A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond
for the Diocese of Southeast Florida Convention
Friday 10 October 2003
Isaiah 55:1-13; 2 Corinthians 4:1-10; John 15:1-17
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the One God. Amen
"This I command you, to love one another".
In just a few days time across the pond in a different time zone, in a very different setting, a group of Christians, a group of Anglicans will gather. The Primates of the Anglican Communion at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury will be holding a special meeting at Lambeth Palace. This meeting has received much publicity and has as its focus the gospel imperative we hear today. "This I command you, to love one another".
As the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion it never surprises me to see how the Church, even in the midst of its own internal squabbles, difficulties and perceived priorities, is ultimately called upon to be the true branches of the vine. It is interesting that Jesus uses the metaphor of vine dresser and branches in the Gospel for tonight, because each branch on the tree is different, each disciple is different, and each branch is called upon to bear fruit. To these branches, and I can safely say that this great diocese is an important branch, Jesus says to us: "if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you." How the Church can really live together when there are so many different branches is a question that I believe must be focussed on one thing: that is the true vine, Jesus Christ.
The administration of the Church, our Bishops, our Primates our structures, our sacraments, the Bible, all are secondary to the vine itself. Of course it is through scripture, tradition and reason, the great Anglican tripod that we understand our faith, that Jesus is made known to us in a special way. The risen Christ comes among us, says "Peace be with you, abide in my love, feed my sheep". In those words "Feed my Sheep", we are given our call for evangelism. I will never forget being present at the Eucharist at the Sea of Galilee where the Church remembers the breakfast feast in the Resurrection appearances. At that site, we are reminded of the question Jesus asked John, "Do you love me more than these?" And when John responded yes, Jesus said, "Feed my Sheep."
"This I command you, to love one another".
John's Gospel is a Gospel of love. It is a Gospel written by one who is called the beloved disciple. For me John encapsulates all that it is in his whole being, from his privileged position at the Last Supper to the true family position he holds in relation to Mary, the Mother of our Lord, at the foot of the Cross as the one whose words throughout all time help us to remain focused on the true vine, Jesus Christ.
Of course, when it comes to reality there is no one like St. Paul. In Second Corinthians, Paul offers a message that many will want to ponder in the days ahead. In Chapter 4, Paul makes it clear that it is only by God's mercy that we are even allowed to engage in the ministry we have, whether we be primate, bishop, priest, deacon, lay leader, member of a Religious Community, whether we be a church musician, Sunday School teacher, a youth group leader, or bible study leader. Paul tells us that we proclaim one thing: "Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake."
These are hard words. Not as Christ's slaves, but as your slaves, slaves to each other, servants to each other, offering service to each other, caring for each other. Why? So we can be strong, so when we are afflicted, we will not be crushed; when we are perplexed, we will not be driven to despair; when we are persecuted we will not be forsaken. We die to sin we rise in glory, the glory of Christ.
St. Paul are you speaking to me at this very moment? How willing are we to be slaves to each other? How willing are we to wash each other's feet? It is only when we are willing to be a slave that we will not be crushed. The Gospel literally turns upside down everything we hold to be so important, power, wealth, prestige; instead we are called upon to be slaves.
"This I command you, to love one another".
My work over the last nine years as Secretary General has taught me a great deal. The main thing it has taught me is how to look at priorities, priorities for the Church, priorities for organisations within the Church, and sometimes the hardest, personal priorities. As I travel in this magnificent family which we call the Anglican Communion I see a world where people do not have enough food to eat. I see a world where people live in fear because they have HIV/AIDS infection. I see a world where people are not understood. I see a world where people lack educational opportunities, or they are victims of racism or sexism. I see a world where people, especially children are abused in every possible way from general neglect to the very worst things imaginable.
