It was a great joy to be able to finish the General Convention Marathon with the good people of Atlanta at their Friday Night Gay Pride Eucharist Celebration. I was also so very happy to be able to "reprise" the story of Bishop John Krumm in preaching to a congregation -- and a preacher! -- very much in danger of being disillusioned by the church! SR
Proper 7B: All Saints, Atlanta, June 23, 2006
I want to begin by saying how very grateful I am to be present with you tonight for this worship and celebration. I bring you greetings from our national Integrity Board, from our Claiming the Blessing partners and from my parish community: All Saints, Pasadena. It is a great privilege to be part of your witness of God’s love here in Atlanta and I thank you for making me so very welcome.
I also want to begin by being honest about the fact that there were moments towards the end of the long and eventually bloody General Convention when I looked at the itinerary taking me home to Los Angeles via Atlanta and wondered “What was I thinking?” I wondered if I’d have anything left after nine 18-hour days in a row -- if I’d have anything at all to bring to this pulpit – to bring to this assembly.
And at the end, as I watched the church that had so courageously stepped out in faith by electing the first-ever woman Presiding Bishop on Sunday step back in fear by passing a resolution restricting access to the episcopate to those “whose manner of life poses a challenge to the church and would lead to further strains on communion” I wondered if I’d stepped through the looking glass like Alice and should be on the watch for the Red Queen after my head! In a nutshell, General Convention agreed on Wednesday to a standard for bishops that called into question the election on Sunday we were still celebrating – for anyone who doesn’t think a woman Presiding Bishop won’t lead to “further strains of the communion” isn’t paying attention.
The ugly bottom line is that succumbing to threats, blackmail and bullying the bishops and deputies who had worked for eight days to offer a balanced response to the Windsor Report that affirmed our commitment to the wider Anglican Communion AND to the LGBT faithful fell like a house of cards under extraordinary pressure from the Presiding Bishop. And in place of the honest, faithful response to Windsor we were on the verge of offering the Communion we ended up with an eleventh hour cop-out that, in words from an email correspondent, “betrayed what we know to be the truth: that God is calling gay/lesbian people to full-inclusion in the life of the Church, including the episcopate.”
And rather than leaving Columbus with a mandate to move on with the mission of the church the storm rages on. The actions of General Convention please no one.
Liberal bishops dissented from the decision declaring “language that … singles out one part of the Body by category is discriminatory.” Conservative bishops dissociated themselves from the decision because it fell short of being “Windsor compliant.” And gay and lesbian people were left feeling that once again their lives, their relationships and their vocations were somehow negotiable in the game of global Anglican politics.
What a mess.
And so it was with some degree of irony that as I flew to Atlanta yesterday, tossed about a bit by the thunderstorms between here and Columbus, and turned to the lessons appointed for this sermon that I realized we had selected this particular portion of the Gospel of Mark: Jesus Stills the Storm.
“Peace. Be still,” Jesus said – to the storm, to the disciples and to me. And I found, once again, the power of what we claim as the Living Word – the power of the one whose love for us can reach through the centuries through the Holy Scriptures. I found that the power of the one who stilled the storm that swirled around the disciples’ boat can also still the storm what swirls inside our souls tonight as the dust starts to settle from General Convention 2006.
Listen again to the Collect of the Day that began our worship this evening:
“O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness.”
Not the sure foundation of theological consensus. Not the sure foundation of constituent membership in the Anglican Communion. Not even the sure foundation of resolutions passed at General Convention. The sure foundation is still the same as it was when I memorized all five verses of what is still one of my favorite hymns back in my junior choir days:
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord
She is his new creation by water and the word
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride
With his own blood he bought her and for her life he died.
“The Church’s One Foundation” is not any particular creed or doctrine or theology or agreement on who should be ordained to what … nope “The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ our Lord ” – the one who incarnates for us the sure foundation of God’s loving-kindness which we claim for ourselves today and will proclaim for others this weekend as we become outward and visible signs of God’s love and care to the LGBT community in the Pride events ahead: evangelists for the Gospel.
“Evangelists??” Why yes, my dear, evangelism is all the rage – hadn’t you heard? Of course, it hasn’t always been so. I’m one of those cradle-type Episcopalians -- and so I remember jokes like “Evangelize? Whatever do you mean? Everyone who should be an Episcopalian already is one.” I grew up in a church where I couldn’t imagine what on earth “evangelism” could have to do with us – with me. But that church has changed – and so have I – and I guess the response to that versicle is “thanks be to God.”
The awesome truth is that we have MUCH good news to tell … and we live and move and have our being in a culture literally dying to hear it. To hear that they are loved. To hear that they are welcome. To hear that they are called to “go and do likewise.” That’s the Good News of God in Christ Jesus AND the Episcopal Church that we have each and every one of us been commissioned to proclaim and that is the work to which we have been called.
And it is hard, sometimes, and for many of us this is one of them – to separate the Gospel we have been given to share from the church intended to be vehicle for that Good News when it becomes a roadblock instead. It is hard, sometimes, to find God in the church.
I hold in particular mind tonight Bishop John Krumm – the former bishop of Southern Ohio who retired to Los Angeles. At his memorial service I had the privilege of hearing Bishop George Barrett reminisce about their 60-year friendship in the homily he offered at our diocesan Cathedral Center. “John,” he said -- stabbing his long, boney finger into the air for emphasis, “was never disillusioned by the church because he never had an illusions about the church!”
Yet John Krumm loved this church -- served it joyfully and well. Because he had no illusions he was free to focus on the ideal. Because he had his feet firmly planted on the rock, the shifting sands did not overwhelm him. I’ve thought a lot about John Krumm in these last few weeks. I thought about his long and faithful life and the many changes he must have seen over the course of it.
I thought about his willingness to be an agent of change -- to venture into the unknown future God called him to. And I thought about the many fears he must have overcome in order to respond to that call so bravely and faithfully. And I prayed for leaders who would call us to follow in his footsteps – to call us to walk in love rather than retreat in fear: the fear that in the end dominated the decisions of this General Convention – the fear that Episcopal theologian Verna Dozier has named as the opposite of faith.
“Doubt is not the opposite of faith,” she writes. “Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing that it is only finite and partial I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.”
It is absolutely true that the church has disappointed us. We are treated as imposters and yet are true; as unknown and yet are well-known; as dying yet we are alive; as punished and yet not killed; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as having nothing and yet possessing everything.
And it is absolutely true that God never will disappoint us. For now IS the acceptable time. Now IS the day of salvation. If we can trust that promise, then we CAN move by that finite and partial light and continue to be agents of change – voices of hope – moving forward into God’s future – in spite of the challenge, in spite of the fear, in spite of the church who forgets sometimes where her true foundation lies.
Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her war
She waits the consummation of peace forevermore
Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blessed
And the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.
And the storm will finally be stilled. And all will be well. And all manner of things shall, indeed, be well. Amen.