Saturday, July 01, 2006

Unity in a Farewell

A Sermon for Sunday, July 2nd, at Christ Episcopal Church -- Sei Ko Kai, San Francisco, on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you. . .

With all the talk in the news this week about schism in the Episcopal Church, it seemed that things were coming apart at the seams. Unhappy with our General Convention and the election of +Katharine Jefferts Schori as our new Presiding Bishop, a handful of dioceses (ours not among them) are now calling on the wider Anglican Communion for “alternative Primatial oversight.”

The strange move slights our Presiding Bishop-elect. But, ironically enough, in the way our church governance works, she will not be. . .nor has a Presiding Bishop ever been. . .the principle “overseer” for any diocese. General Convention is. Only General Convention has the ultimate power to intercede or oversee the affairs of any diocese beyond and above their own elected bishop.

Here’s my last teaching about the Episcopal Church for you as your Vicar: the Presiding Bishop’s primary role is in the House of Bishops – to preside over their gatherings and call them together as a point of unity – and to represent the Episcopal Church as a special point of contact (though one of many) for our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion.

So "alternative Primatial oversight" is yet another (symbolic, perhaps?) request to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates to try to stick it in the eye of the Episcopal Church. . .in our “wacko liberal” eyes. . .and in the eyes of women. . .and gays and lesbians in Holy Orders. Just for the record, I’ll stand with them and get my eyes stuck, too.

Unity it seems, to these upset dioceses and their bishops, is based largely on doctrine – and a frozen state of affairs around theology. Each one appears to choose his – and, yes, all these bishops are men – point in a reading of history to decide when the teachings of the Church were perfect and “apostolic” – closest, they feel, to what the apostles received directly from the lips and hands of Christ. . .and then they wish to impose it on the Church of the twenty-first century.

It’s going to be an interesting few years in our Church. Make no mistake. There will be a lot of ink spilled and some more harsh words. There will be lawsuits, crying, and gnashing of teeth. It’s already begun. But, please take heart. This has all happened before many times. The Gospel will survive. So will the Church.

My point for today is this: unity around doctrine has almost always failed us. The moment we decide everyone must agree to a single, narrowly human understanding of God, something has gone wrong. There is immediate dissension. In a heartbeat, we see – if our eyes remain open and our heads out of the sand – exceptions to “the rule.” This kind of unity is too fragile. And, my brothers and sisters, this is not the unity that binds us together.

But where I have learned this truth? To some degree from study in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my feeble attempts to live it out. From my mistakes over the few short years I have been ordained.

But, most of all in recent times, I have learned it from all of you.

Christ Church is certainly not the place to go to find unity of mind or doctrine. Not a day has gone by in the past four years that you haven’t disagreed with each other or with me. Sometimes quietly, sometimes noisily. Sometimes over great and weighty matters. Sometimes over small things. And yet, we have stayed together and even welcomed new people into our arguing unity.

No, unity is about something else altogether. The apostles indeed taught by their words, but more so by their actions. It was in their healing hands, tired feet, and struggle to stay together in community that said so much more about unity in Christ than anything else.

Julian of Norwich (the Medieval mystic who got a bad wrap recently when our Presiding Bishop-elect quoted her at General Convention) says unity lies in charity – what we simply deem today as the best sort of self-giving love. And God appears in this love. . .no mention of doctrine necessary. As Julian hears God saying to her:

I am the goodness of the fatherhood; I am the wisdom of the motherhood. I am the light and the grace that is all blessed love. I am the Trinity. I am the unity. I am the goodness of all manner of things. I am the one who makes you love. I am the one that makes you yearn. I am the endless fulfilling of all true desires.

This is a true teaching in the apostolic tradition. In short, God is love. And our unity is founded upon that love. The unity is in God.

And how often these past four years have you manifested to me this beautiful notion of unity, not only with each other, but in your care and concern for Hiroko, Daniel, and me. Many of you have nurtured me like a good parent – the “goodness of the fatherhood” and the “wisdom of the motherhood,” shepherding me along the way as I, in my sometimes haphazard and mistake-ridden way, tried to shepherd you as your priest.

We yearned together in God’s gracious presence. In our prayers, we sought God’s fulfillment of all our true desires. And in these and so many other manifestations of our divine love for each other: in our joys and in our sorrows – at Sukiyaki Dinners and Summer Frolics, at dinner parties, over coffee, and in quiet reflections in Scripture, at baptisms, marriages, memorials, and in the ordinary worship of Sunday mornings. . .we found true unity in the bread we broke together and the cup of Christ from which we drank: in those wonderful and gracious symbols of Christ’s love for us – given for us to share with each other – given for us to share with a world in need.

There’s a part of me that would love to invite some of our more disgruntled bishops – such as +Iker of Fort Worth, +Howe of Central Florida, +Schofield of San Joaquin, and even ++Akinola of Nigeria – to Christ Church – Sei Ko Kai. . .for them to see what unity means to a little community with people from all over. . .a community that has suffered a lot, struggled even more, and loved with a generosity that might even turn the head of St. Paul.

We are like Jairus’ daughter in today’s Gospel, raised from the dead by our loving, “true Mother” as Julian calls Jesus – the one who bore us from the very beginning of time. And we have been raised into a special kind of unity that the world cannot completely understand, because it cannot be boiled down to contracts, reason, or dogma. But instead, our unity is richly found in the rough-and-tumble turbulence of incarnational lives like yours and mine. Lives incarnational, because they are filled by God’s Spirit, and shared with a generous love and patience that is so strange and wonderful, it can only come ultimately from that loving Jesus at work in our midst.

When I leave Christ Church after today, this lesson in loving unity that you all have taught me by your example and deep love in God in Christ will go with me. In some ways, I feel I will not be leaving completely, but these past four years will be a strong bond of true affection between us that will endure. . .as God endures. . .forever.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, our unity will last. There is no way to measure the portion of my heart that I will leave with you as I take up ordained priesthood elsewhere. And, yet, there will always be room for more of God’s abundance to be shared among you. Believe, dear children of God, along with me, that we are never far from true joy and true freedom in God’s heart. And know that you are forever loved.

How do I know? It’s this simple:

If God loves you half as much as I do, you will never be wanting for grace or blessing.

I end my final sermon as your Vicar with more words from Julian of Norwich:

All will be well: and you yoursel[ves] will see that every conceivable thing will be well. And then the blessed Motherhood of Christ will begin a new phase in the joy of our God. It will be a new era, a new heaven and a new earth that will last forever.

And so I understand that all his children who have been blessedly born to him in nature will be brought to him again by grace.

God go with you.


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