Sunday March 1, 2015
4:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Blake Rider
Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of New York
The Church is...One
This afternoon we’ve been called to reflect on the Church “as one”.
Scripture tells us that when Jesus was preparing his followers for their life and ministry together, after his death and resurrection that his prayer was “that they all may be one, even as I and the Father are one.” Sadly, the church has not lived up to that prayer of Jesus, from the very first months and years and decades and centuries - nor in the millenniums since.
The followers of Jesus in Jerusalem were at odds with Paul. The gatherings of believers that Paul left scattered around the Mediterranean basin were in disagreement with each – and even within their own communities.
There was no sense in those very early days that all those who believed in Jesus were of one faith, one baptism. We know that the Nicene Creed was not composed to be a great statement of the faith once delivered. Instead it was an agreement knocked together in smoke filled backrooms that make Tammany Hall look like a kindergarten outing.
The Roman Church collapsed just as the Empire did. The divide between the Western Church and what became known as the Orthodox family of churches is now over 1,000 years deep and wide.
Reformations; Counter-Reformations; Lutherans – now divided among themselves; Anglicans – we are divided among ourselves; Presbyterians are divided among themselves; It’s then same with Baptists; the Methodists are on the verge; Pentecostals, seemingly by their DNA tend to not get along with each other; Oral Roberts; Billy Graham; Pat Robertson; Joel Osteen; Black Christian America; White Christian America.
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Thomas Cahill writes of this sad state of affairs in his book Desire of the Everlasting Hills:
“There is no hatred so intense as odium theologicum – hatred for those nearby who are religiously similar to oneself but nonetheless different. Through the ages, Christians, for instance, have been far more hateful to one another, and to Jews and Muslims, than they have ever been to Buddhists and Hindus.
Many of us here today have probably encountered a young girl named Scout, her brother Jem, their father Atticus, and their little friend Dill. Either in a book, or in a movie.
You might also remember that odd – thought to be dangerous character in To Kill a Mockingbird - who actually was keeping a watchful eye over those children. Boo Radley.
In the story, Boo and his family were looked down upon for any number of reasons. They were poor – they appeared to be especially unsophisticated, even for 1950’s Maycomb, Alabama.
But Harper Lee gives us another reason to help us understand why this family are considered to be such out-casts. They were foot-washing Baptists.
And that’s a curious thing.
Had John’s Gospel been the only account of the life of Jesus that was handed down to us by the early church, we would all be washing each other’s feet every Sunday. In John’s Gospel – there is no Last Supper. No words of institution from Jesus upon which to base the Eucharist. No bread, no wine. There were words of institution, that we should follow his example and do as he did for us, and, wash each other’s feet.
And yet – Harper Lee reminds us of the sin of odium theologicum. Hatred for those who are religiously very similar to us but nonetheless different.
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So how do we discern a way forward? How do we put down the sin of hatred of one Christian for another?
The Episcopal Church has been involved in just about every ecumenical movement that has come down the pike. We have discerned a common mission in the United States with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and with the Mennonites. At this summer’s General Convention of the Church, we might get there with the Methodists.
It has taken the church universal nearly 2,000 years to get into this mess. It will likely be the work of decades if we are untangle Gordian knot in which we have worked ourselves.
Pope Francis has perhaps shed a ray of hope. Last year, a Vespers service marking the Week of Christian Unity was held in Rome, attended by representatives from Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Roman Catholic of course, and other denominations.
“Unity will not come about as a miracle at the very end,” the Pope said. “Rather unity comes about in journeying.” If we do not walk together, if we do not pray for one another, if we do not collaborate in the many ways that we can in this world for the people of God,” the Pope said, “then unity will not come about.”
That’s good advice.
In the Gospel that was read this afternoon Jesus said those who do the will of God, are members of his family. Walking together. Praying together. Collaborating together. Sounds like the work that God has given us to do.
May God, who has given us the vision and the charge to do this work, grant us the power, through the Holy Ghost, to accomplish it.
Please pray with me:
Almighty and eternal God, we ask that you fill us with desire to know and to worship you as one church. May all see in your church the living and abiding presence of your love, that we may work together to bring about the desire of your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ when he prayed that we all may be one. This, and all things, we ask through your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and who reigns with you, one God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.