Saturday, June 2, 2007

Integrity Board Meets in Fort Worth, TX

President Susan Russell's sermon on the Feast of Justin Martyr.

On behalf of the Integrity Board it is truly an honor and a blessing to be here with you in the Diocese of Fort Worth this week. There is much on our agenda as we meet over these three days … and – I hope this isn’t “breaking news” – we actually DO have “an agenda.” And since it’s an Integrity Agenda you arguably COULD call it a “gay agenda” … but the truth is, it looks an awful lot like any OTHER church or not-for-profit Board agenda. We have budgets and financials to approve; action items to account for and strategic plans to implement. There are chapter and network reports and membership issues and database updates. It is mostly just plain old hard work … hard work that is holy work as it is all of it … every bullet point and press release and regional report and line item … offered in the service of this holy work to which we have been called … this living out of the Gospel in our day just as the saints throughout the ages have lived it out in theirs.

I love that we remember one of those saints … Justin … as we gather here at Celebration Community Church tonight. Justin Martyr – as he is listed on the Feasts & Fasts calendar -- is remembered as a saint of the church not only for his martyrdom but for his “apologies” – “apologies” which, as the biographical sketch in your bulletin notes, are defined as “not an excuse but a spirited defense.” Justin, it turned out, was uniquely equipped to offer a spirited defense of the faith he found in a conversation with a stranger who, his biographers tell us, told him about Christ and “straightway a flame was kindled in my soul.” Educated in Greek philosophy, he found in the Good News of God in Christ Jesus “the only safe and profitable philosophy” and applied his keen academic mind to the apologies of the Christian faith he wrote that still speak to us two thousand years later.

He certainly had his work cut out for him. Justin lived in a time when Christianity was getting it from all directions and he endeavored to address them all. We’re told he defended Christianity against the Jewish charge of distorting the Old Testament, the Greek charge of irrationality and the Roman charge of treason. You might call it a trifecta of opportunities for apologia … or you might call it a lot like my email inbox some mornings!

As far away as Justin’s 2nd century world may seem from us as we gather here in 21st century Ft. Worth there is still a need for “a spirited defense” of this faith we inherit – and it often comes from several places at once.

Just as Justin defended Christianity against those who charged “irrationality” or “treason” or “revisionism” we can find ourselves defending our faith … defending Christianity in our own time … against those same categories of charges. There are plenty of folks who think they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one – having heard Pat Robertson a time or two too many on Larry King Live – and whose definition of “Christian Values” include the values of judgmentalism, bigotry and narrow minded sectarianism. And then there are the members of the secular LGBT community convinced we must be irrational to be part of an institution that continues engage in what amounts to sacramental apartheid – excluding a percentage of the baptized from a percentage of the sacraments and continuing to scapegoat the gay and lesbian baptized as it prioritizes the unity of the institutional church and the preservation of the patriarchy over the fullness of the Gospel message of Good News for ALL people!

And that’s just outside the church. Closer to home, we are called to offer a spirited defense to those within the church who charge “heresy” (that would be a kind of theological treason!) AND those who charge “revisionism” – with throwing out the Bible with the bathwater -- because of our conviction that the revelation of God did not end in 325 with the Council at Nicea OR in 1976 with the bishops at Port St. Lucie. Just as Justin in his day we are called in ours to offer a spirited defense of our experience of a God whose love is not only broader than the measure of the mind but wider than the narrow orthodoxy masquerading as absolute truth and embracing theology that threatens to turn this Episcopal Church into something neither Cranmer nor Seabury would recognize.

A few months ago I preached a sermon entitled “Jesus Saves” and in it I said that I’m the kind of Christian that believes if we think the point of getting to heaven is getting to heaven then we’ve missed the point of getting to heaven. And tonight I want to make a similar statement about theology: I’m the kind of theologian who believes that if the theology – what Augustine described as the understanding our faith inspires us to seek -- becomes more important than the faith that inspires the seeking then we’re missed the point of theology.

