On Monday afternoon, Norm, Joe, and I returned to St. Stephen’s at about 4 pm from a field trip to St. Stephen’s, Cincinnati, to receive several gifts from them for our use. In closing their church, they had a number of discussions about celebrating their history and ministry to the community, as well as how to be good stewards of what they had to give away. They decided to close while they still had some financial resources left and plan to set up an endowment for their local neighborhood services group. The intention is that the interest income will provide ongoing support for outreach to people in need, even though St. Stephen’s is no longer there as a congregation.
On our trip, we received several banners, hand done needle- pointed kneelers, altar linens, candle oil, wine, signage for advertising purposes, a St. Stephen’s icon and statuette, a votive candle stand, and several other items. The vestry here has agreed that our delegation will stand with St. Stephen’s Cincinnati’s delegation at Diocesan Convention– to help them celebrate their ministry among us and to witness to accepting stewardship of some small portion of their history and tradition with the items placed in our care.
But in my sermon today, I want to focus on what we discovered when the three of us drove down Woodruff Ave. on our way back to our St. Stephen’s on Monday afternoon. When we left, it was a nice sunny morning. There was a little hustle and bustle north of us in the Messer construction site, as well as a few construction workers on the sidewalks of Woodruff and High. When we returned, however, we discovered that a fence had gone up all around our building, and the grassy area just as you enter our parking lot was being ripped up by a backhoe and a large truck was taking up 2/3 of the driveway. In all of the discussions we’d had with Messer and OSU reps in the last two weeks, no one had mentioned that our yard there would be ripped up, and the fencing was even more dramatic than I imagined.
My first feelings were of annoyance and anger. Overwhelming annoyance. My first thought was that someone had gotten a miscommunication somewhere. Since our relationship with Messer and the OSU reps for this north end of campus project has gone well so far, I composed myself , stuffing my annoyance for the moment, and went over to talk to one of the workers. “ I’m wondering if there is some mistake here, “ I said, “ This was not part of what we were told would happen. What’s going on?” The foreman came up at that point and explained that he was going to need to put up the final piece of fencing across our current drive in order to complete the sidewalk renovations, and this was a temporary drive to allow us access. “It’s not just about access, though,” I replied, “ we park cars during home games and the income is a significant amount. This temporary drive takes out 4-5 of our rental spaces. So will be losing income.” He and I did some initial problem solving about where to park cars, but knowing that he was not going to be able to do anything for me, I thanked him for his information, and told him I’d be calling the OSU rep who had oversight of the whole project. Which I did and, after she apologized at the communication glitch, she gave us permission to place signs on the fencing showing the way to access St. Stephen’s and giving us 4 parking spots in their new adjacent parking lot to make up for our lost revenue-producing spots. Immediate problem solved, right?
BUT THEN, I spent some time reflecting on what I had experienced and how all this mess around us really opens wide the scriptures we read today.
In his letter to the newly forming Christian community, James writes: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” So I asked myself, where is there wisdom to be found in all this mess around us? What does wisdom look like? God came back pretty fast and I was hit with the realization that wisdom is taking my annoyance and using it as an opportunity to pray in solidarity with all the people out there who find themselves behind similar fences—people in Palestine, and Syria, in Turkey, Hungary, Croatia, and Germany. Wisdom is realizing that I have the freedom to walk around the fence. Many refugees have lost that freedom. Wisdom is realizing that this fence around us will be gone in three weeks or less. Fences in refugee camps, fences on the southern border of the United States, fences around soldiers in far away places, will not go away that quickly.
Wisdom is taking my annoyance and using it as an opportunity to pray for all those prisoners in the United States who find themselves behind bars for minor offenses, for African Americans and Latinos who are jailed without question at times, simply because of their race. To pray for justice and changes in our legal systems that give us the reputation for having the largest jail population per capita in the world.
Wisdom is taking the unsettled feelings I get from the chaos of broken concrete and dirt ditches all around us and pray in solidarity with the people in Damascus and other cities, whose homes are now in rubble, and for the people of Syria and other countries in the Middle East who have watched the destruction of their ancient historic sites. Wisdom is realizing that the rubble around us will disappear in 2-3 weeks, but the destruction faced by our neighbors in the Middle East will take years to rebuild—and the rebuilding can’t even yet begin. Wisdom is acknowledging my feelings but also realizing that I have very little to complain about in the wider scope of things.
The disciples did not like what they were hearing about the wisdom of God, the wisdom to look beyond destruction and hope for new life not yet visible. When Jesus told them that he would be killed, they did not understand it or even want to hear it. That was not the path they were looking for in this world. They were looking for success and being on top of the pile. They argued about who was the greatest. But God’s wisdom does not look like that, was Jesus’ response. In God’s order of things, whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. In the midst of all the chaos and rubble around us, in spite of the fencing, we are called to keep asking the immediate questions: How can we serve God on this campus? How can we get around the visible and invisible fences that divide us? And we are called to ask the larger questions: What can we do to serve God in the world from this little spot of earth and glass and brick? How can our prayers lead to action?
This past week, our Presiding Bishop put out a letter to all Episcopalians in which she said this:
The children of Abraham have ever been reminded to care for the widow and orphan and the sojourner in their midst, who were the refugees and homeless of the time. Jesus charged his followers to care for the least of these and proclaim the near presence of the Reign of God – in other words, feed the hungry, water the thirsty, house the homeless, heal the sick, and liberate the captives. We cannot ignore the massive human suffering in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, nor in Asia and the Americas. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and our lives are bound up with theirs. The churchwide ministry of Episcopalians has included refugee resettlement since the refugee crisis of World War II. It continues today through the leadership of Episcopal Migration Ministries, and I urge your involvement, action, and support.
Following her lead, Bishop Breidenthal made a YouTube video in which he urges us to write to our elected leaders to ask them to follow our own traditions and accept the poor, tired, and hungry seeking refuge from unsafe conditions in their own countries, to increase the numbers of refugees that we are open to accept into the U.S. He also urges us to volunteer to help our local agencies which are preparing to receive refugees into Ohio. In Columbus, The Episcopal Migration Ministries has a working relationship with Community Refugee and Information services. Our representative there is named Chris, and her contact information can be found on their website. Wisdom says, you always have a choice. We can wring our hands and say “ain’t it awful” or we can offer our time, our resources, our homes.
Finally, Wisdom includes the element of hope. In our liturgical reading, Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks of how human beings have acted to crush the grandeur of God but, despite our actions, “nature is never spent”, there is a freshness deep down, and the Holy Ghost broods over the bent world with a warm breast and bright wings. Despite the enormity of the chaos and destruction in the world around us, despite the large numbers of refugees currently seeing relief and safety, we are called to hope that there is redemption of sin and evil, there is the hope of life out of death. We are called to remember and retell the story of Jesus of Nazareth, whose wisdom confounded his disciples and confounds us still.
The Rev. Faith Perrizo