Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Life at St. Paul's is very rich: Catching up on the last few weeks

We have some catching up to do from the last few weeks. Although I've taken a writing break here in this space, life at St. Paul's has been wonderfully rich of late. We've had four baptisms and our annual official visitation with Bishop Shannon Johnston, with a dozen confirmations.

Pastor Janet Legro has returned on Wednesday evenings to lead a class entitled "Three Bits of Wisdom to Guide Our Relationships," and more than 80 people came out to hear her last week. Her class continues tonight, so come if you can.

Two Sundays ago, we had a guest preacher, Robert Ratdke, the president of Episcopal Relief and Development who told us about the amazing work across the globe from our church to mitigate poverty and save millions of lives.

And Lori and I hosted the annual "Parish Tea" at our home. Although the rain kept it from being a garden party, more than 50 people graced us with their presence, and many hands helped make it a wonderful gathering.

I have to say the high point of the Easter season for me was the blessings of the covenanted relationship of Margaret Mohrmann and Deborah Healy on April 14. It was the first time a same-gender union has been blessed at St. Paul's, and we did so with the full sanction of Bishop Johnston. The day was the culmination of a great deal of work by Deborah and Margaret and a year-long process in the parish of forums, biblical study, and prayer. This was not the first such ceremony in the Diocese of Virginia -- there have been several in Northern Virginia. But this was the first in our region.

We invited the parish to attend, and the place was packed. The most amazing moment in the ceremony for me was when I invited other clergy to come forward to join in blessing the couple, and eight came forward, and from many denominations. The fullness and love of the Kingdom of God was on display.

I preached at the ceremony, and with the permission of Margaret and Deborah, I am sharing the sermon with you here. For those who are still struggling with this issue, I especially hope you will read it:

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Margaret Mohrmann and Deborah Healey

April 14, 2012 

First, Deborah and Margaret, stand up. Look around. Take a moment and look into the faces of everyone here.
         We love you, we bless you, we honor you.
         And we are blessed and honored by you. We thank you for bringing us here today, for your love and your friendship and the blessings you bestow on us.
         Now you can be seated.
         I have a few words I want to share today with all of you, and then a few words for Margaret and Deborah.

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         We are doing something today that is very old and very traditional, and really, if you think about it, wonderfully ordinary.
         At first glance, it may not seem so. None of us are, after all, very old, at least compared with the long sweep of Christian tradition. All of us are quite young, comparatively anyway. And no one here is ordinary. And at first glance, we are doing something breathtakingly new for the Church, an institution not exactly known for doing things in breathtaking fashion or breathtaking speed.
We are, in fact, doing something never done before within these four walls of St, Paul’s Memorial Church, and never before done in any Episcopal Church in Central Virginia: Blessing the covenant of two people, who are of the same sex, and we are doing so with the sanction and blessing of our bishop, Shannon Johnston.
Today is an historic milestone for this church, and it is meet and right that we so note. We especially need to pause with gratitude for all those courageous souls, for their witness and perseverance, who have made what we do today possible.
And we especially need to thank you, Deborah and Margaret, for inviting us here and for your willingness to be first.
Yet what we do today is very old and very traditional.
         What we do today stretches back to the time of Abraham, Jacob and Moses, to the time of Jesus and Saint Paul.
         What we do today is biblical in its tradition and biblical in scope:
         We are witnessing and blessing the solemn covenant between two people who are pledging their lives to each other.  They are doing what people have been doing for millennia and millennia, and that makes this wonderfully ordinary.
         We, too, are making a covenant with each other to support and encourage Deborah and Margaret “in times of joy and in times of sorrow.”
         We are in this with them.
         A covenant is not the same as a contract. A contract is an agreement for the exchange of goods and services.
And while a contract can sometimes lead to a relationship, a contract is not about the relationship; it is about the goods and services exchanged – and the parties might not ever even meet.
         A covenant is different. A covenant is an agreement that creates an intimate bond. It is primarily about the relationship, and the deepening involvement among those making the covenant.
         Today Margaret and Deborah are standing squarely within the blessed covenant of God and Abraham, and the relationship that covenant created.      
One way of looking at the long march of Christian history is to see it as the struggle to broaden, often painfully, our understanding of who is included in the covenant of God and Abraham.
Our forbearers began to call it the “new covenant” even as their understanding of its breadth and depth was incomplete.
Saint Paul and the early Christians proclaimed the death of Christ on the Cross as the supreme expression of the “new” covenant that all people everywhere are to be included in this old covenant.
And so, in a few minutes, we appropriately will remember again when Jesus, on the night before he died, broke bread and blessed all who shared at his table, and we will remember again how he proclaimed he is bound us, and to everyone else, by this “new covenant.”
         Margaret and Deborah chose with great care the readings we hear today, for each reading shines brightly with a different perspective on this covenant that is constantly made new.
From the prophet Isaiah:
 “I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open eyes that are blind…”
From Paul’s letter to the Romans comes the most succinct instruction we may ever hear on how to morally live into this covenant:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another…
“Bless those who persecute you… rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…live peaceably with all.”
And from the Gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus proclaim that God’s Kingdom is here now, if only we will open our eyes to see it:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
Our world finds many ways to be poor, many ways to hold people captive, many ways to be blind, to be oppressed by bigotry, prejudice, racism, homophobia, and just plain narrowness of mind and spirit.
The covenant Margaret and Deborah make today is very good news for the whole world because their covenant breaks through the captivity of blindness and oppression and narrowness. 
Our world is made new here, today.
The covenant between Deborah and Margaret shows us a way forward in all of human relationships.
No one today is allowed to be the same again because of their covenant with each other and our covenant with them.
By your example, Margaret and Deborah, you give us a model for a life of self-giving, founded in love and forgiveness, generosity and joy, with Christ at your center.
Yet, what Deborah and Margaret do today is uniquely theirs, a gracious gift to them alone from God.
They are made new today and life for them will never be the same again.
 By their covenant, Margaret and Deborah set forth today to explore life together in a new way, with the risks and vulnerabilities that come with that.
And by conferring the blessing of the Holy Church, we signify that they are set apart for a Holy purpose with each other and for God’s Kingdom. That makes what they embark upon today their Holy vocation.
         My final words are therefore for you, Deborah and Margaret. Please stand up.

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This may strike you as, well, very Anglican, because these next words come from the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Amid all of the pageantry and pomp, Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, gave one of the most generous homilies I have ever heard about how two people can be bound together in a covenant of love with Christ at their center.
And so Margaret and Deborah, here are the words of Bishop Chartres, and these words are especially for you: 
 “You have both made your decision today – “I will” – and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.
“The spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this: the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed.
“We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive. We need mutual forgiveness in order to thrive.
“As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light.

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And, so my dear friends, Deborah and Margaret, we pray you will continue to grow in the light you give each other, to thrive, to be at each other’s side as companions on the way, in faith, hope and love, and for the Glory of God and the life of the world.
May you go from blessing to blessing, strength to strength, and your light shine forth brightly in this world. AMEN
James Richardson, Fiat Lux

1 comment:

Peter said...

Thank you, Jim, for making these remarks available. The day was indeed extra-ordinary, certainly a Top Ten moment in my 28 year life at St Paul's and 64 year life in the Episcopal church. That Deborah and Margaret shared it with such generosity and affection added to the glory.