Harrowing Of Hell
June 16, 2013

Bishop Rickel’s Sermon at Epiphany

Preacher:  The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel

This past Thursday we ordained five priests for the Church at St. Mark’s Cathedral.  The day the Church was celebrating happened to be the day we celebrate the life of GK Chesterton.   He was an amazing servant of God, who was known for his wit and candor.  He has many great quotes, and I have lots of favorites like, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and to love our enemies, probably because they are generally the same people.”

But the one he is most famous for and is so often misquoted or paraphrased is this one, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried.”   It is often paraphrased as, “It is not that Christianity is bad, its just that it has never be tried.”

But perhaps my personal favorite quote of Chesterton is one I left the new priests with Thursday night, “let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair.”

This can be difficult for those of us in the Episcopal tribe especially, but I would say it is fairly difficult for all Christians.  Every time we encounter the gospel  the question of where we might place ourselves in it is at the forefront.

In this Gospel passage from Luke this woman broke all convention, she came into a place she was not supposed to be, she touched a man, which she was really not supposed to do, and in such a public and intimate way.  She was criticized by those watching for wasting something precious and good and using it at an inappropriate time.  In our day and time she would certainly be accused of bad manners at the least, and probably totally shunned and avoided at the most.

Tables can be turned in a variety of ways.  A few years ago I was participating in the Community Day of caring at Century Link Field or whatever name it carries today, where the homeless are invited to come to receive services in one place.

One unique service that one of our deacons began a few years ago was foot-washing.   Homeless are invited in and we wash their feet, we put lotion on them, we give them clean socks if they want them.  It is an amazing experience.  We never want for business, they line up.

I will never forget one woman who told me she was a Christian from the moment she sat down.  She kept telling me what a blessing it was for us to offer to wash feet, and when I had completed my task she looked down at me and asked, now, you have blessed me, can I now bless you.  Please I said.  She stood up and laid her hands on my head and she prayed, and she asked blessings on me.  I will go to my grave with that one freshly on my mind and in my heart.

Last night your Vestry, Rector, staff, delegates to convention gathered with me and I found myself wondering what would have happened if somehow this same person had wandered in, and did something like this we hear in the Gospel. Believe me I don’t ask it thinking I would have been better at that response.  I shutter a bit at thinking what I might do or think but it might give you a way to get in touch with what those around Jesus in this event were thinking.

I am not just saying this because I am here, this Gospel Is  one of my favorites.  As a Stewardship Consultant for the Episcopal Church, when I go out this Gospel is the one we start with, for Bible Study.  And the question I ask is, have you ever received a lavish gift?  How would you describe it?  What did it feel like?

When people do, it is almost never material things, but something much more about what this woman does for Jesus today.  It is in giving of self.  And it often comes from the most unlikely places.

This is the message Jesus was almost always trying to send through his life and ministry, that those on the outside of our little fold are our salvation and the question for us is: How do we live in order to allow that to be true?

Richard Rohr’s meditation for this week said as much, he said, “Those at the edge of any system and those excluded from any system ironically and invariably hold the secret for the conversion and wholeness of that very group. They always hold the feared, rejected, and denied parts of the group’s soul.”

Only as the People of God receive the stranger, the sinner, and the immigrant, those who don’t play our game our way, do we discover not only the hidden, feared, and hated parts of our own souls, but the fullness of Jesus himself. We need them for our own conversion.

The Church is always converted when the outcasts are re-invited back into the temple. You see this in Jesus’ commonly sending marginalized people that he has healed back into the village, back to their family, or back to the temple to “show themselves to the priests.” It is not just for their re-inclusion and acceptance, but actually for the group itself to be renewed.

That is where we are all to go, back out into the world transformed ourselves.  We gather here not simply for here.  If all we do ends here we have missed the mission.

When we become insular, sure we have figured it all out, and have only things to share and nothing to learn our come up-pence is not far behind.

I have to admit I walked into that stadium to wash feet thinking it would all be a one way transaction.  I was there to serve and to bless the humble and poor.

That was my theory.

When the woman asked to bless me when she laid hands on my head, that was a love affair.  That was a faith come full circle.

I wish I could say that encounter changed me forever but I have to admit to how hardheaded I am, like the disciples, and I keep getting reminders, thank God, and keep getting called to live a life that admits I still have a lot to learn.

This brings us all to today and the question of how we are to live if this be true.

I have gotten letters from all those who present themselves today.

This is what i found out by reading them.  They do not have all the answers.  They are clear about that and I love that.  They are seeking still and that is as it should be.

I know Doyt and your leadership have as a value the premise: belonging trumps membership.  That is  exactly what Jesus was saying today in this gospel and with his life, death, and resurrection.

No one is outside the grace of god, as hard as that is for us to take sometimes and the church will never be our salvation.  We keep learning that in some pretty unsuspected places.  So keep alert.  My wish for all of you who take this step today, is my wish for the church and all of us who profess this faith, that your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.