We had a good turn out on a typical English sunny-one-minute-spitting-rain-the-next afternoon ...
... and were particularly gratified by the thirty-something bishops who came from their opening festivities at Canterbury Cathedral to join us before heading back up the hill for the first progamme session.
Including, of course, the famous Bishop of New Hampshire ...
... pictured here singing next to Vermont Bishop Tom Ely and here ...
... hugging the preacher after the service.
More pictures later over on the Lambeth Photo Blog ... for now, here's the sermon I preached ... in the wind with the occasional raindrop splotting the text:
Mind the gap is something we've heard alot since we've been here in England … and I can’t help but wonder if minding the gap isn’t one of the ways an island people cope with the challenges of gaps that don’t have anything to do with trains! It is a mindset that says “gaps happen and we mind them and keep moving along” that is part of the DNA of not only the English people but of the English Church.
It is the essence of an Anglican comprehensiveness that has – up until now – been able to hold together a world-wide communion in spite of the gaps between theologies and polities and languages and liturgies.
As this Lambeth Conference begins, I’m wondering if “minding the gap” might not be one of the most important things those of us who love, care about and pray for this Anglican Communion can do.
In John 8:32, Jesus promised that “the truth will set you free.” To mind the gap is to commit ourselves to tell the truth about the very real gaps that exist between the experiences, worldviews, and theologies of many members of the Anglican Communion. It is equally to speak the truth that the Gospel we share is stronger than the differences we acknowledge.
Our bishops have been working during this initial retreat time to “mind the gaps” between them while they forge relationships with each other across them, recognizing that Gaps do not have to become chasms and differences do not have to become divisions – in spite of what you might have read in the Sunday blogs this morning from the Gospel According to Durham.
One of my colleagues took a great photo this week … it’s a shot down a narrow street with the cathedral looming over a shop sign for …“The Gap.” It is an icon for me that the church -- at its best -- has not only the potential but the vocation to bridge not only the gaps that separate us from each other within the communion but the gaps that separate the church from the world it has been created to serve as the Body of Christ … as Jesus’ hands and feet at work in the world.
The truth that will set us free is that Jesus spent a WHOLE lot less time talking about who was going to get to heaven than he did talking about bringing heaven to earth. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN” are arguably among the most familiar words in all of Christian faith – the words our Lord Jesus “taught us to pray.”
So my wondering today – and we’ve happily got a great lot of bishops here who should be theologically trained enough to give us an answer -- is this: When did the litmus test for going to heaven become correctly guessing who else God has on the invitation list? When did the criterion for communion become doctrinal conformity?
Jesus didn’t have a single word to say about guessing the guest list … or about doctrines or dogmas or creeds -- or even about Lambeth Conferences! In the gospel from Matthew we heard this morning he quite clearly tells us that it is not our job to fuss about the weeds – or what even to decide which ones are the weeds! Jesus will deal with that at harvest time, he assures us. And it is high time the church took him at his word and -- leaving what he’s asked us to leave to him to him – to get on with the work he has given US to do.
And Jesus was VERY clear about what that work looks like. When he said “inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these” the question Jesus asked was “did you bring water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothing to the naked?” … not “did you agree on liturgical practice, come to consensus on a biblical hermeneutic, unravel the mystery of human sexuality?”
None of those things make the “power list” of the “Top 50 Most Influential Things Jesus Wants Us to Do to Bring Heaven to Earth.” And yet, if all you knew about Anglicans was what you read in the blogs, you would think they are all we care about. No wonder so many people dismiss the church as irrelevant.
Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us that the creation waits with eager longing “In hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage …” and that is as true in 21st century Canterbury as it was in 1st century Corinth.
The whole creation. Not just one part or parcel – one race or gender or orientation or identity. The WHOLE creation.
Free of poverty -- Free of violence -- Free of exploitation -- Free of oppression
Free of sexism -- Free of racism -- Free of homophobia
And what will set the creation free is the truth.
Our job is to tell the truth about the God who loved us enough to become one of us and then called us walk in love with God and with our neighbors. It is THAT truth that is core of the Gospel message of love and hope and inclusion and it is THAT truth that has the power to set the creation free.
If we will claim it. If we will proclaim it.
If we will get on with the work WE have been given to do – living out the Gospel Agenda that requires nothing less than the full inclusion of all the baptized in the Body of Christ. And this story by Robert Fulghum is my favorite illustration of what that looks like:
Giants, Wizards, and Dwarfs was the game to play. Being left in charge of about 80 children while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the parish hall and explained the game. It's a large-scale version of Rock, Paper, and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision-making. But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won.
While the groups huddled in frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pant leg. A small child stands there, looking up, and asks in a small concerned voice, “Where do the Mermaids stand?”
A long pause. A very long pause. “Where do the Mermaids stand?” I say “Where do the Mermaids stand?” A long pause. A very long pause. “Where do the Mermaids stand?” I say. “Yes, you see, I am a Mermaid.” “There are no such things as Mermaids.” “Oh yes there is, I am one!”
She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf. She knew her category – Mermaid – and was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where the loser would stand. She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things, without giving up dignity or identity. She took it for granted that there was a place for mermaids and that I would know just where.
Well, where DO the Mermaids stand? All the Mermaids – all those who are different, who do not fit the norm, and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes? Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation or a kingdom on it.
What was my answer at the moment? Every once in a while I say the right thing. “The Mermaid stands right here, by the King of the Sea!” So we stood there, hand in hand, while the Wizards and Dwarfs and Giants rolled by in wild disarray. It is not true, by the way, that Mermaids do not exist. I know at least one personally. I have held her hand.
A question I have answered a hundred times is “Why are you going to Lambeth Conference?”
My answer this afternoon IS this afternoon.
It is this extraordinary gathering of wizards and dwarfs and giants and mermaids – standing together as the Body of Christ – receiving together the bread and wine made holy – going out together to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus to the world.
It is the church telling the truth that will set it free – the truth that it is not true that faithful gay and lesbian Anglicans do not exist … for we know some personally. We have held their hand.
And it is the opportunity to witness to that truth that will set this church – this communion – indeed this creation – free of the fear of inclusion and open to the Holy Spirit of God calling it to move forward in faith into God’s future.
And may the God who has given us the will to do these things give us the grace and power to accomplish them. Amen.