Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s closing sermon

Posted Jul 12, 2012

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] The following sermon was presented today at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis, Indianapolis, through July 12.

12 July 2012

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

I have some bad news. PB&F[1 ] asked Gregory Straub [2] to find the latest audit, and when he went looking in the Archives, he discovered that we have been using the wrong edition of the Constitution and Canons all through our deliberations. The general conclusion is that everything we’ve done here is therefore invalid. Are you ready to start over?

That’s basically what happened with King Josiah. Hilkiah went to investigate the Temple finances and discovered that they’d been reading the wrong rule book for years and years.

We’ve had some struggles here that sound a little bit like that – like whether this body is hierarchical or not, or what kind of governance or structure fits what those guys who held the first Episcopal Church convention had in mind back in 1785.

It will take many more Conventions before we all agree about anything, but, you know what? IT DOESN’T MATTER! We won’t all agree before the Second Coming, but there is only one essential rule – “love one another,” says Jesus, “as I have loved you.” That is the one and only rule of life together in Christ. It is the same one that Augustine of Hippo cited: “love God and do as you please.” Martin Luther’s version was, “sin boldly… and more boldly still rejoice in Christ.”

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preaches July 12 at the closing Eucharist of the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg

Our task is not to timidly take comfort in the details of our nice behavior – not even in impeccable parliamentary procedure! Life in Christ is risky, it’s about leaping into the uncertain choices before us, like Indiana Jones on that light bridge [3 ] – stepping out over the chasm without knowing if the bridge will be there until we do. Way down in the depths, deep down, the body of Christ has an abiding memory of the trustworthiness of that bridge, even if some of the individual members don’t remember quite so well.

That’s what Lars Olof Jonathan Söderblom offered the world. The body of Christ, indeed the whole body of all faithful people, has much to teach its members about trust and confidence – and it is all about love.

Söderblom – who went by Nathan – was a Swedish Lutheran pastor, theologian, and Archbishop of Uppsala, born in 1866 and died in 1931. He came from a tradition of border crossers, and it was evident even in his early life. His university degree was in Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin, and he started the formal academic study of comparative religions.[4] In 1890 he came to the United States for a meeting of the Student Missionary Association – something like a General Convention for young adults. He went back to Sweden, was ordained and was appointed chaplain to a mental hospital. Then he started looking for a job that would pay enough to let him get married. Anna Forsell was one of 20 women students among the 1700 men in the University, and she was his writing partner as well as his wife. Söderblom did find a job; he was appointed to the Swedish church in Paris, and stayed there until 1901. That Parisian congregation was filled with Scandinavian artists, diplomats, and merchants, among them Alfred Nobel and August Strindberg, and the several older of the Söderblom’s 13 children.

The Church of Sweden started planting churches abroad in 1626, and that church in Paris was the first one. Several of the ones in the American colonies were later transferred to The Episcopal Church.[5] The Church of Sweden has an ancient tradition of ecumenism, loving and learning and working with others.

Söderblom went back to Sweden to take an academic post in theology at Uppsala University, and he began a theological revival in the Swedish church that spread about the world. He worked on the easy stuff like world peace and liturgical renewal.

Söderblom is remembered most distinctly for starting the modern ecumenical movement, with the Conference on Life and Work in Stockholm in 1925. He insisted that personal spirituality made no sense if it was divorced from work for justice in the larger society, and he repeatedly called on Christian leaders to make common cause for world peace. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930.

Peace begins with loving one another. Start with the people in this room. This body has done a pretty good job over the last few days. We’ve seen quite a few leaps beyond old spheres of safety for the sake of the other. Each person who has stepped out has done so in order to meet another. And we have discovered a new place, a third way beyond what either one knew before.

Take what you have learned here about deep hospitality [6] and keep moving toward the other. Maybe we can even figure out how to love everybody in this church. This reconciling work isn’t like BASE jumping [7] – finding a thrill by stretching some rubber band that ties you to the earth. God’s mission is real faith work, the kind of trusting vulnerability that knows there’s only one rule to keep us safe, the spirit’s tether that will draw us into the arms of a Friend on the other side of that chasm. [8]

So step on out there past this narrow ledge of safety and love one another. Step out there and expect to find your Friend on the other side. Cross the chasm and you will find the other – and every single one of them will bear the image of God. Trust the wings of the morning, and take a flying leap! Take a flying leap into the future, and toward the other. The bridge is there – we call it the Light of the World.

