The following sermon was preached at Christ Church in Philadelphia, PA in August by a Visiting Staff person and ECC alumni. It is shared with you with her permission!
Good morning. My name is Julia DeJoseph.
I’ve had the pleasure of coming to Christ Church with my husband, Dan, for the last 4 years, during which time, this community has given us the great pleasure of welcoming our two young children, Jamie and Carolina, with open arms. I was humbled by the opportunity to speak to you today and a bit terrified when I read our first lesson. I don’t know about you, but my knowledge of Biblical battles is quite limited. The description of poor Absolam’s head caught fast in the oak, as he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on, feels something out of a graphic novel. This passage reminds me that the authors of the Bible were definitely not boring but did not help me know what I should or could say to you today.
Fortunately, our second reading resonated deeply for me. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. … be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”
In the last year or so, I have felt that we live in a more bitter, wrathful, and angry world. I am sure that there have been times like these before and times worse than these, but this is my present and I have found it unsettling.
I am a woman.
I am the daughter of an immigrant.
I am a mother with young children.
I am a family doctor who provides health care for primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants in a poor neighborhood of Philadelphia. My health center was one of many in Philadelphia specifically targeted to offer care to those displaced by the hurricane last year in Puerto Rico.
As such, in the last year or so, I have struggled to make sense of the world and I have looked for ways to find solace and reason and hope.
I am a lifelong Episcopalian. As a child and teenager, I was fortunate to attend and later work at an Episcopal summer camp in Rhode Island. For the past three summers, Dan, Jamie, Carolina and I were able to spend a week at that same camp as visiting staff. The camp property is an old 188-acre farmstead bequeathed to the diocese 70 years ago. It is wooded and beautiful. It has an old wood barn which serves as our church. It has a Liberty Bell sized bell that marks time for camp activities throughout the day. It has trails, streams, a murky frog pond, and a stunning lakefront. The current caretakers have brought their llamas, ox, and bull to pastures built into the current landscape of the property. There is a ballfield that serves as an amphitheater to many nights of stargazing. The property is rustic and welcoming. As one makes the final turn onto the property there is a large rock, just as you enter the parking lot, upon which is painted “He Who Enters Here is a Stranger but Once”.
As such, two weeks ago, my family entered that familiar place and reunited with a church family I’ve known since I was a child. I reunited with four women who I’d met at camp when we were in our early teens. Twenty plus year of memories, laughter, and the familiar comfort offered by long friendships is the ultimate medicine. Two of these women are now Episcopal priests. All of us have children who also reunited and laughed and played during this brief reprieve from the outside world. Together we served as the adult staff for the week. We embraced and were embraced by the community of enthusiastic and energetic young campers, teen counselors, and twenty-something young adult staff. Many of these campers and counselors were the children of our fellow generations of camp alumni. This interweaving of generations was profound. The expansion of this community as they welcomed new campers and first-generation counselors was uplifting. I wondered what was it that kept this spirit of community going for so long? How had it been so consistently maintained?
Across the main beam of one of the barn’s walls reads, “Love is the energy of a steadfast will bent on creating fellowship”. I believe this is the answer.
Love is the energy of a steadfast will bent on creating fellowship.
As a child, camp taught me about an all-loving God who preached acceptance, inclusion, tenderness, kindness, and (because we are ultimately a family), forgiveness. These are real and powerful things that can maintain and persevere over generations. Camp’s theme this summer echoes today’s reading.
From 1 Peter 3:8
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
My family returned from this amazing week and we were reminded of the good in the world. The Bible teaches us to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving … to be imitators of God, … and live in love. And as I renewed my faith in these teachings, I find that I receive the kindness, tenderness, love, and even forgiveness that offers me my much-needed solace, reason, and hope.
I pray that each of you are able to find such renewal when you need it, whether here at the community at of Christ Church or in your community in the larger world.
In closing, I’d like to share the closing benediction of the final Eucharist at our week of camp:
Life is short,
and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us.
be swift to love,
and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God,
who made us,
who loves us,
and who travels with us
be with you now and forever.
The author (left) and her camp friends.