Mulling the texts for this Fifth Sunday in Lent -- a Sunday I am NOT preaching -- drew me back to a sermon I did preach ... in April 2000 (still online on Louie Crew's "Joy Anyway") It was sobering to re-read a now-six-year-old sermon and find that we have in some ways moved so-very-little-forward in our journey toward being the church we have the potential to be.
[From April 11, 2000] We are a Church that has the potential to offer a voice of hope to those who come saying "Please, we want to see Jesus" -- who are looking for a place to encounter the Lord of Love rather than the Letter of the Law. As Anglicans we are the product of the glorious experiment of the "Elizabethan Compromise" ... intended to end the bloody feud between Catholics and Protestants during the 16th century and to create a church where orthopraxis (common practice) was valued over orthodoxy (common belief).
My Church History text tells me, "The significance of the Elizabethan religious settlement is that it was able to hold the vast majority of the people together, despite being a compromise few would have chosen." The compromises we face in the 21st Century call us to dig more deeply into our 16th Century roots ... to claim with enthusiasm the heritage that gives us the ability to live with disagreement ... to honor the tension of diversity and focus on the things that bind us together rather than allow ourselves to be distracted by the things that threaten to divide us.
Forged in the crucible of the English Reformation, the Episcopal Church was refined in the fire of the American Revolution -- emerging as a uniquely American Church -- Anglican in worship and democratic in governance: where bishops have their authority balanced by the clergy and laity -- something we will see ample evidence of when our General Convention convenes in Denver this July!
It's a far cry from other Anglican provinces, organized with different systems of governance ... systems that allowed Archbishop Kolini from Rwanda this week to pronounce: "You see, the primates are like God the Father" and therefore must be obeyed. Referring to matters of authority in his own province that may well be the case. However, referring, as he was, to the rejection by some in the American Church -- including this Diocese of Los Angeles -- of portions of the Lambeth Resolution on Sexuality, he is sadly and utterly mistaken. Our foundation is Unity in Christ ... not Uniformity of Opinion -- that is our heritage, our inheritance, our tradition. Let us not succumb to the temptation to deny who we are but live boldly into our identity instead.
"We must be the change we wish to see in the world," said Ghandi. When we do that, then we truly follow the Lord who told us not only what kind of death he was to die but what kind of life we are to live.
Do I have "an agenda" this morning? You bet I do. It's the agenda of the Lord whose love lures us toward hope ... who yearns to draw all people to himself - the Jesus who took time, in the last days before his crucifixion, to reach out to those Greeks who came to him … not sure if they'd be welcome. It's the Gospel Agenda and it's begging to be fulfilled.
Nowhere is that "agenda" articulated more clearly than in that great old hymn we sang last week ... #321 ... "My God, Thy Table Now Is Spread."
My God, thy table now is spread
Thy cup with love doth overflow;
Be all thy children thither led
And let them thy sweet mercies know.
We sang that same hymn the Sunday after the Lambeth Conference. I remember because as I stood behind the altar, my tears were thick and my heart was heavy. I was consumed with grief that this table, so lovingly prepared and offered -- this holy food and drink of new and unending life -- was not available to some of those who need it most. Grief for those who would never know they were welcome here because some bishops told them they were "incompatible with Scripture." By the time we got to the fourth verse, I just couldn't sing anymore; but stood - silenced - while the tears ran down my face.
But that was then. If "We must be the change we wish to see in the world" then we must persevere in proclaiming God's Good News to all people - in spite of the setbacks and obstacles; the challenges and the tears. Relying on the love that lures us toward hope, we find our voice and can sing again:
Nor let thy spreading Gospel rest
Till through the world thy truth has run
Till with this Bread shall all be blessed
Who see the light or feel the sun.
That's my agenda. Amen.
And six years later it's the same agenda. Amen.