A former bishop of Arizona famously said, “Faith is what you are willing to die for. Dogma is what you are willing to kill for.” Justin Martyr “got it” – the theology … the apologies … he offered were spirited defenses of a faith he was willing to die for. Now, few are called to martyrdom and most of us are not prone to sophisticated philosophical apologies. But that doesn’t mean we are off the hook.

Tonight I want us to consider that the spirited defenses – the apologies of our faith – that we are most often called to offer don’t consist of theological words but of incarnational actions. Actions like offering our best strategic thinking, planning and resources to the work of this Integrity Board as it continues its 30+ year defense of the ideal of fully including all the baptized into the Body of Christ. Actions like speaking truth to power – whether we’re “heard” or not – in diocesan conventions, in national church arenas and in Anglican Communion “listening processes.” Actions large and small – corporate and individual – offered as a spirited defense of the Good News of the God who loved us so much that he became one of us in order to show us how to love one another.

Actions like this story shared with me years ago by a parishioner named Dolores who told it to me when I was a brand new deacon. Dolores wrote: “I was raised in Ohio in a deeply religious Roman Catholic family where bias against those of different faith or color was not tolerated. Early incidents in my childhood had impressed upon us the fact that my father would not tolerate such behavior among us in his household. He often told us “We are all God’s children. God doesn’t discriminate … neither do we.”

Shortly after the start of World War II our local parish sponsored a Japanese-American family deported from California. Their two children – Joe and Amy -- were with our family until 1947. To me they were just another younger brother and sister to put up with … but to my sister Dorothy, Amy was her best and closest friend. They were inseparable. And it came to pass that a classmate of theirs was having a birthday party … and everyone from the class was invited … except Amy. When Dorothy protested, mother forced to bring her face-to-face the harsh reality from which our family life had shielded her: there were places that Amy wasn’t welcome because she was different than we were. Because she was Japanese.

Dorothy’s response was to refuse to attend the party herself. Her explanation? “If Amy’s not invited, I’m not invited.” I was so proud of my little sister … proud to be part of a family that took its stand against bigotry and bias. And I’ve always tried to go through life remembering the lesson my little sister taught me … and remembering all those “Amys” who aren’t invited to places I’m included without a second thought … and to remember that until we’re all invited everywhere, God isn’t finished with any of us yet.”

Indeed … God is NOT finished with any of us yet – but has certainly begun a good work in us.
My prayer tonight is that each and every one of us be given the strength and courage … the faith and fortitude … to live our lives as spirited defenses of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To claim the foolishness of God that is wiser than Primates … to follow the Lord who proclaimed that to know God’s commandment IS eternal life … and to remember that the greatest commandment is NOT preserve the unity of the institutional church but love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. THIS is the faith we claim tonight in this Eucharistic celebration as we stand with Justin Martyr and all those through the ages who have in seeking God have found and been found by God.

This is the faith we will PRO-claim as we go out into the world to offer our own apologies for the faith that makes us whole. Sometimes in “sound bites” and sometimes in strategic plans. Sometimes by showing up where we aren’t so welcome in order to proclaim the Good News that the God of love welcomes ALL people into her loving embrace. Sometimes by NOT showing up in order to stand at the margins with those who have been excluded – to give voice to the voiceless as we stand in solidarity with them -- as Dorothy stood with Amy -- to embody that love of God which is beyond measure.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind
And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind
If our love were but more faithful we would take him at his word
And our lives would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.

Let us go from this place committed to living lives of thanksgiving – of witness – of apology – for the goodness of the Lord who calls us:

To do justice: By remembering … with Dolores … that until we’re all invited everywhere, God isn’t finished with any of us yet.

To love kindness: like Dorothy, standing up when we encounter bias or bigotry … speaking out on behalf of those without power to speak for themselves.

To walk humbly with our God: trusting that the gifts God gives us will be sufficient to accomplish the work God calls us to do … and allowing God to use us to be agents of change – to participate with God in making this world the place of blessing it was created to be – for everybody! AMEN.

Read her blog An Inch at a Time: Reflections on the Journey

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