Sunday, July 15, 2012

7 Pentecost

July 15, 2012

Amos 7.7-15; Ephesians 1.3-14

+ Now, this is probably not the way I should begin my first sermon in being gone for almost three weeks. After all, I should begin, I suppose, with some profound thoughts on my car accident, of some spiritual insights that I may have learned while lying on my bed of pain. Actually, sadly enough, there weren’t many of those moments during my recovery. And I don’t think you really want to hear about those things.

Today, I am actually going to begin with something that, for those of who know me, I do not like to say,

“I told you so…”

I really don’t like saying it. But, I am going to say it today.

I told you so.

You remember that for several weeks before my car accident, I shared in my sermons—and Sandy shared in one of her sermons as well—about change. How essential change is to the larger Church, and how change is essential for us here at St. Stephen’s and for each of us as Christians.

Well, as you all know, during these past two weeks, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention met in Indianapolis. I don’t know how closely you kept on what was going on, but, as John Baird would tell you, a lot happened. Important things happened. And all of those important things happened in a way that will, eventually, lead to change. In some ways, some major changes. It seems like the Episcopal Church as a whole is going to do, to a large extent, what we at St. Stephen’s have been doing all along.

Change is happening. Change is in the air. It is happening around us. Now, I should be clear. This is isn’t new.

Nine years ago this summer—in 2003—the Episcopal Church’s General Convention met in Minneapolis. While there, the very controversial decision was made to approve the election of an openly gay Bishop, Gene Robinson, to the Diocese of New Hampshire. For those of us who lived through it, it was a contentious time. The Church divided up. People were either jubilant or angry over the decision.

Now, here’s another of my “I told you so” moment. Sometimes, I know, it’s hard to have a “prophet in your midst…” Dear Lord, let’s hope I’m not a prophet—that would just be sad.

But back then in 2003, I said—along with many other people who know a bit about the history and going’s-on of the Church—that in twenty years after Gene Robinson’s election, issues of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender people being elected as Bishops and being ordained to ministry would not even be given a second thought in the Episcopal Church. I said then, that there will be a day when these issues will be non-issues.

Well, here we are almost at the half-way mark in that prediction, and it seems to be coming true. At this Convention, of course, there was the provisional approval of the blessing of Same-Sex Unions. There was some contention about it. But not much.

It was just sort of accepted. And those people who didn’t accept (including our own Bishop Smith) made up a very noticeable minority.

This is a sign that those issues we were dealing with back in 2003 are far behind us. We are moving forward. We are working toward the goal we have been working toward all along—full inclusion of all people in the Church. All people, no matter who they are or what they are.

The change is happening. And it needs to happen. Because this change shows that to be a follower of Jesus in this world means that we have to be looking ahead. We have to be looking into the future. We have to be visionaries. And we have to prophets. We have to exploring new ways to be those followers of Jesus in this day and age.

Being a follower of Jesus means being people of change. Being a follower of Jesus means we are constantly looking for new ways to live out that radical following after Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are constantly looking for new ways to be radical in our acceptance of all people. Because that is exactly what Jesus did.

What we see happening in our Church following convention is a kind of fulfillment of what Paul talks about in his Epistle this morning to the Ephesians:

“With all wisdom and insight,” Paul writes, “[God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Isn’t it amazing how that scripture speaks to us on this morning following the General Convention? And it’s true. God has made known to us the mystery of this incredible will of God, to gather up all things in Christ, thing here on this earth and things in heaven.

Later in on our reading today, Paul talks today about our inheritance as followers of Jesus and as Children of God. This Gospel of our salvation is, for Paul, “the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people…”

We, all of us, are inheritors because we, all of us, no matter who are, are Children of the same God. As a children of that God, we are co-inheritors.

Now, again, that’s not new to us here at St. Stephen’s We have been proclaiming this here at St. Stephen’s all along. And it is good to know that the larger Church is proclaiming this and is working toward the goal of being that kind of a Church—being a fulfillment of that scripture.

Of course, not everyone agrees in the same way about what being inheritors of the Kingdom is. But, that’s the way it is going to be sometime with prophets in our midst. Sometimes the prophecies are heeded and proclaimed and sometimes they are resisted. Our job as followers of Jesus is not vilify those who think differently than we do. Our job is continue to do what we have always done—to joyfully love and accept everyone in love, even those with whom we differ. Our job as followers of Jesus and inheritor’s of God’s Kingdom is to continue to welcome every person who comes to us as a loved and fully accepted Child of that same God. Our job is to be radical in our love and acceptance of others, no matter who they are. And our job as followers of Jesus is to see every person who comes to us as Jesus sees that person. And Jesus sees those people—and all of us—as loved. Loved by God.

This is not easy to do. It is not easy, as we all know, to be a follower of Jesus. It is not easy being a prophet—of proclaiming God’s Good News to others. Sometimes we might even find ourselves tempted to resist this weighty calling of ours.

Certainly, in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures today, we find Amos resisting his call to be a prophet. Amos says, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people…”

That is who we are as well. Here we are, in our jobs, in our day-to-day lives. And God is calling each of us to prophesy to God’s people. To prophesy this radical love and acceptance. To prophesy the fact that we when we love each other and accept each other, the Kingdom of God that each of as children of God are inheritors of, will break through into our midst.

You have heard me say this again and again: I believe that an effective leader must first be an effective follower. And as Christians, who are followers of Jesus, we also must, in turn, be leaders to each other and to others. Each of us must be leaders and prophets to those we are called to serve.

We of course have a choice. We can be despotic leaders who use and abuse and mistreat the people we are called to serve. Or we can be humble leaders as Jesus himself was a humble leader—a leader who realizes that to be an effective leader one must serve.

In those moments it’s helpful to have coping skills to get us through the journey—and to do so without disrespecting or hurting those we encounter on the journey.

So, let us cling to this prophetic ideal of leadership. Let us be the prophet, the listener, the spiritual friend, the inheritor, the seeker, the includer, the loved child of God. Let us be the visionary to see that change is happening.

Change is in the air. Change for the better. Change for a revitalized Church built on love and respect for God and for each other. It’s almost too incredible to even imagine. I almost can’t wait for it…

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