To Be is To Do, To Do is To Be

The text of the sermon, based on Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11 and John 1.6-8, 19-28, videotaped and shared with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2020.


Over 2500 years ago, the people Israel, after nearly fifty years of captivity in Babylon, were freed. For a second time, they would journey to their God-Promised Land. The prophet Isaiah marked this propitious moment with this word of hope:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me…the Lord has anointed me…to bring good news to the oppressed…the brokenhearted…the captives…(and) all who mourn.

We, unlike our Israelite forebears, are not in exile. Nevertheless, we have been held captive by that global invisible army of COVID-contagion. Having spent days in quarantine and, still, socially-distant, we are far from the land of our former familiarity. And, in our land, we continue to experience our all-too-familiar political, racial, and social divisions.

I am a person of faith. I believe that God is God and God is good. Yet when I read Isaiah, and then look around, sometimes I despair. Sometimes I wonder, where is the good news to the oppressed, brokenhearted, captive, and mourning? Yes, I know Isaiah prophesied to ancient Israel. Yet the universal and universalizing premise of prophecy is its applicability to all times, for all peoples; to our time for us. And sometimes I think that part of the reason why this biblical word of hope is hushed is because we humans have not done all that we can, as co-agents of God or, as Paul would say, as ambassadors of reconciliation for Christ,[1] to bring the light of Isaiah’s prophecy to life.

In a word, sometimes we get in God’s way, therefore, our way toward fulfilling God’s will.

So it is, aware of what we have not done and accepting our responsibility for what God calls us to do, we pray: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and…come among us…we (who) are sorely hindered by our sins…to help and deliver us.”[2]

However, to accept our responsibility instantly raises the question: For what? And if the “what” are the big and abiding problems of life in this world – hunger, homelessness, economic disparity between rich and poor, the devastation of the environment, racism, sexism – then everyone, whether individual, community, congregation, or nation, with limited energy and resources, immediately is overwhelmed. So, what do we do?

John can help us.

To the question, “Who are you?” he declares, “I am not the Messiah,” thus, testifying that his identity is as much about who he is not as who he is.

Then John describes himself via his vocation: “I am a voice crying in the wilderness,” thus, testifying that who he is reflected in what he does.

Therefore, to answer the question, What do we do?, also answers the question, Who are we? Following John, we are they who are responsible for the world with all of its overwhelming problems.

Now, it is God’s job to bring them to completion.

Our job is:

One, to be alert to human need,

Two, to be aware of our resources,

Three, to be committed to respond,

Four, to be conscious of our choices about where and when to respond, and then,

Five, in the name of the One for whom we Advent-wait, to act.


I close with a personal word to, for, with my St. Matthew’s community…

On March 1, nine-and-a-half months ago, I joined you as Father Rob’s assistant and as your servant. Who knew then that we stood on the threshold of the viral pandemic that would change our lives?

In over forty years of ordained ministry, this, for me, has been the strangest entry into the life of a community. For the normative ways of being and doing, living and, as Father Rob would say, connecting with people, with you through weekly worship, face-to-face encounters in meetings, conversations, pastoral care, hospital and home visits, coffee klatches, by the necessity of safety, have been paused. That natural human process of our mutually coming to know one another as people and priest has been slowed. Pray God, one day soon normalcy will be restored.

Nevertheless, even with our pandemic-induced-distance, this much I know about you. St. Matthew’s is a community of the love of God in Christ in the power of the Spirit, manifested in your love for one another and your love for others, especially our sisters and brothers in need.

In a word, who you are is reflected in what you do and what you do reveals who you are.

Thanks be to God!

© 2020 PRA

[1] 2 Corinthians 5.20

[2] Full text of the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

2 thoughts on “To Be is To Do, To Do is To Be

  1. Paul,

    One of the things I’ve dreamed about several times since the beginning of the pandemic is what is the first thing we are going to do when we see people again? Will we run up to them and hug them, stare in shock at seeing someone’s entire face again? I’m likely to burst into tears. I wonder what will pop into our minds about who our friends have been since we saw them last. For you, your new community will be able to learn so much more about you, but at least thanks to virtual and outside church they certainly know you are an amazing soul and a gifted preacher. After the pandemic they will finally be able to get the up close and personal live version. A Blessing for all of you to share in together. What a Blessed day that will be.



  2. Loretta, it is a hard thing, is it not, to imagine, much less, to know how we will relate to others once we’re on the proverbial over side of this pandemic.

    As for the community of St. Matthew’s and me, I look forward to the time that we all, in the words of the prayer, will “live and move and have our being” in real time.



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