A Mothering Sunday Sermon

April 30, 2006

The Rev. Randolph K. Dales, Rector All Saints’ Wolfeboro, NH

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Help us, Lord, to become masters of ourselves that we may be the servants of others. Open our eyes - that we may behold Christ in all his redeeming work Take our lips and speak through them; our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.   Amen

For quite a number of years, the church families of All Saints’ and St. John the Baptist have gathered to celebrate our linked history on Mothering Sunday. In years past this joint service was tied to the fourth Sunday of Lent, but in recent years it has become a moveable feast, now located on the third Sunday after Easter. But whatever its date, our Mothering Sunday celebration calls our congregations to attend to the reality of the covenant community of faith that is the wider church – the church beyond our individual parish boundaries.

Some years ago, the wonderful Episcopal lay theologian, Verna Dozier, described three characteristics of a covenant community (none of which, in fact, need be religious). People, whether ancient Hebrews, Daughters of the King, or Rotarians, gather together in a covenant relationship because they share three things, she said: a common history; a common commitment, and a common mission.

When you have a shared history with other people, you find you have a common story and a common identity. If you have spent significant time in a local club or in an Alcoholics Anonymous group, for instance, you find that this common history and identity create a sense of shared values that emerge from a shared understanding of the past. This becomes a common commitment.

A people with a shared history and a common commitment usually discover they are linked with one another in a common mission. Emerging from their shared past and values, the community then participates in a common purpose.

The early Christian community, built upon the experience of Christ’s resurrection, shares these characteristics, as this morning's readings demonstrate.

In the Book of Acts, we hear the Apostle Peter rehearsing the common history: “Rulers of the people and elders, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that” we, and this man who was healed, stand “before you by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”

The resurrection, then, is their common history, and through the eyes of faith they have come to see this story as the common story not only for Israel, but for all people everywhere.

The First Letter of John, apparently sent from the Turkish city of Ephesus, was addressed to second or third generation Christians. In a time when Christianity might have become a matter of habit and the first glow of excitement a thing of the past, this author writes that “what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands… we declare to you…so that you also may have fellowship with us; (and) with the Father and with (the) Son. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

Again, their common history creates a common identity and commitment. And in Luke’s Gospel, this common story and identity become a common mission.

Over the past three weeks we have heard resurrection accounts from Mark, John and now Luke. And today’s reading shares the same elements in all of the resurrection appearances. First, Jesus appears to his disciples, bringing peace and forgiveness. Secondly, the disciples, after some confusion, recognize Jesus for themselves. And finally, they are commissioned, given a mission charge, to proclaim the good news to all nations.

It is very important to Luke and to the author of First John to convey that this common history, this shared experience, is not a phantom, but a wholly new, unparalleled mode of existence, a risen Lord, bearing the marks of his death, a spiritual body, yet also able to be touched, felt, - capable of consuming broiled fish.

Why does the Risen Christ appear? Not simply to forgive, not only to reassure, but to commission them, to send them forth on a common mission. As First John makes clear, “We are writing these things so that our joy (and yours) may be complete.” Share that joy; share the experience; let our common story be translated into a common mission.

Each year, Mothering Sunday gives us an opportunity to share our common story, to celebrate our common commitment, and to strive to move forward in our common mission.

Exactly 43 days from today (but who’s counting), the General Convention of our Episcopal Church will gather to do the same. Some 164 or more bishops and more than 900 lay and clerical delegates from 111 dioceses, representing more than 7,600 congregations, will meet in Columbus, Ohio, for 10 days. Susan Langle and I will be among those representing this diocese.

There is much important work to be done in Columbus. A new Presiding Bishop will be elected. Our national church will be asked to allocate no less than seven-tenths of one percent of its budget to support the Millennium Development Goals towards the eradication of extreme poverty. And dioceses and parishes will be asked to do the same.

We will give attention to issues of peace and justice in places like Israel and Palestine, the Darfur region of Sudan, and even the island of Cuba. We will turn our attention again to the pandemic of AIDS and to the consequences of racism and our country’s history of slavery. We will decide internal questions that deal with liturgy and the canons that relate to ordination. We will revisit our rules about church discipline and pass a budget that gives flesh and bones to what we really are, a domestic and foreign missionary society.

