Sermons That Work

The 72nd General Convention…, Proper 12 (B) – 1997

July 27, 1997

The Seventy-Second General Convention of the Episcopal Church has come and gone. When we meet again we will be in the next century and on the threshold of the new millennium. At the Convention there were an astronomical number of meals served: breakfasts for special interest and focus groups and legislative committees; lunches with former classmates from seminaries as well as with former deputies of other dioceses; and dinners of and for seminaries, provinces, church schools and universities, special interest groups, the incoming Presiding Bishop, the outgoing Presiding Bishop and other groupings. Legislation was passed which some felt did not go far enough, while others thought it went too far. Some resolutions finally passed because they were born out of compromise between the two Houses, and in many instances, the final results pleased no one.

A few years ago at a time when the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States contained no women members, a distinguished theologian was asked whether there were any deep theological reasons why the General Convention should refuse to admit women. The theologian replied that quite frankly he could not think of any deep theological reason why there should be any General Convention at all. He said that matters such as these are really very peripheral in nature and, although they are important, they are not ultimately significant. He said a theology of General Convention is as inadmissible as a theology of the papacy or of the Church Assembly.

I not sure I agree with that theologian’s analysis. However, whether one agrees with that theologian or not, we must ask the question: “What do the actions at General Convention have to do with the Gospel?” How then should we judge the acts of the individuals who deliberated in Philadelphia? It seems to me that we must judge the actions of the General Convention by the same standards as it was for our Lord who tells of the significance of his call one Sabbath as it is recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” begins Jesus quoting from Isaiah 61, “because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, the opening of the prisons to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” So this call, this summons, is bound up with the afflicted, the suffering, the underprivileged, the prisoners, the disinherited — those who are spiritually, economically, and socially captive.

For those deputies who are ordained who attended General Convention, this means there is no creature, no idea, no institution, no nation, no issue, no action which was beyond the reach and concern of their ministry. For lay deputies, this means that there is no forbidden work; there is no corner of human existence, however degraded or neglected, into which they may not venture; there is no person, however beleaguered or possessed, whom they may not befriend and represent; there is no cause, however vain or stupid, to which they may not witness; there is no risk, no matter how costly or imprudent which they may not undertake.

That is the Gospel! And that will be the Gospel after all the theologians have completed their scholarly tasks; that will be the Gospel when all of the new fads including the new-age religions, are spent; that will be the Gospel when every inter-faith dialogue has drawn up its final resolution; that will be the Gospel when everyone in and out of the church has had their Myers-Briggs test; that will be the Gospel when every rally and political demonstration has succeeded in its goal; that will be the Gospel when every task force, committee and commission has accomplished its objectives and when every axe has been ground; and that will be the Gospel when we all have completed our marches — many to different drummers.

If there is no theology of General Convention, we must ask ourselves: “What relationship do the events that occurred at General Convention have to the Gospel?” All of the business of General Convention should be connected to the Gospel, even matters of structure and administration. All resolutions should help us to more effectively proclaim the Gospel. So one of the things we might do in the days and weeks ahead is to study all the resolutions that passed the Seventy- Second General Convention whether they pertained to structure, administration, health, human affairs, liturgies, the church in metropolitan areas, the church in small communities, or peace with justice. We must determine if they meet the criteria of helping us witness to the Gospel. We might also discuss whether actions of the General Convention call us as Christians to witness by external events, such as calling upon secular legislative bodies to act on behalf of us. We need to spend some time considering the findings of the human affairs resolutions — ones that passed and ones that did not — and how they impact our Baptismal Covenant on all human affairs.

Then we can be truly a Christian in the world and help fetch the ninety and nine and bring them back to join the one safe statistical sheep we now have. Let all of us be Christians in the world so that we can convert the moneychangers and bring them back into the temple. Having done this may God give us all the strength to fight the good fight, to finish the course and to “endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of your ministry.” Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema