I preached this sermon last week at St. Paul’s. It was difficult to figure out what to say in the wake of the Primate’s Meeting in Canterbury. Now, I realize this was probably only of interest to some Episcopalians and, perhaps, a few other church nerds. However, it was a big deal in the church. As usual, I wrestled and prayed about what to say. Part of me did not want to talk about it at all, because there have already been a plethora of postings/reactions to it on the web. Given the readings for the day, however, this is what came about. Oh, and by the way, the gospel reading for this Sunday was Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John – changing water into wine.
St. Augustine’s cathedra
The Rev’d Bradley J. Landry
St. Paul’s – San Antonio
Epiphany 2c (2016)
There is a little-known fragment from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that describes a rather curious scene. Unknown until rather recently, scholars are still debating its provenance. A controversial new edition of the English classic, closely guarded until its proper publication, has recently been leaked to the public. And so the scholars produced a communique.
It goes something like this:
On the third day there was meeting in Canterbury of England; the Archbishop and all the Primates were gathered together there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited, as distinguished guests of honor. Everyone – everyone – had wanted to come and see Jesus, and the seats within the cathedral began to run out.
When the disciples and the primates began to argue among themselves as to who should be let in and who should be left out, they came to Jesus and said “They have no seats.”
And Jesus said to them, “Don’t worry about it. What concern is that to us? It’s not time yet.”
With the seats filling up and their anxiety increasing, the disciples and Primates finally put the matter to a vote.
“They must sit boy-girl-boy-girl,” they reported to Jesus, “otherwise there won’t be room.”
“Well that’s just ridiculous!” snorted Jesus. “How does seating them boy-girl-boy-girl make for any more or less room in the church?”
“Well, Lord, it’s quite clear here in holy scripture, right at the beginning, you see: “And he created them male and female, in his image he created them. Male and female, he created them both.” Thus we shall seat them, biblically.
Jesus scratches his head.
Realizing they had not quite convinced him of the importance of seating everyone boy-girl-boy-girl, they pushed on. “Besides, Lord, there is a long history and tradition of alternating genders, that’s how we’ve always done it.”
Peter and Paul and all the other Primates looked rather sheepish. Jesus was still not convinced.
As he peeked around a large marble pillar at the crowd massing inside, Jesus looked upon them with compassion, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. His eyes wide he leaned back and said to the primates and disciples, “We’re going to need a bigger church.”
We’re going to need a bigger church because Jesus said “In my Father’s house there are many, many rooms.” And if we truly mean what we say when we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done…on earth as it is in heaven” then we’re going to need to start expanding who we think belongs. We’re going to need a bigger church.
We need a church that is bigger than our little squabbles and partisan politics, we need a church that is bigger than our egos and attitudes and colors of our skin. We’re going to need a bigger church if we dare to welcome in a bigger God.
Consider the Apostle Paul, for instance. He was building a bigger church…
“There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” he says. And this coming from a man who, once upon a time, tried so zealously to protect the faith by keeping people out.
“There are varieties of services, but the same Lord” he goes on to say, “and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
We must listen carefully, lest we miss the implications of this for building a bigger church: to each (and every one) is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
This season of Epiphany is all about the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the outsiders, the un-chosen…those without seats. Epiphany is all about God building a bigger church to seat all of God’s children. As God proclaimed through the Prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
The manifestation of the Spirit, this gift is not given to us to hoard and protect, it is not given to us as a nest egg or some museum piece. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Your gift is uniquely yours, but it is not for you alone. God has given you this gift so as to build a bigger Church, to fit more people, to make room for us all at God’s table.
Whether we are speaking of church squabbles or presidential politics, whether we’re dealing with family feuds or workplace showdowns, now is not the time to be taking away chairs and barring our doors. Epiphany is a time to fling open the doors, air out the incense, and make room for more.
So let’s return, for a moment, to our (extra-canonical) Canterbury Tale…
Back at the Cathedral the disciples and primates looked at Jesus baffled. “Build a bigger Church? But how? This one’s been here for centuries.”
And Jesus said to them yet again, “Tear down these stones and I will rebuild it all, in three days.”
He’s getting quite good at this, you see. Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, can rebuild a bigger Church. Yet again, Jesus can transform stale water into choice wine. Yet again, there is plenty to go around.
You and I, together we are witnesses of these things. And Jesus told his disciples, that when the spirit of truth comes, you shall do even greater things.
So let’s stir the waters and see what miracles may come. Let’s build the body of Christ into a Church that is large enough to embrace God’s whole creation.
Then the Prophet Isaiah’s vision may come true:
“As when two lovers commit themselves in marriage, so shall your Builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
We’re going to need a bigger Church, and we’re definitely going to need more wine.
We’re going to need one another, and most of all we’re going to need Jesus.