The Fifth Sunday of Easter: May 19, 2019
Have you ever had a dream, a vision, a new awareness, which dramatically shifted how you saw the world or your own life-circumstance? Some years ago a person told me of a dream that had such an impact on her. By tradition and some theological reasons, she was opposed to the ordination of women. Her dream was of herself in church, standing and singing the processional hymn.
This particular day asperges were being done, that is, the priest was sprinkling the congregation with lustral water, blessed to remind them of their baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. All was as usual until she glanced at the procession in anticipation of the priest coming closer to where she stood, but all she saw was the hood of the alb pulled up in a manner not to be able to see the clergyperson’s face. Just as the priest coming up the aisle turned toward her to snap the aspergillum and cast through the air the blessed holy water, she looked at the priest and saw her own face staring right at her, as in a mirror. Hello Dr. Carl Jung. Here comes the punch line: A few years later she was ordained a priest of The Episcopal Church.
This woman’s dream enabled her to consider the possibility of moving beyond the limits of religion that she and others had imposed on at least half of the human population of the earth. We hear in the Acts of the Apostles today a vision that came to Peter that dramatically challenged his religious sensibilities. He accepted the centuries old teachings of the Torah, the laws and guidelines of his faith as found in the Hebrew scriptures, which specifically banned certain items of food as unclean. Shockingly, and we really must appreciate how world-rocking this new vision would have been to Peter and the rest of “the circumcised believers” around him, those dietary restrictions are now set aside. His whole religious system was blown apart.
It went further than food. It was also about the company he kept. The criticism leveled upon Peter came quickly. “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” He explained that it was while he was in prayer that the vision came to him. He objected, still seeing unclean animals. Then came the words that changed everything: “What God has made clean you must not call profane.” A moment of fun with words reminds us that the word profane literally means “outside of the temple.” All that was previously kept out of the temple, deemed not worthy of the temple, was now understood to be welcome.
As you might imagine, it took Peter a long time to bring his own life and actions into line with this new understanding. And as is often the case, it can take years, centuries even, for theology to catch up to an experience of the Holy Spirit. Jesus in his teaching, and now Peter, were blowing the doors off and throwing up the windows to allow the Wind, capital “W,” to blow. To the contrary, centuries of religious dogmatism has too often tried to put the doors back on and slam shut the windows. Two-thousand years later a lot of what we deal with in the Church and right in our own Diocese reveals this struggle.
Like with Peter, if I may be so bold, much of our work has been helping people claim for themselves their God-given cleanness, made in the image of God and of inherent worth, for no other reason than that they were created. Our desire is to respect the dignity of every human being for that exact reason. We hope and trust that in the power of the Spirit we are proclaiming a word of hope for many who have been told by the Church that they are profane, even an abomination, causing incalculable harm to God’s people whether it be because of race, economic status, origin of birth, sexual orientation, gender, perceived disability, or any other way we have and still do declare people as “other.”
To be an Easter person is to be daringly open to the ways in which God is breaking in with new life. In Christ we are liberated to be co-creators with God of the “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1) that God is always seeking to establish among us and through us. This is not mere optimism that just hopes for the best. It is joining the Jesus movement that sends us forth to confront the lies that perpetuate dignity-denying death, rather than embracing the way of Jesus and the Realm of God he inaugurated. The assault of manipulations of fear and anger must not take the place of our Gospel priorities. When the world attempts to seduce us with the expedience of violence or war we say no, even drawing on the historically proven reality that civil resistance is at least twice as effective as armed struggle. We choose the way of life and confront intransigence and small-thinking, not falling again into the trap from which St. Peter was set free by the risen Christ. We stand on Jesus’ words: “Love one another. As I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This love is costly. It is sacrificial. It is grateful. It is how people will know that we are his disciples (see John 13:35).
If we are to boldly sing “alleluia,” we must do so with the same kind of integrity born in Jesus’ resurrection and manifested in Peter’s vision. Our “alleluia” must remain connected to the real issues of our world and the transformation of all the ways we limit God’s love, having a sometimes convenient amnesia of our baptismal vow to renounce evil in all its forms and claim the way of Jesus, the way of love. Pray, remembering that God has “made of one blood all the peoples of the earth” (BCP, p. 100, second Collect for Mission). God’s embrace is big. It is wide. It is global. It is universal (catholic). What God has made clean we must never, ever, call profane.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.