Primates 2016: Hold Onto Your Livers, Cos God’s Keeping the Party Going

By the Spirit and wine, God is keeping the Anglican party going, and I am glad of it.

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This has been a hard week for many Anglicans.  As I read the statement from Primates 2016 announcing measures against the US Episcopal Church, my heart sank.  I have several friends who are Episcopalians, and I was worried about their reaction, as much as how LGBT people might be receiving the news.  Pretty soon I was on facebook, asking them how things were looking from their end… and I was amazed by the grace and fervent trust in the goodness of God that their responses displayed.  There was disappointment, yes, and hurt, yes… but an overriding sense that they were followers of Jesus Christ in the Anglican way before the accouncement, and followers of Jesus Christ in the Anglican way they remained.

Daily, I pray Your will be done, Your kingdom come, but I am regularly amazed by the trust that many of my brothers and sisters have in the power of God to do just that.  So often we feel alone as Christians, angry that the world and the Church do not seem to reflect God’s kingdom, and powerless to change that.

This morning, as I was waiting to go to Church, I read this in a sermon of Charles Spurgeon:

Try a little while; we shall not always labour in vain, or spend our strength for naught.  A day is coming, and now is, when every minister of Christ shall speak with unction, when all the servants of God shall preach with power, adn when colossal systems of heathenism shall be scattered to the winds.  The shout shall be heard, “Alleluia!  Alleluia! the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.” For that day do I look; it is to the bright horizon of that second coming that I turn my eyes.  My anxious expectation is, that the sweet Sun of righteousness will arise with healing beneath His wings, that the opprest shall be righted, that despotisms shall be cut down, that liberty shall be established, that peace shall be mad lasting, and that the glorious liberty of the gospel shall be extended throughout the known world.  Christian! if thou art in a night, think of the morrow; cheer up thy heart with the thought of the coming of thy Lord.

What a remarkable call to trust in God’s power to bring about His own Kingdom; to look forward to the day when God’s kingdom of justice and healing and love will be established, not by us but by God, in the Church and the world.  The presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church released a video that acknowledged the shock felt by many, but reminded the faithful time and time again that we are part of the Jesus movement.  “And so we must claim that high calling,” he said, “the high calling of love and faith, love even those with whom we disagree… and then continue, and that we will do.”  He was calling those who feel despondent, hopeless and left behind, to remember why they are Christians, and why they are Anglicans, and to continue in love and faith, living out their vocation in eager expectation for the coming of God’s kingdom.

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But he added something else as well.  He said we must “continue, and that we will do… and we will do it together.”  The readings this morning at Mass were 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (on Spiritual Gifts) and John 2:1-11 (the Wedding at Cana).  I have no doubt that lots and lots of sermons were preached up and down the country on the power of Spiritual Gifts… but it strikes me that Paul wasn’t so much interested in the Spiritual Gifts for themselves when he wrote to the Corinthians.

The Spiritual Gifts are a focus for unity.  In the preceeding passage Paul talks about how people should receive the Eucharist: without factions based on wealth (11:17-22), with a humility that acknowledges one’s own faults (11:23-32) and waiting until all in the Church are gathered to receive (11:33-34).  Then he talks about spiritual gifts, for “all these are activated by one and the same Spirit” who gives his gifts of union and unity to all: “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews of Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (12:13).

The Anglican Communion, like the collected Church of God, “does not consist of one member but of many” (12:14), and each of us is called to remember that each of us is “the body of Christ and individually members of it” (12:27).  For we are included not by our agreements, or allegiances, or churchmanship, or theology… but by the Spirit.  And we cannot be excluded by our disagreements or identities or affiliations or theology… for our union with Christ is not effected by earthly institutions… but by the Spirit.

Lots of sermons will also have been preached on the Wedding at Cana as a sign of God’s abundant love.  And that it is.  But it also strikes me that, when the wine ran out, the party could have dissipated: in my experience, when the booze stops flowing, everyone falls asleep and people begin to go home.

When Jesus turned the water into wine, he kept the party going.  He kept the community together.  And he kept them joyful.

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And as I received the wine from the altar this morning in Church, I remembered again that it is by this wine that Christ keeps His Church going.  It is by this wine that He keeps His Church together.  And it is by this wine that He keeps His Church joyful.

In the power of the Spirit and in Union with Christ, I thank the Father for keeping this party going.

 

 

 

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Belonging and Un-Belonging: A Queer Exile at Home in the Church

How do I make sense of that fact that I feel at home in the Church, yet feel so outside it at the same time?

I did not grow up a Christian.  And for much of my life I have found it hard to identify as a Christian.  When I came to faith I found it hard to see myself as part of this strange culture, this strange group of people, called the Church.  Baptism was just the beginning.

