Sermon for Sunday, August 2, 2015 || Proper 13B || Ephesians 4:1-16; Psalm 78: 23-29; John 6: 24-35 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
“… speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
If you had a sense of déjà vu when you heard that passage read just now, it may be because it’s the same one you read in the announcement last week about the Senior Warden’s resignation. And while I hadn’t anticipated saying anything more about that (I had actually planned to preach on the gospel) when I saw that the quote I’d used in my letter would be a part of this week’s reading, I figured it must be a “God thing,” and that I should say something about it.
Which is not tough to do—because while the relationship Kathryn Earle and I had as Rector and Senior Warden was thorny and difficult, the way we worked through it, and where we are today, is a really good illustration of the kind of behavior Paul is talking about in his letter to the Ephesians.
As your Rector and Senior Warden, Kathryn and I worked very, very hard to be open and honest and respectful with each other about our differences; we tried to “speak the truth in love” in ways that Paul would deem “worthy of the calling” to which we had been called as leaders of our community. Sometimes, over the course of the past year, we shared moments of insight and grace that surprised and delighted us both. Sometimes, we failed miserably.
But I think it’s fair to say that we made every effort to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” as we tried to work out our relationship, because whatever disagreements came between us, we always shared–at the very center of the work we were doing—our commitment to the health and vitality and well-being of Christ’s church, our heartfelt desire to “promote the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” And we both love St. Stephen’s.
Unfortunately, our most fundamental disagreement was about my suitability to lead our parish in fulfilling that commitment as your rector. And while it is absolutely fine for Kathryn–as it is for any member of our church–to feel that I’m not the best priest for St. Stephen’s, it’s not okay for the Senior Warden to feel that way: The Senior Warden and the Rector can’t work together effectively as long as the Senior Warden believes the best thing for the church is for the Rector to leave it, while the Rector believes God has called, and is still calling her, to serve it. In such a case, the “parts of the body” (to stay with Paul’s language) are at odds. They can not work properly, and cannot promote the body’s growth.
So paradoxically, in seeking unity, and for the health of our church, the relationship between the Rector and the Senior Warden had to be severed—not the relationship between Margot and Kathryn, mind you– but the relationship between the Rector and the Senior Warden.
Now, this does not mean that Kathryn and I are enemies, or even that we dislike each other. This is not, after all, grade school. No one needs to take sides, because we’re all on the same side: We’re all on the side of what scripture calls, “the body of Christ”— that means you, me, Kathryn, and all of us who make up Christ’s church at St. Stephen’s. And quite frankly, that means that whether we like each other or not, we need to get over ourselves and focus our very different but equally God-given gifts on Christ’s church and Christ’s mission.
To quote Paul again, “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, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
And that is the perfect segue to this morning’s gospel. Because without the very bread of life itself we don’t stand a chance of promoting the body’s growth.
Kathryn and I succeeded in the work we did with the Rev. Sam Rodman—ending the relationship we had in our official roles, without destroying the relationship we had (and hope to build on) as priest and parishioner—solely because Christ was always at the center of that work. We depended on him—not our own wits or our own resources—to feed us and nourish us and sustain us, and to bless the work we were doing. (You might want to try this with any difficult or thorny relationship you may have.)
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus assures us, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” That’s quite a promise Jesus makes. And we’re going to hear a lot more about living into that promise in the next few weeks as we continue in John’s gospel. In the meantime, I invite you to think about it as you receive communion this morning: Jesus as the bread, Jesus in the bread, Jesus in you, Jesus in each other. Jesus, the very stuff of life itself.
And in closing, I’d simply like to pray again our Collect of the Day:
“Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. ” Amen.