To be an Episcopalian is not to be respectable

To be an Episcopalian means not to be respectable.

This morning’s gospel reading is one of the most interesting of the stories about Jesus that are ever told. Even if we’ve heard it before, it still has the capacity to surprise.

He said what?

And what did she say in response?

A mother begs for healing for her daughter and the one we now recognise as king of kings and lord of lords brushes her off with a remark that reads very much like racism.

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”

Nevertheless she persisted and her cheeky reply has an edge to it. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

In that moment, she seems to know his mission to save the whole world considerably better than he did.

And she changes him. He thinks again.

Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.

The issue of race has been very much in our minds this week as night after night the news here has been filled with the events in Charlottesville in the United States and the obscenely inadequate response of President Trump to the racism and violence which occurred there.

The far-right mob that was saw on television was shocking to behold though for me not that surprising. The same forces which stoked that hatred were turned on us here at St Mary’s using the internet just a few months ago and we met under police protection for our worship for a while.

As has been the case at a number of times in our history, we were known then as a congregation to be not entirely respectable.

We are so used to seeing Jesus as the epitome of everything that it stops us short to hear his response to the woman we meet today.

Is he on the side of equity and justice or isn’t he.

The trouble is, then as well as now, that our notions of God can make us think that all that we behold in Jesus outshines all that is in the human heart. We think of him as perfect, eternal goodness, notwithstanding our view that he became fully human.

The danger of thinking of him in quite that way is that it might dazzle us so much that we cannot see the truth that God is in everyone. Everyone is made in the image and likeness of God and even the presence of Jesus next to someone should not drown that out.

And it doesn’t.

She speaks the truth. God’s truth. She has a conscience. She uses her cheek and guile and yes, maybe her sheer cussed desperation to challenge something that she knows can’t be right. She is not quite respectable and she doesn’t care.

And the Lord of Lords changes his mind. His heart is melted and he brings and end to suffering.

Never again do we hear of him attempting to turn someone away because they were not of the right people. Or indeed not the right anything. He ended up being the saviour for everyone.

God is with her as she speaks. God is with her even as she speaks the truth. And God is with each and every one of us demanding no less.

Even if it is the most righteous, Godly, holy person who confronts us with what seems to be racism, this gospel suggests that God will be with us as we confront it anyway.

The racism in the USA this week is real and must be confronted with the narrative of justice. It must also not blind us to such things here either.

Just up the road from here in the last 10 days there was a violent homophobic attack in a street in which I regularly walk.

Speaking truth to such violence can be costly.

My friends in the American church are trying to find the words today to speak truth and God’s wisdom to their situation.

They will be emboldened on this day by the memory of one of the people they have put in their calendar whose feast day falls today – Jonathan Myrick Daniels.

He is not so widely known here but he would be a good suggestion to enhance our calendar of saints too. He was a young Episcopalian seminarian who in 1965 answered Martin Luther King’s call to clergy and seminarians to go to Selma to work for Civil Rights.

Having been unjustly imprisoned, on his release he and those with him were attacked and he lost his life shielding a young black woman Ruby Sales. He died. She lived. And she went on to be a human rights advocate in Washington DC. He was a hero of the faith who died saving others. She is a hero of the faith who lives still, saving others still.

In the commemoration of his martyrdom today, I hope that our beloved Episcopalians in the USA find strength and courage and wisdom for this moment.

And so should we too.

For as I said, it is not just in the USA that such forces must be confronted.

I spent some time this week working on leaflets for the Pride march which some of us went on yesterday. As I was doing so, I went online to ask others for some ideas.

I was sent a piece of writing about the Scottish Episcopal Church written about 15 years ago which I’m going to end with.

It is from Robin Angus, one of the living saints of the diocese of Edinburgh.

He said this.

To be an Episcopalian means to be on the side of the poor and persecuted everywhere. For nearly a century our worship was outlawed, our churches were burned or raided by soldiers, our priests were banished, imprisoned or killed, our people harried and fined, informed against and ostracised. For this reason, it is the glory and honour of every Episcopalian also to be a Jew, a Palestinian, gay, black, untouchable, and every other kind of person who ever has, is, or will be persecuted or disadvantaged. This is why, too, Episcopalians glory in racial diversity, a tradition which goes far back into our history. Bishop Forbes of Ross proudly recorded how he had confirmed two young [black people] at one of his crowded Highland Confirmations in 1770, at a time when even to attend such Confirmations, let alone minister at them, was still a criminal act.

To be an Episcopalian means not to be respectable.

Remember that this day as you worship in this beautiful house of God in the oh so respectable West End of this glorious city.

To be here is to be part of something decidedly not respectable.

And as we give honour and love to God here in this place for an hour or two a week, it is our joy, our destiny and our delight to give love and honour to God as God appears to us in the faces of the souls we meet for every other hour.

That is who we are.

And if you are here this day or find yourself in any of our churches, then that is the kind of faith to which we call you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


How not to have a synodical discussion

This afternoon I’ve been engaged in a discussion at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church about same-sex marriage. At least, that’s what it was supposed to be about. Often in the afternoon it felt like a discussion about how to have a discussion. (All of this was being facilitated by Hugh Donald of A Place for Hope initiative of the Church of Scotland NB correction from earlier text)

We began by someone challenging the process by speaking against the motion to suspend the standing orders and go into a different mode of meeting. That challenge didn’t fly, but a quarter of the synod members didn’t want to go into small groups. That’s quite a high proportion of dissatisfied customers to begin with.

We were then invited to listen to a conversation amongst some people who were part of a previous conversation at Pitlochry that had been limited to invited people only. Already we were into the territory of people feeling excluded from a process – at my table there were two of us who would have liked to have been at Pitlochry but who had found ourselves excluded from it.

The conversation that we were invited to watch went on for a bit and they all agreed that Pitlochry had been wonderful and transformative. (Guess what that feels like if you’ve been excluded!) However it was difficult to hear much about what they had talked about at Pitlochry.

But the worst thing from my point of view is that this conversation that we were invited to witness had no participant who was ordained and gay.

It was the antithesis of the principle that you don’t speak about people without including them in the conversation. There were plenty of ordained people  who happen to be gay in the room too – just not invited to be part of that conversation.

Then we went into table groups where we were expected to talk about gay people’s personal lives without having any warning of what the questions would be and without any reference to the fact that straight people have a sexuality too. (The questions very clearly made gay people the problem the church was trying to solve).

For some reason, the people who went to Pitlochry who had a great time there who have come back saying how much wonderful listening was going on are finding it terribly difficult to listen to those who were not there or who have any criticism of the process.

At the end of all this, bumping into some of my gay friends in the room, I saw one brushing back tears (and I knew they were fury tears not just ordinary upset tears), another was still fizzing about the questions and was heading off to have a go at one of the bishops about how manipulative it had been, another with his head in his hands saying “how long can this go on” and another patiently trying to explain to straight liberal so-called allies why being asked to wait another year (yet again) did not feel like a step forward.

Rounding off this session of the Cascade process, the Primus spoke of how well it was being conducted and how well it was going.

He does not walk in my shoes.