Presiding bishop preaches to Episcopalians in South Carolina

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached the following sermon Jan. 26 at Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.


Last summer, not too far from here, someone got excited and called the police about a plane flying near a nuclear power plant.  It was a glider – an unpowered plane with a human pilot – more substantial than a hang-glider, and definitely not a drone.  It seems a local citizen thought this plane was flying too low and too near the power plant.  Gliders don’t have engines, and they depend on air currents and updrafts to stay aloft.  The pilot had made one turn near the power plant, which would be a likely source of rising warm air.

Well, the pilot had gained enough altitude to turn for home when he heard somebody on the radio asking about an airplane near his position.  He responded, saying basically, “that’s me,” and the person on the radio told him, in an embarrassed tone, that the local police wanted him to land.  He landed at a nearby airport to discover a dozen police cars waiting for him.  The local constabulary insisted that he had been flying in a no-fly zone.  The pilot got out his charts and showed the officer that there was no such thing indicated on his chart.  The officer arrested him, handcuffed him, and took him to jail.  He was not permitted to phone the business from which he’d rented the glider that morning.  They’d begun to worry, because he was well overdue.  Eventually the plane’s owner heard from the FBI and Homeland Security that the pilot was in jail, for “breach of peace.”  The Darlington County police kept this 70 year old man in jail for more than 24 hours, in a tiny cell with a dozen others, with no more than a dirty blanket.

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Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preaching Jan. 26 at Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg

He was released on bond a day later, and the charges were eventually dismissed, but he has yet to get any apology.  The FAA is pretty upset, and so is Congress.  Local police don’t have jurisdiction over airspace, and neither does the FBI or Homeland Security.  These cops were flat out wrong.

I tell you that story because it’s indicative of attitudes we’ve seen here and in many other places.  Somebody decides he knows the law, and oversteps whatever authority he may have to dictate the fate of others who may in fact be obeying the law, and often a law for which this local tyrant is not the judge.  It’s not too far from that kind of attitude to citizens’ militias deciding to patrol their towns or the Mexican border for unwelcome visitors.  It’s not terribly far from the state of mind evidenced in school shootings, or in those who want to arm school children, or the terrorism that takes oil workers hostage.

Most human communities, from churches to governments to families, function more effectively in response to shared decision-making.  Most of us don’t live in a world where one person is the ultimate Decider – because, over and over again, we’ve discovered that better decisions are made when they’re made in communities with appropriate checks and balances.  Power assumed by one authority figure alone is often a recipe for abuse, tyranny, and corruption.  That’s why Jesus challenges us to think about how the shepherd acts.  The authentic ones don’t sneak over the wall in the dead of night.  They operate transparently, and they work cooperatively with the gate-keeper himself.

Today is the feast day for Timothy, Titus, and Silas.  They were early disciples of the Jesus movement, and they offer a constructive example of the same issues.  The early Christian community has been wrestling with what it means to be a faithful follower of the law as a Gentile – how much of the Jewish law applies to these new followers of Jesus?  Paul and Barnabas set out to visit Antioch, sent by the group of leaders in Jerusalem, who have chosen Silas and a couple of others to go with them.  They take a letter from the council with them says, “we know you’ve heard rumors about us and our decision-making, so we’re sending these people to share with you what has actually been decided.  We think you’ll discover that the rumors aren’t as extreme as the reality.  We’re not increasing your burdens, we’re trying to simplify them.”  The council has decided in a minimalist way – circumcision is not required, nor must the gentiles follow all the dietary laws.  Just a few things:  don’t eat food that’s been blessed in pagan rites, and don’t eat meat from strangled animals or that still has blood in it.  But the struggle continued over whether that was adequate observance.

It’s the kind of question that we will never hear the end of, for the challenges of human communities continue to evolve – because God’s creative spirit continues to draw us on toward the fullness of the reign of God.  We’re not there yet, and that means change will continue until the end of all things.  You heard Isaiah’s prophetic words, “former things have come and gone; I (God) am doing a new thing.”  In a very real sense, we cannot remain faithful and refuse to wrestle with change.  It doesn’t mean blind accommodation to developments around us.  It does mean discernment in community about the direction we believe God is leading.

