Monday, October 19, 2015

A Devout Episcopalian?

A Devout Episcopalian?

Obviously, I have a blog and a website. I don't "Tweet" very much and occasionally folks contact me on Linked In. My middle son uses Instagram; he has an amazing eye for photography. But Facebook; ah, now that's my preferred social medium by a long shot. I have over 1000 "friends" there, many from congregations past and present, those who follow my sermons, social commentary, and poetry and so on. I've developed quite a following, many of whom happen to be Episcopalians.
One of my friends on Facebook refers to himself as a "devout" Episcopalian. I confess, that the first time I saw those two words placed together I was a bit taken aback especially after all we've been throuogh as a denomination. Devout Episcopalian? It almost sounds like a contradiction in terms.
Look what we've been through
  1. Civil Rights struggles. I remember when John Burgess was elected black bishop in the Episcopal Church right here in the Diocese of Massachusetts. Some of my white colleagues were somewhat uncharitable in their comments at the time even here in "liberal" Massachusetts.
  2. Vietnam and war and peace. Every time we go to war, and there have been many, we divide ourselves between those who favor military intervention and those who oppose it.
  3. Litugical renewal. The revision of the Book of Common Prayer took a considerable toll on us. And as we continue around the Anglican world to innovate and create liturgical life to reflect local customs and settings. Such revisions always play to mixed reviews. 
  4. The ordination of women was a controversy for many and still is. Especially in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. We lost some members and even some congregations over that one. The decision to eliminate gender as an automatic disqualifier to ordination has strained relationships in the throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion.
  5. And then of course, the Consecration of Gene Robinson, the ordination of LGBTQ folks, and the question of Marriage Equality continues to raise lots of questions as to who will contine with us or against us. We've lost a few dioceses in the American Church and our place in the Anglican Communion has been called into question. Interestingly enough, the pope welcomed a dozen of our bishops to Rome; some women, some men, some black, some white and even one who happens to be in a life long same sex relationship.
  6. Conflict in two of our major seminaries and some rather scandalous behavior in some in our schools, among some bishops, clergy, and laity all strains our community relationships.

None of us have been left unscathed in all this or so it seems, and yet life somehow goes on. As I've often said, the surest proof that there is a God is that there is anything left of the church after all we've done to it.
In the midst of all this controversy and bruhaha over one issue or another it is refreshing to see that there are people who are willing to call themselves "devout Episcopalians".
If ever there were a time when the church needed "devout Episcopalians" it is now. We need to see beyond the issues that divide us and remember that what we've actually done is to forge a bond of deep affection, like feuding brothers and sisters do over a lifetime. We may fight like cats and dogs within the family, but God help you if you attack the family. That's when we stand together as one.
We stand together on the Gospel. "The Son of Man came into this world to serve not to be served". Exactly! We are here to serve those in need. This is how we are to organize our life as a church, around human need. I mean the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the sick, the dying. I mean everyone. There are no exceptions to God's extensive, comprehensive and inclusive love. When Isaiah said "My house shall be a House of Prayer for all people", he meant "ALL PEOPLE". 
What we are putting to the test in all our controversies, I believe is whether we really mean that. After all, this is the verse Jesus used when driving out the money changers from the Temple precincts "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people," weilding a whip of chords, "but you have made it a den of robbers". 
Over the great west doors of the National Cathedral these words are written in stone. This church is dedicated to the universal notion that God made this whole world and all that is in it. It is in short "A House of Prayer for all people".

I cannot help but think of the magnificent words from the Book of Job before us today. Job and his friends have gone on and on throughout the first 37 chapters of this portion of the Biblical Narrative legitimately and sincerely exploring the  universal mystery of suffering. And then comes God's universal answer;
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements-- surely you know!
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?

