This Week's Focus -  "Big Sisters"
      Click the link for John 11:32-44  




 Dear Friends,

In our gospel, the Father’s precious gift of life is restored to Lazarus through the saving love of the Son. It is a perfect metaphor for the Creation and Redemption… God’s priceless gifts… that are the core of our faith.   

God gives himself to us in so many beautiful ways… the miracles of nature… the architecture of the universe… and this morning in the wonder of his Word… as embodied by Jesus Christ. In all the parables and all the lessons of the gospel… none is as comprehensive, none is as stark… as the Sermon on the Mount. It is a crystal-clear window into the will of God.
And what is that will? The will of God is that we be humble; we be faithful; we be merciful; we be chaste; we be honest; we be peacemakers; we be witnesses of his love. These are the essential spiritual exercises that build moral fiber. But their end is greater than that. These are the building blocks of the kingdom of God… the object of all Creation.
There’s a popular ad slogan that says: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Our purpose as Christians is just the opposite: “What happened on Calvary, doesn’t stay on Calvary.” It is our job not only to tell the world but to show the world… to be living witness to the saving love of God.
Saints are people who have done that job successfully. But no matter how inspiring they are, like us, the saints have no inherent spiritual power. They are not demi-gods. They are channels of grace, not generators of grace. By embracing the Beatitudes, the saints have demonstrably entered into the glory of God. Their virtues, their struggles, their triumphs… are all part of the ongoing revelation of God’s goodness.
Perhaps saints are best described as our big sisters and brothers in Christ. We’re proud of them. We look up to them. As Episcopal women, you are particularly graced by a loving family of sainted big sisters who have left you a blessed legacy.
This year the Church recognized Deaconess Anna Alexander, who gave her life to God in the service of the poorest of the poor in coastal Georgia. Deaconess Anna was born to freed slaves at the end of the Civil War. For most of her 83-years, she celebrated and spread the love of Christ in a segregated Church and a segregated country, both of which told her every day that she was separate and unequal. Her response to soul-sapping institutional prejudice was to give her life to Christ to raise hundreds of children out of poverty… teaching them to love God as they learned to read and write… teaching them self-respect as unique, beloved children of God… teaching them to pass on his blessings by serving as doctors, nurses, educators, attorneys, and social workers… mothers and fathers… responsible citizens… his disciples in all things.
In recognizing Deaconess Anna this summer, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said: “Her way was the way of sacrificial love, that did not seek her own good… but willingly gave her life for the children.”
In a time when many black children were denied opportunities for education, she taught them; she inspired them; she blessed them. And in a time when women were not able to live completely in God’s call, she answered that call… becoming the first African-American Deaconess in the Episcopal Church… starting schools, starting churches… carrying the cross of Christ up the steep hills of racism, sexism, and poverty.
When you’re discouraged, think of our big sister, Anna… in her humility, in her courage, in her energy and endurance…  she raised-up the children in her care and changed the world.
Think too of Blessed Josephine Butler, who turned her grief at the tragic death of her daughter into a crusade to save thousands of children from sex slavery. Put yourself in her place. Her beautiful, six-year-old Eva was crushed right before her eyes… falling forty feet from a balcony to an unyielding marble floor. Shock… depression… despair… Josephine knew them all. But she also knew God’s love.
Shortly after Eva’s funeral, she saw a child on the street who reminded her of Eva. She stopped her carriage, but could not find the child, who she later learned was one of the hundreds selling themselves on the streets of London every day. They were kidnapped or purchased by brothel keepers and their thugs, then brutalized and forced into the sex trade… sometimes even exported and marketed in cities across Europe.

Freeing, protecting and caring for these crushed children became Josephine’s ministry. At the time, what meager laws there were to limit the sex trade were ignored or circumvented by rampant corruption. So, this modest Victorian matron took to the streets to rescue the children. She barged into brothels to confront the slavers. She haunted the halls of Parliament shaming lawmakers into action.
While the slave trade and sexploitation exist to this day… every child saved is a victory and a reminder of Josephine Butler, who rose from grief for a broken child to rescue and protect so many broken and exploited children… and love them as her own.

Our liturgical calendar is blessed with the remembrances of so many more good women, our big sisters in Christ… our saints and heroes… Harriet Tubman… Sojourner Truth… Florence Nightingale… Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
From this blessed company, the woman that I relate to and who inspires me most is Blessed Julian of Norwich. Imagine how bare, how stark, how cramped and cold it was to live in a nun’s cell in 14th Century England. Yet she lived there in glory with her constant companion… Her Loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As she summed up her relationship with God: In you alone, I have everything.

She recorded the full dimensions of her life in Christ in Revelations of Love… the very first book published in English by a woman. Among her reflections on God’s love, she wrote: God loved us before he made us, and his love has never diminished and never shall… The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love. And that is how she lived… humbly, gladly, confidently in God’s love.

One expression of that confidence was her belief that women stood equal to men as God’s beloved children. Defending the right of a woman to write and publish her Revelations of Love, she declared: But for I, a woman, should I, therefore, live that I should not tell you the goodness of God?
She stood up to the feudal/sexist order of the day and told us eloquently of God’s goodness in her words and in her witness. In this good company, her lesson lives today, as fresh, as vibrant, as needed as it was seven centuries ago.

This is why we celebrate the saints. This is why their feasts populate our liturgical calendar and their names adorn our churches. We live in community with the saints. We don’t worship them. We learn from them. We are inspired by them, knowing that God is the source of the inspiration they project.
In you, this morning, I sense the strong presence of the sisterhood of saints. Both those saints and we… as saints in the making… are not the originators, nor the final destination of God’s blessings. His grace is meant to pass through us to family and friends, strangers and adversaries… and then through them on and on… building the kingdom… one kindness… one forgiveness… one blessing… one saved and blessed sister and brother at a time.
My Beloved Sisters, God bless you and all the good that you do in his name today.

God love you!


Sermon Preached at
St. Michael's Episcopal Church
Raleigh, North Carolina

Upon the Occasion of the
Episcopal Church Women in the Diocese of North Carolina
136th Annual Convention Eucharist & Installation of Officers
©The Reverend Canon David F. Sellery

Copyright © 2018 David Sellery, All rights reserved.

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