15 July 2007

What Kind of Samaritan Are You?

This was my first sermon at The Church of the Good Shepherd. Bill Carroll was on vacation and we couldn't get a supply priest so I officiated at a Rite II Morning Prayer.

The Gospel According to Luke (10:25-37)

Before I start, let me do a little introduction of the role of the Deacon in preaching.

For those of you who were here least Sunday, Rev David McCoy did a good job of embarrassing me, and setting some expectations that I hope I can meet. At the Anglican Academy, we preach as part of the diaconal training, but only to other diaconal students. I really would like your feedback on my sermons. This diocese has established a thing called a ‘deacon sermon’ which we are to preach. It differs from the priest’s sermon – we are supposed to make you feel a little (or lot) uncomfortable and challenge you to take action to make a difference in the world.

So, here we go!

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Today’s Gospel of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known of all Jesus’ parables. There probably isn’t anyone who ever attended Sunday School who can’t repeat this parable.

On the surface, this parable seems to address Jesus’ teachings that we are our brother’s keeper; we are to take care of others whenever they need help.

But there is much more in this little story than appears at first glance.

Let’s look at each of the characters:

The lawyer asks Jesus how he could have eternal life. Being a lawyer, he wanted a concrete list of "do's" that would guarantee he gets to Heaven. Jesus asks what the Jewish law says. Being a lawyer and a learned man, he recites the law:

• love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind;

• love your neighbor as yourself.

This fundamental law can be recited by most Christians and exists in similar form in almost all religions. It is the primary requirement for our relationship with God.

But, is being able to recite the law enough to get to Heaven?

The thieves saw an easy mark in the man on the road. They beat him, stripped him of his belongings and left him for dead. Maybe they were loving their neighbor as themselves, but I don’t think that is exactly what the law meant. Do you?

Along came a priest, someone who should be have been a living example of the law. Did he help the poor man? NO!! - he crossed the road so he would not have to see him. Whether he didn’t want to get his hands dirty or perceived he had something more important to do, he crossed to the other side of the road so he wouldn’t have to "see" him.

Enter the Levite – a member of one of the original tribes of Israel – the tribe who was responsible for religious functions. Now, wouldn’t you think that he would come to the aid of the man? After all, a Levite’s primary purpose in the community was to judge actions against the Jewish law and remind people of their obligations to God.

So, did he? NO!! – he crossed to the other side of the road so he would not have to deal with him. (Like being out of sight was out of mind – and therefore he had no responsibility).

The innkeeper saw the injured man, not as his neighbor, but as a source of revenue. Had the man appeared at this door without the Samaritan, he would have been turned away. The innkeeper had better things to do than care for a battered, bloody man who obviously had no money or means of payment. And this poor mangled man hanging around the inn would give his inn a bad name! This kind of trouble he did not need.

Then a Samaritan came along. Samaritans were the lowliest of all people to the Jews – they evolved from the intermarriage of the Jews with idol worshippers when they were exiled in the north. They were a reminder the Jews would prefer not to remember. They were so hated by the Jews that most would not even say their name.

(Did you notice that the lawyer could not bring himself to say ‘the Samaritan’ when asked by Jesus who was a neighbor)?

Samaritans were considered unclean and were to be avoided at all cost. Think about the story of Jesus and the woman at the well; remember the kind of grief he took from the disciples because he took water from her? We may not call them Samaritans today, but there are plenty of people who are outcast and marginalized that most people would cross the road to avoid. (Think about the homeless, mentally ill, non-Christians).

But are they not our neighbors?

The Samaritan, not caring that the man under any other circumstances would recoil from his touch, bandaged his wounds. Then he put him on his animal and took him to a nearby inn. . . a place where the Samaritan would probably not have been welcome, or would have had to enter through the back door (doesn't that sound familiar?) He tended the man until he had to leave; he gave the innkeeper money to see to his needs. He trusted that the innkeeper would do the right thing while he was gone; he promised to pay any additional expenses when he returned.

He was his brother’s keeper!

Where do we see ourselves in this parable?

Are we the priest or the Levite – so assured in our holiness . . . or too absorbed in our own lives?

Are we the lawyer – wanting a cookie cutter guide to Heaven, not willing to give up our own prejudices?

Or are we the Samaritan – someone who goes out on a limb, inconveniencing ourselves so that someone who has greater needs is ministered to?

Do we consider that all people are our neighbors?

Not just those who live in Athens or Columbus as I do. . . or Athens county and surrounds?

Or those who are Episcopalian . . . or Christian?

Jesus told us "the greatest of these is love" and showed us that love by his death on the cross . . . for his neighbors . . for all mankind.

There is no secret answer (even though the lawyer really wanted one). To the Samaritan, the man on the road was worth being cared for and loved.

Just as Jesus let us know by his death that all of us are worthy of dying for.


