In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatious of Loyala, who appears in our calendar at the end of this month, there is an exercise, a meditation, called the Two Standards. In it the person making his or her way through the exercises, which have to do with deepening our companionship with Christ, is invited to consider the Standard of Christ and the Standard of Satan. Each standard has it's own particular dynamic: the way of Christ has to do with freedom, and the way of Satan with inversion and self-imprisonment.
The way of the evil one, whom Ignatius appropriately styles "the enemy of our human nature," has a dynamic of riches, honor, and pride. Riches in this context stands for our tendency to posses, to cling, to hold on to things. Honor has to do with our self-definition, our self-understanding derived from what we possess; and pride is seen as the world we construct for ourselves based on what we possess and how we define ourselves.
If this seems abstract, an example may help. I am entrusted with a ministry, yes, the ministry of Presiding Bishop. I can define myself and determine my self-worth in terms of my role. My role can become a possession instead of a service entrusted to me for the sake of others. I can then create a constricted little world of fuschia in which adulation and deference feed my ego, and criticism or challenge are seen as threats against which I must defend myself. In such a state, self-protection and anxiety become my way of seeing things, and wariness and suspicion, my responses to the larger world beyond the fortress of my pride.
The Standard of Christ, on the other hand has a dynamic of non-possession in which all is acknowledged as gift. Instead of building defenses to protect myself, my borders are made permeable because nothing is ultimately mine. All is God's. All is gift, not only to me but for the wellbeing of others as well.
Our first reading sets before us once again the Sabbath, and in this case the sabbatical year from which the Jubilee year evolved: not only is the sabbatical year a year of rest, but it is also a season of availability in which borders are open, gates flung wide, barriers thrown down and all, including wild animals, are free to eat what the land yields of its own and God's accord. In addition, this season of the sabbatical year is an interior disposition in which all anxiety and self protection, all clinging to what is mine, is overruled by God's own generosity as it works its way through grace into my consciousness and my actions.
This week we have entered into full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and are honored to have its Presiding Bishop, the Rev. H. George Anderson with us this morning. Both for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and our own Episcopal Church this decision to enter into full communion is an invitation to open our borders. To relinquish some of our singularity, some of our riches, our possessiveness, along with our tendency to say with the Pharisee in the Gospel "God, I thank you that I am not like this other." On both our parts we have had to face anxieties about what might be lost or compromised along the way, and indeed some of the anxieties are still present. Only time and the deepening of the mutual affection which communion itself conveys will overcome them.
Meanwhile with joyful and thankful hearts we look to the future knowing that the lives of both our churches can only be enlarged as they are given over as Jesus tells us, "for my sake and the sake of the Gospel." May this offering, this opening of our two churches to one another in the communion of the Holy Spirit, renew and purify what is most authentically of Christ in both of our traditions thereby making our traditions gifts we can share to the glory of God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Bishop Anderson, my brother in Christ, on behalf of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, welcome.