Archive for The Episcopal Church

Community of Resistance

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2018 by timtrue

Mark 13:1-8

1.

Nothing stays the same.

The disciples look at Herod’s temple and marvel, “What large stones and large buildings!”

Herod planned to turn a small plateau, Mount Moriah, into a level platform measuring 1600’ x 900’. That’s 30 football fields!

So he dug a trench around the plateau and filled it with huge stones, making a gigantic retaining wall. The largest of these stones, found in excavations, measures some 44’ x 11’ x 16’, weighing approximately 600 tons, too heavy for the largest crane in Rome during Herod’s day![I]

Maybe the disciple pointed at this one when he exclaimed, “What large stones!”

But Jesus, apparently not very impressed, says, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Nothing stays the same.

Few of us, however, like change.

I mean, who likes to move from one home to another? Or what businessperson wants to change offices? Or what teacher wants to move her classroom across campus?

We humans like to establish a routine that works best for me and then stick with it!

But what if the change means improvement? What if you’re moving in order to get out of a termite-infested hovel into a structurally sound domicile? You still may not like the hassle of the change very much, but in the end, you have to admit, it’s a drastic improvement.

Is change then really all that bad? Especially if it’s needed change?

2.

So, to make a very serious turn, consider our nation’s history of slavery.

We know now, from our historical vantage point, beyond a shadow of a doubt, slavery was ethically, socially, politically, and spiritually wrong. Our nation needed a large, systemic change.

But change did not come easy.

In fact, in that day—the antebellum United States—so many people did not welcome this needed change that party lines were drawn against those who demanded it, a country was divided, and a “civil” war was fought.

In the antebellum United States, no one had to tell slaves that the change was needed. From the slaves’ perspective, they were unequivocally oppressed, desperate, in need of liberation.

The war did not come about at the level of slavery, however; it came at the level of privilege.

What must it have been like to be a slave? No voice. No representation. No personal property. Can you imagine?

Admittedly, I can’t.

For the church I represent and quite probably some of my distant relatives were the oppressors, the slave owners, those in the place of privilege.

As much as I’m sympathetic to the slaves, then; as much as I’m in agreement today that large-scale, systemic change was needed in the antebellum U. S., I really have no idea what it feels like to have no voice, no advocate, and no personal property.

That’s how privilege works. It contains a certain level of ignorance. Even if I have no distant relatives who owned slaves—I know of none—my European heritage, not to mention the fact that I am male, has kept me distanced to a great degree from the slaves’ perspective.

They were a people far too highly oppressed and far too desperately in need of liberation for me even to begin to comprehend. Maybe it’s the same for you, too.

Privilege is a part of my story; and, like it or not, it’s a part of our church’s story.

What can we do about this? Can we change? Will we change?

3.

Along these lines, then, here’s another sticky question: How many leaders of our church and nation in our antebellum years—how many of the privileged people in, say, the year 1800—would have even considered slavery an evil?

Some did, sure. Especially as we approached the middle of the nineteenth century! Tensions were rising.

But, obviously, many privileged people argued in favor of slavery. Enough to draw party lines! Enough to divide a country! Enough to start a “civil” war!

That’s also how privilege works, by the way. Privileged individuals get swept up in their time and culture, imbibing the atmosphere all around them, an atmosphere that tells them continuously that things like slavery are acceptable, even good for the economy.

That was a message the privileged class had heard throughout their lives, incessantly, until they believed it as much as you or I believe in, for example, the tenets of western capitalism today.

They oppressed and denied their slaves of liberation; and yet, curiously, they themselves were held in a kind of captivity to the ideal, the institution, of slavery.

Our fight is not against flesh and blood, the writer to the Ephesians tells us, but against principalities and powers, against spiritual forces of evil.

Slavery was one such power, a spiritual force of evil. The oppressed needed to be liberated from it. And, concurrently, the privileged—the leaders of our church and nation—needed to be released and redeemed from their captivity to it.

We all recognize that today. But many of them, caught up in the atmosphere of their time and place, did not.

4.

So, here’s the thing: This consideration of slavery as a spiritual power points us to a larger power still alive and well in our world today: the power of privilege.

Those held in captivity by this power, whether or not they are aware of it, oppress those who are outside of it: the privileged are benefited at the expense of the marginalized.

So, let’s put this all together. Privilege is a spiritual power alive and well in the world today, a power that we Christians are called to oppose; and yet, the Episcopal Church is privileged—statistically, its members are the wealthiest and most educated of all mainline Christian denominations.

What this means is that a whole lot of change needs to take place within our church.

But change is so hard!

