'Ukumbuke' is a command - a polite imperative if you want to get technical. It means 'Remember.' '[...]
Evening Prayer for Unity at the Cathedral of Saint Paul (1.21.18)
“A Living Hope”
I Peter 1:3-5
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Holy Trinity. AMEN.
It is good to be here this evening. I know Bishop Svennungsen and Archbishop Hebda join me in that affirmation.
A year ago, we began a common journey with a prayer service at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Following the lead of Pope Francis and leaders of the Lutheran World Federation who gathered at Lund Cathedral in Sweden for a Service of Common Prayer back in October 2016, we have made our way with other Lutherans and Roman Catholics through a whole year dedicated to commemorating and learning from the Reformation. The opportunity to preach this evening in the Cathedral of Saint Paul is one I will remember with gratitude the rest of my life.
And what a magnificent cathedral this is, standing as a beacon to all who pass through the Twin Cities. My first glimpse came in March 2001 when I drove through here to begin a new call. I was headed west on I-94 when I saw the twin domes of the State Capital and the Cathedral with the sun casting a golden, late-afternoon light on each. A week later I saw the Basilica of Saint Mary for the first time and realized that I had entered a unique landscape, highlighted by steeples and domes and the Midwestern presence of so many Roman Catholics and Lutherans.
Just a little over a hundred years ago this very cathedral was under construction. As many of you know it was not the first but the fourth cathedral in this archdiocese. This one was build to last. Built to convey the deepest love of faithful people for God’s Church. Built to be a living testimony to hope for all who would see the cross atop the lantern, 306 feet above the ground on Summit hill.
Now I drive by here every day on my way to work. Sometimes I do wonder about those who built this magnificent edifice in those early years of the twentieth century. Some are well remembered like the inspired architect, Emmanuel Louis Masqueray. But I wonder, too, about the men who built the scaffolding so the windows could be fitted high up in the dome. The boys who carried the wood and cleaned up the mess at the end of the day. The girls who baked the bread their brothers and fathers carried in their lunches.
All those laborers, who worked alongside the craftsmen and the designers, spoke English with an accent – if they spoke English at all. They were immigrant newcomers and their labor, day after day, year after year – for more than a decade – enables us now to worship in this magnificent and sacred space.
How like the new Christians to which the First Letter of Peter was addressed were those immigrants, who built up – and continue to build up – our own cities. This letter of encouragement and exhortation, which we hear this evening, was sent to resident aliens off in Asia Minor, not in the big coastal cities but in the smaller communities over the mountains – Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia. It’s sort of like being from Minnesota.
I don’t know what kind of documentation they had as resident aliens but if you were not a citizen of the Roman Empire you could be sent away if your ethnic group displeased those in charge. So there were lots of incentives for new Christians to play it safe, to not draw undue attention to themselves.
The message of I Peter makes it crystal clear that baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives a new identity no matter what the lineage of the person may have been before. In Christ Jesus we are given a new identity, a new name, a new place in the household of God. And with that comes a living hope.
Not the memory of a long-ago, faded hope. But the kind of hope that grabs you afresh at the start of a new day. The kind of hope that gives courage when there is every reason to be discouraged or afraid, cynical or on the verge of despair. A living hope whose source will yet be revealed to the surprise of all those who do not know God or the way of the cross.
Five hundred years ago, no one – not Martin Luther himself nor any archbishop; no priest nor woman religious – no one could have imagined a gathering like this of Lutherans and Roman Catholics – and others of good will – on a snowy Sunday evening way off in the future, in the year 2018. That touchdown pass at the end of the fourth quarter a week ago isn’t the only miracle we have witnessed in our lifetime.
Five centuries after the start of the Reformation, God has led us into a remarkable season of candor and confession, repentance and reconciliation – a time of renewal, really. By the grace of God, seeds planted during the Second Vatican Council and hard work done through fifty years of careful bi-lateral dialogues have brought us to a new time in this journey together.
Looking back, we have learned what our divisions have cost us. Looking ahead, we have yet to discover all that God will accomplish through us in a time of greater unity in Jesus Christ and common witness in his name. Some of our fights have not been noble. And God has been very patient with us.
Looking around, we know that the world cries out with such deep longing for the kind of living hope we together can embody for those who are most vulnerable; those who have borne the harsh consequences of the divisiveness and violence of our world.
I don’t know what time Archbishop Hebda actually got to leave Central Lutheran last January. The line was long with those who wanted to greet him and thank him personally for being there. I overheard a number of married couples speak about the way they had longed to worship together as a Roman Catholic and a Lutheran and how they found great joy in all that the prayer service represented as a first milestone in a long awaited journey.
Perhaps, like me, you wonder what comes next. We can certainly trust that God will continue to show us the way. The way through prayer, as we pray so earnestly this evening. The way through the Word of God, which is the foundation by which God holds up the church even as the four Evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – are placed at the base of the four piers holding up the stately dome inside this cathedral. I believe that living hope will be a signature characteristic of the steps we walk together along the way – a way that surely leads us into an authentic encounter with those who are little and least.
On this feast day of St. Agnes we remember the lives of girls – and boys – in our neighborhoods and around the globe. Millions are like the young who carried the boards and swept the floors and baked the lunch bread when this cathedral was being built. They have no great status on the world stage. They are immigrant kids and children of farm workers and day laborers; refugees and migrants on the move, longing for a place to call home. 50 million children worldwide. They are our children; our children, who deserve the fruits of a living hope. And I am confident we can trust God to show us a way as Lutherans and Roman Catholics in the Twin Cities to work and witness together, as we pay attention to their needs. God may have more in mind but is this not a starting place?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” writes the author of I Peter. Blessed be the God, who has brought us together this night; the God, who in our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, has made us one. Amen.