This sermon’s audio is now on the Saint Paul’s website, or you read it here.
It has been an historic week in the Anglican Communion. As you may have heard, the 38 Primates, a fancy word for the head bishop in each Province, gathered at Canterbury Cathedral this week to talk about a variety of issues. If you’ve been paying attention at all, then somewhere between Adele doing Carpool Karaoke and requiem posts for David Bowie and Alan Rickman, you’ve certainly seen the headlines about The Episcopal Church getting “suspended” on CNN, FoxNews, Huffington Post, the New York Times, and all over Facebook. There are more opinions on what happened at Canterbury than there are Episcopalians, but to be honest, I’m not too worked about it. Roger Godell is not in charge of the Anglican Communion, and The Episcopal Church has been disinvited from serving on those committees for almost six years now. If anything, this week’s meeting seems to be the beginning of a way forward toward the end of the recent unpleasantness. The Primates have made a commitment to working together for the sake of the Gospel, which is why I’m much more interested in the second statement that they put out this week, “A Statement on Evangelism.”
We, as Anglican Primates, affirm together that the Church of Jesus Christ lives to bear witness to the transforming love of God in the power of the Spirit throughout the world.
It is clear God’s world has never been in greater need of this resurrection love and we long to make it known.
We commit ourselves through evangelism to proclaim the person and work of Jesus Christ, unceasingly and authentically, inviting all to embrace the beauty and joy of the Gospel.
We rely entirely on the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us speech, brings new birth, leads us into the truth revealed in Christ Jesus thus building the church.
All disciples of Jesus Christ, by virtue of our baptism, are witnesses to and of Jesus in faith, hope and love.
We pledge ourselves together to pray, listen, love, suffer and sacrifice that the world may know that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Come Holy Spirit.
Here, the 38 leaders of Anglicanism spell out for us the basic identity of the Church. We live to bear witness to the transforming love of God in the power of the Spirit. Witness, that’s an epiphany type word, the Greek of Jesus’ time would have called it martyrdom. As disciples of Jesus, our job is to help others come to see Jesus no matter the cost. We are to help others have their own epiphany, or as Keith put it last week, that “aha moment” as they come to know the love of God at work in the world around them. Sign me up for a Church that is committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus instead of fighting over sex, money, and power!
Unfortunately, these bitter fights over things indifferent have been around since the very beginning. If it weren’t for Christians behaving badly, we wouldn’t have most of Paul’s letters. Take today’s lesson from First Corinthians as an example. The Corinthian Church was fighting about everything. They fought about whose baptism was better. Was it better to have come to know Jesus through Paul, Apollos or Peter? Paul says, “It doesn’t matter as long as you’re following the Way of Jesus.” They fought so much that they took each other to court. Paul says, “Aren’t we better than this? Can’t we work out our differences in love?” They fought about who belonged at the Communion table as the rich got drunk on communion wine while the poor were left out of receiving the sacrament. Paul says, “Why do you come to church? Are you hoping to see and be seen? Or do you really hope to find a deeper relationship with God through the body and blood of Christ?”
In today’s lesson, the Corinthians are fighting over whose spiritual gift is better. Scholars tend to think that those who had the gift of tongues started the fight by thinking that they were better disciples than the rest. Paul says, “Forget all that. The single most important gift that the Spirit has given you is the ability to proclaim with boldness that Jesus Christ is Lord.” It is a gift of grace that allows us even to have that first aha moment, to see and know that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. After that, Paul says, everything else is gravy, and like my Thanksgiving plate, oh boy is there an overabundance of gravy. “There is an overabundance of varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There is an overabundance of varieties of works of service, but the same Lord. There is an overabundance of things to do, but the same God that gives us the energy to do them.”
Every spiritual gift, whether it is prophecy or tongues; healing or faith; preaching or singing or website design; every gift is given by God “as a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Manifestation, that’s another epiphany type word. It comes from the same Greek root as epiphany and it means “to bring to light or to disclose.” The light of Christ is most clearly displayed in the world when the members of His Church use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to work together for the common good of all of God’s creation. That’s the kind of congregation I want to be a part of. That’s the kind of diocese I want to be a part of. That’s the kind of denomination I want to be a part of. A Church that is willing to say that because Jesus Christ is Lord, we will join with him in building up the Kingdom of God in our corner of the world and around the globe.
Yesterday morning, your vestry gathered together to take their part in the ongoing process of listening for God’s direction in how we might be that kind of Church. We lived into this year’s theme by praying together, worshipping the risen Lord, serving one another, and sharing our stories. As we baked communion bread, sat around a makeshift boardroom table, and even over Subway sandwiches, we heard powerful and beautiful testimonies of God’s work in our lives. As we listened, we tried to help each other come to know the gifts of the Spirit that were already at work. In the coming weeks and months, I hope you’ll each have the opportunity to do the same; to find out where God is calling you to take your place in the life of this parish and his dream for the wider world. I pray that Saint Paul’s will be known as a place that through the power of the Holy Spirit, helps others to see Jesus at work.
There has been a lot of hand wringing about The Episcopal Church’s place in the Anglican Communion this week, but the reality is that it is only by the Spirit of God that every Christian is able to stand up and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Let’s move beyond petty arguments and strive after the kingdom. Let’s get about the business of being witnesses of God’s love in the world. Let’s help our neighbors have that aha moment as they come to know the saving power of Jesus in their lives. Let’s manifest the Spirit by working for the common good in this church, in this neighborhood, in this state, in this country, and in the whole wide world. To paraphrase the Primates, let’s pledge this day to pray, worship, serve, and share that the world might know that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Come Holy Spirit. Amen.