Presiding Bishop preaches at House of Bishops' Meeting

September 25, 2004

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold preached at the Eucharist today at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Washington, where the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church is meeting through September 28. The full text of the sermon follows:

The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
Spokane, Washington
Sunday Festival Eucharist
September 26, 2004
The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate, Episcopal Church, USA

Amos 6:1-7
1 Timothy 6:11-19
Luke 16:19-31

First of all, I want to say on behalf of my brother and sister bishops, the spouse group and others associated with this meeting of the House of Bishops which is taking place here in Spokane, how very grateful we are to Bishop and Mrs. Waggoner and to Dean Smylie and the Cathedral congregation for their warm hospitality and the many ways, large and small, in which they have made our time here something that we will long remember. I want to say too what a privilege it is for me as your Presiding Bishop, during this 75th anniversary year, to preside at this Eucharist and to break the bread of God's word.

As I read today's Gospel I was put in mind of a Zen Buddhist haiku: "My storehouse having burnt down, nothing obscures the light of the moon." The "rich man" described in Jesus' retelling of a popular Jewish folktale had, I am sure, many storehouses, many possessions which allowed him to construct his own identity and his own version of reality. He was free to choose what he would include or exclude within the sphere of his awareness.

Among the things he chose to exclude was a poor man who lay at his gate, a man by the name of Lazarus. If there was "a great chasm" fixed between Father Abraham and Hades, as we are told later in the story, there was also a great chasm fixed between the rich man, dressed in purple and fine linen, and Lazarus, covered with sores.

From the rich man's perspective, Lazarus was alien and utterly other. He simply did not fit into the rich man's world. Perhaps too, the poor man who lay at his gate, sufficiently at the threshold of his consciousness for him to know his name, Lazarus, represented a threat, an unwelcome reminder that under the purple and fine linen he too had a body, a body susceptible to disease and decay. We might say that Lazarus represented the unwanted, the unwelcome other whose presence, if acknowledged, would challenge, convict, and wreak havoc with the rich man's carefully self-constructed and maintained version of reality.

"My storehouse having burnt down, nothing obscures the light of the moon."

The rich man dies, and in so doing he undergoes an overwhelming experience of dispossession: his external and internal storehouses are burnt to the ground and he sees the moon; he sees the other, Lazarus, in the full beauty of his otherness for the first time.

"In order to possess what you do not possess," says St. John of the Cross and T.S. Eliot after him, "you must go by way of dispossession." Through dispossession the rich man gains what we might call "undistorted sight." He sees Lazarus as God sees Lazarus. He is able to see the poor man as God's own beloved – lodged in the bosom of Abraham. He recognizes the one who lay at his gate, covered with sores as a potential messenger of grace: "Send him to my father's house," he begs. Now, the rich man can see the moon.

Dispossession is fundamental to the Christian life, though it is usually known by another name: the Cross. "If any want to become my followers," Jesus tells us, "let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

At the heart of Episcopal ministry, and indeed any authentic expression of Christian life, lies the paradoxical reality of dispossession: one finds by losing. Losing what? Losing our self-constructed selves, made up as they are of a jumble of illusions and anxieties about who we are and about those in the world around us – in some cases quite literally dressed in purple and fine linen.

When I reflect upon Jesus' call to deny ourselves and take up our cross, I look at the pattern of his life. For Jesus denial of self meant not succumbing to fear, not sinking into despair or self-pity, not running from the garden. Rather, denial of self meant facing all that his life demanded of him, not in his own strength but in the strength of the Spirit who bore down upon him at his baptism and drove him out into the wilderness and ultimately to the Cross.

"The very circumstances of your life will show you the way," said an elderly Russian monk to a young seeker. The very circumstances of our lives and ministries will reveal the Cross to us. We don't have to look for it. It confronts both our most hidden and public selves, often in the form of the other whose presence and difference unsettles and threatens our security, challenges our self-understanding and throws our worldview into confusion.

"If you are right," I recently heard someone say to another, "my whole world will fall apart." Perhaps my world needs to fall apart. Perhaps my storehouse needs to burn down in order for me to see the moon.

A question for each of us: who is the Lazarus, the other who stands at the edge of my awareness? Who is it that I either fail to see or am afraid truly to acknowledge because at some level I know that to give space to the other I will be obliged to change and to see with different eyes?

In Jesus God meets us as the Other -- the embodied Word -- and in virtue of the resurrection, the embodied Word, Christ, continues to meet us, to challenge us and stretch us, to undo us in the otherness and singularities of the members of his risen body the church, as well as the stranger at the gate and the other whom Jesus describes as the least.

As the desert monastics wisely observed, "We are for one another's salvation." To which I would like to add the words: like it or not. Otherness, therefore, is the medium of my crucifixion. But, it is also the way to my resurrection: that expansion of consciousness that allows me to see with undistorted sight.

This is not an easy time in the life of our church, nor for that matter is it an easy time in the life of this nation or the world around us. The other, the stranger, is frequently looked upon with suspicion, if not fear and even hatred. We who proclaim a gospel of reconciliation, and of division overcome not by agreement but by love – are engaged in struggles that have drawn much of our energy away from a common sense of mission and turned us in upon ourselves. Sexuality, that fearsome, awesome, unruly dimension of what it means to be truly human appears to have trumped the Creeds in determining the fundamentals of our faith.

Is it not possible that what may be perceived by many as sexual otherness is in some way revelatory of the fullness of Christ in us – the hope of glory? This is a question we are presently living – a question that contains within itself many other questions, each of which contributes to an answer that has yet to be revealed.

This is not an easy time in the life of the Anglican Communion, a fellowship of self-governing churches each with its distinct character and challenges in interpreting the gospel in widely differing contexts. The very strains in the Communion at this present time contain within themselves an urgent invitation to encounter the other and to enter into one another's reality.

Given the disproportionate power that the United States has in the world -- and, by association, the Episcopal Church has in the Anglican Communion -- is it not time to meet our Anglican others in a stance of availability to realities other than our own?

There has been much conjecture about what the forthcoming Lambeth Commission report will contain. Obviously, it will contain a number of recommendations to guide the churches of the Communion, in all their distinctiveness, into the way of mutual care and concern, inviting them, in the words of St. Paul, to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Communion, of course, is not a human construction but the very life of God into which we are drawn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Communion is gift rather than possession and as such it is always being held out to us to be received and entered into more deeply.

"What we shall be has yet to be revealed." Nowhere is this more true than in the process of growing up in all ways into Christ as a Communion. However, as life in communion involves an encounter with otherness, we must be prepared to meet the other not with confident self-assertion, which is so characteristic of the American way, but with a genuine availability to the other, and a willingness to receive what is proffered, even if it comes clothed not in purple and fine linen, but in anger.

If the other is, on occasion, the agent of our dying and rising – the one who sets fire to our storehouses in order that we may see the moon and be liberated from our own self-regulated reality and enter into the open space of God's desire – there may be some dying we must undergo as a church, not in terms of decisions made but in terms of our stance toward the other in our midst, at our borders and in other parts of the world. And yet, in the willingness to share more deeply the suffering of Christ lies the promise that the life of Christ will be more fully revealed in us.

At the end of the day all that really matters is not who wins or loses but faithfulness. And faithfulness is required of us all, wherever we stand on any number of questions, none of which admit easy answers and can only be lived patiently and in a spirit of mutual respect and the love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

My prayer for us, for all of us, is that in the power of that love we may indeed be faithful. Amen.