Behold, the Face of God, by the Rev. Susan Russell

Behold, the Face of God
by The Rev. Susan Russell

St. Peter's, San Pedro ~ Susan Russell ~ July 29, 2000
Proper 12B: 2 Kings 2:1-15; Psalm 114; Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16; Mark 6:45-52

That we're called to be the Body of Christ in the world ... to take up the ministry of Jesus on earth ... is hardly a news flash: at least not in this congregation -- goodness knows we preach about it often enough! But today, Paul paints a particularly vivid "word picture" of what that looks like in his Letter to the Ephesians:

"But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love."

As wonderful as those words are, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand of them ... or so I'm told. And so ~ "Behold the Face of God!"

That's the title of a wonderful piece of artwork that hung in the Convention Center during the two weeks of General Convention ~ brought back from Denver in poster form. It's the product of quite a miraculous medium: each tiny square of the mosaic that makes of the face of Christ is the photo of a unique and beloved human person. These are the faces of those who make up the Body of Christ ... the Face of God ... in this Episcopal Church: literally in this piece of art and figuratively as they go about the work of being the Church in the world ...living out their baptismal covenant: to seek and serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being.

Tall order, eh? Well, yes it is -- but those are the orders we've been called to carry out: the work we've been given to do -- the work of the church. And how are we doing? Well, having spent the better part of the month up-close-and-personal with the work of this particular church as it met in Denver, I am so very encouraged to share that we are doing a pretty darn good job. No, God is clearly not finished with us yet ... but there is much to celebrate ... much to applaud ... much to rejoice in.

At the 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church we worshipped and worked; we sang, prayed and shared every day in our table groups at morning Eucharist. My table included Meredith from West Texas, Jean from Illinois, Jeff from Connecticut and Ed from Pasadena. "Speaking the truth in love" we told the truth of our lives in Christ, our victories and our failures of faith. And the particularity of our journeys, like the many tiny photos that make up the Face of God in the poster that hung there in the Convention Hall, were woven together to create a community of faith strong enough to be enriched be dialogue rather than divided by debate.

For we also deliberated and legislated. That, too, is the work of the church. We voted for full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. We voted to recognize and support a variety of life-giving, committed relationships -- taking a huge and I believe prophetic step forward in developing a theology of relationship that transcends sexual orientation. We voted to mandate anti-racism training in each diocese and to affirm equal access to ordained ministry for men and women in all dioceses of this church. And we did it all with an amazing spirit of compassion and generosity: respect and forbearance; and often great good humor.

One of my favorite moments came the day the budget on the agenda... an often tedious and sometimes contentious process not happily anticipated by many. Yet as the weighty budget packets were being distributed, the old Rolling Stones tune "You Can't Always Get What You Want" began to play ... and the ripples of laughter across the vast convention floor turned to whoops of glee as deputies danced in the aisles ... turning an agenda item into a celebration.

You can't always get what you want. At least not all of it. And sometimes That's a good thing. C.S. Lewis once said something to this effect: "I thank God that He hasn't given me all the things I've prayed for, because as I look back now, I realize it would have been dreadful to have received some of them." I think we can all relate to that ... I can certainly think of times I knew exactly what God ought to be doing and how God ought to be doing it ... and WHEN (usually yesterday!) God ought to have accomplished it. And I was just about always wrong.

Time and time again, what happened was what I least expected ... and it was far more wonderful than what I might have thought up for myself! Time and time again I've learned that if I can just trust enough to offer the gifts I have with no strings attached, God will figure out what to do with them ... in ways I could not have "asked for or imagined."

I had yet-another-example of that in Denver ... when completely out of the blue I was approached and "drafted" to run for the National Board of the Episcopal Church Women. Yes, the "ECW". I was elected to a position called "member-at-large for media communications" -- not only because of whatever media skills they think I have, but because the nominating committee was trying to put together a National Board that, in their words, "would truly represent the diversity of the women of this church, and you can help us do that." Never in my WILDEST DREAMS could I have imagined ... much less asked for ... such a ministry: but there it is and here we go. And I'll spend two weeks a year for the next three years helping tell the Good News of the work of the women of this church: ready to rock and roll!

I believe with all my heart that that's where we are as a church -- ready to rock and roll ... as a parish, as a diocese and as a denomination. We are not a church in crisis ... we're a church in consensus. About mission. About ministry. About the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. We are also not a church that's destined to agree about everything. We never have been ^ what on EARTH makes anyone think we're going to begin now?

Another favorite moment from convention was standing at the phone bank on the back wall of the House of Deputies, talking to my travel agent - and active Episcopalian in the Diocese of Los Angeles -- about changing a plane ticket. "Of course I can do that," she said, "but first tell me what's going on! You're right there in convention ^ how cool! What are they debating?" "The ordination of women," I replied. Pause. "No, I mean REALLY," she said. "Really," I said.

Twenty-six YEARS we've been ordaining women: and there are still three dioceses that will not acknowledge my orders nor offer access to the ordination process to women in those dioceses. But they haven't left the church. And neither have I. Because that's not how we do things.

Maybe it's a family system thing. I know in my own family, how one arranges the place cards often has a direct impact on how well the holiday dinner goes. It's not a question of not including those who disagree ^ we are, after all, family! ^ but there was a time when one didn't dare seat Auntie Diane next to Uncle Billy. Yet after enough Thanksgivings and Christmases and Easters, eventually we forgot to keep them separate ^ and they forgot what the issue had been in the first place ^ and the party went on. Co-dependent or civilized??? Well, it worked for us as a family ^ and since this is my fourth General Convention I tell you it's working for us as a church. And it will continue to work for us ... if we let it. If we trust it. If we know our history enough to live into our future.

Yes, there are folks at the table who wish we'd move faster ... particularly on issues of inclusion. And there are plenty of folks at the table who think we've moved plenty fast enough ... too fast, if the truth be told. But there we are ... all at the table together. Rearranging the place cards occasionally, but still at the same party! What binds us together is stronger than any issues that challenge us: our unity is not about uniformity of opinion: it's about "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" that Paul wrote about.

That was something I explained again and again to the members of the secular media who'd gather in the press room ... hoping against hope for a great story like: "Episcopal Church Shattered by Schism: Film at Eleven." Instead the headlines were:

Lutheran-Episcopal agreement approved by wide margin

Jubilee the unifying theme of General Convention

New common ground found on sexuality

Episcopal Church budget focuses on mission and growth

Spirit of gratitude marks closing session

Were there "winners and losers" at this Convention? Sure ... that's the nature of the process. But in the final accounting the loser was the one who came hoping for division and diatribe: the winner was the Gospel. The winner was the Good News that the Body of Christ is alive and well in the Episcopal Church. The Good News is that we are using those gifts God gave "... that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry ... for building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of the faith ... to the measure of the full stature of Christ."

All of us ... offering our gifts, our stories, our selves ... our souls and bodies ... to make up the Body of Christ in the World.

"Behold, the Face of God" indeed! Amen


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