The texts for Proper 9 are found here
On All Saints’s Sunday, in the year 2003, I had the privilege of attending the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson. Held in an arena, the stadium seats were full and there was a palpable sense of joy and excitement, tempered by fear.
Underneath his new robes, Bishop Robinson wore a bullet proof vest. And, each and every one of the 4000 people seated in the arena had passed through metal detectors and had their belonging searched prior to entering the building. So yes, there was joy, but there was also anxiety.
And yet, as the mighty swell of the organ began, a deep inhale could be heard as 4000 people sang, in unison and in full voice, the Church’s One Foundation. And the procession began and there was no turning back from this moment and Gene Robinson entered, along with 40 of his fellow Bishops, as well as banner bearers, Eucharistic ministers, choir—a veritable multitude singing and marching in defiant and joyful proclamation that we, as a church, would not be afraid and go forward into the new life to which God has called us.
1. The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
Fear did not win that day. Love did and we became a new creation. And, I am drawn to this memory, this moment as I consider the Gospel this day.
You will go “as a lamb to the wolves”, the Gospel proclaims.
And, they went and I am sure that they were afraid. I am sure that they must have felt at a loss, no purse by their side, no cloak, no staff whose staccato tap alongside their footsteps would have strengthened them on their way.
I imagine that they must have felt vulnerable, strangely naked and exposed—if not literally, then metaphorically. Naked to the scrutiny of those who would hear their testimony, exposed to the shaming of a culture in which their empty hands would have been seen as a sign of greater failings.
Vulnerable as they walked, vulnerable as they proclaimed, vulnerable in their hunger, vulnerable in their reliance on the hospitality of others, vulnerable as they wept, vulnerable as they prostrated themselves before the Lord.
Vulnerable, as those who have no desire to become a martyr offered themselves in places and ways in which martyrdom may well have been, and sometimes was, the outcome of their witness and their testimony to the way of God in the world.
As a lamb to wolves.
Yet, the funny thing about those lambs. There are far more lambs than there are wolves. And facing the wolves, the sheep circle about heads facing outward so that they can see anything that might be coming at them. The lambs, ushered to the middle, and protected by the strength of the herd.
Bishop Robinson did not enter that arena alone—100s flanked him and 4,000 encircled him. The disciples did not go out alone. Sent in twos and moreso as the 70. Shoulder to shoulder, their footsteps fell in unison along the dusty road.
A testimony to the strength of the body when the body is more than the one--we who are many are one body, for we all share in the one bread.
Lambs can face the wolves when they are part of the herd.
When I was little I loved to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. And, I could have told you at a very young age, that predators rely on their ability to separate out the vulnerable from the herd in order to kill. And, so I would hold my breath, and my heart would ache as the wolves worked their way in between the lambs and the herd.
And, like those lambs, the church itself can be destroyed when she falls prey to those forces of division in the world. It is striking to me that the lectionary offers these texts with their emphasis on unity in this season after the Pentecost—and as I consider this, I consider that the Pentecost sending relies on our ability to engage in ministry together. To go together, to sing together, to pray together.
And this bring me back to the arena where the 4000 sang, “The Church’s One Foundation”.
If you are unfamiliar with that hymn, whose opening lines I quoted earlier in the sermon, its theme is one of the inevitability of God’s unification of all creation through the inbreaking of peace and the manifestation of Christian unity in the face of those forces which would divide us.
2. Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.
We need each other. That’s the message of the Gospel today. That is the message of this letter to the Galatians. That’s the message of this passage from 2nd Kings in which healing can only be achieved through reaching out to the outsider.
We need each other.
In a reflection on the consecration of Gene Robinson, the Reverend Jim Payne, wrote words that seem particularly fitting in this time rife with national and international divisions. Paraphrased
“Let us celebrate Gene Robinson's consecration and the advance in acceptance in the human family. In our celebration let us also remember [those who] struggle to find God's presence even in this challenge for them. Let us remember that in times of growth we too are challenged and struggle. Let us remember them in love and pray for them, that they know God in the place of Chaos. Chaos is where creation is created anew each moment. When our hackles are raised and our tempers are high let us remember that those who anger us are our neighbor and even if they do something contrary to our direct experience of God to pray for them. In our prayers let us do so for their sake and not for our comfort, for we are all on the journey together.”
We are on the journey together. Go.