23rd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 28C)
November 17, 2019
Isaiah 65:17-25 (NRSV)
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
This is a time of new creation in the Diocese of Georgia. God is doing a new thing among us in the transition of our diocese to the next bishop of Georgia. A group of us from St. Matthew’s spent the last few days at the 198th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, which met in Statesboro. We got together with Episcopalians from all over South Georgia to do our normal annual business and also to elect our next bishop. As you may or may not have heard, the Convention elected the Rev. Canon Frank S. Logue to become our 11th Bishop. We at St. Matthew’s supported his candidacy and we are thrilled.
This process began one year ago when our current bishop, the Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase, announced his intention to retire as soon as we ordained and installed his successor. There have been many opportunities over the last year for us to reflect on who we are as a diocese and what we hope and dream for in our next bishop. Since September we have considered a slate of five potential candidates to serve as our next bishop. In October, many of us met these five candidates and their spouses when they visited St. Thomas’ Church in Savannah for a meet and greet and Q&A event. Most of us who attended that evening left impressed by most of all of the candidates. They are all gifted priests who may well have the gifts and calling to serve the church as a bishop.
But the Election Day at our Convention finally arrived on Friday. And something remarkable and unusual happened. The election process for an Episcopal bishop is often a long and drawn out process. It requires that a majority of the clergy and a majority of the lay delegates vote for the same candidate on the same ballot. With five different qualified candidates, I expected the election to take at least a few ballots; it can take as many as a dozen in some cases, so I was prepared for the long haul. But Canon Logue was elected on the very first ballot.
This demonstrates an extraordinary amount of support for our bishop-elect from all over the diocese. For a diocese as large and as diverse as we are (theologically, socially, culturally, racially, and politically), this is really significant. We showed an amazing unity of heart and mind, with a supermajority having arrived at the same conclusion without even talking with each other in an organized manner at convention.
So I read this as a sign of hope for our corner of the Reign of God. The Diocese of Georgia has a bright future ahead of it because we are determined to to work with each other and our bishop-elect to share the Good News of Jesus in our churches and beyond. God is creating a new thing among us.
But let’s be clear. Bishops are not saviors. Bishops are not perfect. They’re are ordinary people like you and me who have taken on extraordinary responsibility within the church. And as gifted and called as I believe Bishop-Elect Logue is, he can’t save us because he is not Jesus. Remember that for the last few months we have been praying each Sunday that our next bishop “will care for [God’s] people and equip us for our ministries.” The Bishop’s job is not to fix everything for us but to teach us and equip us to serve God in our own way. God is creating a new thing among us and it’s not just happening in the bishop’s office. It’s happening in you and in me.
The prophet Isaiah tells us that God is making a new creation and it has little if anything to do with who the current bishop or rector is. It’s about God’s saving love coming among us and transforming our world. Isaiah paints a picture for us of what it looks like for God to make a new heaven and a new earth. God’s new creation is a paradise that seems beyond our imagination. It seems too good to be true. Here are just some of the things Isaiah says will mark the new creation at the end of the age:
Joy and delight, with no weeping or distress
Long lives and no infant mortality
No slavery or taxes to oppressive overlords
Everyone will have a home to live in and enough food to eat
God will hear and answer all prayers
Animals will no longer kill each other; predator and prey will be reconciled
Some of those changes are supernatural and will require God’s direct action to change and transform the world. Wolves and lions are going to keep being meat eaters until God changes them.
But some of this prophecy is a vision for wellness that we can work toward here and now. St. Matthew’s and the Diocese of Georgia and our sisters and brothers of good will from any church or no church — we can work to eliminate slavery and economic exploitation. We can work toward a more just society where everyone actually has a chance to plant and eat their own fruit instead of having their labor stolen for unjust wages. We can work toward a society where everyone can live in a house instead of being forced to sleep outside under bridges and on church steps. We can work toward a society where our advanced health care is accessible to everyone and we can reduce or eliminate infant and maternal mortality.
Some of these visions of the true good life are within our grasp if we will work together toward the common good. But it will require wolves to stop hunting and killing sheep. It will require lions to eat straw instead of oxtails. It will require the wealthy, powerful elites to slow their greed and create opportunities for others to thrive. I pray that our bishops and priests and deacons and lay people will continue to display uncanny unity despite all our surface differences. I pray that we will set our sights on Jesus and learn to love each other both interpersonally and systematically. I pray that they will know that we are Christians by our love. I pray that we'll all see God's new creation growing among us. Amen.