Monday, November 06, 2006

Making Holy Smoke

From Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's sermon at Washington National Cathedral's All Saints' Sunday liturgy:

...There is a fascinating line in the midst of that Wisdom reading that says, "in the time of their visitation they will shine forth and run like sparks through the stubble."

In the time of their visitation - is this the visit of God among the righteous? Or is it an occasion when the saints show up? The word that's translated as visitation might also be translated oversight, or realm of service. In Greek, it is episkopeis. When the saints turn up, or when the Spirit makes a home in the saints, then the saints begin to burn and set the world alight. Their oversight, their ministry, their ability to see and influence and pastor the world, is set afire. All the saints are meant to run like sparks through the stubble, through that dead and no longer fruitful stuff, the dross of this world. You and I are supposed to get lit and set that flame to burning by our willingness to be vulnerable to the suffering around us.

In western Oregon for decades the usual way to clean up the fields after a crop of grass seed was harvested was to set the stubble afire. Clouds of noxious smoke filled the skies, and often drifted for dozens of miles. Air quality issues have led to other ways of controlling the smoke output, but burning is still the very best way to sanitize the fields and get rid of the stubble. What do you think? Can we make holy smoke?

The episkopeis of the saints, their ministry, cleans the fields of that which cannot survive in God's dream of shalom, it burns away whatever limits that dream or cannot contribute to it. The ministry of governance, whether in the legislature, the polling booth, or in raising a child, is meant to prepare the ground for a new and abundant crop of life. Most of us here this morning will have an opportunity to exercise that kind of ministry on Tuesday. Will you consider your vote as an act of "running through the stubble?" Would that we might all be able to answer, "I will, with God's help."

Let the pain of this world seize us by the throat. Listen for Jesus calling us all out of our tombs of despair and apathy. May the shock of baptismal dying once more set us afire. This place we call home is meant to be a new heaven, a new earth, a holy city, a new Jerusalem. It is the sparks in the stubble that will make it so.

Turn inward for a moment and greet the spirit planted within you. When we come to the peace, turn to your neighbors and greet the saints, the fire-lighters in this field. Welcome, saint! Burn brightly and transform this world into God's field for life, full measure, pressed down and overflowing, meant for all humanity and all creation. Burn!

To plant the seeds of shalom, the ground must first be prepared. The stubble, "that dead and no longer fruitful stuff, the dross of this world" must be consumed by purifying fire.

It is time to wake up and respond to the pain and suffering all around us. Only then will the transformation of all of creation into the dream of God be accomplished.


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