Both Power and Love

Homily preached with the Bishop’s Pastoral Letter on February 10, 2019
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 138
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

Both Power and Love

First, the exciting news, yesterday’s election of our new Bishop: The Rev. Thomas James Brown. I want to thank our delegates who spent a great deal of time preparing and then did very good work yesterday in Bangor: Harriet Davis, Peter Sillin, Gary Sylvester, and Ken Pooley.

There will be a great deal more to share about the election in weeks to come, but for now, there’s actually another matter before us. It too is part of our being the Body of Christ together, and the ways we hold ourselves accountable.

The last week of January, Bishop Lane sent out a Pastoral letter, to be read in congregations by the third Sunday of February. In consultation with our wardens, I chose this Sunday to read the letter because the lessons set the tone, and give us a solid foundation on which to begin the work before us.

In our first lesson we hear Isaiah’s incredible, terrifying call story. Which happens in immediate proximity to the presence of God. Isaiah’s vision includes a glimpse of the seraphim – fiery, winged creatures who serve at the throne of the Lord. Whose vocation is to sing; calling to one another around the throne: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.

Overawed, and aware of the Lord’s words to Moses: “ … no one shall see me and live.”¹ Isaiah confesses, his words full of dread: Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!²

Coming into the unmediated presence of the Lord is not to be sought lightly. It can bring terror and death. The Lord is God. Isaiah is not. We are not. In any such encounter, there is danger.³

Yet we continue to court danger, don’t we? We do this on purpose, week after week! Calling upon God to be present with us, hoping that when two or three are gathered that God will be in the midst of us.

When being in the presence of the Holy should drop us to our knees, and have us confessing. We hear it first from courageous Isaiah – and then through Paul, who confesses he persecuted the church before he was called. And lastly, even Simon Peter, who realizes he is witnessing something ‘of God’ in this miracle catch of fish – and his first comment is not: ‘Oh my, how amazingly cool and fabulous!’ But to fall down at Jesus’ knees, and say, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”⁴

The power of God, that we invoke, that we believe – is nothing short of explosive. And should be taken seriously: God, ourselves, our commitment to one another in God’s name, as members of one, beloved community.

In our liturgy this season, the words of absolution following the confession begin with: “May God, who is both power and love, forgive you and free you from your sins…”⁵

Power and love – both are important in our theological understanding of God’s self. Love without power is facile – no more than cheap Valentine’s Day cards (that we see everywhere right now).

Which brings me to our difficult work. This morning, as I said, I need to read a letter from Bishop Lane.

In my opinion, we are at our best as The Episcopal Church, in those moments when we are able to use our institutional structure and connections to stand up with power – for those in need of our love. Particularly, when we have the courage to face the sins of our institution and right wrongs we have committed. This past summer at our General Convention a committee heard closed-door testimony about abuse in the Church, and that committee brought their findings to the floor of the houses. As a result, we voted to pass legislation which has been shared with the Church by a joint pastoral letter from our Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies, and now, this Pastoral Letter from our Bishop today.

Click here for a link to the letter

My Friends, a copy of this letter will be posted in the narthex, and will be published in our newsletter. A link to it will be in following newsletters, and the contact information for the intake officers will be included in every newsletter for the duration of the three-year window. Because this information is only helpful if it reaches those who are in need of it.

May God, who is both power and love,
forgive us and free us from our sins,
heal and strengthen us by his Spirit,
and raise us to new life in Christ our Lord.


[1] Exodus 33.20b (NRSV)
[2] Isaiah 6:5 (NRSV)
[3] Dr. Samuel Giere, Associate Professor of Homiletics and Biblical Interpretation, Wartburg Seminary, February 10, 2019.
[4] Luke 5:8
[5] Scottish Episcopal Church, 1996.
[6] Scottish Episcopal Church, 1996 (adapted).