Unity with God and each other in Christ

Remarks for Annual Meeting 2017

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, Washington, Diocese of Olympia

The Rev. Jonathan Weldon, Rector

 

Q.What is the mission of the Church?

A. The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in      Christ.

 

We all feel the pain of living in a divided nation these days, knowing especially that those divisions over politics run right through the center of the Church, our church.   Our political opinions are deeply rooted in us, perhaps even incorporated as an element of our very self-identity. And we've all experienced and one way or another participated in what has become a deeply divided citizenry.

Our divisions manifested themselves recently in our own Episcopal Church with the response to a couple of announcements about our church's involvement with the Inauguration ceremonies on Friday and Saturday.

First, the choir of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and Paul in Washington DC – known to most as the “National Cathedral”, will sing as part of a musical prelude before the Inauguration ceremonies on Friday at which Donald Trump takes the oath of office as President of the United States.

On Saturday, the Cathedral will host the 58th inauguration prayer service, at which many faiths will be represented.

Episcopal News Service reports that some in the church have raised objections to the Church's involvement in both events, posting on social media and sending e-mails to church leaders to raise their objections.

ENS also reports that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry; the Bishop of Washington, Marianne Budde, and Randall Hollerith, the cathedral dean, have reaffirmed their intention to participate as scheduled, and given their reasons.

Bishop Curry pointed out the practice of prayer for our leaders is “deep in our biblical and Anglican/Episcopal traditions," and raised these questions:

“When I pray for our leaders, why am I doing so? Should I pray for a leader I disagree with? When I pray, what do I think I am accomplishing?”

Bishop Curry said that the tradition of prayer for leaders means that Episcopalians are praying that “their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest, but the common good.”  He said:

“We participate as followers of Jesus in the life of our government and society, caring for each other and others, and working for policies and laws that reflect the values and teachings of Jesus, to ‘love your neighbor,’ to ‘do unto others as you who have them do unto you,’ to fashion a civic order that reflects the goodness, the justice, the compassion that we see in the face of Jesus, that we know to reflect the very heart and dream of God for all of God’s children and God’s creation,” he said.

Then Bishop Curry gave his personal witness:

“I pray for the president in part because Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord,” he said. “If Jesus is my Lord and the model and guide for my life, his way must be my way, however difficult. And the way of prayer for others is a part of how I follow the way of Jesus.”

Cathedral dean Randall Hollerith said that choir members are participating voluntarily, and explained:

“Our choir is singing at the inauguration to honor the peaceful transition of power that is at the heart of our democratic government,” he said. “Let me be clear: We do not pray or sing to bless a political ideology or partisan agenda, regardless of the man (or woman) taking that sacred oath of office. We sing to honor the nation.”

“In our bruised and polarized country, we hope the gift of our music can help remind us of our highest ideals and aspirations as one nation under God.”

Bishop Marianne Budde responded to the objections thus:

“While I do not ask you to agree, I simply ask you to consider that we, too, acted on spiritual principles.  Those principles, while they may seem to conflict with yours, are also essential for the work that lies ahead.”

The first principle, she said, is that Episcopal churches “welcome all people into our houses of prayer.”

“Welcoming does not mean condoning offensive speech or behavior; it does not mean that we agree with or seek to legitimize.  We simply welcome all into this house of prayer, in full acknowledgment that every one of us stands in need of prayer.”

The second principle, Budde said, is that “in times of national division, the Episcopal Church is called to be a place where those who disagree can gather for prayer and learning and to work for the good of all.”

I call attention again to how our Prayer book defines the mission of the Church:

Q.What is the mission of the Church?

A. The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Why is this the mission of the Church?  Because God made all creatures and all things, and dearly loves all creatures and all things that God has made, and because in Christ God came among us to love us fully and completely, to call us to confession of faults, receiving and giving of forgiveness, growth in love for God and neighbor, and to call one another to a higher standard than we often see in the world around us, or that we discern within ourselves.


The mission of the church is not an easy mission.  We have our own spiritual work to do within ourselves to repent of our sinful desires that draw us from the love of God, and to confront the inner habits and ways of action which frustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

Only in doing this inner work can we be more and more useful for the mission of the Church, which is to be salt and light in the world, as Jesus taught.

So it is that another teaching of the Prayer book comes into focus:

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?

A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Regular daily prayer and weekly corporate worship expose us to the message of the Gospel and introduce new patterns of thought and help us become renewed in our minds, taking on the mind of Christ more and more.  This in turn helps us find language to proclaim Good News, find ways to use our hands and feet to do Good News. The result is more and more that justice and peace and love come more and more into focus as the center of our lives.  This is called discipleship; being a disciple of Jesus.

As I reflect on all these things I believe it's very important what we believe about who God is.  My own journey in life has been from terror of a God I could not love toward knowledge of a God who loves me, in whose faithful love I can entrust myself to a slow and steady journey of transformation.

In this regard I end with some thoughts from the late Madeleine L'Engle, a distinguished writer and Episcopalian who gave us this witness, which I commend to you:

“I know a number of highly sensitive and intelligent people in my own communion who consider as a heresy my faith that God's loving concern for his creation will outlast all our willfulness and pride. No matter how many eons it takes, he will not rest until all of creation, including Satan, is reconciled to him, until there is no creature who cannot return his look of love with a joyful response of love... Origen held this belief and was ultimately pronounced a heretic. Gregory of Nyssa, affirming the same loving God, was made a saint. Some people feel it to be heresy because it appears to deny man his freedom to refuse to love God. But this, it seems to me, denies God his freedom to go on loving us beyond all our willfulness and pride. If the Word of God is the light of the world, and this light cannot be put out, ultimately it will brighten all the dark corners of our hearts and we will be able to see, and seeing, will be given the grace to respond with love — and of our own free will.”

So, in short, and for starters:

God loves Barack Obama.

God loves Hillary Clinton

God loves Donald Trump.

And so we pray for each other, not against each other.  We pray that God's will be done on earth as in heaven, starting with us.  We pray for unity, we seek to live into unity, which is no easy process.  If we don't pray for each other, it isn't likely that we'll be able to love one another and confront one another in love.  If we do, there's hope.  And God will help us.

Let us pray:  O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace.  Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will.  Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen

    http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/01/12/episcopal-leaders-address-churchs-part-in-trumps-inauguration/

  Madeleine L'Engle, The Irrational Season. (Harper San Francisco, 1977).

    Prayer for the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority, BCP 1979 p. 820