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5 Easter (B) – 2015   SERMONS THAT WORK  episcopaldigitalnetwork.com

May 3, 2015
Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
The word on the street is that love is easy. We just do it. We talk about chemistry, and indeed, the scientists tell us that chemistry has something to do with physical attraction. However, we know that love goes further than physical attraction. We love our parents and our children. We love our friends. There’s a whole neglected tradition of love between friends that has nothing to do with physical attraction. If we think about it, physical attraction does not necessarily have anything to do with love.
Tomorrow is the feast of Monnica, the mother of Augustine of Hippo, the great scholar, writer, preacher. We know from Augustine’s autobiography what a pivotal role she played in his path to Christianity. Augustine must have driven his mother to distraction as he went off on tangents, had a liaison with a woman out of wedlock who bore him a son, and then, just as he set off for North Africa to begin his career as a bishop, she died. The love she had for her son was a suffering love. And therein lies our problem. Love for us is all bound up with bliss and happiness. The very idea that love includes suffering seems repugnant. Surely if suffering intrudes on love, something is wrong. Embracing suffering seems deviant: a form of masochism. Yes, love may bring us suffering, but that means, we think, that something tragic has occurred.
To our minds, loving and liking are allies. We don’t tend to like someone whose behavior offends us, or at least if that person persists in doing things that annoy us. In short, love, we think, has something to do with affinity.
Many parishes pride themselves on being very loving. When the parish is in search, it assures prospective rectors that everyone loves everyone. Just try being someone who has braved coming through those red doors, found a vacant pew, tried to negotiate the liturgy and then found his or her way to coffee hour. The visitor then sees love in action. Groups of people form impenetrable circles. Each group is made up of people long accepted in the circle, bound by an affinity made up of shared backgrounds, longevity, perhaps political beliefs and shared interests. Even if the visitor manages to gain entrance, the subjects discussed involve an element of shared experience foreign to the visitor. Love turns out to mean an easy acceptance of people we know well.
In today’s lessons we meet an uncomfortably different form of love. The lesson from Acts recounts a meeting between Philip, the Jewish convert, a deacon, with the non-Jewish Ethiopian court official. Immediately, the two men are divided by race, religion and social class. Yet Philip is instructed “by the Spirit” to approach the Ethiopian. The Eunuch is reading Isaiah, one of the passages the new Christians identified as prophecy about Jesus:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
Philip has the difficult task of explaining that the crucifixion, where Jesus was killed like an animal sacrifice, was the most sublime offering of love. How on earth was he going to do that?
To begin with, Philip has to remember that the love he has for God, is a love that acknowledges that God loves him so much that his own follies, mistakes, unkindnesses and cruelty don’t stop God piercing through into the depth of who Philip really is. Philip knows that, as the writer of the First Epistle John will write later, loving God and being loved by God demands that we love others. Philip also knows that the only hope he has to get through the barrier of differentness is to claim what happened to him when he was baptized. In baptism he was grafted into Jesus, the true vine. Jesus’ love alone enables Philip to love the Ethiopian enough to share what he has come to know, what has enabled him to become a disciple. And now that loving discipleship is going to bear fruit as he leads the Ethiopian to a pool and there to be baptized, adopted, grafted, welcomed into the Kingdom. The Queen of Ethiopia’s servant is to become the servant of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We were once given that priceless gift when those who loved us brought us to baptism. Did they also know that we were being invited into living suffering, costly love? Do we accept that we are being drawn toward the sacrifice of true love? In our natural selves, we run from relationships that turn into hurt for us. We may even physically recoil from such pain, the opposite of physical attraction. That is why we hold our hands out today for Bread and Wine, for Christ Himself. He alone can give us the strength to overcome that which separates us from that person who needs to be baptized, or needs to revisit his or her baptism, that person whose lifestyle, habits, opinions are so different from our own offends us, makes us want to walk away. Believe it or not, by being Christians we accept that our vocation in life is to bear fruit – the fruit of love – and to make disciples.
As we read in today’s epistle:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”



Exodus 32: 21-34. Luke 6: 12-26

In the lessons appointed we meet Moses and Jesus coming down mountains and selecting groups to carry out their purposes. Moses tell his lot to kill their siblings. Later Jesus will tell his lot that they are to leave their relatives and loved ones behind. In short, they are to travel light. In both cases their job description is deceptively simple. They are to get their followers to the promised land, not a land of their own choosing, one made to measure as it were, but one the Lord had chosen to give them. And notice that neither Moses nor Jesus were going to stick around while this was happening. Moses died on a mountain from which he could see the promised land. Jesus died on a “green hill” and left the disciples to it. True the called ones weren’t to be abandoned. The Israelites would have the the visible Presence in the symbols of God’s glory: the disciples would have the Holy Spirit also made manifest in fire.

The disciples, I fantasize, sat around in the upper room after the Ascension, debating their commission. They were to go tell, go baptize, do this in remembrance, love one another. But they were also to go to the utter most parts of the earth. Lacking a treasurer -Judas has resigned – they must have endlessly debated just how they could afford the camel fare to Lebanon, never mind Italy. They must have debated down sizing the project, tinkering with the structure, debating how they could preserve their positions, their roles, or whether it might be safer to stay within the structure they had, the Upper Room, and perhaps do the evangelizing by correspondence courses.

