By the Rev. Mirian Saxon
I love that this celebration of new ministry falls on the day that we also celebrate the life of Columba, an Irish priest living in the late 6th century. He entered monastic life and joined several others in missionary work with the Picts in what we now call Scotland. There he founded a monastery on the island of Iona, a place sacred to many of us and truly a “thin place” where the veil between this world and the one we cannot yet see is thin, porous. God’s presence is strong in that place.
Columba was a wise and kind child of God and it is said that his death reflected his life. He died peacefully while working on a copy of the Psalter (in the days when such work could only be done by hand). He had stopped to rest from this tedious work and to attend Matins in the chapel. There he was found dead at the altar, with a smile on his face. How I wish we might all die in such a peaceful manner, assured that we are deeply loved by God.
I like that we remember Columba on this special day here at St. Titus because you have called a wonderful priest to lead you, and like Columba, she is too wise and kind, with a gentle soul. But do not let her quiet demeanor fool you as she is also brave and will lead you fearlessly and well. So do be kind to my friend Stephanie!
Similar to Stephanie here at St. Titus, I too serve as the vicar of a small mission church. Like St. Titus, St. Andrew’s in the past few years has struggled to survive in a town that is changing around it. But unlike Durham, which is a vital place, Haw River is no longer thriving now that the mills have closed. So we struggle to find our place there, as we reach out to our immigrant neighbors, and to the many new folks who are moving to Mebane and Efland. Like St. Titus, we long to grow and become financially stable, perhaps even to become a full parish some day. St. Titus is a good place, with many faithful children of God. So my prayer for you is that you will be inspired by Stephanie’s leadership and excellent pastoral care and will bravely continue into the unknowns of your metaphorical Galilee.
In the Epistle lesson we have just heard, Paul is writing to another small and struggling church. Therefore I want to look at some of the teaching he provides for the church in Corinth. What struck me in the portion of his letter that is appointed for Columba’s feast day are these words:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? … God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
St. Paul is right.
Everyone in this place tonight is holy, sacred, and carrying God’s very Spirit.
Yet if each of us is really honest, we all have a secret list of people we’d rather not sit next to, in church, or anywhere else.
[You know that list, right?]
Some on “the list” are those we feel are snobs or too full of themselves; some we consider weird or sinners, or as my Mama would say “just not our kind of people”; some are people who have offended us in the past, or (worse) are people who we are certain have offended God. And we would rather not sit next to them either. But here is where Paul’s teaching comes in — when he reminds us that every one of us is a child of God, and we are each God’s temple where God’s Spirit dwells. We are holy. We are made in God’s image, and thus we are sacred, holy. Hence every human has the same worth in the eyes of God.
In 2012, in the midst of the debates in North Carolina over the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, Bishop Curry directed us to Scriptural references about our being God’s temple, and made in God’s image. He said this:
“Because human beings are created in God’s image, human life is therefore sacred, and the human person is to be treated as sacred on the personal and interpersonal level as well as on the level of society. …
Every child of God has been created in the image of God and has value and worth and dignity that human beings did not bestow and that human beings cannot take away. This way of believing and being makes a difference. It is the path to life and hope.”
What has so powerfully struck me by Bishop Curry’s words is not that all others are worthy and valued. It is that they are sacred, sacred to God. That is a far higher standard for how I am required to view others. And I know I often fall far short of that standard, and I wish it were otherwise.
I do pledge to continue to struggle to see the sacredness of all others, but there are some groups, and especially some individuals that make that SO hard to do.
And remember how I mentioned “The List” that we all carry around? That List of those who cause us to struggle with seeing their sacredness, much less their minimal value or how God might love them in equal measure to God’s love of you? Yet because every human is God’s temple and everyone is a child of God, we cannot ignore or deny that they are sacred. Thus they are deserving of my care, my love, my respect. If I love God and follow Jesus’ commandment to love others, then I can’t use my disagreement with anyone to take the next step and view them as not sacred to God. And that has deep implications for how I am in every minute of every day. As Dr. Martin Luther King wrote,
“there is no graded scale of essential worth.”
All are God’s temple. So when we dare to hurt or harm, or disrespect or devalue ourselves or any other human being, we hurt and harm God,
and we dishonor God.
And that is territory where we dare not tread.
So I offer these thoughts to you this evening, and I encourage you to consider how the sacredness of all persons can affect your behavior towards others, and towards yourself. How might your behavior be altered when you acknowledge that we are all made in the image of God, that we are sacred beings?
As you carry that thought, see how your behavior might change when you pass a homeless man on the street, or a scowling teenager dressed in black leather and chains, or someone shouting a political viewpoint that is opposed to yours. Or even someone who cuts you off in traffic!
How might it have changed the outcome on the night that George Zimmerman encountered Trayvon Martin? Or the day in Norway when Anders Breivik gunned down or bombed 69 people, mostly teenagers.
May God give us the grace and the self-control and the openness to difference that we may see the very face of Christ in all whom we encounter since they all, like me and like each of you, carry the image of God. We can only build the kingdom of God and work towards God’s dream for us when we structure our actions, our daily lives, upon the belief that all are worthy and no one is to be treated as lesser than we are. Everyone we encounter is to be treated with the love, respect, and dignity that befits their status as a temple of God.
So may God give us the courage and the depth of love to do this.
And may this place be a leader in this work.