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Epiphany 2 January 17, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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Epiphany 2  Year C
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2: 1-11
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, January 17 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
How does it feel,
fellow Episcopalians,
to be sent to the corner for a time out
by our brothers,
the Anglican Primates?
 
That’s essentially what
those chief bishops of our Anglican Communion
did at their meeting last week,
 
a majority of them voting
to sanction us
for three years . . .
 
Why?
 
Because our General Convention
authorized liturgies
for same sex marriage
last summer.
 
Yes, we’ve been very naughty.
 
Prophets often are.
But before we
fall into an orgy of self-congratulation
for our prophetic naughtiness . . .
 
Let us remember
that our own Episcopal Church
once condoned slavery
          and for many years
          has looked the other way
                   when it comes to our own
                   institutional racism.
 
Let us remember
our battles over whether or not
women could participate
in the governance of the church –
as Vestry members, Wardens,
          Deputies to General Convention.
 
Let us remember the divisions
          we’ve created among ourselves
over the ordination
          of persons of color, women, gay people.
         
Let us remember how long it took
for us to decide it was permissible to
          bless same sex relationships,
let alone offer to those couples
          the Sacrament of Marriage.
 
And, heavens to Betsy,
          we are still not a perfect church!
To get back to these sanctions:
 
We should be clear
that this was not an attempt  
to expel us from the Communion,
 
but an attempt
to un-invite us
from the governance of the Communion
for the next three years.
 
I say “attempt” because
sanctions can be voted for
but not imposed
          by the Primates.
 
Such an action would fall to the
Anglican Consultative Council,
which will next meet sometime this April.
 
We can’t say at this point
what might be the outcome
of that meeting.
 

We should also be very clear
that this action
doesn’t and can’t in any way
affect same sex marriages
that have already happened,
or that will happen in our Church,
 
and can’t and won’t change
our Church’s hard-won position
          on same sex marriage.
 
We’ve come a long way;
others still have a long way to come;
given our own history,
          who are we to judge?
 
The Spirit of God
is alive and moving
throughout the Church . . .
bringing us out of error into truth,
 
and the Church responds,
sometimes quickly,
sometimes slowly,
sometimes with reluctance,
sometimes with eagerness,
sometimes rightly,
sometimes wrongly . . .
 
but the movement of the Spirit
never ceases.
 
 

Several members of our community
have expressed concern and dismay
about the Primates’ action.
 
I don’t like it myself,
because if carried through
by the Anglican Consultative Council
it will temporarily diminish our participation
          in the common life of our Communion,
and the important voice and witness we bring
          to its deliberations.
 
          (On the other hand,
          the public nature of this action
                   and the resulting public conversation about it –
          thoughtful and constructive conversation I mean,
                    not tweets and Facebook rants –
          may actually move
          some of our member churches forward.)
 
I don’t like this action
because whether or not it actually divides us,
it’s divisive in nature,
a poor witness to a divided world,
 
ironically just as we prepare to enter
the week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
 

I don’t like it
because it’s a poor statement
about the Church’s priorities –
all this attention to sexuality,
          essentially a private matter,
when there are urgent world concerns
          to be addressed:
climate change, sex trafficking, poverty, hunger,
          violence, war . . .
the vastness of human suffering . . .
there is where our true mission lies.
 
          (To be fair,
          the Primates did spend time
          on those concerns, too.)
 
And I don’t like this action
because it’s hurtful,
maybe even dangerous,
for vulnerable individuals,
gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender people
who can’t help but take it personally . . .
 
and who don’t have the context
that would help them understand
what is really
a Tempest in an Ecclesial Teapot.
 
We could all benefit, of course,
from looking at that context,
the nature of the Anglican Communion itself.
 

85 million Christians
belonging to 38 Member Churches
          (also called Provinces)
                   in 165 countries worldwide:
 
New Zealand, the Philippines,
Japan, Korea,
Pakistan, India,
South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria,
Brazil, Uruguay, Cuba, Mexico,
Canada, the United States . . . 
(that’s 15, I’ll leave the other 150 for you to discover.) 
 
Most are colonial churches
established as the British Empire
          spread across the globe,
shaped as they grew by the diverse situations
          and cultures in which they found themselves.
 
Autonomous entities,
sibling Churches
united in a web of relationships
by our relationship
to our parent Church of England
          and its head the Archbishop of Canterbury.
 
