Monday, November 3, 2014


Today we celebrate the communio sanctorum,
            the Communion of All Saints.
This isn’t just about an All Star list of solo heroes.
It’s about their communion, their relationship.
We celebrate their relationship with each other in Christ.
We join that relational network each Eucharist
when we sing the Sanctus.
According to Isaiah and Revelation, in heaven
the saints and angels are perpetually singing
            the music of the spheres, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
So we say, “Therefore we join our voices with angels and archangels
and all company of heaven.”

The Communion of All Saints is the spiritual unity
            of everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus.
But within that unity there is tremendous diversity,
            and diversity can be hard to manage.

Take the 4th Century saints, Augustine and Jerome.
They did not get on at all.
Augustine hated Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible,
            and accused him of “ruining the faith.”
In Galatians Paul speaks of Peter whom he calls Cephas.
Paul says, “When Cephas came to Antioch
I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned.”

No one ever wrote more beautifully of divine and human love
            than Peter Abelard and St. Bernard of Clairvaux
                        in 12th Century France.
But they despised each other.
For years, Bernard devoted himself single-mindedly
to destroying Abelard’s academic career.

The hard historic fact is that the saints
have not always seen eye to eye.
If the world is supposed “to know we are Christians by our love,”
            no wonder the world is confused.

So is this talk of the Communion of All Saints pious rubbish?
It may be. It may well be rubbish.
Or it may be the very miracle that gives us hope
            in this era of ideological fragmentation, political polarization,
            social silo living, and spiritual alienation.
It may be that there is a miracle of grace
            running like the Jordan River down through this barren land
                        of rocky relationships.
It may be that God is at work in our conflicts,
            using our stumbling, messy relationships
                        to sanctify our souls and make us agents of his mission
                        to unite heaven and earth.

Maybe God does not choose to live
in a commune of blissed out airheads,
but rather in a community of flesh and red-blooded people
            with all our faults and foibles that make us human.
If that is true,
            then our relationships in the Church may be difficult
                        but they are all the more important for that.
Our relationships are the context of our Christian practice.
In case that is true,
            I want to offer a few thoughts on how we go about            
                        this curious project of being Church today.

To really become the Church,
we have to change both our expectations and our behavior.
On the expectations front,
            we can learn something from community organizing.
I have been eager for you to participate
            in Nevadans for the Common Good,
            not just because we need to improve life in Las Vegas,
            but because that’s where we can learn how to be Church.

A lot of us are lonely so we come to church
            expecting to find soul mates, intimate personal friends.
Maybe we find a few. Maybe we don’t.
But most of the people in a congregation are not going
            to fit for us in that close personal way.
We cannot all be that to each other.

What we can offer each other is public friendship.
Public friends may not be people we want to have a beer with.
Public friends are not people we tell our secrets.
But public friends are people we can work with.
They share a common mission we want to join.
We are willing to get to know their story,
            to understand where they are coming from,
            to find out what they have at stake in a situation.
They are people we can trust to be honest with us
            because we are honest with them.
When Jesus commands us to love one another,
            the word we translate as “love” means something far closer
            to public friendship than personal friendship.

Yes, we form some personal friendships in the Church.
But they are not what the Church is for.
In fact, St. Aelred had to write a treatise in the 12th Century
to argue that those personal friendships are even ok.
They are not just ok. They are blessings.
But the proving ground of our faith is those other relationships
            with the people who are not our personal friends.
If we are going to establish a network of public friendship
            for the good of God’s mission in Nevada,
            there are three basic steps:

First we have to familiarize ourselves with the Church’s mission.
I don’t mean: do a mission statement exercise.
The Church already has a mission.
It’s in the Catechism. Our mission  is:
“to reconcile all people to each other and God in Christ.”
In case that’s too broad, we have already spelled out the specifics
            in the Five Marks of Mission.

It is essential that every member of the Church know
            the Five Marks of Mission so we are all clear
            on the project that brings us together.
If you don’t already know them, just Google “Five Marks of Mission.”
They’re right there on the web.
Write them on your doorposts.
Post-It note them on your refrigerator.
Tattoo them on your arm.
Know our common mission.

Second, we need to work out the ground rules for our relationships.
A small town congregation in a neighboring state
was declining, aging, and torn by perpetual conflict.
So they worked out a behavioral covenant.
They made their expectations explicit, put it them writing.
Today, seven years later, they are the largest Episcopal Church in the state.
There’s an outline for how to do this from the Alban Institute.
It doesn’t matter how we do it, but it is essential that we do it
            if we are really here for the mission,
            if we truly want to change the world to match God’s vision.

The third step is to take on the spiritual discipline
            of surrendering our wills and our preferences
            to the gospel mission through intentional relationship practices.
To list those practices would take a 6-week course, not a sermon.
It includes praying for each other, looking at each other,
            smiling at each other whether we feel like it or not,
            speaking to someone we don’t  know each Sunday
                        and learning something about them.

It includes trusting the leadership to be wise and honest,
            forgiving each other when we stumble,
            subordinating our own favorite projects to the common good
                        of the whole Church.
Community doesn’t just happen.
It has to be built brick by brick thorugh relational actions.

This isn’t easy stuff.
It takes intentional persistent effort fueled by God’s grace.
That’s what we will commit ourselves to
            when we renew our Baptismal Vows.

Why would we undertake such an arduous task?
Because it will grow our souls.
It will make our lives larger.
It will expand our capacity for joy and appreciation.
It will be our pathway to heaven, not just in the world to come,
            but now in this life, in this place, in this time.
And it will, with God’s help,
            change our world into the godly home our Creator

                        earnestly and desperately wants to give us all.