Large cities are something this diocese knows well. There are people who live in complete poverty, across the street, across the neighborhood, across the city, across the state line, across the Gulf, across the ocean. People, countries and nations who lack hope and find the church unwelcoming at best. What are our priorities? When I see the wandering children on the streets of China? When I see the street children of Brazil? When I know older people who are afraid to be on the street, even in broad daylight, my heart sinks. The Gospel for this Convention Eucharist is clear. "Abide in my love". And then I think of the work we need to do as a family, as a global family. Then I think of the command that Jesus gives us: "to love one another".
Two weeks ago I was in Nairobi attending a meeting about HIV/AIDS. Much of my time was spent hearing horrific stories about the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is literally ravaging that Continent. In one township in the Diocese of the Highveld, 85% of the population is infected. I cannot even comprehend what that statistic means. What does that mean to our global family when we hear the Gospel, "to love one another".
Did you know last August seven members of the Anglican Communion from Melanesia found their own martyrdom? Travel with me today to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, Melanesia. There we see an incredible ministry that is indeed miraculous. There we see a ministry of outstretched hands. There, the Melanesian Brotherhood, the largest Anglican Monastic Order in the world, is involved in the most incredible peacekeeping mission you have ever seen in your life.
Three years ago horrid ethnic tensions broke out in Guadalcanal. Many people lost their lives. Most foreign residents fled, but the Anglican Church in Melanesia stood firm. The outstanding Archbishop of Melanesia, Ellison Pogo, is one of the heroes of that conflict as he brought the warring factions together; but equally important is what the Melanesian Brotherhood did. These Brothers literally risked their lives by standing between the warring factions on the frontline. They also had the trust of both sides. It was the Melanesian Brotherhood which has been disarming the people by collecting their guns and ammunition. Today in the Solomons there are weapons-free villages because of the Melanesian Brotherhood.
However, on Easter Day, the Brotherhood learned the price of being a peacemaker. One of their brothers, Nathaniel Sado, was killed by a rebel group. The Brotherhood then sent six brothers to find out what had happened and to ask for Brother Nathanial's body to be returned. Instead of returning with their Brother's body, the six were taken prisoners and ultimately murdered.
"This I command you, to love one another."
Travel with me to Ghana. Tonight I am wearing a stole that was given to me last July during my visit to the Church in Ghana. While there, I was taken to Cape Coast Castle. To be honest, before my visit, I did not know that all the slaves originating from Africa to Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America set sail from Cape Coast Castle. What we saw, what we were told, would horrify you.
What I appreciated the most is that one of the Anglican Communion people who was travelling with me was a priest from Jamaica. All of his ancestors had come from Cape Coast Castle. To be able to see the Castle through his eyes was a great experience for me. It was one of those days that changes one's life.
Certainly what we experience when we break bread together this evening challenges all the Cape Coast Castles in this world today. It challenges the Cape Coast Castles in South Africa and Kenya. It challenges the Cape Coast Castles in Brazil. It challenges the Cape Coast Castles in Melanesia. It challenges the Cape Coast Castles in Southeast Florida. The Eucharist challenges all people who enslave and who are enslaved.
As you meet in your Diocesan Convention, as you make decisions for the Diocese of Southeast Florida, can I urge you to keep Jesus' command in mind as you make your decisions? "Love one another". The Episcopal Church has been at the forefront of helping people around the world in our Communion for many years, a Communion of Churches that has responded to situations of need in places most of us cannot even find on a map. I believe today, and in the days ahead, that the call will become greater as we respond to the work that Jesus has given us to do. Why? Because there is a merciful God who says: "Do this for me, do it in my name".
We are called to be Jesus' disciples today. As St. Teresa of Avila reminds us, we are the hands, the feet, the eyes, the ears, the heart of Jesus today. The command that Jesus has given to us, can only be done by us, "This I command you, to love one another". Might everything we do, always be done in Jesus' name. For, as followers of Jesus, we really have not been given any other option, but to love one another. So be it. And only to God be the Glory.
In the Name of God. Amen.
John L. Peterson
10 October 2003
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