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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Peter, Paris and James and the New Commandment of Jesus

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
John 13:31 – 35
Easter V – May 6, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul,
Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton,rector and pastor

In this morning’s gospel, we find ourselves, sitting round the table in that upper room, once again, at the Last Supper, which, of course, became the First Eucharist. Jesus says to his disciples. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another”

These very ancient words have found three very modern expressions this week. The media have been all abuzz and agog with the goings on of three very different people who are living out three very different aspects of this very ancient text. I want to talk to you, this morning, about Peter, Paris and James.

Peter Jasper Akinola is the Primate and Archbishop of All Nigeria who has consecrated an American priest, Martyn Minns, former rector of an Episcopal Church in Truro, Virginia, as a bishop in the Church of Nigeria.

Yesterday, he came to Virginia to install Minns as head of the Nigerian-based Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). In so doing, he ignored a request from our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori as well as one from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to reconsider this schismatic action. He broke an ancient rule of boundary crossings, a serious transgression.

The Anglican Diocese of Nigeria considers its theology “orthodox” or having the greatest obedience to their interpretation of scripture. To be “orthodox” is to be “right.” Neither Akinola nor Minns, as well as their followers, can accept the ministry of our Presiding Bishop because not only is she a woman, but they believe her theology to be unorthodox, or, to put it bluntly, “wrong.”

Now, I cannot for the life of me see how Akinola or Minns, or CANA are living out the great commandment given to us by Jesus himself. How is it that the exclusion of people based on God-given traits of gender and sexuality live out the Great Commandment?

Jesus called absolutely everyone to him. Everyone. We see this in the first reading from the passage of the 11th Chapter of the Book of Acts. The first big controversy in the ancient church was really no different than it is today. The question was: Who can be a member of the church?

In its earliest manifestation, it was a question about Gentiles who were considered “unclean” because they did not follow the dietary prescriptions of the Levitical or ‘holiness’ codes. Peter has this dream – three times – about eating non-Kosher food. Because of this dream, he is able to take these words as the basis for welcoming Gentiles into the church: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

When Peter tells the disciples of this dream, scripture tells us, “. . .they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life." The orthodox truth is that all, all, all are welcomed in the household of God.

Peter Jasper Akinola, the self-professed uber-orthodox Christian, Archbishop and Primate, may need to reconsider the orthodoxy of these words of Jesus: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

But, are there limits to love? Is it “anything goes” with Jesus? It is a young woman named Paris who begs the question about the limits of love.

You all, no doubt, have heard of Paris Hilton. Just in case you haven’t, she is the poor little rich girl who is famous, well, for being the poor little rich girl who is famous. She has no obvious talent, except the genetics she inherited which give her what our culture defines as a near-perfect body and the money to wear next to nothing in order to show it off to the world.

Our Ms. Hilton was convicted a few months back of DUI and had her license suspended. Well, seems that she’s been driving anyway without a license. Indeed, caught three times and sternly reminded by the police that she was driving without a license.

It seems that the poor dear didn’t understand – not the first time or the following three times. So, the judge ordered that she should spend 45 days in jail to consider the serious consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol as well as driving without a license.

We call this form of love “tough love” but make no mistake – it is love. Truth is, it’s probably the first time in her young, pampered, luxurious, permissive life that she’s ever had authentic love.

The only reason this form of love had to get “tough” is due to the fact that no one has loved this poor child enough to help her understand that love is really love – most authentically love – when tough decisions need to be made.

Sometimes those decisions are “no” but sometimes they are “yes.” Sometimes, it takes “yes” three times after being stopped before you have to say “no” because your behavior is putting yourself and others in danger.

As adults, you have the freedom to drink and you can drink to intoxication. As adults, you can drive, but driving while intoxicated is a deadly combination. Just talk with parents who have lost children to this social epidemic.

Inclusive love does not mean that there are no limits. As one of my professors of ethics once said, “You have the absolute right to swing your arms as wildly as you wish. But, your right to do that ends at the tip of my nose.”

Paris Hilton teaches us that the inclusive love of God in Christ Jesus includes the love that is bold enough to set limits on dangerous behavior, but never, ever, ever sets limits on membership and belonging. God’s love is never exclusive – it is always all-inclusive – especially when the going gets tough and the road we travel together hits a big bump.

Which brings us to the lessons we learn from James. McGreevey, that is. You know. The former governor of NJ who left office as a “gay American.”

