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Sunday, August 10, 2008
" . . .why do you doubt?" Matthew 14:22-33
"You of little faith, why did you doubt?" Matthew 14:22-33
XIII Pentecost August 10, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
rector and pastor
This morning’s gospel scene is quite dramatic. Jesus is trying to get a little quiet time in prayer and meditation, but it is not to be so. There is storm and tempest and even ghosts on water. The disciples are in a panic, Peter almost drowns and Jesus has to save the day.
Well, even so, I have to tell you, this gospel passage is not as dramatic as the past three weeks have been for me. Trust me. Jesus never had to contend with my dysfunctional family during a funeral service!
And, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the once--upon-a-decade Lambeth Conference – or, what I like to call, “My Big Fat Anglican Family Reunion.”
Who in their right mind would plan a family reunion once a decade to last for three entire weeks and not expect there to be at least a few problems? Whoever it was that said “Fish and relatives after three days stink” had attended at least one family reunion in her life.
I must admit, I haven’t yet made any more sense of my mother’s sudden death on July 29th than I have of the events of the Lambeth Conference. Both seem, even with almost a week’s distance from them both, a bit surreal in the aftermath.
Someone once said that the British come to a meeting looking for resolution, Americans come looking for a process, and Africans come looking for a sign. All of that was at play in Canterbury There seemed to be two Lambeth Conferences going on at the same time. Bishop Mark Beckwith called them “right brain and left brain” conferences
There was the Lambeth Conference where the bishops tried to be the church, or the leaders of the Anglican church at bible study and prayer, Eucharistic worship and discussion, which they called ‘Indaba groups’ – a Zulu word meaning "important conference".
From all reports, from the bishops' blogs as well as on the ground, the bishops were firmly committed to listening to and hearing each other’s stories, building relationships, and growing in community. The overwhelming sense was that there was a heartfelt desire to accommodate the diversity of cultural contexts and theological thought in order to keep the Anglican Communion together.
Then, there was the Lambeth Conference that was the Windsor Continuation Process, a group of three retired bishops and a few other highly conservative folk who are trying to develop and Anglican Covenant.
They were, by sharp contrast, harsh and judging, punitive and restrictive. They “suggested” – because neither they nor the Archbishop of Canterbury have the authority to enforce – three moratoria: the blessing of the sacred covenants made by same sex couples, the election and consecration of homosexual bishops and the uninvited incursion of diocesan boundaries by other bishops.
To be quite honest, I find most of it enormously embarrassing – a bit like waking up from a bad dream to discover that my parents really aren’t my parents; rather, my birth parents were more like my batty Aunt Mildred and Uncle Ralph with bad teeth who were both of singularly odious character and ill temperament.
I became an Episcopalian in 1977, having been formally received by Bishop Frederic Barton Wolfe at the Cathedral of St. Luke, Portland, Maine. I became an Episcopalian not just because of the beautiful liturgy and inspiring music, although there was that. I became an Episcopalian because I thought this was, at last, a place were I could worship God and love Jesus like a grown up.
The Episcopal Church demanded that I have a mature faith. It required that I use my intellect as well as my heart and soul. It was a church that insisted that I think as well as feel during liturgy, bringing my whole body, mind and spirit to church.
This was a church that didn’t tell me what to believe, but rather challenged me to explore my belief within the context of the rich Anglican tradition of diverse theological thought and embrace a position as my own.
However, the Episcopal Church has taken bold strides for gospel justice in the last few decades, taking leadership in the movement for Civil Rights, the Rights of Women and LGBT people.
This has become part of a perfect storm of controversy in the Anglican Communion which, as near as I can tell, is one part deep theological division over the role of the church in the rights of women and homosexual people; one part identity crisis in which the boundaries of traditional Anglican tolerance and accommodation have been pushed and challenged; and one part an as old-as-time struggle for power and authority, which have always been core to the centuries-old “Anglican experiment”.
I am sad to say that we are not also helped by the leadership of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is, undoubtedly, a deeply spiritual mystic and a noble learned scholar, but he is decidedly not a leader.
In trying to keep the WWAC together, admittedly not an easy task, he has tried to accommodate the strident and sometimes very noisy voices who claim to represent the ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘true faith’ of the church.
I believe he sees himself as trying to hold onto that middle ground of Anglicanism, the classic 'via media' between the catholicity of Holy Rome, the traditional orthodoxy of Blessed Constantinople and the independent Protestantism that was birthed in Geneva. Unfortunately, when he tries to play the politician, he takes his eyes off Jesus, and like Peter, he starts to sink like a stone. “Lord, help us all!”
If I might, I’d like to offer a suggestion of my own. Here’s where I think my now sainted Mother might be able to help Rowan.
My mother had a lot of what has come to be known as “Mommyisms”. These are the sayings which mothers of a certain generation have that are like parables or Buddhist Dhamma; something to think about and meditate on, like “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
My mother had two favorites. The first was “Your friends are your teeth while you got them.”
That one was troubling, at first, because it sounded like a Job-esque lament about how all friends ultimately betray and one is left at the end of life alone.
I have come to understand that my mother meant that friendships need to be tended to and cared for or, like teeth, they might fall subject to decay and you just might lose them.
The second one was much more troubling to me, and I confess I didn’t understand it until I saw Rowan Williams in action. My mother would often say, “If you bend over too far, your rear end shows.” (I know, right?)
This one puzzled me until I finally realized that my mother was saying that accommodation can reach a point where you are in jeopardy of, well, making an ass of yourself.
I must admit that it gives me enormous delight to consider the possibility that, when the Archbishop of Canterbury is in prayer and calls upon the saints for guidance, my mother is now able to whisper her words of wisdom in his ear.
I have a wonderful image of Rowan, emerging from prayer, shaking his head and saying to his wife, “Jane, I just got the strangest revelation. I don't know what to make of it.”
I suspect my mother delights in that, too. She couldn’t get her own daughter to listen to her when she was alive. To be able now to whisper in the ears of Popes and other religious leaders is exactly the kind of compensation and reward in her death that my mother hoped and prayed for in her life.
The sudden loss of my mother has compounded my sense of the possible loss of Mother Church. It has been a perfect storm of its own, testing my faith.
But I have come to see that the time has come and now is for us to grow up. It’s time for us to stop bending over to accommodate and stand up straight and tall as Episcopalians and claim our place as mature citizens of the Anglican Communion. We need to keep our eyes neither on Canterbury or Lagos, Nigeria, but on Jesus. Our authority as a church comes from Him.
The Anglican Communion will weather this storm, or it will not. That is a path over which I have no control.
I do believe that the leadership of The Episcopal Church will continue to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus as we understand it. We will continue to work for the radical inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments of the church because that, my friends, IS orthodox theology.
The eyes of the world are upon us. We are not the only religious denomination in the midst of this struggle. We are far from alone in the boat. We are not the only ones who find ourselves in the storm.
Jesus is saying to us, as he did to Peter, the rock upon which he built His church, “Come.” We only need hear that call to find our way to the Peace of God which passes all human understanding.