Pentecost 9 (C)
July 17, 2016
These have been a confusing, difficult, and sad couple of weeks. The world is in such turmoil. Britain votes to leave Europe, suicide killings in Istanbul and then the military coup there, the killings in France; in the U.S.A. the bewildering revival of racial tensions on top of the recent shootings in Orlando. Moreover, this week I came across a review of a book by William J. Perry, the US secretary of Defence from 1994 to 1997. Perry’s book is called My Journey at the Nuclear Brink. In it, he writes bluntly, “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.” Then of course there was the fiasco at General Synod last Monday which seemed to reflect, instead of resist, the confusion around us.
I was not present at General Synod, but Esther-Ruth Teel was, so perhaps we can ask her to clarify for us exactly what happened. What I understand is, that when the initial vote was taken on the question of changing the marriage canon of our church to include same-sex marriages, it appeared as though the ‘no’ vote had won by the slimmest of margins. Immediately following the vote, the Chancellor of the Synod (David Jones) announced that “the marriage canon does not contain a definition of marriage or a prohibition against solemnizing same-sex marriages.” If he is correct, it is difficult to understand what the vote was all about in the first place. In any case, as soon as the Chancellor made this announcement, several diocesan bishops rose to say that despite the ‘no’ vote, they would begin to perform same-sex marriages in their dioceses. The next day, a recount discovered that a vote was miscounted, pushing the majority from the ‘no’ to the ‘yes’ side; therefore permitting a change in the marriage canon after all. Although most of us, at least in this parish, I am sure will be pleased with the end result, it is impossible to be pleased with the whole process. Love and order were not seen walking hand in hand.
It just seems like the fear and divisiveness infecting the world was also infecting our Church. As a friend of mine said, at the very moment in history when we need most to be working together to meet the incredibly pressing problems facing the world, we are degenerating into tribalism. How else to understand Trump and his wall, or the Brexit vote, let alone ISIS and the mess in Syria. Tribalism: when fear polarizes issues until opposing groups become blinded by ideological conviction; that ‘it’s us against them.’ This was on display at Synod when we allowed our affinities to trump order and due process. When this happens, things begin to break apart; we to lose the ability to communicate across the boundaries, and finger-pointing and hardness of heart take hold.
I am saddened because my hope is that the Church will model for the world a different way of being, will model community across boundaries, model love even for enemies. But this is not what I heard happening at Synod. I didn’t hear it in the vitriolic language of some of the ‘no’ vote; I didn’t hear it in the ‘we’ll take the matter into our own hands’ attitude of some of the ‘yes’ vote. In the face of all the destructive forces working to destabilize the world, the Church may be the one source of light and hope, but only if it can learn to be true to its own faith, the faith we heard St. Paul articulate this morning in his letter to the Colossians:
Christ is the image of the invisible God . . . and all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hang together . . . For it was the Father’s good pleasure for Christ to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
In Him, in Christ Jesus, all things hang together. Christ is the Logos, the word, the way, the fulfillment of the Law of God. This is the faith we have inherited – and if we cannot witness this faith faithfully, then we are failing our commission: to be a light for a dark world.
So what are we to do? Let us turn our attention to today’s Gospel, the story of Martha and Mary. Martha scolds her sister for not helping her in the kitchen, for sitting around at Jesus feet. Jesus in turn rebukes Martha, “Martha, you are worried about so many things; but only one thing is necessary; and Mary has chosen the better part.” Of course, Jesus knows full well that a household must be run, that there are things to get done; that the household of the Church needs attending to. But he is warning us that before we begin to do the chores, before we presume to set the house in order, before we roll up our sleeves to tackle the problems and injustices besetting us – oh and long before we line up behind this or that ideological camp: left or right, conservative or liberal, gay-rights or ‘moral majority,’ we need to sit at His feet. Especially when we are convinced that our way of thinking is the way of Christ – we must sit still, sit in silence, at his feet. We must learn that it is not in adhering to this or that idea about what it means to follow Christ that we adhere most faithfully to Christ. He is the image of the invisible God: beyond our knowledge, beyond our ideas. We follow him by loving him, not by loving our ideas about him. And it is only loving him, loving the one who is the centre of the world, that the world will begin to be transformed – transformed not, I am quite sure, in line with this or that idea we hold, but transformed by and for the Love.
So I am asking this of us, Christ’s Church: that before we act, we sit at his feet, and in silence acknowledge Him to be the Lord, the centre in which all things hold together. After this, it will no doubt be time to make decisions and to act. And when we do come to make decisions, no doubt our disagreements will persist. But there will be this difference: we will no longer identify Jesus with our ideas about Jesus; nor will we identify ourselves with those ideas as if our salvation depended upon them. If I quieten my beliefs about what it means to be a disciple of Christ in order to sit silently at the feet of Christ, when I sit together with my enemy at his feet, then we can no longer define ourselves as enemies, by who or what we are ‘against.’ Our ideas, our ideological commitments, may continue to separate us, but we will know that it is not after all in our ideas about Christ that all things ultimately “hang together,” but that it is in Him that all things are reconciled.
In a world threatened by fear and tribal ideologies, the prophetic witness of the Church is not to join in the panic, adding its own ideas into the clash of partisan ‘solutions.’ Our calling is rather, together with Mary, to sit at the feet of Christ. We do not have to save the world, for Christ has already saved it. Then, when it finally does come time to determine a line of action – we will be united in and by a love which exceeds all that can divide us. Increasingly it seems that defeat of the enemy is the only way we can see to resolve conflict. In such a world, the Church is called to witness, in and through its own conflicts, another way, the way of Christ who is “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”
 Jerry Brown, “A Stark Nuclear Warning,” in The New York Review of Books, July 14, 2016; p.11.