Proper 7 Sermon Year B “It’s A Girl!”

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Is. 40:1-11; Ps. 85:7-13; Acts 14b -26; Luke 1:57-80

In the Palestine of John the Baptist’s time, the birth of a boy was an occasion for great joy. When a woman was ready to deliver a child, friends, family and local musicians would gather near the house of the expectant mother. When the birth was announced and it was a boy, the musicians broke out into music and song, and there was a big party, with much congratulations and hugging and kissing. I suspect it bore some resemblance to the passing of the peace at this parish!

On the other hand, if the baby was a girl, the musicians went silently and regretfully away. The rest of the folks returned to their everyday tasks after cursory congratulations to the parents. There was saying that the people of that time had: “The birth of a male child causes universal joy, but the birth of a female child causes universal sorrow.”

Well times have changed, thank God! This past week the Episcopal Church birthed the first female primate in the history of Anglicanism. The Rt. Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, will become the next Presiding Bishop of our Church this coming November, when she is consecrated at the National Cathedral. After her election people at General Convention in Columbus were spotted with big pink lapel buttons that proclaimed “It’s A Girl!”

My contacts at General Convention tell me that the musicians were neither silent nor regretful in the convention hall when Bishop Katharine was introduced that day! There was a celebration with lots of joy. My response is, “you go girl!”

Not everyone in the Episcopal Church or worldwide Anglicanism is as convinced as I am that electing a women to our highest leadership position was the wisest thing to do. Women are still barred from being ordained to the priesthood in the majority of the Anglican Communion. And having a female presiding bishop will surely complicate an already stressful time, especially as the primates plan to gather with the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace in two years.

Three years ago many thought that General Conventions consenting to Bishop Gene Robinson’s election to the episcopate was not a wise move either. And we certainly have experienced the fallout from that event, as people from across the theological spectrum struggle to find a way to live with one another and stay at the table of the Lord. There are some who see the election of Bishop Katharine as adding fuel to the proverbial fire raging in the Anglican Communion over human sexuality. Her election - they say - will not only strain the bonds of affection between us, it will end up severing them.

But the question I keep asking myself as I reflect on these two events in our Church is this, “Can we be faithful to the Gospel if we allow a persons gender or sexuality to be a bar to fully serving God in any capacity?” For me the answer to that question is No. For others it is Yes.

People on both sides of the issues of the ordination and full inclusion of women and gay people in the Church are passionate about their beliefs. Both sides use scripture, tradition and reason to argue their theological positions. Both sides at times end up feeling like John the Baptist - the voice crying in the wilderness - as they see gains made in the Church by the opposing side in this heated debate.

For example this General Convention approved a resolution that calls for restraint in consecrating bishops, “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.” This is politely crafted language that basically means the Church will not elect or consecrate any more bishops who are gay and in a committed relationship. To me this is a serious set-back to the full inclusion of all people in the church. It feels like the voice of infinite respect and inclusion is once again crying in the wilderness.

I am unhappy that the deputies and bishops at General Convention approved this resolution. It was one of the demands of the Windsor Report to account for the pain caused by Bishop Gene’s consecration. But some see it as a victory. So what I am struggling to do is be open to hearing how the Spirit is at work in the midst of this. Ultimately I believe what Christians have always known: if something new is of God, it can never be stopped.

The writer Barbara Cawthorne Crafton likens the passing of this resolution to appeasing a bully. “But you can’t appease a bully” she writes. “ He becomes a bigger bully if you try, having learned from experience that being a bully succeeds.” Crafton goes on to say, “we [do not] owe American Episcopalians who oppose the inclusion of gay people at all levels in our Church's life conformity with their moral vision -- respect and love, yes, but not conformity. Anglicanism understands moral choice as a struggle rather than a checklist: its role is to provide an arena for the struggle, not to provide a settlement from on high. People who don't want to ordain gay clergy should not do so. . . [coming to that point of mutual respect and love we] then . . . need to leave each other alone.”

“And then we [also] need to get back to work” Crafton says. Get back to doing the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and stop talking and worrying about a persons sex or sexuality.

That’s pretty sage advise. But how do we do that? I believe that guidance comes from our scripture for today, which describes the birth of John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. His was the voice crying in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord.” When John was born, and his father Zechariah first saw him, the scripture tells us that, “[Zechariah] was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied.”

Imagine this event. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth getting on in years and without a child because they were unable to conceive. Yet God intercedes and Elizabeth bears a son. And now Zechariah holds this precious baby tenderly for the first time. Looking into John’s beautiful face, Zechariah - filled with wonder and hope - sees God’s revelation. “And you my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins . . . to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Who has not cradled a newborn baby in their arms, peered into that baby’s eyes and not been filled with the same wonder and hope? Hope for humanity, hope for the world and it’s future. Each child is filled with such promise and such beauty. It is in the promise and hope of each new born child, that we find our guidance to get on with the work of the Gospel. To move away from the rancor over sex, and to get on with the work that God has given us to do.

My friends, God holds each and every one of us - God’s beloved children - in God’s arms and sings the Song of Zechariah, as God stares lovingly into our faces. God calls each of us to be a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord, to bring light to those who sit darkness. God calls each of us to guide the way toward peace.

Just as God stared lovingly at John the Baptist’s face through the eyes of Zechariah, God stares lovingly at the face of all of us, his children. The face of Katharine Schori and the face of Peter Akinola. The face of Robert Duncan and the face of Gene Robinson. Your face and my face. It does not matter to God that a child is male or female, gay or straight. It only matters to God that we love one another and that we work together to build up God’s reign by proclaiming the Gospel.

We have a choice. We can shield our eyes from staring into each others faces, not seeing the promise of God in each of them. We can ignore our baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being. And instead we can continue to plot and scheme against one another, aiming for that one thrust to the jugular that will presumably give us victory in these divisive issues.

Or we can look at each other in the face and see with God’s eyes.

I’m quite sure I know which choice God is rooting for.

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