Please pray with me.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord;
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord;

And we pray that all unity will one day be restored
And they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love.

In the name of God, Amen.
My opening prayer may be familiar to many of you. It’s based on a folk hymn that was written by Peter Scholtes in the 1960s. It was intended to speak to a nation that was in the very troubled times of the 1960s. What it was trying to say is based on that Gospel lesson that you just heard: that they will know we are Christians by our love. That is our one spirit in the Lord. It was intended, in song, to theologically lift up some of the most important tenants of our faith. And it was a call to action.

You don’t need me to tell you that we are living in divisive, painful, heartbreaking, and dangerous times. Yesterday, the 198th mass shooting, just since the beginning of the year, took place in this country, in Buffalo—yet another hate crime based on race and our differences, our perceived differences. How long, O Lord? And just this past Monday, we tolled our Bourdon Bell 1000 times, remembering one million plus lives lost to COVID-19, in this country alone. The pandemic and the effects of the pandemic are still very much with us. The inequities of our country continue. It wasn’t just in the 1960s. We’re experiencing them quite vividly in the 2020s. Then there’s the war in Ukraine.

Where do we find our hope and our way forward? I believe to the core of my being that if you look for the light, you will see the light. And if we follow our Lord, we will be the light. Our scriptures appointed for today are both instructive and grounding and hopeful. This is what I’d like to explore with you this morning, starting with the Acts of the Apostles.

It was a watershed moment in early Christianity. Heretofore, the disciples believed that the Good News was limited to their folk, their people, their kind. Yet, if you read the 10th Chapter of Acts, which I encourage you to do, it tells the story of the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion. Even the Gentiles were accepting the word of God, as today’s lesson reads. You see, the disciples’ vision was too small. We have a big God with a big vision and what he was telling the disciples and what he continues to tell you and me is that all are welcome. No exceptions. No one is unclean or beyond the loving embrace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It reminded me of that wonderful passage in Isaiah, where the prophet says, “See, I’m about to do a new thing. . . Do you not perceive it?” God was doing a new thing and it took them all by surprise. I would posit the view that we’re gathered today because they widened the net, expanded their mission field. We are here today as heirs of what began two millennia ago. In writing about that passage, Peter Gomes asserts that “Peter is making the point, incredible as it may seem, that God’s love and spirit extend beyond the chosen particular circle of time and place…The true miracle, the true gift…is that God gives himself in Christ by the witness of the Spirit to all people in all places and at all times. We need not be bound by the parochial division of time, space or circumstance.”

I love this story in Acts, in part, because we’re the inheritors. I’ve read it so many times, but in reading it this time, I did so with a different lens, the lens of the past two plus years of the pandemic and I realized that God is doing a new thing—right here, right now—if we can only perceive it. If only we can follow God’s lead. Think about it with me for a moment. Pre-pandemic, we had been live streaming our services. Typically, a couple hundred people would worship with us live and maybe by the end of a week, 1500 people had worshiped with us and we gave God thanks for that great blessing that we were able to extend beyond our walls to people around the country. Then COVID happened. And then Easter of 2020 happened. There were none of you in here—there were only a handful of people—but on Easter, over 55,000 people were worshiping live. And when all was said and done, we estimate that over a million people worshiped with us or participated in that service in some way. That was a whole new landscape. God was doing a new thing, if only we could perceive it. In the famous words of that other prophet, Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

You see, we too, are no longer bound by a physical building. Our congregation and our mission field have no boundaries today. Several hundred are with us in worship this morning in the nave—and I’m so happy to see you. But even with that, I know, looking at this camera, that 4,000 to 5,000 people are worshiping with us live, as I speak. By the end of the week, 35,000 people will have worshiped with us. God is doing an extraordinary new thing. While technology may connect us, it’s incumbent upon you and me to build community, to deepen relationships, so that the transforming love of God in Christ can help bring about the beloved community in our time, to bring healing to a broken and hurting world.

This takes us to our Gospel lesson from the Gospel of John. Jesus is gathered with his disciples at what would be the Last Supper and he’s giving what will be his farewell words to them, to embody and to tell them the most important things they must do to carry on his reconciling work of love when he is no longer present with them. He washes their feet, and he tells them, if you remember nothing else, remember this: that you are to love one another as I have loved you. And it is by that love, that self-sacrificial love, that people will know that you are my disciples.

What does that love look like? How do we live that? How do we model it? I want to lift up just a few examples this morning and I hope as I do so, you’ll think about how that’s happening in your own life—the new things that God is doing in your life, in your community.

I start with a story that’s very specific to our resident Cathedral Congregation in pre-pandemic 2018. A member of our community had been suffering with kidney failure for years and it had gotten to be a pretty desperate situation. She knew that unless she got an organ transplant, she didn’t have much longer to live—she was undergoing dialysis every night. So, she made an appointment to visit with my dear friend and our vicar Dana Corsello to share her story. God bless Dana Corsello and her faithfulness! She suggested, “Why don’t we just put your need out there?” So, she wrote up her story and put it “out there” in our congregation newsletter. I thought, Dana, you have the biggest heart of anyone I know, but I’m not sure how successful that approach is going to be. But God had another idea. The Holy Spirit touched the heart of a member of our 20s and 30s Group, Ethan Bishop. He didn’t know this person, but the Holy Spirit moved him to donate one of his kidneys. He donated a kidney; she received a kidney. Fast forward: Ethan today is a deacon in The Episcopal Church. Our congregation member, she’s alive and well.  Love one another as I have loved you.

Moving into our pandemic time: as we were trying to figure out how to catch up with the Holy Spirit and tend this new flock that had found us and were journeying with us, we started a national and international coffee hour. It’s virtual, it happens at 1:30 pm every Sunday. This community is all across the country and literally around the world. On Sundays at 1:30, we talk about the sermon that was preached—be gentle, I’ll see you in an hour and a half! These people have formed community. They love one another. They pray with one another. They rejoice in celebrations. They weep together in sorrows.

Out of that group, a subgroup formed, and they meet every Thursday night. They call themselves the Lamp Lighters. This group of about 20 have had pastoral needs that were serious needs—that’s part of what united them and brought them together. They have suffered death, illness, job loss, food insecurity, housing insecurity—so many things. They are united by technology. They’ve never met one another, but I tell you, they are a united community of faith within a community of faith, walking with one another, supporting one another in every conceivable way. I call you to love one another as I have loved you.

In a final example, earlier this week, I spoke with our former seminarian, Leslie Roraback. Her daughter, Jillian, is a teacher at a boarding school on the West Coast. It has many international students, including students from Russia and Ukraine. She shared a story about one of her students named Andrew, who’s 16, from Ukraine, who’s obviously terrified about all the people he knows and loves in his home country. He received a call from one of his dear friends and peers who just needed to hear his voice because she was embarking on a two-hour walk from Ukraine to Poland to save her life. She had the few possessions she could carry with her, but she was terrified. So, she called Andrew and he stayed on the phone with her step by step for two hours until she came to safety. Just like the good shepherd: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Love one another as I have loved you.

You see, it is that love that can change hearts, that can build the beloved community as it was always intended to be, because love is more powerful than hate or fear or anything that seeks to divide us. It is with the love of Jesus Christ, if we can only follow his way, his teachings, person by person, bit by bit, that we will build the kingdom of God in our time and in our place. Technology connects us. Community unites us, walking hand in hand together. We can do this. We must do this.

We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand;

We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand;

And together we’ll spread the news that God is in this land.

And they will know that we are Christians by our love, by our love.

Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love. Amen.


The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope