So, the reading from the Book of Acts,
the one where they pick a replacement by drawing straws,
is either a really bad case of magical thinking
or an example of typical Church conflict avoidance
that began in the first generation.
But the Gospel doesn’t help us out too much either.
It is one of those mind-numbing,
rambling speeches that John concocts
for his character of Jesus to speak.
Thus, I confess the choice of that Denise Levertov poem,
not because it echoes a theme in the other readings,
but because it is an exquisite description
of an encounter with the beauty of holiness.
But then, maybe it is tied into the readings
as an honest portrayal of how moments and people
That is true of a spiritual community as well.
We become sanctified by what we do, and
it doesn’t much matter whether it is via a short straw
or a decisive act of intention,
you and I are sanctified by what we choose
to do and for whom.
Sanctified is such a religious word –
jargon dripping with bad taste and worse smells,
and not the kind of word I would build a sermon around
when I spend more time than you want to know
deleting religious jargon from our worship
wherever I am allowed…and sometimes where I am not.
So John’s narrative skills are awkward
and laborious, but often there is light underneath.
In the midst of all the gobbledy-gook,
John has Jesus ask that God sanctifyhis little community
so that they will be in-the-world but not belong-to-the-world.
Let’s pause on that a moment…turn it around slowly
in your thoughts like slow-roasting chestnut.
“Sanctify” them, John’s version of Jesus prays.
Sanctify them, like the ancient’s sanctified animals
before slaughtering them on the altar
and smearing their blood in the name of God.
Sanctify them, like how people and places
were set apart for God’s business and smeared with blood.
“Sanctify them” Jesus asks God in John’s story.
Sanctify them: What a bewildering idea.
This prayer Jesus prays in chapter 17 of John,
is really a very lonely prayer.
The Church calls it Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” –
and that means the Church likes to think of Jesus as a priest
instead of a prophet.
How convenient for the Church.
But this prayer, as composed by John,
consists of a series of reports Jesus makes to God,
like a field commander reporting in.
At the same time, the prayer lets loose a flurry of petitions
for God to care for Jesus’ little community of friends
from whom he is about to withdraw.
And then, at the end,
Jesus makes a final request
that his band of friends be sanctified.
It is the same word Jesus’ ancestors in Israel used
to describe their nation as “set apart.”
It is the same word used to suggest
Israel was to be a model of relationship with God.
It is the same word used to describe the temple priests
as “set apart” to function around the altar.
It is the same word used to describe an animal
without blemish and set apart for sacrifice.
“Sanctify them,” Jesus asks,
“and for their sakes I sanctify myself,
so that they also may be sanctified…”
It is a bewildering idea.
We should be sitting here wondering
what all this could possibly have to do with us?
What does being sanctifiedhave to do
with people who work for a living;
who have houses and gardens,
and monstrous amounts of stuff to take care of;
with people who have places to go and people to see,
commitments to be fulfilled, bills to pay,
children and grandchildren to nurture?
What can sanctification
have to do with people like you and me
who are notset apart
but live with our feet firmly rooted in the mud of life.
What does an other-worldly, high priestly prayer
like the one John wrote for Jesus,
have to do with us right here in Geneva, New York
where we are trying to live and thrive
on the cusp of difficult and changing times?
It’s obvious, right? We are baptized,
at least many of us, and
we are a community of baptism.
If we are the spiritual descendants of those first sanctified pals of Jesus –
and through baptism
and tradition, we are in fact
the same community gathered in another century –
we need to know what we are sanctifiedfor!
If we are distinguished,
given a special role to play,
made peculiar for a reason that God intends
will benefit the Creation –
like Jesus was, and
like so many have been –
what is it we are sanctified for?
Well, I dare say, and please
do not be offended by this, we are not
distinguished by our virtuous living or high moral standards;
no way, no how, has the church at large fulfilled thatmission.
But it is worth asking ourselves as a community,
this community of Trinity,
if we are the 21stcentury version of Jesus’ community,
what WE are here for?
What sets thisplace apart?
Trinity, I mean – thiscommunity?
It cannot be for its physical beauty – Jesus
wasn’t all about beautiful buildings.
It cannot be that we are a special group of individuals –
surely, we are like most anyone else we might meet
in the Finger Lakes.
It cannot be that we are set apart, sanctified,
by our overly proud and glorious parish history –
Jesus doesn’t gush about the glory of any synagogue
or singular group’s pedigree.
It cannot be for our liturgy or sacraments either –
we can go to any of a thousand sanctuaries
and find a way to be fed, challenged, and infused by the Holy Spirit.
So, what sanctifiesTrinity?
What distinguishes us?
What differentiates us?
What special role have we been given to play?
For what peculiar benefit to creation
has God brought together
this present mix of strange pew-fellows?
Here we are, a community of strangers
whose destinies have become intertwined
because we found or were led
through those massive wooden doors.
For what purpose has God invited ushere?
Surely whatever the reason, it is two-fold: yours and ours.
Yours is worth thinking about:
Why did God invite you to this particular place
with these particular people, at this particular time?
Even if you have been coming in those doors
for years and years and years,
why now, why still?
You may have been a part of Trinity for 30 years
but that is not an answer to the question:
longevity is not an answer,
it isa force of habit or shear momentum.
Why God invited you to be here,
in this place with these people,
at this time, if indeed it is God’s invitation,
must be more than longevity.
And you may have your own deep-seeded reasons
for being here,
like personal and family history,
but surely, to be sanctified – set aside for special purpose –
there must be more than that?
That is for you to answer.
Then there is the communal dimension of that question:
Why did God invite us to be together?
And how does our being together
in this place,
at this time,
sanctify us – or set us apart –
as an act of love for the creation?
Now I realize that you may think
you just walked in off the street,
or got here out of habit,
or because you didn’t want to look for another church
after all these years.
That would be a rational answer.
But there is another reason
why Trinity Church,
with its present configuration of people, is here – now.
What sanctifies us is rooted in the past but utterly different from the past.
What sanctifies us is straight out of the Gospel
but clearly not an obvious part of our tradition.
What sanctifiesus is obvious but risky,
absurd yet profound, ridiculous but absolutely ordinary.
What sanctifiesTrinity Church
at this very moment in time,
and at no other before,
is the clear intent and willingness – if not desire –
to find another way forward
to be the community of faith
and pursue our mission.
And while we have a general mission as Episcopalians
to be engaged in the ministry of reconciliation
between God and Creation…
the particular mission of Trinity Church Geneva,
is “to strive in our daily life and parish life
to respect the dignity of every human being,
and to treat each person entering our doors
as if that person is Christ.”
Let me repeat that mission – so simple it is eloquent.
We exist as a spiritual community
because we are called by God to welcome all people,
and respect their dignity.
That is to say,
we are here to welcome Christian, Muslim, Buddhist,
Jew, Atheist, Hindu, and those without a spiritual tradition.
In other words, all people
are welcome to worship here,
eat here, sing here, pray here, love here.
And while everyone may not be interested in us,
we have the mission to welcome
and honor everyone else’s dignity –
whether or not they honor us
or welcome us.
That, my Trinity friends, is a big mission
and we won’t get very far toward its fulfillment
without being sanctified for it.
Discerning a mission among the whispered voices of God
and the willful intent to fulfill it,
is what will sanctify Trinity Church
and those of us here
at this moment in time.
Whatever each of us thought
was the reason we came here,
or continued to come here after many years,
the reason we are herenow–
the reason God has gathered and sanctifiedus –
is to bring to life our mission of welcome and dignity.
That brings us back to the Gospel of John
and Jesus’ long farewell prayer,
a piece of which we heard this morning.
Jesus summons his little hodgepodge community
to one final meal together,
and as the host at the table, he
shoos their hands away from the bread and wine
with his words.
He speaks to them as one who is leaving.
He tells them the meaning of what he’s been doing.
He offers them a vision of the road ahead.
He invites them to be sanctified – set apart
by becoming an act of love for the creation.
His friends, as all of us would do,
flutter about and flap with anxiously,
searching for some relief for their grief.
But Jesus, like the crisp golden light before dusk,
is resolutely present and calm.
That same peace-stilled presence
in the midst of flutter is also here waiting for us; inviting us,
welcoming us, feeding us and, sustaining us
through every age and mission.
If we, this community,
do what God has invited us to do,
we will continue to thrive
regardless of our eventual shape or size or beauty.
If you and I, as individuals,
do what God has invited us to do,
we will continue to thrive
regardless of our eventual health, or wealth, or beauty.
When we are engaged and drilling into our mission,
even when that mission is really hard
and we feel raggedy,
that peace-stilled presence will rest solid
at the center of it all.