Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sermon -- 30 July 2006

Proper 12 / 8th after Pentecost — 30 July 2006
St. Luke’s, Cedar Falls — 9:00 a.m.
2 Kings 2:1-15 Psalm 114 Eph 4:1-7,11-16 Mark 6:45-52

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

As I assume you all are aware, the Episcopal Church is in a bit of turmoil these days, both internally and in relation to the rest of the Anglican Communion.

(If you are not aware of this, let me congratulate you on your admirable discrimination about where you focus your attention!)

This morning I’m not going to get into the substance of the issues that are the occasion of this turmoil: first, because it’s very rude to come into somebody else’s parish from the outside and stir up trouble; second, because these are issues about which thoughtful Christians can in good faith hold different opinions. They are important issues; but they are not de fide, that is, they do not go to the core of Christian faith, they do not involve essential dogma (the more “dogmatic” people are about an issue, the less likely the issue is really to involve genuine dogma; but I digress), they are not articles of the standing or falling of the Church, being mistaken about them does not constitute heresy.

These considerations came to my mind as I was reflecting on the Epistle reading this morning, from the Letter to the Ephesians. The overall theme of this letter is “unity.” Paul begins the fourth chapter: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

I don’t hear as much of that as I wish I did, at least in some quarters of the Church. What I hear are charges and countercharges, threats and counterthreats. “You’re not obedient to the Scriptures!” “You’re not faithful to the Gospel!” “You’re in rebellion against your bishop!” “Well, we’re going to find ourselves a different bishop!” “We’re holier than thou!” “No, we’re holier than thou!” Apparently the authority of the Bible, particularly the fourth chapter of Ephesians, is a sometime thing, depending…

Paul goes on to talk about the diversity of the gifts Christ gives us “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” The context in which he is writing is not quite the same as our present one, but the picture I get from what he is saying here and in similar passages elsewhere[1] is not of some rigid monolithic structure of community life, but of a community which is a living body, the Body of Christ, a body growing into maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ our head.

One of the things that may underlie turmoil like we are presently experiencing is that we have bought into our own mythology: we don’t believe in an infallible Pope, but we do tend to believe in an infallible Tradition: that is, “We’ve never done it that way before,” case closed. We are so afraid to be wrong! Well, it’s important to try to be right, to avoid error, but the cold hard fact is that the Church has been wrong about a lot of things in the past — and not just trivial things — and somehow or other we have survived! “Somehow or other” — actually it’s because the Church and her mission and ministry does not depend upon our being right but upon the grace of God. That doesn’t mean we should be cavalier about truth, but given our history a little humility might be in order.

Molly Wolf, in yesterday’s “Sabbath Blessing,” had some very good words. (Molly Wolf is a Canadian Anglican laywoman who puts out a more-or-less weekly e-mail meditation; she is an extraordinarily perceptive theologian of daily life. If you don’t know her, I commend you to her. If you’re interested just Google on “Sabbath Blessings.”) Anyway, Molly said:

“The fear, of course, is that we'll get it wrong somehow — make some sort of mistake with fearful consequences. We've argued theology to death over the centuries; we've roasted one another, squabbled ferociously, published reams and reams of dead-tree stuff holding one viewpoint or another. We've boxed ourselves into corners, divided ourselves, gotten passionately angry and self-righteous… and does it work? Does it get us any closer to God?”

A quick final jump to today’s Gospel reading: The disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee in the boat, and something of a storm comes up (as seems to happen when the disciples go out boating; I don’t know what that says!). Jesus comes walking by (don’t ask!), the disciples cry out with fear, and Jesus gets into the boat with them.

Well, it often seems like we are straining at the oars against an adverse wind, and we don’t know what to do, and we are afraid. What matters is not so much that we understand everything correctly, but that we allow Jesus to get into our boat. The Church and her mission and ministry does not depend upon our being right but upon the grace of God.

[1] Romans 12:4ff, 1 Cor 12:4ff.

© 2006 William S. J. Moorhead

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