Senior Sermon Preached at Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Watch Here: Senior Sermon 6/18/18 – Sarah Price
Commemoration: Feast of Bernard Mizeki, Catechist and Martyr
What is the communion of saints? (p. 862)
The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer and praise.
“Those whom we love, and those whom we hurt, bound together by Christ…”
If we stand in a position of solidarity with many of our Anglican brothers and sisters in Southern Africa, we can see much to love about Bernard Mizeki: In 1861, Bernard was born in what was formerly known as Mozambique and later moved to CapeTown, South Africa when he was around twelve. There, he was taken under the wing of Anglican missionaries, early members of the group we now call the SSJE, where he came to a knowledge and love of Christ and was received into the household of God in Holy Baptism at age 25. By age 30, Bernard had volunteered himself and was subsequently sent to be schooled as a lay catechist, responding to his desire to share his belief in Jesus Christ and take new converts into his home to help prepare them for baptism. Through his passion for imparting doctrine and modeling practice, he grew the number of local converts and lived into expressions of faith that made sense in local context, setting up a mission next to a sacred grove of trees and using those sacred trees and land to embolden people to know Christ in their own surroundings. He is known to have carved crosses into the wood of trees, in essence naming Christ among the ancestral spirits.
“Those whom we love, and those whom we hurt, bound together by Christ…”
Not all those who stood in the vicinity of those ancient tree groves and sacred spaces to draw near to the Holy were as keen to see an Anglicized, colonial convert effectively desecrating their spaces of communal worship. They were, as one might suspect, quite vocal about that hurt. As political and social uprisings increased, Bernard was warned by local leaders to leave his post and move this mission. He disregarded this advice, repeatedly, feeling that his call was to remain with those he was instructing and protect his converts at any cost. And so, he stayed with them as a representative of Christ’s unwavering love although he sent his family to safety. During the subsequent standoff and in response to his refusal to leave his mission post, he was murdered…speared…by the local leaders. His wife, Mutwa, several miles away at that time, reported seeing a great white light, and hearing a loud noise “like many wings of great birds” filled the air. When she went back to find him, Bernard’s body was not there.
To some southern African Anglicans, Bernard Mizeki is the indigenous martyr to their faith, spreading the love of Christ and deepening the devotion of the faithful. To others, he is an African-born convert whose insider status was used to colonize and denigrate indigenous culture in favor of Western, European tradition and belief. Some see a man who was murdered for desecrating sacred spaces of indigenous people and whose body was whisked away for quick disposal; some see a martyr whose earthly body disappeared into the heavens, whisked away by the rush of angel’s wings.
Sometimes the fine line between love and hurt depends on the social location in which we stand.
Today, as we sit with the Good News as inspired by the life and witness of Bernard Mizeki, I find myself bringing to mind those times where the line between those we love, and those we hurt is a kind of invisible fence we only recognize when running into headlong into it. When does the passionate fire of our own conviction smoulder contempt in others because we can’t see from the vantage point of their social location? When does our desire to offer the help we think is needed cloud the vision of God for which others are yearning?
“…those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer and praise”
The other day I was working on my sermon in the early hours of the morning. I looked up and saw it was already about ten minutes after I should have left my off campus apartment. I grabbed my bookbag, and headed out the door at a faster-than-usual-pace and rounded the corner at Shattuck and Hearst just in time to see a disheveled, wild-haired man charging down the the sidewalk in my direction, dragging a beat-up piece of carry-on luggage with one hand and raising the fist of the other toward heaven, crying out “I am not inferior! We are all people! You are not superior!!” At the same time, I watched a facilities management van from Cal quickly U-Turn and peel away and I began to envision in my mind’s eye the removal of this man from one of the sacred spaces that those at the margins of this world come to know as home. It may have been a loving action that kept him from jail. It may have been a hurtful act of power. From my social location, it was impossible to tell. But as this man walked towards me with arms flailing and emotion blazing, he announced again, “We are equals! I am not inferior to you!” and instinctively I met his eyes and I said, “AMEN, brother! You are not inferior.” He kept on walking past me. Then I heard him pause, so I turned to face him. He looked me in the eye and said, “and you are not inferior, either, sister.”
As we turned and continued on our own paths…me, up the hill to Morning Prayer and him, to find a safer space to stay…I felt the rush of that prophetic and sacramental moment of the street. I heard the words of the Gospel lesson, ““..do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”
We are not inferior. We are, all of us, beloved children of God, listening for the instruction of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That day, another beloved child of God saw belovedness in me. It was a life-giving moment in a split-second encounter, seeing God in the face of each other.
We may not be called like Bernard to defend tribal missions or to put ourselves in harm’s way to protect the proliferation of the Gospel. But, we are surely called to walk in the belovedness of our communion of saints, the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer and praise.
So, I invite you today to live into that teaching, deeply. As we move to surround our Lord’s table together, bring with you those whose lives touch your own: those whom you love, those whom you have hurt. The table set for us is always bigger than we imagine; those of us who gather are surrounded by those just like us who, across social margins from generation to generation are beloved Children of God. No one is inferior, my brothers, my sisters, my siblings. So bring your whole selves to this table of Christ’s transforming love.
Come, Holy Spirit, come as wind and stir us; come as light and illumine us; come as fire and ignite us with your love. Transform us to be your people called to serve each other in this world, through the power of your abiding love.