Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Sunday Sermon: Vaya Con Dios

Vaya Con Dios (Bi-Lingual Service)
Saint Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Proper 7B (RCL); June 24, 2012
Scott Richardson +

Gracious God, Let these words be more than words and give us the spirit of Jesus. Amen.

I don’t speak much Spanish but I know what the words “Vaya con Dios” mean – go with God. We’re the ones departing today but we offer you that blessing. May God be with each of you and those you love as you move ahead in life. May God continue to be with this astounding congregation on the journey of faith. I have no doubt that this blessing will be fulfilled – your boat, to borrow imagery from today’s gospel, will float on glassy seas and be propelled by favorable winds. And, as he was with his first friends, Jesus will be powerfully present. So this brief homily will not be an expression of concern for you but, rather, an expression of gratitude. There are two articles in my litany of thanksgiving.

The first person I want to thank is today’s celebrant. Your Canon for Hispanic Ministry is also my wife and, for nine years, we’ve held both poles of that relationship in healthy tension. She has beautifully fulfilled the vows we made together fifteen years ago. And, fortunately, we have not endured the same trials as Saint Paul the Apostle, noted in today’s Epistle: afflictions, hardships, calamities, sleepless nights. In point of fact, we have enjoyed blessing upon blessing and grace upon grace, and you have given many of those gifts. We have received your purity of heart, your knowledge, your patience, your kindness, your holiness of spirit, your genuine love, your truthful speech, the power of God working through you. We are deeply grateful.

But because her ministry occurs in the early afternoon on Sundays or off campus, not all of you may know what Mary has been doing on your behalf and God’s. During our time in San Diego, she grew our Misa from five people per Sunday to, on occasion, over one hundred. She ministered to young women who suffered the horror of human trafficking. She served as a chaplain to children and teens awaiting deportation hearings. She served as a delegate at the United Nations through our Commission on the Status of Women. She was the first to visit Dorcas House and brought that pressing need to our attention. She offered the delightful Guadalupe Art Program here and in many other venues. She led us in Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) and in our annual Serenade to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Hundreds attended the serenade this past December, perhaps the most beautiful multi-cultural moment of my life.

I asked Mary to forward an email she recently received. It read in part: “I want you to know that you have had a profound impact on my life – spiritually, emotionally, in matters of social and human justice, and religion. I grew up without much religious background and have always been a little afraid of it. I was always the one who said, ‘I’m spiritual, not religious.’ In the past couple of years, through you, your sermons, your commitment to social justice, your mentorship, I have learned that practicing religion is not so scary and so far away from us as physical beings on earth. I hope you know how much love and blessing you have brought to our community here in the border region. There will definitely be a hole but we are strong, we move forward and patch those holes with beautiful, multi-colored threads, weaving a tighter knit community that is unified in overcoming barriers and fighting for justice, dignity, and what’s right in this world. And thanks to leaders like you we do it with passion, commitment, and the everlasting support of God and universal love.”

Eloquent testimony. I ask this now not on behalf of my wife (honoring her in that regard is my business alone) but out of respect for my colleague: would you please thank the Rev. Canon Mary Moreno Richardson for her ministry among us?

I shared that email with you in some detail because I think the author said important things about the nature of this congregation. And this leads to my second thanksgiving and to a description of your spiritual gifts. Justice. Mentorship. Practicing religion that is not scary. Love and blessing. Moving forward. Multi-colored threads. A tighter knit community. Overcoming barriers. Passion. Commitment. God. Universal love.

Those words are more than words. That is who you are and who you have been during our entire time here. All of that will carry forward and deepen and grow. This incredible staff, our dedicated volunteers, and your next dean will be important in helping to fulfill that call but it doesn’t hinge on one person or small group. You will all be responsible for that in the future, just as you have been in the past. I got credit from time to time for various justice stances this community took but I was often only the figurehead – you were the leaders. My aspiration was not to be a prophet but to be the pastor of a prophetic community – Mission Accomplished.

So now for my last word. From time to time I’m asked to describe the type of Christianity I practice. I enjoy saying that I’m a born-again Christian who believes in the separation of church and state, and who is nice to gay people, and who honors other religions, and who is interested in other cultures, and who strives to fulfill three universal values – to be kind, to be wise, and to be fair. Those trailing commitments emerge from the first as compassion for all is, I believe, a key sign of spiritual depth and vitality. During a Prop 8 television interview a few years ago I asserted that we take our stand not in spite of our faith but because of it. That faith is rooted in a lifetransforming relationship with God in Christ.

I’ve shared the story many times. When I was nineteen years old I prayed to follow Jesus. Now, thirty-eight years later, I’m still figuring out what that means. I’m coming to believe that this was the most important thing to ever happen to me; more important, oddly, than my very birth.

I hope those of you who find that kind of language off-putting due to negative experiences in the past can hold it differently now. I hope that all of you have had an experience somewhat akin to that. I hope that, perhaps, I’ve had some small role in it. If that’s true then all my dreams have been fulfilled. So thank you, thank you, thank you. Vaya con Dios. Go with God. I have said these things to you in his most holy Name. Amen.

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