Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
"I am the vine," Jesus tells us, "you are the branches. Bear much fruit."
With these words Jesus describes who we are, how we become who we are, why we are who we are; that is what we are to do.
We describe ourselves in a remarkably parallel way: "A welcoming and diverse evangelical catholic communion nourished by God and publicly engaged with others in creatively shaping life in the city."
Each joyfully proclaims the Gospel and the absolutely necessity for the Gospel: "I am the vine, you are the branches," from Jesus; "an evangelical catholic communion nourished by
Each is an exquisitely Lutheran proclamation of the Gospel and its implications. Each neatly expresses my admittedly simplistic theological summation: Christ "for us...so that."
God" from us.
But there is one significant difference, not in the Gospel, but in its implications. Jesus' implications of the Gospel are, as they should be, timeless and, as to place, universal â€“ they apply always, everywhere, for everyone. Our implications of the Gospel are, as they should be, very specific; of this time, and this place; of early 21st Century life in the city.
"The city." "Life in the city." Some of us, I know, think that by this phrase we only mean life in this city; in Manhattan or, maybe the five boroughs, which pretty much cuts out the 40% of our congregation living in Long Island or Westchester or -- heaven help them â€“ New Jersey; but for a welcoming and diverse evangelical catholic communion that would be too limiting, although it remains a great place to start. No, by "city" and by "life in the city" we mean the whole of society; we mean what others call "the public square." We say that precisely: "publicly engaged with others in creatively shaping life in the city."
By that understanding "life in the city" is in terrible shape. The elders around and among us remind us that that is nothing new, and sadly, they are correct. But there is something new --
since the death, over three years ago, of Travon Martin and on through the deaths of Tamir Rice in Cleveland; Michael Brown in Ferguson; Walter Scott in Charleston; Tony Robinson in Madison; Eric Gardner in Staten Island; and Freddie Gray in Baltimore; each followed by increasingly violent riots, each followed by increasingly militaristic police responses â€“ there is something new, something different caught by the now ubiquitous lens of the camera: The terrible shape of "life in the city" is now undeniably visible; its reality, irrefutably public.
Over 80 years ago, in his poem, "The Rock," one of my favorite poet/playwrights T.S. Eliot asked these questions, which are even more relevant today:
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
What life have you if you have not life together?
When the Stranger [Eliot's name for Death] says: â€śWhat is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?â€ť
What will you answer? â€śWe all dwell together
To make money from each otherâ€ť? or â€śThis is a communityâ€ť?
People like us â€“ branches of Christ the Vine, "nourished by God," defining themselves as "publicly engaged with others in shaping life in the city" -- must respond to these questions; must creatively face the reality of racism; of resentment trending toward hatred of "the other;" of the stark reality that we do in fact all too normally and regularly "dwell together to make money from each other" and treat those who do not profit us with loathing and dismissal and fear.
If we truly understand that God is for us so that we can "engage with others in creatively shaping life in the city," then we have to be ready to do something â€“ in the street, in the voting booth, in transformational discourse both private and public. We need to stop being afraid for our life or our legacy and especially of those whom we derisively dismiss as "them." Jesus stands with us at the heart of the city â€“ at the heart of
human life and remains with us and nourishes us so that we would stop being afraid; that, at the very minimum, we would name our fear, deal with it get on with our shaping of life in the city. In today's second reading, the writer of 1 John proclaims this precisely:
God sent his only Son that we might have life through him. Through this, love has
been perfected in us. There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.
Every time we leave our homes and proceed to this table to be nourished by God, love is perfected in us so that we can then turn around and proceed to the brunch table or to a church meeting and ultimately to our own specific places and get about the business of creatively shaping life in the city where we live.
I've heard a lot about love lately and frankly, I'm not satisfied by its definition. Fortunately we get another shot at the way the scriptures define that next Sunday.
"I am the Vine," proclaims Jesus. "You are the branches," nourished by God and publicly engaged with others in creatively shaping life in the city." Thanks to that ubiquitous camera, the fear-driven injustice, inequity, anger and pain that is "life in the city" experienced by so many is publicly and undeniably true. Here we thrive, in the heart of the city; Christ Jesus standing among us; with us; for us. The time for our "so that;" the time for us to publicly engage others in shaping life in the city has come and is now. The time has come and is now for our perfect love with Christ, to shape the city and cast out fear.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York