Sermon at the Service of Investiture of the XXV Presiding Bishop
Grace and peace to those of you who are present in this sacred space representing the Episcopal Church, our world-wide Anglican Communion, the ancient churches of the East and West, the churches of the Reformation, and the two other faith communities -- Judaism and Islam -- who, together with us, call Abraham our father in faith. And grace and peace to those of you who are far off, participating in this liturgy by means of electronic communication at various sites around the country. Think of where ever you are as a chapel, an extension of this vast cathedral church, and of yourselves as members of this worshipping assembly.
As some of you are aware, today is the commemoration of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury: a Primate of the 17th Century whose views ecclesiastical and political, not to mention what we might call his leadership style, led to his being beheaded. Upon reflection I decided that it might be somewhat inauspicious to do more than include him discreetly among the saints and worthies in the eucharistic prayer.
I want to begin our new life together with a story. It is a story about myself, but it is also a story about us, the people of God.
Well before the General Convention of last July and the election of a new Presiding Bishop, I accepted an invitation to participate in a conference in Italy sponsored by the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, an international program of spiritual formation which profoundly honours the religious intuitions and experience of children. The fact that the gathering was to be held in Assisi, the city of Francis and Clare, made the invitation all the more attractive. Once it became clear that I was to be a nominee, I looked forward to the conference, which was to take place in September after the election, figuring that it would either be a consolation, or a respite before the beginning of a new chapter.
"Let Assisi be your atrium," we were advised upon arrival. "Atrium," in the parlance of the Catechesis, is the classroom, or more accurately the environment, the space, which serves to foster and support encounter with the sacred mystery of God. "Let Assisi be your atrium," I said quietly to myself that first evening as I set out from my hotel for the Church of Sta. Chiara only a short distance away.
Entering the church, I saw a sign over a doorway in the south wall. It read: "The crucifix that spoke to St Francis." "Ah, yes," I thought. "Of course. The crucifix from the Church of San Damiano where Francis prayed at the beginning of his conversion. The icon cross which has been reproduced over and over again. I have a copy of it on my desk at home."
Moved more by curiosity than devotion, I passed through the door and entered a darkened chapel. There the crucifix was, larger than I had imagined, illuminated by a single spotlight. As I sat in the darkness contemplating the figure of Jesus as one might a work of art that one has read about and is seeing at last, I found myself drawn to the cross as though it were a magnet. I moved from observer to participant, and from a pew to a prie-dieu at the foot of the cross. After some moments I looked down and saw that a prayer in four languages had been affixed to the top of the kneeling desk. It was, as I later learned, a prayer written by Francis himself before this very cross. Having been drawn to the cross, I now found myself drawn into the prayer: "Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me, Lord, a right faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity. Give me, Lord, wisdom and discernment, so that I may carry out your true and holy will. Amen."
In the silence of the chapel, the prayer spoke to me about what lay ahead: It begins with the plea that God enlighten and purify our hearts. It says that the right faith, certain hope and perfect charity are not the result of our own psychological effort or active imagination, but the fruit of a transformed and undefended heart, a heart of stone which has become a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). It asks God to search out the secret places where fear and bias, anger and judgement lurk unacknowledged and unrecognised. It is only by such a radical act of God's piercing mercy that authentic faith, hope and love can be born.
Each morning of the conference I got up early and made my way to the cross. Without explanation, I simply had to be there and pray the prayer. Part way through the week I found myself wondering, "What did the crucifix say to Francis?" Though I had read an account years before, I could not remember what the figure of Christ had said. Then one afternoon I wandered by chance into a small square and noticed a plaque on a nearby wall. As I read it, there wad the answer to my question. Christ had said, "Francesco, va ripara la mia chiesa - Francis, go rebuild my Church." I was overcome and found myself in tears - tears of recognition that this was the call, the invitation, the strange attraction of a 12th Century crucifix.
>At the same time, I was sceptical. How like my romantic soul to create a moment of high drama and emotion. Did it come from an overwrought Frank Griswold who had had too much Assisi, or did it come from the Spirit?
Later that evening I began to share what had happened with a Roman Catholic nun. I got no further than saying, "I was praying in front of the San Damiano crucifix," when she pointed at me and declared, "That's it; that's what your vocation is all about. Repair my Church." Hers was the confirming word I needed before I was able to allow Christ's words to Francis to find a home in me.
As the words from the cross took hold of me I found myself overwhelmed. Me rebuild the church? What arrogance, what an unbearable burden, what an impossibility, what an invitation to fantastical projections and unrealisable expectations. I wanted to confine Christ's daunting declaration to the life of St Francis where it properly belonged. But then I have learned over the years that moments of resistance and unsettlement are almost always invitations to deeper prayer and greater availability to the Spirit. And so I gave the words to Francis freedom to be addressed to me, "Francis (Frank), go rebuild my Church." What I heard this time was a voice that said, "This task is not yours alone, it belongs to everyone who has been baptised into my death and resurrection. You are all called to rebuild my church."
Why have I told you this story? Because, as I said earlier, it is about us. Because it speaks of what we are to do together, and of what we are to be together.
What does it mean to rebuild the Church? There are, of course, many possible answers. What has become most clear to me is that the Church is not an object or an institution to be fixed or a building to be repaired as Francis himself thought at first. Instead the Church is a relationship to be lived: a relationship of communion established by God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit which finds expression and is made incarnate -- is earthed and given flesh -- in our communion, our fellowship, with one another. As such, the Church is always, in every age, being rebuilt and reformed out of the struggles and witness and compromised fidelity of its members. The same is true now and the same will be true at the end of nine years.
