St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Sunday, June 25, 2006
The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Job 38:1-11, 16-18
2 Corninthians 5:14-21
From an altitude of 5,000 feet, above a semi-arid patch of the Fertile Crescent, the Sea of Galilee, eight miles wide, ten miles long, resembles a single tear drop, embedded in the ancient landscape, left behind from the time when the waters were gathered into one and the dry land appeared. Bordered by smooth edges, a black and uniform surface is undisturbed except for a spec that slowly plies its way across the deep waters. It is always dangerous crossing to another side, especially when what separates the sides is a dark, unknown and unpredictable chasm. The danger is real but there is no option but to cross. At mid point, the darkest hour, floating above the greatest depths, at the moment of greatest vulnerability, a whirlwind strikes with ferocious intensity, intent on submerging the foreign object, covering it with folds of a watery blanket. The noise is nearly deafening – yet it is still possible to discern several of the voices which shout one to the others. From one direction, a swirl of debate on English as the official language of the United States rages. One shouts: “America’s linguistic unity, which enabled the melting-pot crucible to forge one nation out of millions of immigrants from all over the world, is under attack as never before; accommodations discourage immigrants from learning English.” Louder still we hear: “Making English the official U.S. language disregards all the Americans who have a different native language and culture. The U.S. is a country of immigrants.” And louder still: “My parents learned to speak English – that is what you do when you are an American.” From another direction, the debate over marriage and the Constitution rages. An angry voice shouts: “If we’re to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America.” Shout for shout, the reply: “It is wrong to write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution, and it is shameful to use attacks against gay and lesbian families as an election strategy…an instrument of bigotry and prejudice to try to bring Republican senators out of the ditch of disapproval.” Another gust carries the political winds of Chicago and the Cook County Board Presidency. “This is not about government, this is about the mother’s milk of Chicago politics – ambition, power, and jobs; this Soviet-style stonewalling has got to end. We need a definitive statement from a medical doctor or from him on his status and his viability to serve.” Firing back: “First of all, you try to kill him during the election. You all did, you were pretty much against him 100 percent, so you had him buried in the election, and now want to bury him after the election.” And another pocket of wind blows in from last week’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Columbus: From one side: “This resolution is an appropriate and blessed way forward, strengthening the Episcopal Church, strengthening the Anglican Communion.” From another side: “This is not what we had hoped for, but it’s what we have.” Another side: “I don’t think there’s the willingness to actually enforce it and carry it out.” And another: “I am disappointed that whether or not we go to Lambeth matters more than the lives of gay and lesbian people.” Still another: “It could have been much more but at least it keeps the door open; let’s not give up. Let’s not draw the lines too hard.” And from every direction and every wind, labels are lobbed and hurled, like grapefruit-sized hail: liberal, conservative, neo-con, ultra-con, crunchy con, orthodox, revisionist, heretic, evangelical, republican, democrat, communist, socialist, capitalist, reactionary, revolutionary, Zionist, terrorist, patriot, American, anti-American, leftist, rightist and centrist.
“Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?”
Our question is answered with a question: “why are you afraid?”
We are crossing to another side and the fear is as thick as the waters are deep. We can’t see where the winds come from or know when or where they are going because the source is an unidentified, hidden and well-guarded place within each of us – an icy wasteland whose product is raw fear – fear of the the unknown; fear of losing power; fear that we are not as important as we think; fear of the truth; fear of praying because our prayers aren’t pious sounding; fear that our systematic theologies are not water tight, that our understanding of the world is vulnerable and limited and even wrong; fear of losing control; fear of lonliness; fear of our expectations will not be met; fear of change, uncertainty and vulnerability; fear of facing choices that are difficult; fear of failure and rejection; fear that we are not loved.
Do you not care that we are perishing, Jesus? If caring means enabling and participating in our anxieties, the answer is no. But Jesus will intervene. Into the whirlwind of fear, noise and chaos, the love of God made known in Christ proclaims Peace: the Peace of the Lord that is always with you and also with me. A Peace that claims the upperhand and recalls us to humility and true purpose. A Peace that assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It is a rallying cry that directs us back to what we are called to do: to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves; to do so is to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit the prisoner. It is a sure sign of a failure in leadership, in politics, in the church universal, in the Episcopal Church, at St. Mark’s, and in our lives, when the reality and priority of peace is subsumed by distractions, the desire for control, self-interest and fear. In the wake of such failure, is it any surprise that according to an article in the American Sociological Review, Americans have on average just two close friends, down from three twenty years ago; and 1 in 4 have no one to discuss important matters with? Our collective call is to reclaim positive leadership grounded in the call of Christ. I am confident that our presiding bishop-elect, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman in the 400 year history of the Episcopal Church in the United States to hold this positon, will provide such leadership. As your new rector, I promise to lead in the way of peace and to claim and proclaim our call to serve, to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens. I call on each of you to lead in peace, in this church, in your families, among your neighbors by reaching out to others in fearless love. “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” The echo of Paul’s admonition to the church in Corinth can be heard in every church in every nation. But make no mistake, there are no guarantees of smooth sailing or an easy landing when crossing to the other side, for we may too be met by a man out from among the tombs with an unclean spirit, whom no can restrain even with shakles and chains.
There is a dead calm. A watery grave holds its victims: fear and wind. The inky blackness of the water is perfectly still, and after a while, is only distrurbed by the small spec that lurches forward, moving steadily across the great divide.
I want to conclude with a quote from a sermon given by Katharine Schori given at the closing Eucharist of the general convention on June 21st: “Our invitation, both in the last work of this Convention, and as we go out into the world, is to lay down our fear and love the world. Lay down our sword and shield, and seek out the image of God’s beloved in the people we find it hardest to love. Lay down our narrow self-interest, and heal the hurting and fill the hungry and set the prisoners free. Lay down our need for power and control, and bow to the image of God’s beloved in the weakest, the poorest, and the most excluded.”