|We are Brothers and Sisters|
September 21, 1997
You will know that Steven and I travelled to Toronto last week. Among our activities was attending the monthly evening Eucharist organized by the Toronto chapter of Integrity.
It was a great joy to be there. Although I am a member of Integrity/Toronto, and a frequent contributor to their newsletter, I have never before been able to attend this monthly event. It was a great pleasure to get reacquainted with old friends, friends I have met at the Church of the Redeemer, at Christos MCC, and/or during Pride Week festivities.
This particular evening, something special happened. Our celebrant was Paul Feheley, who is vice-president of Fidelity, that single-issue group within the Anglican Church of Canada opposed to any change in the Church's traditional teachings about homosexuality.
As we waited for the community to gather, we were all in a state of anxious and somewhat fearful anticipation. What was about to happen? What were we all doing here? The service, which had been scheduled for 7:30 p.m., started "promptly" at 7:45 -- "Gay Standard Time" as I explained to Father Paul.
And then something quite magical happened. Father Paul donned the rainbow- coloured shawl, and led us through this celebration of the Lord's Supper. It was a grace-filled experience.
I was greatly moved by Paul's homily. In fact, after the service I introduced myself, explained a bit about our Diocesan Task Group, and asked if we could distribute copies of his homily at Synod. He graciously gave his permission. When I returned home last evening, the copy of his homily, which is attached to this note, was in my e-mail box.
In sharing this with you, I would like to share some personal feelings as well. Paul's homily very well describes how I personally view our work on the Diocesan Task Group. As I explained to PADS on June 10, I do not view our mandate as political. I have been a political animal all of my life. I have kept tallies of those battles I have won or lost. I do not do so on this issue facing the Church. I refuse to do so. We do not have opponents. We have only brothers and sisters struggling, like we are, to discern truth and our mutual calling to be bearers of God's word in our society.
Not everyone in our group, I expect, will agree with this approach.
Over the last few months, I have assumed a certain leadership and spokesmanship role within our group. I explain over and over again, when discussing our program, that most often I am speaking only for myself and not on behalf of the group. I explain that we have no formal leadership structure, that we have elected no one.
If anyone thinks that my approach is not appropriate, that I am too "conciliatory" or whatever, I will gladly step back. Leadership on this issue is not something I seek: in fact, it scares the beejeezus out of me. I have stepped forward simply because I am able. I am equally able to step back and cede my place to someone else.
Speaking with Father Paul following the service, telling him how moved I was by these words, I mentioned this phrase which I heard recently in the context of the national unity debate: "Canada is a country which works marvellously in practice, but unfortunately not in theory."
It made me think, I said to Paul, about the Church we both love so dearly. The Anglican Church works well in practice, but sometimes not so well in theory.
Perhaps we need a little less theology, and a little more loving following the example of Christ.
I am happy to be able to share Father Paul's words with all of you. Think of it simply as a Sunday evening meditation.
|A homily, by The Rev. Canon A. Paul Feheley,
preached on the occasion of the Holy Eucharist among members of Integrity
Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Standing here at this time and in this place reminds me a little of being a mosquito in a nudist colony. You don't know quite where to begin.
In a recent conversation with a bishop he told me of an article he had read about the revival of preaching. People were looking again to the pulpit for spiritual direction and guidance. The article mentioned that it is not just the southern Baptists who offer comments such as Hallelujah and Praise the Lord during sermons. People also feel they have a freedom that if the preacher is going too far in interpretation they can offer comments like "Help him, Jesus, help him". Whether at the end of this sermon you say "Hallelujah" or "Help him, Jesus" I'll leave to your discretion.
I come this evening with the prayers of Fidelity and the members of the Advisory Board of my parish, St. George's Memorial in Oshawa. Last night I shared with them that I was coming to celebrate at this service and they asked me to bring to you their greetings. Early this morning after Matins my Lay Reader inquired "Why are you going there?"
In trying to answer his question, and perhaps yours, I should begin with saying what this celebration of the Eucharist is not - we can then talk positively about what this night is for.
I do not believe that the night is about convincing each other. You and I through books, speeches, sermons and courses have heard often about the what and the why the other side believes. It has not convinced us nor will this commemoration of the Lord's Supper. There is also a temptation which we all need to avoid - that is to pull out biblical verses and have a duel with them to see who can outlast the other in biblical righteousness. Each of us may want to look, and act, as if we have a golden tower of truth around us which is impregnable, strong and mighty. At the other end of the spectrum is a willingness to sacrifice everything for some sort of compromise. None of these positions are consistent with a faith in Jesus Christ. A blindness that says this is the only way or a false unity not based on truth will never stand the test of discovering the mind of Christ.
