Saturday, June 09, 2012

Brothers and Sisters

Brothers and Sisters!

“Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35
When looking at this moment in the life of Jesus I cannot help but think of the possible hurt this comment could have and probably did cause to those closest to Jesus on this planet. I can well imagine what the conversation might have been at the dinner table the next time the Holy Family gathered!
“We were so proud of you Jesus, and we simply wanted to see you doing wonders. We wanted to hear you teach, see you heal; we, like all the others, wanted to be with you.”
And then I’m sure Jesus would have had to reassure his beloved family of his love for them too. But he had to make the point that in this world there is work to be done; God’s work!
“For whoever does the will of God, these are my brothers my sisters and my mother.”
Thus as I prepare myself to celebrate what will be 40 years of ordained ministry two weeks from today, I cannot help but think of where we have been as a people of God in that time.
Even before I began parish ministry, I found myself embroiled in Civil Rights struggles. A student from our Theological School has been shot and killed protecting a young black girl in the south just a year before I began my studies there.  Jonathan Myrick Daniels was to become our first modern Martyr. His assailant was acquitted of the crime and lived to the ripe old age of 84. The girl went on to study at the same seminary where Jonathan Daniels was a student, and she now works in the ongoing struggle for human rights.

In my very first parish, I remember introducing the new Book of Common Prayer. From my seminary education I knew that there were good reasons for these revisions. The Oxford Scholar and Anglican Liturgical authority, Dom Gregory Dix and his monumental work “The Shape of the Liturgy” was required reading for us. Episcopalians, Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics around the world had to come to terms with what we learned of ancient liturgical Eucharistic theology and practice.

The fact that I had done my homework didn’t make it any easier. Folks were accustomed to their beloved Prayer Book as I am sure many of you will remember and they did not always like the changes. In the beginning we used the Trial Liturgy on the Third Sunday of each month. The Senior Warden told me that the Choir was considering a boycott of those Sundays. I was trying to be reasonable, but this threat did get my back up and so I said; “You go and tell them that if they pull that stunt on me, we’ll use the Trial Liturgy EVERY SUNDAY!” We reached what you might call, an “Accommodation”.

Then of course there were the Philadelphia Eleven and the Ordination of women in the Church. And Barbara Harris of Philadelphia became the first Woman Bishop in the Anglican Communion in my Diocese in Massachusetts. You would have thought that the End indeed had come. I remember her consecration and the threats of those who considered leaving the church...and some did. But I also remember some dear friends who were classmates of mine including Carol Anderson who has distinguished herself as the long time Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hill CA, a distinguished priest in her own right and one featured in Time Magazine. Now we all know that the ministry of the church has been vastly enriched by the presence of women in the ordained ministry.

More recently then there has been the controversy over inclusivity especially since the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. This has not been a problem for me and my family, in fact it is a great non issue for us personally since I was brought up by a gay uncle who stood in for my dad after his untimely death and two of my three sons happen to be gay. Still it is a huge issue for the larger world of faith, and is the center of what we now call “Culture Wars” in our American Theo-Political world. 
Suddenly it seems the line between Church and State which once we had thought was inviolably and indelibly etched in the Constitution has now become blurred.
In all this Controversy and Struggle there comes to me a sense that when I was Ordained, I was sent out to do the work that God has given me to do, indeed as I look back on these 40 years, I become aware that we have all been sent out to do the work that God has given all of us to do.
In the case of St. Gabriel’s we are indeed “Learning and Doing the Work of Jesus”. In the words of St Peter’s Church of Salem;“We are a House of Prayer for ALL People” and if I may add two words which the Biblical Record makes utterly clear...NO EXCEPTIONS!

Now that I have retired twice and am working on a yet a third retirement from this wonderful Church. I have a chance to look back and admire how far we’ve come.
I’m sure many of you know that the Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church has issued an invitation to disaffected Episcopalians/Anglicans to come over to Rome for refuge. I couldn’t help but wonder whether there might be Roman Catholics who might be disaffected as well by the continued insistence on Celibacy especially when it is clear that Rome is fumbling its way around sexual child abuse at best. 
I wondered if there were those devoted souls, Nuns and others who have been advocating for ministry among the world’s poorest of the poor and for women’s rights and extending the heart of God’s love to all people without regard to gender or orientation.
I wondered if there were those tired of the rants on abortion and family planning and marginalization of various and sundry outcasts...when the very Founder of our Faith was radically present to these very people.
Thus I found myself forced to articulate an invitation to such disaffected souls from the Roman Church to the Episcopal Church, because of all the work that we have been doing throughout these 40 years. We have been making room in the Heart of God for ALL People without regard to any of these false human pigeon holes we tend to put people into.

After all God is One, Jesus is One and Humanity is One. The Church if nothing else is called to be Perfectly One with God and Jesus and ALL Humankind.
Forty years! Well in some ways the outward nature is beginning to show its mileage or as the Epistle said in today’s Second Lesson. somewhat indelicately, “waste away”.  I do have my aches and pains and medication to take. But inwardly you and I are being renewed “every single day”. I know I am!
I know with every certainty in my being, that as that “tent I live in” as Paul puts it, is being destroyed, so too there is a “building from God, not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens”.
I have already heard from dozens of people who want to know how to make their way toward the Episcopal Church in any number of States, in Canada, in The United Kingdom in Australia and in New Zealand
Friday night, rather late I heard from a woman who has felt a sense within her that she is called to priesthood. That’s impossible for her to even contemplate in her church. She said she was going to visit an Episcopal Church somewhere this very morning to see if God could embrace her there without regard to her gender.
I want to thank you for giving me a spiritual home for these several months. You give me an opportunity to Preach the Gospel and not just here but much more widely than I could ever have imagined.
You are my brothers and my sisters and my mother. Anyone who does the will of God are my brothers and my sisters and my mother. There are millions who are waiting to hear the Good News that the Gospel of God’s love includes them too! “Send us out to do the work you have given us to do!”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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