Monday, August 14, 2006

The Hijacking (the Rev. Donald P. Goodheart)

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Winston-Salem
August 13, 2006

The Hijacking
A Sermon by the Rev. Donald P. Goodheart

I know with the revelations this past week about the plot to blow up airplanes headed from England to our country, we have things like security and hijackings on our minds.
Will it ever end?
But today I want to talk about a different kind of hijacking.
Not of planes, or trains or cars.

This goes back to the General Convention in June held in Columbus, Ohio.
It did get considerable media coverage, but in case you missed it, the Convention again dealt with controversial and highly charged issues, especially sexuality.
I want to tell you that people were passionate about their feelings, about their beliefs.
I mean the debates were as heartfelt as you can imagine.
The positions seemed unbending in some cases, and the chance for God's reconciling love seemed remote.
Indeed, in the end we had to vote.
And on some resolutions there was no middle ground, some won and some were clearly on the side that did not prevail.

Yes, and those who were on the losing side of these controversial issues were taken to a square across the street from the convention center, and summarily beheaded.
Yes, you heard me right: there was the block and the executioner's ax set up there in the square, and the leaders of those who insisted on continuing to uphold their position even after failing to prevail on these hot button issues, were lined up in a row, and a large crowd watched as one by one the ax dropped and literally heads rolled.

Now you may be offended that I would talk of such a thing in a sermon.
You may be horrified by the violence of what I am talking about.
You may be appalled that I would fabricate such a story.
But it is not fabrication, and the violence is quite real, only misplaced by about four and half centuries.
Going back to the Reformation, back to the times that immediately preceded the beginnings of our Anglican Church, the scene that I described happened again and again.
The divisive issues at that time were different, or at least some ways.
The places of coincidence, however, are striking.
The interpretation of the bible, the struggle between tradition and the adaptation of the church to a new age, these are issues that the times of these beheadings and the times of today have in common.
Sexual morality, however, was hardly an issue, with kings and others of high rank, leaders of nations, were well known to have multiple sexual partners, and no one even raised an eyebrow.

But it was out of the pain and conflict of these beheadings in the middle part of the 16th century that our church was born.
Yes, when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 she had witnessed the beheadings of Protestants under the reign of her sister Mary, a hard line Roman Catholic.
Some historians say she only narrowly escaped such a beheading herself, and many doubted her claim to the throne.
So, she forged what our tradition has identified time and time again as the Anglican Way, the via media, the middle way.
Not one of compromise for the sake of peace, but one of comprehensiveness for the sake of truth, a phrase attributed to one of our Anglican theologians, Richard Hooker.
A way that people who so vehemently disagreed with one another could live together.
Yes, and even more than live together, to pray together, to sit in the pew together, to kneel at the altar rail side by side to take the sacrament of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, those who might have cheered the beheading knelt down next to a brother of child of the beheaded.
Not that it was easy.
There were many bumps on the road, including pain and struggle.
Yet still, we would have to say, it was nothing short of a miracle.

Our "divisive issues" of today, centered primarily around the issues of sexuality and sexuality morality, don't even come close to the life and death divisions of the reformation.
And yes, there are the similarities about biblical interpretation, about tradition versus adaptation to culture.
But you see, if the Anglican Way, forged in a large part by Queen Elizabeth, could heal divisions that had been so strong as to result in beheadings, that very same Anglican Way should surely be able to lead us through the present so called crisis in our church.
Many of you do not agree with each other over the actions of the General Convention over the past few years.
Indeed some of you agree with the way I have voted and some of you disagree.
Some of you agree with our new Presiding Bishop Elect, and some of you do not.
But I have no hesitation of sharing this altar with those who are on the other side of the issue.
Indeed, I would say, we even more need to be side by side, taking this same bread and drinking from this same cup.
Talk of division, when the unity of our church was forged in the fire of the controversy of the reformation is a betrayal of our tradition.

Indeed those who, on both sides, insist that their way is the only right way and that the others should take a hike are missing the whole point of Anglicanism: agreement on essentials and non-essentials freedom to disagree.
I would go so far as to say that those within our Episcopal Church who insist on their way of biblical interpretation, whether it be more literal way or more interpretive way, are in danger of attempting to hijack Anglicanism, to redefine who we are and how we deal with conflict.
And I would ask, how does that fit with our scripture reading from Ephesians this morning, which says, "Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."
Put away such wrangling, discard it, get rid of it, for Christ's sake!

You see, as several speakers said at the General Convention in June, we, the Episcopal Church have something very special to offer to the world.
While, in the end, the rest of our world may not really care who our bishops are, or how we deal with people in same gender unions, they do care if we have a way to deal with divisive issues.
If they see that we can sit down and talk respectfully with those with whom we strongly disagree, if they see that those who hold opposing views still kneel down side by side, they will see that we have something precious to offer.
An Episcopal priest and former U.S. senator from Missouri, John Danforth, addressed the June convention saying that the center of American politics has eroded and "the common ground has been cut out because the most active and articulate people representing the political parties are on the fringes."
He went on, "I don't want to downplay the issues [of sexuality]... but I want to raise the basic question of whether that issue is the centerpiece of the Episcopal Church," he said. "I believe that we have a higher calling, a more central message ... ours is a special calling to the ministry of reconciliation."
The Episcopal Church has always represented the middle way, "where all sorts of people can come together around the altar ... and have all sorts of different views."

Yes, not only we are called to be reconciled with one another, in one church, one community with differing views, we are called to be those who help others to reconciliation.
We Episcopalians are a tradition that includes pentecostals, charismatics, evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, mystics, fundamentalists, and universalists.
So the minute I hear a hard liner on any of the controversial issues facing our Episcopal church, or anyone who claims a corner on the truth, the hair on my head begins to rise, and I want to stand up and say, "No. You are not going to hijack our beloved church, our Via media, our Anglican way."
And that is what I am doing today.
I will stand up and fight for the breath of our church, for it is that breadth that some call its greatest weakness is actually its greatest strength.

And let me tell you, we here at St. Paul's will continue to preach the Gospel, the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We will not be distracted by controversies about sexuality or talk of division.
We will continue to celebrate the sacraments.
We will continue to worship God in the beauty of classical musical tradition.
We will continue to minister to one another in times of pain and crisis.
We will continue to teach and learn in order to grow in our faith.
We will continue to reach out to the hurting world around us.
We will continue to have summer enrichment programs, to build habitat houses, to tutor disadvantaged children, to speak on behalf of the poor and downtrodden, to work for positive change in our Winston Salem community.
We will continue to talk about and openly debate controversial issues, and provide a model to a divided world of how people who disagree can still live together and love one another.
For that is our calling, that is our mission.
We have something to be proud of in our tradition, and standing together, and yes, kneeling together, we can say a resounding "No" to any and all hijackers.

O God of truth and peace, who raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Blogger Share Cropper said...

This wonderful priest, with whom I have disagreed sometimes, has written to the heart of the Episcopal Church. He has preached the Via Media without propounding his own more conservative views on some issues. Yea! Way to go, Don!

8/17/2006 8:05 AM  

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