Saturday, July 08, 2006

Speaking of “Manner of life …”

Speaking of “Manner of life …”
July 9, 2006 ~ All Saints Church, Pasadena ~ Susan Russell
(Proper 9B) 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-6

On June 1st I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my ordained ministry and, as anniversaries will do, that benchmark prompted me to reflect on “days gone by.” And I found myself remembering those earliest days of my ordained ministry, when I was serving up the hill at St. Mark’s, Altadena – and recalling that one of the things I asked for as a fledging preacher was sermon feedback from the congregation. So we created a “feedback form” that folks were encouraged to fill out and I’m remembering one particular week when there was a nice stack of them waiting for me on my desk on Monday morning.

I don’t actually remember what the sermon was about but since I’ve been told that every preacher only HAS “one sermon” I expect it was a variation on mine: God loves you beyond measure … now go out and love others as God has loved you. Anyway, what I DO remember is that somewhere I had used a rainbow as an illustration to make some point or the other. Sifting through the comment forms on my desk one practically leapt up from the pile: “When you talked about the rainbow I suddenly understood myself to loved – to be included – to be part of the Body of Christ in a way I never thought applied to me. And for the first time I took communion believing that “take, eat, this is my body which was given for you” really meant ME! Your sermon changed my life. Thank you.

Wow. If I had never preached another word that would have made all the student loans from seminary worth it! And then I turned to the very next feedback form in the pile. “Nice sermon. Good delivery. But the rainbow illustration seemed out of place; for me, the sermon would have been stronger if you’d left it out.” And I thought, “Well, there it is.” And I was tempted to take those two feedback forms and go to Aaron Brothers and buy one of those dual-mat frames and hang them up – side by side – over my desk as a reminder that you can never please all of the people all of the time and that one person’s life changing image is another person’s “didn’t work for me” illustration. That realization – coming as it did in my first days as a deacon -- came with a certain sense of freedom: the freedom that comes with knowing that since you’re never going to manage to make everybody happy anyway you might as well focus on being faithful to the word you’ve been given to preach.

Nothing I have done, learned, experienced or absorbed in these now 10+ years of parish ministry has done anything other than confirm that fundamental life-lesson I learned from those sermon feed-back forms piled on my desk as a still-wet-behind-the-ears deacon from Altadena.

And that includes the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Perhaps you heard about it? For while it was not the all-church-all-the-time media event we experienced three years ago with the election of our friend Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire the Episcopal Church did manage to make some news: both good and bad. The good news was the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first-ever woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the first-ever woman Primate in the Anglican Communion – a brave, courageous choice of faith over fear, of looking ahead rather than looking back, of pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming-who-ever-thought-we’d-live-long-enough-to-see-a-woman-presiding-bishop. It was a very proud moment for this church.

And then there was “the other news” – after nine days of legislative wrangling, we ended up passing what was presented as a compromise “Response to the Windsor Report” resolution designed to keep the American Episcopal Church on the global Anglican Island by agreeing not to consent “to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

It was a very not-proud moment for the church as it caved to threats that unless we gave “something” our bishops would not be invited to the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops called the Lambeth Conference scheduled for 2008. And the “something” we gave was a compromise that in the end compromised nothing but the integrity of those who voted against their consciences and achieved nothing but writing sacramental apartheid into the annals of our church’s historic record.

Clearly anyone reading “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion” who doesn’t read “gay and lesbian folk need not apply” has missed a few critical episodes of “As The Anglican World Turns.” And just as clearly, anyone reading “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion” who DOESN’T think a woman Presiding Bishop [a] presents a challenge and [b] will lead to further strains on communion isn’t reading their email.

And they’re welcome to read mine – frankly somebody should because I can’t keep up with it. Is it the end of the world as we know it or another one step back before two steps forward on that arc of history that bends toward justice? Depends who you ask. Was it a reasonable “calling their bluff” offer to the wider communion or a bloody, sacrificial offering of gay and lesbian vocations on the altar of global Anglican politics? Depends who’s writing the email. Just like my decade old sermon feedback forms there are very different “take aways” from the recent events in the national Episcopal Church.

I’m hearing from folks who think the leadership of our justice lobby failed by not pushing hard enough and from those who think we failed by pushing too hard. I’m hearing from people who just can’t DO this anymore and need to step away out in exhaustion, anger and just plain sadness -- and I’m hearing from those who have been complacently on the sidelines and are newly invigorated by what happened in Columbus -- ready to step up and engage in the struggle for justice.

