Monday, November 5, 2018


This All Saints Sunday, 
           we remember St. Jerome, 
            a bad 5thCentury theologian,
            who did a questionable job 
            translating the Bible into Latin
     while abusively maligning the women 
                   who cared for him.
But he once removed a thorn from a lion’s paw,
            so they became fast friends.

We remember Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, 
           officers in the Roman army
until they admitted they were Christians.
Then Emperor Maximian forced them 
            to parade in drag through the streets
            before executing them.

Speaking of being in drag, 
        there was the 4thCentury St. Pelagia.
She started out as an exotic dancer 
             with the stage namePearl.
After her conversion, 
she changed her real name Pelagia 
to its male form, Pelagius,
            dressed as a man, 
            and lived in Jerusalem as a monk.

3rdCentury St. Calistus began life as a slave,
            then after his emancipation launched 
            his highly successful career as a thief.
Later he became the Pope, 
             and decreed that penitent sinners,
            including murderers, 
            were welcome in the Church.

St. Odo of Cluny was a 10thCentury monk.
who instituted many church reforms 
       – most importantly requiring monks 
to wash their underwear every Saturday.

Some saints were notably kind, good, 
        and generous. 
Others, not so much.
Some were smart 
         – like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
Others not so smart.
Some, like Joan of Arc, shaped history.
Others, like Jean-Baptiste Vianney 
            lived simple lives far removed 
            from the world’s great affairs.

Saints are not necessarily moral heroes 
                who got it right.
Many were deeply flawed. 
Some were downright nuts.
So why do we celebrate them?

Collectively, the saints represent 
               the communion of sanctified humanity.
They are not sanctified 
            because of their individual virtues but 
           because they joined together 
                         in a holy bond.

Tertullian, the first theologian to write 
            about the Trinity, said, 
A Christian alone is no Christian at all.

Just so, sainthood is about  communion,
              relationship made holy because 
              it is a partnership in God’s mission.

Ritually, we join that relational network 
               when we sing the Sanctus. 
In Heaven, the saints and angels perpetually sing
 the music of the spheres, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
So we say, “Therefore we join our voices 
               with angels and archangels
               and all the company of heaven.”
Then live that holiness in our relationship  
              with each other. 

The Communion of All Saints is the spiritual unity 
            of all believers.
But within that unity 
             there is a lot of personal diversity,
            that can be hard to manage.
Augustine despised Jerome’s Latin translation 
           of the Bible, and accused him 
            of ruining the faith.

Paul wrote this about Peter 
        whom he called Cephas, 
When Cephas came to Antioch 
I opposed him to his face 
because he stood condemned.

In 12thCentury France, Peter Abelard 
            and St. Bernard of Clairvaux
            wrote beautifully of divine 
            and human love.
But they loathed each other.
Bernard devoted himself single-mindedly 
to destroying Abelard’s academic career.
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 well be rubbish.
Or it may be that God is at work in our conflicts,
            using our stumbling, messy relationships 
            to sanctify our souls and transform us
into the unlikely agents of God’s mission.
Maybe, as the saying goes 
               God rides the lame horse 
         and carves rotten wood.

Maybe God does not choose to live 
in a commune of blissed out airheads,
but rather in a community 
of flesh and blood people
with all the faults and foibles 
that make us human.

In case that is true,
            we might want to consider today 
             what it means to really be Church
       and how to go about it.

Really becoming the Church,
changes both our expectations 
and our behavior.
On both fronts,  we can learn something 
        from community organizing.
I am delighted that you are working to create
a broad based community organization,
       because that’s a way we can learn 
       how to be Church.

As for expectations, perhaps we are lonely; 
            so, we come to church
            looking for soul mates, 
            intimate personal friends.
Maybe we find a few. Maybe we don’t.

Most of church people are not going 
            to fit for us in that close personal way. 
Some of us will even irritate each other.

What we can offer is, 
       in the language of community organizing,
public friendship.
Public friends may not want to go out for a beer
or share their darkest secrets.
But public friends can work with each other.
We share a common mission so
we are willing to hear someone’s story,
       to understand where they are coming from,
            to find out what they have at stake 
            in a situation.
We can trust them to be honest with us
            because we are honest with them.
When Jesus commands us to love one another,
            the word we translate as lovemeans 
             something far closer to public friendship 
             than personal friendship. 
It’s more about being partners than buddies.

We may be blessed 
        to make some personal friends in Church.
But that’s gravy.
The proving ground of our faith 
       is the public friendships, 
the partnerships in mission.

To establish a network of public friendship
            for God’s mission, 
            there are three basic steps:

 First, we need to all know the mission.
The catechism states the mission in broad terms:
“to restore all people to unity with God 
    and each other in Christ.”

We have spelled out the specifics 
               in the Five Marks of Mission. 
Every member of the Church needs 
                  to know the Marks.
If you don’t already know them, 
          just Google “Five Marks of Mission.”
Then write them on your doorposts. 
Tattoo them on your arm.
Repeat them when you wake up each morning.
Second, we can work out the ground rules 
             for our relationships. 
A small congregation in Utah was declining, 
           aging, and torn by perpetual conflict. 
They negotiated a behavioral covenant.
They made their expectations explicit 
            and put them writing.
Seven years later, 
            they were the largest Episcopal Church 
              in the state.
The guide for that is Behavioral Covenants 
               in Congregations by Gil Rendle.

The third step is the spiritual discipline 
             of surrendering our preferences
            to the gospel mission through 
              intentional relationship practices
like praying for each other,
listening to understand instead 
of planning our reply,
       speaking to someone we don’t know 
       each Sunday and learning something 
                    about them.
It includes trusting the leadership,
            forgiving each other when we stumble,
            subordinating our own favorite projects 
             to the common good
                        of the whole Church.
Community is built brick by brick 
       through the years
by such relational actions.

This isn’t easy.
It takes intentional persistent effort fueled 
             by God’s grace.
Why would we undertake such an arduous task?

Because it will grow our souls 
            and enlarge our lives.
It will expand our capacity 
           for joy and appreciation.
It will bless those around us 
             and make us a channel of blessing
              instead of a pit of need. 
And it will, with God’s help,
            change our world into the godly home 
            our Creator  earnestly and desperately  
            wants for us all.

Let us pray:
God we are so used to seeing ourselves 
as individuals with personal destinies.
Remind us that we are made in your Triune image, 
the image of community.
Help us to love each other and be made one as 
you are one. 
Whisper your love to us 
that we may whisper your love to the world. 
(Common Payer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)