[1] Program, Budget, and Finance – committee that develops the budget
[2] The Rev. Gregory Straub is the Secretary of General Convention
[3 ]Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
[4] A good biographical review here.
[8] Draw us in the Spirit’s Tether, music by Harold Friedell; text by Percy Deamer


Comments (9)

  1. Kevin Parkerson says:

    It has been suggested the 7 epistles of Christ (Rev2 & 3) are church ages, Upon closer examination it cannot be denied they are parallel in time. In looking to identify the neomanifestations of these types: The Episcopal church over the past decade has shown herself to be a good match for Thyratira…better check on your children!

  2. Nancy hilsbos says:

    Dear Bishop, I do feel the strength of the Father in your words. Thank you for helping me maintain enough courage and focus not to break my leap by flailing and then falling. Maybe I will stay Still enough on the Light of the World to reach the other side of the Chasm of Want and Need and Hunger Games where we find ourselves abiding.

  3. Mike Bickel says:

    Great sermon. We are called into one body but a good dose of the spiritual anti-rejection drug called love, seems to be under prescribed. We need to bring all body parts together and get them working in harmony in order to be the fully formed image of Christ. We have actually made some progress over the past 2000 years, but it’s not enough.

    Our own body is unfortunately comfortable in its own skin. How painful it is to be a burn patient needing new skin, but the grafting must be done in order for the body to be renewed. The new wine of Christ cannot be put into the old wineskin of comfort. Love is all about risk, it’s all about putting your life on the line for others, it’s all about dying to your old comfortable ways, opening your eyes to the scary path ahead, and taking a bold step.

    I’m proud of us!

    Mike Bickel

  4. Nancy Muhlheim, Deacon serving the Diocese of Oregon says:

    I am filled with joy and even more profoundly inspired to continue to serve Christ and carry His message of uncompromising love and acceptance into the world after hearing the words of our courageous, deeply prophetic and visionary Presiding Bishop. So proud to be your sister in Christ +KJS and so glad that the Episcopal Church is my heart’s home.

  5. Christine Meredith says:

    I thought we were allowed to speak our mind. You can’t even post scripture.

  6. I like the appeal to love and taking risks. I don’t think that the litigation strategy and the amount of money spent on it, relative to what was spent on stated mission goals, is consistent with the vision of love. It is going to take plenty of the kind of reaching across that she describes in her last two paragraphs in order to overcome the waste and estrangement generated by a policy accepted uncritically by the GC and Executive Council.

  7. Carol McRee says:

    How is the litigation against fellow Christians and the millions of dollars it has cost the Episcopal Church reaching out in love ?

    1 Cor 6:1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?
    and verses 4-6
    4So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?

    I agree with Timothy Fountain. It is going to take a lot of reaching out in love to those who have been “deposed”, those parishes and entire dioceses who have been forced out/chosen to leave but I seriously doubt that will happen. The places where the Gospel is being proclaimed are the very places that need to be upheld as models for Christians but instead our bishops have “charges” brought against them and we are characterized as being bigots,haters and fundamentalists.

    1. Justin Riggin says:

      Carol- I couldn’t agree more. The implication that reform is the only path to peace and love is outlandish and largely untrue.

      The undertone of this sermon suggests that those who stand as advocates of traditional forms of worship and choose not to step onto that invisible bridge that spans the chasm of the unknown remain on the ledge, and are therefore un-loving. It is quite apparent that the voices of traditionalists are not only being suppressed by the church’s leaders, but are also being portrayed as obstructions to the mission of the Gospel.

  8. Mike Bickel says:

    I am afraid that we are guilty of white washing our own traditions and our own behavior in order to point the accusing finger of judgement at others. We are distressed because we are called to change… to repent… to turn back / re-think. We need to take a close look at what Christ would have us do. Are we Christians or Anglicans or Episcopalians? Are we followers of Jesus or tax collectors or sinners or fornicators or cheaters or liars? We should get used to checking the box “ALL OF THE ABOVE” and thanking God that He puts up with us.

    Remember that you were bought at a price. Remember that you now owe your life to Christ in order to be part of the body of Christ – and thus, to act like Jesus.

    The rant going on in this stream reminds me of how many people left the church when we were asked to “pass the peace” and actually touch each other, when we were asked to accept girls as acolytes, when we were asked to accept women as priests and bishops, when were asked to actually participate in the eucharist instead of mostly daily office, when we were asked to change the prayer book and the hymnal. We do a GREAT job of emoting over things that Jesus could not care less about, and yet when it comes to the greatest commandment that Jesus expressed specifically for us to follow, that of actually loving each other – loving your enemy – a sacrificing love that Jesus knew only too well… we just can’t do it. So we cling to the old ways, to the “traditions” that have nothing whatever to do with why our Savior came to earth. The Pharisees did the same thing.

    We need to reach out touch the corpse, we need to touch the leprosy and touch the pain of the lost sheep in this church and in so doing we may actually heal ourselves!

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