12 July 2007

A Message to the Church

Edited version of a speech first given at the Claiming the Blessing
Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, November 8, 2002

We are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the Continuance of as broad a diversity—including theological—as is possible for us to maintain together. This commitment is, in part, a commitment to continued messiness and frustration … Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which for us to live. But learning to live together must mean “mutual deference” not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being “moderates.”

My second message to the church at large is that we are not going anywhere. Gay and lesbian Christians make up a significant portion of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. We will continue to do so after General Convention 2003 no matter what happens. We will not attempt to get our way by threatening to leave. I ask those on all sides of this debate to make this commitment as well.

Now three comments especially for our conservative brothers and sisters.

First, we do not desire for you to go away. Yes, some sympathizers with our movement have said from time to time that it would be just as well if you did. Of course, some of yours have said the same about us. Let us together commit ourselves to finding every way possible to move forward with our debate without threatening either schism or purge. It is simply not necessary for us to do so.

Second, we do not desire to force same-sex blessings on you or anyone. We do desire to enable them in those places where the church is ready to receive them as a blessing but is not able to because of an understandable desire for some level of national recognition. Of course we will continue to work towards local communities desiring to bless same-sex unions. Of course you will work to keep them from doing so. We ought to be able to live with each other’s efforts on that level. Third, we do challenge you to stop scapegoating lesbian and gay Christians for every contemporary ill in the Church, particularly for our current state of disunity or the potential for the unraveling of the Anglican Communion.

You know as well as we do that the issues are far deeper than human sexuality. They are issues of scriptural interpretation and authority, including the very different polities that exist in different provinces of the Communion and whether or not local autonomy is a defining characteristic of Anglicanism. Issues of human sexuality are just one tip of that very large iceberg and if sexuality went completely away tomorrow, the iceberg would still be there.

This movement is not about getting our way or else. This movement is a means to further the healthy debate within the Church, to deepen it on a theological level, to begin to articulate how we see the blessing of same-sex unions as a part of the Church’s moving forward in mission rather than hindering mission. We believe that it is time for the church to claim the blessing found in the lives of its faithful lesbian and gay members and to further empower them for the mission of the Church. We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavor that holds as much of this church we love together as possible. We ask all our fellow-Episcopalians to join us even if they disagree with us.

The Reverend Michael Hopkins
Past-president of Integrity USA
Rector of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene, Rochester NY

* Thanks to Rev Susan Russell for making this available.

10 July 2007

Questions and Answers with Davis Mac-Iyalla

My partner, Karen, and I were fortunate enough to host Davis and Josh when they were at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens and St. Stephen's in Columbus. It was a wonderful experience and drove home the point that no matter how bad we feel we have it in the Episcopal Church, there are others whose lives are literally in danger for being an openly gay Christian.

Let us all pray for those who could lose their lives for having the courage to be open about how God created them.

The link below is for a question and answer session with Davis at St. Thomas' Episcopal Parish on the Fourth of July.


09 July 2007

We Are Part of the Seventy

Mini-sermon delivered at Lindley Assisted Living Center - Athens, OH on 8 July 2007

Based on Luke 10:1-12, 16-20.

Our Gospel today can be considered part of the ‘Great Commission'.

Now we all know about the twelve disciples and Jesus’ instructions for them to go out and preach the gospel. But those twelve men were not going to be able to do it all. So Jesus appointed seventy other men to go out and preach the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and our salvation.

He told those seventy to leave their homes with nothing. . . no purse, no bags and no shoes. Can you imagine walking all over Israel and Judea and the Middle East with no shoes on??

Jesus instructed them to enter a village and greet whomever they met, giving them the peace. If the people responded back, they were to stay there and preach the Gospel. If the village was not friendly, shake the dirt off their feet, leave the village with a curse warning them they would suffer more than Sodom and Gomorrah.

And we all know what happened to Sodom.

So this group of seventy men went forth and preached the good news. When they returned to Jesus, they were so proud of the things that they had accomplished. But Jesus admonished them not to take personal glory in their work, but to remember that they did it for Jesus and for God.

Just as Jesus sent out the seventy, so we are part of those seventy --- it is our job to preach the Gospel and teach the good news. To those we love, and those we know, and those we will meet in the future.

We are a part of those seventy.


04 July 2007

What Is It and Is It Worth It?

This reflection was written for a May assignment as part of my diaconal studies.

Britannica defines ‘communion’ as “an act or instance of sharing” or “intimate fellowship or rapport”. It also references “a body of Christians having a common faith and discipline (i.e., the Anglican communion). The key is ‘sharing and fellowship’. But we don’t see a lot of fellowship or sharing in the Anglican Communion at the moment.

The motto of the Anglican Communion, Hάλήθεια έλευθερώσει ΰμãς ("The truth will set you free"), is a quotation from John 8:32. Until recent events, the communion was held together by a shared history expressed in its ecclesiology, polity, and ethos, and by participation in international consultative bodies. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion’s titular head, has no real power to define or restrict the activities of a constituent member. Unlike the pope, he cannot discipline; all he can do is try to influence each member.

