Proper 28B 15
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. . . . that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.
We live in a time of transition. We’re always in transition, but we are particularly aware of transition now in our church. This weekend is Bishop Taylor’s final annual diocesan convention. His final convention will be June 25, 2016 when we will elect his successor as our bishop. Two weeks ago Bishop Curry was installed as Presiding Bishop. At St. James Kathryn Costas has begun to serve as your interim rector.
We deal with transition with fear and with hope. Our collect tells us of the blessed hope of everlasting life given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Hope is a positive response to times of transition, but the negative response of fear is more common. Today I offer you first an extended example of fear and hope in the early history of the Episcopal Church, and second some lessons for our time drawn from that extended example and from today’s Scripture readings.
The population of the British American colonies increased 10 times from 1700 to 1776, from 250,000 to 2 and a half million, and a million in the last 10 years. No bishop in America. Americans had to go to England to be ordained. It cost a year’s income. In the 1760’s Americans began to ask for a bishop for America, an “apostolic bishop” who would ordain clergy and preside at conventions, but have no part in civil government - a response of hope in a time of transition. Their request was met with fear and denied. Royal governors feared loss of income from marriage licenses and probate of wills. Other churches feared the Church of England. The English bishops served in the House of Lords and on government committees. They feared loss of power and office.
The two years between Yorktown in October 1781 and the peace treaty and British troops leaving New York in fall 1783 were a time of transition in America and in the American church. About a third of the American Church of England clergy had left for England or Canada or had died in the 7 years between 1776 and 1783. Many feared for the continued life of the church.
But in March 1783 10 Connecticut clergy met in hope to elect Samuel Seabury to be their bishop – an “apostolic bishop” ordaining and presiding, but with no part in civil government. Seabury was then 55 years old. His father had been a Church of England priest 41 years in Connecticut and Long Island, New York. Samuel was educated at Yale and by his father, studied medicine in Edinburg, ordained in England, and served 30 years in New Jersey and New York. At the Revolution he supported the crown as a military and hospital chaplain in New York city.
Seabury went to England and for over a year sought consecration from the English bishops. They were afraid and they put him off– for several reasons. First, many American clergy fled to England during the Revolution and were supported there by church pensions. The English bishops feared that Seabury, who had been loyal to the crown, would not be accepted in independent Connecticut and would come back to England expecting support. Seabury’s letters from the Connecticut governor and from American ambassador John Adams did not resolve the bishops’ fears. And the English bishops still feared a new model bishop. And, we all fear giving responsibility and authority to people we don’t know. The English bishops did not know Seabury. They knew William White of Pennsylvania who had stayed with his rich aunts in London when he came for ordination in 1770. They knew Samuel Provoost of New York who had studied at Cambridge University in 1764. But Seabury had no English connections.
The English bishops’ excuse was that they could not consecrate anyone who would not take an oath of allegiance to the British crown. We know it was an excuse because the year after Seabury was consecrated Parliament changed the law. White and Provoost were consecrated for Pennsylvania and New York in 1787 without the oaths. James Madison was consecrated for Virginia in 1790 without the oaths.
Seabury then went to Scotland where they knew him and where the bishops had no part in civil government. Seabury was consecrated November 14, 1784, 231 years ago Saturday. The Scots were able to act from hope, not from fear. Seabury came home, ordained clergy, and served as rector in New London, Connecticut for 11 years until his death February 25, 1796. In 1792 he joined in the consecration of Thomas Claggett for Maryland. All Episcopal bishops trace their apostolic succession through Claggett to Seabury and the Scottish Episcopal Church. Our bishops and our church are heirs of hope, not fear.
Two weeks ago Bishop Michael Curry of Maryland was installed as Presiding Bishop. This is from his sermon. It is a story of the triumph of hope over fear.
“Sometime in the 1940s an African American couple went to an Episcopal church one Sunday morning. . . . The woman had become an Episcopalian after reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, finding the logic of his faith profoundly compelling. Her fiancé was then studying to become . . . a Baptist preacher. But there they were on America’s segregated Sabbath, the only couple of color at an Episcopal Church service of Holy Communion according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. When the time came for communion the woman, who was confirmed, went up to receive. The man, who had never been in an Episcopal Church, and who had only vaguely heard of Episcopalians, stayed in his seat. As he watched how communion was done, he realized that everyone was drinking real wine — out of the same cup. The man looked around the room, then he looked at his fiancée, then he sat back in the pew as if to say, “This ought to be interesting.” The priest came by uttering these words as each person received the consecrated bread: The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. Would the priest really give his fiancée communion from the common cup? Would the next person at the rail drink from that cup, after she did? Would others on down the line drink after her from the same cup? The priest came by speaking these words to each person as they drank from the cup: The Blood our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful. The people before her drank from the cup. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…. Another person drank. Preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. The person right before her drank. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee…. Then she drank. And be thankful. She drank. Now was the moment her fiancé was waiting for. Would the next person after her drink from that cup? He watched. The next person drank. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee…. And on down the line it went, people drinking from the common cup after his fiancée, like this was the most normal thing in the world.
The man would later say that it was that reconciling experience of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist that brought him into The Episcopal Church . . .He said, “Any Church in which blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the Gospel that I want to be a part of.” That couple later married and gave birth to two children, both of whom are here today, and one of whom is the 27th Presiding Bishop. We are Gods’ children, all of us. We are God’s baptized children. We are here to change the world with the power of love. God really does love us. “
In 7 months clergy and the same lay delegates who are today at Kanuga will meet to elect a bishop. Your comments on this summer’s survey have been considered and a diocesan profile prepared. I hope you will go to the dioceseofwnc.org website and read it. The profile asks for a bishop who will know us, love us, and lead us – loving God and neighbor, with vision grounded in courage, wisdom, and diversity, committed to justice, to congregational vitality, to pastoral care, with deep integrity, good humor, and an intentional spiritual life. I add a bishop of hope, not fear.
Today we receive communion in the blessed hope of everlasting life, given us in the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. As Bishop Curry said, “We are Gods’ children, all of us. We are God’s baptized children. We are here to change the world with the power of love. God really does love us.”
Jesus died for sin on the cross. He rose to give the world new life. He gives us his Holy Spirit of truth and power so we may live to his glory, and tell his good news, particularly in our times of transition.
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.