Michael W Hopkins
The Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene
November 5, 2006: All Saints’ Sunday
“It’s a Girl!”
Who would have ever believed it? A girl is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church!
For any of you who have not been paying attention, we have lived through an extraordinary fifty or so years in the Episcopal Church. A little history is important for us to review today.
In 1952, a change in the constitution of the Episcopal Church was presented to the General Convention (our church-wide decision-making body that meets every three years). It proposed to change the word “layman” to “lay deputy, man or woman” in setting forth the qualifications for being elected a deputy to the General Convention.
The resolution failed.
Eight years later, in 1964, a report was issued showing that it was still not possible for a woman to be elected to a parish vestry or a diocesan convention in half of the dioceses of the Church, 39 out of 77.
Resolutions to change these restrictions failed again in 1958, 1961, and 1964. Finally, the 1967 General Convention changed the word “laymen” in the constitution to “laypersons,” and in 1970 the first women were seated as Deputies to our General Convention.
The same Convention, in 1970, allowed women to be ordained as deacons. In 1973, however, a resolution allowing for women to be ordained priests failed. The first women were ordained priests “irregularly” in 1974. The General Convention of 1976 approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and, technically, to the episcopate.
It was not until 1989, however, that the first woman was consecrated a bishop, the Rt. Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris as the Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts. Today, 17 years later, 12 women have served or are serving as bishops in the Episcopal Church (and four in two other provinces of the Anglican Communion, three in Canada and one in New Zealand).
And now we begin to pray for “Katharine, our Presiding Bishop.” It has been an amazing journey for which we should be grateful to God.
How wonderful that we are given the story of Ruth on this Sunday when we are celebrating this milestone: How wonderful, and how ironic. Ironic because, of course, it was the Bible itself that was used to prop up a male-dominated church and a male-dominated society. It seemed that women were meant to be in a lesser and subjugated role right from the very beginning with the story of Adam and Eve.
Burt the wonderful thing about the Bible is that it contains significant “minority reports” that have frequently sowed the seeds of its own subversion. If the story of the Bible was itself male-dominated, there was always present this minority report, including the Book of Ruth, which said to anyone who had eyes to see and ears to hear that it wasn’t quite as simple as it sounded or as clear-cut as it looked.
One of my favorite examples of these seeds of subversion is the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel where somewhat inexplicably three women appear: Tamar, the daughter of Judah (one of the sons of the patriarch Jacob), Ruth the grandmother of King David, and Bathsheba, David’s wife and the mother of Solomon. And it is even more extraordinary that these three women were all marginalized in ways that women typically have been through the ages: Tamar was the victim of rape; Ruth was a foreigner, an outsider, who helped an all-female household survive; Bathsheba, like a piece of property, was stolen from her husband and claimed by David as his own.
These women, along with many others—Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Judith, Mary, Mary Magdalene—to name a few, have always been there in the Bible writing the minority report over the centuries that is finally being noticed on a significant scale in our own day. May God continue to bless and prosper the ministries of women, including our new Presiding Bishop.
Because of this blessing and prosperity, women in our day and, more importantly, in the future, do not have to wonder if they are among “the saints,” or, if they are, only as shining examples of obedience and virtue. The holy ones of God are folk like Katharine, and Arlene, and Jacquelyn, and Mary Ann, and Maame Esi. They are loved the same by God and as any man was ever loved and they have the same ministry as any man who ever ministered.
And this is good news for all of us, male and female alike, because it means that what is important to God about each and every one of us alike is simply our being, our created-ness, none of which is any better than anyone else’s.
We continue to get it quite backward in the Church on this “saints” thing, you see. We continue to think that the saints are saints because of something they have done or are doing. That is not the truth. The saints are the saints simply because they are loved by God, and having been loved by God, that love changes them.
It is said quite wonderfully by Eugene Peterson in his translation of the portion of the Letter to the Hebrews we heard this morning:
Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.
Perhaps the only qualification for sainthood is that one “get” that all efforts at “making ourselves respectable” are foolishness in the eyes of God, who has been head over heals in love with us from the time our being occurred in her imagination.
So today we celebrate Katharine, and the remarkable ministries of women in our Church which have finally been allowed to flourish in our day, and we give thanks for the God who has declared us saints, holy ones, beloved, whether we deserve it or not, so that out of that freedom we can join in the progress of freedom that is God’s dream for the whole creation.
It is this dream to which Katharine herself called us yesterday, and I will let her finish the sermon this morning.
In Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost said that "home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." We all ache for a community that will take us in, with all our warts and quirks and petty meannesses - and yet they still celebrate when they see us coming! That vision of homegoing and homecoming that underlies our deepest spiritual yearnings is also the job assignment each one of us gets in baptism - go home, and while you're at it, help to build a home for everyone else on earth. For none of us can truly find our rest in God until all of our brothers and sisters have also been welcomed home like the prodigal.
There's a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work - shalom. It doesn't just mean the sort of peace that comes when we're no longer at war. It's that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it's a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it's a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, it's a vision of a world where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God.
Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. It is that vision of the lion lying down with the lamb and the small child playing over the den of the adder, where the specter of death no longer holds sway. It is that vision to which Jesus points when he says, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." To say "shalom" is to know our own place and to invite and affirm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God.
You and I have been invited into that ministry of global peace-making that makes a place and affirms a welcome for all of God's creatures. But more than welcome, that ministry invites all to feast until they are filled with God's abundance. God has spoken that dream in our hearts - through the prophets, through the patriarchs and the mystics, in human flesh in Jesus, and in each one of us at baptism. All are welcome, all are fed, all are satisfied, all are healed of the wounds and lessenings that are part of the not-yet-ness of creation.
That homecoming of shalom is both destination and journey. We cannot embark on the journey without some vision of where we are going, even though we may not reach it this side of the grave. We are really charged with seeing everyplace and all places as home, and living in a way that makes that true for every other creature on the planet. None of us can be fully at home, at rest, enjoying shalom, unless all the world is as well. Shalom is the fruit of living that dream. We live in a day where there is a concrete possibility of making that dream reality for the most destitute, forgotten, and ignored of our fellow travelers - for the castaways, for those in peril or just barely afloat on life's restless sea.
This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years by the vision of shalom embedded in the Millennium Development Goals - a world where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, women and men treated equally, and where all have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic health care, and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation. That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us. It is God's vision of homecoming for all humanity.
You go girl! And we’ll go with you.