Well, before very long Paul and Barnabas split up, after a fight about whether or not to take John Mark with them.  Paul was angry that Mark had left them when they were in Perga and gone back to Jerusalem. There’s no account of the split between Paul and Barnabas ever being healed.  Being right may feel good for a moment, but the consequences often last a long time.  Nor was Paul always consistent.  He soon decides that Timothy must be circumcised, in spite of the Jerusalem decision, because his mother’s Jewish.

The hard questions aren’t usually decided immediately or by individuals, but by entire communities struggling through the difficult implications and the normal human resistance to change.  The community wrestles and after a while finds itself in a new place, still in faithful relationship to God, whether they’re in Egypt, wandering in the wilderness, in Judah and Israel, Babylon, or South Carolina.

The question is less about who’s right and who’s wrong in the midst of the current controversies.  It’s more about how we deal with those who disagree – the other sheep in the flock, and the variety of shepherds around us.  Are we going to be good shepherds, partnering for abundant life?  The saints we remember today didn’t do it perfectly either.  They wrestled with the questions, came to varying conclusions, and kept on wrestling.  Luke’s account is a pretty honest tale about their differences.  Eventually, sometimes years or even centuries later, the community came to some consensus about food rules and circumcision.  We’re still struggling over other issues, like whose voice is authoritative and where and with whom true love may be found.

Let’s go back to the pilot and the cops for a minute.  The situation escalated when the local law enforcement who thought they were right failed to consult.  They made a bad decision and then couldn’t or wouldn’t back down or try to rectify it until the whole thing had become patently absurd.  I am immensely grateful that one officer didn’t follow through on his first threat, which was to shoot the glider down.

What are those of you in this Diocese going to do in your interactions with those who’ve departed?  Are they law-breakers who should be shot down or thrown in jail?  Do we see them as vigilantes?  Neither is going to produce more abundant life, my friends.  When you meet them out there in the pasture, consider that some of the sheep may think they’re listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Some are also simply exhausted.

What about the sheep who aren’t in the fold, who don’t know there is a feast to be found, rest for the body and soul, and partners who are willing to wrestle with the dictates of petty Deciders or wolves who masquerade as sheep?  We all have a responsibility to be shepherds, to help others find their way through the Gate of abundant life.  And believe me, that world out there is filled with hungry, lost sheep.  Your experience of abundant life here has something to do with finding them.

We share a responsibility for all the sheep, to safeguard their lives and pastures, but it doesn’t give us carte blanche to shoot potentially errant ones out of the sky.  Angry responses to trespassing often produce that kind of response.  God’s feast doesn’t need “keep out” signs – the picnic on the grass is open to all who are hungry, who need rest, who seek peace and justice and healing.

The sheriff was right about a breach of peace, but wrong about who instigated it.  Our task is to heal the breach, particularly with those who are seeking rest and a feast.  The banquet table is spread with abundance for all, even though it’s hard to join the feast if you’re busy controlling the gate.  The Gate himself has already done that work, and the word is out, “y’all come!  Come to the feast!”

 

Comments

  1. Brilliant! As always…

  2. Lise Cujar says:

    It amazes me that the PB wants to be seen as a gentle peacemaker and yet I the beginning of her remarks she equates Bishop Lawrence with violent events…there is simply no connection. Spewing this kind of incendiary language reveals the speaker’s true character. How very, very sad.

  3. Mark Lester says:

    Isn’t it odd that Protestants claim catholicity and then say something like “Somebody decides he knows the law, and oversteps whatever authority he may have to dictate the fate of others who may in fact be obeying the law, and often a law for which this local tyrant is not the judge.” It is almost as if they can’t see the similarity between the “local tyrant” and Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, and Henry VIII, each of whom decided they knew the law, overstepped whatever authority they may have had to dictate the fate of others who had been obeying the law. I guess today we’re so far removed from those events by the passing of time and pride that it is hard to perceive those parallels.

  4. Mark Raymond Wood says:

    Superb. I am a refugee from the old Diocese of Fort Worth. The Presiding Bishop is truly called to lead us through this mess caused by puffed up people.

