In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton delivered the sermon during an ecumenical prayer service Nov. 5 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.
Leaders from within the Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches joined Eaton as co-presiders for the service. Leaders included Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop emeritus, Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore; Douglas Sparks, bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana; and Charles Wiley III, coordinator of the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
In her sermon, Eaton reflected on the Beatitudes from Matthew Chapter 5, noting how improbable the reading may seem in a society that often places higher esteem on personal status and stature.
“When Jesus speaks to these people and to us, he invites us to lay aside all of that clothing that we would put on ourselves to make ourselves acceptable. And Jesus knows that we are in fact meek when you think about it or that we are trodden upon,” said Eaton. “Then Jesus spends the last part of the Beatitudes talking about how these will be fulfilled. How the merciful will receive mercy.”
Eaton went on to say how Jesus’ promises come together in his final sermon in Matthew Chapter 25, talking about feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty and clothing the naked.
“This is the same work to which we are called,” said Eaton.
“When we can come together, we are making a witness that says no, division is not the will of God. Inclusion is the will of God. Oneness is the will of God.” — Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton
“Now, in this improbable time when Lutherans and Catholics and Presbyterians and Episcopalians are all here together at Notre Dame … this is an improbable thing. And there may be people in our congregations and our traditions who say this makes no sense whatsoever.”
Eaton spoke to the divided nature of our current political and social climate. “We live in a culture now that increasingly wants to divide us and separate us one from another and that now—Lutherans and Catholics in this family—could come together after 500 years, when 500 years ago we were killing each other over these very things,” she said. “When we can come together, we are making a witness that says no, division is not the will of God. Inclusion is the will of God. Oneness is the will of God.
“So how do we—in this improbable time, with these words of promise from Jesus that in fact we will be the ones who will bring mercy and blessing; we are the ones [whom], for whatever reason, God has chosen to show that shalom, that the true peace of God is what God intends for all creation—how can we do this?” Eaton asked.
“This improbable word of promise, which is not something that we do or earn—it is something that God has given to us. It is a way for us—not only as Lutherans and Catholics or our ecumenical partners but for all of us as Christians together—to believe and trust and live and die in the promise that we are reconciled creation. And there is nothing stronger than the love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ.”
She concluded her message with a challenge. “We’ve been given this gift. The gift of this time. The improbable words of Jesus that talk about the meek and those hungering and thirsting being filled, that’s the true word of hope and promise and we’re here to tell you about it.”