“Can We Be One with Christ?” A prayerful response to the primates’ call

Aimee low resDear friends,

Many of you have heard of recent news from the Primates of the Anglican Communion regarding the sanctioning of the Episcopal Church. This past Sunday, I preached a sermon sharing my thoughts regarding current developments. I thought it wise to share in writing the portion of my sermon addressing the sanction.

I pray that my thoughts, and the links provided for additional reading, will be a resource for you as we find our way ahead.

In Christ’s Peace,

Aimée

 

“Can We Be One with Christ?”

There is an ambiguity in this question. One might take the question to ask whether we can be united with Christ. Can we be so identified with our Savior that we might be said to be one with him?

But I mean the question in this way: Can we be alone with Christ? Can we be solitary Christians, having a personal relationship with Jesus but disregarding the community of the local church and of the broader church – the entire body of Christ?

This question takes on great relevance for us in light of current events in our wider Anglican Communion. Many of you heard the news last week from within the Anglican Communion regarding the sanctioning of the Episcopal Church. Some of you have asked me about it. On January 14, at a gathering of the Primates of the Anglican Communion— which means Archbishops and Presiding Bishops of members churches of the Anglican Communion throughout the world— a majority of the primates called for a three year period during which the Episcopal Church would ‘no longer represent [the Anglican Communion] on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee, and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, …not to take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity…. This call comes in response to the decision by the Episcopal Church’s general convention last July to change the canonical language that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and to authorize two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples.’

What does this mean for us? Quite practically, it means that while the Episcopal Church will continue to be present at the table within the Anglican Communion, we won’t have voting power to shape decisions. One of our staff members described this as taxation without representation. But it means more than that….

You see, our bonds within the Anglican Communion are based on something much deeper than our decision making bodies. Our bonds grow out of the relationships we build with one another across cultural, national, ethnic, linguistic, even theological, divisions. When we travel to the Diocese of Jerusalem to seek understanding and offer solidarity, when we build a school in the Diocese of Haiti to educate children, our bonds are strengthened. Indeed, our unity within the Anglican Communion is based on something much more momentous than theological differences. We are each members of the body of Christ.

Paul reminds us in today’s reading from 1st Corinthians, “each of us has a role to play within that body, just as each of our organs has a role to play within our physical bodies. There are many more passages in scripture that underline our essential unity in Christ, a unity that is more than a number of humans who share the same beliefs or are members of the same organization. We are, as Christ taught, branches of the same vine. We are one as the Creator and Christ are one. We are one in that we are all temples of the same Holy Spirit. We cannot ignore this unity and claim that our personal, or local, relationship with Christ is all that really matters.

In light of the news from the primates, some have wondered if the Anglican Communion is relevant anymore, or if it’s simply a left-over relic from colonialism. But I contest we in the Anglican Communion need each other in a fundamental way to grow spiritually and to become all that Christ calls us to become. We cannot be who Christ calls us to be without one another.

Those of us surrounded by the abundance of Santa Barbara need to remember that we are grafted to the body of the child dying from diarrhea. We are grafted to the body of the mother watching her child slowly starve because she has no food to give her. We are grafted to the body that wastes away from AIDS because he doesn’t have access to the pharmaceuticals we take for granted. We are grafted to the body of the child soldier forced to do unspeakable evil, and to the refugee seeking sanctuary from such evil. These lives are not theoretical; our debates about doctrine or polity will not save them. But the missional relationships through which we share God’s mercy and loving-kindness might just save us all.

So, no, the Anglican Communion is not outdated. The relationships that bind us together as the body of Christ across the Anglican Communion are necessary for the carrying out of God’s plan for salvation.

Likewise, the member churches of the Anglican Communion who disagree with the movement of the Episcopal Church need us, too. They need our witness to God’s all-inclusive love. The Presiding Bishop of our Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, reminded his fellow Primates of the essential role our Episcopal Church plays in the Communion, saying, ‘many of us have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people,’ as the Bible says, where all are truly welcome. Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all….While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul…are true for the church today: …There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for ALL are one in Christ.’

That’s who we are here, friends: a group of distinct and diverse individuals drawn beyond the opinions or affiliations that would seek to divide us to find our unity in Christ.

The Church, both local and universal, is a gift entrusted to us. It is the visible manifestation of God’s grace, mercy and loving-kindness on earth. We, the body of Christ, are called to make God known in a special way. And we cannot do it alone. We need each other. Only together can we grow spiritually to become all that Christ calls us to be: a house of prayer for all people, where all are truly welcome.”

To learn more about the primates’ call, and responses across the Episcopal Church, follow the links below.

Original news report from Episcopal News Service

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s response to the primates’ action

House of Deputies President response to primates’ action

Episcopal Church bishops respond to primates