    • Chad Chisholm says:

      You mean the “mess” people such as you–who are hanging out at the Arlington theater, downtown Fort Worth, etc., with your deluded dreams of taking away the church properties from the people who worship there, who built those buildings–the miss you created with your attempt to steal the legal identity of the Diocese? I hope Iker+ makes all of you pay to the furthest extent of the law for your crimes against the good people of the Diocese of Fort Worth…once the Supreme Court of Texas rules, as most legal scholars expect it to, that your group cannot commit an act of identify theft and prosper from it.

  5. agree with father cutie: simply brilliant dear leader.

  6. Bryan Hunter says:

    The Presiding Bishop accusing Mark Lawrence of being a “local tyrant,” an “ultimate Decider” who acts unilaterally and refuses transparency is akin to Mark Antony accusing Cicero of treachery. Perhaps she has transference issues, but the fact that she could, with a straight face, accuse Mark Lawrence of being a tyrant is so rich with irony that it would evoke laughter were it not so tragic. Decent, fair-minded South Carolinians who remain loyal to TEC–and there are many of them–should seriously ponder and weigh the words of this woman who professes to be their leader. Is this the sort of person with whom they want to align their allegiance? The fact that Bishop vonRosenberg had to try to walk back a lot of the Presiding Bishop’s language with his own conciliatory words speaks volumes. For her to come to Charleston, which is a very small, tight-knit community, and stir the pot in such a vitriolic fashion, attempting to sow discord among neighbors, before flitting back to her ivory tower in New York is nothing short of despicable. The fact she compared those of us in the Diocese of South Carolina, who out of conscience and deep conviction made the heart-wrenching choice to walk apart from TEC, with school shooters and terrorists is deeply offensive and morally reprehensible. She revealed her true colors as a hateful, vindictive, and petty person. That TEC is “led” by someone of such character indicates the depths to which this once great institution has sunk. “Ichabod–the glory has departed.”

    • John M Stevenson says:

      Respectfully suggest that you re-read what was said, rather than read into that which was not been said.

      • Chad Chisholm says:

        Please. It has been 7 years, and you people still take her words at face value. When are you pewsters going to realize that the PB’s words (like our President’s words) mean nothing? Her actions belie all ideas about “healing the breach” and “abundance for all.”

        • Molly Wolf says:

          “The paranoids are after us!” From north of the St. Lawrence River, where all this conspiracy thinking looks pretty absurd. The degree of hypersensitivity and reactivity also looks unhealthy from way up here, where the cold clears the cobwebs out.

    • Jim Beckner says:

      to John Stevenson, at your suggestion, made respectfully – I have read – and re-read – what she said and now ask you to give an explanation of how she could compare anyone other than a mass murderer to a mass murderer. In doing so I’d ask that you not destroy your credibility. I respectfully say it cannot be done. What was the poor woman thinking?

  7. Kaehu Rowing says:

    Presiding Bishop Schori misquoted Scripture by changing what the Council of Jerusalem actually said. As set forth in Acts 15, the Council stated that Christians are to refrain from sexual immorality. I am not sure why the Presiding Bishop misquoted the passage. It’s rather pertinent, especially in light of current events. A lot of the New Testament talks about how important it is for Christians to refrain from sexual immorality, because the Holy Spirit cannot be present, in ourselves or in our churches, if there is sexual immorality in our lives.

  8. Chris Harwood says:

    “It’s not terribly far from the state of mind evidenced in school shootings, or in those who want to arm school children, or the terrorism that takes oil workers hostage”

    Is she serious? Lawrence didn’t do it alone and he’s not murdering people. And this kind of hatred from the leader of TEC makes leaving sound like the best thing a real Christian,and especially a conservative one, can do. Actually, run, because apparently anyone who disagrees with her is equal to a (mass) murderer. If a conservative said something like this about a bunch of liberals, the liberals would say that the conservatives were threatening them.

