Sunday, September 30, 2012
+ Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that we are living in a very politically charged season at this moment. The elections are upon us and people are being very vocal about their political stances. And it has actually gotten quite ugly on both sides of the political spectrum, if Facebook is any kind of microcosm of the larger arguments. But, for me, my issue, more than anything else—I’m a priest after all—has been how the Church has been involved in some of these political issues.
One of our new members at St. Stephen’s, Sandy Krenz (who is not here this morning), shared this little tidbit on her Facebook page a few days ago:
“The [Roman Catholic] Archbishop of Newark just sent a pastoral letter, addressed to over 1 million Catholics in his archdiocese, demanding that Catholics who support marriage equality refrain from receiving Holy Communion."
I don’t even know here to begin to express my frustration and anger over this kind of thinking. People who support marriage equality should refrain from Holy Communion…l. Essentially what is being said in a comment like this is that, if you support something like marriage equality, you should refrain from receiving Christ’s loving Presence in the Eucharist.
To even begin to unpack and disassemble this thinking is more than I am capable of at this time. I just can’t do it.
But I can say this: there are moments, in my life as a Christian and a priest, when behavior such as this hits me like a ton of bricks.
In this morning’s Gospel, we find the followers of Jesus coming to him and complaining about someone—an outsider, not one of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers—who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name. We don’t know who this person was—we never hear anything more about him. Possibly it was one of those many multitudes of people who were simply following Jesus around, observing all that he had done. It was probably a genuine follower of Jesus who simply had not—for whatever reasons—made it into the inner circle of Jesus’ followers.
However, the disciples do not like it. They are threatened by this person—this outsider. And because he is an outsider, they want it stopped. So, thinking he will put an end to it, they go to Jesus. You can almost hear them as they whine and complain to him about this supposedly pretentious person.
But Jesus—once again—does not do what they—or we, in that same situation—think he will do. Jesus tells them:
“Whoever is not against us is for us.”
You would think that we—the Church—would have learned from this story. You think we would have been able to hear this story and realize that, if we are all working together for the same goal—for the welcoming of all people into the Church, into that holy meal in which Jesus feeds us with his very self—then, we are all working together in Jesus’ name. But the fact is, we have not quite “got it.” When the Church acts like the Archbishop of Newark, we have seen it acting like the disciples in today’s Gospel. And we do not see it acting as Jesus wishes it to be acting.
Now, again, I need to stress that I’m talking about the Church—capital C—and I am talking the capital-C Church, I am talking about the human-run organization of the Church. As such, let’s face it, it is an imperfect structure. It has the same faults and failings of all human-run organizations—no matter how blessed it claims to be by God.
As I’ve shared with you on many occasions, I have always had this weird love-hate relationship with the organized Church. On one hand, I truly love the Church. I love serving God’s people within the structure of the Episcopal Church, in the Anglican Communion, and I love serving here at St. Stephen’s (I’ve been priest in charge here four years tomorrow). I love the Church’s traditions. I love its liturgy. My greatest love in the Church, as you all know, is the Holy Eucharist As I’ve mentioned many times here before you, I love being a priest.
And, on really good days, I am so keenly aware that the Church truly is a family. We are a family that might not always get along with each other, but when it comes right down to it, we do love each other in the end.
But I will be just as honest that, when I hear things like this news report of the Catholic Archdiocese of New Jersey, I find being a member of the Church a burden. The Church—as most of us know—can be a fickle place to be at times. It can be a place where people are more interested in rules and dogmas—in ostracizing and alienating—than a place of acceptance and love that furthers that radical Kingdom of God in our very midst. It can be a place where people are so caught up in doing what they feel is right, that they run rough-shod over people who truly need the Church and who truly long for God—for a people who crave Jesus in the food of the altar.
When I was ordained, I remember a colleague of mine—someone who knew about my love-hate relationship with the Church—saying to me that they found it amazing that I—of all people—was putting on the “uniform” of the organized Church. I remember being shocked by that statement.
For some reason I hadn’t even considered the fact that I would now be a representative of something that I wasn’t certain I wanted to represent. In the years since my ordinations, I have found that, yes, I am a representative of the Church in ways others might not be. The collar I wear instantly identifies me, and there have been many people who have come up to me, because of the collar I wear, and have made assumptions about where I must stand on certain issues in the Church. Sometimes, they are shocked to find that I don’t hold the opinions they think I should. And sometimes, people are downright offended that I don’t. Sometimes people are especially shocked to hear that I—an ordained priest—would even dare profess the hate side of my love-hate relationship with the Church.
But not being honest about it only helps perpetuate the hypocrisy the Church so often is accused of. So many people share with me how they have been hurt by the Church. No wonder, when Bishops and Archbishops and priests and lay people of many denominations say that Holy Communion should be denied to certain people for their convictions, their political beliefs, or simply for being who they are.
But, as that uniform-representative representative of the Church, I am proud to say I serve a congregation that does not do that. Here at St. Stephen’s, Holy Communion is what Holy Communion should be—a radical meal in which Jesus gives himself to us fully and completely to EVERYONE.
Now, I DO love the Church. I see the Church, at times, as making a real solid effort to be what Jesus wanted it to be. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here in the Church.
One aspect of the Church that I have always loved is the belief—and the fact— that there is room here for everyone in the Church—no matter who they are. I feel there is room for people who have differing views in the Church. Not everyone has to agree. But we all do have to make room for each other here. We cannot ignore Jesus’ words, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
All of us—no matter who we are and what we are—as long as we are struggling together for the same goal—as long as we are casting out the demons of this world from our midst in Jesus’ name, have the right to be called disciples of Jesus and have the right to feed on Jesus in Holy Communion. .
This Church that I love is a wonderful place. And I think it is a place from which everyone can benefit. Like those disciples, none of us are perfect. All of us are fractured, stupid people at times. I am a fractured, stupid person sometimes! Because we are fractured stupid people, isn’t it wonderful that we have a place to come to even when we’re fractured and stupid, a place where we are not judged, a place where we are welcomed for who and what we are.
Isn’t it incredible that, in our fractured, imperfect state, we are able to come to this altar, to feed on the Body of Jesus and to drink his Blood and to be renewed. Isn’t it great that Jesus is able to embody himself in us—us, these imperfect vessels we are?
This is the ideal of the Church. This is the place Jesus intended it be. The Jesus we encounter in Holy Communion puts all of us on common ground. The Jesus we encounter in Holy Communion makes us all equal. The Jesus we encounter in Holy Communion eliminates those fringes of society, those marginalized places and makes us all part of the inner circle.
We—all of us—are the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, no matter who we are. So let us remember, the Church is not exclusive club. The Eucharist is not an $5,000-a-plate political dinner that is meant only for those with certain views.
Following Jesus means making room for the person we might not agree with. Following Jesus means walking alongside someone whom no one else loves or cares for. Following Jesus means, as he tells us this morning, being at peace with each other. Following Jesus means loving each other—no matter who or what we are. Following Jesus means embodying his love and acceptance in all we do.
When we do that, we are the Church. When we do that, we are doing more good, than all the harm bishops and archbishops and priests and lay people can ever do. When we do that, we are embodying Jesus to those around us. And we are bearing the very Name of Christ by our very presence.
So, let us bear that holy Name. Let us embody Jesus. Let us welcome all—no matter who they are or what they are. Let us reach out in love and acceptance to all those who need, and even to those who defy us. And when we do, the Kingdom of God will come crashing into our lives and into the lives of those around us like an overwhelming flood.