But most of what the world will hear, what you see reported in the news, will be about our relationship with the worldwide Anglican Church and how it is to be affected by our understanding of the place of gay and lesbians members of the church.

For once, though, that might not be a bad thing. It could be, if we choose to draw lines in the sand and force people to decide whose side they are on. But it may be that we will model different behaviors, choosing comprehensiveness and celebrating diversity, rather than defining our unity in terms of uniformity.

At All Saints and in many congregations, we have been devoting our adult education to a consideration of an Anglican way of being Christian. Via Media reminds us we live in a world of hunger – not only for food to sustain us bodily, but also in a state of spiritual hunger, a hunger for community, to recognize what it means for all to be created in the image of God.

For us, as Christians, that basic hunger for community is met in the common story, in our joint commitment, and in the shared mission of our faith. But we are not nourished by some pre-packaged, simplified answers to life’s questions. No, our faith is rather an experience of relationship and communion with one another and with God. And in that experience we discover, in the words of the Anglican Prayerbook from New Zealand, that all of us are profoundly loved and need never be afraid.

Our story, our history, as Episcopalians, as Anglicans, has always involved an ongoing conversation among diverse communities past and present. And at our best, we realize and we live out our communion not only with those with whom we agree but also with those with whom we might disagree.

I don’t think it's necessary to recite a long history of the roots of Anglicanism. You are all aware that the church of our ancestors began with the Church of England’s break with the Pope in Rome. But later in the 16th century the division between English Catholics and English Protestant almost tore British society apart. The saving compromise, known as the Elizabethan Settlement, was the recognition that only by incorporating diverse Christian practices and different Christian understandings, could the church truly remain a church.

Along the way, we have occasionally forgotten that. The earliest generations of Anglicans tended to equate church with colonialism. As Archbishop Robin Eames reminds us, this missionary outreach of the Church of England usually bore the message that “this is how you do it; this is how it works; this is what you need…(and to those to whom the church was being spread) mother country offered the benefits of English piety, English social structure and religious Englishness.”

Of course, beginning with the American Revolution and continuing throughout the world, there has been a rising tide of local independence and a shedding of colonial control. Over the years, there has been a growth of autonomous confidence among the 77 million Anglicans, in 38 regional or national churches, in 164 countries around the world. But as a consequence of that autonomy, some now equate the actions of the Episcopal Church with the arrogance of Western governments. And we are now confronted with the issue of how much diversity and difference others can tolerate.

Someone has observed, “It takes the whole world to know the whole Gospel.” But given the variety of our cultural environments as Anglicans, what do we do when some object, on the basis of their concerns for proper biblical interpretation, to actions taken by other parts of the communion in response to their concern for justice and inclusion for minorities, who they believe are facing prejudice and discrimination?

Are we, as autonomous regional churches who proclaim the good news in diverse cultures and societies, doomed to division and separation? Or is there still a via media available to us?

The genius of Anglicanism, I believe, remains an option – an option that does not require that lines be drawn in the sand. It instead looks to our common history and common commitment and seeks a more comprehensive mission to which we can all claim allegiance.

Our history as Anglican Christians is a story of the dynamic interaction of Scripture (our sacred texts) with Tradition (the centuries of reflection and worship by a multiplicity of voices), combined with Reason (the use of our learning and our experience - along with that of others - as God’s Spirit forever leads us into truth). Each of these three sources (scripture, reason and tradition) invites us into a balanced approach to the Christian faith and life that does not seek uniformity or hold that any one person or any one community has the last word. Rather, we, as Anglican Christians, can and do believe that God continues to speak to us - in our own particularities, in our own languages, and in our own cultural settings.

There is in our world a hunger, both physical and spiritual, a hunger nourishment and a hunger for community, and the true mission of the church, when we put aside our cultural and societal differences, is to work to meet those hungers by restoring all people to unity with God and one another.

Is it possible for Anglicans to be about that mission? It is - if we allow God “ to open the eyes of our faith and to behold” and join the Risen Christ “in all his redeeming work. And I pray that we will choose to walk together in that mission.


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