“The Beatitudes, Anglicanism, and Christian Unity” (January 20, 2016: Wednesday after the Second Sunday after the Epiphany)

The following sermon was preached on January 20, 2016, the Wednesday after the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana.

Collect: “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.”

Readings: I Corinthians 1.18-31; Matthew 5.1-12

“His disciples came to him”—Matthew 5.1[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

       Last year, during the school’s Mardi Gras break, I experienced the great opportunity of traveling to the Holy Land, to walk the very land, sail the very waters, and see some of the very things that our Lord Himself once did. For the first five days, my fellow pilgrims and I stayed in a hotel managed by a group of Roman Catholic nuns atop the Mount of the Beatitudes, the mountain that today’s Gospel mentions. In the mornings before breakfast, I stood out on the balcony of the Church of the Beatitudes, located in the center of the hotel grounds, saying my prayers and imagining today’s Gospel. I imagined the crowds being composed of people from all walks of life from every surrounding region coming to see the One whose “fame spread throughout all Syria,” whose “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” they had heard of.[2] I imagined the crowds being large, filling the mountainous space to capacity and Jesus teaching them all the ways of the Kingdom. In my imagination, what I saw was a foreshadowing of the Church, the Body of Christ brought together by God’s Word, founded by His words and actions, that will be perfected in the glory of Heaven as the assembly of all the redeemed of the earth.[3] It was a thought that gave illustration to what Jesus says to us,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.[4]

It is in an inviting spirit of love, gentleness, and humility that Jesus delivers the Beatitudes. Through them, we are called to live lives that reflect God’s character, lives that are merciful, loving, and compassionate. They are demands through which God calls us to reflect His character to and before others, for as Saint John says, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”[5] They are demands which are exceedingly high: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[6]

       The reality of the situation, though, is that the Beatitudes’ demands are so high that there is no way possible that any of us can fulfill them perfectly. Only Jesus, the Giver of the Beatitudes, can do so. What we see in the Beatitudes are demands meant not to draw us away from God, but, rather, to draw us closer to Him, helping us recognize our need for God’s grace in our quest to live righteous lives: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”[7] Not only are they meant to draw us closer to God, they are also meant to draw us closer to each other, for as Jesus says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”[8] So through the Beatitudes God issues an invitation into a holy fellowship, of which His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ is the Head, through whose death, resurrection, and ascension we have all been united and made equal one to another.

Within the Beatitudes is God’s call to us to seek after righteousness and love and seek relationship with our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Every human person created in the image of God, which He has declared to be “very good.” But how can we love those with whom we disagree? How can we seek reconciliation with someone or a group of people that has hurt us emotionally? Last week, the Primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion—the presiding bishops and archbishops of 38 Christian churches in historic relationship with the English Archbishop of Canterbury—saw themselves faced answering similar questions. At the end of their meeting, it was announced that the majority of the Primates voted to put in place specific boundaries regarding The Episcopal Church’s involvement within the Anglican Communion for a three-year period, due to it changing the definition of marriage in its canons, an act that represented “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of [the Anglican Communion] on the doctrine of marriage.”[9] Despite the decision of The Episcopal Church and the hurt that it has caused the majority of its sister Anglican churches, the Primates said in their collective statement,

It is our unanimous desire to walk together…We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury…to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognizing the extent of our commonality, and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.[10]

       Despite the hurt that has been caused and felt by both sides, the most important witness to come out of all of this is the Anglican Communion Primates’ unanimous desire to walk together. They intentionally chose relationship over separation. I am one who theologically disagrees with The Episcopal Church’s decision and recognize that my opinion is in the minority. But with The Episcopal Church’s majority having expressed to me and all others who share my opinion their value and reliability “on [our] commitment to The Episcopal Church…” and that although ours is a minority voice, we “are an indispensable part of who we are as…The Episcopal Church,”[11] I have decided to take the Primates’ example by resolving to continue my walk as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ together with my fellow Episcopalians. I have intentionally chosen continued relationship with them instead of separation.

The reason the Primates did and I do this is because just like those in today’s Gospel, we all see each other as Christian disciples from all walks of life from every corner of the world, seeking after Him whose salvation can be found in no one else and only under whose Name can one be saved.[12] We recognize each other as members of the same Body, Christ’s Body, the Church, taking into account the words of Saint Paul, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”[13] Through the decision to walk together instead of apart, the Anglican Communion Primates with The Episcopal Church, and The Episcopal Church with me all recognize each other as having the same goal—seeking after Jesus, seeking to live by the standards that He gives in today’s Gospel. Though there exist significant disagreements between us about how to do so, in obedience of our Lord’s command that we all be one, we have committed ourselves to remaining and seeking after Jesus together.

In His speaking to us the Beatitudes, Jesus invites us all “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[14] The Beatitudes are Jesus’ invitation for us to experience peace, His peace, “the peace…which surpasses all understanding.”[15] Although it is not easy and we oftentimes fall short (and thanks be to God for His merciful grace when we do), by striving to live out the Beatitudes, we experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God on Earth and of the blessed peace that awaits us all there. Just imagine that if more people in the world took Jesus’ words more seriously, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and…you shall love your neighbor as yourself,”[16] how much of a better place it would be.

May we, together, be more diligent in our striving to live the ways that Jesus commands, keeping in mind this prayer for unity and peace:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life. [17]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2] Matthew 4.23-24

[3] “I Believe In the Holy Catholic Church,” Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York, New York: Doubleday, 1994), 223.

[4] Matthew 11.28-29

[5] I John 4.21

[6] Matthew 5.48

[7] Matthew 6.12

[8] Matthew 25.40

[9] Addendum A of “Walking Together in the Service of God in the World” (http://www.primates2016.org/articles/2016/01/15/communique-primates/), Accessed January 20, 2016. At its 78th General Convention, held during the summer of 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah, The Episcopal Church passed Resolution A036, amending Canon I.18.2(b), “That both parties understand that Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong,” with Canon I.18.2, “The couple shall notify the Member of the Clergy of their intent to marry at least thirty days prior to the solemnization; Provided that if one of the parties is a member of the Congregation of the Member of the Clergy, or both parties can furnish satisfactory evidence of the need for shortening the time, this requirement can be waived by weighty cause; in which case the Member of the Clergy shall immediately report this action in writing to the Bishop.” With the General Convention’s replacement of “a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman” with “the/both parties,” the traditional definition of marriage as was previously upheld by The Episcopal Church became changed, allowing for the solemnization of marriages of couples of the same sex. It was this action which prompted the majority of the Anglican Communion Primates to put in place the boundaries restricting for three years The Episcopal Church’s involvement within the life and work of the Communion that they did.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, “Communion Across Boundaries” (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/07/02/mind-of-the-house-of-bishops-statement-communion-across-difference/), Accessed January 19, 2016.

[12] Acts 4.12

[13] I Corinthians 12.21

[14] Ephesians 4.1-3

[15] Philippians 4.7

[16] Matthew 22.37-39

[17] “The Peace Prayer,” as read by the Honorable John A. Boehner in his resignation announcement as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Congressman for the 8th Congressional District of Ohio on September 25, 2015.

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