Presiding bishop preaches in Curaçao, Diocese of Venezuela

All Saints Church, Steenrijk, Curaçao [Diocese of Venezuela]
12 May 2013

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

The beauty of this place is legendary.  It is beautiful – and fragile, for its beauty depends on a dynamic balance among the parts of this island system.  Many people don’t notice beauty around them until it’s gone.  When we go somewhere that looks very different, often it takes a long time to appreciate that it has beauty, even though it’s a different kind of beauty.  Some people never do learn to value the different kinds of loveliness in the world around us.  One of the gifts of this remarkable island is its diverse mixture of desert and tropics on land and sea – and even more so, the beauty of its different peoples, languages, and heritages.  Yet the history of this place tells some tragic stories about the inability of some to see the beauty in other skin colors or the treasure of cultures they didn’t value or understand.

Human beings have a long history of discounting and devaluing difference, finding it offensive or even evil.  That kind of blindness is what leads to oppression, slavery, and often, war.  Yet there remains a holier impulse in human life toward freedom, dignity, and the full flourishing of those who have been kept apart or on the margins of human communities.  It’s a tendency that seems to emerge along a common timeline.  Formal legal structures that permitted human slavery ended here and in many parts of the world within a relatively short span of time.  It doesn’t mean that slavery is finished today, but at least it’s no longer legal in most places.  Even so, slavery continues in the form of human trafficking and the kind of exploitation that killed so many garment workers in Bangladesh recently.

We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end.  We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong.  For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.

There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.[1]  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!  The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.

An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God.  The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand.  This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor.  This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household.  It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.

The reading from Revelation pushes us in the same direction, outward and away from our own self-righteousness, inviting us to look harder for God’s gift and presence all around us.  Jesus says he’s looking for everybody, anyone who’s looking for good news, anybody who is thirsty.  There are no obstacles or barriers – just come.  God is at work everywhere, even if we can’t or won’t see it immediately.

The gospel insists that Jesus has given glory to the growing company of his friends and disciples so they can be all be one.  When we recognize the glory of another human being, we become her advocate, and we begin to see him as friend.  The word that’s used for glory has echoes that speak of awe, and gravitas, and deep significance.  The glory we’ve received is something like a grand ceremonial garment, maybe even a shining face like Moses’, that says to those around us, “here comes the image of God.”  The world begins to change when we see that glorious skin shining on our brothers’ and sisters’ faces.

The great loves in our lives come from a deep recognition of the glory in another human being and a desire to share that glory.  When Jesus speaks of oneness, he’s moving in that direction.  What would the world be like if we could love not only our lovers, but every human being with that kind of starry-eyed passion?  The glory is there to see in all of us.  Certainly God sees that glory.  Most of us have eyes that can see that glory in one or a few other human beings.  Learning to see that glory all around us is a good part of what the Christian life is all about.  Slavery, war, and discrimination are only possible when we fail to see the glory in those people.  Why does Jesus tell us to pray for our enemies, except to begin to discern their glory?

We live in a time when we need to see the glory of God in every other human being, and also in the rest of creation.  This fragile earth, our island home, is also shining with the glory of its creator.  If human beings are going to flourish on this planet, we’ll need to learn to see the glory of God at work in all its parts.  When we can be awed at the beauty of a sunset or the delicate complexity of an orchid or the remarkable diversity of a coral reef, we’ll be much more wary about using it for our own selfish ends.

Looking for the reflection of God’s glory all around us means changing our lenses, or letting the scales on our eyes fall away.  That kind of change isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s the only road to the kingdom of God.  We are here, among all the other creatures of God’s creation, to be transformed into the glory intended from the beginning.  The next time we feel the pain of that change, perhaps instead of annoyance or angry resentment we might pray for a new pair of glasses.  When resentment about difference or change builds up within us, it’s really an invitation to look inward for the wound that cries out for a healing dose of glory.  We will find it in the strangeness of our neighbor.  Celebrate that difference – for it’s necessary for the healing of this world – and know that the wholeness we so crave lies in recognizing the glory of God’s creative invitation.  God among us in human form is the most glorious act we know.  We are meant to be transformed into the same kind of glory.  Let’s pray that God’s glory may shine in us and in all creatures!


[1] E.g., Romans 1:1

Comments

  1. I continue to be grateful for our Presiding Bishop.

  2. Fr. Will McQueen says:

    Paul deprived the slave girl of her spiritual gift? What kind of Gnosticism is Ms. Schori tapped into here? Paul cast a demon out of the slave girl, an agent of Satan, a force of darkness, and didn’t deprive her of some spiritual gift. This is quite possibly some if the most delusional exegesis I’ve ever read in my life. I’m sorry, but this sermon is not a Christian sermon.

