Second Sunday after Trinity
Preacher: The Dean
Some of you will already be aware, and others will be completely unaware, that we had the Presiding Bishop of the USA here to celebrate the Eucharist and preach this morning. Being an egalitarian culture, in social ranking if not in economic assessment, the Church in the United States does not have an archbishop. So, in English terms, we had the Archbishop of the USA here this morning.
On evangelical and ecclesiastically conservative websites I have been denounced this week for being ‘provocative’ and ‘discourteous to the Archbishop of Canterbury’ for extending this invitation. Well, I haven’t been denounced on these various websites for many months and I was beginning to feel neglected and unwanted so I am glad of the reassurance and attention.
The facts are simple; we have had a steady stream of archbishops here to preach during the time I have been Dean, and I expect well before that. The archbishops of Brazil, South Africa, Canada, and of course York and Canterbury, come to mind. Bishops from Zimbabwe, Norway, a woman bishop from the USA, and many others have held this pulpit. The invitation to the Presiding Bishop is not at all a novelty for us, and the date was fixed in July 2008 after we had failed to find a suitable date around the Lambeth Conference when first I invited her in the spring of 2008. I happened to be at Lambeth Palace on Friday where I collected the Archbishop’s licence for the Presiding Bishop to officiate, I have kept him informed at all times, I would not act without courtesy, nor he towards us.
There are several reasons for the fury. The Presiding Bishop is a woman and some people hate the idea of women as bishops. The General Synod of the Church of England is about to debate the admission of women as bishops within the Church of England. The church in the United States has just consecrated an openly lesbian woman as a suffragan bishop in Los Angeles and so they are accused of breaking an embargo on such consecrations. It is not nearly so simple.
I have to tell you that I had intended to ignore all this kerfuffle this afternoon, until, that is, I read the lessons and the Collect set for the day and used by the Presiding Bishop at this morning's Eucharist.
The Collect says:
‘Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
Send your Holy Spirit
And pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
The true bond of peace and of all virtues,
Without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.’
It seems to me that love must, by its essential nature, be always unconditional. We welcome Katharine Jefferts Schori to this pulpit because we love our sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church of the United States; not because she is female, or a woman bishop ahead of us, or has permitted a practising lesbian to become a bishop (As it happens she couldn’t have stopped it after all the legal and proper canonical electoral processes resulted in the election and nomination), we welcome her because she is our sister in Christ.
The lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures is enormously topical. Disaffected Anglicans have been threatening to ‘walk separate ways’ for many months. Abram and Lot travel together and their herdsmen bicker and fight, in modern translation there is 'strife' between them. They reach agreement to take separate paths and settle down and so their mutual belonging as members of one family is secured. The lesson is even more pertinent because it describes how Lot ended up near Sodom, which was a very wicked city, and of course it is sodomy that so curiously and constantly preoccupies so many disaffected Anglicans. The story of Sodom is often misrepresented from scriptures, the abuse which leads to its reputation and much social mythology, current even today, in Chapter 19, is a more sophisticated story of torture and coercion than misrepresented as a matter of sex.
It may be that some Anglicans will decide to walk a separate path. I believe the Chapter and congregation of this church will walk the same path as the Episcopal Church of America, the links are deep in our history, especially here. Their actions in recent months have been entirely in accord with the Anglican ways of generosity and breadth. They have tried to ensure everyone is recognised as a child of God. They have behaved entirely in accord with their canon laws and their freedom as an independent Province of the Church, not imposing or interfering with others with whom they disagree but proceeding steadily and openly themselves.
The lesson from St Mark’s gospel was the end of a string of parables, but it ends with a great storm. You will understand if I say that caused me to smile.
Parables are deeply incarnational. They are about the revelation of the presence of God that we can discover and proclaim in the most ordinary experiences of life. This evening’s passage contained short ‘kingdom parables’ about seed and growth, about minute beginnings and prodigious fruit. If the seed is never sown then we cannot discover the results. If Christ had not died there would have been no resurrection. If God had not let go there would have been no incarnation and salvation, no Jesus. If Jesus had not fallen asleep in the stern of the boat the disciples would not have discovered how frightened and alone they could feel without his presence – and these were largely fishermen.
It is my hope and prayer that Anglicans with different perspectives can continue to recognise their common inheritance in the faith even when they live many miles apart and conduct their churches in divergent ways; I also hope they read the scriptures intelligently. It is my hope that this is a way that love can continue such that its realisation is in peace. It is our constant experience that God is discovered when we have the courage to let go, to give freedom to the smallest of things and allow God to work giving the growth, we know not how.