What a day that was yesterday. I had fun – I hope you did! It’s always nice to have the Bishop here – and to see more of the church gathered – more people, more clergy. Yesterday was a more formal start to a relationship – a possibility – that began a long time ago – and has grown into something new. The word installation – which always makes me feel a bit like I’m a chair – or some kind of kitchen appliance – Anyway – the word implies that our relationship – yours and mine – is kind of long term. Not forever and ever – but also not just for a few weeks – or a few months.
The service is intended to bring together – to gather the gifts of and parish – and to lift them up to God – so that we might enter this next season of our lives together with God’s blessing upon us and our work. Both the Bishop – and Erika – our preacher yesterday – did a beautiful job, I think, of reminding you of who you are. Of honoring that which has gone before. And of giving thanks for the particularities that make you – you. But the nature of an Installation – the very crux of it, perhaps – is that today – post-Installation – you and I begin a new chapter together.
We live in a world – you and I – where church is not a priority. For some it’s not even a thought. This means fundamentally that we live in a world that doesn’t know Christ. A world that doesn’t understand that God loves us – and wants to be with us – and wants us to live lives full of goodness – and righteousness. And to do this in community – together – because at the end of the day – getting it right, so to speak, is hard work – and it takes help – and practice. We live in a world where asking folks to give up even an hour on Sunday morning is too much of an imposition. Where inviting people into a deeper like with God – and with us – is seen somehow as threatening, and is often very unwelcome.
Ezekiel knows something about that. Our text from Hebrew Scriptures today is all about life and death. God tells Ezekiel that people are judged by their own actions – that they live or die by their own choices. No longer this idea that the sins of the father are visited on the sons for generations. But instead – each person is judged by their own contributions. The part that’s interesting for us today – is that there is life to be had. In fact, there’s more than that. There is a new heart – and a new spirit we’re supposed to get. And this new heart – and new spirit – allows us – enables us – to live. As Christians – we know that that new heart – and new Spirit – is Jesus Christ. We know that the bonds that connect us – all lead us back to life in Jesus Christ.
It is precisely this new heart and new Spirit that allows us to what Ezekiel says – to turn – and live. This turning – on an individual level – is a life long process. We’ve especially talked about that in the last few weeks – as our Gospels focused on forgiveness, and reconciliation – and how important these two things are in community. Turning is something we do as individuals pretty often – when we need to realign – or re-boot. It’s a good metaphor for repenting. It implies a sense of perfecting, I think – which is connected to the idea that the Holy Spirit is constantly perfecting us – Making us just a little bit better.
Perhaps just a bit kinder…or more patient…or a little something else each day. Turning doesn’t mean we suddenly become someone else – or that we somehow lose our identity. But that we turn just enough to see what new thing the Spirit is wanting to do for us and in us. And in the living – we learn to take on that new thing. We learn how to take on or offer up that new gift – and how to integrate it into our lives.
Yesterday – as you renewed your baptismal covenant – and your commitment to this place – and the ministry of Christ – I could see that many of you felt a new spirit – here within you – and within this place. I did, too. We turned yesterday. We opened the doors of this place to new folks. You offered hospitality to strangers. We shared in a feast around this table that makes us Christ’s Body. And we began a new part of life together – carrying forward the gifts of the past – and yet honoring the moment in which we find ourselves now.
What’s left to do today – and every day after this one – is the live part of that “turn and live.”If we have been given a new heart – and a new Spirit – and we have turned – now we have to figure out how to live in new ways. And how to teach peace – as Erika said yesterday – to a world that has no idea what that means. How to invite – and bless – folks outside these walls. And how to – by our own example – acquaint people with what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. What it means to be a part of a Christian community. And the many ways in which Jesus expects us to live into these commitments. By caring for our neighbors – by caring for each other – and for ourselves by tending to our relationship with God.
Turn and live.
Yesterday – we turned. And began again together – with a new heart – and a new spirit. And today – and tomorrow – we have to start learning how to live. That means we’re going to go on a bit of a journey together – you and I. But as long as we are faithful – and we do the work – and we take seriously the commitments we make to God and to each other – then the Spirit will continue to perfect us. And to bring out good fruit in us. And we will live. And so will others – because we will be able to show them how to find life in Jesus Christ. Amen.