- SERMON PREACHED BY
THE REVEREND NATHAN A. RUGH, CURATE
CALVARY EPISCOPAL CHURCH,
ON THE OCCASION OF
THE SIXTH ANNUAL EAST END PARISHES
TUESDAY NIGHT LENTEN PREACHING SERIES
AT ST. ANDREW'S CHURCH, PITTSBURGH PENNSYLVANIA
27 FEBRUARY, 2007
- Gen 2:4b-9, 15-17, 25-3:7
- Good evening. For those of you who do not
know me, my name is Nate Rugh. I am the new curate at Calvary.
I want you all to know what an honor it is to be here tonight
before you, kicking off the Lenten preaching series.
- Now, you might be wondering why I am the
only one of the East End clergy to get an opportunity to preach
during this year's series. Well, between you and me, I think
that I'm the only one because the rest of the clergy in the East
End are tired of listening to each other, but what do I know.
- This year's Lenten series has as its theme,
"Eternal Lord of love, behold your Church." As soon
as I sat down to begin reflecting on this sermon I remembered
a story that a parishioner recently told me. This parishioner
related a conversation that she had with a Baptist minister.
She and the minister were talking about church and churches,
and the minister told her, "If you ever find the perfect
church, don't join You'll just mess it up".
- So, thank God for the Episcopal Church because
you are welcome here, you cannot mess this thing up, someone
has already beaten you to the punch.
- Now, I was at the planning meeting when we
decided on this theme of "Eternal Lord of Love, behold your
Church". At the meeting the theme seemed timely, but I have
to admit that after the communiqué from the Primates this
theme strikes me as a bit sad.
- I cannot help but think that we have so much
to lose. We are being asked to make choices that are unprecedented
in the life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
- If we submit to the Primates' requests, our
polity risks being irrevocably broken and changed. Moreover,
I shudder to imagine what message it will send to our gay and
lesbian brothers and sisters. But on the other hand, if we do
not submit to the Primates' requests, then the Communion will
most likely split and the Episcopal Church will split with it.
Or maybe it would be better to say split worse than it already
has. We have much to lose. And the path ahead seems fraught with
peril. We stand in a time where the church seems like it is on
the brink of a change that will mean its diminishment.
- But perhaps, it is unfair to only talk about
the Episcopal Church. The global church, the church universal,
is standing at a moment of change and transformation. Faith in
Jesus Christ has spread to all corners of the globe and that
faith is beginning to cut be lose from the Hellenized and European
cultural influences that shaped the faith for 2,000 years. A
hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago in South Africa, being
a good Christian meant being a good Englishman, even if you were
of African descent.
- Now, one can speak of African Christianity
and Asian Christianity in ways that one could not have seriously
considered even several generations ago. We simply cannot predict
what Christianity will look like as it becomes more acculturated
in Africa and less influential in Europe and America. And to
my mind, it is this fear of the waning of power and influence
by many Christian leaders in the West that has spurred the distrust
of the contemporary Western culture that is the church's traditional
- Christianity seems poised to change, the
question is can it balance itself between oppressive forms of
fundamentalism and a diffusion that represents a loss of identity.
- But perhaps, it is unfair to pick on contemporary
Christianity. For the church has always stood in the place of
crisis and re-evaluation. The church has never been something
that is static. Fresh in my mind as a recent seminary graduate,
is the story of divergence and conflict that is Church history.
There have always been disagreements and splitting. From Paul
and Cephas to the Christological controversies at the end of
antiquity to the great schism and countless heresies of the Middle
Ages to the reformation and up through the modern era to this
very day, members of the church have always been at each others
throats in disagreement. The seemingly quiet times in church
history have generally been secured through over-bearing authority.
- Eternal Lord of love, behold your Church.
- But if we are careful readers of the Bible
all of this behavior will not really shock us. Heck, even if
we are merely casual readers, we will encounter broken relationships
again and again in the Biblical witness.
- The Christian tradition has always looked
to today's reading from Genesis as the origin of our predicament.
Elaborate doctrines have been fashioned out of a very simple
story - a story of not listening and not obeying. The command
from God is simple, but the execution eludes us. The story of
the fall shows us that we were not made to be out of relationship,
but that the broken relationship has happened. We were not made
for dissension, but we have found ourselves in the thick of it.
- It is out this situation of a broken relationship
and the violation of trust and responsibility that God begins
to craft a restored relationship.
- Of course, there are repercussions, but it
is out of the crisis of the moment that God restores.
- After eating from the tree, Adam and Eve
live in the shame of being exposed. They now live lives of fear
and mistrust, but God will go on to craft clothes for them and
give them a way of life. They are not abandoned by God. God comes
to point the way forward.
- And Adam and Eve will go forward, and have
children who will falter and repeat the sin of their parents
and on and on. This violation of trust, this betrayal of relationship,
is an ongoing Biblical theme. And it is a theme that should not
be far from our hearts and minds in the season of Lent. And if
we are to grieve how the members of the church behave toward
each other, we should also recognize in Paul's metaphor from
Romans that these members do so because they are offspring of
"one man's trespass".
- But the theme of humanity falling short is
really only half of the theme. The other half of the theme is
God's continued faithfulness. Just as God points a way forward
for Adam and Eve, God points a way forward for all of humanity
in the person of Jesus Christ.
- As Paul reminds us, God brings restored relationship
in the person and death and resurrection of Jesus. Out of the
horrendous event of betrayal and cruelty that is the death of
Jesus, comes a transformed and eternal life for all who will
receive it. With this "free gift" and sacrifice and
offering comes a way forward.
- The church is broken. God's beloved church
is broken. The body of Christ given for the world is broken.
We are torn apart by the sin of this world.
- And yet, we live as a people united as members
of Christ's body. We are united at a level deeper than ideology
or nationality or family or agreement over doctrine.
- It is a profound misunderstanding of the
nature of the church to assume that what unites the church is
a set of shared propositions or opinions. As the church we are
not a political party - it is an impoverished ecclesiology that
would contend as much.
- Rather, the church is the space that Jesus
has opened up in the common life of humanity to know God and
to know ourselves. The church is the space in which we can open
our eyes to our own brokenness. The church is the space where
we can recognize just how fractured we truly are both as a community,
but also as individuals.
- But the church is also the space in which
with God's help we can move forward, not in such a way that will
make the fractures disappear, or in a way that pretends they
do not exist, but in a way that mends the broken pieces of our
lives and calls us to move forward to a restored relationship.
- It might be that the splintering of the church
is God's judgment upon God's people. It might be a sign of our
failure to hear God's call to be one in the person of Jesus.
If the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity
with God and each other in Christ as the Catechism asserts, then
it would appear that we are falling short of our mission.
- And yet, if that is true, then we must trust
the Biblical witness and trust that out of the broken pieces
of this body will come a way forward. As God has pointed a way
forward for God's people throughout salvation history, and most
definitively in Jesus Christ, so too God will point a way forward
- This way might involve change and pain. It
might necessitate that we will be more faithful to the daily
task of lifting our cross and following Christ, but it will be
a path forward. It will mean the gathering up of the broken pieces
and the mending of broken lives.
- In closing, let us pray
- Eternal Lord of Love, behold your church.
We are one body but we are broken.
We are the broken body of Christ given for the world.
We are conflicted and we are dismayed.
But we long to turn to you.
We long to give ourselves to you, despite our pride and despite
that you might show us the way forward.
Just as your Holy Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness,
send your Holy Spirit to dwell with us to show us the way forward
in our wilderness.