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202nd Convention of the Diocese of Ohio
November 9, 2018
Convention Address and Sermon
(Isaiah 55:1-13 and John 17:6a, 15-23)
It is heartening to be with all of you this evening as we open the 202nd Convention of the Diocese of Ohio with this celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I am grateful to the staff and communicants of the Cathedral for their hospitality and caring welcome. Thank you. I want to express particular thanks this evening to Paul Gaston, who has served the Cathedral and the Diocese so generously as Acting Dean for going on two years. With the Cathedral wardens’ announcement this week of the election of a new Dean, Paul will begin handing on the responsibilities he has so ably and patiently carried out during this time of transition. Thank you, Paul, for your generous companionship and steady hand. We are all very grateful.
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After the last two diocesan conventions that served as the bookends to our bicentennial commemoration, it is good to have, this year, a simpler, perhaps more intimate time together. As well, given the violent and hate-inspired events of the last three weeks – in Jeffersontown, Pittsburgh, Thousand Oaks, and elsewhere across the country – and the emotionally and spiritually exhausting acrimony and negativity of the mid-term election cycle, it feels particularly important to be with one another tonight in our cathedral church, this space that manifests both our aspiration and Jesus’s prayer that we as a diocese are one in him.
We are gathered predominately in the nave, a word that comes from the Latin word for ship, navis, from which also come navy and navigate. This part of the church is so named because it resembles the inverted hull of a boat. We come to this cathedral church tonight, as we come to our home churches every week, to be reminded that indeed we are all in the same boat, given to one another by God, each of us a holy gift whom God intends both to bear and to receive God’s own love, to and from one another, to and from the whole world. We come together to hear the Word of the God who loves all without exception; to give thanks for the continually incarnating love that God relentlessly provides through the Christ we seek and serve in all others; and to join anew in Jesus’s sacrifice, surrendering to that love again and again and again.
Presiding Bishop Curry articulated this in NPR’s 1A interview on Election Day, in which he also gave a shout-out to the Diocese of Ohio and our Love God. Love your neighbor. Change the world.® tagline. He spoke of the essential responsibility to teach the mature Jesus of Nazareth, not just the Christmas Jesus, and referencing the familiar spiritual, to tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all. Then he continued explaining the hymn, proclaiming that there is a balm in Gilead, and it is the way of love. We come together tonight, even and perhaps particularly in the midst of these divisive and acrimonious times, to tell the love of Jesus, not just the soft, sweet love of the crèche scene, but the love that leads to the Cross, the love that costs us something, perhaps everything, to “tell the love of Jesus, and say he died for all.”
We begin our Diocesan Convention tonight, on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, by coming together to proclaim the way of love to one another and, through our life and ministry, to the world. We gather here to rededicate ourselves to bringing the way of love to life in all that we do. That is the vocation of the body of Christ, and it begins with us.
Look at us. Look around you and see who we are. Beneath the surface of faces, some familiar and some new, are these truths. We do not all think alike. We do not all experience the world in the same way. We do not all hold the exact same values and priorities. And I am certain that we did not all vote the same. On issues about which Jesus spoke with passion and clarity, we often hold opposing views and are led by those views to very different actions. We read and hear the same Gospel stories about money and immigration and power and oppression, about honesty and accountability and forgiveness and compassion, about neighbors and strangers and children and those in need. But we hear them in different ways, because we are so different. As a result, our actions, although informed by a faith we share, may differ widely. The results of this week’s elections reflect this in race after race and ballot issue after ballot issue. We, across the country and in this very room, are divided on countless aspects of our common life, often right down the middle. The minority and majority are frequently only a few percentage points apart, but their perspectives may be miles from one another. Yet we come here tonight, as we do in our parishes week in and week out, to eat from the same plate and drink from the same cup, to offer each other what God gives us to share in the scripture and at this table, a taste of heaven and a sip of salvation.
There are many people in this room whom I admire and love, people whom I am certain God loves, yet I cannot, for the life of me, understand how they can hold views and convictions so different from my own. I suspect that, whatever your politics and moral perspectives, you may have similar feelings. On my bad days, it irks me that God loves them as much as God loves me. And on my really bad days, I pray that God might nonetheless love me as much as I know God loves them. As passionate as I am about particular issues, sometimes I hope the topics just don’t come up. I know I’m not alone in this. I get letters from communicants of our parishes who don’t believe that politics has a place in church. I don’t think this is so much a theological argument as it is a yearning for some peace, for a place where our differences don’t separate us from each other. I can understand that. And in plenty of Christian churches across our country that is accomplished by expecting everyone in the congregation to share the same political views. Rarely could you find that in an Episcopal church, for which I am grateful. For if we make our church a place of peace by avoiding our differences, a place where we check at the door what differentiates us from one another, we create a fantasy that serves only to keep us apart. That is not what God intends for us; nor is it what Jesus taught.
