Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 52 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What Katharine Jefferts Schori Does Not Say

This was sent to me by Fr. Barry Swain, SSC. I will search the original source and get back to it

An Episcopalian reader, David Gustafson, writes about his church's newest leader

I think no one on "Mere Comments" has commented yet on the sermons preached by the Episcopal Church's new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at her investiture and installation on November 4 and 5, 2006. Maybethey're not worth much comment. They do not include predictably controversial statements (such as her reference to "Mother Jesus" at GeneralConvention 2006) but the sermons are more remarkable for what they do not say:Bishop Schori's sermons make no mention of the cross, nor of Jesus' death, nor of His rising again. Neither sermon uses the word "Gospel" (or the phrase "good news"). Neither sermon mentions Father, Son, or Holy Spirit (though the word "Spirit" does appear.) Jesus is not called Lord in either sermon; and somehow in her November 5 All Saints' Day sermon, she managed to avoid saying "Christ" or "Christian" altogether.

The sermons make no mention sin, nor of hell or judgment. The November 5 sermon does not use the word "salvation" at all, and the November 4 sermon uses it only once, where it is equated with "our [the Episcopal Church's] health as a body"; and that usage is typical of the entire sermon: It employs some conventional Christian vocabulary, but it does so only in order to address this-worldly concerns that the Church shares with secular social welfare agencies.

A believing Christian could take that vocabulary as an occasion to import his personal Christian beliefs into the sermon, but the sermon does not require such beliefs. It is, instead, devoted to a description of temporal goals, as to which there is no Christian distinctive. For example, a theme of the November 4 sermon is "home," but the sermon does not (as a Christian might) describe a future heavenly home (nor use the word "eternal" or "eternity"). Rather, the sermon aspires to a here-and-now" home that does not depend on place, but on community gathered in the conscious presence of God."

The sermon speaks of a God-given "dream" of a feast at which all are"filled with God's abundance" - which the orthodox Christian might take to mean the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb - but the sermon says instead,"We live in a day where there is a concrete possibility of making that dream reality."The closest the November 4 sermon came to stating a resurrection hope is an oblique reference: the sermon says that we have a "hope that will notcease until that dream [of the feast?] ... has swallowed up death forever."

The hearer might infer that this defeat of death is simply one of the hoped-for results of the Church's ongoing project of feeding the hungry (so that they won't starve) and healing the sick (so that they won't die). If instead Bishop Schori intended to refer to an ultimate victory over death, she failed to inform her hearers that Jesus Christ achieved this victory, and that it can be ours by grace, through faith.

In fact, theNovember 4 sermon does not even include the words "faith," "belief," or"trust." The November 5 sermon did use the word "faith" in describing the saints as"the heroes of our faith," but it did not suggest who or what is the objec tof that faith. The sermon is devoted exclusively to "abundant life in service to the world," to a "shalom" that is "at least partially realized in our own day."

In an inversion of the Biblical images, the sermon proposes that "a new heaven, a new earth, a holy city, a new Jerusalem" will be foundin "this place we call home." Perhaps the sermon intends to refer to eternity, or heaven, or the resurrection when it anticipates a time "when all peoples and all creatures have come home at last," and the sermon includes a reference to "the end of all things"; but it gives no hint of what that end will be, nor how one canenjoy blessedness in that end.

Someone who is being installed as Presiding Bishop has the wonderful opportunity and responsibility of delivering sermons that will be heard and read by people all over the world. Given this opportunity, imagine what theApostles Peter and Paul would have said.Their preaching and teaching in the New Testament makes it clear thattheir sermons, delivered on such an occasion, would have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord; would have spoken of His death on the cross and His resurrection; would have explained that eternal life comes through Him; and would have invited the hearers to repent of sin and put their faith in Jesus Christ. But the religion of the Apostles is a religion very different fromthe one on display in Bishop Schori's investiture and installation sermons.