Presiding Bishop's Sunday sermon - English

September 25, 2005

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a great joy for me and my fellow bishops and their spouses to be here in the Diocese of Puerto Rico. We are grateful to your Bishop David Alvarez and his wife Maryleen for their invitation. We are profoundly impressed by the many ministries and services to the community which are carried out by this great and growing diocese. This is an inspiration to the whole Episcopal Church.

As your primate I especially want to thank Bishop Alvarez and you, the clergy and people, for your warm welcome. Thank you also for the many ways in which you serve those in need in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

In today's gospel, Jesus draws the contrast between those who say the right thing with their lips while their hearts remain closed, and those who at first say no to the Lord, but then undergo a change of heart: a conversion.

Here I think of the temptation that faces bishops and others who bear responsibility for the life and ministry of the church, myself included. We are tempted to use the language of faith and the authority of the church to resist the shocking generosity of God. God's generosity welcomes all people, and especially those on the edges of society.

In today's gospel the edges of society are represented by the prostitutes and tax collectors. Tax collectors were despised in ancient Israel because they served the hated Roman Empire which had conquered the nation.

Jesus tells us a story about two sons. One son who said yes and did nothing. One son who said no and then changed his mind. This story is an invitation to each one of us to examine the pattern of our lives and ask the question: In what ways am I resisting the gospel? For example, when I say the prayer Jesus taught us "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us" are these just words, or do they correspond to the disposition of our hearts. Do we genuinely want to forgive those who have wronged us or do we prefer the dark pleasure of clinging to our judgment and anger? Do the words remain on our lips, or do they sink into the depths of our hearts and expand them in mercy and forgiveness?

These are the kinds of questions today's gospel raises. These are questions we must ask ourselves as persons of faith, and as the Episcopal Church, if we are to be a genuine community of faith in which the reconciling and transforming love of Christ is to be found. We are called to be such a community, not for our own sake but for the sake of our broken and hurting world.

The humility of Jesus, proclaimed in our second reading, must become our own. Through baptism and the Eucharist the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts and conforms us to the image of Christ. We are thereby made ministers of Christ's presence and persons of hope.

I have just visited Mississippi and New Orleans. There, in the midst of the horrible devastation of the hurricane, I saw our church being Christ. I saw the church bringing hope to those who have been displaced and have lost all that they possessed.

I pray that we do not need hurricanes to bring the gospel to life in us. I pray that the mighty wind or gentle breeze of the Spirit may give us eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to love, and hands to serve, both here in this great diocese under the leadership of your bishop, and throughout our church and across the Anglican Communion.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

Tagged in: House of Bishops