St. Paul and the Anglican Primates

Sermon for Sunday, January 24th, 2016 ||  Third Sunday after the Epiphany|| Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a; Luke 4: 14-21 ||  The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

My brother Scott and his wife lived in Boston for many years, long before Don and I came to Cohasset. And I’ve never forgotten that when Scott’s old friend Alan heard that Don and I were moving here, he jokingly referred to Cohasset as, “the white man’s promised land.” And it’s true that this town, and our church, is all the poorer for our lack of racial and ethnic diversity.

That being said, one of the greatest joys (and challenges) of serving at St. Stephen’s is our rather remarkable diversity beyond surface appearances. Theologically, politically, and economically, St. Stephen’s is the most diverse congregation of which I’ve been a part. And I’m not sure you’re aware of how unusual this is, or what a wonderful gift it is.

Worshipping together in this congregation are born-again Christians, progressive Christians, and Evangelicals. Mainline Christians, Emergents, and Seekers. We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents of both the liberal and conservative varieties.  We’re Socialists and Libertarians. We’re young and old, gay and straight, married, divorced and single. And while there’s a common perception that to live in Cohasset you have to be rich, we all know that’s not true because many of us are anything but. Some of us in this church this morning know that more personally—and feel it more acutely– than others.

We are one body, one church– and we are very different and individual members of it. There’s not an issue you could name on which we would all agree, yet we worship together each week and celebrate our differences. Because we are one body and one church. We pray the same prayers… share the same bread…drink the same wine.

It is a truly beautiful thing to behold. You, St. Stephen’s, are a beautiful thing to behold. You are Anglicanism at its best.

But what happened at Canterbury two weeks ago was not Anglicanism at its best. What happened at Canterbury two weeks ago was not beautiful, though it was cloaked in beautiful language.

What happened at Canterbury two weeks ago was that the 38 Primates (or archbishops) who represent the  Anglican Communion thorughout the world—including the Episcopal Church of the United States– gathered to consider how to preserve the unity of the Communion in light of the American church’s inclusive theology of marriage, a theology that welcomes and embraces same-gender couples. Here is what the Primates wrote in their official communiqué at the end of the week:

“Recent developments in the Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.

“It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters, we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years TEC no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

Historically, the Anglican Communion has been known as the “middle way” between Catholicism and Protestantism. We’ve taken pride in our ability to embrace paradox, and in our resistance to any hierarchical authority dictating doctrine. We’ve been characterized as the “Big Tent” because we’ve always been broad-thinking enough to accept and celebrate our differences, while being bound together by our common prayer, our liturgy, our baptism, and the Eucharist.

Listen again to what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

“…the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you…if one member suffers, all suffer together with it… “

Now listen to what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, our primate, said to his colleagues at Canterbury before they voted:

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all…[that] All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.”

“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love, and to being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain. For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”

Our own Bishops Alan and Gayle reaffirmed both our Diocese’s commitment to the full inclusion of all  LGBTQ Christians in the life of the church, and our identity as Anglicans. “That identity,” they wrote, “since its inception, has included…a comprehensive inclusion of divergent theological viewpoints.”

Divergent theological viewpoints like we have here at St. Stephen’s, where some of you may hail the Primates communiqué, while others will, like me, be heartbroken by it. And yet we will continue to gather here together, to worship God together, to break bread together, to laugh and cry together- as the many members of one body that we are. And we will be blessed by our unity in diversity.

That’s the really tragic thing that the Primates seem to be missing. Because just as we at St. Stephen’s are all the poorer for the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our church, the Anglican Communion will be all the poorer without the theological and doctrinal diversity that the Primate’s are trying to eliminate.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’… For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

May that Spirit embolden us more than ever to share with others the beautiful richness of the diversity we have here, and to praise God for our differences! Amen.









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