The good news is that TEC recognizes this—and has recognized it for at least the last few decades. Difficult change is needed; change for the better. And so, hard as it is, we are working through needed changes.

The ordination of women and, in more recent years, members of the LGBTQ community, demonstrates this—as does our recent church-wide recognition and full blessing of same-sex marriages.

For the entire history of our nation’s existence, women and the people of the LGBTQ community have been marginalized. It’s time to put an end to this inequality—whether it means liberation from oppression or redemption from captivity.

After all, if we, TEC, were to maintain dogmatically that only straight men can be ordained, such doctrine would perpetuate this power of privilege we are called as a community of Christ to resist—a power that has been at work in our nation continuously since its earliest days.

Do you see? The body of Christ is called not to be complicit in the oppressive principalities and powers at work in the world around us, but to be a community of resistance against them.

And TEC understands this.

Pray, then, for our church.

Where we become aware of past wrongs, like our complicity in slavery, pray that we apologize and make restitution; that we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest our past mistakes (as today’s Collect suggests).

Where we see a clear way forward, like helping the oppressed find liberation, pray that we follow it.

And in that vast middle ground, where, in this present darkness, we cannot see clearly, pray that we navigate our way carefully, making the best decisions we can from what we know—from what scripture, reason, and tradition tell us.

Our mission as a church, the body of Christ, is to resist the principalities and powers, the spiritual forces of evil at work in the world around us, powers—like privilege—that try with all the force of Satan to keep us captive.

We are a community of resistance.

[i] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Temple.

Tired of Spinning?

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2015 by timtrue

TECshield

Mark 6:1-13

Spin.

That’s what we do to the truth, don’t we?  We spin it.

Next time you’re at a park, just sit back and observe a couple of kids for a while.  Not so long ago I saw two little boys playing on a slide.  It was a parallel slide: two slides running parallel to each other.  And so you’d think that here was the perfect opportunity for a race.  Instead, however, one of the boys was attempting to go down the slide correctly, to slide down from the top to the bottom feet first; but the other boy was standing on the slide, attempting to block the first boy’s way.

A sort of cruel game developed where the boy attempting to go down the slide would pretend to begin a descent; and the second boy would predictably jump over to that slide and block his way.  The first boy would then quickly scurry to the other slide, the parallel one, trying to beat the other boy’s attempts at blocking him.  This pretend-jump-switch-jump dance carried on for a bit until, at last, probably frustrated, the top boy let go for a bona fide descent.  On the way down, as fate would have it, the sliding boy collided with the blocking boy, who, probably off balance, promptly fell flat on his face, connecting his lower lip squarely with the surface of the slide.

Well, I continued watching, feeling a kind of tacit vindication, as the second boy, the one who’d been blocking the slide, rose to his feet, rubbed his lip, saw a spot of his own blood on the back of his hand, began hollering, and then ran straight for his mother—who was on her phone and had witnessed nothing of the event!  Finally, grabbing his mother’s arm and pointing, he cried, “That boy pushed me!”

Spin.

Some people, as a matter of fact, put their spin on things really well—so well that we end up paying them full-time to do so!  We’ve given these people a name.  Media professionals who are really good at doing this—at putting their own spin on the truth (usually to favor one political party over another, by the way)—are called spin doctors.

(Not to be confused with the band formed in 1989!)

Anyway, this is how spin often works.  Someone, or some group of someones, wants to communicate an opinion.  But they don’t start there—with their opinion.  Rather, they start with a truth, a premise; and they build up to their opinion, their conclusion, not through logic but through spin: the manipulation of that truth.

So, spin is the backdrop to what’s going on in today’s Gospel.

Jesus has set out from his home town and begun his ministry.  He’s called his disciples, he’s been teaching, preaching, healing, and casting out demons.  And word about him has spread.

Imagine the excitement some of his hometown friends and family must have felt when word of his successful ministry first reached their ears.

Yes!  One of our own has made a success of himself!  Jesus has put Nazareth on the map!

Nevertheless, by the time today’s story takes place, whatever excitement was once felt has now dissipated.  For spin has taken effect.

How could Jesus, the carpenter, the son of Mary, become a success?  Why, I remember when he was just a little boy, playing hide-and-seek with the other kids at dusk.  He once made a few chairs and a table for me, sure; and they’re good enough quality in their own right.  I still have them in my house in fact.  But he’s a carpenter, for crying out loud!  He’s not a synagogue leader, a teacher, or a miracle worker.  Pshaw!  How could he be?  How could anything good come out of Nazareth?

