The "Last Words and Testament" of William Sibley, OHC
by Br. Reginald Crenshaw, OHC, presented at William's funeral
at Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York,
on Tuesday 28 October 2008
The last words and testament of Br. William Sibley can be summed up with this refrain from the hymn “You are the salt for the earth.” It reads, “Bring forth the kingdom of mercy, bring forth the kingdom of peace, bring forth the kingdom of justice, bring forth the city of God.”
Today we celebrate the life and witness of William Sibley. Bede Thomas in his article on William on one of the Monastery’s weblogs describes William as a “man larger than life both in the Order of the Holy Cross and the Church at large.” William has over these many years as Guest master at this monastery, as a member of the Mt Calvary community where I met him and he mentored me in my vocation process, As prior in Toronto, where for the first time I lived with him and observed how he and the community envisioned and developed the presence of OHC in Canada successfully. As superior of the Order of the Holy Cross he envisioned the Order whose core values would be that of a love of justice, a respect for every person God has made, both within and outside the community.
In his Superior’s newsletter throughout his term he included articles, about a number of issues that were designed to stimulate and enhance the perspective of the community. Throughout his life he counseled, preached to numerous persons particularly around addictive issues. And many now testify to his effectiveness in this area. He participated in the peace movement as a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and in the civil rights movement, attending marches and demonstrations and other activities that demonstrated clearly where his heart was. In those early days he not only talked the talk but walked the walk. His involvements in these social justice movements demonstrated his commitment to the kingdom of mercy, justice and peace and his faith and hope that all of this work would bring forth the city of God not only in the afterlife but here on earth.
We all have William Sibley stories, I would like for you before I continue to remember your favorite Sibley story and carry it with you at least for the duration of this sermon. My favorite story is the one William used to tell the novices and to anyone who would listen how he brought me into the Order and how after I agreed he drove me home to my mother and asked her to let me join the Order. That’s not exactly what happened but he loved to tell it knowing that it would make me blush. You all I’m sure have had yours either about an event or a conversation about Theology and or politics.
In this morning reading of Romans we read: “What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else?"
I can hear William now responding to these words and the words of the final sentence of this morning’s second reading from Romans: “Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.” With a fine "that’s nice", he would ask: "But what is your Christology? How do you understand Christ?" And he would inevitably give you a homily merging the thought of Bonhoeffer, Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan and others from the Jesus seminar in one short paragraph. These were not meant to be trick questions, or to “push your buttons” though the force of his asking could and did often irritate and push buttons but for him these questions were related to his understanding of the meaning of the incarnation. That wonderful Christian doctrine that speaks of how the divine enters into human life and the material world is therefore transformed through and in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Material world of matter is joined to the divine which is the source of all creation on earth. This had enormous consequences to William for assessing behavior, how we articulated ethical issues, it defined what justice is about and, more to the point, it determined and shaped how we are to organize our communities and societies to maximize and transform humanity. And most of all for William it turned the understanding of God upside down from being a harsh judgmental and punishing parent to a savior who invited us to share in Divine consciousness and, the medium for doing that was Christ. The emphasis then was not so much Christ the divine one, but Christ the human being who raised the bar of consciousness and human potential for all of us.
I want to say to you, Mary and Richard, to you, Robert, Mary Lawrence, Stuart, and Tyler (editor: William's family), that William loved each of you very much. He spoke about each of you with pride and expressed the joy that each of you brought to his life. His sensitivity to each of your spirits was and will continue to be his connection with and to you. To my brothers Robert and Randy, William loved and admired both of you. You were a refreshing presence in his life and he expressed to me many times his appreciation for the love and support the two of you provided for him these last years. May his spirit inspire you both to reach your highest potential.
To all of us in Holy Cross, William left a legacy of core values which challenges us to live into our monastic life with honesty, integrity and love. He would wish for us my brothers that we continue not to be threatened by diversity, and to value the individual vocations and ministries among us, to love justice and work to bring it about, that we be willing to change, even and especially when it is costly. That we value God’s will and the well-being of others more than our own comfort and survival. Individually and as a community. That our monastic vow will make us givers rather than takers, that we love more not less and that we listen and give ourselves to cooperation with our brothers. And finally, that we be a community of responsible adults who deal with compassion with all whose lives we touch.
William was my friend, brother, superior. He was a compassionate, loyal and honest man. He lived life as fully as he could and because of how he lived he had to struggle as he did. William was looking for the eternal religion. He was looking for the reality behind all rites and rituals, the truth behind all dogmas, the justice behind all laws. He knew that this religion could be found in the heart of every human being. It is the law written in our hearts. This religion is known only by the soul in its depth. I believe this is what William was looking for. It’s why he kept making references to existential moments, or the ways he asked about the meaning of it all. Every human being must find the map back to God. To find that path we must learn from many traditions. That was the basis of William interfaith journey.
That’s why he was such a strong advocate for social justice, that’s why he was politically active in the church and elsewhere. He used to say that politics was the art of the possible. He really meant that. And it’s articulated in the the various “Sibleyisms” Such as “God gave the sacraments to the Church but gave the Church to the world” and others like it. But he also asked the basic question that is raised in numerous quarters today both in the church and other quarters and that is: Does the church make any difference in the world or ways our lives are lived? His answer despite bouts of depression, and his ongoing struggle with his alcoholism was Yes. Yes he said, “Nothing can separate me and us from God’s love for me and us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”