The Rev. Jennifer Adams – January 17, 2016 – Epiphany 3, Year C: I Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21
Well, it’s incredibly good to be here today. I want to hit on a few different things this morning but I’m going to start with a brief personal update, in part because I want to say “thank you” and I don’t want to wait until announcement time to do that. But also because I don’t want you all out there wondering about my back while I’m trying to get you to think about Jesus.
Many of you know that I suffered an injury almost three weeks ago and was out for about two of those weeks. Last Monday I resumed half-days onsite here at Grace and I’ve been doing work from home too. I am much better than I was but have a ways to go in terms of full recovery.
I am stable now when I walk and stand which is progress, but I do still have significant weakness and numbness in a good part of my left leg. So I have more PT to do and more to learn in terms of exactly what healing will involve. I also have to admit, (mostly to myself which I’m learning is a slightly arrogant athletic self,) that I don’t know exactly what “fully recovered” will look like or feel like yet – because it will probably be different than I’ve known before.
Turns out there is some mystery involved when it comes to the ways in which the body works, or at times doesn’t. Every now and then we’re reminded, or for many of you on a daily basis, are reminded that while it takes effort, healing is not something we can simply “will” into being. My emotional and spiritual selves have known this for a very long time and I think (or at least hope) that I’ve helped others accept this about themselves. It’s just sinking in in new physical ways for me as it does for us all.
Know that I am getting very good care and I am incredibly grateful for the support and prayers from Grace. All of that means more than you know. And just remember, if you need to get my attention, don’t tap the inside of my left knee. But come to think of it, even when I’m further along don’t tap the inside of my left knee. Because that would just be weird.
OK. Let’s transition to Scripture where perhaps it will be no surprise that I’m going to begin with the Epistle, Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” How lucky was that?
But wait, there’s MORE! “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (Nobody can say to the back I have no need of you!) “On the contrary,” Paul writes (and get this!) “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.” So what we hear from Paul is that not only is there mystery when it comes to our own physical bodies but there is also something like mystery that sustains this larger Body, that is the Body of Christ.
There is mystery at the heart of our unity. We need hands and arms and feet and elbows and fingers and skin and eyes and ears and backs and lungs and they all contribute something different yet something vital to a larger whole. And it is God who makes this work, not we ourselves.
And to take just one more step here, the way in which this Body that is Body of Christ works doesn’t even always make sense. In this Body, the members that seem weaker are indispensible. Which means that we need those who hurt. We need those who struggle, or hunger, or weep. We need those on the margins of this world. They/we are indispensable to the larger wholeness to which we have been invited, to which we have been called.
And with all of that, there comes just one rule: no particular part of this Body can say “We don’t need you,” to any other part.
So transition with me one more time here, to the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is the worldwide Body of which the Episcopal Church is part. Many of you know that about two weeks ago the Body that is the Anglican Communion suffered an injury, or at least one that was already there came to light again. We Anglicans too are a Body in need of healing.
And there is a lot to this. In many ways it’s a very complicated situation as situations with the Body can be. On the surface of the matter is human sexuality and disagreements over gay marriage, but beneath that are unresolved disagreements around women’s ordination, cultural differences, gaps and lack of understanding on all parts. And beneath that are issues around power and authority and disagreements over the interpretation of Scripture.
Two weeks ago the Primates, these are the senior bishops of the 38 Provinces of the Communion met. (The Primate of the Episcopal Church is our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry – he put forth a wonderful video response that is available online.) The Primates came together at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and did the unfortunately difficult work of being together in the same room. And when they were together they prayed. And they talked. They shared stories. And they argued. And they prayed some more. And then they issued a letter to the larger Communion. And the media ran with it. And various corners of the church ran with it. And most of the church, including the Primates have since then been clarifying what their statements actually mean.
Now I have a lot to say about this but I want to clarify this morning is that the Episcopal Church has not been “suspended” from the Communion as some Provinces and news agencies reported. We are as Anglican today as we were two and half weeks ago. We are as Anglican today as we will be tomorrow. The language of “suspension” never appears in the Primates letter. Nor do the Primates have the authority to “require” anything worldwide.
Nobody in the Communion has the authority to say to anyone else, “We have no need of you.” It’s just not how we’re set up.
One of primary reasons why I am an Episcopalian (besides that the red doors are cool) is that we are fundamentally held together by what historically we’ve referred to as “bonds of affection.” We allow for love and mystery to exist at the heart of unity. The Communion’s main website puts it like this: “The Anglican Communion is not held together by a formal constitution or international church law, but rather by a shared heritage, by ways of worshipping and by the relationships—the “bonds of affection”—between its members worldwide.”
There is holy wisdom in humbly acknowledging that “bonds of affection” are the best that we can do. They are the best that we can do – meaning minimal. And they are the best that we can do meaning they are our highest standard always. That that’s true of all of us. When it comes right down to it what holds us together even when we can’t do it ourselves, is the affection and love of one another, the affection and love of God. And if we as Anglicans, if we as Grace, Holland have anything to give this world it’s a vision, or even better an experience, of what “bonds of affection” can accomplish.
What I believe is going on is that we are a world-wide Body that is learning how to walk, and as Episcopalians and Anglicans we do that rather publically and openly so now everyone knows this is not easy work. We’re learning how to walk together now in the world as it is today, this complicated, diverse, tense, hurting, gifted, hungry world.
We as a communion are older than we were when we first learned to walk together and so adjustments need to be made as we go. The Primates even said as much in one of the most important (and rarely quoted) sentences in their letter, “Over the past week,” they wrote, “the unanimous decision of the Primates was to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the body of Christ.”
The truth is that even Primates, as much as they might want to, even spiritual leaders can’t will or mandate healing or wholeness. Nor are they, any more than we, entirely sure what “fully recovered” will look like for this large Body. Healing will probably be different than it has been before. But they and we can take a step and see how that feels. They can (hopefully) pause now and listen to the feet and the hands and the skin and lungs and backs and fingers of the greater Communion which includes 85 million lay people, deacons, priests and deacons around the world. And we’ll see where we go from here.
“I have come to bring good news,” Jesus said in today’s gospel. “Release to the captives. . . Sight to the blind.” And later he even adds “The lame shall walk,” “to let the oppressed go free.” In other words, the Body will be restored, recovered, made whole once again. And odds are extremely good that it will be accomplished in ways that surprise us all.