in the City
Luke 24: 36b-49
Because time is so radically important, let's go quickly to reencounter our risen Lord. We meet our risen Lord in the Gospel and in the city. Come with the fullness of your imaginations, and let's meet this radical Christ of Easter who comes to each one of us this very evening. The great Easter encounter is timeless. It's not just about disciples back then; it's also very much about us, the disciples here and now. The spirit of the risen Christ beckons and appears to us, and words from His heart say to yours and to mine, "Peace be with you."
Shalom! Peace! Because you do hard work in urban ministry, you're going to need shalom. You must have that interior peace. If I know this risen Christ, He says it to us over and over again. "My peace be with you in the doing of your work of urban ministry."
Because we live on the edge of doubt and faith, He says again this very night, "Don't you trust me? I'm with you. Here are my hands to show who I am. Here are my feet to prove who I am. I'm with you. If you don't believe that, then give me some fish, because I'm hungry. Will you come and break bread with me? I will come to you in the breaking of the bread. Always! That's my promise. Let's have a meal together."
Then in this Gospel story, the Risen Christ does what He does so intentionally. He breaks open not just the bread but also the Bible. He does some Bible study with us. He says, "Did you not know that through Moses and the prophets and the psalms, that all of that was a preparation, an epiphany for me? Have you forgotten the old, old story that is always the new and renewing story? Have you forgotten it? You can go back to it, because I'll renew you there."
He says, "Did you not remember that I told you I must suffer, and I will suffer with you. I will suffer with the cities of the world. I must die and I will die with the pains of the cities. Have you forgotten the story, because it's a brand-new story, more vigorous now at the break of a new millennium than maybe it's ever been? I will be with you because I have risen. I am here, I'm in you."
It appears that Jesus is about to turn and leave, having given us that reassurance. But then He says, "Oh, one more thing, please take note of this. I want you to stay in the city. I don't want you to leave. I want you to stay in the city and become clothed with power from on high." It's right there. You know I'm not making this up. Christ says, "Stay in the city. I want you to stay in the cities of America. I want the church to remain at the heart of the cities.
"Others may take road trips to experience the power of the risen Christ. There will be those who go down the Emmaus Road; I will reveal myself to them as well. There will be those who go down the deserted desert road to Gaza. I will reveal myself to them as I do in my servant Philip who baptizes. There will be many who take road trips. Some will go to Damascus, and on the way, there will be an encounter, an epiphany, a revelation. But I want you to stay in the city. I want you to stay in Austin and Alexandria and Memphis and Cleveland. I want you to stay in Dallas. I want you to stay in Baltimore, in the city of New York, in Kansas City. I want you to stay wherever it is you hail from. I want you to stay in the city.
"Others may move to the suburbs. Others may go beyond the suburbs to the exurbs, where it seems the grass is so green; but I want you to stay with the concrete and the steel in the heart of the city. I want you to stay there with courage and power, even when others would leave because of the poverty and complexity and because the cities of the world today are filled with violence and abuse, particularly of our children. I want you to stay because I need you there. I need you in the cities. I need you as my presence, my hands and my feet. I need you."
So stay in the city. Stay where there are drugs, because we need the risen Christ. Stay where there's crime, because we need the risen Christ. Stay where there are AIDS deaths by the dozens per day. Stay there, because, says the risen Christ to each one of us, "Did you not hear the texts that you were just singing?"
Stay in the city. Stay in the city until you're clothed with power.
I know you in urban ministry must be partly like me. You try to do it on your own, and until we're clothed with power, nothing is going to happen. So stay in the city until you're clothed with power, or else you'll be naked in your powerlessness. But remember, power is not presiding over others but standing beside others, serving others, washing feet.
For this last decade, it's been my deep privilege to represent two presiding bishops involved in strategic mission work with the Episcopal Church in Brazil. The Episcopal Church in Brazil is a struggling, blue-collar, small but significant presence.
Some years back, I had a strange encounter that changed my life. I had made an interior trip from Porto Allegre into Baje, when my interpreter became ill and had to fly back to Sao Paulo. This presented quite a problem for me, since I don't know Brazilian Portuguese. I was staying in a small Brazilian family home, and the next morning I was awakened and told that I would meet a visitor who would be my companion for the next four days. His name is Bispo Olavo Ventura Luis, the Presiding Bishop of Brazil.
At 6 a.m. Bishop Olavo bounded into breakfast while we were drinking our strong Brazilian coffee and eating bread. He said to me, "Reverendo Dog," (he always called me Reverendo Dog; Doug sounds like "Dog" in Brazilian Portuguese.) "I'm Bispo Olavo." At that, we began our five days together, and I soon realized I was traveling with Jesus.
I had a wonderful experience on the road with him and in his home with his wife, Marie Angela, and their children-- three of high school age and one in college. I fell in love with them, but I really fell in love with Olavo. Less than six months later, while on a mission trip in Mozambique, another Portuguese-speaking nation in the south of Africa that was recently devastated by flooding, he was bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito and was dead within ten days.
poet said about Abraham Lincoln, I would say about Bishop
About six months later, our Presiding Bishop Browning asked me to go back to Santa Maria, Brazil, to represent the Episcopal Church in America at the consecration of the new bishop, Jubal Neves.
I arrived in Porto Allegre and was met by the eldest son of the late Bishop Olavo. He greeted me with warmth and love and then asked me, "Where are your vestments, Reverendo Dog?" I hadn't brought any vestments with me because I didn't think I was to be a part of the consecration liturgy. Nonetheless he put me on a bus and sent me to Santa Maria.
I arrived at Santa Maria and was about to go into the large community building in the city center where the consecration was to take place, when I saw the high school-age children of Bishop Olavo. In their hands they carried their father's vestments, and they said, "Reverendo Dog, we would be honored if you would wear our daddy's vestments." I put them on, and I felt like I was clothed with power. I didn't know the language and was only just beginning to learn the people, but I had been clothed by others and by God.
In the doing of the hard but vitally important work of urban ministry, again and again we will be clothed. We are asked to do impossible things in this urban ministry, but we will and are given God's clothes, God's power. And that will be sufficient.
So stay in the city until you're clothed with power from on high. It will not be yours. It will be beyond you. It will be power within you that is not of your own, and it will make you different, you and me. We'll become new again. We will become Easter clergy and congregations if we just allow ourselves to be clothed with power from on high. We'll become Christ to the cities of America, clothed in holy power for the task.
To use that wonderful C. S. Lewis image, it's as if we are on the barbells, and Christ is the great weight lifter. The Risen Christ leans under us and lifts us up. But, along with us He lifts all of the woes, the cares, the oppression, the despair, the violence of the city, and says, "The city will rise again. It will be made new again. It will be mine again. The cities of America will be mine again."
So lift up the city. Beloved in Christ, stay in the city. Stay in the cities of America until the church is clothed with power from on high. Then the cities will be made new from deep within. And the cities will become the City of our God. Amen.
Copyright 2000 Calvary Episcopal Church
Luke 24: 36b-49
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