Presiding Bishop's sermon at Christ Church Cathedral, New Orleans
Jefferts Schori calls all to be 'trumpeters of good news'[Episcopal News Service]
Christ Church Cathedral, New Orleans
Feast of Philander Chase
Isaiah 44:1-6,8; Ps 108:1-6; Acts 1:1-9; Luke 9:1-6
When I first heard about dedicating a trumpet at this service, I have to admit that I thought that we were going to dedicate a brace of organ pipes – those great big, bright and deep-throated ones like the ones set over the doors to your church. It was a delight to discover that the trumpet we are going to bless today is one that will be carried out into the world, to breathe new life and spirit wherever it and its gifted player travel. The golden voice of this Elysian trumpet is a memorial to the dead – both Irvin Mayfield, Sr. and all those who died in that wretched storm – but its work is to proclaim life, to sing of grief and to claim the ultimate victory of life over death. It is a tool for proclaiming the gospel in the multiple variations of jazz.
We're also remembering this morning the feast of another fallen saint – Philander Chase. Priest, bishop, founder of schools and churches, he was also often caught up in the storms of the religious system we call the Episcopal Church and its mother in the Church of England. His name means lover, and we might most appropriately call him a lover in motion.
This morning's gospel has Jesus sending his disciples out to move around, to bring hope and healing wherever they go. He charges them to drive out division and to heal. Proclaiming the kingdom of God is about reconciling the world; driving out demons is about removing all the forces that seek to divide – and they're both are essential kinds of healing. Those who are sent out get quite direct and simple instructions – travel light – and some other, more puzzling instructions, about entering and leaving houses and towns.
Traveling light is something that most of us learn if we have to do very much of it. When I flew back into New York at the beginning of September, my plane got in early, but my bag didn't turn up for almost two hours. I had a good long time to repent of the volume of stuff I carried – it would have been so much easier to carry on.
The people of this city had little choice about traveling light as they tried to flee the winds and waters of Katrina. Some got out early enough to take a suitcase and drive away for what they thought would be a long weekend. They returned to find that everything they knew was gone. Suddenly they were traveling lighter than they ever would have chosen. Others who were unable to leave so early swam down streets with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Yet those forced to travel or even start over with nothing can find grace along the way when someone or something connects them with what they knew of home. Yesterday I heard two remarkable stories from Episcopalians about precious things lost from churches during Camille – one a statue of Mary recovered from the mud after Camille, and a source of solace to that congregation through the years since. It was packed carefully in a box and taken away before Katrina came, and it is still bringing a sense of connection with the home people once knew. The other was a silver box for keeping consecrated bread, lost after Camille in 1969, but discovered again a couple of miles away, washed up out of the bay after Katrina. Both have brought a measure of comfort to the people in those grieving congregations – gifts of light and peace in the midst of unchosen traveling lightness.
This trumpet we're about to bless today is hardly light, yet the sacrificial gifts that have made it possible are a sacramental expression of others' ability to travel a bit lighter, both for those who have given and those who will receive. This instrument is going to travel all over this land, and it's going to trumpet forth good news and healing for those who have been lost. It's going to cry out, "come join this line, find a home here, and know you're not alone. The God who gives us breath is going to sing the jazz of life in you once more."
Traveling light can be a wrenching grief when it is forced and not chosen. But it can also hold the seeds of grace. And it is toward that possibility that the words about houses and towns in the gospel are meant to lead us. "Whatever house you enter, stay there – and leave from there." When Luke reports Jesus giving similar instructions to the 70 a chapter later, the implication seems to be more about not running around from house to house looking for a more comfortable bed or a better meal. But here Luke tells it in a way that seems to say, "keep on moving." Yes, go in and stay a while, but don't get too comfortable, you're going to be on your way again before too long. I heard a woman yesterday tell her evacuation story about trying nine different shelters before she finally found a place that could help, a place that could welcome her and begin to heal the disease of "no place at all." She is settling once again and healing, and in turn being a source of healing to others. I know that a number of you here have had the experience of helping to heal a house that has been lost – gutting, painting, putting on a roof, so that it may once again become a home, so that those who were lost may once more enter and remain and go forth again from an earthly home.
Irvin Mayfield's memorial trumpet is going out there, into lots of different houses, to sing good news and begin to heal the disease of grief and loss and not knowing a home anyplace at all. And then this trumpet of resurrection is going to move on to another house and do the same work again.
Philander Chase kept on moving, too. He started in New Hampshire, went to New York to study to be a priest, traveled all over western New York planting churches, and settled in Poughkeepsie. He stayed 6 years, and then came here to start this congregation in 1805. Again he stayed only 6 years, before he took off for Connecticut. Six more years there, then off to Ohio to start a school. Not long after, he was named bishop of Ohio, and two years later, president of Cincinnati College. And looking around and seeing that there weren't enough trained clergy, he decided to found a theological college, and went to England to raise funds. At the same time his plans managed to ruffle the feathers of the Eastern establishment, who believed that that the seminary in New York should be more than adequate. His efforts produced Kenyon College and Bexley Hall, but his methods produced a lot of resistance. He brushed off the dust and resigned both as bishop and president of Kenyon in 1831. This time he went off to Michigan, but four years later he found himself surprised and elected bishop of Illinois, before that diocese was formally recognized (more ruffled feathers – and canons!). He moved to Peoria, laid plans to start another seminary, went to England again to raise funds, and Jubilee College was born in 1839. He became the senior and presiding bishop in 1843.
Philander Chase died in 1852 as he lived, on the road. He was an itinerant lover of God and fellow human beings, sure that the gospel meant not only establishing worshiping congregations, but educational institutions that could teach good news both theological and practical.
So what does it take for us to travel light? Less than a lot of us think we need, especially as the signs of new life around here are the result of many people discovering they can live with less – both by sharing their abundance or letting go of unimportant things. What does it take to travel light? More than nothing, to judge from the grief that is so widespread. If we ourselves are to be trumpeters of good news, banishers of disease and division, and proclaimers of the presence of God in our midst, we have to know something of home and community. We have to know that we belong to somebody else, that someone and some people care enough for us to work for our well-being, to help us sing lament, express our grief, and get in line. This parade is going to dance to the beat of good news, but it needs all of us in the line, not just those in this space this morning, but every other human being on this planet, black, white, brown; poor, destitute, and those with more than enough to share; grieving, ill, and those who know the blessing of restored health. This procession is going down to the grave, and it's going to dance away on the other side, but only when we join the traveling throng. None of us is going home until all of us have a place to lay our heads, and music for our grieving hearts, and a feast for the belly and for the soul. When the saints go marching in, it's going to be with every last one of us.» Respond to this article