Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh
Sermon
Synod Mass, Anglican Province of America
July 11, 2012
I Maccabees, Acts 8: 24-19;7; Psalm 27

 

Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, whose precepts are the wisdom of a loving Father: Give us grace, following the teaching and example of thy servant Benedict, to walk with loving and willing hearts in the school of the Lord's service; let thine ears be open unto our prayers; and prosper with thy blessing the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it is a great joy to be with you once again this year and to be accorded the honor of preaching at this synod Mass. I remember with great fondness and enthusiasm the Provincial Synod we attended just a year ago. Those of us in the Anglican Church in America were welcomed with such heartfelt embrace. We were deeply moved by the reception you gave to us. But, even more, the overwhelming vote of confidence we witnessed in the vote to reconcile our two jurisdictions was a powerful outpouring of the holy spirit. It was a symbol of our mutual desire to do God's will and to recognize God's intent that we should always be unified in the spirit of His love.

 

That the holy spirit was present in the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Province of America and also in the General Synod of the Anglican Church in America there can be no doubt. All who were at each synod knows that. We have all felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in our work. Each synod affirmed overwhelmingly and, yes, unanimously, that we should reconcile and become one in unity of purpose. When we who know the Scriptures and seek to live by the principles set down in holy writ witness such a powerful coming together, we cannot fail to appreciate that, in such rare moments, the will of God is truly accomplished.

 

The readings we hear this evening are drawn from the Book of Maccabees, the Book of Acts and Psalm 27. Because we also celebrate the Feast Day of St. Benedict on this particular day, I threw in the collect for St. Benedict at the beginning of this sermon. What can they all have in common? Well, for one thing, they tell about our history, as Christians. The Acts of the Apostles is known as the history book of the New Testament, the Maccabees tells of the history of the ancient Hebrews and their struggle to survive. We recognize St. Benedict for what he accomplished for the early church. We should never forget that St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, was sent to England at the urging of St. Benedict. Each of these readings is part of our history. These stories should be told and retold. Because they teach us the way of God. But it is to the Psalmist that I take the phrases that will bind these all together. “Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in the right way...be strong, and he shall comfort thine heart.” Teach me THY way, O Lord. And let us always remember those parts of our own history where we have been in accord with God.

 

Because we, in this part of the church do have a history. It has not always been perfect or admirable or always in accord with God's will. But there are times when it has been pleasing to the heart of God. Our reconciliation has been an example of that. But there are others. Perhaps we have had such moments as individuals. And if we have, we must tell them; tell them to each other; tell them to friend; tell them to strangers. Tell these stories of our faith because God compels us to do so.

 

Most of you have heard about the great bishops' retreat to Greece that occurred two months ago. What a glorious time we all had! Yes, the food was great, the accommodations exceptional, the wine excellent and the shopping was, well, as you might expect. But it was the chance to be together, to worship God each day in the presence of brothers and sisters in Christ that was truly memorable. But there is one moment that we will all remember with special poignance whenever we think about our great journey.

 

You have perhaps heard this story. And you will hear it again. Because it is, I firmly believe, an example of how the Holy Spirit, in the simplest yet most profound way can bless our work.

 

Bishops, as you probably know, get their photographs taken a great deal. We are used to it. We expect it. And we recognize that it will come to represent part of the history of the life of the church. But the bishops' retreat was also a time for us to relax, to get away from the burdens of our office for just a few days. But our wives carried cameras. And it seems that photo opportunities presented themselves every few minutes. And, at the bidding of our faithful paparazzi, we would dutifully line up in front of a monument or an altar or a particular bas relief. Or even a restaurant. When we heard the word: “bishops, line up,” we would immediately comply. Though we have great spiritual responsibilities, we are also mindful of the temporal authorities to whom we are responsible.

 

It was on the island of Patmos. It is an island that is revered in the history of the church. For it was there that St. John wrote the “Revelation.” It was on Patmos, too, that we discovered the wonderful icon of Peter and Paul, embracing after years of separation. We were struck by the similarity of our stories. Here we were, bishops of the ACA and the APA, coming together after years of separation. Like Peter and Paul, we too have embraced.

 

And then, there was yet another photo op. Outside the monastery, there is a lovely twelfth century chapel. We were asked to line up in front of it. And so we did. The bishops, standing together before the doors of the chapel, looked out toward those who would take their picture. And then, just as the picture was taken, a white dove flew onto the chapel roof. It was in many ways the perfect symbol of our coming together. Like Peter and Paul, our own reconciliation had been blessed by the holy spirit.

 

This is now part of our story. Just as the Acts of the Apostles tells of the history of the early church, so this story tells a little of our own unique history. This story represents our coming together in the presence of God to do His work in the world. It is our story. And we believe it is blessed by God. Just as the Book of the Maccabees tells the story of the great battles of God's people so many years ago and just as St. Benedict gave us an example of how one of God's faithful people served Jesus Christ, so we, too, will have our stories. But when we tell our stories, it is important for us to be aware that they are not only about us. The best stories – the most perfect stories - are the ones that are of God, the ones that witness to God's purpose in this world. The ones that witness to God's love. Those are the stories we need to embrace and to preserve and to pass on. And for those stories to be created, for those stories to become part of us and to live within us we need instruction. “Teach us thy way, O Lord. Teach us thy way.” Teach us, O Lord, to know of your love and to make it always part of our lives. Teach us, O Lord, to know thy way.

 

God's presence is absolutely necessary to us, to our lives, to our spiritual and material health. We cannot be fully human without God's presence with us. Because God in Christ Jesus teaches us how to live in this temporal world. God in Christ Jesus helps us find our way. But we must ask always His help. What will our future become? We wonder about this. But God knows already. It is left to us to discover that future. We must discern our way forward so that the stories we write in our time will remain vivid in the hearts of all who hear of the faithful people of God in this time and place.

 

We pray that we may always feel the presence of the Holy Spirit descend upon us in our journey together, as we pray together and as we meet the challenges that face us. Let us write that history that you would have us write it – in words aflame in the Holy Spirit. Let us write the stories you would have us write in our hearts and in our minds and in all our work in this world. But to do so, we need your help, O Lord.

“Teach us thy way, O Lord.” Teach us thy way. Now and for all time. Amen.