The Gospel reading for this evening’s service comes from the propers for the Unity of the Church. We have come to refer to this passage from the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel as Jesus’s “high priestly prayer,” as it recounts his petition to God on behalf of the church and what it should be. In his prayer, Jesus tells God, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.” In Jesus’s culture and time, the name of any person or thing was a living expression of its very nature. A remnant of this understanding we still use when we talk about damaging a person’s good name, referring to demeaning her very being. This claim, “I have made your name known,” means that Jesus has revealed God’s true being, both by what he has taught and by how he has lived. In his prayer, Jesus makes clear his expectation that those to whom he has revealed God’s true nature will become one with it, as he has. Practically, that means relating to the world God loves in the way Jesus does, with humility and openness to others, yet without avoiding or denying the realities and diversity of every human being.
As his conversation with God continues, Jesus explains what the church needs to be, using the relationship between himself and God as the model. He expects us to maintain the integrity of our own experience and identity, and at the same time make room within ourselves for one another and our rich differences. He expects this of us to the end that we might be changed, be made more whole, just as he is differentiated from the first person of the Trinity and at the same time one with it – united but not uniform. “As you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”
The unity of the coming church which Jesus invokes in this prayer, which he calls into being, is not something he expects us to find in the sweet by-and-by, but today, in this life, amidst all the complexity and diversity which the power of evil will relentlessly use to turn us against one another and divide us. Jesus understands that the church is that community where we find unity not by subtraction, but by addition, not by avoiding our differences, but by gathering them up and by struggling with them together. That holy struggle, Jesus knows, will bring us to a clearer understanding of God’s dream of justice and reconciliation and peace. That is what Jesus means when he prays that we may be sanctified in truth. Not my truth or your truth, but God’s truth.
Tonight we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving, using one of the Expansive Language liturgies accepted for use beginning the first of the year by Resolution D078 of last summer’s General Convention. I will speak more about these liturgies tomorrow. But for now, I want to recognize that we do not refer to this as alternative language, but expansive language. The implication is that this is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and one. The expansive intention is not to divide, but to include, to make bigger, more whole, more complete. These new liturgical options, added to those in the Book of Common Prayer and Enriching our Worship, broaden our worship. They make more comprehensive our expressions of gratitude, sacrifice, and commitment when we gather in common devotion. With the addition of these liturgies, we expand the language of praise and thanksgiving, the language of our theological expression and spiritual worship.
Understanding that liturgy is practice, a model and guide for how we live, I can’t help wondering what might be the expansive language of our politics. How do we practice talking together about our differences, at home and at church, in ways that are not intended to divide and separate us, but to bring us together, to bring us to a new and more productive, perhaps a more godly understanding? And what is the expansive language of the heart that allows us both to speak more inclusively and to hear more inclusively? Can we trust God enough to speak our truths together in love, not expecting that one will prevail over another, rather that together we may come closer to God’s truth? Can we tell our own truth with humility, in the knowledge that it is very likely not the truth, not God’s truth? “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Can we share Jesus’s confidence in the faithful, in us, that allowed him to pray, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world,” not asking God to separate us from the challenges of living. Neither, surely, is Jesus asking us to distance the needs and concerns of the world from of our life as the church: poverty, gun violence, opioid addiction, racial oppression, health care, education, immigration, and social polarization. Of course, each of these has political implications; they form and inform how we live together as a society. That is why they belong in our prayers and parish forums, our formation programs and service to others. Jesus knew this when he prayed for the vocation of the church, just before he was crucified for the political issues that were at the heart of his ministry.
Can we believe, as Jesus does, that we all may be one, not in spite of our differences, but indeed as a consequence of them?
Sisters and brothers in Christ, the world is desperate for models of living together with difference in ways that make us more whole and more holy. God is ceaselessly calling us to be such a model, to show forth, by our patient, generous, honest, and humble work, the way of love. That is the vocation of the church, it is the answer to Jesus’s prayer, and it begins with each of us and in each of our congregations. It begins with the expansive understanding that through our diversity and differences we are not divided, but become more whole, more complete, more fully in the image of God.
Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr. Bishop of Ohio
November 9, 2018
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