A Sermon by the Rev. Stuart E. Schadt
I want to talk today about the church. But I want to start by talking about sacraments. The sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. There are two sacraments and five sacramental rites. We make this distinction because the witness of scripture tells us that Jesus participated in and instituted the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist while the other rites; healing, ordination, marriage, confirmation and reconciliation of a penitent are present in the early church of the New Testament but they are not essential to the life of any one faithful person.
The outward and visible sign of baptism is obviously water. And the inward and spiritual grace, is union with God, the forgiveness of sins, new life in the Holy Spirit and incorporation into God’s church,
The Outward and visible sign of the Eucharist are the bread and wine of communion. The inward and spiritual grace is union or communion with Christ. I almost want to say the fullness of this inward grace is a mystery to be contemplated.
So how does this connect to the church? The church in and of itself is a sacrament. The church big and little is an outward and visible presence of the inward and spiritual grace of God. We the people of God gathered and dispersed in the world are an outward and visible sign of God’s presence in the world. That is a major responsibility.
This is a truth we often overlook. People who are members of a church quickly learn that the church has two natures. On one hand we are the people of God. The book of Acts calls us all saints which literally means “holy ones.” And at our best we are that the people of God representing God to one another and to the world. But we also have a human nature. Sometimes an all too human nature. That includes jealousies, anger, mistrust, doubt and this is just of one another. It includes gossip and sometimes it is even hurtful and destructive. Even when it is not that bad we react to change as does any human organization we make mistakes and hurt feelings; whereas we sometimes excel we also fall short? People from outside the church only expect the Godly nature and when they see our humanity exposed they are ready to shout ‘hypocrite’ and ‘say I always knew that about church people.’ They don’t understand the reality of our two natures. We can’t overcome this we can only work to live truthful honest and authentic lives; admitting our transgressions. And striving to raise up our more Godly side.
I went to seminary only a year after I graduated college. I was never really an active adult in the church. And I have to admit that when I got out of seminary and started my ministry somewhere deep inside I expected the church to do a better job of living into its Godly nature and to spend less time in its human nature. Somewhere maybe ten years into my ministry I realized that I needed to forgive the church for its inability to always be the people of God. That is kind of a loaded and complex thing to say because a lot of it had to do with my unrealistic expectations. But I have come to realize that maybe the church has a regular need to ask her members for forgiveness. A litany might include lines like:
I forgive the church for not being there when I needed you.
I forgive the church for not accepting my gifts and talents.
I forgive the church for not giving me the spiritual foundation I needed to face my illness.
The list could go on.
I think one of the healthy things about our community is that we try to acknowledge not only our strengths but also our short comings. And we try to hear them without becoming defensive.
So let’s go back to talking about the nature of the presence of God that we here as a church try to put forward. When I was touring the national cathedral with our youth two weeks ago the docent described the cathedral as celebrating a ‘generous-spirited Christianity.’ I thought that is a wonderful way to describe the faith as we celebrate it.
A core value of Anglican Christianity is that we are a people defined by the fact that we worship together according to the norms of the Book of Common Prayer. Nothing more defines the bounds of our community. There is not in Anglicanism, even a requirement that you assent to the theology of the Book of Common Prayer. ‘Isn’t that just crazy.’ The requirements and expectation get a little more stringent if you are priest and even more stringent if you have been elected a Bishop. But the truth is once you become a Bishop you can push the envelope pretty far and wide without getting into trouble.
Yes so we worship together.
Second we follow the tradition of Jesus and we welcome all people. Jesus broke the norms of his day by speaking, to foreigners, women, tax collectors, roman soldiers, Lepers, children it just goes on and on. All were granted access to Jesus. In that same way all are welcomed into the church and at the table. For our understanding is that this is not our table and the meal the communion offered here is not ours. It all belongs to God. We are part of a growing part of the church that prints in our bulletin ‘All are welcomed to receive the bread and wine of communion.’ One clergy friend, who I talk about such things, objects to this, saying it should say ‘all baptized are welcomed.’ So I ask him, “If a person comes to the communion rail who you know is not baptized are you going to give them communion.” And he said, “Well yes of course.” So I say then isn’t my statement a more authentic truthful statement. He did not concede the argument but I was right. The bottom line is we welcome all people respecting the dignity of every human being. But we also realize some people will not find a place here because our worship is too formal or maybe to informal. Or our music is too stuffy or our music is too flamboyant. We thank them for their time with us and bless them on their way.
So we worship together, we welcome all people and thirdly we respect the faith of God in each person.
We each bring to this place our own unique faith tradition. We keep coming back because we find that faith nourished and strengthened in the experiences of this community. Beyond that we respect and try to understand the faith of Christians who are different from us. Not with a goal to change or transform them but in order to enlighten and illuminate one another. And we respect the faith of other religious traditions. Realizing that in sharing our faith experiences we enlighten, inform and illuminate one another. I think of it as our individual is one thread that woven with a hundred other thread might become a cord and yet the cord (our church or denomination) woven with other cords might be a rope.(All of Christianity) And still Ropes (Many faiths) can be woven together for something even stronger.
But just because a belief is held because of a religion it does not make an injustice right. The Christian crusades were wrong. The printing off Bible verses on us army rifle sighting scopes was wrong. Denying the rights of women is wrong. The call to violence in the name of God is wrong.
So we are the people of God, Worshiping together, celebrating what we share in common, and respecting our uniqueness.
So what is the bottom line? The church divided into many houses and families, represented in the world by people who succeed and who fall short. Still succeeds in being the presence of God in the world.