7th Pentecost – July 27, 2003
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16
UNITY AMIDST DISUNITY
A Sermon by The Rev. Dennis J. Parker,
Curate at Christ Church Episcopal Parish, Lake Oswego, OR
(Sung) WHERE CHARITY AND LOVE PREVAIL THERE GOD IS EVER FOUND,
BROUGHT HERE TOGETHER BY CHRIST’S LOVE, BY LOVE ARE WE THUS BOUND
WITH GRATEFUL JOY AND HOLY FEAR GOD’S CHARITY WE LEARN,
LET US WITH HEART AND MIND AND STRENGTH NOW LOVE GOD IN RETURN.
As many of you know, I am a member of the fellowship of Alcoholic’s Anonymous. In that fellowship, we share many “slogans” and phrases which help us to stay focused on the things which really matter in our lives as sober individuals. One of those phrases seems to be particularly appropriate this morning. “There are no coincidences; there are only God-incidences”. Normally when the staff meets on Tuesday mornings we begin with the collect and lectionary readings which will be used on the following Sunday and we discuss among ourselves meanings and insights which might help the preacher for that Sunday to focus her or his thoughts around what the Spirit is calling them to say. I was not at the staff meeting this week – I was home in bed nursing a very sore body trying to pass a kidney stone. Now I am not sure what my colleagues had to say about the lectionary readings assigned for this Sunday – but when I began my preparation for this sermon and saw what the Church had assigned for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, I burst in to a broad and satisfied smile. Because trust me – the readings (especially the reading from Paul’s letter to the early Christian community at Ephesus) are EXACTLY what the Church in this moment needs to hear.
I’m not sure if the individuals responsible for the lectionary readings which are laid out in three year repeating cycles knew that Proper 17 in Year B would fall on the Sunday prior to General Convention in 2003 – but my guess is that God had more of a hand in this than did the members of the Lectionary Committee. Paul’s message to the church at Ephesus which we heard a snippet of this morning primarily speaks to the merging of Jew and Gentile into one body, the Church with Christ as the head. Paul writes: “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift….The gifts he gave where that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teacher, 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 and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…..”
Now, ‘speaking the truth in love’ is often no easy task! People don’t like to hear the truth, and will often claim that truth is relative and dependant on the speaker – ‘what is true for you, is not necessarily true for me’. Allow this speaker an example of what is true for me – and I think holds true for all of God’s creation. They are words which are framed in the very foundation of our common life – penned by the founders of this nation, many of whom were also the founders of this branch of the Anglican Communion which we call the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that ALL are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” On this truth I hang the basis of my faith – ALL are welcome at this table, because it is God’s table – it is not our table – and God welcomes all to the banquet which is prepared at this table.
The church has struggled throughout its history to understand how that can be true – and often has failed to grasp God’s radical message of inclusivity for those who are “different” from them. That struggle has played out in the dangerous “who’s in and who’s out” struggles of our Christian heritage. It began with the ‘circumcision’ and ‘un-circumcision’ which we heard Paul speak of in the reading from this same letter last week. It continued though the struggles with those early believers in the first century who labored to understand “the loaves” that Mark mentions in the Gospel reading this morning. It manifests itself in the struggles between the great world religions of Christianity and Islam in the 13th century; in the reformation from the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome in the 16th century. It has carried on in our own recent memories around the inclusion of African American, Native American and immigrant American peoples in the 19th century, and in our own lifetimes around the inclusion of women in the latter half of the 20th century and now up to the inclusion of the sexual minority community in the early part of the 21st century.
(SUNG) FORGIVE WE NOW EACH OTHER’S FAULTS, AS WE OUR FAULTS CONFESS.
AND LET US LOVE EACH OTHER WELL, IN CHRISTIAN HOLIINESS.
LET STRIFE AMONG US BE UNKNOWN, LET ALL CONTENTION CEASE;
BE GOD’S THE GLORY THAT WE SEEK – BE OURS GOD’S HOLY PEACE.
I’m sure that most of you are aware of the difficult struggles which face our General Convention this coming week around the issue of Human Sexuality. Most among us have seen the national news reports and the “Episcopal” Church is in the public eye in a very dramatic way. The eyes of the general public as well as the members of other Christian denominations will be focused on decisions which the Convention will debate. I am not here this morning to tell you how I think the Convention should vote – or what I feel the outcome will be. I am here to tell you that despite what you may hear from an overzealous and “sensationalized” press – the Church will survive what ever decisions the Holy Spirit will guide our convention to. I know this because this is not “our” Church, this is not “there” Church (whoever “they” may be) – this is God’s Church and God has promised that “against it, the gates of hell shall not prevail.”
Despite what some fear-mongers may wish us to believe – the Church has withstood greater struggles than these. What we need to be conscious of is spoken beautifully by the Church in the Collect that Shannon prayed for us this morning. “O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.” I was most struck in listening to Canon Gene Robinson’s interview with Terri Gross on NPR this week by a comment which he made after being asked by Terri what it would mean to him if the General Convention did – or did not affirm the decision of the Diocese of New Hampshire around his call to be their Bishop. I’m going to paraphrase his response and I hope I do him the justice that his dignity deserves – and would encourage each of you to go to the website for “Fresh Air” and listen to the interview and learn more about this deeply spiritual and humble priest. Anyway his response was something like this. “Let me begin by saying something that initially may sound flip, but I don’t mean it that way. I have this very deep abiding knowledge – not belief, but knowledge – that when all is said and done, I’m going to heaven. Whether I do this well or I do this poorly, I’m going to heaven. Whether I’m confirmed as Bishop of New Hampshire or not, I’m going to heaven, and in relation to that, all that’s happening is pretty small potatoes. Knowing that God love’s me beyond my wildest imagination give me a kind of calm and peacefulness on the inside that is allowing me to ride this storm”
Jesus, my brothers and sisters is with us in the storm. That is the point of the story which the author of Mark’s Gospel relates this morning. We, if we are to “understand the loaves” need to understand that Jesus takes what we already have – and breaks it and uses it to perform miracles among us. Jesus comes across the water to the frightened and terrified small band of members of the early Church and says “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid’. Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.”
Let us pray for all of the laity, professed religious, deacons, priests and Bishop’s who will serve the General Convention in Minneapolis during these next weeks; that they may remember to invite Jesus into the boat which is struggling in choppy waters – so that Jesus, using the loaves that they already have may break them and distribute them and create miracles among us.
Dr. Goetz, the Niebuhr distinguished chair of theology and ethics at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois wrote the following in an article published in the Christian Century in July of 1997:
“Given the realities of human diversity, it is next to impossible for us to engage in intimate spiritual fellowship with people whose vision of Christianity we find skewed. This is a valid reason for expressing our faith in a variety of ecclesiastical formats. Yet beliefs and doctrines that appear to us to be mutually contradictory may in truth be evidence of the glorious diversity of the spiritual gifts flowing from God’s love in Jesus Christ.”
(SUNG) LET US RECALL THAT IN OUR MIDST, DWELLS GOD’S BEGOTTEN SON,
AS MEMBERS OF GOD’S BODY JOINED, WE ARE IN GOD MADE ONE.
LOVE CAN EXCLUDE NO RACE OR CREED IF HONORED BE GOD’S NAME;
OUR COMMON LIFE EMBRACES ALL, WHO FATHER IS THE SAME.
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