Monday, July 03, 2006

Lighthouses of Hope in Perilous Seas

Lighthouses of Hope in Perilous Seas
Independence Day Sermon -- All Saints Church, Pasadena
The Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, Jr. -- Sunday, July 02, 2006

At All Saints Church, the Sunday closest to July the 4th is distinguished bybeing the Sunday on which we celebrate the American dream in its mostradical expression of liberty and justice for all and, using Jesus'revelation of God and God's ways, we look at the points where that Americanever has been but actually is called by God to be. We look at how we citizens are called to make that America happen, resourced by the wisdom, perseverance, and power of God.

This year, because of recent events in the church, I feel compelled today to address not the American dream but the dream of the Church and where we havef ailed that dream.

When my wife and I were considering becoming members of the Episcopal Church, the divisive debate going on within the Anglican communion was the ordination of women. We waited to be confirmed to see what the church would do on an institutional level about the full inclusion of women. Would the legislative arm of the Episcopal church, called General Convention, declarethat the ordination of women was permissible? In 1976, the General Convention indeed did vote in the affirmative on that matter. This church had drawn us into its embrace and ministry by not only saying that Jesus'acceptance of people as they are was its mode of operation but by the way itpracticed open communion - that all were welcome to the table - showed usthat this church was committed to celebrating the meal of God the way Jesuscelebrated the meal of God - by calling all to it, particularly those whowere the targeted and marginalized of society.

All of us have a deep need to know that we are unconditionally embraced by God's undying love. Allhuman beings need to know that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Here was a church that walked the talk. Our decision to find a church that proclaimed the dignity of every humanbeing was sharpened by the fact that my wife and I were raised in a church where the Bible was often used as a weapon of mass discrimination.

The pastor of the largest church in my earlier denomination had used the Bible to support his view that God was a "segregationist God." And certainly the Bible had been used not only to preach that African-Americans were inferior but it was also used to perpetuate relegating women to second-class citizens.

We had read the Bible and knew that its overall message is one ofinclusion and peace and liberty and justice for all. After we were confirmed now almost 30 years ago, we began an enriching, challenging, stretching, and transforming journey as Episcopalians. It hasbeen a journey where I have become more committed to God and Jesus everyday, where I have learned more about Scripture being an instrument of liberation and inspiration despite its being used as a tool of discrimination, injustice, and violence by some. It is a church in which I have come to know and be tutored by great examples of Christianity, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It is a church where I could find my ownway of trying to be a minister of truth, a minister of mysticism and prayer, a minister believing in the communication between religion, art, science,and other world religions, a minister of peace, liberty, inclusion, andjustice for all.

It is a church where I have lived to celebrate the ordination of not only the first women as priests, but the first woman as bishop, Barbara Harris, the first openly gay man as bishop, Gene Robinson, and come this November 4, the first woman as primate in the history of Christianity, Katharine Jefferts Schori. It is where I have acknowledged that same gender affection and orientation is a gift from God to be celebrated not a malady to be cured and where I have presided at the blessing of gay and lesbian men and women who want to bring the love of their lives to the altar of God for divine blessing.

It has been a thrilling journey for which I am deeply grateful. That wonderful journey received a serious blow two weeks ago at the 2006 General Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Religious authorities from the Anglican Communion had written a report called the Windsor Report callingfor the Episcopal Church in the U.S. to repent for ordaining Gene Robinson prior to there being global consensus on such actions, asking for a moratorium on such behavior in the future in order for there to be acontinued Anglican "conversation".

Two weeks ago the House of Deputies twice refused to pass any legislation that would agree to a moratorium. At the last minute of General Convention, the Presiding Bishop called for a joint meeting of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops and put forth yet a third attempt, this time using the euphemisms, "restraint" against consenting to the election of bishops whose "amnner of life present a challenge to the wider church".

The Presiding Bishop-elect addressed the House of Deputies, signing on to this blatantly discriminatory resolution saying it was the best we could do at this point and that it was required in order to stay at the global Anglican table of conversation. I dare say that had the resolution referred to African-Americans or women instead of the euphemism for gays andlesbians, no one, including Bishop Jefferts Schori, would have thought that"this was the best we could do". Because of the desire of many to give Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori "something to take with her to global Anglican meetings", many deputies voted against their conscience and against their convictions and wrote into the annals of the church a resolution that discriminates against an entire classification of humanity - an act that is the opposite of the spirit and deed of Jesus' table where he drew all sorts and conditions of humanity to know and feel the healing, forgiving, affirming, and empowering love of God.

