Saturday, May 26, 2007

To think or not to think

The conversations at Father Jake’s blog bring to mind such an important piece of what it means to be an Anglican in the US or an Episcopalian for me. Ever since my swimming the Thames, I have noticed the high level of intellectual engagement in the Church. It has been a point of pride that educational prowess has always characterized seminary-trained clergy. It is not surprising then that I find myself bumfuzzled by the current level of anti-intellectualism that is characterizing some in the Episcopal Church.

During my seminary and then doctoral studies I strained to understand JDE and P for OT classes and embraced higher criticism as I understood what redaction meant. Now, I am expected to take seriously clergy who reject basic scientific data and scholarship of Scripture. To find that clergy are being ordained who belittle such complexities in the Bible and then thump arcane 5th century theologians makes me suspicious not only of their training and testing, but upon their honesty in the process towards ordination.

As one of the commentators on Fr. Jake’s blog reminded me that underlying the discrimination in denying Bishop Gene Robinson by the Archbishop of Canterbury is a denial of science. Now that is remarkable as the ABC is seen as a superb academic. But the kind of anti-intellectualism that ++Williams is succumbing to is considerable.

For the past 50 years or so both the medical and the social science disciplines have shown that homosexuality is neither an aberration of human mental health nor a threat to the social fabric. Same sex love has been a part of the human social contract of societies as long as there has been human relationship.

For the past 50 years or so, Scripture scholarship has shown that the homophobic passages found in the Bible are ones that do not apply to present day any more than the prohibition of wearing garments of more than one kind of thread. And yet… and yet…
Still we hear the same things trotted out whenever we have to deal with inclusion of GLBT persons.

The uber-right has spent a great deal of money and effort to reinforce for all Christians that science is not to be trusted. It reminds me of the parents of students in the school where I was teaching not wanting their children to learn more than what they knew. They wanted to control what their children learned as well as control their children. I am sure that they had the best intentions for their children. But knowledge and learning are not controllable. Once a child has learned to research an issue, if they are curious, they will learn on their own. What is incumbent on a parent to do is teach the child the values that will help them order what they learn. Protecting children from life is an anti-intellectualism that is rooted in fear and power.

The failure of the ABC to invite +Gene Robinson means that ++Cantur has caved into the anti-intellectuals that have invaded the Church and who have decried biblical scholarship as undermining the faith. He as succumbed to the pressure of those who have not had educations allowing them to embrace the ever-widening experience without giving the structures, values or spiritual center to discern what is right or wrong.

The real fear from the uber-right in the Communion is that they fear that if they meet +Gene they might find out that his spiritual depths far out strip many of their own and that would not do. I do hope that +Gene will attend as a guest and continue to tear down the walls of prejudice and fear that he has been doing since his consecration.

We as Church have asked much of +Gene by confirming his election. We have opened the minds of many people to an understanding of Christ’s love through him. God reveals Gods-self in the flesh of humanity, in the truths of science, in the love of people for one another, not through covenants, creeds or law. We may not throw out our minds or our hearts to accommodate present culture.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

That they all may be one --Reprise

In the week following Easter 7 when the RCL appoints John 17 “that we all might be one”, the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) lets it be known that Bishop Gene Robinson will not be invited to the Lambeth Conference which is THE tea party that all Anglican bishops are invited to. Only +Gene and +Martyn Mimms, a bishop of Nigeria who has been posted to interfere with the American Church by his archbishop, have been not invited.

How are we to understand this snubbing? I believe that we should see it as the ABC’s finale to a sad term in office. He has steadfastly ignored the Episcopal Church’s (TEC) witness to gay and lesbian persons. He has avoided meeting with the House of Bishops HoB) or attending the General Conventions of TEC even when invited. He has proposed a Covenant relationship for membership in the Anglican Communion and supported the Primate’s attempted interference in TEC. And now he has refused to be seen in the company of a gay bishop. So much for the listening process promoted by Lambeth ’98!

To me it is clear that the Windsor Report, the Primate’s Communique, the HoB communication, the will of General Convention has all been a great exercise in nothingness and a major waste of time and money. The ABC doesn’t get it. He is as dense as Jesus’ disciples. And I doubt if the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is going to do anything for him. And if the ABC is one of the marks of unity, I think it is time for TEC to recognize that the spirit of Anglicanism resides in TEC, not the CofE.

Either we are one or we are not. To say that all the diocesan bishops of TEC can come but he can’t have LGBT cooties in their midst is not living out the Gospel that concludes Jesus’ Priestly prayer. What an insult to TEC, to the HoB, to the HoD, to the Executive Council, to + Gene, to all of us who have tried to continue in dialog when the heart of the ABC has been closed to LGBT people all along!

Until now I have been one who has been supportive of staying in the Anglican Communion (AC) at nearly all costs. I was proud of the HoB’s communication to the Primates as to the demands they made by making it quite clear that bishops are not the only Christians with authority in TEC. But now I am not sure that we can stay in the AC if only some of our bishops are welcome and others are not.

There is no way to be in dialog, to address conflict if both sides are not at the table to speak. By excluding both +Robisnson and +Mimms, there is no way that the issue that is tearing our Communion apart can be healed. As long as people are silenced, as long as their voice is not permitted to be at the table, there is no unity and no possibility for its development.

I hope the HoB has the courage to live up to the convictions that they had in April. If the steadfastness to stand in unity with LGBT persons is as strong as it was in TX, they, to a bishop, need to decline the invitations en masse. The Executive Council and the HoB should also be unwilling to foot the considerable funding of Lambeth ’08 that it has done in the past. The ABC must know that the unity that he has so symbolized is a shattered by his actions, not TEC, or Nigeria or the Global South or Windsor compliant folk. The symbol of unity is a sham.