  3. Emily Dobbins says:

    Wow. I love how she speaks of the glory of humans, how God created us and we are all to “see the glory of God in every other human being”. I absolutely agree. Does this include the unborn and the terminally ill? I think it does; do you?

    Another question for the Christian: I was under the impression, from the words of Jesus Himself, that He is “…the only road to the kingdom of God.” Am I misunderstanding you, Bishop Schori?

  4. Fr. Miguel Rosada says:

    My God…what kind of homily is this? A young woman oppressed, by her slave masters and by a SPIRIT OF DIVINATION, a demon, is liberated from that curse! How can that be construed as Paul: “…depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness….”? Or … ” Can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it” ? or … “His own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so”? Is this some kind of jest or and Apologetic for spiritualism and spirit channeling? Since when did the occult become spiritual awareness, beautiful, holy and sharing in God’s nature? Lord have mercy on us!!!!

  5. Fr. Trent Overman says:

    It is terribly stunning to read that the Presiding Bishop elevates the sinful practice of necromancy to the Holy Spirit inspired territory of spiritual gifts. This is eisegesis of a demonic sort. Pray that Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori’s error is corrected and her heart and mind set right by our living and loving LORD Jesus Messiah.

  6. This reference to St. Paul’s exorcism is completely off base. “But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it. ”
    Exorcism is a fundamental ministry of the Church and a special responsibility of Bishops in our Anglican world. The PB is both denying exorcism and the power of evil/demonic forces, BUT also putting down the great Apostle to the Gentiles.. How can the ministry of the Kingdom of God advance when its so called proponents indulge in this most dangerous of all statements?

  7. Carol McRee says:

    To her listeners, she may portray herself as a priest and bishop, but her explanation leaves much MUCH to be desired. The first paragraph is to be expected from a biologist of her training, the second sounds like a civil rights leader. But the third paragraph… WOW! So now slavery, especially enslavement by demonic possession, is to be considered the slave girl’s ‘gift of spiritual awareness??? And it is due to ‘the Spirit of God in her’ Really?? The PB’s ‘sermon’ goes downhill …… sad, very sad.

  8. F.W. Atkins says:

    By what spirit does the PB speak?

  9. Susan Raedeke says:

    Am I to understand that the PB believes that Paul, in a case of mistaken identity, was able to make the Holy Spirit take a hike? That’s one powerful apostle. Or maybe there are little-bitty good spirits that possess people so that other people can make money off of them? Bizzaro.

  10. I think the poor PB herself may be afflicted with a similar spirit

  11. Very very sad sermon. How can the Presiding Bishop miss the point that the woman was exploited- the slave woman was in physical, spiritual and relational bondage – she was being used for profit and her incessant shouting was disruptive and insincere. Paul takes time to discern this and through the power of prayer, she is set free – no more exploitation by man or the enemy. Having lost their profit source, her exploiters go after Paul and have him thrown in prison. A major point of the story is that woman was not respected, she was not esteemed, could not control her own actions, she was being used and held in bondage. Paul’s ministry sets her free, truly free, which leads him to be thrown in prison by those who could no longer use the woman for profit. How does Katharine Jefferts Schori completely miss the point?

  12. Nsebot Idopise Ido says:

    What kind of delusional hogwash is being peddled here? What is holy or beautiful about demonic possession and the exploitation of a minor as was being practiced by the owners of the slave girl? More to be pitied are those who sit regularly under such satanic anointing. To them the Word is: “Come out from among them…” and the time is NOW.

  13. Dan Harris says:

    Bishop Jefferts Schori wants us to believe that she loves everyone, and sees Jesus in them…all but Christian conservatives and others who do not go along with her ideas of pan sexuality…or believe the way she believes. She doesn’t appear to love them very much…..

  14. Lydia Smith says:

    Oh my goodness. I have to admit that when I first read about this sermon on another site I thought it must be a spoof. It couldn’t be serious. No leader of a church, let alone the national leader of a mainline denomination, could possibly have such a woeful grasp of biblical interpretation. But it appears to be so . . .
    Don’t know where to start to critique it really. This miracle of deliverance was done in the name of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who liberated this slave girl. How can it possibly be re-cast as an act of petty meanness on the part of Paul???? Incredible.
    At its heart, error is always so cruel. It seems that if she had had her way, the PB would have left this girl in her spiritual slavery, continuing to be exploited by her handlers for material gain.
    Come Lord Jesus come.