I disassociate myself from that resolution of discrimination that is antithetical to promoting the dignity of every human being. A major irony is that this renewed act of discrimination took place in the same General Convention which expressed the repentance of the Episcopal Church for its historical complicity in slavery. There is no doubt in mymind that a future General Convention will one day repent of this prejudicial action.

There are so many tragedies in this event. Like all acts of discrimination,prejudice, injustice, oppression, and violence - both physical and spiritualviolence (for to coerce another human being to take a stand against his orher conscience is an act of spiritual violence), it will take years torecover from placing "staying at the table" as a value of greater importancet han staying in solidarity with those who are targeted in life. It was anact of betrayal that I never thought I would see the church take.

It put theEpiscopal Church more in the role of Judas than of Jesus, using other people's lives as bargaining chips for institutional survival without ever consulting them. None of the leaders of Integrity or Claiming the Blessing were ever consulted. It is understandable if someone sacrifices their own life for what they consider a greater good. It is unacceptable human behavior, much less Christian behavior for someone to sacrifice someone else's life -especially in the case where no one consults with them.

Another tragedy is that an organization which exists to inspire its members and others to carry forward the prophetic ministry of Jesus, to use the words of Bishop Paul Marshall, "elevated institution over inspiration in theabsolute sense." Bishop Marshall wrote in his response to the Windsor Reportwhen it was first released, "in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, there is situated in the pit of Hell a theological discussion group, and we meet a bishop about to deliver to it a paper on how Jesus might have been more effective and long-lived if he had learned to get along with authorities!Institution over inspiration." (Addresses and Pastoral Letters, Bishop PaulV. Marshall, "Institution over inspiration?" Initial reflections on theWindsor Report, October 19th, 2004)

Another tragedy is that very soon after this discriminatory act had become institutionalized, the leaders of the conservative movement within theEpiscopal Church and the Anglican Communion said that the American Episcopal Church simply had not been discriminatory enough.

Archbishop Akinola ofNigeria, who joins forces with the government of Nigeria to criminalize homosexuality and to further terrorize homosexual persons, made that clear last week. And Bishop Duncan of Pittsburg, who works to deny homosexual persons marriage equality in this country, petitioned the Archbishop of Canterbury, along with 5 other dioceses to remove them from the EpiscopalChurch in the U.S. and place them under the leadership of another archbishop in the Anglican Communion.

Soon after that, the Archbishop of Canterbury published a reflection the meaning of which is that if the Episcopal church continues to move in the direction of full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in every role and office of leadership without consent from the entire global communion, that perhaps the best structure to adopt for the Communion is to have a membership classification without vote for those not compliant with the consensus. Finally, it was announced that a rector inVirginia had suddenly been elected a bishop of the province of Nigeria forthe purpose of providing oversight of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

These developments from the conservative wing of the Anglican Communion raise the issue of self-delusion over the value of preserving the table ofconversation when the conservatives are going to try to break away anyway.

I'm reminded of T-Bone Burnett's new song, Palestine, Texas, where he sings,"When you come out of this self-delusion/you're gonna need a soul transfusion."

Needless to say, this has presented many of us with a great challenge. But one of my core beliefs is that unless you are standing at Ground Zero whenthe bomb hits, what matters much more in life than the conditions of my life are the responses I make to those conditions.

So now it is time to speakabout the good news - the responses Jesus made to the perilous seas of his time.You and I have been given the greatest possible gift - the gift of the presence of God in our daily lives. God's ways have been revealed to us inthe life and ministry of Jesus, whose life shows us three very important life truths. No matter how perilous the seas become, these three lighthouses of hope and energy always shine brightly to empower us to weather whatever storms arise.

The first lighthouse of hope and truth is that God is love. Today's gospel lesson tells us how radical a difference the truth that "God is love" is to make in our lives. We are called to pray for and love our enemies. And the reason is that in God there are no polarities of love versus hate, friendsversus enemies, the just and the unjust, the good and the bad. All people are one in God's capacious heart of love, no matter how bad we behave. For God's love works to shine the sun on the good and the bad alike and to bring the rain on the just and the unjust. God loves everyone's being and in theface of our evil doing, always seeks us out to return us to God's love. So we are called to love as fully and as radically as God loves.

