Video: Presiding Bishop preaches at Navajoland Convocation

Posted Jun 16, 2014

Ordination of two Dine leaders

14 June 2014
Good Shepherd Mission, Fort Defiance, AZ

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

In the beginning, God said, let there be, and it was created…light, sun, moon, waters above and waters below, animals, and human beings. God saw everything that had been created and indeed, it was very good. And God rested on the seventh day, and made it holy.

God created in enormous diversity – mountains and seas, plants, animals, fish, the sea monsters – and Leviathan, for the sport of it – and probably coyote for the same reason! God created the many peoples, nations, tribes, and families of this earth, who together are part of the blessing of creation. The psalmist proclaims, “All sheep and oxen, the wild beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea” – these are the fruit of divine creativity.

The goodness of created diversity is a central teaching of the Bible, even if the bilagáana[1] have often misunderstood what God intended. Human beings often stop with their own clan and tribe in recognizing people’s created goodness, yet we understand that all human beings give us an image of God’s own self. Christians worship God as Trinity, three-in-one, diversity in community. It means that God is one yet also diverse, divine unity in the presence of diversity. Human communities are meant to reflect that kind of community as well.

The creation stories of the Diné also begin in diversity – colors and clouds and mountains and gender…[2] The stories that human beings tell about our origins all insist that we are meant to live in communities of right relationship. That is what it means to live a holy life, and to walk in beauty.

In the reading from Corinthians we heard, Paul sums up life in holy community as restoring order and living in peace – do this, he says, and you will find the holy one in your midst. The Diné call that ho’zho’, walking in beauty – the holy balance of right and fitting relationship, being at one with all of creation. That understanding has much in common with the Hebrew concept of shalom, or the Reign of God, or perhaps better – the commonweal of God. The dream of God from the beginning of creation is about right relationship with all that is.

That cosmic right relationship is what Jesus embodied and what he taught. It is what he sent his disciples out to teach others, to wash them with the grace of dying to self-centeredness so that each might rise into a new life, lived for the sake of the whole of God’s creation. When we love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we are living in harmony with God and God’s creation – we are walking in beauty.

The feast of Trinity we mark this weekend is about divine ho’zho’, the unity of God and the relational reality of God’s own being. For human beings, ho’zho’ is becoming part of that divine and creative balance.

Throughout human history, communities have designated some of their members to encourage others to live in ways of peace, order, harmony, truth, and beauty. That’s what we are here today to do, to recognize and bless the particular gifts the Creator has given Cathlena and Leon, to call them into the center of this circle to bless them, and to challenge them to keep encouraging the flock in ho’zho’. The language Jesus uses is to teach and baptize and remember God’s presence in the midst of the flock. And re-member is used in the sense of putting the members back into relationship. These two are to be among us as shepherds – guides to the wandering, midwives to new life that is emerging, and guards in the face of coyotes and quicksand.

Yet these two will never act all alone. They depend on the support and balance of others in and beyond this flock. They can encourage and warn and teach, but only in partnership with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit planted in each one of us. Soon we will ask if you will offer that balance and support.

Think about a spider web. It is a remarkable example of balance and support, made to sustain life. In the Diné understanding, Spider Woman’s web saves life threatened by flooding, her web holds people above the waters of death.[3]   The ark Noah builds does something similar. Jesus uses the same kind of image when he tells his friends to throw out their webs into the sea and fish for people. Teach and baptize, he says. Teach people to let their fears and selfishness die in the water, and then fish them out for life in that web of relationships, in holy balance with Creator and creation. The work God asks of each one of us is about tending the web that unites us and it is about strengthening the connections of each individual to the whole, so that web may sustain the life of the earth and all that is in it. We are made, in all our diversity, to be interwoven in beauty.

The particular ministry of these two deacons will be to care for those who need to be reconnected to the web of life. They are charged to jiggle the web, wake up its inhabitants, and call out the alarm: there is life falling away, come and help! Stretch out your hand, offer your prayer, cast your net wide into the raging sea and whirling air – many are in danger!

These deacons will be life-giving fibers expanding the net, helping it to grow closer to embrace those in peril or broken on life’s rocks. If these two are to live and walk in beauty and extend ho’zho’in the world around us, their fiber must be centered in Christ, in good strong wool from the flock of the lamb of God.

Leon and Cathlena, we ask you to hang on to that web of life, to depend on it, and to find your life in deep and balanced connection to its maker. We want you to shake it up when its connections fray or start to break. We ask you to help us pursue those who wander away or lose their connections with that web. We pray that you will know your own connection to that web so deeply that you can remind the lost or forgetful that the Creator loves us more deeply than we can imagine. And we promise to bind our own fibers together with yours, that the web may grow in beauty, justice, and peace to rebalance the world.

Become weavers of beauty for others, and challenge us to keep expanding the holy web of life in ho’zho’.

[1] Navajo word for Caucasians

[2] A sampling of the central stories: