Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Rainbow Eucharist

All Other Sheep

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church is a Fabulous Fiesta! The entire extravaganza is Eucharistic! I was there in Minneapolis when we elected Gene Robinson the first openly partnered gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. I was there again in Columbus when we elected Katharine Jefferts Schori our first woman as Presiding Bishop. How I'd love to be there again for the Festivities!

As many of you will know, I am an outspoken advocate of many things. Among them I believe we Episcopalians are on the right track with regard to Marriage Equality and Inclusivity. Over the course of my own lifetime I have been part of the struggle for Human Rights of all sorts; A struggle for the cessation of belligerent Foreign Policy, Civil Rights, , Gender Equality, and now the embrace of all without regard to Sexual Orientation. Along the way, I've noticed the poor, the homeless, the sick and those in prison. It seems Jesus noticed them too. 

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

"When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ "
                              ~Luke 4

Admittedly we Episcopalians are a tiny percentage of the Faith Experience around the world. Even other Anglicans in our world wide Communion reject the notion of God's inclusive largesse. During this General Convention it falls to us to consider the question as to whether we will develop liturgies that would authorize the blessing of same sex unions or to solemnize same sex marriages in states where that is legal.

The following is an attempt to contextualize the question.

There is a certain quality of God that I find obvious but many miss. God's Love and Compassion are boundless. My experience of God teaches me that God is infinitely generous to us when it comes to this very love. I remind the reader that to discover God we are not likely to do so by searching the clouds or by gazing into telescopes for the Infinitely Large or into microscopes at the Infinitely Small. Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662), the great French Mathematician and Catholic Philosopher once astutely observed that we find ourselves "suspended" between the two Infinities. This is in part the existential "predicament" in which we find ourselves.

The Quest for God, as I have discovered it, is really rather simple. God is to be found by delving deeply within our own heart of hearts. It is the journey inward to the love of the self, and the acceptance of our own realities, forgiven and loved, that we find the capacity to forgive and love others. Without the love of ourselves and others we cannot love God. Thus our theology is more likely to find itself based not in the phenomenological world but in the experience of human relationships; love, hate, forgiveness, reconciliation and the like.

Jesus got that right a long time ago. He hoped we might also get it. The "it" is this; "Love one another".

The curiosity to me is how unloving Christians can be, particularly when it comes to the issues of Orientation, Gender, Race, Ethnicity and thus Warfare. We are such a Violent Religion in our history. I am just now finishing "Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years" by Diarmaid MacCollouch. The book is a sobering reminder of how much blood we have spilled in the Name of Jesus. It is no wonder that our faith has been rejected by so many in the Modern World. It is the hope of many Humanists that perhaps if we could but jettison this notion of God and rid ourselves of the Church, we could also rid humanity of a great and violent scourge.

Alas this too is Vanity and Vexation of Spirit (Ecclesiastes 1:14). As we reject God from the mainstream, God returns to us with a vengeance at the extremes. Fundamentalism rears its monstrous head, buys up the airwaves in the United States, for instance, along with an unholy alliance with the political Right Wing and moves us inexorably toward Nazism. Violence again is but a short time away, with more blood to be spilt. Likewise in other religious expressions the potential for hatred and violence are never far from the surface.

The Quest for God is as easy as the search within every human heart. It is interesting to me that this is the essential quality of the Teachings of Jesus. He understood that without a change within, there can be no change at all. 

Which brings us to the current controversy over Marriage Equality in the Church. We come to this controversy contextually because we can embrace one another in love or we can again engage in acts of violence against the Body of Christ which is, by definition, the Church.

This we have done with great efficiency when we ordained women, when we elected Barbara Harris as a bishop and when we then elected Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, perhaps anywhere. It must be noted that there have been copious numbers of gay clergy and bishops, archbishops etc. who have been gay but not honestly so. Thus for honesty sake we penalize the Bishop of New Hampshire and we bludgeon the Body of Christ mercilessly with schism after schism.

The Biblical notion of The Body of Christ involves the People of God. Paul puts it well

One Body with Many Members~1Corinthians 12

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

The assault against the Body of Christ has been an ongoing reality ever since we opened the doors of the church to the Gentiles in the Book of Acts, or when we imposed the Chalcedonian Definition of Christ on our Faith in the early centuries of the Christian Experience. Again and again, we inflicted willful and violent assaults upon the Body of Christ. Throughout our history Schisms have rent the Love of Christ asunder at almost every step along the Way until this Latter Day. Jesus, it seems is no stranger to violence against his body. Religious folks have always had difficulties in enlarging their vision to inclusivity. 

Among my favorite Bishops was Robert Terwilliger, alas now no longer with us. He was the suffragan Bishop of Dallas from 1976-1986 when he retired. He was vehemently opposed to the ordination of women. But when we went ahead and ordained women over his objections he made this marvelous statement; "I don't threaten to leave this church; I threaten to stay!" This, I would argue, was one of the more adult things said during the entire debate, because it recognized that we are all still one family whether we like one part of it or not!

All of which leads me to a Celebration of a Rainbow Eucharist. As we discover the inevitability of God's Love embracing all of humanity in ever widening circles of inclusion, we will need a way of Celebrating God's Love. This inevitability has been there all along.

