Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, Year C, February 25, 2007

How often have you been told that you or perhaps a member of your family had their priorities all wrong. I certainly sometimes think that is true, not only in my own life but in the life of the wider church. Our priorities are messed up big time. A prime example of this was the recent primates meeting in Tanzania. The primates of the Anglican Communion gathered together at great expense for five days. And what did they spend the vast majority of their time talking about for those five days? Sex.

Seven of them refused to share communion together due to the presence of our Presiding Bishop. If fact, they couldn’t even agree to get together for a picture! Now some of you might be thinking, so who really cares about the primates or the Anglican Communion anyway, what really interests me is St. Peter’s. After hearing about this meeting I might well agree with you! But we cannot escape our connection to the wider communion and we cannot escape the fact that this is important to some people.

And yet, children are dying every day of starvation and of completely treatable diseases. In fact, during the five days the primates met it is estimated that over 18,000 children died from poverty related causes. Did they spend five days talking about that? Nope. People are murdering others for what they believe or because of their tribal affiliation or because of their religious belief. Did they talk about that for five days? Nope. Wars are being fought in several places in the world. Did they talk about that for five days? Nope.

I find myself in agreement with Bp. Chane of the Diocese of Washington who said just a few days ago: I am deeply distressed that the Primates spent so much time discussing the internal life of the Episcopal Church and devoted so little attention to the woeful state of our global community. The Gospel summons us to a unified effort against the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, hunger, poverty, human rights violations, the degradation of women and children and the behavior of corrupt governments. Yet the Primates continue to behave as though quashing dissent on issues of human sexuality were the central calling of the Christian faith.[1]

It has to be enough to make Jesus weep.

It is obvious to me that the priorities of the primates are completely out of whack with what the Holy Scriptures are calling us to. Instead of focusing on relieving the suffering, starvation, and death going on in the world around us, much of it in their very own back yards, the primates felt the pressing need to focus on who is sleeping with whom. I think that is a sin.

The Scriptures today call us to examine our priorities in life. In the lesson from Deuteronomy we are challenged to examine our priorities with respect to God, particularly with regard to how we handle the material blessings God gives us. The Israelites were reminded that all the land they possessed was a gift from God. They had nothing and were wandering from place to place with nothing to call their own and in the midst of this God provided for them a wonderful land. God did amazing things for them and then God calls them to remember this by giving back to God. But God calls on them to give to God in faith. God tells them that they are to give God the first of the harvest. They are not to wait until the harvest is complete and the storage rooms full and then give a part to God. Rather God calls them to step out in faith and give when their storehouses are not full, but rather when they are empty.

At great expense the primates met to talk about sex. Imagine how many of those 18,000 children could have been saved if they decided to just minister to the poor and needy by skipping the meeting and directing all that money to the poor.

In Romans we are reminded that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Interestingly enough it does not say that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord and sleeps with the right people will be saved. It does not say that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord and then obeys the primates will be saved. It does not say that you have to do anything else. No requirements. No prior agreements. Just call on the name of the Lord. Our primates and our sisters and brothers on the liberal and conservative fringes both miss this important point. They are so wrapped up in political battles that they miss the point completely.

Nothing could teach more clearly the importance of a right ordering of our priorities than the message from the Gospel for today. In each of the temptations Jesus is offered something good. But each time Jesus responds with a right ordering of priorities. When hungry and tempted with food Jesus reminds us that it is not all about what we feed ourselves that is most important. When offered power, Jesus reminds us that grasping for power is not the most important thing.

Our Episcopal Church has embarked on a path to live out the promises we make at baptism, to respect the worth and dignity of every human being. Not just those human beings with whom we agree. But most importantly each of us has promised to respect the dignity of those human beings with whom we completely disagree. This is a powerful witness to the world about the transformation in our lives. Some of the primates and some of those in our own church are willing to give this up. They are willing to do that most un-Christian of things, sacrifice others for their own peace.

The Gospel calls us to self sacrifice, not to the sacrifice others. During this Lenten season let us examine our lives and our actions in light of the priorities that we believe God wants us to observe in our lives.

[1] The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, Bishop of Washington, pastoral letter dated
February 22, 2007

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