Epiphany 3A “There is Safety Here” The Rev. Linda Campbell
The name of Christian is not held in extremely high esteem. Polls show that negative perceptions towards the Christian faith outweigh the positive. Common negative perceptions are that present-day Christianity is judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned and too political. And a new image attached to the Christian faith has grown in prominence over the last decade. Overall, 91 percent of young non-Christians and 80 percent of young churchgoers say present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual."
Young Christians largely criticize the church, saying it has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else and that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.*
I know I’ve told you this story before, but it left a searing impression with me and with the group of teens and adult leaders I took to the 2003 General Convention. This was the infamous Convention in which the Episcopal Church ratified the election of Gene Robinson to the Episcopate. Most of the teens who had come from all over the country to take part in the convention could honestly not see what the big fuss was about. So what if he’s gay, they asked, is he a good guy, a faithful Christian leader? Every day, we slung the tags around our necks that allowed us to get into the convention, boarded the buses from the campus where we were housed, and made the 30 minute trek to the Convention site. The bus let us off a couple of blocks from the entrance, and after one jaunt down those blocks and into the Convention Center, we learned to take off the identifying tags and put them into our pockets until we came to the entrance. Because in that two blocks, we walked a gauntlet of fellow “Christians”. People who claimed the name of Christ but who carried signs that said the most hateful things I have ever seen – blatant hatred.
While I wasn’t in the South during the Civil Rights era and the de-segregation of schools, we know that young people suffered many gauntlets of hatefulness – often perpetrated by those who claimed the name of Christ.
Young Americans today are more skeptical and resistant to Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago. They believe that "Christianity is changed from what it used to be" and "Christianity in today's society no longer looks like Jesus." According to this study, young born-again Christians were just as likely to say the same thing.*
Someone told me that she had come by this church many times before she ever ventured inside. She just stood outside for many Sundays, trying to "get the vibe" of the place. I want you to know that when someone new walks through these doors, they may have traversed a huge psychic distance to get here. Treat them with kindness and warmth and know that, despite their apprehensions, they have not just come here because they need friends – but because they need God –
and they believe that this may be a place to encounter and experience Divine healing.
Because somehow the name of Jesus continues to be held in very high esteem.
It also happens that the name brand of Episcopalian is still held in fairly high regard, although the number one question I am asked, as people find their way back to the church, is: "so what’s happening with the schism?" Disunity around the table is deeply off putting to those who simply hunger for the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.
The early church fathers had a lot to say about this wrangling between Christians, and the pride that was at the root of this divisiveness. In the 3rd century, Origen wrote “So liable are the best things in the world to be corrupted, and the gospel and its institutions, which are at perfect harmony with themselves and one another, to be made the engines of variance, discord, and contention. This is no reproach to our religion, but a very melancholy evidence of the corruption and depravity of human nature. How far will pride carry Christians in opposition to one another! Even so far as to set Christ and his own apostles at variance, and make them rivals and competitors.*
Earlier, in the 2nd century, Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Trallian community: "I therefore, yet not I, out the love of Jesus Christ, “entreat you that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.” there are some vain talker and deceivers, not Christians, but Christ-betrayers, bearing about the name of Christ in deceit, and “corrupting the word” of the Gospel; ... For they speak of Christ, not that they may preach Christ, but that they may reject Christ; and they speak of the law, not that they may establish the law, but that they may proclaim things contrary to it.”*
Jesus said it a bit more simply – by their fruits you will know them.
What we experienced in
Another churchman of the 1700’s in commenting on this morning's epistle - the 10th chapter to the Corinthians - wrote: “St. Paul extorts them to unity and brotherly love, and reproves them for their divisions….He writes to them in a very engaging way: "I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; if you have any regard to that dear and worthy name by which you are called, be unanimous. Speak all the same thing; avoid divisions or schisms" that is, all alienation of affection from each other. Be perfectly joined together in the same mind, as far as you can. In the great things of religion be of a mind: but, when there is not a unity of sentiment, let there be a union of affections.*
It is this that constitutes the greatness of the Anglican communion – at it’s best. In the great things of religion – a common mind, and where there is not a unity of sentiment – a unity of affections. That is why there has been such an emphasis in the Anglican Communion upon visitations and mingling of people from various parts of the globe. One of our newest Vestry members is a member of the Anglican Church of Uganda, and we are exceptionally privileged to have him among us, to teach us what our Ugandan brothers and sisters know about church unity and church growth that is rooted in Christ, and that takes breath from a common life of prayer in small groups or cells – as they are called in the Ugandan church.
On my desk are the addresses of women from the church in
When people come to our door and want to know – before they enter in- if we are caught up in the politics of schism and judgment – I say, “This is a safe place. We confess Jesus as our Lord. We do not wish harm upon anyone. We feed the poor and the hungry. That is our religion. It is safe, in this community that is established with Christ as the foundation and source of our peace, to be exactly who you are – without fear that you will be condemned or harmed.” This may not sound like a whole lot to offer – but it is the gospel of Christ, and it leads to abundant life for all. Thanks be to God.
*Study: Christianity No Longer Looks Like Jesus, By Audrey Barrick. Christian Post Reporter, Tue, Sep. 25 2007
* Origen, (c. 225) I.VI.2, First Principles
(50 – 150), Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter VI Antioch
*Matthew Henry, 1706 – 1721, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. VI (Acts to Revelations), 1st Corinthians, Chapter 1