Sunday, May 07, 2006

On Finding a Shepherd

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:11-16

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

May 6th began with a early rise for me, out of bed to prepare for the election of the Eighth Bishop of California. . .a desire to get to Grace Cathedral early to join our delegates, Frances and Keiko, before the madding rush. . .the anticipated rush of the other clergy and delegates, observers, and. . .yes, the media. The day had been long awaited. A year-and-a-half of preparation in the diocese had brought us here. Countless hours of diligent prayer and patient, arduous labor, and long conversation about our future leadership were now behind us.

As is my wont first thing in the morning, I fired up my computer to read e-mail and look at the latest news. I had deliberately not been overly-attentive to the rhetoric swirling around our election. The media really was enjoying the controversy over the nominees. But I looked a bit anyway on the morning of the election. After our conversations in our delegation and with the Christ Church community, we felt we had a pretty clear sense by now whom the Spirit was leading us to vote for on the first few ballots.

I immediately came upon a recent AP piece that captured some of the concerns coming from conservatives in the Church. I don’t know where Canon Bill Atwood of the Ekklesia Society based in Carrollton, Texas, was getting his information, but he said: “I don't think there's any question [the Diocese of California] will be compelled to elect a partnered gay.”

I found the statement a bit strange. With all my friends, colleagues, and mentors in this Diocese and the greater Church who are gay or lesbian, no one had approached me with any kind of bribe, loaded gun, or even earnest pleas that looked anything remotely like the compulsion Canon Atwood was alluding to.

Just to crank it up another big notch, Paul Zahl, Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, was quoted in the same article. . .He said the potential election of a gay bishop in California was like “a terrorist bomb, which is timed to destroy a peace process.”

When The Rev. Susan Russell of Integrity and All Saints’, Pasadena, and the Human Rights Campaign publicly called Paul on the carpet for such an outrageous remark, he refused to apologize. He explained further in internet contexts how the Diocese of California – yes, that’s not just our diocese, but us – how we were the Anglican equivalent of the Irish Republican Army when they were deliberately timing attacks to undermine peace in Northern Ireland. . .or how we were like Hamas in its attacks on Israel.
Jesus said, “The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.”

Now, as a member of the Diocese of California, I suppose I should be able to take the name of “heretic.” I know some in this diocese, including our current bishop, who, with a healthy sense of humor, wears the title like a badge of honor. I can even stand being called “revisionist.” But the not-so-charitable title of “terrorist?” How does that fit for you?

I’ve met Paul – at a CDSP event where he was invited to speak a few years ago. I see him, for what it’s worth, as a three-dimensional human being just like the rest of us, with deep responsibility to an Episcopal institution that now feels and behaves embattled. I still believe Paul to be a Christian. And I’ve heard him talk about the pain he’s faced as he’s watched friends leave over the current debate in the Communion about human sexuality. I think his pain and concerns are real.

But in the end, this language using the great articulation of evil and darkness in our day. . . about “terrorists” in the Diocese of California getting ready to plant a “bomb” in the Anglican Communion. . .well, it was really all about one thing: fear.

And fear, we hear in today’s Gospel, scatters the sheep. Fear is about wolves. It’s about hired hands running away. It isn’t about shepherds. And it most certainly is not about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So I arrived at Grace Cathedral, half expecting some protestors. I was not disappointed. This is San Francisco, after all! But there was only one I saw: a lone protestor standing at the bottom of the steps of Grace Cathedral. He was carrying a large placard with various accusations for our Church: that we were lost, we were faithless, we were “feminized” (whatever that means.) I occasionally checked with friends and colleagues as they came into the Cathedral after me. There was still only one lone protestor standing out front holding the sign and shouting occasionally at delegates and clergy as they arrived. Though I heard of no one trying to run him off, someone told me after an hour or two, the lone protestor apparently gave up and went home. . .or on to the next electing convention, I suppose.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Our Convention and first ballots opened with hymns, biblical readings, meditations, and prayer. . .complete with cameras rolling and reporters at least half expecting some kind of radical agenda to emerge; maybe they were a little hungry for a fight – a signal, perhaps, to the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal equivalent of a civil protest. . .or even what Paul Zahl was predicting would be a “terrorist bomb” for our sisters and brothers in Christ.