I'm still haunted by my Lay reader's question - "Why are you going there?"
One of the images that helps us arrive at an answer comes from the film Baptism - a Sacrament of Belonging. In the movie a young Mexican boy is the only survivor of a house fire that kills his family. As an orphan he moves from village to village until he stands at a fence outside an orphanage. Through the chain link he sees boys and girls playing and laughing and desperately wants to belong to that community. The priest in charge talks with him and learns of his story and then goes into the orphanage and shares it with the other children. The priest asks if they are willing to accept him and they cry "Oh, yes ... oh, yes, Father." They all nod in agreement. The priest brings the boy in and places him before the community. There is a stillness and silence. [No one had seen the boy. He had been badly disfigured by the fire which killed his family.] And then finally one boy moves. He says to him "you are my brother" takes him by the hand and moves into the community. It is an image we can both learn from.
The truth, I believe, is that at times both you and I have acted in a way that says you are not my brother or my sister. We've been far too content in leaving someone outside because they do not think or act or believe as we do.
This Eucharist is about saying we are brothers and sisters. It is as if we are removing bricks from our towers so that we can stretch our hands through and reach each other. This night is about celebrating what we share together within the diversity of the church we love.
Tonight, the challenge we all face is to answer the question from Mark's gospel where Jesus says to Peter "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus had heard the generalizations but now he needed to hear if they, the disciples, had discovered the truth. Peter's answer shows the convictions and depth of his faith. His words and language are not ambiguous. He names Jesus the Christ.
You and I need to have a greater care and sensitivity about the language we use and the names by which we call each other. Instead of struggling to see if we are worthy to bear the name Christian we always want to quantify it somehow. He's a liberal catholic. She's a conservative Christian. She's a revisionist. He's a fundamentalist and on it goes. We never use these descriptive words in a complimentary fashion but rather to downgrade and diminish the other person.
Jesus wanted Peter to speak plainly, honestly, and with conviction. He can expect no less from us. Think of the language and the names by which we call each other.
No sooner is that high moment of the confession of Peter achieved than a debate begins about what that means. Peter rebukes Christ. Christ rebukes Peter. Among the disciples Peter must admit that he is wrong and learn from this confrontation with Christ the true and honest way.
You and I both know that we are right in our thinking of what the church should do regarding all the questions about homosexuality. I wonder if we have the same conviction to admit that we could be wrong. How far are we prepared to risk our understanding of the truth? How open are we to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us? Too few of us are prepared to risk. We think our goal is victory when it must be the pursuit of truth.
You and I owe God and each other a commitment to be open to hearing and seeing new truth, to risk our deepest presuppositions to know, believe, and understand that our thinking can and should be altered to the mind of Christ.
In an address to the clergy of our Diocese, John Westerhoff, an American Episcopal priest and teacher told the story of an invitation he had to go to Ireland. Twenty Protestant and twenty Roman Catholic people gathered for a conference in a border town. They came from all walks of life, clergy and lay, men, women and children. Westerhoff had been invited to lead the worship and prepared a number of worship services and addresses. When he got there he discovered that he couldn't use them because they had come from a Protestant text. In consultation with the people he wondered if he could read Biblical passages but they couldn't agree on which version of the Bible to use. A compromise was struck that he could tell Biblical stories.
After a number of days at the conference he told the story of the woman touching the hem of Jesus' garments. Not long after that an elderly Roman Catholic monk came and sat on the floor and then a young Protestant child came. The child leaned over and gently stroked the face of the old monk three times. "Nothing happened" he said, "nothing happened." Everyone was confused until the young boy said "my father said that if I touched you I would die but nothing happened." Amidst a multitude of tears the old monk hugged the young boy and said "yes, everything has happened and everything has changed."
Where are you in this story - sitting on the side looking in or sitting on the floor being prepared to risk?
A few years ago the composer Dan Schutte wrote a piece that had been commissioned by Dignity/USA for its 10th Biennial Convention in Washington, DC called Pilgrim Companions. The words of the refrain are
Drawn by a dream, lured by a love
I know that for some of us that song has a very special meaning. May I also suggest that it is a fitting title as you and I share in our quest for mutual understanding. As pilgrims we are seekers and as companions we are friends. We share so much - for all we come to the table of the Lord with needs, hopes, fears and dreams.
There will be, I suspect, those on the extreme of each side who dismiss the other but we are called to a more excellent way. The way of truth, love, justice and community.
That way will take us deep into the knowledge that what lies before us according to our Lord is the Cross and the Glory.
For Pilgrim Companions - brothers and sisters in Christ - nothing else will do.
Thank you for the privilege of coming among you this night.
text © 1997 Father Paul Feheley