Sunday, January 17, 2016
A Timely Wedding
The Primates (watch how you pronounce that) have spoken. So have I. Here is today's sermon from St. John's, Sandwich on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
A Wedding in Cana
Today's Gospel invites us into conversation around the matter of marriage. How very timely! As you no doubt know the Primates, or "prime bishops" of the Anglican Communion have been meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in recent days and in their wisdom or lack of it they have decided to sanction the Episcopal Church in The United States because of our stand on same sex marriage and other issues of concern to the more conservative wing of the church such as the ordination of women and their consecration to the Episcopate. A majority of these "prime bishops" or "Primates" call them what you will, have voted to put the brakes on over issues concerning marriage equality, gender and sexual orientation.
My dear friends allow me to use my family as a microcosm in all this controversy. I would rather it be conversation, but controversy apparently it is. Apparently my family is a cause of some controversy.
But, for us here on this day; some conversation first.
When Cindy and I met, I was 34 years of age, she 26. It didn't take very long for us to figure out that we were just right for each other, five months after we met we were engaged! That was Palm Sunday in 1979, otherwise known as Passion Sunday. That seemed appropriate both liturgically and personally. When we announced our engagement to Cindy's large Italian Catholic family, we raised a bit of a stir. And the first to raise her worry was Cindy's little sister Susan who was about 8 years old at the time. She could not restrain herself as the tears welled up into her little eyes; "Oh no Cindy, does that mean you'll be Irish now?" Just imagine!
Cindy's dad had concerns about her marrying outside the church and told me so on a long walk we took one day. I told him that the day he started going to church would be the day I took his concern seriously. Her mom wondered about what we believed anyway. I told her "we believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Chruch". I showed her the Nicene Creed we recite every week in the Book of Common Prayer. She was visibly relieved. I thank God for giving me the grace to say what I said in those moments because they satisfied the objections at least for the moment.
Five more months later we were married at Christ Church in Hyde Park, Bishop John Coburn and The Reverend Chester Porteus of Christ Church, Quincy officiating. Talk about raising a stir! It was a wonderful day. It was the last time my extended family was to gather. It was a moment when heaven itself seemed to break through into the present, a most unforgettable moment indeed.
A little more than a year later, David was born, about two years later Joshua was born, and then three years later Michael came into this world. Seems we took a breather there for a bit.
All of that was a long time ago and here we are still giving thanks to God for the love we share, the love that brought three young men into the world and the love that continues to pour out from our lives both professionally and personally.
The stirrings in the church continued. Early on I stood with those who were divorced and wished to be remarried in the church. That finally happened around the time of our marriage. I have stood with those who struggled for civil rights, and gender equality. My special and specific advocacy has focused on the poor, the hungry and the homeless. But I have also advocated long and hard for equality for all whatever race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. The business of sexual orientation has caused the biggest stir of all it seems. It has been a matter of controversy and not only for the church. And now this latest from the Primates of the Anglican Communion.
Our bishops and our Presiding Bishop have issued statements about all this and and you can read what they have said by checking the above links. My dear friend, the Bishop of Montana has also spoken on the matter and I find what he said very helpful.
I take a personal interest in all this. You see my uncle was one of those folks who never married, but did have a very good friend by the name of Jimmy. Their relationship lasted for over 50 years. My mom, by contrast, went through three marriages that we know about until she finally got it right. We can thank God for that mercy. But I used to ask my grandmother about my uncle and why he never married. This was back in the days before we really talked very much about the matter of sexual orientation or used the word "gay" in the way it has come to mean in recent years. My grandmother told me that my uncle would probably never marry because he was as the Dowager Countess of Grantham might say, a "confirmed bachelor". I came to understand what that euphemism meant in due course.
My uncle was known for getting into his cups from time to time and one day he became especially agitated and asked me this question. He was never quite comfortable with the fact that I became a priest. He felt that the church harboured ill will to his "kind". He said to me, and I'll try if I can to catch the flavor of it. He was solid working class and spent his entire career working buildings and grounds for the Mother Church in Boston.
"Hey kid, you with the turned around collar," he said, dripping with sarcasm, "I want you to tell me what you think about me. And tell me to my face. I don't care what your church thinks about me. I want to know what you think."
"Geez Al," I said with some trepidation. After all, I knew this would mean a lifetime of struggle for me and my church. "You're fine with me."
He said, "If that's the case then stand up for me some day in that church of yours. Stand up for me and Jimmy."
Well Al, here I am standing up for you and Jimmy, but many, many, more as well. In fact right here at St. John's Church, you stand with those who embrace traditional, divorced, remarried and same sex marriages. In fact we in the Episcopal Church are coming to see that we really are a "House of Prayer for ALL People" and that there are no outcasts in this church.
You may remember in your reading of scripture, that Jesus embraced all sorts and conditions of people, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, rich and poor, the lame, the blind, the mentally ill and so on. And on the day he overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple he did say "My Church shall be a House of Prayer for ALL People". I would submit to you, that we are seeking to be obedient to Jesus in who we seek to be as a church.
Our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, expressed his disappointment this week over the actions of the Primates meeting. But then he said a wonderful thing; "Perhaps our high calling is to be that part of the Anglican Communion that seeks to witness to the church as a place where we are becoming more and more "A House of Prayer for ALL People". Furthermore, as Paul the Apostle has said. "For there is no longer Jew or Greek, (or any other race or ethnicity, there is no longer slave or free, (or any other class of rich or poor) and there is no longer male or female (or dare we say any other orientation), because we are all one in Christ. Paul by the way, has been called the Apostle to the Gentiles, which is just another word or "outsider".
I am so proud of our church for standing with my uncle, and Cindy and me as we seek to live out our lives of faithful love, or my mom, who took a while but did get it right at long last.
And now wouldn't you know it two of my sons happen to be gay. Both of them devout Episcopalians. Both love to sing. Michael sings a repertoire of sacred music with a professional a Capella men's singing group called "Chanticleer"...by the way there's quite a few gay guys in that choir. And they are very grateful that there are voices like mine who will stand with them and with so many who for so long have been made to feel outside the embrace of God's love. For some suicide and self destruction seemed like the only way out. I know about that personally. I've worked very hard to save those who considered that way out of their sense of dilemma. It was I. It was this church. It was your love that talked them out of it.
No! The world is a wedding. And Jesus is right there in the midst of it, performing his very first miracle, a miracle that continues to unfold to this day. When the wine runs out he calls for the water jars set aside for the rites of purification. Then he changes the water into wine so that all God's children whatever race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation may gather together and be One at last at God's Great Banquet Table. And the water has been changed into the best wine of all because you see, we may now be obedient to Jesus. We may at long last, love one another. There now you Primates! Shall we continue the conversation?
In the name of The Most Holy, Blessed, and Undided Trinity. Amen