The Reverend D. S. Mote, PhD
Pentecost 26 (Proper 26), Year C
St Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Morrow, GA
Habbakuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4; 11-12
It started about five years ago. I discovered how much I liked kayaking.
And so about once a year we would rent kayaks while we were on vacation and explore rivers or bays or mangrove swamps.
Then in January 2015 I represented the Diocese of Atlanta at the Level 1 Disaster Training sponsored by Episcopal Relief and Development. Each year this training is offered one or more times by ERD, and two people from each diocese across the Episcopal Church may attend at no personal cost. The trainings are held at various Episcopal camps and conference centers. In January 2015, when I attended, we gathered at Dayspring Episcopal Conference Center in Parrish, Florida.
Dayspring is situated on the Manatee River. Our training was 8 clock hours of instruction each day and took place indoors. Before and after the morning and afternoon training sessions, however, we had opportunities to spend time in the beautiful environs of Dayspring. One option was taking kayaks out on the Manatee River.
I joined with two others taking the training in kayaking. One afternoon, in the golden glow just before twilight, Tony, Jason, and I watched birds flying home for the night and offered prayers aloud on the open water.
Another day, in the foggy grayness before dawn, Tony and I took out two kayaks. Floating on the Manatee River we saw the Bands of Venus just before the sun came up. And we watched over the mangroves along the river as terns, herons, egrets, ibises, cranes, and robins made their morning commute.
In the evening and in the morning I felt centered and content in a kayak on the river. It’s the same feeling I had had every other time I’d been on or in a kayak on rivers, lakes, bays, mangrove swamps, and marshes. It’s a feeling of connectedness with self, nature, and God, a feeling of being grounded in way that energizes and renews and reminds me of the well of gratitude from which my life and love and service flow.
Right about this same time as my disaster training, in late January 2015, I encountered this quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.” Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.
Wow, I thought. I love kayaking so much, the sounds and buoyancy of the water, the breeze in my face, the observable wildlife, the smell of the outdoors, the feeling of connection, the feel of the paddle slicing through the water, the responsiveness of the boat to every stroke. I love it so much. Why do I only do it once a year?
Kayaking is a lifegiving channel for me. Why am I not making choices that would let me do it more?
Well, there were lots of good reasons why. It takes time. It requires purchasing or renting the necessary equipment. I don’t live right beside the river like I did for that week at Dayspring in Florida.
In short, I wasn’t doing it because, even though I love it so much, I wasn’t making it a priority. I made other choices and spent my time and money and energy differently. The choices I was making didn’t line up with me spending more time kayaking. My choices and kayaking were not aligned.
But that line from Thoreau stuck with me, and it snapped me back to attention several times over the course of the year 2015 and since then.
“Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.”
I actually started a kayak fund. I put money into a designated jar for the purchase of a kayak. At one point I had almost enough to buy the boat I wanted plus a paddle and a PFD.
And then our garage door lifter broke. And there went my kayak money.
I saved some more. And then one of our cats got really sick. And there went my kayak money.
But, something so pleasurable, something providing me so many benefits, and still I only made it out on a lake or river once or twice a year. My choices and my kayaking were not aligned.
What if the value I placed on kayaking and the resources I devoted to kayaking matched up? What if they were aligned? Would things look different?
Father Barry has invited me home to St A’s once again to spend this day with you. You know I love to come home here.
You all know me as your former ministry intern and as an ATL chaplain. I am still both those things. And now I am wearing another hat also as a member of Bishop Wright’s staff. I am – are you ready for it? – Missioner for Engagement and Innovation in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.
I partner with the bishop and the people of the Episcopal Church in Middle and North Georgia to build a culture of innovation in the diocese.
I still spend part of my week each week at the airport. I also travel the diocese from Perry to Blairsville, from Macon to Cedartown connecting people and ideas and resources. Protein pantries, Freedom Schools. Alternatives to jail time, theological education for people experiencing homelessness. All kinds of good things that the Holy Spirit is inspiring and our sister and brother Episcopalians are taking up around Middle and North Georgia.
Bishop Wright and I have co-authored this book, The Go Guide, which lays out the principles for these innovations in ministry we hope will continue to propagate across the diocese.
As we survey our ministry context in Middle and North Georgia and in all the particular localities within it where Episcopalians live and work and study and play, we see at least four constituencies to whom we need to pay particular attention: prisoners, soldiers, immigrants, children. Prisoner, soldier, immigrant, child. So many prisons, more executions than any other state in 2016; a bunch of military bases and loads of veterans; resettlement centers for refugees from all over the world; and disproportionate numbers of children living in poverty and facing a lack of resources. Prisoner, soldier, immigrant, child. Bishop Wright says, at a minimum, addressing the concerns of the people who inhabit those categories is our mandate as the Diocese of Atlanta. If you are hearing the Spirit whisper something new to you, I hope you’ll let me know as well as others here in this community.
You know I love to come home to St A’s.
Today’s New Testament lesson from 2 Thessalonians sums up my feelings about you all. I’ll paraphrase it.
1:3 I must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
1:4 Therefore I myself boast of you among the parishes of the Episcopal Church in Middle and North Georgia for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.