Autonomous entities,
often struggling with the tension between
our desire to act in concert with one another,
and the necessity of occasionally acting
          independently of one another,
          because of our differing character
                   and circumstances.
 
Autonomous entities,
with widely varying approaches
to theology,
the interpretation of scripture,
church governance,
the dignity of all human beings.
 
 
What then?
 
Having been slapped on the wrist
by a majority of the Primates,
and being in disagreement with them,
should we give up on the Anglican Communion,
remove ourselves from it?
         
I think not.
 
There are bound to be differences among us,
and we are bound to suffer through them.
 
Bound . . .
because underneath our squabbles
and growing pains,
as individuals,
as Churches,
as a Communion
we are united to one another
by the Sacrament of Baptism.
 

We are one Body
inextricably woven together
and into the life of Christ,
in an indissoluble bond established by God
which cannot be broken
by vote, rejection, or secession.
 
Bound together,
not only with other Anglicans,
but with Roman Catholics, Lutherans,
Methodists, Presbyterians,
Greek and Eastern Orthodox,
Baptists,
everyone and anyone
baptized into the risen life of Christ.
 
 
Institutions
may fracture
of their own folly
 
(and that’s not what’s happening here –
          well, the folly is happening,
                   but not the fracture,)
 
but the unity established in baptism
is ours for ever
whether we like it or not.
 
 

Within this Anglican Communion of ours,
there are
“a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit,
and . . . varieties of services,
but the same Lord;
and . . . a variety of activities,
but . . . the same God who activates all of them
in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit
for the common good.”
 
Companion relationships
among Anglican parishes, dioceses and seminaries
reach around the globe.
 
Those relationships
can’t be changed by any sanctions.
 
Through those relationships
differences are frequently
discovered to be the very gifts
that enrich the lives of the partners
and build up the body of Christ,
          equipping us for ministry and service
          to the world around us.
 

We share with one another the challenges
          we live with locally,
We work together to meet the challenges
          that face us globally,
We proclaim the Gospel we share
          even as we sometimes
          disagree as to how it is best lived . . .
 
And inevitably, we learn and grow
          and become better Churches.
 
Because we are
moved by one and the same Spirit,
love one and the same Lord,
serve one and the same God.
 
So of course,
we stick with our Communion
despite this latest
Tempest in the Anglican Teapot
 
because it is to this particular teapot
that God has called us
          with our own particular genius and folly
to be in relationship with all those other churches
          with their own particular genius and folly.
 
Paul’s passage about the gifts of the Spirit
leads into his comparison of the Church,
          the Body of Christ,
to the human body, and the indispensability
          of every one of its members,
assembled for the working out
          of God’s unknowable purpose.
This weekend
we commemorate
that great Christian prophet and proponent
of justice in all things
for all people,
 
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
 
His determination to bring about
racial justice
turned our country and church inside out,
exposing the cruelty and hypocrisy
of segregation.
 
His vision expanded
to include the injustice of global poverty,
the Vietnam War,
and any system which
condoned or actively engaged in
the oppression of any of God’s children.
 
His example led to the end of segregation
(although as is all too evident today,
not the end of racism itself)
 
and to other civil rights movements
including
women’s liberation,
and the fight for gay rights.
 
He changed our country
and our Church for ever.
 
 

His courage,
his steadfastness,
his deep faith
          and desire to
          embody the mind and heart of Jesus,
 
his urgency,
and his patience,
and his commitment
          to non-violent protest
 
and his giving of his life
for the Gospel
 
inspire us to continue
his witness . . .
 
within our own Church,
our own country,
our own Anglican Communion,
 
wherever there is transgression
against the equality and dignity
          of all human beings,
wherever anyone
is denied the glorious freedom
          of the children of God.
 
 

All this has eclipsed
any lengthy consideration of
the wedding feast at Cana . . .
 
and just think . . .
 
all because of weddings!
 
At Cana,
insufficiency becomes abundance,
water, the wine of God’s generosity,
and the glory of God
and the power of God’s Spirit
is revealed in the person of Jesus
          moving and working among us.
 
As it is revealed
in the person of Martin Luther King,
 
As it is revealed
in the struggles of the Anglican Communion,
 
 
How might that story,
the first of Jesus’ signs,
be relevant
to Dr. King’s ministry
and the aforementioned struggles . . . ?
 
 
Well, you’ll have to play with that yourselves,
because I’m afraid my time is up . . .