Address to EDOW ECW on Saturday, March 1, 2015
Theme: “Stir Up the Spirit” 2 Timothy 1:6-7, 9a
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of live and of self-discipline.”(2 Timothy 1:5-7)
The apostle Paul knows that he does not have much time. Imprisoned in Rome, having suffered many times for the sake of the gospel, Paul knows that his death is imminent. When you know that you will die soon, every word counts. Every word is precious. So Paul reminds Timothy, his beloved child in the faith, of what is important. The Christian faith is important. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are important. The tradition of passing on both the faith and the Spirit’s gifts is important. Paul reminds Timothy of how Timothy first received his faith: Through his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.
The apostle Paul is no dummy, is he? If you want to get someone’s attention, just mention her mama and her grandmamma. This matrilineal line has nurtured and sustained Timothy as a child. Now, Paul tells Timothy to step up and step out. Do your mama proud. Do your grandma proud. Do Jesus proud.
In September, 2012, a large group of clergy and lay people gathered in the Washington National Cathedral for the memorial service of one of my spiritual mothers: The Rev. Janice Marie Robinson. As the clergy vested, hugged each other and wept, my friend and colleague Canon Michele Hagans approached me. She looked me straight in the face and said, “Don’t you cry. Don’t you cry. If one of us cries, it’ll all be over.” So I did my best not to lose control of my emotions on that very emotional day. But I felt more encouraged when I learned that Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon, the preacher at Janice’s service, was not sure SHE could get through the sermon without weeping. Four months later, on Christmas, that good bishop joined Janice on the other side of Life. At Bishop Dixon’s memorial service, I was talking to the Rev. Dr. Joan Beilstein. Through my grief, I asked Joan, “What are we going to do, Joan? We are losing the grandmothers of our faith.” She looked at me and smiled. “Sheila,” she replied, “We ARE the grandmothers now. We have become the grandmothers.”
Frankly, her response did not comfort me, although I understood it. The Janice Robinsons and Jane Dixons and Dorothy Heights have gone before us. They have taught us, laughed with us, challenged us, set an example for us. Now it is our turn to rekindle, to kindle afresh, to stir up, the gifts of God which are in us and others. How do we do that? Paul reminded Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” I would like to reflect for a few minutes on each one of those: power, love, self-discipline. Since it is the season of Lent, I will do that in reverse order.
We think more naturally of self-discipline during these forty days and night of Lent. Perhaps you decided that you would be more self-disciplined for Lent—you have given up sweets, or drinking alcohol. Maybe you have taken on an extra discipline of Bible study or prayer. My own long-held morning discipline is to read the daily scriptures in Forward Day by Day and that meditation. Recently, I added another, after I watched a video narrated by one of the Episcopal monks with the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was about how to stop. How to stop. Now for those of you who do not know me, you need to know that I don’t do stop. Well, maybe that’s not quite true. Someone who loves me a lot tells me—with exasperation in her voice, “You only have two speeds: full tilt and stop. You need to slow down!” So maybe I do stop—but only when full tilt no longer works. I daresay that my DNA is such that I will not ever learn to slow down very well. But then I decided to watch this video done by Br. Geoffrey Tristam, He challenged those who watched the video to “sit in total stillness for five minutes today.”
Do you know how long five minutes is? If you are not accustomed to sitting in total stillness, five minutes is a very long time. Yet I was intrigued by what Br. Geoffrey said, his challenge to sit for five minutes, do nothing, and see what that feels like. I have now kept that five minutes of silence for about five days. I try not to think about anything. I try to let go of thoughts when they come. So far, I doubt I would get a passing grade in the class of Sit in Total Silence for Five Minutes, but I am working on my self-discipline. I have no doubt that every woman sitting here today could think of some discipline that you have tried—perhaps even succeeded in doing. Perhaps you are doing that during this Lenten season.
In our Baptismal Covenant, we are asked “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” We respond, “I will, with God’s help.” So whether we consider ourselves “successful” in the various ways we practice self-discipline—whether we do that just during Lent, or all year long—I think the point is that we “continue” in that practice. I doubt that God ever expects us to get perfect at doing a discipline. However, I do think God expects us to engage in spiritual practices of regular worship, of breaking of bread together, of saying our prayers for ourselves and each other. In other words, if I never practice spending five minutes a day being totally still, silent, and focused on God, I can never expect to sit like that for ten or twenty or forty minutes. Yet if I never practice this kind of stillness, I just might miss hearing the voice of God deep in my soul. Without self-discipline, I will miss being reminded of my faith. I may miss the deep stirring up of a gift I have to offer the Lord. I may miss an opportunity to help others re-kindle their gifts.
“God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” A spirit of love. The foundation of our Christian faith is love. First, it is God’s love—the love that created the world before time existed. The divine Ruach, the rushing, creative, chaotic feminine wisdom of God that gave birth to order out of darkness and disorder. You and I live in a world that often trivializes or sexualizes the word love. Hallmark stockholders have made a lot of money out of the word “love.” We say we love people or things in our lives, but what does that really mean?
If you have been married to anyone for any significant length of time, you understand that sometimes, love is sheer tenacity, a grit-your-teeth will to make this marriage work. Sometimes, love is tough love. Tough love is the kind that stands in front of someone and says this: “Your drinking is destroying you and our life together, and I am not going to stand by and watch that happen anymore.” Tough love.
God loves us, yet I wonder how deeply we believe that in real time and in real life. If we call ourselves Christians, then at some point in time, we may very well have to come to terms with believing the love even if we don’t feel the love. In other words, God’s love was shown in its ultimate fullness through the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth as he hung on a cross. So why do we think love does not include suffering? It does. Life is not easy. Life is full of suffering. And sometimes love is full of suffering.
It is, of course, easier to identify with our own personal suffering—or that of loved ones who are ill, in pain, living with dementia, struggling with cancer. Yet I believe that as baptized Christians, the Lord calls the strong mothers and grandmothers of the faith to pay attention to larger suffering.
We live in the Washington, DC area, where churches and other organizations work hard to provide shelter for our homeless brothers and sisters. Yet the reality is that there are few shelters that are really safe for women and children. Hundreds of children go to school every morning who are hungry. They have slept in places that children should not have to sleep—a noisy shelter where they could be sexually abused, where they can easily see sights that children should not see. They go to school ashamed, because they have no home. No address. No way to fit into the culture they envision to be “the norm.”
Another example of love and suffering: If you are an African-American mother or grandmother with sons or grandsons or nephews, then you know, too well, of the tension and underlying fear in this country because of racism. Incarceration rates for African American males is staggering in comparison to white males. According to the NAACP, “African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.” “One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.”
I cannot say that I know this kind of suffering. I am a white woman, raised in the South, with the opportunity to be well educated. My own son is thirty six. I do not worry, every morning, about whether he will be a victim of racial profiling. I do not worry that he will plead “I can’t breathe.” I do not worry that he will move too quickly and be shot by a police officer. I do not personally know this kind of suffering. Yet if one of us suffers, the rest of us suffer as well. Whatever is done to my brother or sister is done to me. Whatever is done to my brother or sister is done to Jesus.
So, we strong women of all colors, all nations, all races, must come together as sisters in the faith—not just to speak words of justice, but to do works of justice. Maybe that means that we support the Bishop John Walker School for Boys. Maybe that means that white women stop denying that racism is alive and well in the 21st century. Maybe that means that we intentionally work with women of color to raise the issues in ways that educate and illuminate the systems that hold power and privilege out of reach of too many of God’s children.
What if Dr. King’s work has been left undone so that we might finish it—you and me? Will we take up the issues of God’s justice for all of God’s children? Do we dare that greatly as people of God? As women of God? “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” God has not given you and me a spirit that belongs to cowards. No. God has given us a spirit of power. Power that belongs to us because the power of God’s Holy Spirit dwells deep within us. Yet have we claimed the God-given power that we possess? Have we used it fully?
The Christian faith has come to us through generations of men and women. It is a faith of love, of suffering, of discipline, of practices, of power. Yet too often, we keep that power hidden. Too often, we forget that God has “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to God’s own purpose and grace.”
What is God’s purpose? I believe it is to share the good news of God’s love through Jesus Christ. You and I are called to use our self-discipline, our love, our power, to stir our spiritual gifts up in order to make disciples for Jesus Christ. To make disciples for Jesus is not limited to the people who wear collars and stand up front every Sunday. Every person who is baptized is challenged to tell and to show the good news of God’s love. To invite others in to experience that deep, powerful love that transforms our hearts and our lives. To connect in relationship with those in other parishes, in other geographic areas in our Diocese of Washington. To take the power God has given us and to multiply it, just as Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes for a big, hungry crowd of people.
This world is hungry for love—not a Hallmark kind of love, but for a deep, abiding, powerful love. The kind of love that gives shelter and food to children and mamas who need shelter and food. The kind of love that provides books to read and teachers to teach children who will never attend a private school. The kind of love that digs deep every morning into God’s holy scripture. The kind of love that sits still long enough to hear God tell me what I can do today to make God’s world more just. The kind of love that knows who has given us power, faith and authority to stand up, to speak out, and to make a difference—in each parish that is represented here today, in this Diocese of Washington, and in the National Episcopal Church.
So as Paul told Timothy, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
This day, promise God that this next week, you will do something to nurture, to support, to pass on the faith of Christ Jesus as it has been passed on to you. You have the self-discipline. You have the love. You have the power. Now have the courage to stir up those gifts that God gave you, take those gifts out into the Church and the world.Make your mama proud. Make your grandmamma proud. Make Jesus proud. Amen.
© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton
 From http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet
 2 Timothy 1:9a.
Picture of heart in sand taken by McJilton on Iona, Scotland. Other pictures accessed through Google images.