As most of you know by now, I am Hilary Streever, your new associate rector, and I am delighted to be here. Today is the first time I have stood in a pulpit since Pentecost Sunday, and boy does it feel good.
My husband David and I moved to Richmond in early June from the far, far southwest corner of our state. We really look forward to getting to know you all and working with you to serve God and our neighbors in the coming days, months and years.
Last week was time for me to begin learning new names and new places. A time for me to get lost on our campus here! A time for me to begin absorbing who you are and what you do.
For DOERS you are! DOERS is your identity.
When I first started looking into you and who you are, my first encounter with your identity was simply your website address – no stjamesepiscopal.org or stjamesrichmond.thediocese.org for you guys – No – you want people to know even as they search for your parish online that you are doers.
Yet, as I took in the beauty of the sanctuary here, I was struck by the presence of not one but two verbs:
to do and to be.
Above the altar: BE ye doers…
To your right in this corner, the banner that says: Be ye doers and then, just below: the holy name of God revealed to Moses: I will be who I will be. For one of the holy names of God given us in the Hebrew Bible, YHWH, can be translated to mean be-ing. I am who I am. Be-ing. Existence itself.
And Jesus as God incarnate picks up that verb to be in the Gospel of John:
I AM the light.
I AM the way.
I Am the truth.
I AM living water.
I AM bread from heaven.
I AM the Good Shepherd.
I AM, I AM, directly identifying himself Jesus as God, YHWH.
So we come to one reason why God the Son, the capital-W Word of God, ever became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth in the first place. Or, as Paul puts it this morning, why God himself, though he was rich, became poor for us. Because it wasn’t enough for God to reveal who God is to us in creation, or in the spoken and written words of scripture; it wasn’t enough for God to reveal who God is by speaking through the prophets. We needed God the capital-W Word who gave us the lower-case-w word, to fulfill the written word, to embody it, to show us in the best way that we can relate, by becoming one of us, and by showing us in his own spoken words and actions, WHO GOD IS.
Christ shows us what it means to BE. From Christ’s BE-ing, from his identity as GOD, comes his DO-ing: creating, healing, feeding, giving, loving, listening, redeeming, living, dying, resurrecting. Christ doesn’t just do these things because he’s a nice guy.
Christ does these things because he is God and that is who God IS. Christ’s actions reveal God’s BE-ING.
But God doesn’t stop there. There’s another reason. As God says through the prophet Isaiah:
As my word goes forth from my mouth, so shall it not return to me empty. Or as Jesus says in the Gospel according to John: All those the Father gives me will come to me, and this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of those he has given me.
In other words: God created us and God redeemed us, so that in the power of the Holy Spirit, we may BE with God: brought back into holy relationship with God the Trinity, the one who IS, the one who IS LIFE itself, who is the ground of our being,
who makes us truly alive. That is what eternal life and salvation ARE – BE-ing with God.
This is illustrated in our Gospel lesson this morning. When Jesus speaks with Jairus, the father of the little girl who is dying, he tells him, “Do not be afraid, but believe.” Believe. We often think of “belief” as meaning merely an intellectual assent, like: Yes, I believe that the plumber is coming over at 2:00 today.
But Christian belief goes deeper than that. The English word belief comes from the German word liege — LOVE.
So when Jesus says, believe, he is inviting us not just to assent intellectually to him, but to join him in loving relationship. The one who loved us before we were even a twinkle in our parents’ eyes, the one who loved us so much that he became incarnate and hung on a cross and defeated death and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit – is asking us to love him. BE LIEBE – BELOVED – to be the Beloved’s beloved!
For we become like that which we be liebe, believe, love, worship. Loving God, we affirm that we want to become like Christ. And loving God means loving our neighbors. Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
This is why we follow Christ. So that, being loved by God and loving God in return, we may love each other too. This love manifests itself when we participate with God in doing the things Jesus did: Bearing the divine love and light and life that God so generously gives us into a world that is hungry and thirsty for that heavenly bread and living water. God, pouring God’s self and life and love into us, changes us and changes the world through us into God’s people.
Christ IS the one in whom we live and move and have our being. So to have the identity of Christian means all this: People who ARE because God IS. As God’s divine actions flowed out of who God is, from our BE-ing in Christ flows our DO-ing in Christ, do-ing works that take on a holy and spiritual dimension.
In that divine relationship between being and doing,
God transforms us and the world.
Some might say that God is transforming the Episcopal Church even now, as General Convention elected Michael Curry to the office of Presiding Bishop yesterday, the first person of color to serve as PB in our denomination.
Three mission trips will be commissioned this morning. Missioners, you are not merely going to do. For God I AM WHO I AM sends you. You are doers who bear Christ, his love, his kindness and mercy, his humility with you. You are going to do good things because Christ loves the whole world and did good things. By allowing Christ to do good things in you and through you, by seeking Christ in those who you encounter, I pray that you and those you encounter will be blessed and changed.
I ask you to close your eyes and join me in prayer, using the words of
Ps. 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.