January 12, 2009

Sermon for Epiphany 1, Year B

Admittedly, one of the problems with the full-text bulletin is when my sermon gets a little dry, you flip through it rather than the Prayer Book. The consequences being you do not have the opportunity to stumble upon great pieces of our tradition, and so we try to find other ways to share our rich history with you. One way is celebrating those honored on the Church Calendar when the opportunity arises; like at the Wednesday service or in the E-Pistle. This past Thursday the Church celebrated for only the third time the trial use feast day of Deaconess and Missionary Harriet Mary Berdell. It is expected that she will become a permanent fixture on the Church Calender at General Convention this summer. Deaconess Berdell was born in New York in 1875. Her plan to become a school teacher was forever changed when she heard the voice of God speak to her through a missionary who came to her church to share his story. In 1906 she was accepted into the New York Training School for Deaconesses and studied there for one year; learning about religious matters, missions, teaching, hygiene, and hospital nursing. Her ministry first took her to the Cheyenne Indians of Whirlwind Oklahoma, then to Stevens Village, Alaska and finally in 1933 she founded the Glade Cross Mission in Collier County Florida where she ministered to the Seminole Indians until Hurricane Donna destroyed the mission in 1960 and at age 85 she retired.
Though a teacher at heart, Bedell was taken by her nursing training and became convinced that spiritual and physical health were the most important ministries she could offer. She focused on health, education, and breaking the cycle of poverty by encouraging the Seminole to relearn their ancient crafts of patchwork, doll-making and basket-weaving. Her friendship with the Seminole was so strong that they adopted her and gave her the name Inkoshopie which means, "the woman who prays."
For thirty years Harriet Bedell had thought herself to be destined for the classroom, but then God spoke a new truth into being. From that day in 1906 forward, whether or not she knew it, Harriet Bedell was a missionary. God spoke a new Truth into being.
This is the lesson we glean on this the First Sunday after the Epiphany - God speaks Truth into existence. By that I mean Truth with a capital "T". I believe that only God can speak capital T Truth. I can stand here and say that this book is red, which is the truth, but it is not a capital T Truth. It is, instead, a lowercase t truth because while it is true that this book is red, it is just as true that this book is Burgundy or Carmine or Fire Brick or whatever hue of the color red we might interpret it to be. God, on the other hand, speaks capital T truth into existence. When God speaks what he says becomes reality.
In the beginning there was nothing but the flood waters of chaos. Then God spoke God spoke and said, "let there be light." And all of a sudden there was light, the first glimmer of creation. God spoke about something that had never before existed and immediately it did. For five more days God would speak of things that did not exist and they came into being. For millenia since, God continued to speak new realities. Even today, even this very moment, God continues to speak Truth into existence.
The Psalmist knows that powerful voice of God well. He has heard it, he seen the results of it. "The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice;" he writes, "* the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees; * the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon; ... The voice of the LORD splits the flames of fire; the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; * the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe * and strips the forests bare. ... The LORD shall give strength to his people; *the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace."
The voice of God is the great voice of Creation. He speaks words and they become reality. He speaks blessing and it comes to be. Jesus comes up out of the River Jordan and immediately God declares, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." With that word, Jesus is equipped for the ministry that will follow. As God spoke, the Holy Spirit tore through the heavens and penetrated the soul of Jesus giving him the gifts and talents and stamina necessary to manage the road ahead.
And while it may be hard to believe, the same is true for each of us who have been baptized into Name of Jesus. You may have been too young or too nervous or not quite ready to see it, but the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus came crashing through the heavens and landed on you at your baptism. The same, powerful voice of God spoke to you and said, "welcome my child" and immediately you became a chosen child of God, fully equipped for the ministry to which God would call you. It is the same Spirit that Paul called down upon the believers in Ephesus who got up prophesying and speaking in tongues. It is the same Spirit which equips us to fulfill the prayer for today, "that we might boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior."
God speaks Truth into existence. For Harriet Bedell that truth meant a life of ministry to Native Americans from Alaska to Florida. For me it meant ordination and a call to serve in Foley, Alabama. What does it mean for you?
As per the tradition of the Episcopal Church, in just a minute we will stand with millions of others and renew our Baptismal Vows. In those words of promise, I hope you hear what capital T Truth God is speaking to you. I hope that as you recall the vows made at your baptism you might also remember that the Spirit tore open the heavens to get to you and in so doing gave you the great gifts you would need for your journey. In baptism, by the utterance of God, you are equipped for ministry. Don't forget that. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Remember that God's Truth does not change - it might take you a lifetime to figure out what he said, but the Truth he has for you will wait just as the one who speaks the Truth will wait.
At the end of the Examination at an ordination service the Bishop offers a prayer meant for the ordinand, but it is my prayer for all people who seek to follow the Truth God spoke into existence in their lives, "May the Lord who has given you the will to do these things give you the grace and power to perform them." Amen.

Deaconess Berdell info was compiled from http://naples.floridaweekly.com/news/2009/0108/undercover_historian/008.html and http://satucket.com/lectionary/Bedell.htm

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