Recent events in The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada have strained that relationship. Consecration of a gay bishop, full inclusion of gays and lesbians and the blessing of same-sex committed relationships have caused some members of the Anglican Communion to determine that TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada are ‘out of communion’ with the Anglican Communion.

The Windsor Report was an attempt to define how members of the communion could co-exist, each with some individuality but also with some commonality. The TEC and Canadian response to the Windsor Report did not satisfy the most conservative members of the Communion. Demands have been made by members of the Southern Cone and the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) during the latest primate’s meeting at Dar es Salaam have given TEC a timeline for ‘repenting’ and changing decisions made by the General Convention, House of Deputies and House of Bishops.

Not waiting for TEC to ‘come around’, the Archbishops of Nigeria, Rwanda and Southern Cone have established missionary parishes in the United States "to provide a safe place for those who wish to remain faithful Anglicans but can no longer do so within the Episcopal Church as it is currently being led." And the consecration of Martyn Minns as bishop of CANA certainly does nothing constructive in trying to maintain a sense of communion.

But what is this really all about? It is the age-old issue of the power of patriarchy. Inclusion of previously marginalized children of God has CANA and the Southern Cone worried. Using biblical verses, these two major conservative members of the Anglican Communion are beating up anyone who does not agree totally with them and march to their drummer. There is nothing inclusive about the beliefs of these groups. Agreeably, the church in Nigeria has a serious threat from the Muslims which compromise the largest religious group in Nigeria. But one does not shore up their foundation by excluding any group of people from the fellowship. For the most part, these Biblical-based Anglicans espouse the Old Testament and do not follow the teaching of Jesus.

So why do we want to remain within the Anglican Communion? That is a really good question. There are many within TEC who have reached the point that they no longer see the need for being a member of a communion (‘organization of shared interests and beliefs’) where one or two groups are trying to dictate the actions of the entire organization. Our Presiding Bishop is walking a fine line between honoring the polity of TEC (particularly our baptismal covenant) and trying to maintain conversation with the rest of the Anglican Communion. She knows we cannot reach any type of common ground if we are not at the table talking and listening.

But when Archbishop Akinola deems that the Archbishop of Canterbury is ‘out of communion’, what chance is there that there will ever be any consensus while the current parties are involved. Suspicions are that Akinola wants to be named Archbishop of the ‘true Anglican Communion’; and he is working hard at consecrating bishops to give him more numbers at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. He well knows there is power in numbers (sometimes).

Although given until the end of September to fall in line, the House of Bishops has definitively declined two of the demands made by the primates. Interestingly, there have been some primates who acknowledged that the demands are not embraced by all members of the Anglican Communion.

Does TEC want to stay in the Anglican Communion? The opposition does not have the power to expel us and we are not going to walk away. Much of the funding that TEC gives to lesser countries has been done through the Anglican Communion in the past. Plans are underway by church officials to deliver the same amount of aid directly to the needy. That was my one concern with possibly not being a member of the Anglican Communion.

So, is it worth the tumult and rhetoric to stay in the Anglican Communion? I am not one to quit and we really can’t be kicked out, but at some point the decision makers of TEC are going to have to answer that question.

Post reflection: Now there are additional bishops and suffragan Bishops representing Rwanda and Uganda. My guess is that there will be several more before September.

The Executive Committee has refused to knuckle into the demands of the Primates (God bless them all!). We will have to see what happens when the House of Bishops meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury in September. Maybe then we will know the answer.

02 July 2007

Garrison Keillor on Episcopalians

(Adapted from an essay by Garrison Keillor)

We make fun of Episcopalians for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them. If you were to ask an audience in Des Moines, a relatively Episcopalianless place, to sing along on the chorus of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Episcopalians, they'd smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! ....And down the road!

Many Episcopalians are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony, a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage. It's natural for Episcopalians to sing in harmony. We are too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison.

When you're singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it's an emotionally fulfilling moment. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.

I do believe this, people: Episcopalians, who love to sing in four-part harmony, are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you are dying, they will comfort you. If you are lonely, they'll talk to you. And if you are hungry, they'll give you tuna salad!

Episcopalians believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud. Episcopalians like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.

Episcopalians believe their rectors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don't notify them that they are there.

Episcopalians usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.

Episcopalians believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.

Episcopalians feel that applauding for their children's choirs will not make the kids too proud and conceited.

Episcopalians think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.

Episcopalians drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.

Episcopalians feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.

Episcopalians are willing to pay up to one dollar for a meal at church.

Episcopalians still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the season and Episcopalians believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.

And finally, you know you are a Episcopalian when:

It's 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service.

You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can.

Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee.

When you watch a Star Wars movie and they say, "May the Force be with you," and you respond, "and also with you."

And lastly, it takes ten minutes to say good-bye . . . .