O God, we give you thanks for the power your creating love, for without that which claims us as your own, there is only darkness.
I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’ve been thinking a lot about St. Francis this week.
We so often see him associated with an emphasis on his love for all God’s creation. Usually pictured with birds and other animals, he certainly has been most closely associated with peace and love for all. Francis accomplished much in his life. His was not an easy life. It is said that of all the Saints, he is the most admired but least imitated. Despite much bodily and spiritual suffering, he accomplished much and rejoiced to share in the suffering of his Lord and the world for which Jesus died.
One day I happened to be driving by the home of members of my parish. I saw them gathered in their backyard, looking very sad. I pulled into their driveway to see what was happening. I saw that they were gathered around a hole in the ground that the father had just dug to bury their beloved dog who had just been killed by a passing car. They were all weeping, and I found tears welling up in my own eyes as well. I suggested we have a little prayer service to commend their dear family member and friend to God’s keeping. They seemed a little surprised by my invitation, but were grateful for it. After a time of shared mourning at the conclusion of our prayers, with tears and hugs and kisses all around, I left to resume my business of the day.
Several days later while sitting in my office, I heard a hesitant tap on the door. At my invitation to come in, Shannon, the little girl of about ten years from the family, came in weeping profusely. I asked her what was wrong. She said that when she told her teacher about what had happened and our little service, she said that it was ridiculous. “Dogs don’t have souls!” said the teacher. After spending some time in comforting the little girl, I called the school and made an appointment to have a little talk with that teacher. “I know you believe what you said,” I told her, “but you shouldn’t impose your skepticism on that little girl in her sorrow for losing her canine friend.”
When I was yet a young child, someone gave me a picture of one of those popular paintings with Jesus at prayer bearing the inscription, “God is Love.” That picture, with Jesus looking very Arian, clean, and with fluffy and very white sheep, sat on my bedroom dresser for years. I liked that little picture proclaiming those words, “God is Love.” How do you picture Jesus? There were no skilled portrait artists painting Jesus’ picture that we know of. No cameras digital or otherwise; no cell phones for a selfie. We are all free to imagine what he would look like in a way that is most pleasing to us. For me, it is those words on that picture which still ring in my heart today. God is Love!
Today’s lessons serve to remind me that while I remember and treasure moments of the emotion of love, comfort, warm fuzziness and security, there are rules. Some of the expectations our God desires from us do not always sound so very loving. These are necessary boundaries, rules which we often call tough love. Sometimes discipline may make us feel deprived of our liberty in the short term; but the guideposts of God’s wisdom are ways of living which, with love and gratitude, can provide the greater happiness for us over the long haul.
When we begin to emerge as adults through the turmoil of our teens, we deal with the issue of authority and expectations from us in a new way. We are often moved to rebel, to resist the constrictions which govern us in our childhood. This is a natural, normal thing. As a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, we at last pupate into the physical, mental and hopefully spiritual state of adulthood.
The founders of the United States of America, with a wisdom which could come only from God, saw a great task and a unique opportunity they faced in giving birth to a new and different kind of nation. They sought a new vision; not a monarchy, not an oligarchy, but a new and different system of shared authority. Not a pure democracy, which always risks the tyranny of the majority. Instead, they envisioned a republic, a nation where elected representatives of the people would make the laws they thought were intelligent, needed and just. The laws then enacted would not be so easily subjugated to the whims and fads of popular fashion, but by more reasoned, sober and practical standards. The laws when so established were to be obeyed by all without exception. No one was to be above the law, and the law in turn was to be justly and equally applied.
I wonder how many of us realize that at the same time, the mid to late 1780s, the same era the Constitutional Convention was working out our nation’s form of government, with a number of the same people involved in both, our Church, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, was organizing and forming its own structure.
The church was developing its own Constitution and canons, its Book of Common Prayer and form of governance. The emerging structure of our new nation was very much in the minds of the founders of this branch of the Church, the Episcopal Church, as the spiritual daughter of the Church of England in America. Over time we became the American version of the worldwide Anglican Communion, with its many national churches, all spiritual descendents of the Church of England with its historic confluence of faith and practice taken from the Celtic, Roman, Orthodox and Reformed Churches.
We had just prevailed in a Revolutionary War. The official Church of a recent enemy was not likely to be popular in many places. Many favored a Christianity totally separated from the mother Church. Others did not want to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Our founders desired to maintain our Apostolic connection with the Church of England, the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and other churches keeping faith with Scripture, the Creeds and the historic Episcopate.
The founders sought a way of maintaining the essentials of the Historic Christian faith as we have received them, but also reflecting our own uniquely American form of church polity. Historically, the minimum number of validly consecrated bishops required to ordain and consecrate another validly consecrated Bishop is three. Three American priests had been elected by their several area church bodies to cross the Atlantic to receive consecration as bishops.
Samuel Seabury, the ancestor of the Reverend Scott Seabury, a retired priest of this diocese, was elected in 1783 by the clergy in Connecticut to travel to England for consecration as bishop. Being refused by the Church of England because he could not vow loyalty to the king, he traveled to Scotland, where he received consecration by bishops of the Episcopal Church of Scotland. In 1786, the English Parliament suspended the vow of obedience for bishops to be consecrated for foreign lands, and in 1787, Samuel Provost of Pennsylvania and William White of New York were consecrated. With all three having returned from Scotland and England, the American Church had the required number of bishops to establish its own succession in keeping with historic apostolic order. The Episcopal Church was now free to establish itself with the inclusion of a validly ordered Episcopate..
The governing body of the Episcopal Church is the General Convention, which meets once every three years. Like our federal government, it has a bicameral system of legislature: the House of Bishops, which is somewhat comparable to the Senate, and the House of Deputies consisting of clergy and lay delegates, roughly comparable to the House of Representatives.
Our system is a bit different from other church bodies which maintain catholic holy orders. Yes, we have dioceses with Bishops, and we do cluster dioceses into provinces, but authority flows a bit differently. Not just from the top down, or House of Bishops, but also from the ground up, The House of Deputies, negotiating and working out a mutually acceptable agreement. Authority is a shared republican (with a small r) rather than a monarchical model.
Now as you may have guessed, all this is leading up to the question, “Who or what is the “Presiding Bishop.” Well, he or she is a bishop, elected by the other bishops in the House of Bishops subject to his or her election being ratified by the House of Deputies. The Presiding Bishop is our American Primate, given the honor due an archbishop, but functioning more as a President or chief pastor, hence the adjective “The Most Reverend” precedes his name in more formal correspondence. I am sure you will hear all about much of that at our coffee hour.
Bishop Curry and I both have some connection with the Diocese of Western New York where I served as Rector of a parish for 22 years. Bishop Harold Robinson was the bishop under whom I served when I was first in that diocese. It was he who ordained Bishop Michael as a Deacon the year before I arrived. I have never met Bishop Michael in person, but I have long heard of his reputation as a dynamic Christian preacher, and as a faithful witness to the love of Jesus Christ as our risen Lord and savior.
Bishop Curry has called us and invited all Episcopalians to be active participants in “The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” in which we join in Spirit, witness, praise and prayer with Christians of all kinds to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of all.
Let us join with him next Sunday as he shares with us, and we share with him and each other, the Good News of Jesus Christ, who is himself the loving, living, saving Word of God, crucified, died, risen and coming again, the God who loves us dearly and expects great things from us. In his holy Name. Amen.