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"This teaching is difficult....

 

 

 

“This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?”

 

Last week I attended a meeting at Christ Church, Winchester which was an open forum for the discussion of the events of General Convention – most specifically the ratification of Gene Robinson as Bishop and the recognition (not approval) of same sex blessings. The sanctuary was literally packed, standing room only – some were young and others were older, there were straights and there were gays, a few expressed anger and a few expressed acceptance and still others expressed confusion and some deep happiness. It was a room filled with Episcopalians, diverse and broad – it is who we are. As one after another got up to speak, we heard the bible used to defend every position and every belief. And still, we sang “The Church’s One Foundation”, said Compline together and lived to tell the story – miracles do still happen, it seems.

The issue before the church regarding homosexuality and leadership in our common life has caused a great deal of pain, division and fear, alongside the smaller voice of relief and joy.  The more conservative side of the argument often invoke the primacy of Scripture when talking about that ‘three-legged stool’ the church has claimed to rely on in difficult times of heresy and schism. The three-legged stool of scripture, tradition and reason has, in my opinion, at least two legs through which our loving and patient God works to speak to us through the persistent voice of the Holy Spirit - tradition and reason. Scripture alone has never been sufficient and, as far as I can tell, it has always been abused.

As I read the gospel stories I cannot escape the fact that Jesus had a very difficult time abiding by the narrow interpretation of scripture his elders believed and taught. In fact, he didn’t abide by them and in the end it cost him his life. Jesus lived a radical life in order to perfectly fulfill scripture – fulfilling scripture meant living into the whole of God’s intention for humanity. In doing so, Jesus became the Christ and our Savior.

His life, his death and his resurrection are the means by which God corrected the abuses of scripture. How painful a tragedy this truly was and is – that it requires the death of one who does not deserve to die to make the truth known. The truth that God loves, includes, wants and forgives all people. That there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. I believe this radical message of Jesus is still so completely difficult to swallow that most of the time, we don’t.

However, God suspected we would have a tough time of it, that the business of becoming fully ourselves would shake some to the core, would frighten others into angry behavior, would create factions and dark rumors of altered truth. We would need, God knew, an Advocate, a clear voice of the Holy One to remain cheek by jowl with us. God sent the Holy Spirit. The coming at Pentecost of the Holy Spirit is the way God continues to inform and form all of humanity. It is the working of the Holy Spirit through tradition and reason where God urges us towards a living incarnation of the Divine logos. All things necessary for our salvation, the becoming of the person God imagined us to be, is found in scripture – to prevent our human tendency for abusing scripture, God sent an Advocate, the Holy Spirit.

It is that Holiest of Spirit that now directs Christ’s church – I give thanks that we have been willing to step into a place of radical understanding, that we have been able to face the onslaught of anger and prejudice, that we are embracing God’s truth regardless of the cultural demand that we do the opposite. One man put it eloquently when he said, “The church has throughout history erred, but I have not ever known it to err by being too loving or inclusive.”

If I call myself a Christian and have only a tiny understanding of the totality of Jesus’ good news for the whole of creation, I find myself face to face with a difficult set of choices: do I believe the gospel message? Do I accept the presence of the Holy Spirit? Because if I do, I will be called to live life very, very differently than my culture and my society might want me to – I will be asked to forgive where I do not want to forgive, not judge when I want to judge, love my enemy and my neighbor, and love the Lord my God with my whole self…which will mean being willing to go where God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, leads.

If claiming to be a Christian means that I have to deny the fullness of some of God’s children, then I cannot claim that label – Jesus himself did not claim such a label– so I will continue to stand firm in the steps of Jesus, my Christ. I will struggle to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and mind and love my neighbor and my enemy as myself – however much more I may feel tempted to do in the name of God, I pray I will not do those things. Following where the Spirit leads is not now, nor has it ever been easy. I give thanks that my church has the courage to listen and to follow that Spirit by accepting with open arms gays and lesbians, my brothers and sisters, and surely God’s own children.