Saturday, July 15, 2017

From the Archives: 2012 sermon

Five years ago. My post General Convention sermon at Grace Church. Here's a highlight followed by the rush transcript:

"Christ's program of peace through nonviolent justice stood in stark contrast to the Roman Empire's program of peace through violent conquest. Compulsory heterosexuality is today's Roman Empire of sexual ideology; it seeks peace through a violence that compels conformity or death. The kingdom of God offers the hope of something different. The resurrection message of Jesus, that we have the power to redeem life in the midst of death, provides me with hope and holds out the promise of a world transformed and healed by a justice that includes abundant life, not bare life, for all."

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A very rush transcript of my sermon from this morning, a talk delivered from notes:

We've come this far by faith. We have been sustained by the Holy Spirit, emboldened by our ancestors in faith, encouraged by one another in the present, and we stand now as living examples to those descendants of ours to whom we shall be the ancestors. We have come this far by faith through the one living and true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

My name is TJ Geiger. I'm a member of this parish for those who might be visiting with us today and I was asked to lead morning prayer today and to offer a homily, in part, because I've just returned from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which is our triennial, every three-year gathering, where we as a denomination send representatives from our different dioceses, from our different geographic locations--both clergy and lay members. They work in two houses. One is the House of Bishops, and one is the House of Deputies, clergy and lay folk. And those two house decide together what will be changes in policy, what will be our preference in terms of our witness on various issues of social policy and justice.

And it's a grand ol' time, let me tell you.

I will say, it may have been hot in Indianapolis outside (105, 107, 101), but inside we had very civil, coolheaded Anglican dialogue. What's really interesting about this two-house system is--right, two-houses for a governing system. Does this sound familiar? We adopt the project from our brand new country, the United States of America. The Episcopal Church's first General Convention was shortly after the revolution. You couldn't have the Church of England in a country that had just gone to war with England. So we became the first new iteration of Anglican worship that was distinct and different from the Church of England, but still sharing a tradition of liturgy, a style of worship and system of belief with them.

So I went to General Convention not as a member of any deputation. I had no voting privileges. I went as a visitor with a group called the Episcopal Peace Fellowship's Young Adult Initiative, people 18-30 who were recruited to be part of this organization's effort to be present, to give testimony, and to track peace and justice related legislation. I'm not going to talk at length about that because I believe there's a news release that may have come your way about that, but I will say it is quite a gathering, this General Convention. It's one of the largest democratic, deliberative bodies in the world. The House of Deputies stands at almost 900 members. Try to get 900 people to agree to anything. And it happens. By God's grace and the Holy Spirit, somehow, it happens. And that group  has to be in agreement with the Bishops, too.

Some of you may have seen some news stories in the days following or during General Convention. If any of you have seen CNN's crawler headlines or stories in the New York Times--who's seen anything related to coverage from General Convention? Raise your hands. There've been a fewthings, but it's not getting a lot of coverage. I see one hand in the back. Some of the stories have been very interesting because they focus on a couple of issues--a couple of very important issues.

I'm gonna say a resolution number because that's the way people come to talk during General Convention: A049. That doesn't really say anything. Title of that was "I will bless you and you will be a blessing." More specifically it was the "same-sex blessing" ritual. Our Chruch has, for the last triennium, for the last three years, been working to develop a liturgy and a rite that the Church could authorize--not compel--but authorize for Bishops and clergy who felt called to be pastoral witnesses to people in their parishes who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and who are in couples that wish to have their life-long convents blessed and recognized by the Church. The resolution that brought that liturgy into being passed in the House of Deputies by more than 75% in both the lay order and the clergy order. The vote in the House of Bishops was 111 in favor, 41 against, with 3 abstentions. I was present in the rooms for both of those deabtes and votes. One-by-one the bishops' names were called and they were asked to respond with their vote. It was a holy moment.

This church has, for so long--some objected that this was moving too quickly, this new denominational resource, this new liturgical witness to blessings was moving to quickly. But, in fact, it has been since 1976 that the Episcopal Church has had a statement proclaiming that LGBT children of god "have a full and equal claim...upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern of the Church." And since that day, for more than 35 years, we have been wrestling and wrangling and wringing our hands and wondering together about what does it mean to become a truly radically welcoming place, a place where we truly live into our greeting that the signs proclaim, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you." Do we, really? We want to, and we have been trying to. And now we have taken a step toward radical welcome, radical hospitality and inclusion of all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

At General Convention, anyone who has any kind of standing can testify on legislation.  So I put my name on a list. I put my name on a list to testify in favor of A049--the innocuously labeled resolution. And I want to share with you a piece of the testimony I declared in the presence of the packed ballroom. This was a place that was filled to the brim, standing room only, for people wanting to be part of this conversation. There was a speaker from the Diocese of Central Florida, a rector, who spoke at one point, saying that she worried about passing this resolution and authorizing these liturgies because she feared that Christians in Muslim countries would become victims of violence becasue of what Christians in the United States were doing. It was a bizarre argument. I tried to figure out what she was saying, but I and many other people had great difficulty. I opened my comments by responding to her:

"I great you with peace and grace. When beliefs create a culture of death, a culture that makes suicide seem like an option preferable to life, beliefs need to change. In response to the testimony from one speaker from Central Florida about the fear of Christian deaths in other countries if this resolution were passed, people are already dying.  People, LGBT youth, LGBT couples are dying and being killed  because of the beliefs operative in this culture about LGBT folks.

