Sermon preached on Palm/Passion Sunday at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, Rochester, New York: Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 26:14--27:66
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2)
It is a terrible day after a terrible week. It isn’t any fun at all listening to that story about Jesus’ betrayal and suffering and death. Nor was it any fun living through the events of this week in our state and in our church.
I am, of course, referring, on the one hand, to the tragedy of Governor Spitzer’s downfall at his own hands, and, on the other, to the news that Bishop Gene Robinson will be totally excluded from this summer’s Lambeth Conference, the every ten year meeting of all the bishops of our Anglican Communion. These two stories relate to the story of Jesus that we have heard in two very different ways, but they also both relate to the lens with which to view Jesus’ story that St. Paul gives us this morning: “Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
First, Eliot Spitzer.
It is easy and right to feel betrayed by Governor Spitzer. The blatant disregard for his family and his office and the sheer hypocrisy of his actions take the breath away. He certainly did the right thing in resigning as his integrity was just way too far compromised, besides the fact that he broke the law.
Yet I was troubled, and all Christians ought to be troubled, by all the talk of politicians such as the Governor being held to “a higher standard.” Do we really mean to let ourselves off the hook—that somehow if you or I were guilty of the same kind of disregard of our sacred vows and utter hypocrisy we should not be as accountable?
No. In the Christian vision there is only one standard, and it is high across the board.
We all have to bear that, not just public officials or those otherwise in the public eye. The standard is bearable, however, because of the other reality before us today—that Jesus died to save us from this unbearable standard. So we Christians can never gloat when someone like Eliot Spitzer falls; in fact, we are compelled to say that he is more like us than not. He is a fallen man, just like you and just like me, and Jesus died to save him and to save you and to save me.
Jesus loves Eliot Spitzer, and loves you and loves me. And we are called to have the same mind, to embrace suffering so that it can be redeemed. And that is true whether the suffering is deserved or not. We are called to have compassion for Eliot Spitzer as God does for him and for each one of us when we fall. There is nothing easy about such compassion, because it often goes against our gut instinct to feel betrayed and to dismiss him as having deserved what he got.
Well, he did deserve what he got, and so do we when we screw up, but thanks be to God Jesus died for him and died for us and loves him and loves us.
On to Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, a different kind of sufferer, one who did not bring suffering on himself (unless you believe that his accepting the office of bishop was itself a sinful act). Bishop Gene has known for a long time that he would not be fully invited to the Lambeth Conference, but he held out some hope that he could participate in a limited way in the spirit of the supposed “listening process” with gay and lesbian Anglicans to which the bishops committed themselves ten years ago. This week he learned that would not be possible in any way.
Not to put him too high on a pedestal, but Gene reacted, I believe, with “the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.” He felt alone and betrayed and had the instinct at first, he said, to find some way to run away from what was going on. So did Jesus, if you listened carefully to the story that we just heard. But he then summoned the strength within himself to walk through his suffering and to take the high road with his betrayers, urging his colleagues in our Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops to go and to carry with them his suffering, and, more importantly, the suffering of exclusion that is still the general lot of gay and lesbian people in our church.
How can he do that, not lash out with righteous anger at the hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness of the Church? Why doesn’t he call Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at best a coward and at worst a perpetrator of evil?
Because he loves Jesus and he knows Jesus loves him and all those who stand against him. He is a living example of having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.
Eliot Spitzer and Gene Robinson: they are two very different men with two very different stories. One brought suffering upon himself; one had it thrust upon him by others. Yet the message is the same: Jesus took both kinds of suffering, all suffering, to the cross with him and offered it to God even in the midst of his own sense of abandonment and betrayal.
The message is simple for all of us today: Jesus died to save Eliot Spitzer and Gene Robinson and Rowan Williams and you and me. We are all loved, sometimes inexplicably, sometimes obviously, by the God of the cross.
May we embrace and be embraced by this love for ever, no matter who we are, no matter what we do.