My own opinion? I think the General Convention of the Episcopal Church showed a stunning lack of moral leadership when it caved to the internal and external pressure to sacrifice the core value of gospel justice for the institutional value of corporate unity. I think when history looks back on these events we will rightly be judged for placing the unity of the institution over the call of the Gospel – AND in the long run, I think it is be one of those two steps forward-one step back moments that grieves the hearts of those watching the church step back from being all it could be but in the end is part of the movement forward toward the church I believe we are both called and destined to be.

And I think we need to be asking ourselves why a people who threw a tea party in the Boston Harbor to achieve liberty and justice for all in 1776 allowed themselves to be blackmailed into bigotry to secure an invitation to a tea party at Lambeth Palace in 2006. But most importantly, what I think we need to be asking ourselves is “where do we go from here” – and for that I want to turn not to the question that was all the rage a short while ago … “What Would Jesus Do?” … but to the question “What DID Jesus Do?” And for the answer we turn to today’s Gospel according to Mark.

What did Jesus do when faced with the competing values of speaking the truth about God’s inclusive love as he received and understood it and keeping the Anglican Communion – ooops … I mean the hometown synagogue – happy? Did he consider finding a way to compromise justice for the sake of unity? I mean really – wouldn’t the Gospel have been just as well served if he’d given them a little more time to get used to the idea … if he didn’t push them so hard … if he, well, maybe if he’d gotten a Special Commission together to craft some complex resolutions that would have used really a lot of words so say not so very much and offered them as a compromise to those who just couldn’t quite “go there” yet.

What DID Jesus do? He spoke the truth as he received it. And he let the chips fall were they might. In our gospel reading today we’re told “they found these things to be stumbling blocks.” Another translation says, “And they took offense at him.” In other words, he strained the bonds of affection. He challenged the wider community – he more than challenged them, he enraged them! In Luke’s account of this same story we hear what it was that Jesus preached that got their knickers in a knot: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he ended his “sermon” by saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And the story ends “They got up, drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of a hill on which their town was built so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” No “cake on the lawn” for this hometown boy back for a preaching gig – no invitation to the first-century Palestinian version of tea-at-Lambeth. He was a prophet without honor in his hometown – and yet he kept on preaching. Proclaiming good news to the poor – release to the captive – freedom to the oppressed.

The Good News he had to offer was too good to be extinguished – by hometown hooligans or Temple authorities or even death on a cross. The Good News that he was born to teach us and died rather than compromise is the same Gospel we proclaim today as we gather today to celebrate in word and sacrament the God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another – each and every one another of us – as the oft quoted Archbishop Tutu named it … male and female, black and white, gay and so-called-straight, clever and not-so-clever.

My brothers and sisters, what the American Episcopal Church dared to proclaim in 2003 with the election and consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire was “today is that scripture fulfilled in your hearing.” Today. Not when Anglicans who do not yet accept the ordination of women come to consensus on the full inclusion of the gay and lesbian baptized into the Body of Christ. But today. Now. Here. Some find in these actions a liberating word of hope … seeing themselves fully included in the Body of Christ for the first time ever -- and others are fixin’ to throw us off the cliff. They find these things to be stumbling blocks. They have taken offense at us. Our manner of life is a challenge to them.

And I say, good for us. In spite of the one-step-back taken in Columbus the steps forward continue … and WILL continue … for we will settle for nothing less than the “manner of life” Jesus modeled for us and then died to free us to live – a life committed to loving God with our whole heart and loving our neighbors as ourselves: even when we challenge the wider church. Even when we strain the communion.

And when we do – and we will – the question we need to remember is WDJD … and to remember that the answer is not “created compromise resolutions that solve nothing and perpetuate discrimination.”

The answer is not “sacrifice gospel justice for institutional unity.” Instead the answer is preach good news to the poor, liberation to the captive, freedom to the oppressed – and let the chips fall where they may and shake the dust off your feet when you have to.

The answer is to embrace the manner of life we inherited from our Lord and savior and to celebrate the freedom that comes with knowing that since you’re never going to manage be make everybody happy all the time anyway you might as well focus on being faithful to the word you’ve been given to preach. That’s what Jesus did. May we be given the grace to go and do likewise.



Anonymous said...

When did Jesus do or command anything that resulted in multiple sicknesses? And if God is doing a new thing, why would it be something that has that extremely frequent result?

Renee in Ohio said...