  9. Chad Chisholm says:

    Does any rational person doubt that the Bishop with the most complaints against him/her on Clayton Matthews+ desk is not Mark Lawrence+ (or the other 9 bishops who dared to break ranks on the Fort Worth or Quincy cases, etc.) but Katharine Jefferts Schori?

    PS: You do not get to unilaterally declare yourself to be ‘rational.’ That rules out a lot of people.

  10. Beth Lewis says:

    She is certainly qualified to speak about overstepping bounds of authority having done so a number of times.
    By their fruit you shall know them-

  11. JC Fisher says:

    God bless PB’s calm, rational and INSPIRED leadership—in South Carolina, and the rest of TEC. Her detractors can hurl all the slings and arrows they want—++KJS and TEC will just continue to follow Jesus. Alleluia!

    • Bryan Hunter says:

      Associating those who remain in the Diocese of South Carolina with school shooters and terrorists (not to mention those who “want to arm school children”–God knows where she got that) is “calm and rational”? With that kind of “inspired” leadership, it’s no wonder TEC is experiencing precipitous decline.

  12. The Rev Cappy Warner says:

    Right on target and beautifully said. My old friend and former rector of Grace Church, Ben Smith, and his great great grandfather, our first PB, would have loved this sermon!. Thank you, Katharine, We are truly blessed to have you as our Presiding Bishop.

  13. Ben Wallace says:

    The sermon was quite reminiscent of what JI Packer would call the old trap of the “York Station Signal Room” fallacy from his wonderful classic Knowing God, only with an avionics theme in lieu of the railroad. Strong on pride; weak on originality, and weaker still on biblical truth. Other than that, a nice argumentative piece of rhetoric with little grace for the delusional people who “think they are right” but seem to be welcome at the bishop’s table provided they are willing to take the abuse and also happen to hail from South Carolina.

  14. Nicholas Forde says:

    She may have been standing in a pulpit during a service but this is a far cry from a “sermon.” Her remarks are really shameful.

  15. Cindy Telisak says:

    “Most human communities, from churches to governments to families, function more effectively in response to shared decision-making. Most of us don’t live in a world where one person is the ultimate Decider – because, over and over again, we’ve discovered that better decisions are made when they’re made in communities with appropriate checks and balances.”

    The irony of the words here is shocking, coming from the leader of a “church” which has betrayed the Anglican Communion more times than can easily be recounted, with unilateral, arrogant, “to heck with the rest of you” actions, and a trail of broken promises — a leader who has made a career of overstepping canonical authority.

    Apparently Dr. Jefferts Schori, the “Ultimate Decider,” believes others must do as she says, not as she does.

  16. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    Those people who hate the Presiding Bishop are going to find whatever they wish in this sermon to criticize her. She pointed out the obvious truth, that Lawrence acted outside the law of the Episcopal Church. The case of All Saints, Pawley’s Island is a good example of what happens when a guiding hand of shared decision making is removed. That parish won a ten-year fight in court against the diocese to keep its property, the only parish in the US to win a final settlement. What happened then? Chaos, dissention, confusion, division, personality fights. There was the very public, embarrassing squabble with the Rwandan bishops. There was the public fight of whether to go with ACNA or AMiA and then the loser of the fight, Chuck Murphy hauled off a third of the congregation to form his own church. This is the sort of future one might expect now that the guiding hand of TEC is gone from the Lawrence diocese.

    • Chad Chisholm says:

      If I were you, I would question the information your pro-815 rector is spoon-feeding you. You might otherwise be in for a nasty surprise. There won’t be a TEC in a few years.

    • Lise Cujar says:

      Ronald, is not the most important thing to bring to you the true word of Christ? It is terrifying to me that so many of you are being led into darkness. Those of us who question P Bs direction do so out of love for you and your immortal soul not out of spite etc. if you disagree with me I can accept that as long as you understand it is out of love that I try to give you the truth that Scripture makes so clear.

      • sally fine says:

        Bravo, Lise!! Mark Lawrence’s detractors persist in maintaining that this is a “decision” he alone made. What foolishness. Just read the list of those who agreed with the findings of the Vestries and those who followed.

