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ELCA Academy of Bishops 2003
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 22

This is quite a text!

This passage, taken by itself is quite lovely,
but we know that between it and where the book of Revelation began,
there are three rounds of bloody violence,
cosmic upheaval,
and demonization of Christendom's enemies.

A Canadian New Testament scholar, Harry Maier,
has just completed a book about Revelation.

He calls it the book that defies you to interpret it.

In every generation,
its main purpose is to make trouble for the status quo.

So it poses questions about empire
over against the hopes and dreams of the Asia Minor church.

Yes, in the end Jerusalem is once again the beautiful city of twelve gates,
but at what cost?

Life between when we discover the beauty of the gospel,
and when we finally realize the eschaton,
is fraught with battles.

The question posed to the seven churches
and to all the readers of Revelation
is how will we face the threat of those battles?

On what will we rely?

What will be of ultimate value
when the warfare demands everything?

When that on which we have come to rely turns nasty,
who will be our God?

As many of you know,
I suffered a small heart attack at the end of August.

Many people, all over the world,
have been praying for my healing and recovery.

Those prayers for my well-being have been answered.

Why shouldn't they be?

I live in a wealthy country with fine health care facilities.

Loving friends and family have surrounded me.

Except for my heart condition,
the rest of my body is in good health.

I sleep warm and eat well.
I am surrounded by art and culture.

Compared to many, I have suffered little.

I have the option of altering my diet to keep me healthier.

I have the leisure time and wellness
to take part in a regenerative exercise program.

I can afford the services of a rehab centre.

That's not the case for much of the world.

Much of the world's population is too poor to have those options,
so they do not experience the grace that I do.

They endure unalleviated
pain,
hunger,
sorrow,
loneliness and
fear.

They do not sleep warm and eat well.

Prayers for them are not so evidently answered.

A couple of African bishops who e-mailed me
serve churches in which one third of their members
are infected with AIDS.

Other people who have sent me cards and letters are themselves
survivors of cancer,
sufferers of chronic pain,
accident victims,
amputees and
caregivers to spouses with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Some of you have had much more serious heart conditions than mine,
or you are survivors of other serious illness.

Yet all of these people have gone beyond the pain in their lives
and have found the capacity to share compassion with me.

The illness itself is not significant
to the spirit of these people's lives.

What is significant,
is the ability to be fully alive in the midst of it.

Illness, in and of itself,
is not an impediment to wholeness.

In fact, in many people it induces greater compassion.

Illness, when it causes the person to turn inward,
to become self-preoccupied,
causes spiritual brokenness.

But then it is not the illness that causes the brokenness,
but the person turned in on oneself.

So I believe that wholeness is not a personal possession,
but a gift that comes out of relationship.

Wholeness cannot come out of self-preoccupation.

Wholeness comes
when one is once again turned outward.

I have thought about this a lot,
because many of my well-wishers
have advised me to look after myself.

I have begun to wonder about the extent to which I can do that
without succumbing to a kind of spiritual self-absorption.

Withdrawal and depression is a common post-cardiac symptom.

Having said all that,
I have never felt the least bit ignored by God
and whatever happens in the future
will be as much a gift of grace as every day up to now has been.

Whatever anxieties I have had in the past few months,
my confidence in God's unconditional love for me
has not been one of them.

Years and years of hearing the gospel from Lutheran pulpits
and receiving the Lord's body and blood
have brought about a spiritual condition in me—faith.

I take no credit for this;
it is the natural outcome of being in the presence of the gospel.

Therefore, I am not afraid to die.

Every experience is an experience of the presence of God.

I find this liberating.

This doesn't mean
I'm not going to cooperate to the fullest with my physician
or ignore my family's expressions of love for me.

But it keeps me from being morbid and self-preoccupied.

My personal survival is not the ultimate goal here.

Rejoicing in God is
and that is where the relational grace of our koinonia
is such a healing gift.

How can I not rejoice in the God
who is so present in this sacrament of human caring and companionship?

There is a powerful temptation in this calling of bishop to go into withdrawal.

Without the ability to detach,
you soon find yourself buried under the agendas and anxieties of others.

We sometimes have to make decisions
that go against the lobbying and advice of our old friends.

Then there are those lonely meetings
where you have to go and stare down a hostile council
and explain a hard reality to them.

Or those times when you have no alternative but to invoke a policy,
yet everything inside you wants to take it easier.

And then you wake up in the middle of the night
to find that your head is still working and reworking the meeting
and you can't get back to sleep
and you're exhausted.

That can make you sick.

You lose you sense of self.

Every task feels like one to which you are driven.

Energy is drained.

God fades.

So the temptation is to "cocoon" and hole up inside yourself.

The trouble is, the adrenalin doesn't stop
and stress does its ugly little work.

Somewhere there needs to be a place so safe
that you can allow yourself the kind of transparency
where the poison can simply pass through you and drain away.

I have had a wonderful recovery
and it is due to the relational aspects of my life.

My bishop, my parish pastor and my family have been constant in my life.

My little granddaughters would come to visit me in the hospital
and we would play with the bed controls
and run up and down the halls
and drive the staff nuts.

My kids smuggled in fresh vegetables and gourmet coffee.

My bishop's son included me in his rounds as a resident in the hospital
and coached me on how to pace my re-entry.

Then there are the 300–400 cards and letters;
many from you folks in this room.

The staff at the national office has been amazing.

My life is a gift.

It is given to me from outside me.

I don't have to create it in myself for myself…

…but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel,
enlightened me with his gifts,
made me holy and kept me in the true faith,
just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy
the whole Christian church on earth
and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.

Daily in this Christian church
the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—
mine and those of all believers.

On the Last Day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead
and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.

This is most certainly true.

Raymond L. Schultz, National Bishop


Text of the sermon Bishop Schultz preached at the ELCA Academy of Bishops, Mundelein IL on 8 January 2003



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