A new Jerusalem.


The following sermon was offered at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 19, 2019.


Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35
Psalm 148


This morning I want to read a passage to you

from the book City of God, written by Sara Miles.

Sara is a lay woman who had a conversion

experience when she received communion

at an Episcopal church.


As she returned to her seat,

the Spirit spoke to her very clearly:

“Feed my people.”


Sara has founded a dozen or more

food ministries in Northern California.


She writes: “While God is remarkably

flexible about showing up anywhere –

in the desert, in a manger, in a burning bush,

or in a prison cell – the eyes of my own faith

see the most on urban streets.

For me, paradise is a garden,

but heaven is a city.

Though prophets tend to describe the

heavenly city with fantasy-Barbie imagery

that leans heavily on golden robes,

sparkling fountains, and precious stones,

the actual urban place I’ve lived in for

more than twenty years –

the Mission District of San Francisco –

has changed my view of heaven.


I begin to see how the new Jerusalem

might look less like a pious Disneyland

and more like – well, like the “New Jerusalem” bodega

run by Syrian Christians that I trudge past

on my way to work, its dingy pink front

plastered over with Miller beer signs,

its enthusiastic, unshaven owner waving

and smiling each new day as he opens the door

to welcome in a straggling, polyglot parade of

school kids, nurses, winos and day laborers.

I begin to see that city-ness,

not necessarily prettiness,

might be a characteristic sign of heaven.

The city of God is a place so mixed,

so layered, and apparently impure

that it proclaims a love vaster than

humans can come up with on their own.


A place as surprising and generous as the sheet

of formerly unclean food in the Book of Acts

that turns Peter from heaven’s gatekeeper

into its dazzled servant.

This is not unlike our ministry here in the

midst of community, in a neighborhood

that is becoming increasingly diverse.

It speaks to the divine wisdom of welcoming

everyone, regardless of social status,

race, intellectual ability or creed.


In God’s economy there is room for

all of creation, there is room for all of

his created beings.

`What God has made clean,

you must not call profane.’

What God has created,

you must not call godless.


With God’s grace we make room in

our hearts and our lives for whatever

and whomever he sends our way.


When the busy-ness of our “messy Jesus business”

begins to take over, we must be prepared to remind

one another and call one another to that place

of “wild inefficiency,” making room for the Spirit

to do her work of healing and grace.


We preach the gospel through love.


Last week we explored the “wildly inefficient”

model of compassion at work in L’arche

communities around the world,

communal living partnerships that

bring together the intellectually disabled with

those longing to find connection and community.


We find our true and best selves in the other.

We encounter the living Christ in the

face of our neighbors.


Here at St. Mary’s it is easy to

get caught up in the urgency of

all the work that needs to be done.


Grounds and gardens need

tending and care.

Repairs must be done.

Bills must be paid.

Food must be picked up from

grocery partners.

Pantry shelves must be stocked

and restocked.


Volunteers are trained and

bring leadership to a perpetual cycle

of food-in and food-out.

Those coming for groceries must be greeted,

signed in and directed.


This week one of our volunteers

leaned into that model of

“wildly inefficient compassion.”

She was the only volunteer available for

handling reception and check-in

for pantry friends coming for food.


It was the kind of morning where I’d be

tempted to move them through quickly,

signed up, signed in, pertinent data recorded.

The word “Next!” could easily replace a

genuine welcome, an “inefficient” but much

needed inquiry.


In the midst of busy-ness, this volunteer

sensed a need for pastoral care.

She made space for tending a hurting child of God.


Our volunteer learned that this

first-time pantry visitor was experiencing

tremendous grief from the recent loss not only

of her husband but also of a grandchild,

who died at birth.

These losses came within weeks of each other.


As the matriarch of her family, our new friend

felt great pressure to exhibit strength,

to be the “rock” for her family in the midst

of loss and tragedy.


If that weren’t enough, she became the victim of

a landlord scam when she sought to downsize

her home, adjusting to life without her husband.


Our front desk volunteer came to me.

“I think I have one who would benefit

from a few moments of your time.”


It was a humbling privilege to listen

to her pour her heart out as she shared

her journey if the past several weeks.

“I could use a hug,” she said as

we prepared to pray.


Her tears wet my sleeve and reminded me

for some time after her departure of

what a holy gift she brought.

I thanked her for coming, for reminding

me of what is most important.

For being willing to share her pain

with someone she had only just met.


Right now our new friend she is staying

at a local shelter where I used to spend

several hours each week,

being available to listen to clients or staff.

The busy-ness and legitimate demands of

our growing ministry have gotten in the way

of that space.


Still, I sense the Spirit at work and know

that a long-held dream of trained spiritual

companions will be realized.

Our vision of St. Mary’s includes

providing training and support to those

called to engage in such ministry,

not just on our campus but in our streets and

in our shelters.


I feel energized — and hope that you do too –

to do the work of creating the infrastructure and

space to allow this to come into being.

This summer we will welcome 2 seminarians

who will gain hands-on experience in this

ministry of compassionate presence.


In addition, we are in conversation with the diocese

to offer 4-day residential training experiences

for deacons-in-training and lay persons who

may sense a call to this form of ministry.


There is no substitute for sticking

your toe in the water, to bring clarity

to a sense of calling.

Frankly I don’t know how else to do it.


As our friend Barbara Brown Taylor writes

in her book Finding an Altar in the World:


“My life depends on becoming

more fully human, trusting that there is

no way to God apart from real life

 in the real world.”


Whether your work is here in the

food ministry or in other places

along the highways and by-ways,

know that God dwells with you.

You are his hands and feet,

creating a new Jerusalem —

a city of God marked by

acts of love.




About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
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