"Our holy scriptures contain both God's story unfolding in the world as well as the prejudices of our ancient ancestors in faith.

"Christ's program of peace through nonviolent justice stood in stark contrast to the Roman Empire's program of peace through violent conquest. Compulsory heterosexuality is today's Roman Empire of sexual ideology; it seeks peace through a violence that compels conformity or death. The kingdom of God offers the hope of something different. The resurrection message of Jesus, that we have the power to redeem life in the midst of death, provides me with hope and holds out the promise of a world transformed and healed by a justice that includes abundant life, not bare life, for all."

So those were some of the words I shared with that committee and the folks gathered to consider what is right and appropriate for us to do in this context. Another speaker from Tanzania, the only person-of-color to testify to this resolution, had come from Africa, and his words were these: In your context, in the Episcopal, United States context, this move makes perfect sense. Do not let your brothers and sisters in other parts of the Anglican Communion hold you up. In your context, this makes perfect sense. And that is something I find really compelling about Anglican worship, which is that it is something that happens int he vernacular of the people, it is something unfolds in a conversation and context. And we have been having this conversation for so long. It was time to move forward, and we did.

This was not the only resolution we considered. There were hundreds of others. But one of the most exciting moments that also bears witness to the transformative moment that we as a Church live in and are trying to live into was an omnibus resolution about considering and reconsidering the very structure of the church. This was a piece that came forward from the committee on Structure, saying we want to create a task force that is diverse, that brings in people who have long been members of the church and those who are relatively new to the church, those who are long-invested structures of church governance and those who have very little experience with the structures of church governance, and we want to see what they come up with. Nothing is off the table. Nothing is off limits. They are going to be considering and trying to come up with recommendations for what it means to be and to do Episcopal life in this context, in this time, at this moment. There was lots of debate and discussion. But the tone of the House of Deputies, that almost 900-member body, was one of guarded hope. And when it came time to vote, Bonnie Anderson, then-President of the House of Deputies--we have a new president now, Gay Jennings, who has roots in Central New York--the President asked for the yes votes and there was a thunderous sound. It filled the room. And then when she asked for the no votes, there was nothing. There was total silence. A resolution calling for a task force that could conceivably re-imagine entirely the structure under which our church operates passed unanimously in an almost 900-member body of people who come from every kind of theological and political persuasion the Anglican Communion can hold. And the whole room recognized the power of that moment, recognized the enormity of what had just happened.In an amazing break from the decorum and control and rules of proper authority that guide that body generally, there was spontaneous applause and shouting.

It was a remarkable moment that speaks to the fact that we are not a dying denomination. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. There is a renewed Episcopal effort at work in the world and Anglican life and Episcopal polity is being revitalized. I think Jesus called it resurrection. So when you see headlines in places like the Washington Post opinion page where a headline asked, "What ails the Episcopal Church?" or in the New York TImes where they asked "Can Liberal Religion be Saved?"--know that we don't need saving. We've already been saved by the One who the Father sent to proclaim reconciliation to all people, among all people, and to God. We have been saved, and we are sharing the good news, the message with the world. At the very end of General Convention, our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori gave a bold invitation to the world to watch out. She said, "Watch out world. We're coming." And we are. We are bringing our Anglican identity, our Episcopalian polity, and our beautiful, beautiful tradition of liturgy and worship. These are our gifts to share with the world.

And I just want to think about, in closing, our gospel message today about John the Baptizer. You know, I couldn't entirely get out of talking about one of the readings for today, right? These are hard texts. I mean, seriously. But I want us to think about that image of John the Baptizer being beheading. This is not a beheading moment we are in. It is a moment to behold and to know what God is doing and to listen to the whispers of the Spirit inviting us to do a new thing, to be a new people, to be fresh expressions of God's kingdom in this time, in this place. This is our work. And I'll also remind you that the story of John the Baptist's death is not the end of that gospel. The gospel goes on and so do we. We will go on and on and in the fullness of time we will bring God's kingdom in glory and peace.

Now, by way of closing, I'd like to invite you to do with me something I encountered during one of the worships at General Convention. One of the speakers, Stephanie Spellers, began a sermon the way I'd like to end this one, with a singing prayer. Now, I'll ask your indulgence. I don't do singing very well, but I find it such a useful thing. So, if you will, listen as you are able: Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on us. (Join me.)
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on us.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on us.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on us.

Amen.

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