Monday, March 30, 2009

Inclusivity for Northwest Arkansas...

Father Roger Joslin of All Saint's Episcopal Church gave a wonderful sermon last Sunday. Here is a snippet:

"We worship a risen Christ, a Christ lifted up from the earth, so that all people may be drawn to him. All people means married and divorced, black and white and brown, people with documents and without, gay and straight, clean and unkempt, well fed and hungry, the troubled and the content, those certain in their faith and those full of doubt, every saint and every sinner.

I have a vision, a vision of all the people who have been rejected by the religious institutions in Benton County arriving at our door on Sunday morning. I imagine all those who feel like they don’t belong elsewhere, who have not been accepted just like they are, saying to the usher who greets them at the door, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” And I imagine the usher, surveying this crowd of hungry people, this enormous crowd of troubled people, filling the parking lot and spilling over into the streets, and I hear our usher telling them, ”Welcome, you have come to the right place.”

And a voice from heaven, that some will call thunder, and some will call the voice of angels, will assure us that in this act of welcoming compassion, the name of God is glorified. "

That is my dream as well, but not just for All Saints. This is what the Episcopal Church has come to represent for me. A place where people come to see Jesus and where God meets us where we are. To me the Episcopal Church has embodied what I have always believed the Gospel message was about: that we are all sinners, but that we are all also reconciled to the Father through Christ. The Jesus I know shared a meal with the "sinners and tax collectors", the most reviled of Jewish society. He risked his own status in Jewish society to touch and heal the "unclean", those cast out to the margins. This Jesus wept at the news that his friend had died. I can't reconcile him with the stern disciplinarian most churches in Northwest Arkansas make him out to be.

And maybe I shouldn't. I mean think about it. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says "You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also." We believe in a Triune God who is at the same time the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If Jesus was so inclusive of others, then it would go without saying that God the Father is the same.

My favorite quote from the Gospels is the Greatest Commandment. It is quoted in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 10. It simply reads, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." A wise man once told me, "once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times something is up." To have this same command quoted in all three Synoptic Gospels means it is very important. In fact, I would say the entire Gospel, or Evangelion hinges on this imperative. Later on he says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Does this sound like a authoritarian dictator to you?

As we look toward the future of the Episcopal Church, we should remember this. We all should remember that when we say Jesus came to "set the captives free", those captives are all around us. They are captives of a theology of hatred and punishment that has no place in our theology. If we are to look after "the least of these" we need to welcome them into our midst. Only then will the Father be glorified.


Lauralew said...

Wonderful piece. I'm a refugee from organized religion who almost gave up altogether then found the Episcopal Church. One gets tired of hearing how lousy one is--but Genesis also says that God saw his creation and it was good. Are we not God's creation? I like the fact that in TEC God's love is emphasized and we are invited into that love. That did and does much more than the threat of eternal hellfire ever did. Relationship with God is the sweetest.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I love this little one! So thoughtful and reflecting.