Sermons 2003-2004

"Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

Proper 28C 2004 Luke 21:5-19

Jesus said to his disciples when they were talking about the decorations of the Third Temple, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
The disciples found this hard to believe. The smallest stones in the structure weighed 2 to 3 tons. Many of them weighed 50 tons. The largest existing stone is 12 meters in length and 3 meters high, and it weighed hundreds of tons! The stones were so immense that neither mortar nor any other binding material was needed between them. Their stability was attained by their great weight. The walls towered over Jerusalem, over 400 feet in one place.

Inside the four walls was 45 acres of bedrock mountain shaved flat and during Jesus' day a quarter of a million people could fit comfortably within the structure and its courtyards. So the disciples found it hard to believe that so great a structure as the Temple could be so quickly taken down and made to disappear.

The disciples wanted to know when this would happen. And what signs would there be to warn them that this was about to happen. They were afraid. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of change. Just simply afraid, period. And some were so afraid that they were in denial about the whole thing. They just couldn’t believe it.

But forty years later it happened. As a major act in repressing the Jewish revolt, the Romans tore down the Temple and scattered the Jewish people in the Diaspora throughout the Greco-Roman world that lasted until the formation of the modern State of Israel half a century ago. (1)

The Temple – the church building of its day and the center of ancient Judaism – and the Temple cult, the worshippers of the day, were gone from the Temple Mount –were gone from Jerusalem, indeed from most of Palestine.

Although Jesus disciples couldn’t believe it could happen, we latter day disciples, we Episcopalians, are aware of the fragility of our Anglicanism and its structures.

But there is good news. We have just returned from a three day conference at the Cathedral of Saint Phillip in the Diocese of Atlanta. Its theme was Going Forward Together: A Conference for Clergy, Staff, and Lay Leaders Promoting Health and Unity in the Episcopal Church. It was the Church at its best, rising above the partisanship too evident in the current crisis.

In part what I am about to say is a report on what I found there. But most of what I have to say is a way to think and to hold to the things we love so dearly about our Episcopal Church -- indeed why some of us fell in love with the Episcopal Church and the via media at an early age and, leaving the denomination of our birth, steeped ourselves in classical Anglicanism, some even winding up as priests of the Church, if you can imagine that. And equally it is about a way to think about keeping all the stones of the Temple one upon the other and none of the stones thrown down. At least that is our hope.

There were four keynote addresses at Saint Phillips Cathedral. In what I think now was the key passage in his keynote address – and indeed of the whole conference – one of the noted theologians of the church had this to say:

“Faith, hope, and love are core Christian virtues. But faith must embrace doubt, for the opposite of faith is not doubt but the quest for certainty. Hope must embrace despair, because the opposite of hope is not despair, but pessimism. And Love must embrace hate, because the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. To be Christian is to be willing to live with uncertainty, even as we bet our very lives on the truth of the gospel. To be Christian is to be optimistic about the future, because we have faith that the future is ultimately God’s future. And to be Christian is to live a life dependent on God’s help as we strive to manifest God’s suffering love as the means to conquer evil and do all that we can to abide faithfully in God’s reign until it comes in its fullness.

“It is for good reason that over time, three “parties” emerged in the Anglican tradition. There was an Evangelical party that identified with the Puritan Calvinists who emphasized Scripture, an Anglo-Catholic Party that identified with the Roman Catholic Church who emphasized tradition, and a Broad Church party that identified with a Reformed Catholicism who emphasized reason. We were held together by a respect for and love of each other and the experience of sharing a common life of prayer and mission. But we have, I believe, reached a time in history when some extreme Anglo-Catholics and some extreme Evangelicals want to define our tradition by revisiting the Elizabethan settlement and make it turn out differently. (2)

What the theologian said about revisiting the Elizabethan settlement crystallized what I had been gnawing about in the edges of my mind and heart and soul for some weeks. For the Elizabethan settlement of the 16th Century is what has made the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion possible. What also has been part of this gnawing is a growing awareness that the result of any revision of the Elizabethan settlement would be that we would no longer be who we are. And the reasons for that are many and complex, probably too many for this sermon. Perhaps I will explore this in a series of newsletter reflections.