One of their problems was that of cultural diversity. Out there were Jews of different persuasions, from different places, with different language skills. Out there were Gentiles with a multitude of gods, diets, national entities and allegiances. The apostles were to herald and portray in community something quite different. Paul would later remind them that their own chosen identities had to be given up, just as the Levites had to bump off their family ties, the disciples their places, families, and emotional attachments. “Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor the boss class” Paul wasn’t talking about inclusivity as the world uses that term. He means that in the Kingdom, those things get you nowhere. What does matter is your oneness in Christ, and thus your unity in mission. The kingdom comprehends “all sorts and conditions of people,” people who have been changed: changed by faith and baptism, transformed by Christ’s continued presence particularly in Bread and Wine, filled with a love which makes human attempts at love and fidelity to be poor shades of the real thing. To enter the Promised Land everyone must learn the language, customs and rituals of that land. It’s all rather like an outsider training to be a priest in Wales.

This band of pilgrims would not create the promised land, not even by evangelical zeal, evocative worship, nor social planning. Indeed the future as described by Jesus and the writer of Revelation is bleak. “When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on earth?” And yet this band of pilgrims is to plod on, generation after generation, replicating the kingdom, honoring the true Lord, Basileus, Emperor, holding on to the notion that “he will come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall know no end.” In short the Promised Land comes from above with its king Jesus and restores the earth to its original perfection.

And this is your calling, you who are being set apart, who have been chosen. Your orders are simple, the same ones that were given to St Tielo and his friends from their mission site near this college. You are lead the people commited to your care to the Promised Land. You are to rely on the simple structure Jesus passed on. Your apostle, your bishop and you are to go tell, go baptize, do this in remembrance, love one another, in a community designed to demonstrate to the world, beset by its divisions, its individualism, its moral bewilderment, its subsequent loneliness just how humans are designed to be. The cost of your discipleship in human terms may be enormous. You will be distracted by diocesan bureaucracy, people fighting about where to place the altar, how many candlestick there should be and how to light them. You may be called away to fix toilets, unlock or lock doors, mow the grass; you can expect to be called at any time of day or night, often for trivial reasons, until you come to believe that God calls those he has a special grudge against. Your vocation may be, can be truly life-giving, as it is now in Iraq, Syria and Libya or in parishes that wear their priest out. Your ministry may look like failure, but in your suffering for the life of the world you are always accompanied by the one who promised, “Lo I am with you, even unto the consummation of the ages.”




The Rt Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon, formerly one of the Provincial Archbishops of the Church in Nigeria, and currently a diocesan bishop in that church has been appointed as the new Secretary-General of the Anglican Consultative Council, a body described as one of the “Instruments of Unity” of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Idowu-Fearon is the first African and the first non-white Euro-American to be so appointed. That in itself is a significant step towards giving the majority constituency of the Communion a major voice in the affairs of the Anglicanism world-wide.

The bishop was educated in England and Nigeria and is well known in America. He has worked heroically for understanding and reconciliation with the Moslem majority in his present diocese and in the northern regions of Nigeria. He has steadfastly supported the full participation of the African Church in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Fearon is a long time friend of the archbishop of Canterbury and preached at the consecration of Archbishop Welby as Bishop of Durham. His witness for peaceful accommodation with Moslems has been at great cost to him personally and put him in harm’s way. His loyalty to the Anglican Communion has put him at odds with the leadership of his own church and others in Africa and elsewhere who champion schism and disunity and work for the fragmentation of the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Idowa-Fearon is a traditionalist, does not support same-sex unions, but, unlike many others, believes that in baptism we are drawn together, have a common identity as children of God, and thus cannot but work together however we may disagree. We are saved by faith, trust in God, and not by the perfection of our beliefs or conduct. In short we are all sinners, saved by grace.

In a time when Anglicans, at least in the West, have been drawn into group identity, holy tribes, sure of their own perfection and ready to denounce those perceived as enemies – a precise imitation of party politics in Western democracies – there is little wonder that the bishop’s appointment has drawn the venomous ire of both left and right. A blog site named the Episcopal Cafe rushed to judgment, denouncing the bishop for, they said, supporting the criminalization of LBGT people in Nigeria. They relied on a dubious snippet from a Nigerian newspaper’s coverage of a talk the bishop gave. It seems that the Nigerian journalist responsible misquoted the bishop and failed to report the context of Bishop Joshua’s words. The bishop has now issued a statement denying the veracity of the newspaper article. One may only speculate why the Cafe rushed to judgment without checking sources. Could it be because the bishop is a Nigerian and that he does not support the present proposed policy of the Episcopal Church? Has a particular view on sexuality now become the litmus test of suitability, a core doctrine? One doesn’t expect an apology.

And from the right, Anglican TV’s commentators sneered at Bishop Fearon’s appointment, denounced him as a traitor to the Church of Nigeria because he supports the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and forecast the demise of the ACC. It seems that Bishop Joshua can’t win for losing.

Archbishop Welby had no part in Bishop Idowa-Fearon’s appointment, an appointment which was the unanimous decision of the ACC, but there can be no doubt that this is part of the archbishop’s patient endeavor to restore unity to the Anglican Communion. It may well have been an inspired appointment signaling a shift towards the non-Western churches and a recognition of their full participation in the life and work of the Communion.

It has been predicted that the Episcopal Church will withdraw funding from the ACC as a result of this appointment. Such an action would perhaps fatally cripple the Council. One can only hope and pray that all Anglicans will come together and support the new secretary-general and not give in to the impulse to withdraw into sects of self-regarding virtue on the left and right.