  15. Quite possibly the worst exegesis I’ve ever read. As one commenter has said, it’s really eisegesis. And that’s unfortunate, because the point of the PB’s sermon could as easily been made with a faithful reading of Acts instead of this tortured one.

  16. “Here comes the image of God”. That’s the way I want to look at people. Everyone. I do need new glasses. What a beautiful sermon.

    I do question with other commentors the negative portrayal of the slave girl’s exorcism. I had always wondered why Paul didn’t free her immediately. But ever since I was a child, I assumed that her confession and persistence were from the image of God in her that no amount of demon possession could take away. Luke the Gentile neither exonerates nor criticizes Paul. Paul is human, not divine, so the ethics his actions are up for questioning. But while the scope of Luke’s letter to his friend is to report the facts as he sees them, the overwhelming theme of Luke-Acts is that the kingdom of God has come to lift up those who are down, those who have no status- the sick, disabled, outcasts, beggars, slaves, women, children, Gentiles. If you doubt this, just look at how many times the Greek prefix “ana” is used in his Gospel, reaching it’s fulfillment in the “anastasia” of Jesus. The slave girl had everything to lose, but since she had nothing, she had nothing to lose in her obnoxious pursuit of deliverance. Good for her. THE GOOD NEWS IS FOR HER!!!!

    • Lee Downs says:

      No, Paul didn’t “free her” or, as Schori put it, “depriv[ed] her of her gift of spiritual awareness;” Christ liberated her from possession. Two examples of ignorant eisegesis espoused by those who leave biblical interpretation to the individual.

  17. Eric Turner says:

    The real tragedy here isn’t Bishop Jefferts Schori’s heterodoxy. That has been long known and well documented. Any individual can get confused and misguided, and that can be forgiven. The real tragedy is the complete failure of our House of Bishops to deal with the situation. They have vowed to guard the faith and unity of the church and they, AS A BODY, have utterly failed. The real damage to the Church is not the failure of one bishop – the Church has survived far worse than Bishop Jefferts Schori – but the failure of our entire House of Bishops.

  18. David Yarbrough says:

    Dr. Schori asserts that “different is not the same thing as wrong.” She is correct. That doesn’t make wrong any less wrong, or sin any less sinful.

    While every human being is made in the image of God and carries the potential for God’s glory, this potential is obscured, clouded, and smudged by sin. It is the responsibility of God’s Church – and especially leaders in positions like Dr. Schori’s – to speak God’s truth in love and teach the explicit teachings of Scripture that, she has affirmed, contain all things necessary to salvation.

  19. Charlie Jackson says:

    I’m a pretty theologically liberal Episcopalian, but this is just too much. Talk about stretching for a point — this sermon is terrible and embarrassing. You don’t have to be a conservative to wonder what she could have been thinking. How couldn’t this be anything but poorly received?

  20. Douglas J Hadley says:

    An appalling, embarrassing sermon. Full of biblical and theological errors. Yet, not unexpected, as so many in the Episcopal Church leadership continue to lose any semblance of intellectual and spiritual integrity and sensibility.

  21. Father Thomas Allen says:

    Classic example of cultural superiority and using these blinders to miss the true spiritual point. Sadly, the Presiding Bishop is in error here.

  22. The most remarkable aspect of this misapplication and misinterpretation is that The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church ultimately dismisses her own point against the inhumanity of enslavement and exploitation, particularly of a young woman.

    While in the midst of taking “cheap shots” at the Apostle Paul, she calls this woman’s demonic possession “her gift of spiritual awareness.” She continues berating the Apostle with, “Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it. It gets him thrown in prison. That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!”

    What about the liberation of the young woman from demons and traffickers? Would the Presiding Bishop have preferred the young woman remain in bondage? Here is the question: Where is the nature of True Love expressed in the quoted passage of the young woman exploited for spiritual divination? Paul discerned that this “gift” was not of the Holy Spirit, that the young woman’s divining spirit had turned to harassment distracting from their message, and in his “annoyance” set her free from the “not-holy spirit!”

    “She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.” Acts 16:18

    Contrast this story with the one immediately preceding of another woman whom Paul encountered:
    “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.” Acts 16:13-15

    As an Episcopalian, this is beyond embarrassing.

  23. Paul Gutacker says:

    Did you hear the one about Jesus destroying the beautiful spirituality of the naked lunatic? I guess Jesus got what was coming him when the crowd told him to leave them and go away.

  24. robert lewis says:

    I suspect that all the negative comments here are sparked by Angican Ink, a literalist rag edited by George Conger.

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