Saturday, March 31, 2012

Striving for Justice and Peace

RCL Palm Sunday
1 April 2012

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

            The summer of 1995 marked a turning point in the life of our family here in Canada.  In May of that year Paula was ordained to the diaconate and began her curacy at Saint Philip’s Dunbar.  I was finishing my second three-year term on the national Doctrine and Worship Committee.  On a whim I accepted a nomination as a clergy member of General Synod and, to my surprise, I was elected.
            So off I went to Ottawa in June unaware of the change that was about to occur.  The first indication that something unusual was afoot was a telephone call from Paula telling me that my office had been emptied and had just been blown up --- for a movie shoot.  I knew that I had agreed to the use of my office for the movie, but no one had said that the plan was to empty and then blow it up!
            The second indication was the sudden bout of laryngitis that afflicted the rector of the parish who had agreed to host a group of Synod member, including me, for The Sunday.  I was drafted to preside and preach in a three-point charge in the Ottawa Valley --- on Pentecost --- with little time to prepare.
            But the third tremor occurred after that Sunday during a televised session of the Synod on the place of gays and lesbians in the Anglican Church of Canada.  During the hearing I found myself jotting down some notes and then walking to a microphone, something that I had not really planned to do.
            Those who were watching the telecast in Vancouver expected me to express my support for the continued  sanctions on the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of gay and lesbian relationships.  That, however, was not what they were to see and hear.
            In the days leading up to Pentecost and to the hearing I had come to believe that the continued sanctions denied the human dignity of gays and lesbians.  Given that the sanctions, in my opinion, denied the dignity of gays and lesbians, these sanctions were unjust.  Since I, as a baptized Christian, had repeatedly committed myself to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and [to] respect the dignity of every human being’, the final commitment of our baptismal covenant, I had no choice but to challenge the sanctions.  This is what I said and this is what I still believe.
            In two minutes at a microphone I lost friends and colleagues.  Since 1995 a fair portion of my professional life has been associated with the movement to include gays and lesbian disciples of Christ more fully into the life of the Anglican Church.  There is still much to be done and there are faithful Christians whom I respect who do not share my views.
            God’s peace, what the Hebrew Bible calls shalom, is not possible without justice.  God’s peace, shalom, can only be experienced when human beings live in equitable relationships where no person is used for another person’s gain and when human beings acknowledge our dependence upon God and upon each other.
            Justice, however, is not possible without respecting human dignity.  Human dignity is based upon the conviction that every human person whether villain or hero, whether abuser or abused, whether male or female, whether believer or non-believer, is imprinted with image of God.  Our task as Christians is to strive towards a world in which every person can live in the likeness of God, so that her or his life reveal God’s stamp upon us..  We can obscure God’s image in us.  We can suppress God’s image in us.  We can deny God’s image in us, but it remains in all of us.  God’s image in us is a seed that awaits the gentle touch of the Spirit’s rain and Christ’s warmth so that it can burst forth from the soil and reveal God’s life hidden in each one of us.
            But human dignity requires an environment  of respect rather then mere tolerance.  Respect means that I acknowledge the presence of God in you and invite you, by my words and actions, to experience that same divine presence in me.  If we can respect each other and experience how God makes the divine presence known in each of us, then perhaps the whole of our relationship may exceed the sum of its parts.  From this respect for our shared dignity, justice many arise, and from this justice we may experience shalom.
            Notice we commit to striving not achievement.  God’s permanent shalom remains just beyond the horizon of our world, but we can experience moments, some brief, some longer, where that shalom embraces us.  But just as Jesus rides into Jerusalem Palm Sunday after Palm Sunday, so do we strive, day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year, to ‘draw the circle wide’ and extend our respect for human dignity wider and wider.
            There are people living in Metro Vancouver whose dignity is not respected.  But here at Saint Faith’s and everywhere the baptismal commitment is made to strive for justice and peace their dignity will be respected.  Some people may question our wisdom and may consider foolish.  Some people may actually claim that we are acting politically.  But we will continue to strive for justice and peace so that ‘all God’s children may be free’ and taste that shalom for which pray and for which we wait.  Amen.

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