The Rev. Jimmie Sue Deppe installed in Gates
The parishioners of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Gates, and the wider community of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester came together on Sunday, July 10, 2016, in celebration of the installation of Rev. Jimmie Sue Deppe as the parish’s new rector. This special service was led by Bishop Prince Singh. The ladies of the parish hosted a joyful reception for everyone afterwards.
The Rev. Bryan Cones delivered the sermon, which is below.
Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25
If you come to church here often, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I am here as a guest: My name is Bryan, a friend and classmate of Jimmie Sue, and a frequent guest at Jana and Jacob, and Amy’s dinner table. I bring you greetings from your Episcopal siblings in Chicago. Thank you for the invitation to celebrate this renewal of your ministry with Jimmie Sue as your pastor, priest and teacher.
Admittedly, as someone who just landed yesterday, I don’t really know you well, or at all. What I do know is that you and Jimmie Sue have discerned a call to walk together in faith and ministry. Now I do know Jimmie Sue, which I suspect tells me something about you, too.
Let me give it a try: My educated guess is that you are a church who values the ministry of all the baptized, gloriously arrayed, as Paul reminds us today, with the gifts of the Spirit in generous measure. I suspect that I am standing in a place not unlike that tent of meeting, pitched in the middle of a desert pilgrimage long ago, when God’s indiscriminate Spirit fell upon those 70 elders, so that the work of leading God’s people could be shared. And it’s likely that I find myself among another group of 70, who some centuries later were sent in that same Spirit to anyone who will listen to announce that God is ever on our doorstep, and that God’s reign of just peace, abundant healing, and radical welcome, is here for the asking.
Is that about right? Good! I think that’s what they call being “on message,” and it’s a good one for a church in a time of renewal: The ministry of the whole Body of Christ in all our giftedness, a gathering of leaders called in the Spirit, sent out to join God’s mission in the world. Sign me up. Where are we headed? To whom are we sent? And for what?
There’s the rub, isn’t it? It’s sometimes easier to get “on message,” to share a common vision of what we are all about in here, inside the holy tent, than it is to figure out exactly how, and where, and with whom we might go about sharing that message outside this gathering, and how we might share it together. Another way of putting it is simply: Just whom is this message for? because I’m sure we don’t want to overlook anyone, and I’m always wondering who is getting overlooked.
The reason I ask is that there is a good example of folks who got overlooked in verses just after today’s first reading; they even got edited out by the folks who set the readings for this celebration as it is found in the Book of Common Prayer; we are only getting half the story: Their names were Eldad and Medad, and it turns out that whoever was charged with gathering those 70 elders to the tent on that day in the desert overlooked them and left them out, even though they were on the list. We don’t know why. Maybe it was an accident—it often is—or maybe they were newcomers to this mixed bag of freed slaves, and the person in charge didn’t think the message was for them. Whatever the reason, they didn’t make it when it was time to gather in the holy tent to meet God.
No matter: God’s Spirit blows where she wills, and lands just where she means to, whether her vessels are in the holy tent of meeting or not. So when the elders in the tent started prophesying, Eldad and Medad began prophesying, too, just where they were, overlooked or not. “Look over here!” God’s Spirit seems to be shouting. God’s Spirit won’t be limited by any tent.
Eldad and Medad are hardly the first people to be overlooked and left outside the tent, sometimes by accident, sometimes because someone decided the message wasn’t for them, or they fell outside its bounds. And it will probably surprise no one if I mention that Jesus made such overlooked folks the first to hear his message. None of them—the tax collectors and unattached women, the sick and the impaired and the possessed and the poor—none of them were permitted to get anywhere near, much less inside, the holy tent of Jesus’ day. Their very existence didn’t fit the message of the powers calling the shots in Jerusalem or in Rome. And still that Spirit, blowing where she wills, made of such an overlooked people her holy tent of meeting, and she still does today. “Look over here!” God’s Spirit seems to be shouting. God’s Spirit won’t be limited by any of the powers that be.
I bring up all these overlooked folks, not because I think this church or our Episcopal Church is falling down on the job. It’s clear to me from everything I hear about you that Epiphany is a church that longs to serve and to welcome and is always looking for new ways to do it. And I hope I’m not the only one who beamed with a little pride and wanted to stand up and cheer, when Michael our presiding bishop spoke out for the full inclusion of transgender persons, beloved persons of God who have long been more than “overlooked” and long excluded from the message the churches announce, even though the Spirit of God has always rested upon them, too. And I was heartened, too, by your bishop, Prince’s, prophetic encouragement to stand with those suffering in Orlando, and to stand against any new caste system that would strip away dignity from any human being.
I bring up these overlooked folks, though, because I’m noticing, and I’m wondering if you are, too, that a whole bunch of overlooked folks in our world are crying out, “Look over here!” And I wonder what the Spirit is saying to us as she falls upon and speaks in those excluded from the tent.
Look over here! she shouts in those who protest the violence done to them because of whom they love or how they express themselves and their gender, which Jimmie Sue preached about so beautifully some weeks ago.
Look over here! she shouts in communities in my city of Chicago, and not just there, segregated by their race and burdened with poverty and violence of all kinds.
Look over here! she shouts, in voices who insist Black Lives Matter, the lives of Alton and Philando, and she shouts in the tears of those who grieve the escalating cycle of violence in Dallas, which now claims Lorne, Michael, Brent, Michael, and Patrick, and Micah, too.
Look over here! she shouts, in the stories of refugees and immigrants who find fences and walls instead of welcome and safety.
Look over here! she shouts, in the struggle of those who work and work but can’t make enough to pay the rent or feed their children, as they ask for a wage they can actually live on.
There are a lot of God’s people who are being overlooked, and the Spirit is shouting “Look over here!” in a lot of places: To whom is the Spirit calling this church to announce her message? To whom are you sent with all your many gifts in the Spirit’s power? How will you discern together such a renewal of your ministry?
No guest preacher would dare propose an answer to those questions, or tell you in whom the Spirit might be speaking to you. That’s for you to discern, and I have no doubt you have all the gifts you need to do so.
At the same time I wonder if that discernment might begin with remembering that there is no “them” outside the tent: There’s only “us,” each, I’m guessing, with our own stories of being overlooked or left out, of wanting to shout, “Look over here!” when we feel forgotten or abandoned. Perhaps we too have found ourselves wondering at times if we’ve been excluded from the gospel message or if it is really for us at all.
I wonder if those stories are one reason why the Spirit has chosen us to bear her message, since to be Christian is at least in part to be possessed by that Spirit who blows where she wills, who resists the boundaries humanity so easily raises between saint and sinner, Black and White, citizen and alien, inside and outside, powerful and powerless, rich and poor—and her children resist them, too. I wonder if in your own stories of being overlooked, you might find a renewal of ministry you never expected, as you let the Spirit guide you where she wills.
There’s a bit of today’s gospel passage that got overlooked as well, which might also be worth a glance as you discern. There are some instructions that Jesus gives to those he sends, along with a warning, something like: Pack light, eat what is put in front of you, and look out for wolves. Not bad advice for a missionary journey. But then there’s his message, which leaves no one out: “Peace to this house! The kingdom of God has come near.” It’s a message the world is longing for, especially in its most overlooked places. And it’s our great privilege to go out and shout, “Look over here!” with everyone who has been left outside the tent.