15th Sunday after Pentecost - Sept 10, 2023
Rev Sarah Colvin
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”
“WAKE from sleep,” Barring the political references of the day, or maybe because of them, wouldn’t it be nice if we were all woke? Ha, ha, ha, well, I was greatly appalled to read an article on current responses of Evangelical congregations who have complained to their pastors that Jesus’s words were ‘too woke, and liberal and that wasn’t going to fly in these days. It is weak.’
That being the case for some of our Evangelical brethren; instead, let us ponder what being AWAKE to salvation is to see if that can help us during this time. We can think of salvation asthe solution to the problem of being human. Borrowing from Paul’s letter, salvation is showing love unabashedly. Following the commandments is not a difficult thing, at least not a difficult thing to understand, if we couch it in terms of “what is it to show love to the other?” To show love to the other is loving as God loves. And if measured by the world’s standards, the Christians mentioned above are right, it is weak. Salvation, however, is what puts us right with God. Living in the armor of light is essentially not being a jerk.
There are forever people behaving badly, though, and people in the church are no exception. To be clear, the church is part of the world, and we are all sinners. We all turn against God and against our brother and sister. In recent news, Spain wrestles with the misogyny of the coach of the women’s soccer team behaving badly, with his unsought kiss of a player after the women won the world cup.
The church is called to be different, but too often we are not. In Episcopal church news, this past week has been upsetting. We learned of alleged sexual physical and verbal advances perpetrated by a retired bishop upon the newly elected House of Deputies, a lay woman. And when a person does behave badly, then what… is it supposed to be punishment or reconciliation?
I think for most people looking in from the outside to a situation, reconciliation is not satisfying. People inherently want someone to pay, we want shame. This case was no exception; there is accusation of a double standard. From what we know, this bishop was given a “pastoral response,’ and no punitive response for his bad behavior. Although the president of the house of deputies, Harris would not reveal the bishop’s identity, a recent article of the Episcopal News Service identified him, stating it was confirmed by several sources. I have met this man as I interviewed him for a thesis that I wrote in seminary on the Episcopal church’s response to gun violence. Before he was a bishop, he was a priest and before he was a priest, he was a cop. He was a good conversation partner for my thesis.
However, when something like this happens at the top of our ecclesiastical ladder, the people below always end up feeling like punishment is warranted. It is no different than the cry of the Psalmist:
To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
this is glory for all his faithful people.
Where is the inflicting of judgment? When does this get to happen? Why hasn’t God or humanity shown up to inflict shame? You see, there is some part of us being human that we want to see shame.
And of course, this doesn’t just concern sins that are sexual in nature. (And many men weary of hearing about sexual perpetrated sins, and women weary of living them.) I am talking about ALL the ways we can behave badly toward each other. These are simply recent examples.
But God’s way of salvation, it turns out, is not simply about judgment, but about honesty and reconciliation. Or maybe, God’s judgment IS a call to honesty and then reconciliation. There are ways that we can live this reconciliation on biblical grounds.
The biggest example of such reconciliation that I can think of in recent history was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission led by Bishop Tutu in South Africa. It wasn’t perfect, but it was as biblical as it could get. Maybe after the crumbling of apartheid, the people knew there was no punishment that ever could be meted out that would ever match the pain, loss, and terror of the apartheid system. The best you could do was tell your truth to the people who injured you. And in doing so, to open the space for them to acknowledge that they did so, to see the effect of their actions and, perhaps, to repent. And the person leading it, Bishop Tutu, was worth his salt--- a truly Godly man.
The Episcopal church could probably improve its system. There should be a safe way for accusers to confront their offenders and tell truth to power. It seems like it would be a natural outgrowth of our basic baptismal vows. If the end point that we are aiming for is reconciliation rather than shame, that should be the basis.
But what of us? We are not this bishop, nor this lay person. You may have never lived anything like this.
Still, we do make our own missteps and cause our own harms, don’t we? Small and sometimes great. Where is the salvation in it all?
The key lies in the last few lines of our Gospel:
Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
Though we often think of this line as having to do with prayer, Jesus is referring here to the joining together of his followers to hold one another accountable. To hear each other when we have harmed one another; to own our behavior; to repent. This is what it means to be awake to salvation. To be awake to salvation is to be ready and willing to face the ways we do harm to one another, whether newsworthy, or just in our daily small missteps; to acknowledge the harm we do and the hurt we cause; and in so doing, to be open to the incredible news of a God who is ready not only to judge, but to forgive and to renew.
To be awake to salvation is to be clear about who we are, never holding off the truth that we do wonderful things and awful things both; and to know that God is able to renew us and redeem us, and wills to do so, for the sake of our flourishing. Like the Truth and Reconciliation process led by Bishop Tutu, who was a living icon of both God’s justice AND mercy, God makes the SPACE for us to repent….and return… and LIVE.
Thank God for that. Thank God for the salvation that is nearer to us now than ever – sinners all, that we are – awake to the ever-present possibility of repenting, and reconciling, and coming alive in Jesus Christ our Lord.