The parable Jesus tells today is very timely for us as Anglicans. You see, we just of course had our general synod – the gathering of all the bishops, representative clergy from each diocese, and representative lay people from each diocese. There were some really important issues that were discussed, one of which was the horrendous treatment of First Nations persons by colonizing Europeans: residential schools where children were literally ripped from the arms of parents and forced into schooling systems that stripped them of their heritage, customs, ways of life, language, values, ethics, morals, and so their capacity to understand their place in the world. Now the intent was very noble: Europeans believed that by being stripped of false beliefs about the world, those who didn’t know God would come to know him, and then could willingly accept him into their lives and be saved. Believe it or not, these Christians truly believed what they were doing was saving and bettering the lives of these folks. Don’t belittle or judge their hopes on the basis of our values and ethics. Hindsight is 20/20. What those colonists and missionaries believed they were doing were offering life and love.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case in every single endeavor we engage in as people, the ways and means of ‘conversion’ or ‘mission’ of helping people to know God, turned out to be exceptionally harmful in ways that Christians of the time should have known better, and in ways that we only understand now after having studied things like anthropology, psychology, sociology. The impetus to convert was good and holy. The method of doing so, we now can see in retrospect as often stripping people of their actual competence in coming to know God through their own means, so also then their autonomy in knowing and willingly accepting or opening to and allowing grace to transform them; and so finally in their relatedness to God and to one another i.e. in their capacity to take what they learned and allow it to shape and reshape their relationships to one another, to share in love and hope in building up their families in the worship and service of God. Instead of enabling far too many of these folks to flourish in a shared faith, we suffocated their capacity for unique reception and transformative witness, by destroying their common and individual lives. Whether intended or not, our sin (as European descendants who inherit the sins of our great grandparents, grandparents, parents and even our own lives) was the failure to recognize something key: that mercy necessarily exercised in sharing grace is not always and to be honest, is often not consistent with the norms and customs of our culture. Mercy MUST be shaped by the witness of Scripture, not by the witness of our culture.
And therefore rightly, the Archbishop, Fred Hiltz, apologized, he confessed and repented, on behalf of our Church, for the sin we committed in bearing false witness to the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. This is important. Why? Because without it, no space in time is made for healing and reconciliation. Without recognizing our sin, without confessing it, without opening ourselves and recognizing we need help and direction from God, we place the scales of blindness over our own eyes, we turn our backs on the freedom, grace, light, and sight, that God brought in Christ. To love neighbor we must see; but to see, we must first know God or else we’ll stumble blindly often causing others and ourselves harm, rather than healing and reconciliation. So this was a step of asking God to forgive our methods and our ways – where we intended good but acted too much in keeping with the ways and understanding of our culture (in the 17th and 18th century) rather than in accordance with the ways of God, as communicated to us by his Son through Scripture.
The other most important matter before the Synod gathering was that of whether or not to change the canon (a canon is a law of the Church), which would unambiguously permit same-sex marriage (marriage between two women or two men) in the Anglican Church of Canada. In order for the canon to receive assent (to pass or for this matter to be allowed unambiguously or only in specific parishes in particular dioceses), the resolution had to pass by a 2/3 majority in three categories. Category 1 are the laity representatives, category 2 are the clergy representatives, and category 3 are the bishops of the Church. The resolution to change the canon passed by 2/3 majority in both the laity and clergy categories, but it failed in the Bishop category, which means that the resolution failed to pass. Now there is a caveat to this in that there are several dioceses, Toronto being one of those dioceses, where there has already been some provision for some parishes to perform same sex marriages. But this resolution not passing means that that permission is not universally given to dioceses, thus to bishops and to clerics in the Canadian Anglican Church.
As you might imagine, and perhaps sitting here today, you might find yourself feeling hurt, angry, frustrated, or confused. Some of you might be indifferent (which would surprise me given that you, as a witness to God, will likely have to speak to your children, grandchildren and neighbors about the church and its teachings on sexuality). On the other hand, there are some of you who might be feeling relief, but also maybe fear about how you will be received or judged for your particular position or understanding.
Here’s the thing: whatever you hold, believe and however you feel, I want you to know something essential and central: you are loved by God. So often in our Church, the implication is that if you do not believe as this or that group of Christians does, you are hated, despised, damned, going to burn in hell. This presumption to certainty is utterly false and unscriptural: no one knows the will of God with respect to another’s salvation. No one. And to presume as such carries with it a dire warning from God about which I have spoken before. So let me state this again: whatever you believe, whomever you are, you are loved by God. It is impossible for this not to be the case, since your very existence is the result of God’s love. And it is his love that sustains you and in which you endure. Without this, you would cease to exist. And I’m not using hyperbole here: without the love of God that sustains you in your very being, you would return to nothing. So the fact that you exist means that you are loved and desired at the level of your very innermost being, by God. Know this and allow it to inform how you respond.
This is the most central thing that I want to say: allow the fact that you are loved by God to be the basis for your response to these particular circumstances. When the lawyer in today’s parable asks Jesus: who is this neighbor that I must love, how does Jesus respond? He doesn’t give a definition of the one who is the neighbor. No. He gives a definition of what it means to fulfil the two commandments and thus the law and therefore, to being a neighbor. It is not the priest who uses purity and contamination worries to avoid the beggar who is suffering after facing a brutal encounter, it is not the legalist who uses laws and again, notions of purity and holiness to avoid the beggar who is suffering, ailing, broken. The one who does the will of God – who fulfills the life of Jesus and so the law – is the one who remains and assists where the beggar is in desperate need of healing.
Now why would a Samaritan – a supposedly unholy one before God – stop to help the beggar on the street? I cannot say for certain. However it has been my experience that those who remain to help despite the cost to themselves, do so because they recognize that they have been loved, that they have been forgiven their own inevitable transgressions, and therefore, they desire to share this lifegiving reality – a release from being defined by our failures – with others.
It is essential then, that you recognize that you are loved by God, for this is the basis of your being – the grace of God more inward to you than all your own inclinations borne out of pain and suffering – that will allow you to fulfil his commandments to love him and your neighbor. To cross over the road – that is, to sustain with those who are themselves hurt, frightened, worried, angry, bitter, tired, relentlessly annoying, whatever their understanding of the results of this synod, whatever their fear about how people will now perceive them, this is the work to which God calls us. Most of you in here will likely understand this. Some of you might not. But let me tell you something: many out there, many who claim the name, ‘Jesus Christ,’ do not. You have the experience and the wisdom to speak to them in charity, with the love you have been consumed in for so much longer than many have been alive. Take your years of living, of loving, of suffering, of enduring of remaining, and share it with those beggars – angry Christians, hurt Christians, dismissive agnostics and atheists – show them the love of God that has given you life. AMEN.