  17. Agnes Jones says:

    The Presiding Bishop seems to have a way or turning any incident into a melodrama, for instance, in her opening remarks she may intend that her account a glider flying too close to a Nuclear Power Plant would show that the local police were just country hicks who were foolishly over vigilant in protecting the plant from terrorism but if I had worked at that power plant I would have also have been concerned about a glider, drone or any air craft flying close to the plant. Unlike the Presiding Bishop I would not assume that only the local police took action. It seems to me that the operators of the Nuclear Power Plant would be required to report the incident to the NRC, Homeland Security and other agencies so this might necessitate that the police keep “this 70 year old man in jail for more than 24 hours, in a tiny cell with a dozen others, with no more than a dirty blanket”.
    If you are able to accept her version of the events and sympathize with the poor “70 year old” pilot who was kept “in a tiny cell with a dozen others, with no more than a dirty blanket” you might believe that Bishop Lawrence, like the police, is acting outside of his area of authority, but take away the melodrama and the characterization falls apart.

  18. Paul Spengler says:

    It’s because of this kind of bickering that i’ve stopped attending services at the Episocpal Church. I’m 66 years old and a lifelong Episcopalian, but I simply can’t stomach the smug self-righteousness of the presiding bishop, the liberals, or the conservatives. I don’t see “the mind of Christ” in any of them.

    • Chad Chisholm says:

      I understand how you feel, and I have shared some of those sentiments from time to time. However, that is sort of a fallacy. I mean, if someone breaks into your house, starts hoarding your stuff away, puts any cash he finds into his pockets, then when you show up and try to stop him, he tells you it all belongs to them (that you ‘assented’ to some obscure clause that he can’t quite point out to you in any unambiguous way)…then it would make no sense for me as a moral and Christian person to show up and say “I’m not going to help either of you” and that you were as much at fault as the guy who was trying to rip you off. While I agree that much has been done that I wish had not been done, and while no one is completely innocent in all of this, the scales of culpability here are not equal. Frank Griswold (dislike him though I do in some respects) would have never allowed ECUSA to fall into a war like this.

  19. There is a church in the Holy Land where the people who worship there are so prone to fight with each other and so mistrust one another and are so divided into partisan groups that they have given the keys to the church door to a Moslem family…apparently the only people everyone trusts. Perhaps the good folks in South Carolina of the “of” and “in” diocese can find some trustworthy Moslems to keep the keys to The Church doors for them. Such a Christian witness makes as much sense as the one they are pursuing through the courts. Sad to contemplate how that church in the Holy Land has been thus divided for hundreds of years. Where will the South Carolina “of” and “in” diocese be in a hundred years? God deserves better than this from his Children.

  20. Dear Friends in Christ. As a life long Anglican (boys choir,’28 prayer book,enough friends and family with fewer sins than mine), I must share a story of joy and discovery. While Wisconson-ites, we spend extensive time in Charleston and our children believe that seersucker jackets must indicate Lent is nearly over. We modestly contribute to the grand old church of our baptisms with its great windows and fabulous music, but have found Christ in a fledgling ACNA parish which struggles to understand and live the scripture without the burden of building, pipe organ or endowment. Indeed the largest items in the budget are support for the Rector and mission. There is no rancor, denunciation of the PB or litigation with the TEC diocesan Bishop, but full prayerful energy committed to living and spreading the Good News. Of course we are inheritors of the Apostolic succession, liturgy, music and world wide communion but have assumed the responsibility of using these gifts to the glory of God. There, of course, is a solution to the differences between Bp Lawrence and TEC, but it clearly has nothing to do with competition between the Diocese of South Carolina and remaining parishes in TEC. One would hope and pray that all the churches of South Carolina would see the opportunity for using their gifts to spread the gospel. This reminds me of one of my favorite anecdotes : The reason people fight so vehemently about church politics is that there is so little at stake!

  21. Lenny Blevins says:

    The PB’s sermon was a speech not a sermon. We can all agree to disagree but the TEC has spent 22 million dollars fighting for its voice wouldn’t have that money been better spent expanding the of Kingdom of Christ.

  22. Lenny Blevins says:

    By the way the transcript of the speech was different from the video

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