In its essence, the Elizabethan Settlement aimed at inclusion of as many people and positions as possible. Pragmatically it was shaped so that only the most radical Protestants on the one hand and only the most extreme Roman Catholics on the other could not fit themselves within its embrace. It has been aptly described as quietly hiding a moderate Protestant theology – the 39 Articles – within a familiar and traditional catholic liturgy native to England and now spoken in English. Rather than seeking reasons to burn people at the stake as heretics, it sought their outward conformity, to include them, and did not insist on rigid and narrow private theological thinking. “Say the creeds in public as they are written,” the great Queen is alleged to have said, “And interpret them as you will in private.”

Within the great Settlement were the seeds of the middle way, the via media, the recognition that there were many truths, many of which conflicted with each other and that Holy Scripture was rife with such contradictions. Hence, people of good will and deep Christian spirituality and profound faith could disagree with one another and yet rally behind the essential truth that there was one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all”, even as they disagreed over exactly what faith and Baptism might mean.

In particular, the principle was that no one view should dominate and replace all the others. There have been, of course, those groups who could not tolerate such a richness of diversity – and especially could not tolerate the fact that their particular theological constructs would not prevail over all the others.

The 17th Century radical Puritans under Oliver Cromwell were among the earliest of these groups, executing King Charles, and establishing government by dictator, and a presbyterian form of church polity and theology in religion. In the 18th Century the followers of John and Charles Wesley’s emotional revivalism eventually formed a separate church in England and abroad that we now know as Methodist – even though the Wesley brothers remained faithful Church of England clergymen.

In America, the Episcopal Church was one of the few that did not divide into separate northern and southern branches over slavery and during the American Civil War. It was later in the 19th Century, in 1873 that a small number of clergy left and formed the Reformed Episcopal Church in protest against the growing influence of the theology of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford movement in England.

In the 20th Century we are all too familiar with the schismatic splinter groups who formed various denominations styling themselves “Anglican” or “Anglican Orthodox”, among other, in protest over Prayer Book Revision and the ordination of women.

The current crisis is really not about the gay bishop. It isn’t really about the authority of Scripture. It is about revisiting -- revising – actually undoing -- the Elizabethan Settlement and insisting that all who call themselves Episcopalians shall conform to a narrow fundamentalism that disguises itself by appropriating the honorable title of evangelical. Its rigid orthodoxy demands adherence to narrow views of God and acceptance of the absolute inerrancy of Scripture and its literal interpretation. They demand of us that we submit unconditionally to their view, which is not the view of at least 80 per cent or more of Episcopalians, as the price of their remaining within the Episcopal Church. It would do away with the rich diversity and freedom of thought and practice that the Elizabethan Settlement has made possible over the years. It is a very steep price to pay to appease a group that gives little indication of being satisfied.

If this occurs, we will no longer be able to be who we are, and the people called Episcopalians will be no more. That is a very steep price to pay indeed. But, said the theologian in Atlanta – in tune with all the other speakers and seminar and workshop leaders:
“The good news, I am convinced, is that the majority of moderate Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals are uniting with members of the broad church to birth a new revival in our church that brings our historic tradition to life and applies it to our own day so that it might continue to be faithful to our charisma within the body of Christ.” (2)

The Atlanta Conference was for me certainly proof of that, of the Holy Spirit stirring and working to protect God’s people and preserve Christ’s Church for the work it has been given to do, keeping all the stones of the Temple one upon the other and none of the stones thrown down.”


1. Adapted from eSermons Illustrations for 14 November 2004.

2. The Revd Dr John Westerhoff, “A People of Promise and Hope: Our Unique Contribution to the Christian Life of Faith”, a paper delivered at Going Forward Together: An Episcopal Conference in Dallas and Atlanta 2004, St Phillip’s Cathedral, Atlanta, 8 November 2004.