Evensong installing the Reverend John L. Peterson as Canon for Global Justice and Reconciliation of Washington National Cathedral
“I appointed you to go into the world and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
I have chosen for the title of my homily, an expression that is contrary to the original title of the Broadway musical: “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.” These words came into my mind immediately after I said Yes to the kind, but awesome, invitation of my brother Bishop John Chane of the Diocese of Washington, and Dean Samuel Lloyd of Washington National Cathedral, to come and preach at John’s Institution today. I believe this expression aptly describes Canon John Peterson’s commitment to Global Peace and Reconciliation, an expression that is in direct response to the commission of our Lord we read today from the Gospel: “I appointed you to go into the world and bear fruit fruit that will last.”
My wife Gladys, who is here with me, and I, would like to express our deepest gratitude to Bishop Chane, Dean Lloyd, and indeed Canon John and Mrs. Kirsten Peterson, for giving us such a great honour. The hospitality we have received is simply stunning! We particularly thank Bishop John Chane for maintaining a hot telephone line to heaven, which enabled us to get our visa from the American Embassy, out of what to us was an impossible situation. That we are here today, for us, is a miracle! God truly works in mysterious ways.
A bishop from a small village in Tanzania cannot help but stop in awe and thanksgiving to stand in this great pulpit of this magnificent Cathedral, knowing that, over the years, great divines like Martin Luther King, Jr., have graced this holy place with their wisdom and holy place with their wisdom and holy presence.
“Stop the world, I want to get on!” This is what I have personally witnessed in the life and ministry of Canon John Peterson ever since I knew him. John is first of all a man of the Spirit. He embodies all that is truly holy, whether preaching the Word of God, teaching a course or traveling to a far-flung spot on the globe to encourage and enhance the ministry of others. John is a man of the Spirit in his interactions with all people. He is kind, compassionate and thoughtful. He is a man of the people and has a deep sense of charming humor. John is a man of peace, and that peace includes all peoples of all faiths or of no faith. He is the kind of person that Jesus means when he says, “Go, and make disciples of all people.”
We have come here today, some of us having traveled great distances, to pray God’s blessing on Canon John Peterson and Kirsten and their family, as he enters a new phase in his ministry, as Cathedral Canon for Global Justice and Reconciliation. I want to pay particular tribute to my dear sister Kirsten and their children, Emily and Carrie, for their distinguished record of caring and closely supporting such a globe-trotting father! I do not see the globe-trotting becoming much less with this new job!
“Stop the world, I want to get on!” is indeed one of the theme songs of the Church today, having moved a long way away from the attitude expressed by the original title of the Broadway musical – to get off the world. For centuries the world was regarded as something to endure and exploit, that the world was really the devil’s domain, not God’s. But now, many servants of the Church have come to a more profound understanding of John 3:16, 17: God loves this world so much that he gave his only Son to save, and not to condemn, it. So Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s keen insight of a “holy worldliness” was commanded to us by the Gospel long before. In his great prayer recorded in John 17:18, Jesus said, “I sent them into the world just as you sent me into the world.”
In the gospel portion we read, John 15: 9–16, Jesus is preparing his disciples for doing God’s mission in God’s world, at a time when they are to be on their own, free to interpret what he has taught them about new life. He reminds them of the controlling factor: the initiative for their mission was his, not theirs. In verse 16, Jesus says, “l appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” The context for these words is Jesus’ discourse on the true vine. “I am the vine…you are the branches,” he tells his disciples. The vocation of the vine is to bear fruit and fruit bearing depends completely on the inter-dependence of individual parts of the vine. As Our Lord says, “a branch cannot bear fruit of itself.” Here is a metaphor for the community of faith, people called into relationship in order to do the work of mission, producing “fruit that will last.” I would like to extract from this passage three Principles that have a direct bearing on John’s new ministry, and indeed the ministry of every one of us, by virtue of our baptism: Presence, Partnership and Prophecy.
John’s new ministry has its home in this great Cathedral Church dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul here in Washington, DC. Washington National Cathedral uniquely embodies the principles of Presence, Partnership and Prophecy as I shall try to relate.
“I have chosen you to send out” (John 15:16).
Jesus chose us to be ambassadors; he did not choose us to live a life retired from the world, but to represent him in the world, to be present, on his behalf, where human hurts are prevalent. The Cathedral history is rich in the imagery of presence.
When Bishop Henry Satterlee purchased this parcel of land at the summit of Mount Saint Alban, overlooking the U.S. national capital, his vision transcended building a Mother Church for Episcopalians in the Diocese of Washington, as important as that might have been. He had a profound understanding of the importance of presence. He knew that there were ways of proclaiming the Christian faith that transcend mere words. In my Diocese of Mpwapwa we find that the most effective way to educate our people about HIV/AIDS is through the use of music and drama. There are parts of the world today where Christians, denied the possibility of public ministry through words, witness to Christ through a faithful presence.
