I speak to you today in the name of the One “whose power at work in us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Like those picking up the remnants from the feast for the 5,000, I’m still piecing together the results of all that happened at this year’s 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. There were hundreds of Proposed Resolutions, and then more hundreds of amendments, some adopted, some not, many of them after hours of testimony in committees and on the floor of the House of Deputies and in the House of Bishops. It seemed nearly impossible to keep up on all the action, or to even follow specific issues.
This morning’s lectionary reminds me of a couple of important moments: the listening session in pastoral response to the #MeToo movement, and the opening sermon of our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry. For today our readings open with an account of what happens when someone in power — in this case King David, perhaps still grieving privately over the death of his beloved Jonathan — abuses their power and harms others. And our Gospel shows us another way, one suggested by a child, to focus on the possible and not the impossible, on transformation and not preseveration, on Love and not dominance.
In our opening collect — and the collects of the Episcopal tradition contain such beauty — we prayed for God’s mercy to increase and multiply, so that we would not lose those things that are eternal. David forgot — in the midst of war and politics — that his love for Jonathan and for God was eternal; David got sidetracked by worldly power, thinking it would heal his wounded soul by raping and murdering to add to his “temporal” things. How many people are wounded, injured, and oppressed because someone else in power could not find healing?
On the evening of July 4th — when many people, including myself, were still arriving to the Convention — the House of Bishops held a “listening session”, as dozens of women, clergy and lay women, shared testimony about being abused, physically and emotionally, and discriminated against because of their gender, by clergy and lay people alike. One of the documents that supported this discussion was a report called “Why Gender Still Matters”, prepared by the Rev. Paula Nesbitt, PhD, for three years the chairperson of the Executive Council Committee on the Status of Women.
Dr. Nesbitt’s report revealed not only that women clergy still receive consistently lower pay and placement than their male peers, but that women in the church still “report sexual harassment, and inequality in the workplace by peers, Episcopal leadership and those they serve.” How many of us have long thought of David and Bathsheba as a “love story”, ignoring the abuses of power that began it?
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians tells about a different kind of Power — through the Spirit of the indwelling Christ, rooting and grounding our hearts in Love. Love. This of course has been the main thrust of recent messages from our Presiding Bishop. Not only when he preached at the Royal Wedding, and here at St. Mark’s Cathedral, but at the opening of the Convention in Austin.
The power of love is a limitless, enduring power. Love imagines what could be, rather than insisting on what can’t be; it believes the best, rather than fearing the worst. In our culture today, to love — with abandon and generosity — may be one of the most resistant acts of all. When we chose to love, we can sometimes expect the greatest ridicule, the greatest opposition, from the powers of the world.
Notice whose voice suggested possibility in today’s Gospel — a child. Someone untrained, not yet indoctrinated in the limits of an institution, of how things are “supposed to be”. He simply offered what he had, and believed in the best. And Jesus — who is Love — he increased and multiplied this offering with Grace and mercy. And it was more than enough to feed everyone. And when those in power sought then to make Jesus “one of them”, he refused and instead he drew apart. What strength that must have taken! For institutions have an immense power, an immense pull. It’s what they do: their primary purpose is to preserve themselves. And yet Jesus asks us, today and every day, to let go. As Bishop Curry preached, to let go and “fall into the arms of Love”.
Of course, it does not always seem — and sometimes is not —safe to simply fall, to give up our agency, especially not to another person. Humans are fallible, after all, and can give in to the temptations to abuse their worldly power. But Jesus — the Son of Man — is not simply a human being, he is the One, the Living God. He created us, and knows us and loves us like no other. With Jesus, it is safe. Even to walk across stormy seas. “Do not be afraid,” he tells the apostles and thus speaks to us “it is I!” Actually, the translation is more correctly, “I Am.” In that moment of confusion, Jesus identifies himself as the great “I am”, the Lord with power over the waters of chaos.[i] Power to heal and to make whole.
These two stories — of the feeding of multitudes and the walking on water — are also paired in the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew. In times when the powers of the world are causing great need, pain and confusion, Jesus calls out to us over the tumult, asking us to follow and to trust him, to believe in the possibility of Love to multiply God’s Grace, for this is the power that will endure, above all and amidst all. (Hymn #550, Verses 1, 4 & 5, poetry by Cecil Frances Alexander) I’ll conclude with words from another woman poet, Mary Oliver: “you can have the other words — chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take Grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it.” AMEN
[i] The New Interpreters Study Bible, Excurses, Page 1919