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Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book . Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:
A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
A Highly Dramatic Time
By The Rev. Peter Keese, Rector of Christ Church Rugby, Diocese of East Tennessee
CHRIST CHURCH – PALM SUNDAY - 4-5-09 Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-!5:47
Here are a couple of stories:
There is a woman – Dr. Ann Redding - an Episcopal Priest (well -- she used to be one); a year or so ago she announced that she is also a Muslim. She did not resign as Priest – or (more technically) she did not renounce her Priestly orders. So her Bishop put her on notice [inhibited her] – told her to think it over – and very recently deposed her from the Priesthood. [See CNN's report
A little less radically, a Priest, The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, up in Northern Michigan was elected to be their next Bishop; and that Diocese did their election in a weird (or, at least, unorthodox) way. They are a little Diocese with not much money; and there aren’t many large parishes (or large cities, for that matter) in Northern Michigan; so they function something like we do here at Christ Church – i.e., the ministry of the church is the responsibility of us all and done by us all. The Priest may be necessary for Celebrating and Blessing, but she or he is not necessarily resident in the community where the local church resides. So they have ministry teams; and they have a process of discernment about who has the gifts to do this or that kind of ministry.
Well, this Diocese had a discernment committee to think together about what kind of person they needed to be their next Bishop – and this committee came up with one name – so that when they came to convention for the election – guess what? - they elected him. That causes some right thinking Episcopalians some concern. But, even more troubling to the established church is the fact that he has espoused Buddhism. He regularly meditates in the Buddhist tradition. [See post-election reports from the Diocese of Northern Michigan]
The Church gets nervous. What is going on here? A Muslim Episcopal Priest? A Buddhist Episcopal Priest? (I need to add that it helped a little when some pointed out that the great Christian writer and monk, Thomas Merton, also used Buddhist ways of meditation. But still – it is highly unorthodox).
Now here’s another little story; it happened some time near the beginning of the so-called common era: A good Jew – lets call him Joshua - stops off at a well in Samaria to get a drink – pretty risky stuff in its own right, since Samaritans were a heretical branch – a breakaway group - from orthodox Judaism. And any good observant Jew knew that it was forbidden even to talk to anybody who belonged to this offshoot group. Furthermore Joshua (male) gets into a conversation with a Samaritan female – a WOMAN!!!. Now the Samaritans were not irreligious - they had a holy mountain where they had always worshipped; at a point in the conversation, she says to him, “Our ancestors worshipped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?” And Joshua replied something like this:
"Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem…But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
“Joshua”, of course, is a version of the name “Jesus”. And you probably recognize that this little story is recounted by the gospeler, John.
There’s a delightful fellow named Louie Crew, an Episcopalian, a retired college professor – and several times a Deputy to our General Convention; Louie is gay and open about it. He was sad about the decision to depose Dr. Ann Redding; here’s what he said, in part:
I treasure the high respect for ambivalence and ambiguity often practiced by Episcopalians. God needs some wiggle room when we try to pin Her down with creeds and other formularies. God is quite beyond the measure of our minds. God is a spirit, and worship of God is not exclusively franchised by Jerusalem, nor Samaria, nor by Mecca. [See Crew's full statement]
I think it is something of a delicious irony that a gay man – and therefore somewhat himself suspect by the church – is the one to point out that denomination - label – does not define our relationship to god. (And yet, who better than a gay man to make that point?)
Now why, on Palm Sunday, would I recount stories about Dr. Redding and Bishop-elect Forrester and heretical Samaritans? Well, because there are so many ways to think about these holy week events. Let me say that another way: in my younger years, the story and its meaning seemed pretty straightforward to me. But the older I get the more it seems to me that there are a rich variety of possible interpretations - and that they all may be true.
So Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman and declaring that where and how you worshipped and that what denomination, or religion, you belonged to did not matter – that doesn’t, in itself, seem to qualify as a capital offense. But it does mark Jesus as unorthodox and suspect, so that, when the time comes, it simply adds to the chain of evidence that this rebel is enough of a danger to the good order of society that he needs to be eliminated.
So he was true to his word. If you want to save your life, you have to be willing to give it up. And (quoting our Philippians lesson from today)
Jesus... had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he gave up his god status, he became human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. [Eugene Peterson’s version, The Message]
Jesus’ message was subversive then and it is now: there is no one outside god’s loving embrace – no one – not Samaritan, not gay, not Muslim, not Jew, not Mormon, not Baptist, not Buddhist, not Taliban – no one. And when you keep telling people that no one is excluded – and when you act like no one is excluded – when you hobnob with the outcasts – the system understands that you are upsetting the accepted order, and pretty soon the system will find a way to eliminate you. I don’t think of Jesus as a martyr – seeking to get himself killed. But I think he was a realist – he understood that if he was true to his message of radical inclusiveness that would quite likely mean he would be eliminated. We haven’t killed Ann Redding – Episcopalians are too genteel for that; we’ve simply stripped her Priesthood from her – eliminated her from our midst. And we won’t kill Kevin Forrester; we may just tell him he can’t be a Bishop in our Church. Away with them. If you want to save your life (if you want to be true to what you believe), you may have to lose your life.
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