Bishop Buchanan's Reunification Synod Sermon

June 08, 2013

Dearly beloved, for this sermon, I have a text:

A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way. (Isa 35:8)

There is more than one way to travel to Chicago.

One can travel by air. United Airlines has four non-stop flights each day between the Peoria and Chicago. The flight time is only 43 minutes, after one get to the airport and through security. In case you were wondering, the fare could be as much as $816.

On the Internet I discovered that one can also travel by water between Peoria and Chicago. There is in this state a system of rivers and canals call the Illinois Waterway. One of its rivers is the Illinois, which flows by Peoria. The Illinois Waterway is a part of a larger system that permits water travel from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. I read the blog of a naturalist who has done extensive travel on the Illinois Waterway, but you probably will have to hitch a ride on a barge to use this mode of travel.

And of course, one can travel by land to get to the city with that magnificent mile, using an auto or the train. From this Cathedral Church to St. James’ Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago is 158 miles, with a driving time of approximately 3 hours, according to MapQuest.

So, one can get to Chicago, whether traveling by land, or by air, or by water. Admittedly, one mode of travel may be more challenging than another, but it can be done, but dear friends there is yet another way to get to the See City of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. It is a way that is described in the Old Testament reading from the Prophet Isaiah, which we heard read earlier. (Isa 35:1-10)

Just a few comments to set the context of this reading. The time is about 700 years before Jesus. The Prophet Isaiah resided in Jerusalem, in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. This was at a time when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was annexed by the Assyrians, with a deportation following. Those exiled Israelites as a group never returned home and never recovered their nationhood. This gave rise to the term “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” Isaiah was watching all that was happening in the Northern kingdom from the vantage point of the Southern Kingdom, and he was alarmed. He was very concerned about social injustice. He was not alone in his distress for other 8th century prophets were also troubled. They all shared a concern that the rich and powerful were not concerned about the poor. One prophet accused them of selling children for a pair of shoes. Listen to Isaiah’s condemnation of Judah,” Faithful Jerusalem, once full of justice and righteousness is now full of murderers. Its princes are rebellious and companions of thieves. Everyone loves bribes. They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them. Isaiah exhorted the Jews to repent—to turn around—and lead lives publicly and privately, which reflected that they follow a righteous God.”

Isaiah prophesied that what was happening to the north would happen to south, and it came to pass. About 600 years before Jesus the Jews in the Southern Kingdom were conquered and taken into the Babylonian Exile and Captivity. But Isaiah also prophesied that the Jews would be redeemed and returned to Israel. It happened, and in today’s Old Testament reading in beautiful poetic language, Isaiah describes their travel from Babylon to Jerusalem. Isaiah says that a highway shall be built across the dessert wilderness and the dry land. The roadside shall be filled with abundant blooming flowers, like the crocus. This path through the dessert will be like the verdant glory of Lebanon and the majesty of Mount Carmel. The returning Jews shall see the glory and majesty of their God. Weak hands will be strengthened, and feeble knees will be made strong. Fellow travelers are urged to say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, and do not fear! Here is your God. He will come and save you." According Isaiah, when one travels with God amazing things will happen—the eyes of the blind shall be opened, ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. The once parched and dry dessert shall become as an oasis. There will be streams of water in the desert. The burning sand shall become a pool of cool water, and the thirsty ground springs of water.

Isaiah says that this highway shall be called the Holy Way.

Our situation here is the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy is somewhat like that of Isaiah and his fellow countrymen and his fellow religious believers. We Episcopalians in Illinois trace our beginning to 1835 when the Episcopal Diocese of Illinois was organized under the authority of the General Convention, and Bishop Philander Chase was invited to become our first bishop. In 1877 the missionary efforts of our diocese were enhanced, and again under the authority of the General Convention, portions of the Diocese of Illinois were loped off and two new dioceses were created—Quincy and Springfield. Subsequently the Diocese Illinois changed its name and became known as the Diocese of Chicago, with the approval of the General Convention. Thus, Episcopalians in Illinois have been organized to pursue God’s mission 178 years.

For nearly 18 decades Episcopalians in Illinois were quite comfortable identifying with the denomination known today generally as The Episcopal Church. They valued the liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer whether they were Anglo Catholics or Protestant Evangelicals. They appreciated the Church’s dedication to social justice, evidenced by the establishment of many schools and universities, orphanages for children, retirement communities for the aged and hospitals for the sick. Episcopalians were proud to be at the forefront of the movement for racial equality. It felt good to worship in the same congregation with the very rich and the very poor, whose aim was to be a Church with no outcasts. Episcopalians in Illinois were honored to be members of the Church of the Middle Way—the Via Media. Our hallmark was to gather under a tent under which we could live together in peace with differing views, even theological and biblical.

But on a fateful day four and a half years ago, some among us broke away and no longer wonted to walk with us in worship or in pursuit of God’s mission in this part of Illinois. With diminished fellow travelers and financial resources, it became necessary for us to reorganize, so that we could continue uninterruptedly what was begun in 1835 and 1877; so in 2009 we set out on a highway that would take us right to the heart of the Diocese of Chicago. Some will remember that the Bishop of Chicago attended our reorganizing Synod meeting in 2009. He was there to show solidarity with the members of this diocese, and to offer support. Our task following reorganization was to consider how best to accomplish our work, how best to be the people of God, how best to pursue God’s mission, and so we began our journey on the Holy Way.

As we travel that Holy Way, all of our worshiping congregations continued to be faithful Episcopalians. On the Holy Way, they worshiped and prayed in their churches. (Although some were borrowed—thank God for Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Methodists.) On the Holy Way, they could not ignore their call to social justice, and so they continued their outreach ministries, and took on new endeavors, e.g., Rebuild Our Church In Haiti.

Through conversations and explorations with the Bishop and leadership of the Diocese of Chicago, we began to consider if it were possible for the two dioceses to once again become one. It was not lost on us that Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one as he and the Father are one. Today we are able to say, “Yes,” we can be one. Yesterday we were pleased to be counted among the 111 dioceses of this Church. In the very near future, God willing, that number will be 110, because the people of this diocese and our fellow travelers in Chicago are on a highway called the Holy Way. It is called the Holy Way because God is to be found at the journeys end.