My journey into the Church was a difficult one.  I  lost friends, friends who  found what I am doing baffling, and friends who  felt betrayed – at times I have felt with my queer friends that I have joined the enemy, I’ve become one of ‘them’.

And my relationship with my family has been harder too.  At times I have not felt like a belonged as they and I have struggled to come to terms with my new identity, the things I have given up, and the hopes they have lost and fears that have arisen as I have begun to ‘work’ for the Church as well.

My connection to many aspects of my past has become complicated… stretched… and even at times separated.

Becoming a Christian as an adult, especially as a queer person, is rather like moving to another country, one whose culture is markedly different from your own, and which often looks on your home culture with contempt.  Coming to faith in the Church for me was rather like coming home from an exile – it felt right – but at certain times of the year, especially Christmas, I am reminded how in many ways I am in a new exile, from the culture of my past.

I have found a home in the Church, but I’ve lost many homes and happy places to which return is difficult.  And that can make me angry, really angry with the Church and with God.  I have gained so much, but I have also lost.


I wonder which feels harder, being taken into exile or being returned from it. It is rare in the biblical narrative that a person experiences both. The Israelites taken into Egypt were not the ones who came back: those returned from Babylon were not personally taken captive.

Prophet Nehemiah

I am reminded of Ezra and Nehemiah. Exiles return, to find their return home a struggle. They have left their culture behind, and the people they find living in Jerusalem are not as they think their home should be. Their return turns violent: it leads to the self-engineered isolation of the returning people, and the judicial murder of those who threaten their new synthetic identity.  The only way these new residents can cope is to clear out the existing culture and isolate themselves, as they construct their new world – such is their sense of displacement.

My sense of displacement seems to arise, like theirs, from a return from a familiar exile. My exile was and remains, like theirs, a deep part of me – and it was a happy one. I was not cupbearer to the king, but I was at home with those I loved. But now I am uprooted, sent away to a place I am assured is my proper home.  I do not know the people, I do not know or like many of their ways, and I am overwhelmed by the sense that this home, its furniture, architecture and inhabitants, are not all as they should be.

And I get angry.

Just like the returning peoples in Ezra and Nehemiah, I am tempted to hate what I find in the Church, or even to fear it. I see much of it as evil, and it very well might be, but that does not change the good will of the one who has brought me to this strange new home. Unlike the returning peoples in Ezra and Nehemiah, I cannot destroy or overpower the people I find, even if I wanted to, cannot build my own ‘proper’ temple in which to be with God as I know Him.

I must learn humility.

I must remember that I am an ‘improper’ stranger in an ‘improper’ home, because only God is ‘proper’ here: only God is truly ‘at home’ here. ‘To you we cry, exiled children of Eve’ was completely right: if we think we are ‘inside’ the Church we fool ourselves. And if we think others are truly ‘inside’ it either, we make a fool of ourselves entirely.

But, however much an outsider I often feel, I can never say that I am truly ‘outside’ the Church, either. Here is the remarkable paradox which I am coming to know. I know I do not belong in Christ’s Body, can never truly belong: especially if I seek to belong by my own will or merit. And no one else can either. Nor can I assign them to the Body based on my assessment of them. If Christ should be so foolish as to include them, show them mercy, as well as me, what then is that to me?  There’s no point being angry with the people I find in the Church.

I feel outside the Body, and that is painful, but perhaps this pain is a gift, a precious gift. Those of us not brought up as Christians are more aware of the paradox of belonging and not belonging in the Church. The crux of that paradox, I believe, is most truly the locus of grace.

Holman Hunt paints a picture of Christ knocking on a door: but in that picture grace is not Christ knocking, waiting for me to open.  Nor does grace open the door and come through to reach us, forcing its way. Grace is not the violent intruder or the passive donor. Rather, grace is the door itself, the crux, the transgressive midpoint of sweetest paradox, reminding us of our belonging in ourselves and our not belonging in Christ, our not belonging in ourselves and our belonging – gifted, unmerited and uncontrolled – in Christ.

Grace sits precisely between our being in Christ and our being outside of Him, our belonging in the Church and our un-belonging from it.

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At Christmas I feel the pain of my loss of belonging and the pain of knowing that I have a new home.  The pain in my heart is the pain of knowing grace. The pain of that crucial point of paradox, tearing my love between belonging and un-belonging, between Christ and my self.

If we claim we have no un-belonging then we deceive ourselves. But if in our anger we forget that, in Christ, we do belong, that is no less a loss to us.

To God in whom my being rests, and from whom I am so far, be praise, glory, honour, blessing and every good.