Monday, July 9, 2018

#GC79; 9B 2018

Lectionary Readings are here (track 2)

Sermon Preached at Church During #GC79

As I read Paul’s second letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth, I was reminded of a request that Betty Pat Leach made in one of my last visits with her before her death. “When the reader is introducing the reading from the Epistle, could we please have them say, “Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth”? He wasn’t writing to the whole city, he was writing to a small group IN the city.

For those of us who had the privilege of knowing Betty Pat, it’s not particularly surprising that she was thinking about our liturgical framing of scripture upon her deathbed! Because, Betty Pat knew that words matter.

Words matter. What we say here, within the context of our worship, shapes our understanding of who we are, what we believe, and how we enact that belief in our wider communities.
So, difference does it make if we re-frame the reading of the Epistle, changing from “Paul’s letter to the Corinthians” to “Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth”?

Well, for one, it reminds us that the defining characteristic of those to whom Paul wrote was shared adherence to the way of Jesus. It also reminds us that these followers of the way did not represent the majority culture of the day. Finally, it helps us to consider that Paul was writing to a Church.

The Church in Corinth was a Church, just as St. Clement’s Episcopal Church is a Church!

So, given this simple truth, how does St. Clement’s hear the words of Paul within our own context?

St. Clement’s is an Episcopal Church within the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, within the Anglican Communion. We are a part of a much larger whole and as we gather this morning, the 79th triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America also gathers.

At General Convention, #gc79, there is great debate about everything from Prayer Book revision to the presence of nursing babies on the floor of the House of Deputies. There are ongoing arguments about the full inclusion of same-sex couples within the life of the church (there are 8 Bishops in the Episcopal Church who still deny marriage blessings to same-sex couples), as well as resolutions brought forward to address the sexual harassment and exploitation of people within the context of the church. I am quite simply, daunted, by the breadth and scope of legislation being brought to the floor of convention—particularly because I have a vested interest in so much of what is being considered on the floor of convention.

But, as I consider convention within light of the Church in Corinth I am reminded of the words of the Episcopal theologian, lay leader, and advocate for the ministry of the laity, Verna Dozier, "We forget that complexity of differences in the New Testament church. We like to say it's unified, yet we're always romanticizing about the day when the church will speak with one voice. The church has never spoken with one voice, not since time immemorial."

The church in Corinth consisted of both wealthy local converts, and the poor. It consisted of people who were accustomed to having worldly power and influence and those who had long been subject to the whims of the powerful. And, the in-fighting in the community was intense as members of the church tried to navigate the significant differences of race, class and gender. Does this scenario sound familiar? The Episcopal Church in 2018 is not unlike that in Corinth—consisting of people accustomed to having worldly power and influence, and those who have long been denied power in our world. Prayer Book revision arguments coalesce around the question of the inclusion of images of God that reflect the imagio dei of women and the breadth of gender identity; the question of allowing a nursing baby on the floor of convention becomes a question about the inclusion of young parents in the legislative body. And, once again, we find the Church struggling to navigate significant differences of race, class and gender…   

In her book, Authority of the Laity, Verna Dozier wrote that “God came into history to create a people who would change the world, who would make the world a place where every person knows that they are loved, are valued, have a contribution to make, and have just as much right to the riches of the world as every other person. That is what the church is all about, to bring into being that vision, that ideal community of love in which we all are equally valuable and in which we equally share. Every structure of life comes under the judgment of that vision: our politics, our economics, our education, our social structures.  Even the church!”

Ms. Dozier’s words resonate as the church continues to struggle with the tension of God’s call to full inclusion of all people, and our own failures as a Church to live into God’s dream.

I can only imagine how the community in Corinth responded to Paul’s emphasis upon strength in weakness and the importance that the gifts of every member of the church be recognized. However, my imagination is inspired by my awareness of how the Church we have today responds to contemporary voices which echo Paul’s words in our 21st century context.  

One such voice is that the President of the House of Deputies, the reverend Gay Clark Jennings, who enjoins all of us, “to open ourselves to leadership that doesn't look like the leadership we've seen most of our lives”

This was one of the challenges facing the church in Corinth—leadership in the Church does not and should not simply be a mirror of our biases and assumptions about who gets to have power in this world. And, so today we hear Paul remind all of us that power does not emerge from a position of worldly strength, but is instead born of weakness--think of Jesus’ rejection in his hometown, think of the vulnerability of the disciples as they went from place to place with only a walking staff and one tunic for the journey.


It is critical that all of us remember that we are a Church founded by the rejected, the persecuted, and the marginalized…

The power of God is, indeed, made manifest in weakness!  

And, so as I consider the concerns of General Convention and the wider world in which it exists in context, I think it is critical that we prioritize the voices of those who have been rejected, persecuted, and marginalized. I think it is critical, because our scripture and our tradition tell us that it is in the full inclusion of the rejected, persecuted and marginalized voices that God’s dream for all of us will come to fruition.


