If the Paul the Apostle had a vision calling him over to Macedonia, then Paul the parish priest had an email and a phone call inviting him to come on over to Reading to help out with you folks. I do hope I can be of some service to you while I am here. And so it is that on the first day of May in the year of our Lord 2016, we introduce ourselves to one another. As I wondered how to do so I thought perhaps I’d use something Biblical since that is always a good beginning, something theological since that only seems to make sense, and something personal since it always helps to put flesh and bones on our thoughts and prayers as we come to know one another.
First then, on to the Biblical.
Jesus said to Judas, not Iscariot, I hasten to add; "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them.” This is the example that Jesus sets for us. “Love one another as I have loved you.” And so, let me introduce myself to you by saying, I will love you exactly as you are and whoever you become along the way. This is how Jesus wants it. This is what God has had in mind all along. And moreover, as a church we are coming to discover that there are no exceptions to the essence and centrality of this proclamation. We are to love one another exactly as we are and whoever we become. In this journey, in this pilgrimage we call life, the core of the Gospel proclamation is set into the center of the human heart with these words of Jesus; “Love one another!”
That being the case within our faith communities we discover yet another dimension of the Gospel. And Jesus says as much in today's Gospel, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
Having said this to you, I do not mean to make the proclamation sound glib or facile. You and I both know how difficult and challenging it is to live out the mandate of the Gospel in family or in faith community. For the truth is that we do find ourselves in conflict with some regularity. And there are times when this Peace of which Jesus speaks seems elusive and somewhat beyond our grasp. It is indeed a Peace that passes all understanding.
Which bring me to the second part of my self introduction.
Think for instance of what we have been through, indeed what we are going through culturally among the nations of the earth, within this nation and indeed within this church. Just in my lifetime I can name the struggles;
1. The struggle for Civil Rights.
2. Gender equality
4. Prayer Book revision
3. Inclusivity of the LGBTQ community and marriage equality.
4. Class and economic disparity.
Every one of these struggles is an ongoing one. The church and the culture around is immersed gridlock. Instead of recognizing that God will bear us up on Eagle's wings, to soar as we are intended and destined to do, we deny either the left or the right wing it's right to even exist. No bird can fly, let alone soar without both wings.
Ultimately the biblical and theological reference I come back to time and again is from the Gospel of Paul the Apostle is in his letter to the Christians in Galatia in the third chapter and in the 28th verse; “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 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.”
Ultimately our biblical and theological pilgrimage must bring us to The Cross and the Crown of Jesus. You will remember that when Jesus entered Jerusalem in great triumph, and he was greeted with joy by those who sang “Hosanna to the Living God. Blessed is he who come in the Name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest!” Events took a sudden turn after this greeting. For Jesus entered the Temple precincts and found the money changers and dealers in pigeons and rather unceremoniously overturned their tables and said “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people, but you have made it a den of robbers”.
I found something interesting about this passage when I looked it up. For when Jesus says; “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people”, he was actually quoting a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which he often did. Isaiah was in fact, the most frequently quoted of all the prophets. In this case, when he confronted the dealers in sacrificial commodities, Jesus was not impressed with their approach to sanctification. It was only money, and the weightier issues of justice were far from their minds.
Some day, maybe even today, when you have a moment or two, read the passage from the 56th Chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. Foreigners and Eunuchs wonder where they stood with God. Foreigners always have had a difficult time among the majority. There has often been an unpleasantness and an unwelcome dimension between natives and those born elsewhere. Likewise Eunuchs, those whose sexual identity was certainly ambiguous; whether physically or functionally so, there have always been folks among us who do not fit into the convenience of the male/female category. Jesus refers to this passage then when he confronted the Temple merchants.
From Isaiah 56:
“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.”
Yes indeed, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people”. This is how the Episcopal Church and her congregations increasingly see themselves. Over the great west doors of the National Cathedral in Washington; since the very day it was built, these very words proclaim this vision.
So you see, I am under the very mandate of Jesus when I say to you “I will love you whoever you and and whoever you become.” I hope I can live up to that noble proclamation as we live into our unfolding relationship.
And then thirdly, allow me to introduce myself to you with this vignette from my family.
One very hot and humid summer’s night while I was serving a church in West Virginia, my youngest son and I sat outside being honest with each other the way families need to be from time to time. He was feeling awkward, I could tell. There was something he needed to tell me but he was reluctant to say what it was for fear of how I might take it. After all, we were in West Virginia where families, schools and churches easily rejected people for the very reason he needed to tell me. He knew I often spoke about my unconditional love for him and for all people. But…
So I said; “Michael, what is it?”
There was a long delay.
Finally he told me. There were tears in his eyes, and his voice quavered with anxiety.
“Dad I’m gay”.
I confess, I din’t see that one coming. I wondered how he knew. He was still quite young. I wondered if somebody had “turned him that way.” But there he was. My own flesh and blood. I kinda wished he’d get married, settle down, have kids, because I think I’d make a fabulous grandfather. I wondered how Cindy would take the news. It did take time for us to get used to the idea. But my son sat there beside his father and he was teetering on the edge of love and rejection. It was then that God gave me the grace to say; “Michael, I love you exactly as you are, and I will love you whoever you become.” We embraced. We shed a few tears.
There was never a question in our home about the love. And there never will be. We will always work our the particulars of our salvation under the authority of the Gospel. Because Jesus loves us all whoever we are and whoever we become. This is how I seek to introduce myself to you: with the unconditional love of God. And so it is, that this I can say; “I will love you exactly as you are and whoever you become"
In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided , and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.