November 1, 2020, Divisions Be Darned, Matthew 5:1-12 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000221
There is a collect in the “prayers” section of our wonderful Book of Common Prayer that is a prayer for unity in the Church. It goes like this:
“O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Unity is a grace that is in short supply in our world. It seems to me that you could make a pretty good case for the claim that unity is in shorter supply in our time, and in our country, than it has ever been. Today we are just two days from a national election, and partisanship is running amok. So many voices, from social media to the chambers of our elected leaders, are crying out for us to take sides – specifically, to take sides against one another – and to embrace their cause or their candidate or their vision.
I’ve traveled to Syracuse and back any number of times in the last month or so, and there’s no escaping the fact that we are a divided people. In every little village we drove through there are campaign signs dotting the lawns, like little encampments in the midst of battle. And it often feels very much like we in a time of war. I hear a lot of anger from people. I sense a lot of fear. Neighbor is pitted against neighbor, and often we seem to be living in a completely different reality from the person who lives right next door to us – maybe even from the person who lives in our own house. When the election is over, I wonder how long it will take us to heal, as a people?
And the Church is not immune from this prevailing spirit of division. Last Saturday, at our online Diocesan Convention, Bishop Love announced that he will be resigning as Bishop, effective February first. I read the Bishop’s words last week during the announcement time, so most of you already know this. Bishop Love’s separation from the national Church is centered on the whole issue of gender and sexuality generally, and specifically on the issue of same-sex marriage. The decision for the Bishop’s resignation was made in agreement with our Presiding Bishop, to bring an end to the whole process of discipline without contention.
I believe that both Bishop Love and Presiding Bishop Curry have sought to act with grace, as peacemakers, But it will be up to us, the people of the Diocese, to begin the task of building unity where disagreement has caused unhappy divisions among us, not just in this moment, but over the course of many years. There are people who feel strongly that Bishop Love was treated unjustly by the national Church. Out of a deep love for our Bishop, and in solidarity with the traditional understanding of marriage and sexuality that he has striven to uphold faithfully, they have come to his defense.
But there are others who have felt strongly, for a long time, that they have never really been welcome or accepted fully as brothers and sisters in our Diocese. For them, the reality of who and what they believe God has created them to be has been called into question, or even condemned. For that reason, there are many in our Diocese who, out of a deep love for our gay brothers and sisters, and in solidarity with a broader understanding of marriage and sexuality that they have discovered in the Scriptures, these people have come to their defense.
This morning’s collect for All Saints’ Day began like this: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord…” We begin with the assumption, with the knowledge, the fact, that we have been knitted together into one thing, one unit, by God himself. Now, not all of us have mastered the art of knitting. But being North Country people, I think it is safe to assume that we all own wool sweaters – most of us probably own a goodly number of wool sweaters. And we all know what happens when a knitted garment, like a sweater, gets torn.
Actually, three different things might possibly happen. We might ignore the hole and leave it alone. And it might stay small and not bother us for a long time. Maybe not for a few years. But over time that hole will stretch and grow, and the broken fibers will unravel, and the little hole will eventually become a big gaping hole that can’t be repaired. Or, possibly, we might fuss with the hole and poke our finger through it, and pull on the threads and worry it so that the hole gets really big really fast, and the little hole very quickly becomes a big gaping hole that can’t be repaired. Either way, there comes a point when it’s too late to save our sweater.
But the third thing, and the wise alternative, of course, is that we (or some clever friend of ours who knows how to do such things) might get out some yarn right away, and make a nice neat darn over that hole so that you would hardly even know it had been torn at all. If we or our friend are specially clever – and I’m thinking of Romi here – the darn might even be made into something beautiful that actually makes the sweater nicer than it was to begin with.
We, all of us here in the Diocese of Albany, have been knit together by God into one communion and one fellowship. And not only one communion and fellowship within our little Diocese, but one communion and fellowship with every child of God in all times, past, present and future, and in every place on the face of this earth, speaking every human language that has ever existed, observing an uncountable number of different customs and traditions and styles, and coming to many, many different understandings of everything from religion to politics – including interpretations of Holy Scripture.
As the communion of saints, God’s one, holy, catholic (little “c”) and apostolic church, our unity has never been, and never will be, a unity of doctrine. And that might seem like a heretical thing to say, in a church that holds doctrine, and particularly the creeds, in very high esteem. But just think how brief the creeds are, and how finite. We believe in God, the Father, who created everything. We believe in God, the Son, who came to live among us as a human being and brought us life by his death and resurrection. We believe in God, the Spirit, who dwells with us to guide and empower us. That’s about it, really. The bare and absolutely important essentials of our faith. After two thousand years of Christian wrangling and fighting, and actual bloodshed, our unity is still in God alone and nothing else. And that’s where our unity belongs.
As we, here in the Diocese of Albany, move forward now in the wake of our Bishop’s resignation, we face an immense challenge. Can we, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, despite our hurts, and despite our differences – because there are and will always be differences. We are right, as Bishop Love was right, in searching the Scriptures diligently and faithfully, and in holding fast to our understanding. But can we accept and truly love our brother or sister who also searches the Scriptures diligently and faithfully, and yet comes to a different understanding? Because that is the reality, right here and right now. And if we cannot mend the tear in our fellowship now, it will only grow, until a time may come when it is beyond our ability to heal it.
At the risk of being a little bit prideful, it is my belief that St. Philip’s has been a shining example in many ways, of the kind of grace that is needed for our times. We are a teeny tiny little congregation, but we have members of all the political persuasions, and yet, for the most part, we haven’t allowed our differences to divide us. In the same way, we have members who understand marriage and gender in very traditional ways, and members who have come to a more non-traditional understanding. And yet, when Victoria and Lyanne were married in our backyard, so many of you came and shared our joy (and our plums!) not necessarily because we agreed doctrinally, but simply because you were showing us your love.
And that’s really the bottom line. God is love, as John, the beloved disciple, never tired of telling people, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them. We have been knit together by God into one community and fellowship, and it is his love that unites us. And when we come right down to it, nothing else really matters. Some day, when Jesus returns, and we ask him all the hard questions, about infant baptism or same-sex marriage or transubstantiation, my guess is that we’ll all find out that we were completely wrong about some things and maybe right about others. Maybe we’ll find out we were wrong about everything, who knows? And when we are standing in the presence of Jesus, who will care about such things? But in the meantime, if we keep loving one another – and that includes respecting one another – we will abide in his love, because his love will hold us together. And it is my prayer and it is my belief, in this time of unhappy division in our Diocese, that God will give us grace to mend our hurts and that he will knit us back together in his love.