I've been working on transcribing an interview Katharine Jefferts Schori did on Oregon Public Broadcasting. Here's an interesting piece...

Christy George: It's quite interesting, I heard Bill Bennett, the conservative culture czar--who you may have seen roaming around the casinos of Las Vegas recently, who knows! (Laughter) He said on television not long ago that he realizes, he acknowledges that the fight over gay marriage is over, effectively in America. It's just a matter of time before--he doesn't agree with that, but he says "We, meaning the conservatives, have lost the battle."

Katharine Jefferts Schori: Well, you know the reality of our understanding of marriage has changed enormously over the centuries. In the middle ages, even in church circles, it was understood as a property contract. You know, in an era when women were seen as property and they were handed from father to groom. That's where the "giving this woman" comes from in the marriage ceremony, when it's used.

We live in a culture and a time where we understand that human beings give themselves freely to another, and that parents don't do that giving. We understand that people are free to enter into an agreement to live together in a way that, in the church, is an expression of the holy. And for the state to meddle in that seems inappropriate. There's a significant move in the church right now to take clergy out of the role of signing the marriage certificate on behalf of the state. And I think we might be healthier if we went that route.

Christy George: To really separate civil and religious marriage.

Katharine Jefferts Schori: Correct--as happens in many other regions of the world.

More here.


anonymous ... the point is not that God is doing a "new thing" but doing the same old thing ... opening the eyes of the blind to see that ALL people are equally loved by God, included by God and welcomed by God ... and we should go and do likewise.

Lorian said...

Anonymous, I know it's been pointed out to you time and time again, but, one more time for the record:

There is nothing inherent about being gay that makes people become ill. Gay people in committed, monogamous relationships (gay marriage, you know?) are no more likely to become ill than their straight counterparts. If anyone is telling you otherwise, they are lying to you. Check with your doctor.

Anonymous said...

Madam, I’d challenge you to a battle of wits, but you appear to be unarmed!

Lorian said...

Vicki, to whom is your comment addressed?

Anonymous said...


I’d challenge you to a battle of wits, but you appear to be unarmed!

your claim is false scientifically but more important is the fact that your error is theological and biblical read the editorial in Sundays LA times for a inevitable consequence of your folly

go in peace

Lorian said...

Vicki, I find no LA Times Sunday editorial that demonstrates your point that gay sex inherently causes illness. I found two gay-related editorials from Sunday, July 2:

1. So what if they're born gay? and
2. If only gay sex caused global warming.

So, if you'll be good enough to reference the editorial in question, I'll be happy to give it a look.

However, that said, editorials, no matter how well-written, prove nothing. They are simply the opinion of the editor.

There is no credible medical study demonstrating that gay sex causes illness. If my claim is "false scientifically," prove it with peer-reviewed, corroborated research, not with vague gestures towards unspecified newspaper editorials.

You also state that my claim is false "theologically and Biblically." Neither theology nor the Bible offers any proof of your thesis that gay sex causes illness.

Perhaps if, rather than casting groundless aspersions, such as calling me "witless," you confined yourself to more concrete discussion of facts, your comments would have more credibility.

Wishing me "peace" after attempting to insult me rings rather false, but I'll take you at your word and wish you peace in return.

Anonymous said...


here is the link below.

I am not arguing the public health consequences of homosexual behavior in general.
Lesbians in general do not spead diseases, practicing their sexuality has never been illegal in the English common law, and does not seem to be a big theological issue.
Male homosexual practice is unfortunately a continuing public health nightmare and is expressely proscribed historically in religious and common law.
My point is directed really to Susans sermons and the consequences for the Christian community. sorry about the mix up below is the link to todays Los Angeles Times,0,2716142.story?coll=la-sunday-comment

Anonymous said...


follow up.i did not intend to insult you. my point is look at the theology look at the demographics if we continue on this path we will not exist as a church in 10-15 years members will be unitarian, roman catholic, nothing or new age . so be it. it looks inevitable. there is no sense of renewal how many youths do you see in the church?it seems like a dead tree that has not fallen over yet.why let centuries of faith die in a swamp of identity politics?

Hiram said...

Rev Susan, you say, "I’ve been told that every preacher only HAS “one sermon” I expect it was a variation on mine: God loves you beyond measure … now go out and love others as God has loved you."