Baptism, which is the ground of today's Liturgy, is about communion, our being related to Christ after the manner of limbs and organs to a body. Each of us has been given some gift or manifestation of Christ's fullness which contributes to the building up of the body, to our growth as one body to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of the risen Christ (Ephesians 4:13). What more dynamic or intimate or essential relationship can there be than that, than growing together through the gifts of one another into the fullness of who, only in Christ and only together, we can become?
Or again, through baptism we become living stones (1 Peter 2:4ff) integral to the building up of a spiritual temple not according to our own whims and fancies, but according to God's ever active and boundless imagination which, like the peace of God, passes all understanding.
This communion, this spiritual fellowship, also makes us permeable to truth: truth which is discovered in a living way through the sharing of the truth which is embodied in each of us, in what might be called the scripture of our own lives. Each one of us is a bundle of agony and idiocy, of grace and truth caught up in Christ. Who I am by the mercy of God is the gift I have to share, is my unique contribution to the ever expanding mystery of communion. "My brother (my sister) is my life", observed one of the desert monastics of the 4th Century, which is to say that it is not by accident but by divine intention, and it would seem at times by divine humour, that we, in a phrase from Bishop Rowan Williams, have been "caught up" by baptism "in solidarities we have not chosen."
Communion is not a human construction but a divine gift that is not always easy to accept. Because of our sinfulness we find all sorts of ways, often noble and high sounding ways, to stand against it. Communion is realised only through a costly and excruciating process of conversion and a radical transformation of consciousness. "Be transformed buy the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God," Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans (12:2).
This renewing of the mind is largely a communal enterprise whereby your truth and my truth address one another and give room to one another. In the process something happens between us which enlarges the truth each of us previously held. Such is the nature of the sacred enterprise we innocently call conversation which carries within it the possibilities of conversion, of being turned in a new direction by the word, the truth, of the other.
What would happen if instead of leading with our options fully formed and our conclusions smartly arrayed, we addressed one another as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, knit together by one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all? What would happen if instead of defensively declaring where we stand, we asked questions of one another such as, "Who is Christ for you?" "What does the church mean to you?" "How have you been challenged to live the Gospel?" Are we afraid that if we asked such questions we might have to modify our position and make room for the ambiguity and paradox another person's truth might represent?
And yet, a capacity for ambiguity and paradox is part of the glory and frustration of the Anglican way. Richard Hooker, possibly the greatest theologian in the history of Anglicanism observed, as Paul Avis reminds us, that though we long for "the most infallible certainty which the nature of things can yield," we proceed, in actual fact, by way of "probable persuasions."
The Anglican Tradition because of its "graced pragmatism" -- its reasonableness formed by Scripture and Tradition -- possesses a unique capacity for diversity, and the ability to discern and welcome truth in its various forms. Through the subtle yet exacting rhythms of our common prayer the diverse and the disparate, the contradictory and the paradoxical are woven together in the risen Christ through the ever unfolding and always challenging mystery of communion. As a result, different dimensions of truth, different experience of grace, can meet together, embrace one another, and share the Bread of life.
What we as the Episcopal Church shall be as we look to the future has yet to be revealed. I for one am immensely hopeful. Hopeful because of the good will and generosity of spirit which meets me almost everywhere I go; hopeful because of the vitality and faithfulness of congregations large and small; hopeful because of the deep desire on all sides to move beyond threat and accusation to a place of conversation, conversion, communion and truth: truth as is discovered in and through and with one another, truth as it is in Christ, who is himself the truth (John 14:6).
I spoke earlier of the need for a purified and transformed heart if our faith and hope and love are to be real, our communion authentic, and the continuing work of rebuilding the Church, which involves us all, is to go forward.
What is a purified and transformed heart? St Isaac of Nineveh, a witness from the 7th Century, gives us this answer: "It is a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation -- for humankind, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for every creature - for the reptiles too -". It is a heart from which "a great compassion - rises up endlessly." In more contemporary terms, it is a heart open to the paradoxes and contradictions of life; it is a heart that can embrace and reconcile the birds and the beasts, as well as reptiles and demons, however we might define them. A transformed hearty is a heart that has been cracked open by God's love; it is a heart willing to have its tendency towards accusation and judgement overruled by the same voice Jesus heard at his baptism, a voice that speaks to each one of us and says, "You are my daughter, my Son, my Child, my Beloved, my Chosen One in whom I delight, in whom I rejoice, with whom I am well pleased simply because you are. Live on in my love; enter into my joy; abide in my peace."
A transformed heart is therefore compassionate in the strength of God's own compassion, which was made manifest in Jesus the Compassionate One, and is poured into our own hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
A compassionate heart is a baptised, born again heart, a purified and transformed and discerning heart open to everyone and everything, a heart of communion that can embrace all sorts and conditions of humanity and the world around us, a heart that burns with God's own love for the whole mix and muddle of the world. It is a faithful heart capable of rebuilding the Church in the service of the Gospel for the sake of the world, over and over and over again.
May we, as a community of faith, as a church, be given the grave of such a heart. In a few moments we will give thanks over water to recall the mystery of our baptism. We will then renew our baptismal promises, our willingness to be caught up as limbs into Christ's risen body, built up as living stones into a spiritual house, the dwelling place of a compassionate heart.
At the end of his life, as Francis looked back over all that had been accomplished by the Order he had brought into being, he cried out, "My brothers, we must begin to serve our Lord and God. Until now we have done very little. Let us begin again."
My dear sisters and brothers, in communion with one another and sustained by our Anglican way, let us begin again, with the joy and courage of a transformed heart, to serve our Lord and God. Amen.
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA