Bishop Mathes’ Final Sermon
Come Holy Spirit: Touch our minds and think with them, touch our lips and speak with them and touch our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Amen.
On March 6, 2005, I entered this Cathedral for the first time as your bishop. Those of you who were here may remember that the service began with me knocking on the door of the cathedral three times with the diocesan crozier as proscribed in the service for seating of a bishop diocesan. You may also remember that there was a distinct and awkward silence between knock number two and knock number three. Having been instructed to knock hard, I hit the block against the door so hard that I bent the tip of the crozier and after knock number two my brand new cope fell off. Ah, the mistakes of a rookie bishop! Well, the crozier has been repaired, and I am now in my final moments as your bishop.
Apropos of that entrance, I began my sermon on that first day singing a bit of Paul McCartney: “Someone’s knocking at the door, somebody’s ringing the bell, someone’s knocking at the door, somebody’s ringing the bell, do me a favor, open the door and let ’em in.”
Let me say at the outset, that I am grateful that you opened the door and let me in. Indeed, you let Terri and me into so many doors. Over the last twelve years, you let us into the depth of your lives. It has been the greatest of blessings to make home with you—I suspect San Diego will always be that—home. Since I began that first sermon with the lyrics of Paul McCartney, in this fiftieth anniversary year of the Beatles’ first US tour let me turn, to words from a song from their first album, P.S. I Love You:
“As I write this letter
Send my love to you
Remember that I’ll always
Be in love with you”
That is my message for you today in my valedictory: dearly beloved of God, I love you very much. Terri and I love you very much. It is a love that has been forged in the crucible of hard days and moments of beauty and grace. We have grown together. You have formed me as a bishop; I have from time to time been privileged to make my mark. And now we do the hard work of saying “good bye.” We redefine relationship. At the end of this service, I will be your former diocesan bishop. I will remain your fourth bishop. I will remain your brother in Christ. But it will be very different for us all. That is hard, but it is meet and right so to do.
And it is good that we do this moment of transition as we celebrate the feast of two giants of the church, St. Peter and St. Paul. It is remarkable that these two who are so dominate share a feast day. One would think that they are so important that each should have their own day. They are so different too. Peter initially focused on the mission to the people of Israel; Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles. They sparred over adherence to the law. Paul had less than kind things to say about Peter. I suspect that Peter didn’t hold back either. There is something real about their relationship, their conflict, and their heart. They look and sound like church, which points to what they hold in common. They are totally human and flawed: Peter is the denier of Jesus; Paul is the persecutor with his thorn in the flesh. Both are touched, transformed, converted, forgiven, and redeemed by our Lord Jesus. Both love Jesus enough to witness to that love with their very lives!
Paul and Peter are reminders to us that being the body of Christ in any age is a matter of striving for unity in the midst of diversity. And it is our call to do the hard work of Kingdom citizenship where, as the late Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning once proclaimed, there are no outsiders. In this diocese, we have done the hard work of church to build up a community where there are no outsiders. We are a community that does that unsettling and strenuous work, celebrating both unity and diversity. We are liberal and conservative, male and female, rich and poor, disabled and abled. We are from all sorts of cultures and races. We think differently about just about everything. I have said it before: find just one Episcopalian and you have all you need for a theological argument! And yet, we proclaim that we belong together. We seek and serve Christ in all persons; we respect the dignity of every human being.
Before I take my leave, I will be privileged to celebrate the Eucharist with you once last time as your bishop diocesan. The gospel lesson of today is from a setting with a meal that is quintessentially Eucharistic. Jesus had mysteriously set a breakfast on the beach of fish. In this moment, he is very much there for Peter. This one who denied him three times is asked three times if he loves Jesus, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” And three times in healing words, Jesus repairs the breach of denial and commands Peter to be on the apostolic way: “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”
It is then that he prefigures Peter’s martyrdom as one who will be taken “where you do not wish to go.” And then, the familiar and relentless call of Jesus is given, “Follow me.”
Dear ones, at this Eucharistic table we receive pardon and renewal. We are grafted anew into the body. We are broken and human, but we, here, are the hands and feet, the voice and ears of Christ for a broken world. We are like Peter, like Paul, always a work in progress. We are loved by Jesus; we love in his name. That is what it means to follow him.
Over these twelve years, as I was called in my ordination, I have strived to be one with the apostles. What I have learned is that it is always a calling in community. It is always gathered around this table fellowship where with each other we find Jesus in our midst and then live out our baptismal calling. Everything that has happened in these years has been a gift of God, both travail and joys. They have made us who we are and we bless that. We have accomplished much. All that we have done is a function of “we”—all of us together. We are a different church, arguably smaller but richer, more diverse, and deeper in faith. We are more nimble and open to newness. We are healthier with better boundaries. We are better stewards. And we are more joyful and happier. We laugh a great deal, especially at ourselves! We have fun and we work hard.
And yet, we have much to do in the future. Of course, you will call through election a fifth bishop to join you. You will have the gift of the 26th presiding bishop as your assisting bishop—way cool! You will continue to reimagine the church as a community not for the last century but for this century and beyond, a church that is aware of the past but not shackled by it. You will be a church that values tradition and innovation. You will be as we say, a church “that dares to follow Jesus Christ in his life of fearless love for the world.”
As I see where we have come as a community, I am well pleased. As I close, I want to say simply that I could not have done this vocation without Terri beside me. She makes me want to be better and truer. I also want to thank those who have led with me as clergy and others who have joined in the counsels of the church. And let me not forget those who have served along with me on the diocesan staff, people who represented me faithfully and work so hard for you—I will not try to name them!
It is now time for me to let someone else have the joy of being bishop of the best diocese in the Episcopal Church. I say that as someone with sweat equity! In closing, I want to say four things with as much clarity as I can:
- Thank you for the great privilege of being your chief pastor and bishop. Thank you from the core of my being.
- For ways that I have been less than you hope, I ask for your forgiveness and give you mine for any ways that you have been less than I expected. As flawed human beings, forgiveness should always be at the center of our bonds of love
- And now I must say, “Good bye.” After today, you will have others who will pastor you, and I offer Katharine and the fifth bishop, whoever he or she may be, my loyalty and support. I now serve them.
And finally, I return to where I began, with the immortal Beatles: “Remember I will always be in Love with you.”
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”