1:11 To this end I always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of God’s call and will fulfill by God’s power every good resolve and work of faith,
Yep, that pretty well covers it. In my prayers, I remember you all. As I travel the diocese, I brag on y’all. Yes, St Augustine’s in Morrow. Home of Peggy Beal, one of the original chaplains at ATL. Yes, St Augustine of Canterbury. Home of Dr Catherine Meeks, chair of the Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism. Yes, St A’s, home of some of the most gifted acolytes in the diocese. Yes, St Augustine, a parish on the southside where it looks like Pentecost every Sunday, where a diversity of God’s people from all over gather together around a common table.
All those things I brag on y’all for are evidence of alignment. When the things we say we value are the things in which we invest our resources.
Peggy and George Beal wound up at ATL because they responded to the emerging need at an expanding airport in their backyard and were willing to go where they were needed.
The Beloved Community: Commission on Dismantling Racism in our diocese has pioneered new work that is helping us here do the necessary and difficult work of racial reconciliation and providing a model that other dioceses are emulating because Catherine Meeks and other members of the commission have been willing to take a prophetic stand and say we too often rush on to reconciliation before doing the work of bearing witness, truth telling, and healing. All of us who made the pilgrimage to Macon a week ago Saturday to commemorate those who were lynched there are the particular beneficiaries of this work, but the work of healing extends to many others as well.
The expertise of acolytes comes about when people invest time in learning their roles in worship leadership so well that they facilitate the worship of others.
The diversity of people gathered week by week around this table reflects that welcoming everyone is a real thing in this place.
Evidence of alignment. We invest resources in the things we say we value, the things we identify as important. When we do that, we are living in alignment.
This morning I have come to say that that’s what stewardship is: aligning our resources with our values. Dwelling as near as possible to the channel in which our life flows. Figuring out what is most important to us and then orienting our choices around actualizing those things.
Is that easy? Sometimes. Is that difficult? Often. Can we do that? Yes. Do we want to do that? Hmm. That’s the recurring question.
If we want to do that, how do we get clear on which choices to make?
Sometimes, oftentimes we may find ourselves in the situation of the prophet Habbakuk in today’s first reading. Violence and destruction all around. Evil seems to prevail. No justice. No peace. In the midst of dreadful circumstances, it’s easy to get distracted and to forget that God is bigger than our immediate circumstances.
In circumstances like these, we do well to follow Habbakuk’s example. If you find yourself under the circumstances, get yourself someplace where you can assess the situation and get over the circumstances. Get a different vantage point. Habbakuk says, I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what God will say to me, and what God will answer concerning my complaint.
I know one of my watchposts is on the water, in a kayak. Things line up for me out there. I get re-centered and reconnected and ready to re-engage what matters to me off the water. God speaks to me on the water. And just FYI, I finally made choices that make it possible for me to kayak more often. God willing, I will be on Stone Mountain Lake this very afternoon.
One of my watchposts is a kayak. Where’s your watchpost? Where’s the place you can get clear on your priorities? What is your rampart? What is the location in which you can remember what you know and get your values and your allocation of resources aligned?
There’s another watchpost in today’s lessons, another rampart, and this one is at a higher altitude than a kayak. Did you catch it?
It’s a tree in the city of Jericho, and a fellow who is, shall we say, vertically challenged, a fellow named Zaccheus, climbs up in it.
We often here that Zaccheus was short, “a wee little man,” as the children’s song has it. Do y’all know that song?
And Luke also tells us that Zaccheus was a chief tax collector and was rich.
I know Zaccheus is a character in a story. But what if Zaccheus is also a real person, full of complications and contradictions like all the rest of us?
Is it possible that this short and rich person—who had made a killing off extorting money from others, who was very likely both feared and despised in his town of Jericho—is it possible that he was also hungry for good news, that he was conflicted about his circumstances, that he wanted a change, that he looked around him like the prophet Habbakuk looked around and wanted relief from how things were?
Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for a minute. Zaccheus climbs up in a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. He makes the move Habbakuk calls for. He takes up his leafy watchpost and stations himself on a sycamore rampart. And boy, oh boy, does he ever get clear on how to align his true values and his resources.
God comes to him in the person of Jesus and calls him by name. Some people think Zaccheus wanted to see Jesus but remain unseen by him, to spectate but not participate. But what if he wanted to be seen? What if stationing himself at that watchpost was also inviting God to give him guidance for how to transform his current out-of-alignment circumstances?
Whatever we may know or not know about Zaccheus and his intentions or motivations, we hear him confess to Jesus that he will give half of what he owns to the poor. And he pledges to make four-fold restitution to anyone he has cheated. Basically, he is vowing to become pretty close to poor himself in order to make things right.
It’s a dramatic conversion. Zaccheus goes from being all about himself to being all about God and God’s people, God’s suffering people, God’s hungry people right in his own backyard.
And Jesus says, in that transformation, salvation—health, healing, wholeness—salvation has come to the house of Zaccheus.
May salvation come anew to all of us and all our houses. May we become the stewards we are called to be, people who live in alignment. May we realign our values and our resources, our priorities and our choices. May we all dwell as near as possible to the channel in which our life flows.