Sermon for the 10th Anniversary Celebration of Full Communion with Lutherans
Swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks? Maybe weâre talking about shepherdsâ crooks. Iâm not aware of any recent wars fought between Anglicans and Lutherans. There probably havenât been any swords or spears used since the days of the reformation. The last formal war between Canada and the United States ended two centuries ago â as a child I grew up hearing about the great Pig War on San Juan Island. That battle started over the border between Canada and the United States after an American settler shot a pig rooting in his garden in 1859. The pig belonged to a Hudsonâs Bay Company employee. They were running a sheep ranch out west, on a little island between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The war lasted ten years, and nobody died except the pig. Itâs now American territory, yet when I was a child, we went to church on the island and the priest in the church on San Juan often prayed for the Queen. Some borders just wonât stay put.
When we hear those ancient words about turning weapons into farm implements, they sound like hyperbole in our context. Yet weâve known something of a cold war in recent centuries â the cold of apathy and disinterest. I have to admit to not knowing any Lutheran well until I was in college. In my Roman Catholic grade school, we were told not to play with Protestant children â and the variety didnât matter. When I became an Episcopalian at about age 9, and started to attend a public school, I still didnât have much awareness of other religious traditions. Yet in the last few decades we have seen a remarkable shift from a predominantly Christian culture to one in which the fastest growing religious preference is ânone of the above.â
Our respective traditions have all suffered the departure of individuals and groups of Christians who have taken offense at some change or attempts to expand those human borders between âour kindâ and âthose people.â Some of those ânone of the aboveâ folk have seen only small-minded zealots or children fighting over their inheritance. We have a lot of history to overcome, but the reign of God lies in the direction of more porous borders.
When weâre baptized into the body of Christ, weâre charged with reconciling work. Weâre supposed to seek out oneness and unity â in the Trinity, in the body of Godâs creation, and in this motley crew called church. There are great gifts in the unique ways we have developed, even though at the very same time we know a continuing human urge to believe that my way of seeing the world or worshiping God is the fullness of the truth, and that no other tradition or way of seeing has anything to teach me. We seek forgiveness for our limited views, and we also celebrate a new openness to the variety of gifts in Christâs body.
Itâs something like inviting all the relatives to a family reunion â most everybody will come once, just to see what the relatives have been up to in the last few years. They might come back again next year if they can reconnect with their heritage, learn something delightful about old or new relatives, enjoy a good meal, and feel loved in the process.
We have a radio preacher in the United States who has spent time in both our church traditions, even though he was born into a Plymouth Brethren tradition. Garrison Keillor is a remarkable observer of the cultural nuances of Lutheranism and Anglicanism, and heâs pretty good at puncturing the inflated sense all of us have about the superiority of our tradition. When our full communion agreement was first promulgated south of the border, he had this to say about it almost exactly 10 years ago:
âThe ELCA Lutherans of Lake Wobegon were dead set against the new communion, although some of them (I name no names) have, while visiting their fallen-away children in distant cities, attended Episcopal churches (with those children) and partaken of communion. But they donât want there to be an official link that might, over the years, grow tighter and, before you know it, youâll find Pastor Ingqvist processing in a dress and a rhinestone-encrusted cape preceded by two guys twirling incense pots on chains like they were yo-yos and go through a lot of bowing and turning and genuflecting. And suddenly the Bible-based sermon of 25 minutes turns into a 6-minute homily about the beauty of flowers. And the Sunday School takes up the infrastructure needs of the inner cities. And soon you realize that your young people are a little shaky on their Bible stories and parables and canât find Jeremiah or Deuteronomy or even Ephesians without looking up the page number in the index. No, the Lutherans of Lake Wobegon donât care to go in that direction. Anglicanism is for when you take a vacation to England. Itâs like nightclubbing that way. Itâs for special occasions. You donât want to make a practice of it.â
The royal wedding was something like nightclubbing around hereâ¦ and I canât imagine making a regular practice of that either!
Maybe Isaiah would have us turn the swords into incense pots â or casserole dishes. I think he and Jesus would both encourage us to take that energy for liturgy out into the world and share our earnestness and joy with people who are hungry â hungry for community, food, respect, and respite from all the competition in our lives. I think Jesus and Isaiah would approve of Sunday schools taking up the needs of inner cities. We have much to learn from each other, gifts to value, and opportunities to learn about our own blindness.
This full communion reality is an opportunity that in some ways is moving far more slowly than the culture around us. Most 20-somethings have little interest in denominational differences â they do want to make a difference in the world, and they donât much care who their partners are. In the midst of new generations â and I do mean in their midst, rather than waiting for them to come to us â we can offer connection to that heritage, and a sense of being part of Godâs family reunion. We can learn much from their impatience with borders that seem all too normal to their elders.
The current border skirmishes within our denominations reflect an anxiety about identity. The skirmishers have lost track of their common roots. Family reunions help us reconnect with a longer and larger history. We are beginning to see the parallel gift of disinterest in wars over identity. We arenât just shifting toward dÃ©tente, weâre shifting toward real sowing and reaping. Crossing those borders is going to mean letting go of our anxiety over counting heads and claiming members or turf. Why are we still starting separate Episcopal and Lutheran congregations?
The good news is that this just might be a generational problem â it may continue to fade with the shift in generations. Pray that our attitudes shift faster than the pace of funerals! The world around us is in urgent need of our shared gifts. Our unwillingness to engage these opportunities, whether through apathy or excessive chauvinism, can be almost as destructive as armed conflict. We worship the prince of peace, and the beloved creator of all that is. Each and every part of creation has a role in healing this world. The only question is whether or not weâre willing to be co-creators of that healing. These ten years are a good start. Itâs up to us to start planting gardens and herding sheep (or maybe pigs) without regard to the borders. Donât tell the border patrol â just go enlist more gardeners and shepherds. The spirit is already moving the borders.
http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/features/ptth/2001/05.shtml scroll down to the end