Sermon on Epiphany 3C, I Corinthians 12:12-31a

The advantage and the disadvantage of a Lectionary is that it limits what one should talk about to be somewhat related to that day’s scriptures. Last week I noted that I didn’t have that much to say on the Wedding at Cana, so I commented on the Epistle reading instead (I Corinthians 12:1-11).
This week I might have said a few things about the gospel (Luke 4:14-21), there is some good stuff there, but I could not escape the feeling that again the epistle was more relevant to what was going on in the Church, even if I didn’t really want to deal with it.
But sometimes one has to deal with things one doesn’t want to. And really, if one doesn't want to, it probably means one should. So here I plunge into controversy.

The issue of today's selection from First Corinthians is the unity of the Church.
In a metaphor of comparing the body as one thing, with many members who do different things, Paul again, like in the epistle selection last week, notes the different gifts we all bring.

As I read this passage this week, for me it was about the one body of the whole Church, the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” as the Nicene Creed we regularly say puts it.
We are called to unity, as Christians.

But how do we be one body and one spirit? It has always been difficult, because of our differences.

While the idea of one happy Church with all its members worshipping in agreement is appealing,
it is contrary to the facts of history.
As I’ve said many times, Paul writes his epistles because people are fighting about what Christianity means.
Then the Church wrote creeds, like the Nicene One we say regularly, because people were fighting about what Christianity means—and that Nicene Creed did not stop the fights—it only deepened the divisions.
And the Church of England broke away from the Roman Communion in the Reformation because people were fighting about what Christianity means.

And last week the quarrels in the Anglican Communion were fired up again, because of decisions made at a gathering of its Primates.
What is this Anglican Communion?
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has said in reaction to this controversy:
The Anglican Communion is a network of relationships that have been built on mission partnerships; relationships that are grounded in a common faith; … relationships that are profoundly committed to serving and following the way of Jesus of Nazareth by helping the poorest of the poor, and helping this world to be a place where no child goes to bed hungry ever. That’s what the Anglican Communion is, and that Communion continues and moves forward.”

My definition is those Churches in communion, meaning sharing the table of the Eucharist, in association, with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Anglican Communion has no real structure, but all bishops meet at Lambeth Palace in London every ten years or so; and there’s an Anglican Consultative Council that coordinates our efforts at dealing with poverty and injustice and there’s the Primate’s meetings.
Who are the Primates?
The primates are the 38 leaders of all these churches in 165 countries around the world. Their main job, it seems, if you look on their website is to help alleviate problems of poverty and economic injustice.

So what has happened at the latest gathering is that the majority of Primates issued a communiqué that called on representatives of the Episcopal church not to vote in the bodies of the Anglican Communion for three years. I’ve seen it compared to us being asked for a “time out” (see here or here) like, a little rambunctious kid, who has to sit quietly in the corner because he broke the rules.
What rules did we break?

A majority vote at the last General Convention (Resolutions 036 and 054) allowed bishops who wanted to allow same-sex marriages in their dioceses, to have them.

Or rather, let’s just say instead of “same sex” let’s just say its an expansion of the definition of marriage as to be between two consenting adults, regardless of their private parts or gender.

In doing so our Episcopal Church did not have “order” and “discipline” and now must seek “humility” and “repentence.” This “time out” is the “consequences” that followed from our independent actions on this matter, probably with the majority Primates hoping that the Episcopal Church will humbly repent of its decision at our next General Convention.

Will we? Should we?

You may remember, that in many states in America same-sex acts were against the law until 2003.
That same year, our church did take a notorious position in same-sex issues with the consecration of Gene Robinson to bishop. Who thought then that by 2015 same sex marriage would be the law of the land, as it is in seventeen other countries around the world?
Some people left the Church over the issue of same-sex relationships.
The Primates have been focusing on the same-sex issue for years, which for many of them also extends to their refusal to acknowledge women as either priests or bishops. They’ve focused on this issue as if it’s important, the most important thing.

But is it?

In a positive sense, the Primates called their communiqué “Walking Together in the Service of God in the World” that signals that they are trying to find a way to allow the Anglican Communion to continue. They want us to walk quietly and a little to the side for a while.
According to the Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, “It’s clear in Christian teaching that it’s not for us to divide the body of Christ, which is the church, but also that we must seek to make decisions bearing each other in mind, taking each other seriously, loving one another despite deep differences of view.”

When Archbishop of Canterbury says that he hopes that “Christ’s flock can more or less stay together…,” it's ironic how he certainly forgets how Christians have been separating each other since the Pentecost, as mentioned above.
One moment of unity through the Holy Spirit, and since then it’s been one splinter after another.
There are thousands of different churches schismed off from each other. You can go to a webpage of churches who claim to be Anglican alone, and you can count over 130 denominations that claim to be Anglican, but are not in communion with Canterbury, or us.

What does it mean to be in communion?
For me at least, it’s coming together in common prayer and at the common table, and in that sense we are the "one holy catholic and apostolic church."
We only require baptism.
But for any number of groups we have
- the wrong kind of baptism,
-the wrong attitude toward the Bible,
-the wrong kind of priests whether its because of their private parts or technicalities of ordination, or some other excuse,
-the wrong interpretation of the Eucharist,
-the wrong attitude toward family planning,
-the wrong kind of bishops,
-the wrong kind of politics or activism for social justice,
and now its the wrong kind of marriage.
For these and any number of reasons, many other so-called Christians refuse to commune with us.
But I think we’re willing to commune with them.
I know I am.
I welcome to the table anyone baptized into Christ (and I don’t even look too close at some who might not even be baptized).

Whatever may be your
- social status,
-sexual yearnings,
-private parts,
-eye shape or color,
-skin pigmentation,
you are welcome to pray and share the body and blood of Jesus Christ and try to make real the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Where will we end up because of our polity?” some might ask, “How far does it go?”
I don’t have an answer, but it is my hope that it goes so far as to bring the loving embracing of Jesus to every single person on this planet.
We ask all to walk with us on that journey.
We are not dividing the church; we are welcoming more into it; we are asking more people of good will to live a life of fullness and happiness. That is the good thing we do.
We are still members of the Anglican Communion.
We are still members of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America.
We are still members of St. Stephen’s Church, Pro-Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem.
We are also members of the human family, in all its complex messiness, its hatreds, loves, violence, and peace. Most of all, we are still members of that "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" which we proclaim to believe in with that Nicene Creed.

Let me end with a prayer for that from our Book of Common Prayer (p. 816)
Gracious Father, we pray for thy Holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.


Delivered at St. Stephen's Pro-cathedral 2016 January 24

Last Updated: 2016 January 24
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