Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 15, 2022

YEAR C 2022 easter 5

Easter 5, 2022
Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, for the past couple weeks I’ve been involved in doing zoom interviews with the various candidates who have applied to be our next bishop.  Everyone on the committee has to either participate in the actual interview, or watch the recording afterwards, so that we can rank the respondents on how they answer the various questions.  Now, I’m not at liberty to say how many candidates there are at this point, but . . . well, it’s taking some time, is all I’ll say.

We ask each candidate the exact same questions in order to level the field and remove any bias from the process.  And one of the questions we ask each one of them is, “How will you deal with the political and social conflict across the Diocese?”  To my great relief, they all nod before they answer because . . . they get it.  Every single one of them has experienced this in their own parish and diocese.  People are divided, and people are angry, and people are bringing that division and anger into the church.

As you have probably heard by now, there was a mass shooting at a grocery store yesterday in my beloved city of Buffalo, NY.  Some details are still sketchy, but all signs point toward a racially motivated killing in the name of hate and fear.  Division so deep that an 18 year old thinks he is doing the right thing by randomly killing any black person who happens into his hate-filled sight.  There is overwhelming division in our country and in our world.  It’s almost as if the one thing we can agree on is that we are divided.  And that’s because the power of evil always seeks to divide us from one another—to isolate us.  And evil often seems to have the upper hand in the world around us, where the goal to separate and divide is the actual point of what many people do and say.  And what about in the church?

Well, back in the 1950’s, the Episcopal Church was often referred to as “The Republican Party at prayer.”  Then in the 60s and 70s, we became a mixed bag of social justice and conservative principles.  (There’s a folder in the archives from the early 70s labelled, “Conflict With The Diocese,” in case you ever want to dive into that hornet’s nest of St. Timothy’s history.)  In the early 2000s, with the election of Bishop Gene Robinson, some people found the need to leave the Episcopal Church altogether and join other denominations, or become part of ACNA: The Anglican Church of North America.  We went from being conservative, to a mixed bag, to liberal, to fractured, and now to a mixed bag again.  And that mixed bag is a good place to be, in my opinion.  Our Diocese may not be so diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, but we are definitely diverse in social and political terms.

We don’t necessarily agree with one another outside these walls.  But inside these walls, it’s another story.  On the best of days, we leave our politics and cultural positions outside the building when we gather together.  The late great Judy Wigginton once said to me as she dropped off her stewardship card, “I’ve upped my pledge this year, even though the priest is a little too liberal for my taste.”  Said that to my face!  But you know what?  Judy kept showing up.  Now, I take full responsibility for Judy having the impression that the priest was a little too liberal for her taste—that’s on me— Mea Maxima Culpa.  But as I said, on our best days we leave all that outside the building. 

And that’s fitting with our history as part of the Anglican Church from the very beginning.  The Elizabethan Settlement intentionally set us up to be a people who do not agree on things, but who do agree on how we will worship together.  That Elizabethan Settlement managed to bring British catholics and protestants together under one roof—the ones who had been literally killing each other, based on who sat on the throne..  They might not have agreed on much outside the building, but inside the church, they got along and agreed to worship together using the same book—the book of common prayer.

And that’s who we are: the middle way, the via media.  The place where everyone is welcome.  The place where we leave our politics and social opinions at the door.  While the power of evil would like nothing more than for us to be divided and isolated, the power of the Spirit brings us together to worship God in peace.  And when we find ourselves becoming divided over things outside of church, let us keep that in mind: the power of evil wants to separate us; the power of God brings us together, as the body of Christ.

With that background in mind, let’s look at that first reading, from the book of Acts.  It’s an amazing story!  Peter is being criticized by others for daring to eat with gentiles, with people who are different from them.  And Peter tells them of his vision, of the sheet with the unclean animals, and his refusal to eat them, and then the voice saying, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  What God has made clean, we must not call profane.  Can you see how that relates to us leaving our divisions outside the church building?  God has declared us one body, and we must not declare ourselves otherwise.

And then, Peter says, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”  I feel like I want to have that printed on a banner and placed outside the church door.  
The Spirit told us not to make a distinction between them and us.  Join us for worship on Sunday at 8 and 10.

And then Peter asks the rhetorical question, “Who was I that I could hinder God?”  What a question.  What an indictment, actually.  If God is calling people to follow Jesus, who are we to hinder God?  “When they heard this, they were silenced.”  Indeed!  Though we might invite people to join us at church, it is God who calls them to follow Jesus Christ.  The Spirit calls people to faith.  Who are we to hinder God?

And let’s look at our gospel reading, from John’s gospel.  Jesus is at the last supper with his disciples.  He has washed their feet, and has just sent Judas out to do what he must do, and then he turns to the remaining disciples and today’s reading picks up the text.  

Jesus says, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Now there’s an interesting thing about that section.  In the first two cases, “love” is an active verb.  That is, Jesus says, love one another.  But the third one is passive . . . or the love is passive.  Here, the word love is a thing to be possessed.  To have love, rather than to love.  And some translations see that last phrase reading, “If you have love among you,” and that is a much better translation in my opinion.  When there is love among us.  As a community.

And so we could think of this passage as something like this:  Jesus commands us to love one another, just as he loves us.  And if there is love among us, people will know that we are the disciples of Jesus.  It’s collective, you see?  When we gather together, there is love among us.  Yes, individually we love one another.  But when we gather together—like we are gathered here today—there is love among us.  And that is the sign that we are disciples of Jesus.

And that takes us right back to where I began this morning.  We have our disagreements when we are outside these walls.  On political and social issues, we are all over the map.  But when we come together for worship, we are united, and there is love among us.

And we get a wonderful visual of this with our east-facing Altars in this building.  One of the great benefits of St. Tim’s holding out against the trend to pull the Altars off the wall so the priest could stand behind them is exactly this.  When we pray, we all turn the same direction.  During the prayer of consecration, we all face the same way.  During the creed, we all face the Altar.  Because we are united in talking to God.  We are one body in worship.  One spirit in Christ.  All facing the same way. 

The Spirit told us not to make a distinction between them and us.  And the love we have for one another means that there is love among us.  And all the world will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ, because there is love among us.


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