For this Cathedral, the potential of presence reaches far further than the physical limits of this city. Washington’s influence is global. What happens here in Washington has implications for people everywhere. It has been said, “When Washington sneezes, the whole world gets a cold!” Canon John Peterson’s ministry will greatly enhance the presence, not only of Washington National Cathedral, the Diocese of Washington, and ECUSA, but much more so, the presence of Christ, the King of Peace, among the poor, the HIV/AIDS affected, and the down trodden, world wide.
“Love each other as l have loved you” (John 16:12).
“In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5).
From the beginning, this Cathedral has been a symbol of partnership. If it was to become more than a house of prayer for Episcopalians, it had to reach out beyond the safe boundaries of the Church in partnership. Bishop Satterlee realized the importance of getting the ear of civic leaders, of movers and shakers on Capitol Hill, of presidents. The partnership between this Cathedral and all that the city of Washington stands for is unique. Washington is home to most of the truly significant leverage points for engagement with global justice and reconciliation in the world today.
It is striking that the one American president buried in this place is Woodrow Wilson. Here was a president who understood the supreme importance of partnership. In a time when the prevailing temptation for America was to pretend it was possible to live to itself in isolation from the rest of the world, Wilson believed passionately in involvement with the global family of nations.
For the Episcopal Church of the United States, these times bear resemblance to those of Woodrow Wilson. There are members of ECUSA today who wonder whether being part of the Anglican Communion is any longer worthwhile, given the current painful events within the Anglican Communion. The vision behind what has brought us here today is that living to ourselves is not an option, As John Donne of another great Cathedral, Saint Paul’s in London put it, “no one is an island, entire of itself.” As humans we are created to live in partnership. The gospel passage we are considering today reminds us of the Great Commission, “Go out…” For a Church to go out in partnership or friendship for mission is not optional; it is imperative. It is part and parcel of being Church.
I entirely agree with the observations of your new dean, Samuel Lloyd, regarding a more dangerous enemy of the Gospel—secularism—when he said, “The issue (of homosexuality) raises questions of faithfulness to the Gospel that it is right for us to be wrestling with, as messy and painful as it is. But to the degree that it is impeding our larger witness to God’s love in an increasingly secular time, it is tragic.” (Cathedral Age Spring 2005, p. 11).
Today, in this service, we recognize once again the partnership that exists, and which needs to be promoted, between this Cathedral, the Diocese of Washington, ECUSA, and member churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion. This is symbolized afresh by the presence here of not one but two former secretary generals of the Anglican Communion. In John Peterson, and Sam Van Culin, both of them canons here at this Cathedral, the Cathedral community is favored with a unique partnership of global wisdom, experience and servanthood.
“I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16.)
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3).
We can be easily lulled into letting our partnerships become too comfortable. That is why we need prophecy alongside presence and partnership. There is something prophetic about the vision of Bishop John Chane for the creation of a Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation here. It is an emphatic affirmation of the importance of keeping a global vision before the Episcopal Church, no soft option for the Church in these turbulent times. In order for us to bear fruit that will last, we need to address issues of justice and equality with prophetic courage. Archbishop William Temple once wrote: “I am convinced that one reason why the Church has counted for comparatively little in public affairs of recent time is that its spokespersons have talked a great deal too much about love and not nearly enough about justice. Justice is the first expression of love. It is not something contrary to love, which love mitigates and softens. It is the first expression of it, that must be satisfied before the other and higher expressions can rightly find their place.”
The prophetic, properly exercised, will not always be well received, not only by this City and its corridors of power, but also in a number of situations both within and outside the Church. There is always pressure on the Church to go with the flow, to go along with the prevailing consensus even when it is wrong headed.
Our Epistle, Romans 12, is a great passage for an occasion of dedication like this. Paul writes (verse 2), “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Canon J. B. Phillips rendered it this way, “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.” That is what the prophetic stance is all about.
John, and all friends here present, please forgive me if I sound too personal; but in the last fourteen years you have greatly touched my life, personal and ministry-wise. I have come to firmly believe that this is because you are a good student of Saint John Crysostom, in that in your involvement in the world’s need and suffering, you take:
a) A whole Christ for your salvation;
b) A whole Bible for your staff;
c) A whole Church for your fellowship; and
d) A whole world for your parish.
May God bless you as you seek to promote these principles of Presence, Partnership and Prophecy. May you be anointed afresh with his Spirit. May the years ahead, indeed, bring forth fruit that will last. Please know that this comes from Mpwapwa with the assurances of our continued prayerful support to you, Honorary Canon of our Cathedral of All Saints, and to your family:
0 God, without whom our labor is in vain, and with whom the least of your children go forth to the world as the mighty: Prosper all global mission work undertaken by the Diocese of Washington and the National Cathedral, through the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation, grant to all whom you send to the world, and especially your servant John Peterson and his family, patient faith, sufficient success upon earth, and the blessedness of serving you in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.