Philip Turner has written (as you are probably aware) a critique of this teaching. It is called, "An Unworkable Gospel," and can be found at

The Episcopal Church is working with two different gospels. They focus on the same person and they have some overlap, but they view the human problem differently, and have different solutions. You believe that the basic human problem is ignorance of God's love. The classic Christian view is that the human problem is rebellion against God's love, a rebellion which has both relational and juridical results.

I am leaving for a camping trip soon, and I do not have time to go further into the distinction and what God's solution to the problem is, but Dean Turner does a better job than I could -- follow the address!

Lorian said...


Interesting that you are backing down a bit from your initial point. You started off this discussion by focusing solely upon the premise that homosexuality "result[s] in multiple sicknesses," and that Jesus would never endorse a practice that "has that extremely frequent result."

And yet now you admit that lesbian sex carries little, if any, "public health risk," and was never even a criminal act under English law (which, incidentally, was due to the fact that Queen Victoria, who criminalized male homosexual conduct, could not envision what two women could do together).

Take one step further, and acknowledge that it is, in fact, NOT male homosexual behavior that causes illness and public health "nightmares," but rather, promiscuity and "unsafe" sexual intercourse, regardless of whether the participants are both men, or a man and a woman.

To stigmatize the entire gay community with blanket statements such as "result[s] in multiple sicknesses," and "extremely frequent result," based upon the actions of persons who behave in a promiscuous manner is unjust and robs you of credibility.

Consider this: What if we were to judge the entire community of heterosexual, faithfully married people based upon the actions of frat boys at state universities? What if we were to claim that, because (some) frat boys behave promiscuously, drink themselves to oblivion, commit all manner of sexual and moral misconduct, most of it extremely heterosexual, this leads to the inevitable and inescapable conclusion that Jesus would not endorse homosexual marriage?

Makes no sense whatsoever, right?

Your link to the article you are discussing was incomplete in your post, but I am surmising that you are referring the editorial, "Liberal Christianity is paying for it's sins."

This editorial says nothing about health risks of homosexual behavior. It does give an extremely biased look at the issue of declining membership among "mainline Christian" churches. In fact, it lays most of the blame for that phenomenon, not at the feet of gays and lesbians, but at the feet of women ministers, who, the author claims, are unacceptable as leaders to their male parishioners.

Regardless of whether it is the "fault" of gays or of uppity women, I hardly consider "popular vote" as assessed by the number of attendees as the way to assess validity or truth.

There was a time (back in my younger days growing up in the Assembly of God) when it was the very popularity and large membership of "mainline Protestant" churches such as ECUSA, PCUSA, ECLA, etc., that was thought by fundamentalists to be the mark of their "damnation." It was held that their way was "easy" and "acceptable" to the uncommitted and unrepentant. Often our preachers quoted the verse, "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." (Matthew 7:13) It seems that truth-telling is not supposed to be popular or appealing to the masses.

Now things have reversed. I'm not quite sure how that fits in with the Matthew verse. I don't think that taking a stand for the truth rather than going with what is comfortable and familiar has ever been particularly popular.

John Gibson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


Yes, the article from the LA Times I was refering to was that one "Liberal Christianity is paying for it's sins."

I am not an expert on public health and I do not have anything to contribute in that area-- I seem to have been confused with another poster"anonymous".
I do not have a horse in that race-- live and let live.
My interest is inthe theological and demographic issues as refered to in the LA Times article.
peace Vicki

Anonymous said...

I find it rather intriguing that Vicki is directing us to read an op-ed piece by a woman well-known in Boston as being a defender of Roman Catholic bishops who desperately tried to cover-up that they not only knew that RC priests had sexually molested girls and boys, but knew that it was still going on and weren't doing anything to stop it.

I hope Vicki is simply unaware of that connection. But it does shed light on what's important to the person she seems to consider authoratative on issues of human sexuality.

I guess a question for Vicki would be why we should take seriously the op-ed piece she is citing when the author of that piece doesn't seem to have a problem with Roman Catholic priests having sex with under-age girls. Is Roman Catholic priests having sex with young girls ok because it's opposite-sex sex, or is it ok because the priests are Roman Catholic?

Anonymous said...

The RCs seemed to have cleaned their house now -- I found the LA Times article remarkable--- a tipping point event-- read by millions

John Gibson said...

"The RCs seemed to have cleaned their house now -- "

It's called closing the barn door after the horse has run away.

"I found the LA Times article remarkable"

I found it a packet of distortions, which is to be expected considering the author. The LAT is drifting rightward again in response to pressure from the more conservative members of the Chandler family who sit on the board.

