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Rev. Canon Nelson Pinder+

09 July 2023

Year A

Sermon By: Rev. Rose Sapp-Bax+

Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 27:1-7

I Corinthians 12:1-11

Matthew 25:35-40

Sunday Cycle of Prayer

The Anglican Church of Burundi

St. Gabriel’s Church, Titusville

St. Augustine of Canterbury Church, Vero Beach

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today we shift from the regular lectionary to special readings, collects, prefaces and prayers in order to honor one of diocese’ own - the Rev. Canon Nelson W. Pinder. I had the privilege of meeting and hearing Canon Pinder speak during my 2nd year in training to become a deacon when I lived in Orlando. I only wish now that I had paid better attention and understood more about who was I was hearing.

He appeared as an aging - somewhat ‘salty’ character who had many stories to tell but only one central message to communicate. Little did I know who he was and what he had experienced in his difficult life.

He began his ordained ministry in 1959 when he was called to Orlando to serve as the first full-time priest of color at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist. During his first few hours in Orlando, he was denied a taxi, and while he waited for a segregated cab - he was denied a simple cup of coffee at the airport coffee shop. In recalling the day, he would state later that he knew this day was a sign that he was indeed where God has called him - this was HIS mission field.

His work in the civil rights movement during the 1960’s preached his non-violent attack against injustice. Some would say that his interest and love of young people allowed him to single-handedly prevent the riots seen in so many cities across the nation from happening in Orlando. His young followers were labeled Pinder’s Kids, and the city honored Canon Pinder with a monument of that name erected in the center of the area of Orlando where he was so well-known.

During his life, Canon Pinder received more that two hundred awards and honors for his work with those in society that others thought hopeless - the street people, the homeless, the addicts. In an interview not long before his death in 2022, he spoke of his early ministry and how others warned him that his very life was in danger because of his work. His reply to their warnings at that time - I am not yet 33 years old - my boss was 33 when he died - I’ve still got a little more time left.

I mentioned earlier that Canon Pinder had only one central message - LOVE. Love without limitations, love without boundaries or barriers. Who else do you know that preached that message? Is that not the message each of us is called to live out each day? the message we are to preach to the world? The very message of today’s gospel reading! The hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, the slave - the marginalized of society - the outcast - often the invisible in our society.

These were Canon Pinder’s people

It is often easier for us to excuse ourselves from this call with statements like - “I can’t end world hunger by myself” or “what can I do for those who choose to live on the streets?” or “you have to be careful - you can’t give money away these days - there are so cheats and hustlers out there”. We all know the excuses - I know I’ve used many of them myself. What about you? What do you tell yourself so that you don’t have to get involved?

What is it that God is calling you to do? Where is your mission field? Our reading from Corinthians todays talks about gifts - spiritual gifts we are given to ‘for the common good’. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me, “I don’t have any Spiritual gifts,” or something like “I am struggling with my own faith, how can I talk to others about a faith I don’t really understand myself? Allow me to let you in on a little secret - We ALL struggle with our faith, and NONE of us completely understands this faith we are called to. If someone tells you that they possess perfect faith and understanding - they are either a liar or a fool.

And as for sharing our faith with other - people need to hear that we don’t have it all figured out - that our faith is something we work on every day, and that we will still be working on it until the day we die. People need to know that they don’t have to have it all figured out - that they are accepted where they are, and that we grow in our faith together!

As for those spiritual gifts you don’t think you have, our spiritual gifts are only discovered and strengthened when we use them - no, we are NOT all Nelson Pinders, nor did God intend us to be. We cannot end world hunger alone, change social injustice, cure poverty or stop the many atrocities happening in the world today. But we can make a difference, one person at a time.

This past week, I watched a new movie that made its debut in theaters. The movie, “The Sound of Freedom”, is the story of two young innocent children caught up in the web of childhood human sex trafficking and the man who will not give up his quest to find them and set them free. The movie sparked many emotions, thoughts and memories for me.

I was reminded of the many young women I met in Orlando, when I worked in a residential facility for women who had escaped human trafficking. Many of them could have been the young girl in this movie. Most saw themselves as ‘throw away’s - people invisible to most of society, worthless and abandoned. Their only purpose was to be used by others.

In conversation one day, I asked how many other women did they know that are in situations like they had endured. They looked at each other and commented - you don’t want to know - you wouldn’t believe us if we told you. When I asked them what can we do to help them, they replied - “one at a time, if you only help one of us, the others will see that there is hope” One at a time, others will find a way to come.

It didn’t take people with great spiritual gifts to help these women - it only took people who could see who God created them to be. It only took people who would listen, who would care. It only took people who could see that each of them was created in the image of God, as each ONE worth saving.

I don’t know what or where God is calling you today - chances are you may not know either. We all have limitation, whether they be age or health related, financial limitations, or other barriers that limit our actions. The one and most important ministry that we all share that should know no limitations; that is the ministry of love and acceptance.

It is this ministry of love that is the catalyst for all ministry. We are all called to love one another - to love ALL God’s children. When we can look into the eyes of every person and see Christ there - when we can recognize each person as God’s creation regardless of how alike or different, they are from us. When we can set aside our differences - no matter what form they take - then ministry will truly begin.

What is keeping us from this mission field of love? Where do we need to examine our thinking, our prejudices, our ignorance and see every ONE for who they really are - a beloved child of God. When we treat each one with love, when we give ONE hope - others will find their way.

With Canon Pinder as our guide, Let’s find our way through our prejudice, our boundaries and barriers and say, as he did “Here I am, Lord, send me”.


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