Good questions, don't you think?
To me its all of a piece. All of our controversies over a lifetime. In all our inclusion/exclusion exercises that are part of any comunity's dynamic. Who's in? Who's out? Who's included? Who's excluded? By what race, ethnicity, class, gender or sexual orientation do we classify folks loved by God and those not? Thankfully, in this one tiny corner of the world of faith there are no more pidgeon holes. True the growing denominations are those who will exclude some based on a few verses out of Leviticus or a misreading of some Pauline theology. But not no, not here. Not in this church. 
In the Episcopal Church we believe that as God is one so all God's people are one. What passes for Christianity in many quarters simply does not square with who I know God or people to be. 
I cannot help but think of the wisecrack Tallulah Bankhead made once about the church. She was considered by many to be an agnostic, and certainly much of her personal life was less than exemplary. As she once quipped; "I'm as pure as the driven slush!" Still she loved to go to the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin on Broadway in New York. "Smokey Mary's" it is called becaue of its pageantry, elaborate ritual, and generous use of incense. Some of the theatre you will see there is as good as any as you will see in that part of Manhattan. A reporter spied her coming out of church one day and is reputed to have asked her if she was a "Christian." She fired back as only Tallulah Bankhead could; "Heavens no darling, I'm not a Christian, I'm an Episcopalian."
Eileen Kitteridge and I have been visiting recently as she approaches the throne of heaven. We spoke yesterday of what it means to be a "devout" Episcopalian. She and I both have loved ones who happen to be gay, and neither one of us understands what difference that makes in God's great plan of salvation to tell you the truth. Some of the most loving people we know happen to bee "that way". So what? The only thing that matters to her right now, she says to me with a smile on her face is whether there will be a thrift shop in heaven where she can continue her work pricing items for sale. I assured her that as a mustard seed is all we can see in this life compared to the reality of what is in store for us in the next, the heavenly thrift shop will likewise exceed her wildest expectations. Her face radiated pure joy as she thought of it.
She said to me on one of our visits recently, "Oh I must not forget to tell my son to send my envelopes in to the church. After all, the church expenses go on. We must do what we can do for as long as we can do it." This too is what it means to be a "devout" Episcopalian. 
You see, what matters is the Resurrection of Jesus. What matters is the forgiveness of sins. What matters is whether we will love one another as God loves us, unconditionally and to the end and beyond. These are the things that matter. All of the issues we've fussed about throughout our lives pale in comparison to the Gospel. 
The disciples wanted Jesus to do for them whatever it was they asked him to do. Jesus reminded them that is not for him to grant. It is like many I've known, myself included when staring into the face of life's many mysteries especially our share in  the suffering of Job or the suffering of Jesus. We think that we will be the ones to ask questions of God.
In the 38th Chapter of Job, God settles things in a whole hurruy up. These ringing words set the record straight. 
"Then God answered Job out of the whirlwind; Who is this who darkens counsel without knowledge? Gird up your loins and stand up like a man. I'm the one who asks the questions; and you are the one who will give the answers. (paraphrase)."

Our visits are pleasant ones;; the visits I've had with Eileen and Louise. God blesses you for all your visits. You bring the sacrament of love and joy to those who are in the midst of long and difficult days. Thank God for you all.
As we concluded our visit Friday afternoon, Eileen asked for a prayer and a blessing. Then she lifted her hand and pointed toward me. Remember "devout" Episcopalian. 
The Catechism teaches us now what it has always taught us; "To work, and pray and give for the spread of the Kingdom of Heaven."
The idea of praying for "all sorts and conditions" of human folk is no innovation. It is as old as the Prayer Book itself, in fact the idea, comes down to us in the Prayer Book Heritage from the Great Litany written over 600 years ago in 1535.
In my ministry and my lifetime, let me tell you I've met all sorts and conditions of humankind and sometimes it takes some doing to love them all. But that is the moral mandate we are under. For the One who stands over us continues to stretch out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross so that all may come within the reach of his saving embrace.
And now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.
Fr Paul.

1 comment:

Maggid said...

Thank you for this marvelous post.
Thank you for reminding me about all the ones standing for what seems right
a little like gorgeous colors found by holding a prism up to the light
all of us together . . . seems messy . .
but so full of promise

yeah, you remind there is Hope and a Future