Today, when my enthusiastic friend, Angel, arrived at my house for a meeting, he looked at me closely.
"Are you OK? Your eyes are glassy."
I smiled, "Oh, yes. I'm fine. I've been crying for joy. The sermon at my church was incredible!"
"Oh, mine, too!! It was about equality action! It was amazing!"
Good to know that at least two Episcopal Churches in Tallahassee, St. John's and St. Francis, the priests saw the memo from their bishop, and then returned to the Scriptures, and used their God-given brains to reason and develop a message of faith and hope from the pulpit. A message which says, "Christ is our sure foundation, the head of the Church. And the rumors of the Episcopal Church's demise are greatly exaggerated!"
This was a Sunday where I entered St. John's feeling good. Better than I have in months, really.
I gave myself enough time, so that I could pray quietly, and to offer up a petition to God to watch over all of us, and remove the mantle of fear that some have put on, and allow them to become wrapped in a mantle of light. And thank you.
"Thank you" became the theme of the service for me.
Our first reading, taken from Jeremiah 23, read like a retelling of how I have felt:
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.--Jeremiah 23: 1-4
Already, the tears were coming to my eyes as I nodded and said, "Yes!" So many entrusted to lead have abused their positions to make the gay people in this city, this diocese believe that they were not welcome and drove us away. But God has called us back because God will not be denied his will on earth. And that will means bringing ALL the sheep back into the fold.
But wait: there's more! Our second reading from Ephesians goes even further:
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body* through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.* So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, --Ephesians 2: 11-19
These are the words of Paul, a favored son of all who call themselves 'conservatives' in our Church! And this message screams, "Inclusion! Inclusion! Inclusion!" What some humans may say is unclean was made clean... and thus is now family. And while we may be able to pick and choose our friends... we are related to our family by blood... in this case, the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. So, at this point, the tears of joy are coming into my eyes as I listened deeply to this welcome from Paul; a man previously a stranger who has become increasingly a friend. In my heart, I could feel it. "Us" and "Them" are "We" in Christ. He has brought the two together, and we are all citizens with the saints, and invited to sit together at God's table.
That's plenty for one morning, right? No! There was EVEN more!
Fr. Lin Walton began his sermon in the present, noting that every three years, the Episcopal Church meets in General Convention.
"Oh, boy," I thought. And yet... because of what the Spirit was saying to the Church in the preceeding 20 minutes, I was not getting defensive. Rather, I went quiet and did the second thing I feel God has commanded me to do: Pay Attention. And so Fr. Lin went on.
He was clear, and unambiguous in his message: our Church took action to include a previously excluded group...gays and lesbians. Our Church has followed this action in a most Episcopal, most Anglican way. Christ is the head of the Church, and those assembled in Anaheim considered our traditions, kept our eyes on Scripture, and employed reason to reach the decisions we did. Our Church will be criticized for this both outside and inside. But the wounds that any one may feel have been inflicted will heal, and they won't kill us. And Christ directs us not to just seek out those who are like us, who talk like us, look like us, and act like us. And we must be willing to embrace the neighbor who is different... because those who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Because he is our peace... he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us.
Hallelujah!!! And the tears streamed down my cheeks as I took in all of this. By the time we had had the recessional anthem (amazingly, "Christ has made the sure foundation"... same arrangement as the video at the end of my post from Friday!) I was smiling, I was crying, and all I could say is, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
Thank you to God for being the rock, the true Shepherd of the flock.
Thank you to all the clergy who have been preaching faith, not fear in dioceses which remain conflicted over human sexuality.
Thank you to the people of St. John's who have been welcoming, and inclusive.
It is not Lent in Tallahassee. At least not at St. John's, and apparently not at St. Francis, either.
"Welcome, happy morning!" age to age shall say;
hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!
Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore!
Him their true Creator, all his works adore!
"Welcome, happy morning!" age to age shall say.
-- Hymn 179, The Hymnal 1982