To appeal once more to Ms. Dozier, the dream of God is that, “all creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment. All parts of creation. And the dream of God is that the good creation that God created -- what the refrain says, 'and God saw that it was good' -- be restored," 

In strength and with grace--let it be so. 


Amen. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

We Must Care--7B 2018

Scripture here (Track 2)

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Baptism comes first.

Of all of the rites of passage in the Book of Common Prayer, baptism comes first.  

It precedes the Holy Eucharist. It is set apart from those rites known as “pastoral offices”.

It comes first.

It is the entry point into the community and a way of life that surpasses the way of the world.

One of two principal sacraments in the church—the other being Holy Eucharist—baptism stands at the center of what it means to be a Christian. The requirement for baptism in our tradition is, quite simple, ask.

All that is required to be baptized is a request—because the church assumes that if the request has been made, then the Spirit is at work. There is scriptural precedence for this as we consider the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by the apostle Philip in the book of Acts. The eunuch, curious about the meaning of a passage of Isaiah, had been told the good news of Jesus by Philip and, upon hearing the good news, the eunuch exclaims, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?.”

Baptism is considered sufficient in and of itself for full membership into what we call the Body of Christ—and the liturgy itself is considered complete with a simple sprinkling of water and the stated, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, no other words or actions are required. The tradition of the church is clear that baptism happens once, we cannot be unbaptized, and we can never be separated from the body into which we’ve been baptized. The person who is baptized is part of us, no matter what, no matter where, no matter.

This does not mean that baptism does not ask anything of us, nor does it mean that we are not accountable to each other. Because, to be part of means to be accountable to, to be part of means to participate in something that is beyond ourselves, to be part of means that we live no longer for ourselves alone but for each other.

We live no longer for ourselves alone…we live for our families, our communities, our neighbors. We live, indeed, for ALL of God’s children. All of God’s created people regardless of who they are or where they come from.

This is why the baptismal covenant is so adamant in its affirmation of our collective unity.

Unity.

Unity is central to God’s vision for creation--as the psalmist writes,

God gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Gathered. Gathered together. And so, today, we say the creed that unites us to Christians around the world and throughout our history as a church. Together, we reaffirm our commitment to live as Christians within the context of a faith community. Together, we accept the truth that we will fall short and set our intention to make things right. Together, we proclaim the good news of God in Christ through our words and actions, words and actions informed by the teaching that Christ is present in all people and that in service to others we serve Christ.

Together. Who would have thought that this principal teaching, as it emerges out of scripture, our tradition and our reason, would ever prove to be so radical a statement within the political context of our country. Our tradition as we’ve inherited from the beginning of the church, from the beginning of creation, is adamant…

We belong together, our family the Church belongs together. The human family, we belong together.


Gathered together, from all directions, the people of the earth…

Which is why the prayer book offers us this prayer for the human family,

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord, we have been arrogant and hateful—transform us.

Lord, we have built walls--destroy them.

Lord, we have been separated by hate—unite us in love.

Lord, we have forgotten that our principal calling is in service to your throne—open our hearts.

Open our hearts so that we may remember that your call to unity in love supplants any human authority’s call to division in fear.

Who would have thought that reaffirming our baptism would be an act of resistance!

An act of resistance to those forces of evil that sow division and fear in a world that God created and declared, at its heart and in its form, good.

The baptismal liturgy includes an examination, a series of questions that must be answered in the affirmative as we set our hopes on Christ and renounce evil in this world…evil being defined, in this context, as that which “corrupts and destroys the creatures of God”. In other words, God declared all of creation “good”—and evil is that which would subvert that creation by dehumanizing God’s people, or harming the earth that God has made.

In this, evil is that which seeks to destroy what God has created—which tries to break apart that which God has brought together, which seeks to instill fear where there should be faith in the goodness of God’s creation.

Sadly, we don’t have to look too far to find examples of evil at work in the world.

Pause…

In the face of the despair that threatens to overwhelm us, I cry out with the disciples…“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

Do you not care?

Do you not care that your children, your friends, your neighbors are perishing?

Yes, yes, he does care. In this moment, when the sea overwhelms, Jesus demonstrates his command over creation--but also his capacity for mercy.

Jesus’ mercy is a manifestation of his power. Where others would demonstrate their powers through destruction, he demonstrates his in compassion. It is up to us, as members of the body of Christ, to respond with the same kind of compassion to those who cry out to us in their fear. It is up to us to show that we do care about those caught in the storms of hatred, indifference, and despair.

In just a few moments we will reaffirm our baptisms and as we do so, I bid each of us to consider how we are called to persevere in resisting evil and to remember that our obedience is not to any human authority that would divide us but rather, to the God who would unite us.  Amen.


#GC79; 9B 2018

Lectionary Readings are here (track 2) Sermon Preached at Church During #GC79 As I read Paul’s second letter to Jesus’ followers in t...