There was one problem for the media who were hoping to witness this polemic firsthand in our electing convention. . .

It didn’t exist.

We were merely sheep of the Diocese of California, gathered around our Shepherd. . .and I don’t mean Bishop Swing (God love him, we were gathered with him, too). . .I mean our Shepherd of shepherds. . .Jesus Christ. We were together. We were united in prayer to God. We were determined to vote in the Spirit – threats, predictions, and fear notwithstanding.

When Bishop Marc Andrus was elected on the third ballot, the entire Convention rose to its feet in all its diversity – young, old, rich, poor, Americans of every background, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Latino, European, African, gay, lesbian, straight, transgendered, man, woman, clergy, laity, conservative, liberal, moderate, and independent. Did I get everybody? By the time the cheering and clapping was over, my hands hurt.

We had seven excellent and admirable nominees before us. Some will make fine bishops in the future. I believe we had indeed looked beyond sexuality and gender at full human beings honestly and prayerfully discerning with us about who was called to be our next bishop.

And we agreed yesterday that Marc Andrus was called to be our bishop. It’s where the Spirit led us. Please make no mistake. I do not believe he was a mere compromise or consensus candidate. Nor did I feel his election a response to fear. I know a number of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in California confidently voted for Andrus from the first ballot. Nor is he merely an olive branch to offer out of regret or appeasement over the current controversy in the Anglican Communion. Yes, I heard rumors about Andrus circulating on the floor of Convention yesterday: rumors that he commands respect from theological opponents, evangelicals, and progressives alike.

In the end, for me at least, he is, General Convention consenting, none other than the next bishop of California. . .our next shepherd who will work with us and the greater Church to point the way to the Great Shepherd, Jesus the Christ.
Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

Little was lost on Marc Handley Andrus as he spoke by phone for the first time to the Diocese as our bishop-elect. He’d been reading the papers. With their microphones held up high to the speakers of Grace Cathedral, the reporters listened intently as Bishop Andrus gave a very clear, very direct message to us, to the world, and to the Anglican Communion. He said our commitment to inclusion will continue in this diocese – and not just to gays, lesbians, and women; but to minorities; to children and youth; to young adults; to those outside of our doors; to those in need; to those who are seeking purpose and direction for their lives. With his election, we are re-committed to the radically inclusive, transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe he would willfully provoke controversy, but, as our bishop, he will continue to stand firm in his faith to this Gospel he believes in.

I confess, after hearing this, tears of hope and joy came to me as we began communion. I believe in that Gospel, too. Bishop Andrus’ unifying vision for transformative justice in the Gospel is palpable, catching, and may well help us as a people deepen and strengthen our mission to the people of the Bay Area and the world in the 21st century.

Don’t get me wrong; my glowing remarks are not meant to suggest he is perfect. He will have his detractors. He will make mistakes. Every bishop does, just like the rest of us human beings. But I can tell you this: Marc Andrus came across very clearly in the search process as someone who would freely admit his faults. . .and his faith. I sensed someone who can be trusted. I sensed someone who speaks out of his heart and out of a deep place of prayer. I sensed someone who is profoundly open to God’s grace. This is why I felt called by the Spirit to vote for him.

I believe he will want to get to know you -- each of you – and personally. And his relationship with this Diocese will transform him, as will our relationship with him will transform us. As will the relationship with God in Christ we share with him. God will work through him to discern with us and call us in new and exciting directions.

The media got an earful and an eyeful yesterday about spiritual discernment – the kind of decision making in the Spirit that transcends black-and-white stories; that rises above polemical thinking and threats and name-calling; that breathes and speaks grace into the controversy that splits churches. We were not peddling fear or soundbytes yesterday. We were peddling the Spirit. And in that Spirit, we sought and found a shepherd. I wonder what the reporters and their editors will make of what they witnessed.

I’m happy to say there were no terrorists in our electing convention. There were only faithful Christians working in the Spirit to discern God’s will. And discern we did. I was grateful to be part of such a tremendous day. We found a shepherd.

And, though I believe we never lost him to begin with, we reaffirmed our devotion to our Good Shepherd. . .our Great High Priest. . .the One who is leading us home.

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