Monday, May 21, 2007

That we may all be one.

Today our gospel reading is a portion of what is called Jesus’ High priestly prayer. It is the final discourse of Jesus in the gospel of John before his Passion. It is a long discourse in which he addresses God and calls God to protect those who have followed him.

The particular portion that we have today is on unity. He prays that those who follow him might be one. I must admit that I have found this particular passage very difficult to preach on at the moment. And when I find difficulty in preaching on it, I know that God has some real meaning to impart to me or to people who are to hear this sermon. It is at times like these that being obedient to the lectionary requires more attention and trust that God’s word will be heard, not my particular feelings about a passage.

What we find in today’s reading is not just a mere sense that we should all think the same. What I hear loud and clear is that God is calling us to a kind of unity that we would rather not deal with. That I am here to preach in a communion not my own says that there is something amiss. That we even have different denominations says that something is amiss. God wants us all to be the same, some would say. But I think that is far too simplistic a rendition of this passage.

John has brought together the whole life of Jesus to this discourse. The words of Jesus have been redacted more in John than in any other gospel, but that does not damage the message that God would have humanity be one---not in our thinking, not in our opinions, not in even our actions but in our love.

And I would suggest to you that this passage in John while very beautiful and wonderfully poetic is perhaps the hardest to live. It stands on the premise that because we can see God in the person of Jesus, we can then see God in one another because of Jesus. It is the hardest part of being a Christian there is. All the rules of being a good Christian are enveloped in this one statement. It is why the Golden Rule is so difficult, because all too often we cannot see the Christ in one another.

Jesus says “The glory that you have given me I have given them , so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Now usually John refers to Christ’s glory as his passion. And Jesus knows that God has given us a passion to live through so that we may be made one. And isn’t it the truth that when organization, families have to go through tough times, they are often brought closer together.

I hope and pray that this is what is happening in my own denomination. I pray that the fighting that is going on in the Episcopal Church will make us stronger and faithful even though it is seems to be tearing us apart. But what does that say to us, here at St. Luke’s? What does it mean when an Episcopalian talks of her church among a bunch of Lutherans? Does it heighten or soften the anxiety of our separateness?
Do we find Christ in this exercise or not or do we merely wipe the sweat from our brow and say “there but the grace of God goes the Lutheran Church”? Are we really one or not? Can we find in one another the Christ, the passion of the Savior, that draws us mightily together so that we too can pray this prayer?

Can we find in our own journey in faith the sense of unity despite different customs, liturgy, even how we understand what bishops mean, to find the Christ in one another to bridge the differences between us to make a common journey?

I believe that in this 21st century we are going to see a total realignment of churches if not in the whole world, at least in the US. I see a reconfiguration of Christianity based less on protestant and catholic norms but based more on how we understand Scripture and the difference between truth and fact. I see a reordering of church communities based less on ethnicity and more on how we live out our baptismal vows. We will find commonality less on creedal statements or liturgy and more on how we understand the relationship of the Divine in the lives of people. And please God we will be known less for our rules and regulations, or even our creeds, and be known by the love we show one another in healthy and holistic ways.

I believe that is what Jesus is teaching us in this prayer today. I know that I have to listen to this prayer intensely so that I can remain in my own communion. I must be willing to see Christ in my bishop even if he has a hard time finding Christ in me. I know that you need to listen intently to this prayer that you may address the issues that face this parish. We are called to know that God’s name has been preached among us. Each of us has been called to honor that name with our lives, our actions, the way we treat one another. Our Lord prayed that we be loved with the love that God loved him and that it may be in us.

These are not just nice poetic words—they are powerful words that work in us that for which they were prayed. Loving others is not just something nice—they are passion. They are words calling forth a willingness to endure the passion our Lord endured. It is the willingness to lay down our lives for one another, not in battle, but in surrender to love. It is far easier to lay down our lives in battle than to lay down our lives in surrender to love, I can assure you.

God has loved us before the foundations of the world. And even though we make a mess of the world, we stand forgiven before God washed in the mercy of Divine forgiveness. All of us---ALL OF US stand in that mercy no matter what we have done. And because we all stand in that mercy, none of us have the right to hold judgment against another. We by rights have only one attitude, to be in holy relationship with one another. It is what communion is about. It is what Scripture is about. It is what life is about.

We are one.

But that does not mean that we are the same. It means that we must find the Christ in one another despite the idiosyncrasy of the other, the strangeness of the foreign, in that which is different from each other. We do not have the right to malign others because they are different. We may not find evil in the actions of others just because they do not fit our norms. ( I do believe in evil but it is rare.)

This is the message that we as Christians all through the ages have always found so difficult—that people who think differently can be one with one another. It is why we have orthodox, catholic, reformed and evangelical Christians of so many stripes. It is why we have had holy wars over who believed what. We have had splits and holy and unholy alliances throughout history. We often confuse politics with theology. We often carry more ideology than faith when we come to the altar and kneel in humility before our God , we often exclude those we don’t understand from our midst.

But Jesus prayed that we all might be one ---those who had seen him and those who had just heard of his love. Jesus prayed that God’s love might be in us, that we might be known by the way that we shared that love with others.

Let’s make St. Luke’s a center of loving for the people of Sidney and the area around here. Let’s find in one another the image of Christ and trust that each other’s faith is given by God just as surely as our own has been given. It doesn’t make us feel very righteous. It is hard to point to how powerful we are. But I believe that it will draw others to know of the faith who have not heard the gospel of Christ’s love. And if we are not about that, we have no reason for being here.

Faith in Christ is not about being good. It isn’t about being holier than others. Faith is about being willing to love.