Catherine said...

This vicki person made the identical comment to one of my entries on "Come to the Table"...I am baffled by its stupidity and ambiguousness.


Lorian said...

Vicki, I find your definition of "house cleaning" in the RC church rather disturbing. As I see it, the only "house cleaning" that has occurred is the demonization of gay priests and priest-candidates, whether celibate or not, whether involved in abuse or not.

Since gays are no more likely than straights to be pedophiles (in fact, the majority of pedophiles are straight-identifying males), laying the blame and punishment for the RCC's filthy history of ignoring and even promoting and protecting child molesters at the feet of gay priests and seminarians is a filthy and vile attempt to shift blame.

In point of fact, some of the worst offenders among bishops who dealt with pedophile priests by shifting them to other parishes where they could continue to molest children, are either still holding their same positions as diocesan bishops, or, in some cases, have been, themselves, moved about to other positions. In one case, the bishop was actually rewarded with a highly-coveted post in Rome.

Cardinal Mahoney, here in Los Angeles, has been under fire for a very long time regarding his involvement in the scandal, yet he continues in his office with no apparent disciplinary action taken against him at all.

If this is your definition of "cleaning house," I don't know what else to say to you on the subject.

Anonymous said...

"I found the LA Times article remarkable--- a tipping point event-- read by millions"

Vicki, I think your "tipping point" has just been toppled.

Los Angeles Times counters Charlotte Allen's Op-Ed Piece by Backing Gay Marriage!

You may need to register (free) to read the LA Times online.


hiram ... and Dean Turner and I disagree .. about both the teaching in question and the question of whether both of our understandings fit within the "boundaries" of Christian doctrine.

I'm happy for him to live his life in accordance with the aspects of the Gospel he chooses to focus on. He seems to be determined to name his way as the only way ... there therein lies, as they say, the rub.

Have a good vacation! (Ours is coming up ... Thanks Be to God!)

Will said...

Dear Susan+,
I am sitting here with tears, because I am profoundly moved by this sermon. I only regret that I could not have been at All Saints to hear it first hand. One thought that has continually come to my mind is that THIS is our hour as LGBT people to be light in the middle of the darkness around us. It's often challenging, because it's easy to mistake the fear for hatred ... when in fact the fundamentalists, not us, are the victims. In essence your message said that so clearly, and if I dare say it ... the message of your heart is exactly as mine. To be the presence of LOVE to those who don't believe they could possibly be loved, as well as (God help us)being that same presence of LOVE to those who, in fear, would seek to invalidate and exclude us. Thank you, dear sister and highly resgarded Servant of God, for your witness to my life.
In Christ,

Anonymous said...

I grew up Southern Baptist in Mississippi, lied to myself and everyone else about my sexuality, joined the Episcopal Church at 17, got married and had two wonderful children, divorced after telling my wife the truth (we tried to make it work, but couldn't), word got out all over town, I was fired from my job and my own Episcopal church decided that I shouldn't be their organist. Now doesn't that sound like a pity party? To the contrary! I kept my faith in Jesus. After five years, I sit on the second pew of the church which attempted to disown me. I Love my children unconditionally. I prayed for those who hated me. I asked forgiveness from those whom I had hurt. I found my soulmate. And Jesus has been there the entire time. Words cannot describe how it felt to cry so hard that I physically ached and was unable to get out of bed -- how the feelings of guilt and condemnation were just so hard to bare. But Jesus got me through it. My complete faith and trust are in Him. I don't have all the answers. Everything is not perfect -- and never will be. However, with Jesus, I am at peace. I would not wish the last years of my life on any soul reading this, but God did me a favor. He allowed me to experience some of what Jesus endured. He allowed me suffer pain and rejection. I understand Jesus better and love Him so. I have no doubt whatsoever that our church will not merely endure -- it will prevail against the gates of hell and if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus --and love those who hate us -- we will not merely exist....we will live an abundant life, full of understanding, compassion, love and possess the fruits of the Spirit. I choose not to argue over whether "my life presents a challenge to the church." What a joke. I hope it does! Jesus' manner of life presents a challenge to the church. And rightly so. If God were to give me the opportunity to go back in time and choose when, where and how to live -- knowing what I know now -- I would choose to be a gay father in Mississippi in 2006! We are all going to be just fine. Our church is going to thrive. Don't worry about this little "bump in the road." Besides, we'll probably be embroiled in a good "prayer book dispute" in a few years anyway!!! Peace and love to you all.