed the heart as well as the soul. It sheltered the major cultural institutions - music school in Haiti, and the only philharmonic orchestra. Its children’s choir, Les Petites Chanteuses – the Little Singers – they have inspired people around the world through its tours. Both the choir and the orchestra are practicing in an open air area behind the rubble of the cathedral, and they are already bringing comfort and hope to their neighbors across the nation. But it’s probably the murals in the cathedral that are most known across the world. They were painted in the early 1950s by native Haitian artists, in a naïf style that showed the great biblical stories happening in Haiti. Jesus is a Haitian, and so are the disciples. The women are Haitian market women, and you might see the children of the choir along the riverbanks in the baptismal mural. That’s one of the three remaining murals which the Smithsonian has begun to conserve. Bishop Duracin has insisted that the cathedral complex has to be the first priority for reconstruction, because it’s going to feed the soul of the nation through the arts, through its schools – primary, secondary, music, and vocational – and through the ministry of the Sisters of St. Margaret.
The ability of Haitians to speak truth through the particular beauty of their own culture will be the peace-building sword and arrow. The art that emerges will help to heal not only Haiti, but the divisions between our own two nations. If you study the history between us, you will discover much for which the US needs to repent. The prophets who emerge in that place will serve a larger healing and salvation.
When John proclaims, “Here is the lamb of God,” what comes to your mind? His disciples have to recognize Jesus before they can follow. Those very words, ‘lamb of God,’ only make sense in a particular context – we only today know what they mean because they’ve been explained over and over, often in pictures. John says that he recognized Jesus because he saw the spirit descend on him. What picture do you have of that? Jesus himself invites the disciples to “come and see.” There is a whole lot of seeing and recognizing going on – and it continues here when you say to the world, “come and see.” Come and see the hope that’s given in new murals at St. Vincent’s, come and see the hope in the creative work of carving dead tree stumps. Come and see God at work in the restoration and resurrection of Galveston. Come and see the love of God right here, gathering and feeding and healing.
You are the light to the nations, and go, tell others to come and see.
- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball