Remarks at the Dinner celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the merger that created the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus, the Son of the God who shows no partiality, it is good for us to be here. Amen.
Let me share with you some words from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, chapter two, verses 13-20, paraphrased:
We were once very far from one another, but Jesus’ death has changed that. For Jesus became our peace; in his body he has made division into unity, by breaking down the dividing wall. All the hostility between us is gone. We were taught that the law with all its many commandments and rules made us different, kept us apart, made some of better than others. But Jesus has abolished that. He created in his own body one new humanity in place of any two that you can come up with, thus making peace. Now all groups are reconciled to God in one body through the cross. Any hostility between us was put to death on the cross.
So our story is now this: Jesus came among us and he proclaimed peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near, and he gave all of us access in one Spirit to God. So here is what’s real now: there are no longer any strangers or aliens, but all of us are called saints. Whoever you are, you are member of the household of God, a house built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
It is easy for people to miss the point of Two Saints. It can seem that the point is integration, a community that is as a Christian community should be, black and white together with little or no difference at all. But that is not the point at all.
Identity is a precious gift. The uniqueness of each one of us is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. Diversity is not only a gift of creation. It is necessary for creative existence itself.
Culture too is a precious gift. Shared customs and values and expressions of joy and sadness, love and hate, passion and indifference are a large part of humanity’s richness and vitality. Racial and ethnic diversity all help creation sing an ever new song to the Lord.
The Gospel can never be about making people the same. This is the point of Two Saints. The purpose of the church is not to create spiritual clones, to mold anyone into anyone else’s image, except, of course, the unknown and mysterious image of God.
The question before Two Saints in 1988 was not simply, “Can we be one in Christ?” It was, “Can we allow one another to be who we are? Can we allow uniqueness and diversity to flourish? And given that flourishing, can we discover our oneness in Christ?”
On our best days it is my experience that we can and we do. And it is a precious gift that brings forth a flourishing people.
Our friends and neighbors who are not active in a faith community—and their numbers are growing by leaps and bounds—believe that the church exists to build walls between people rather than tear them down, and to use “the rules” of religion to hammer out cookie-cutter versions of human beings acceptable to its narrow vision of humanity. Especially younger people believe that. They believe it, of course, because they see it. It is what they see the church doing.
It is not what we are doing. We are in the midst of a grand experiment of tearing down walls brick by brick, not for the purpose of making everyone the same, but for the purpose of allowing everyone in their delicious uniqueness to run free and discover in the midst of such glorious difference, we are one.
One of the first things a Two Sainter every said to me was, “Two Saints is the best kept secret in Rochester.” I long ago lost count of how many times I have heard someone say that. It’s worse than that, actually. This Gospel that we know, this life-changing acceptance and the offer of reconciliation not only with God but with the uniqueness of the whole world—that to, seems to be the best kept secret in Rochester (and beyond).
It begs the question, my sisters and brothers in Christ, “Who is keeping the secret?” Secrets do not just happen, they are choices we make.
What God is up to at Two Saints needs to be told in a world where dividing walls exist all over the place and the world around us spends an enormous amount of time and energy building, rebuilding and strengthening them. And they are not just inconvenient and sad; they are death dealing, injustice making, peace destroying enemies of the dignity of every human being that each one of us is sworn by our baptism to uphold.
Let us celebrate tonight the gift of this grand experiment we call Two Saints. Let our differences and uniquenesses abound so that we discover ourselves more and more to be a people forgiven, loved, and free, and, yes, one. Let us not keep secrets anymore. Let us tell the world what amazing things happen when we let Jesus tear the walls down. Let us love one another not in spite of our differences, but because of them.