After a sabbatical for my blog following a blog for my sabbatical, I am back in the saddle…
Truth or consequences? In the past few days, the Primates (the leading bishops and archbishops of the various provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church is a part) voted to sanction the Episcopal Church for its decision to affirm marriage between same-sex couples. On one level, the sanction for our denomination to be barred for three years from having voice and vote in the governing bodies of the Anglican Communion bears in no way at all on our mission here in Pacific Beach. We will still be a ‘come as you are’ church, we will still pray for the worldwide church, and we will still continue to celebrate the liturgy and music of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world in this our own corner of the communion. Yet, the pain and conflict which the decision to sanction the Episcopal Church attests to offer us an essential reminder of the complexity of human community when we choose be in relationship with others in full knowledge of our differences. Such life together is challenging as well as joyful and in need of compromise, attentive love and more often than not a heavenly dose of grace.
What the fractures in our worldwide relationships as a church also remind us of is to ask how it might be that others think of us as a church community. This past year here at ST. Andrew’s we have been talking about being people who are a blessing to those around us. This is less a question of putting on a fresh coat of paint, opening up the doors and smiling at folks as they walk down the path to worship on a Sunday morning, and more a question of getting ourselves out into our communities, in our workplaces and our among our neighbors, and be people who seek to be salt and light for the world. One of the great challenges of living out such a calling is facing the realities of how it is other people view the church. The irony of our denomination being sanctioned for affirming marriage between same-sex couples and the rightful place of openly homosexual men and women to be bishops in our church is that opinion polls reveal that most of society sees the church as judgmental, hypocritical and homophobic. We can add to that the paradigm-shift taking place in America and elsewhere wherein people’s deepest spiritual questions and longings are being met not in churches but in the places and communities of the age of the Millennials: on a surf board, in the yoga studio, on a nature hike, in a local coffee shop and so on.
All of this presents us with a profound and I believe an exciting challenge: how to be a blessing to those around us when those around us might have little to no reason to expect us to be a blessing to them. In many ways, this kind of terrain for ministry is not unlike the social landscape the very first Christian communities faced. For the followers of Jesus who had established churches among their fellow Jews, their wider context regarded them as too new, too insignificant to be worth paying attention to, and for the Jerusalem church, they were also just too poor to have much sway in big city society. For the communities established and nurtured by the apostle Paul across the Greco-Roman world, their challenges lay in the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ looked like ‘foolishness’, lacking, it was thought, the sophistication of the prevailing Hellenistic world-views. Yet these first followers of Jesus, our forebears whose legacy two billion people on this planet today enjoy, remained steadfast because their lives had been lit up by the radiance of God they knew in Jesus, and so nothing after that could be the same.
We can be a blessing, even when we are sanctioned for being too liberal with our theology or dismissed for being too out of touch with modern life, if the light that has come into our lives in Jesus remains our living hope. We can be a blessing if we are prepared to open ourselves to others with love and grace, for such an openness will constitute a radical welcome, a welcome that remains faithful to that call to reach out to others come what may. We can be a blessing if we can trust that it is God who always goes before us as light and hope for the world he made and seeks to restore.