By this time, spin has taken effect and dissipated whatever excitement a minority of hometown fans may once have felt.  Spin has produced unbelief:

“And he could do no deed of power there . . . And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

We see another example of spin’s negative effects—a much more significant example—in the Gospel of John, a story we’re all familiar with, when Jesus is standing trial before Pontius Pilate:

An angry mob brings Jesus forward.  Their opinion—their spin—is that Jesus is an enemy of the state and thus a threat to Caesar.  So Pilate asks him directly, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Here Jesus has the opportunity to tell his side of the story—for there are always two sides to any story.  And he says: “My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Then, as if he hasn’t been clear enough, he says, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

And there it is!  Jesus has told Pilate his side of the story.  And it’s nothing at all like the crowd’s spin.  Jesus is not an enemy of the state; he is not a threat to Caesar.

But, sadly, Pilate’s mind is already made up.  He’s already chosen a side—the side of the angry crowd.  He’s a politician, after all, whose goal is not the truth but to get the people to embrace a certain worldview.  Perhaps this is why he answers Jesus with the haunting question, “What is truth?”

Here’s the trouble, then, with spin.  The spinner’s mind is already made up before he ever begins spinning!  Regardless of the initial truth upon which the spin is based—the premise—the spinner knows where he wants his story to go—his conclusion—ahead of time.  This is, simply stated, bias.  Or, another word for it, prejudice: pre-judging; making a judgment ahead of time.

And this is how Pilate picks his side.  He’s biased.  He’s prejudiced.  Despite asking Jesus for his take, Pilate hears only the crowd:

  • The crowd, who is caught up in their own spin;
  • The crowd, who has twisted the truth;
  • The crowd, who refuses to honor justice;
  • The crowd, who lets a condemned criminal, Barabbas, go instead of the innocent man Jesus;
  • The crowd, who shouts, Crucify him! Crucify him!

For Pilate’s mind is already made up ahead of time.  He’s biased.  He’s prejudiced.

Now, the question for us to consider today—with the patriotic sounds of fireworks still ringing in our ears—is, are we too much like Pilate?

And by us I mean you and me as individuals, sure.  But I also mean the St. Paul’s us, this local body; and the Episcopal Church us, the national church body to which we belong; and the broader Christian and American cultures us.  Are all of us too much like Pilate?  Are our minds already made up?

Now, a lot has happened politically and religiously in our country over the last ten days:

The Supreme Court has made historic rulings on healthcare, marriage, and the way we perform executions.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention has made a significant decision or two as well.

Whatever the issue—whether it be gay marriage, healthcare reform, or issues surrounding human dignity and the sanctity of life—we are hearing a lot of spin right now—more than usual.  We are being persuaded, even challenged, to pick sides.

And with all this buzz clamoring for our loyalties, we should ask ourselves: Are our minds already made up about which way to go?  Like Pilate, is our logical reasoning clouded by an emotional crowd—by partisan loyalties?

Whenever we come to something with our minds already made up—whether a political issue, an individual person, a class of people, whatever; whenever we only give the appearance of listening (and not actually hearing); whenever we embrace an agenda or worldview whose goal is a political ideal; whenever we place loyalties in a political party; whenever we invest in social norms; whenever we believe in our own preferences—we run the risk of a compromised faith—of unbelief—in Christ.

And, as we learned from our Gospel today, unbelief renders Jesus ineffective.

So, again, I ask: Are we too much like Pilate?

And, for the record, I’m asking this question honestly.  In others words, I don’t know the answer.  In the Episcopal Church’s rulings this week, maybe we are being like Pilate, with our minds already made up ahead of time, bent on a certain political agenda.  This is certainly what a lot of conservative Christian groups are saying about the Episcopal Church.

But, on the other hand, maybe we’re not being like Pilate at all but are truly trying to reconcile what a Gospel of love means for our day and age, and how that Gospel should play out.  Maybe it’s actually the groups accusing us of heresy who are being like Pilate here.  Maybe it’s their minds already made up ahead of time.

I don’t know.  This question—are we like Pilate?—is something for us to consider as individuals, as a local church body, as a national church, and as Christians; and as a culture.

But let’s return to the scriptures we looked at today.  Having our minds made up ahead of time stymies the truth and produces unbelief.

The flipside teaches us that not knowing is a good place to be.  Jesus might in fact be calling us to rest in the tension of uncertainty for a while, maybe even a long while.

It also teaches that when we come to a place of surrender, of saying, I don’t know all the answers; I’m not in a position of authority here, but Jesus does and Jesus is—when we come to this point of surrender, our faith is increased.  For here we trust in Jesus—not the spin doctors—to provide a way forward.

Lord, help us rest in the tension of uncertainty.  Amen.