Thursday, 28 January 2016
Sermon January 24, 2016
The Gospel we just heard presents an inspiring picture of Jesus. He is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. He has just returned from his time in the wilderness and his encounter with Satan. He has been tempted three times by Satan and rejected the three temptations of food for his starving body, power over the kingdoms of the earth, and perhaps the greatest—putting his heavenly Father to the test of his love. Now he is ready to being his public ministry of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. He does this in familiar territory. He brings the Good News for those closest to him—the people in his home of Galilee. Everything is set for his triumphant homecoming.
The stage is indeed set for a triumphant return in which he will be recognized for who he is by those who probably mean the most to him. Well, that is just what happens. He teaches in the synagogues and he receives praise from all quarters. He is now ready to truly come home. He come home to home town of Nazareth where he was raised—the triumphal return of a local boy who has made good. It is surprizing that they don’t throw a parade for him? In fact they go one better. He is invited to read in his home synagogue. The stage is set. What could go wrong?
I had an experience that was a bit like that. My home parish where I became an Anglican and where I worshipped for many years and where I served in many different functions is St. John the Evangelist in London. When I started on my journey to ordination and was enrolled in the M.Div. Program at Huron, I was invited to preach at the Sunday service. Well I preached what I thought was a pretty good sermon—pretty good from a first sermon anyway. I put a lot effort into it and said a lot of things I wanted to say.
The only problem was that it was far, far too long—for Anglicans in any case—at least twenty minutes in length. I did not have enough presence to know that despite the brilliance and eloquence of it (just kidding) people started to get restless probably at the fifteen minute mark. Things can go wrong when you come home in a new role.
Well, that is nothing compared to what happened to Jesus. If we read on in Luke we find that he begins to give not good news but what the people receive as bad news. He tells them that those foundational prophets Elijah and Elisha did not bring God’s message and salvation to the people like them; they brought it is widows and foreigners. Well, if you don’t know, you can probably guess their reaction, “They were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way”. In effect, they ran him out of town on a rail.
As Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown”. This would not be the last time that Jesus got people—particularly the religious and civil leaders—angry. He was continually criticizing the religious leaders and doing things like healing people of the Sabbath that they objected to. In fact, they eventually managed to succeed at what they failed to do this time—they murdered him—or at least they thought they had.
We have a situation in the Anglican Church today that seems to resonate with what happened to Jesus. The leaders of the World-wide Anglican Church, The Primate have decided to punish the Episcopal Church in the USA for their decision to allow the blessing of Same-sex Relationships. They have suspended the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion for a period of three years.
In effect, the Episcopal Church has decided that they are called by God to go to a place that is not acceptable to other parts of the Anglican church. Indeed the Canadian Church may be in a similar position when we vote on changing the marriage canon at General Synod later this year in July. As we see in the Gospels, religious leaders can be wrong. Jesus certainly did not hesitate to criticize them when he knew they were wrong. Unfortunately, we do not have Jesus with us on earth to tell us which position is right. We cannot know with certainty which position is right and which wrong in the eyes of God. The position of the primates was and is influenced by the Anglican Churches in the third world, many of whom support laws in their countries which would jail gays and lesbians or even put them to death. And yet they are not sanctioned for these unchristian attitudes.
To be open about where I stand, I support the position of the Episcopal Church and hope and pray that the Canadian Church will follow their lead and change the marriage canon to embrace same-sex marriage. I have come to this position after many years of considering the situation and knowing LGBT people as friends and associates. In some cases the church must lead and take a position which is opposed by other parts of the church as the Canadian Church did with the ordination of women. We are called to try and discern God’s will and to go where it takes us even if it is not the commonly held understanding of God’s will.
I will close with and excerpt from the statement by our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz:
Our conversations reflected the truth that, while the Anglican Communion is a family of autonomous Churches in communion with the see of Canterbury, we live by the long-held principle of ‘mutual responsibility and inter dependence in the Body of Christ’. While our relationships are most often characterized by mutual support and encouragement, there are times when we experience stress and strain and we know our need for the grace of God to be patient with each other. Such was the experience of the primates this week. We struggled with the fragility of our relations in response to the actions taken by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in changing its canon on marriage, making provision for the blessing of same sex marriages. We talked, prayed and wrestled with the consequences considered by the meeting. Some of us wept. For now I ask for your prayers for all of the primates as they make their way home. I know some are returning to very challenging situations beset with extreme poverty, civil war, religiously motivated violence and the devastating effects of climate change.
This week reminded me once again of the servant style of leadership required of the primates of the Churches of The Anglican Communion. As Jean Vanier reminded us in his reflections at our closing Eucharist, we are called to be the face of Jesus in this world. Pray with me that all of us be faithful in this calling. Amen