A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
“My Manner of Life Presents a Challenge to the Wider Church”
Sermon by The Rev. Robert R. Smith, Rector
The Church of the Holy Communion, Norwood, NJ
Diocese of Newark
YEAR B PROPER 9 JULY 9, 2006
“My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.”
At General Convention, our church was asked by the Windsor Report to declare a moratorium on the consecration of openly gay persons as bishops. Our church could not pass such a resolution. I could not vote in its favor either, and I believe in the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons.
However, it is the substitute resolution that intrigues me, and our own Bishop Croneberger could not support it - he especially as the parent of two adult gay children. However, there is more to this, in the actual wording of Resolution #BO33.
The non-binding resolution asked Bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint in consecrating as bishop any person whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church. In other words, without saying there is a moratorium on gays it said there is a moratorium on gays without saying a moratorium on gays.
Now let me repeat those words s l o w l y:
Here in the Diocese of Newark, we will have a convention in the Fall to elect the next Bishop of the Diocese of Newark. However, as an exercise, make yourself a deputy at a hypothetical convention for the election of a bishop, and ask yourself if the slate of the following candidates are qualified, or do these nominees have a manner of life that presents a challenge to the wider church?
Candidate Number One: Candidate Number One suffers from epilepsy and appears to have chemical imbalances of the brain. He has what are called visions, but clinically are called hallucinations. Frequently he claims that God speaks to him. He says that he is even seized by invisible entities. He is known to suffer periodic episodes of aphasia, the inability to speak. How can an effective preacher have aphasia?! Additionally, he has been found at times in a catatonic state. He has a flair for the dramatic, but his preaching has been noted for its vulgarity, which makes him unsuitable for families. Although a captivating preacher, he has told his audiences such things as his having seen an entire field of dead people come back to life, and he once had a close encounter with a UFO.
So, should Candidate Number One be a bishop, or does this candidate have a manner of life that presents a challenge to the wider church?
Candidate Number Two: This candidate is known for preaching confessional messages about himself to the point of embarrassing details. He also never seems to stay at one church for any length of time. Wherever he goes, he has conflicts with church members. One wonders if the conflicts and his short length of stay at any church are related, and might suggest his inability to sustain lasting relationships. He speaks with modesty about his spiritual gifts and revelations. But do we really need a bishop who talks about ascending into heaven or one who sticks to his job here on earth?
So, should Candidate Number Two be a bishop, or does this candidate have a manner of life that presents a challenge to the wider church?
Candidate Number Three: This candidate seems to hang out only with men, yet it has been said that there are women who ‘minister’ to him. Rumors have emerged of his involvement with one particular woman. He keeps company with people of questionable morality, including prostitutes. He also, like the previous candidate is forever having conflicts wherever he has ministered. He especially does not have an effective ministry with leaders in very influential positions. Moreover, he was rejected by his own hometown crowd. How can we have such a bishop, whose own hometown disapproves of him?
So, should Candidate Number Three be a bishop, or does this candidate have a manner of life that presents a challenge to the wider church?
Any guess who these candidates are? Now, I will tell you. We have heard from all of them in today’s readings.
Candidate Number One is the prophet Ezekiel. In today’s reading he claims that a spirit entered into him. It was Ezekiel who saw the vision of the valley of the dry bones coming to life. Today’s reading from chapter 2 is a continuation of Ezekiel’s vision of the Chariot, in Hebrew, Merkavah), which produced an entire Merkavah or Chariot mysticism. Also, if you read the description of the Chariot, you would see that the Chariot was thought to resemble what in later years is called a UFO. On that basis, Erich von Daniken wrote his book on UFOs as seen in the ancient world, titled, Chariots of the Gods. It began with the Chariot of Ezekiel. .
Candidate Number Two is Paul the Apostle. He did have frequent conflicts. He planted new churches - the first churches. He moved on whenever one of his congregations was ready to go it alone, following the discipline - or discipleship - he taught them. Like Ezekiel, Paul did have visionary experiences. However, it is notable that the DSM - IV, the disagnostic and statistical manual used by mental health professionals, says that visionary and auditory experiences are not to be counted as pathology if a person’s religion teaches them that they might hear God speak to them, or might have visions.
Candidate Number Three: He is Jesus himself. Yes, he did travel with men. Yes, there were women in the group whom the Gospels tell us did minister to him. He also ministered to people of questionable morals. He did have collisions with influential religious leaders. And as we read in today’s gospel, his own hometown of Nazareth rejected him.
However, it was because Jesus was a challenge to the wider church, that there could be an even wider church, so wide is the embrace of God’s love.
Manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church?
Maybe that’s how they were regarding Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth.
The truth is that all of us have some mark upon us that would make us a challenge to the wider church. We all have sins. We all have our personality complexities. Yet, all of these God can use in order to work out his purpose.
Paul himself speaks of his thorn in the flesh, whatever it was. He spoke often of how God uses us weak and broken vessels so that the glory may go to God. “My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.
In the case of Jesus, they wondered how could this carpenter be God’s Messiah? But it is because of the power of God that the ordinary can be extraordinary. By the power of God, ordinary believers - like you and me - are empowered even in our weakness to do the will of God.
We teach children how the bread and wine of Holy Communion is the Real Presence of Christ and they believe. Many adults also believe that the bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ.
But here is a challenge to the wider church, and to each of us: You, and I and others - whether we are male or female, whatever our race, whatever our sexual orientation - even in our weaknesses - we all can be instruments of God’s Power and sacramental persons of Christ’s Real Presence.
Do we believe that? That is forever the challenge to the wider church and to each of us.
Praise be to God that weak vessels like you and me, with whatever thorns are in our flesh, can be part of God’s continuing unfolding presence and purpose.
And remember: God’s grace is enough for us. God’s power is at its best in weakness, no matter how our manner of life may be a challenge to the wider church.
The Rev. Robert R. Smith
Church of the Holy Communion
Norwood, New Jersey
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