Second, God's creation is good and God is not separate from that creation but active in it to turn it back to the way of love when we forget that ourway is love. Every human being at his or her creation was made good, no matter how we are wired. God made us and said that we are good and that original blessing is always stronger than any sin we commit.

Third, no one can be placed outside the category of "our neighbor." Augustine said that Love of God and neighbor is the correct translation of any text even when it says something different. (Christian Doctrine,1.36.40) Augustine and his contemporaries weren't laboring under the religion of literalism. We are obligated to counter any literal reading of the Bible with the lens of Jesus' way of reading of Scripture which was unfailingly about reading into every text, "Love God with all your being and yourneighbor as yourself."

These three truths cannot be compromised.

These light houses of hope willnever be dimmed.

They will always prevail over time. And those who set their lives against them eventually wind up on the wrong side of history.

I was speaking with a close friend of mine last week about all of this. He is Jewish and reminded me of a famous piece of advice from the Mishna, the oral Jewish Law. Rabbi Tarfon once said, "It is not up to you to completethe work (of perfecting the world), but neither are you free to refrain from doing it." (Pirkei Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers"), the Mishna)

In these perilous waters in which you and I are journeying, the voyage is going to get very rough indeed. We will want to give up on Jesus' mission of turning the human race into the human family. Sometimes our failures will make us wonder whether the work is worth it, but we are not free to refrain from doing it.

We have given up the right to give up. I commit myself to God and to you to do everything in my power to make sure that All Saints Church not only preaches but practices these three truths that God is love, Creation and everyone in it is good, and that everyone is our neighbor.

To this work I recommit myself, so help me God. Amen.


Anonymous said...

Amen! Amen! Amen

Renee in Ohio said...

I will have to be sure to read this sermon in the morning--just having skimmed it, it looks quite good.

Here in Columbus we have alternated between the "bombs bursting in air" and thunderstorms, neither of which is very well received by our collie. He's better than he used to be, as long as he's got the reassuring presence of his humans. Except one of the humans (Son in Ohio) does *not* like dogs, so sometimes it's not easy managing all the "togetherness" when it's pouring outside and we all have to stay indoors.

Nevertheless, I somehow managed to transcribe a bit more of Katharine Jefferts Schori's interview on the Diane Rehm Show. Click.

Anonymous said...

I'm so moved by this sermon. I hope people like Father Bacon can help lead us forward demanding that people realize that they have jobs a gay man or lesbian woman cannot apply for (how many parishes!) and remind us all of the toll of suicide, and murder, and discrimination, and being thrown out of families, and so on and so on. It all goes back to each and every bit of institutionalized homophobia, always.

I've posted Brother Ethelmertz's cogent broadcast from the Isle of Trabango-Mabui on my website for anyone who cares to watch this marvelous man address the isue in his inimitable style.

Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for the poor victims of this rector who has so misunderstood Holy Scripture. Please, please do not be misled by this person. Jesus died to save us from our sin; ergo, not everything is affirmed by God. While God proclaimed creation "good", He did not proclaim it "perfect." Repent and be saved, calling on Jesus as your saviour. If your only response to folks who believe homosexual acts are sin is to call them "homophobic", you are not engaging in discussion but rather merely name calling and trying to change the subject. Even Archbishop Rowam Williams said as much in his recent Reflections.

Remember, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Peace and love

Basil said...

Unbelievable! No wonder the Episcopal Church is in the state that it is in; everyone is looking through the wrong end of the telescope!

Let me give you a hint: "inclusion, peace, liberty, and justice" are fruits of "repentance, forgiveness, and humility." Without the latter, you only have illusions of the former. There did not seem to be any repentance in the response to the Windsor Report, which, incidentally, was "loud and clear." Forgiveness did not appear to make a showing at the General Convention. And humility's place seemed to be occupied by pride, with arrogance sitting in on occasion. Quiet reflection and prayer are what has been needed at every General Convention but they seem to have been crowded out by agendas and activists (with or without vestments) of one kind or another.

To say, "God is love" is one thing but to understand what that means is another. It does not mean, as the Rev. Mr. Bacon seems to think, that "God has warm, fuzzy feelings for everybody." In human terms the best way to describe this kind of 'love' is to say that it is giving to others equal or greater consideration than you give to yourself or your interests, selflessness replacing self-centeredness. Self-centeredness can be very subtle, even to the point of disguising itself as altruism, when "winning" your issue becomes more important than the overall effect of winning that issue on others.