God Is Love~1 John 4

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them."

The Messianic Banquet

I believe there is a way to Celebrate God's Universal and Catholic Love for humanity. And the following is just one way. It comes from an ancient tradition which began when Jesus fed the multitudes with his love and compassion on the hillsides of Galilee.

There was probably music. Large crowds respond well to music as they do at rock concerts for instance. Jesus loved to be with folks, young and old, rich and poor, and had a special bias for the outcast. There were stories and teachings and a picnic of sorts.

If I were to teach folks of the God's inclusive Messianic Banquet, I would begin with this magnificent passage from Isaiah.

Isaiah 56

The Covenant Extended to All Who Obey

"Thus says the Lord:
   Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
   and my deliverance be revealed. 

Happy is the mortal who does this,
   the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
   and refrains from doing any evil. 

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
   ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
   ‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
   who choose the things that please me
   and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
   a monument and a name
   better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
   that shall not be cut off. 

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
   to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
   and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
   and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
   and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
   will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
   for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
   who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
   besides those already gathered." 

Notice how this passage on Justice includes foreigners and eunuchs. I like that because these folks were pushed away from the worship of the Temple. Foreigners have always been resented by "Chosen" folks. Americans have an edge on them about illegal aliens. And note too those whose sexual identity challenges the norm. Many (including me) feel that the word "eunuch" suggests more than just "damaged" folks. Especially when "born that way" these folks can easily be understood to be of a different "orientation" than heterosexuals. And even more interesting is that God wishes to gather "others" to the house of prayer beyond foreigners and eunuchs. There will always be "others" to gather to God's Holy House of Prayer.

You can imagine my amazement  when I connected this passage with Christ's Cleansing of the Temple. The signature moment of Jesus' life; the moment that led directly to his crucifixion, was based on this extraordinary manifesto of freedom as God gave it to the prophet to see. In all four Gospels the Cleansing of the Temple is a signature moment and in the Synoptics this moment in Isaiah is cited as the authority for Jesus doing what he did; "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people". This generosity of spirit led to execution. That is an icy reminder of the danger of preaching and doing Gospel work and the "religious" response to that very proclamation!

The Second Story I would tell about the Messianic Banquet for Marriage Equality would be Paul's glorious vision of Christ's Body as one without regard to the following barriers;

Galatians 3:26

"As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

It is clear to me that when Paul says "Jew or Greek" he doesn't mean Jew or Greek alone, but any race or ethnicity. Likewise, when Paul says "slave or free" he also means rich or poor and of any other economic station in life. And thus when Paul says "male and female" he is not indicating that sexual identity is exclusive to those two options but also to the whole gamut of human orientation, especially since we know from Isaiah and Jesus that the eunuch is included in God's great plan of salvation.

How do we know that?

Clearly from the Third Story of the Great Messianic Banquet would be the teaching of Jesus around Marriage. Jesus figures significantly in Biblical Literature as the Bridegroom of the Church (Revelation 19 etc.) Then when asked about the question of divorce Jesus makes it clear that he is searching the human heart for the faithfulness we promise to one another in the first place. Thus he teaches the following;

Matthew 19

Teaching about Marriage and Divorce

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’
 His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’

Faithful lifelong monogamous marriage is the ideal. Divorce is merely a creature of the hardness of the human heart. It happens.

But what Jesus then says is fascinating. When the disciples recoiled from Jesus' impossibly strict teaching, he then goes on to say, "Not everyone can accept this teaching". And just when we begin thinking he is talking about marriage, he veers off to talking about eunuchs.

But let me suggest to you that Jesus is not veering off from his teachings about marriage. In fact he is becoming clearly inclusive of marriage not just for "men and women" but for eunuchs as well. Take that as you will, but when there are those who have "been so from birth", there seems to be a suggestion that there are people who God made "that way".

Even Jesus knew that this would be a hard sell. He knew right then and there that there would be those who could not "accept this teaching". In fact he knew all to well, that as people checked the context of his teaching that his church would be "A House of Prayer for All People", that there would be those who could find this teaching difficult to accept.

And as Isaiah noted so would Jesus; there are other sheep that he must gather.

John 10:16

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.

"One sheep and one Shepherd."

Not until all are blessed with God's embrace shall we love one another. Not until we are one shall there be One Shepherd.


This, if it were up to me we would have a wonderful banquet. I might prefer a fine Italian spread, must like my wife's family is famous for. But my family was famous for grand festivals around our table too. And everyone was there; including my gay uncle, my divorced dad, and my mom who had her abortion. We'd laugh and cry and fight like cats and dogs and my grandmother pleaded with us not to talk about Politics or Religion. But my uncle rightly observed; what else is there to talk about?

In this way we would dwell with God and one another in this life. It is fun to do so now. I would love to do so for ever at the Mountain of God. Isn't that funny! That's exactly what God promised!

The Messianic Banquet~Isaiah 25

"On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
   of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. 
And he will destroy on this mountain
   the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
   the sheet that is spread over all nations; 
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
   and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
   for the Lord has spoken. 
It will be said on that day,
   Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
   This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
   let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. 
For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain."

May God bless and keep us, everyone! 

Fr. Paul 

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