Sermon October 18, 2015
John and James want to be at the top of the pyramid. They want to be sitting with Christ at the pinnacle of his glory.
Our Canon to the Ordinary, the Rev. Stephanie Schatz offered us a reflection on this passage—she suggested that people might assume that the Church is a pyramid, hierarchical structure, with lay people, and clergy, congregations and deaneries, dioceses and national churches (the Episcopal Church here in the US) and then the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
But she encouraged us to think about whether this is really a hierarchy or whether there is another way to think about it.
This weekend we participated in our Diocesan Convention. Phil, Ruth, Rev. Rebecca and I sat with delegates from all 82 congregations and worshipped, considered resolutions, shared dinner and voted on the business of the Diocese. Today, after our worship, we are going into our all parish retreat—“Where are We Going? Café”.
At the end of our convention yesterday, our delegation, Rebecca, Ruth, Phil and I reflected on what we took away from the convention. We talked about the the focus on looking out beyond our doors with our mission. Throughout the day, we talked about what we are doing to serve. While there was business (in the form of resolutions and changes to our canons and votes for new people to serve on committees), the take-away from the convention was about who we are and who we are called to serve. We talked about our foreign missioners. We honored our youth presence. We focused on our outreach ministries. There was a wonderful presentation about “team deacon”—a group of four deacons who are supporting one another and building up their congregations as they serve food to hungry people in San Francisco. Nativity was honored among many congregations for our collaboration with the other churches in Marin. Our shared ministries-serving breakfast to the alternative high school with St. Paul’s, working with Senior Access on our caregiver support group and our senior fitness class, working with the Interfaith Street Chaplaincy on the Wellness Dinner, sharing the support of the Marin Episcopal Youth Group—all of these are examples of collaborations that serve our community and build us up as a Church.
And these are the things that resonate with our readings today. Jesus tells his James and John, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." Jesus is reminding the brothers that they will suffer, they will die just like he does, for they are human, mortals—as we all are. But by baptism, just like Jesus’ baptism—a baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, they (and we) are joined with Jesus Christ into one Body. We will share in his resurrected life, we will be forgiven and saved. We are baptized into the Body of Christ to be God’s hands and feet, eyes and ears, serving in the world.
Our convention emphasized that it’s not about which congregation has the most members, or the most clergy. While it might look like we were electing “leaders” who would rule over our church—in fact this meeting was all about who we are as a Body of Christ.
I will share three very telling moments of drama in the Convention. One came as we passed a resolution calling for the Diocese to divest from fossil fuels. Someone who opposed the resolution proposed an amendment—the amendment was to add to the resolution the direction to invest in low-carbon alternative energy and to encourage our congregations to focus on what we as individuals and congregations can do to stop climate change. There was a debate about whether our finance committee and our asset manager who handles our money could meet our fiduciary duty if they were constrained by the direction to invest in alternative energy. So the amendment got amended and what passed focused on what we can do as congregations to stop climate change.
There was another hard moment in the convention when our Chancellor told us about the Diocese lawsuit against Episcopal Senior Communities. Episcopal Senior Communities is attempting to separate itself and become a non-profit without ties to Diocese for the purpose of building and running senior housing. The Chancellor spoke about the lawsuit, but he was near to tears throughout the presentation. We were all so impacted by this rift (which appears to be about money and control). We should be about serving the elders in our community and we are stronger together than we will be if we divide our resources.
Only one resolution failed the convention. That resolution was about a procedural change that would require future resolutions to go through two deaneries before they came to convention. The proposer of the resolution argued that this requirement would strengthen the democratic process and make sure that resolutions had been debated by the congregations around the diocese before they came to convention. But the opposition to the resolution argued that this new requirement would hurt our democratic process by putting a new bureaucratic hurdle in the way of a resolution. What’s remarkable is that on both sides—the convention agreed that the goal is to make our process more inclusive, more robust so that everyone could have a share in governance.
Ruth’s first thought when I asked at the end of the day, what struck you about convention was “the singing”. We sang a lot. We worshipped together six times. We sang rounds, we sang hymns. We lifted our voices with a jazz ensemble, with the Cathedral organ, a cappella, with guitars. By singing and worshipping, we came closer together as a community. As we literally breathed together, we are one Body.
We noted that when there were debates about various items on the agenda, there was a way in which the Bishop and everyone held one another with respect. People who were arguing were still loving one another and supporting one another. The arguments, the differences of opinion were not about who has “power” or who could beat the other side. The entire process was about building us up for the sake of all God’s people.
Rev. Stephanie, the Canon to the Ordinary suggested that instead of thinking of the Church as a pyramid, we might think of it as a hill. If the Bishop is at the top of the hill, we are all standing somewhere on that hill, looking out. Everything we do is focused on service to the least among us. We look out around us in Marin, in the Bay Area, in our Diocese, around the world. As we look out we see the needs of God’s planet and God’s people and we begin to see what our role is in bringing the Kingdom come.
Our Gospel passage today calls us “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."