Today’s readings are meant to bring the truth home to us in no uncertain terms with regard to that which lies at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, and by way of a summary, St Paul sums it up to perfection in his Second Letter to the Corinthians…..today’s second reading, and here it is: “God’s grace is sufficient for us, because God’s power is made perfect in human weakness!”
That’s the big message! It was Mary’s message in her Magnificat: ….the almighty has done great things for me…..he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty handed. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy.”
This is the powerful message of hope and redemption that has inspired the People of God for countless generations right through to this very day. And I will add, as well, that it is because of that Good News, that I, like so many others, choose to remain a member of the Episcopal Church.
It is not because of all that is right and perfect about our branch of the Body of Christ, but it is because of all the shortcomings and challenges….all the confusion and theological messiness…all the flaws that I have come to know what it means to be part of a Church that is so often viewed as weak and indecisive….as too liberal…. or too conservative; As to high or too low. As too much like the Baptists or too much like Rome…..
There are even some voices raised from members of other Christian Traditions that have said to the effect that Episcopalian are caving in to sin and immorality by engaging in a pro homo sexual agenda, or supporting the rights of refugees, or Palestinians or Muslims.
We have been criticised for ordaining woman, and welcoming our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
We have even been accused of not reading or believing the Bible.
Yes, all too often, the Episcopal Church is viewed from what others consider to be our weaknesses and shortcomings. And yet, I can’t help but reflect on these things without doing so from the perspective of the readings we heard proclaimed from the Scriptures this morning and remembering how it is that God’s power is indeed made perfect through weakness, and as I do, I recall how it is that in the Spirit of the prophets of the Old Testament, the Episcopal Church stood firm in our understanding of what it means to “let justice flow like a river”
Indeed, we take the prophetic message very seriously which is why Episcopalians have been at the forefront of the prophetic mission to confront the nation with God’s call to justice for the poor and oppressed.
Episcopalians like the martyred seminarian Jonathan Daniels and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall stood at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and 70’s.
During the 1930’s it was Episcopalians such as Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia who championed the cause of the destitute in the Great Depression. At our best, we have been a people who have sometimes been viewed as weak and disfunctional because we have been willing to upset the status quo for the sake of justice and reconciliation. We have tended to be discontented with business as usual and chosen instead to hold the issues of our day accountable to a higher authority. Like the psalmist so long ago, we have tended to be unwilling to content ourselves with easy answers to complex questions and chosen instead to run the risk referred to in psalm 123 and to “look to the Lord our God until he show us his mercy.”
When I think of the Episcopal Church, I think of the kinds of things that Paul wrote of in today’s second reading: “I will boast all the more of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me…
How true this has been. We Episcopalians have been accused of condoning immorality in the ‘1990’s And we’ve been labeled God’s frozen chosen in the early 1900’s and the Country Club at prayer in the 1950’s. But more often than not, the truth about us has been the story about how it is that God has worked in wonderful ways through a small and often misunderstood Christian Community. It was the Episcopal Church that led the way for the rights of children in the 19th Century, even to the extent of building and staffing the first Pediatric Hospital in America, St Mary’s Hospital for Children in NY founded by the Sisters of St Mary and right through to this very day run as an arm of Episcopal Charities of the Diocese of Long Island.
It was the Episcopal Church that opened its doors to immigrant communities during the industrial revolution.
It was the Episcopal Church that established the Seaman’s Church Institute the first chaplaincy for displaced and forgotten mariners in our seaports.
And it was the Episcopal Church that first led the call for Christian Unity more than a hundred years ago. This is why our Bishops voted overwhelmingly to enter into a relationship of sacramental and evangelical cooperation with our Lutheran brothers and sisters. This is why we have organizations like Episcopal Relief and Development, and the Dominican Development Group to strengthen our Church’s ministry of relief and assistance to the poor and oppressed worldwide. And this is why we remain willing to listen and to act upon the pleas for acceptance and justice which come from those who are different from us.
We don’t do these things because we believe that we are strong and have all the answers, but rather because we know ourselves to be subject to human weakness and failure.
We know as Paul did that we have nothing to boast of except our weakness so that the power of Christ may dwell in us. This is where the Episcopal Church has found its strength in ages past, and this is where we will continue to lift up our hearts and minds to God in the days and years to come. For we know as Scripture reminds us that to be the people of God is to remember that we are on a pilgrimage….we have not yet arrived at the harbor of refuge…..instead, we are being directed by the wind….the breath of God….the Holy Spirit who has been given to us not so that we may boast of where we are but rather so that we may be led to the places that God intends for us….and that means that the journey is still a work in progress!
And this is why today, as our delegates and Bishops continue to gather in Austin Texas for the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I ask you to join with me especially during the Prayers of the PEOPLE, and to give special thanks for the life and witness of this portion of the Body of Christ, , and to pray for God’s wisdom and mercy and goodness to guide and direct us in all that we do so that today and always, we may continue to look to the Lord our God, pleading for his mercy. And while some may continue to look at us and see a church that is weak, insignificant and uncertain, let us pray that God will continue to enable us to hear the words of St Paul and to claim them as our own: for in truth, it is when we are weak that we are strong; God’s grace is sufficient….and God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Amen.