On Friday I wore one of my favorite T-shirts to the gym. It’s aqua with the shield of the Episcopal Church on the front and on the back it says, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES YOU. I wore it because I knew that some of the old codgers who go to the gym in the morning wouldn’t be able to resist making a comment about it.

And, of course, they did. One of my favorites is Ed, a spry old fella in his mid-80’s with a body like Jack La Lane and a mind like a steel trap who greeted me with, “Ho ho! Guess you ‘Piscopalians learned your lesson with THAT saying, now didn’t you? You keep holding the door open and you just might let the wolves into the hen house.”

He and his two buddies practically fell over one of the machines, laughing and guffawing and slapping each other on the back.

When they saw that I wasn’t laughing, they came over to the elliptical machine where I was warming up to begin my 30 minute cycle. “Hey, seriously, Rev. You can’t be lettin’ that crooked politician into the church, much less the priesthood! I mean, c’mon. That’s ridiculous! C’mon! You see that, doncha?”

I found myself looking into the serious, quizzical faces of these three men of whom I have become very fond and found myself saying this:

“The question Jim McGreevey poses in going to seminary, as I have heard it, is not one of a path to ordination, as the media have reported it, but one of discernment."

"This is an important time, after what he and his family have been though, to discern what it is God may have next in store for him. He needs to be able to find the way God has set for him on the path that leads to his redemption and salvation."

"As for his sins, well, I seem to remember the Psalmist saying: ‘The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.’ (51:18)”

“I know this much to be true: God works best through broken vessels. If God can work through this broken vessel named Elizabeth, picking up the broken, shard pieces of my life and mending them together again, God can do a few good works of ministry through just about anybody. Perhaps we should allow God to work on this for awhile and see where God leads and what God might have in store for the church through the broken pot with Jim McGreevey's name on it.”

Hal, another one of the old guys, looked pensively and then said, “The Rev is right. It’s like Gracie Allen used to say,

‘Never put a period where God has placed a comma.’”

From Gracie Allen’s mouth to God’s ear. THAT, my friends is a near perfect example of the New Commandment of Jesus.

God has given to Peter and Paris and James and even you and me the repentance that leads to new life. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Because it is by the love we show one another, not the judgement or the labels or the condemnation or the exclusion, but the love – even when that love leads to tough decisions to find a way to hold each other accountable for our actions while still keeping us together in the fold – the demonstration of THAT love is how we will be known as disciples of Christ Jesus, who said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Amen.


Bill said...

Dear Elizabeth, When you said, "I know this much to be true: God works best through broken vessels. If God can work through this broken vessel named Elizabeth, picking up the broken, shard pieces of my life and mending them together again, God can do a few good works of ministry through just about anybody.", I thought you were talking directly to me. Then I realized that most of the congregation has had some broken potery to deal with in their lives.

PseudoPiskie said...

Some of us have shattered into so many pieces that only God can find them all. That some would hide or further splinter or trample missing pieces into the mud is sad. I believe we humans should do all we can to help God find and restore the shards. But it ain't easy sometimes.

Father Doug said...

I am surprised that you said nothing about you and your congregation's responsibility to love the archbishop of Nigeria. I mean, I know you'd endorse that, but why wasn't it at the front of your mind? Are you preaching to create self-righteousness (At least we aren't so bigoted as that wicked archbishop!) or repentance (Yes, we do like to set ourselves up as superior to the old Nigerian codger. We really should bring ourselves down to earth.)

I sure hope it's not the former.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, Doug, here's a prime example of preaching and knowing your audience.

My congregation knows that I pray daily for Peter Jasper Akinola. Daily. Sometimes, several times a day. Depending on waht news ENS or ACN brings.

But, of course, you couldn't have known that. Which, of course, is the problem with a sermon preached to a specific audience and posting it for wider consumption.

Bill said...

Dear father doug,
Being a member of the “Congregation”, I can attest to the fact that Elizabeth often leads us in prayer, not only for Peter, but also for Rowan, and a host of others.

It did bother me that you not only mention “self-righteousness” and “repentance” but that you took that extra step to define for us, what the words meant. I thought to myself, “Self, this is a man who is impressed with himself”. Since I don’t like to make rash judgments based on a few sentences, off I went to your blog.

And what did I find? “Words, words, and more words”. I won’t get into the theology, because we disagree and I respect your right to disagree. But, the words, so many words, so many convoluted structures. I think that you write, not to impart knowledge, but rather, to impress yourself. If you want to meet a true example of “self- righteousness”, I would advise that you look no further than the nib of your quill.