If I were a spiritual physician I would note the following on the Episcopal Church's chart: "Prescribed -- One part repentance, one part forgiveness, and two parts humility. Continue treatment until self-sacrifice is noted."

plsdeacon said...

We do not want "Justice" before God as Justice will condemn us to eternity without God. We want grace.

Re-read "The Great Divorce" - expecially the 5th chapter - where a bishop who has placed his wisdom over God's wisdom and the received wisdom of The Church is living in hell and believes it to be heaven. Many today are in danger of putting their wisdom over the wisdom of God as revealed to His Church.

May God recall His Church to us and grant us the grace to turn from our sins and our sinful nature.

Phil Snyder

Peter M. Vermigli said...

The agonizing over B033 continues. "Perilous seas" indeed. When was the last time 815 ever did anything SUBSTANTIVE that Integrity did not want?

Jeff Martinhauk said...

There sure is a lot of fear here.

1. I suggest to Byron that homophia is not name calling, but rather speaking truth to power. Those who are in power and afraid of losing something in the acceptance of Gays and Lesbians are homophobic on some level. Otherwise why would you be so adamantly opposed to our inclusion? Because you are agents of God? I don't think so. You are no more privileged an agent of God than I am.

2. Several commenters have made remarks that we are "looking through the wrong end of the telescope", misapplying scripture, or the like. This is incorrect. At best, we have different interpretations, and at worst I think it is the orthodox who have misinterpreted the scripture.

See my post from today entitled Breaking the Law.

Anonymous said...

If I preach this rant for my ESM preaching class, I don't think I'll get a really good grade. Merely on technical merits, I mean.

The three truths are truths, but ignore a lot of other truths: sin, fallen-ness, and all have sinned as the true unity of humanity. The loving God's provision of a Savior and righteousness seems lost amidst the need for dis-affirmation of the Biblical anathemas and affirmation of forbidden at all costs - even total reconstruction of Gospel.

And that's not a matter of interpretation, it's a matter of 2000 years of proclamation of the Gospel plus 2000 years of Hebrew preparation.

Amazing what can be forgotten in the hurly-burly of cultural accomodation; but this is not the first time, check out the Elijah, Elisha cycle in 1 and 2 Kings. It's been worse.

Hiram said...

The Rev Mr Bacon says, "Second, God's creation is good and God is not separate from that creation but active in it to turn it back to the way of love when we forget that ourway is love. Every human being at his or her creation was made good, no matter how we are wired. God made us and said that we are good and that original blessing is always stronger than any sin we commit."

God proclaimed his creation "very good" in Gen. 2. Then came Gen 3, when humanity disobeyed the command of the Lord, and died spiritually (as Eph 2 notes). Humanity is still in the image of God, but that image is corrupted by sin -- not by individual sins but by a deep proclivity to rebellion against God. To look to "original blessing" is, it seems to me, Pelegian, a set of beliefs that was rejected by the Church, although it remains an attractive thought (probably because we can then believe that all we need is a little help, rather than being raised from spiritual death by the resurrection power of God --again, Eph 2).

And Mr. Bacon has the nerve to appeal to Augustine, when he has just denied a foundational conviction of Augustine's!

I am not at all sure of why Mr Bacon refers (by way of Bp Marshall) to CS Lewis' "The Great Divorce." Lewis had a dead aim on the theological liberals of his day, and that bishop in hell was intended to reveal the faults of liberal theologians, not hold them up as examples.

Anonymous said...

My goodness - I wouldn't exactly characterize this sermon as inclusive. Since we now know from Bishop Katherine that all language is metaphor with many different meanings, I wonder what the word "inclusive" really means?

He sure hates Archbishop Peter Akinola, doesn't he. Wonder if he's ever actually met him? Do you think? Doesn't sound like it since it appears he hates him so much. Does being inclusive mean being as hateful as the people you acuse of being hateful. I see serious projection going on here - why does Ed Bacon hate people he disagrees with so much? Does that what he means by being inclusive? I wonder.


Jeff Martinhauk said...

I think somebody is projecting on their own.

Ed preaches repeadetly on the need to love our enemies and have compassion for them.

That is a core teaching of the Gospel and one that Ed preaches often.

I didn't pick up on any hate speech in this sermon at all, and I heard it first-hand. I heard disappointment with the exclusion others have shown towards us, with the injustice of the church, and with the failure of the church as an institution to work for peace and justice.

That, in my book, is a far cry from hate.


for "the green door" ... point me to the hateful parts ... I heard it twice and missed them both times!