Paul says to the Philippians this morning, “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight.” I have had a lot of insight lately about what I love. I love watching SEC football. How about those Tigers! I can taste the Sugar! I love taking Randy’s IPOD – and just like in the commercials- dancing all around the house pretending to be Sheryl Crow or Natalie Merchant . I love that my family humors me on this- like they do with my 1972 Cutlass Convertible. I love that car. I love having the top down, the music up and the wind blowing through my hair. Randy still doesn’t understand how I can be afraid to fly but love to drive a convertible. I love my children for lots of reasons but one of the best reasons is that they are daily reminders of how Christ will continue His work in the world through them long after I am gone. I love my students – I love their youthfulness, their energy, their zest for life, their fresh perspective- even though they haven’t fully experienced what life has to offer. They aren’t disillusioned and jaded; they are hopeful, they are Advent people.
I love being an Episcopalian. Are you surprised- given the times? I love every part of it. I love the prayer book with all of its beauty and history; I love saying prayers that have been said for literally hundreds of years. I love the kneeling, the processions, the recessions, the crosses, the banners, the robes, the choirs, the people. You name it, I love it.
There is no more beautiful liturgy than our burial office. How powerful it is every time it happens- I never tire of hearing those comforting words – the church is quiet, eerily quiet, just before the priest and body enter- as if we are pausing, all of us, and waiting for Christ to enter in- just as we do this Advent season. Every one in the congregation stands at that point- in respect- and with the stark realization of how mortal we all are and that only by the grace of God it’s not us that day. And then after that great silence, we hear the priest say those words from John’s gospel in a voice full of confidence as he follows the body up the aisle: “I am the Resurrection and the life saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” It always moves me and gives me incredible pause. We have been given a gift, a free gift, the gift of life eternal.
This similar feeling pours over me when we have baptisms as well. I look at those infants and think we are about to mark you as Christ’s own forever- so no matter what befalls you in this life- you are marked and sealed as a lamb of His fold. And as we all know there is much in this life that can befall us. Thank God we are marked as Christ’s own forever. I certainly don’t want to end up in the lost and found come judgment day!
But even more powerful than both of those sacraments is the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. For both Randy and me, it is not the consecration that moves us- it is the pilgrimage of the people. The steady stream of God’s faithful remnant coming to His table to be fed- arms outstretched, hands open wide. I cry every time. I cry because I am privileged. I am privileged to be able to hand you the sacrament. I am privileged because for some of you I know what crosses you carry to this table and I am humbled by your strength. I am in awe of your courage. You move me to tears and I think to myself, there is no greater job in the world than serving God’s people. Thank you Lord for this opportunity.
And there is the music. Who has better hymns or finer choirs? All that’s missing from the hymnal in my opinion is “Blessed Assurance” but lucky for me I know that one by heart and sing it whenever I choose because the tune is easy to carry. My grandmother is Methodist and you just can’t be Methodist without that hymn- it is kind of like their alma mater.
As you can well imagine, being ordained and all, I just love church. I love everything about it- except for the conflict. I don’t do well with conflict. And yet intellectually I know that it is natural to disagree. In fact that is why a lot of people join the Episcopal Church in the first place- because they are free to disagree over issues. They are not told what to think and they don’t have to agree with every one on every issue.
If I polled this room right now I couldn’t get a consensus on the death penalty, stem cell research, abortion, homosexuality, – you fill in the blank. And yet everyone who is in this room considers himself a Christian. Everyone in this room is waiting for the Christ child this season.
Do you think it would be easier if we had a pope? Some days I do. And then I talk with all my Catholic friends. You see they have a pope, who tells them what they can and cannot do, and yet they don’t listen to him. They practice birth control, they get divorced when necessary (and then ask me to remarry them!), and most of them think women should be ordained and that their priests should be allowed to marry. When I ask them, “doesn’t this create conflict for you and your faith and your church?” Their answers generally fall under the category: “I try not to think about it too much or I go to confession.”
Having a pope really doesn’t make difficult issues any easier. In fact, it probably just adds to the peoples’ guilt about all the things they do that don’t meet with the pope’s approval.
Yes, I like being an Episcopalian. It is a thinking person’s denomination. We are allowed to read the scripture and pray about it and then discuss and decide how best to apply it to our lives. We base our faith on Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
One thing that makes us rather popular with some folks is that we don’t preach a lot about hell- which as you can imagine, always makes you attractive- but it is not because we don’t believe in hell. We do. It says so in the Apostles Creed. But what we, like Paul, try to do is send the message that by God’s grace we have been forgiven and we had better work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
When I meet my maker, if I am so fortunate, I know He will know me and all my transgressions and I will fall at His feet to even be in His presence. And if my Lord looks at me and tells me, “Melissa, you were wrong about this issue” and I might very well be- I will say I am so sorry. And I have all the confidence in the world that I will be forgiven. For my Lord will know my heart, for the heart does not lie, and He will know that I made my decisions out of love, out of love for all His children- not from any agenda. ( I am not running for political office.) He will know that I took my baptismal covenant seriously and tried to respect the dignity of every human being. No, those are not the questions I fear on judgment day.
The questions I fear have more to do with me than with my neighbor. The questions I fear have more to do with the logs in my own eyes. They are more of this nature: “Why didn’t you tell more people about me when you had the chance?” “You should have talked less about designers and more about discipleship.” Or, “Didn’t you notice who I spent the majority of my ministry with- why didn’t you invite more disenfranchised and broken people to your home for dinner?” Or, “Thanks for scaring the children with that prayer, “if I should die before I wake…” who thought that one up?” Or, “it sure did take you long enough to figure out how to tithe- what part of 10 percent did you not understand?” Or, “I told you, you can’t take it with you.”
Those are the conversations I fear. But if I am denied entry into the Kingdom of God for loving my neighbor as much as I love myself or for having a compassionate heart, then at least I know I will be in some good company.
Oh yes, I love being an Episcopalian. We are a diverse lot. We have Taize services, we have services with incense, we have sung Eucharists, we have spoken Eucharists, we have bishops who wear miters, and we have bishops who won’t wear miters. We have organs and we have wine and we have someone in this room who will agree with me this morning one at least one issue. But more than all the differences in this room, I think we all could agree one issue. And here it is: our common bond is Christ. We are here because we are Christians and we are awaiting the arrival of our King. We all view Christ as our King, our Savior, our Messiah. On that there is no question. On that there is no discussion. We don’t deserve Him and yet Christ comes anyway; and He unites us all in a way that this world never will.
So, as for me, I am going to do my best with God’s help to live daily into that great hymn, “Blessed Assurance”: Because, “this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.” I know no other way to live and bring him the honor due His name than to tell His story all the day long. Amen.