Presiding Bishop Griswold's Friday sermon
Readings: Romans 10:13-17; Psalm 96:1-7; John 7:16-18
On this, the last day of this General Convention, the Church invites us to call to mind St. Dominic, who in the early years of the 13th century founded the Order of Preachers, a brotherhood whose whole purpose was to proclaim, by word and example, the good news of God in Christ, to speak not of themselves, as today’s gospel tells us, but of the One who sent them. Evangelization was the bent of their being, and every spiritual and intellectual tool available was to be pressed into service.
One of Dominic’s biographers describes his sense of purpose thus: “Wherever he went he showed himself in word and deed to be a follower of the Gospel. ... Frequently Dominic made a special personal petition that God would deign to grant him a genuine charity, effective in caring for and in obtaining the salvation of humankind. For he believed that only then would he be truly a member of Christ, when he had given himself totally for the salvation of all, just as the Lord Jesus, the Savior of all, had offered himself completely for our salvation.”
Is this not the call God extends to each one of us? The Holy Spirit has poured the love of God into our hearts, a “genuine charity” that makes it possible for us to overleap all the boundaries of self-interest and self-protection and embrace the whole creation with the arms of compassion – a compassion not our own, but a compassion worked in us by grace.
As you are all well aware, we have been carefully watched over these past two weeks by the media. And what has been remarked upon, again and again, is our civility. I think, however, that our civility is not the point. It is not civility that has been at work among us, but love. To be sure there has been a certain amount of sinfulness on all sides, but there has also been a tremendous amount of grace at work as well.
Love is not just a feeling: it is a matter of the will. And the willingness of many of you who are deeply distressed by certain actions of the convention to stay, quite literally, at the table, is a profound act of love for which the community can be grateful. Some have felt obliged to leave the table. While we must respect their freedom to do so, it is very much my prayer – and I am sure yours as well – that they will find themselves able to return. Their leaving diminishes us all.
Love takes other forms as well. It is love that gives us the desire to enter into the pain of the other and to bear it as one’s own. It is love that gives us the desire to exercise restraint and forbearance for the sake of one’s brother or sister.
What has this convention been about and what do I take away? This 74th General Convention has been about love. It has been about love at work in a community that heretofore had been able to live with both/and realities and now was forced to make an either/or decision. And yet, in doing so, something has happened that is larger than any one perspective or even the decisions this Convention has made. Paradoxically, our differences writ large have stripped us of our facile civility and plunged us into the vast sea of the divine agape. That is not to say one position is right and the other wrong. It is to say that God in Christ is with us.
“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there," said the Sufi poet Rumi. The field is the field of the divine compassion where all things are reconciled in ways that we can only dimly comprehend.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” Paul tells us in today’s first reading. What does it mean to be saved, but to be drawn out of our little worlds of self-preoccupation and placed in the open space of God’s transfiguring and all transforming love? And how does this happen? It happens because life accosts us; circumstances force themselves upon us and we are obliged to leave the security of our various Egypts, our states of certitude that are often forms of bondage – and launch out into the wilderness with no clear sense of destination. All we know is that we are being led by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. And yet, in the wilderness, manna appears, a gift is given, love descends – supplying hope and giving courage, as well as the strength to journey on.
I know many of you are asking: what is going to happen when I get home to my congregation, my diocese? What is going to happen to the Anglican Communion? I don’t know. But, what I do know is that love has been at work among us.
“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself,” and we, in our struggle to be faithful – personally, as a community of faith, and as global citizens open to the world, are caught up through baptism into the costly work of giving flesh and blood to all that God has brought about through the blood of the cross. As a church, we are called to live the mystery of God’s reconciling love for the sake of the world. Receive, repent, reconcile, restore: such is God’s mission, God’s project, God’s work, and ours as well. We have been engaging in that work during these days in many forms: in our prayer, in seeking the mind of Christ, in bearing one another’s burdens, in opening ourselves to the suffering of the world, and especially the suffering borne by our brothers and sisters in Liberia and other places wracked by violence, poverty and disease. We have opened ourselves more fully to the suffering of the world, and through our actions here we have committed ourselves to a stance of global partnership. One example of this commitment is that we have embraced the Millennium Development Goals.
Love does indeed take many forms. Some are intimate and personal, some take us across the globe to feed the starving and stem the spread of disease. Some involve words. Some involve actions. Yet all is part of that vast articulation of Christ’s deathless love which is God’s mission and ours as well.
“Preach always,” said a contemporary of Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, “and if necessary use words.” Francis’ life, as well as that of Dominic, was a sermon in itself, a living exposition of love. Can the same be said of us personally and as a household of faith? At its deepest level this is what we have been discovering during our General Convention. This is what has captured public attention beyond the presenting issues. Can we be a living exposition of God’s reconciling love?
There is still much to receive, much to repent of, much to be reconciled, much to be restored. With Jesus, we must go up to Jerusalem with the sober yet confident awareness that we only can know the power of his resurrection by sharing his sufferings. So we move into the future knowing with St. Paul that “suffering produces endurance (patient endurance), and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:4).
My dear brothers and sisters, may this deep and tenacious love be with us all as we go forth and return home. May its reconciling force heal us and whole us for the sake of God’s world.