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Pax Christi

I
Secular folk simply don’t understand why anyone would bother to take an old book like the Bible seriously let alone be willing to give up ones life for the faith that the Bible creates-out-of-nothing in the hearts and minds of simple folk like you and I.

Perhaps for a good man one might dare to die. But for a wretch? For a thief? For a coward? For an adulterer? Don’t be silly. Our evolutionary instinct to self-preserve puts such an act clearly outside of the bounds of self-interest. Moreover, is there anyone wretched, really?

II
One Toronto critic called the film a failure. A failure! An honest-to-God failure. Why? Because Mr. Scorsese was too thick-in-the-head to recognize that “contemporary audiences” (mind the whiff of chronological snobbery) have trouble picturing faith. Faith, obviously, is not a contemporary virtue. At least not the sort of faith that might lead one to delight in the grotesque forms of self-denial and sacrificial love that Mr. Scorsese forces his viewers to behold. Faith is old and frumpy, inauthentic and unsexy. Best leave that in the past.

I wonder though, are “contemporary audiences” so deficient or was the critics comment a window into her own soul? I’m only asking. Who am I to judge? And if “contemporary audiences” are so deficient, is that the fault of the Director? Should he have made a version of the film more palatable for modern viewers? Are transcendent things—things like Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—meant to be easily discernable and readily available to any critic with an opinion?

III
Once upon a time, Steve Jobs commented on the difficulty of designing products based on focus groups. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he said.

Perhaps “contemporary audiences” do not know what they want. Perhaps they need to be shown. Focus groups (and critics) be damned!

IV
As I was reading the reviews this morning I realized that not all newspapers were in agreement as to where to file these sorts of things. First of all, is it a “Movie” or a “Film”? And once that has been sorted, is this “Art” or “Entertainment”?

Now I don’t know much about art but I have been reading Sir Roger Scruton on beauty lately and that’s something to digest.

Likewise, I’m unsure of the difference between a “Movie” and a “Film” though I’ve heard it said that a movie is made by a director for others whereas a film is made by a director for himself. In this regard, Silence is a film. It might not be for you. Perhaps “contemporary audiences” (un)naturally expect that these sorts of things are for them, products for their consumption rather than objects to be contemplated.

V
As a priest, I found myself wondering what it would have been like to be sitting there watching this film as someone who is not a member of the Christian religion.

The critic mentioned above might help us in this regard. The portion of the film that Ms. Taylor found most interesting was the latter third in which Fr. Rodrigues finally meets Inoue (“The Inquisitor”) and has a series of conversations with him. In the same final-third Fr. Rodrigues also meets Fr. Ferreria, the Jesuit who trained and mentored Fr. Rodrigues and others but who has now himself apostatized and is living the life of a Japanese.

According to Ms. Taylor, these two characters provide a lesson in “cultural sensitivity” to Fr. Rodrigues and ought thus to be praise. (It should be noted that Fr. Rodrigues was not a member of the “contemporary audience” and thus was lacking in the sort of “cultural sensitivity” that a good modern Westerner is well versed in. Indeed, a “cultural sensitivity” that is legislated and enforced by the State—just ask Professor Peterson).

But this in an interesting way to speak of these two characters. Inoue in particular, “is crucial to the introduction of a more nuanced approach” to the colonial questions raised by Christian missionary work, we are told. “A more nuanced approach”? That’s a curious turn of phrase to attribute to a man who rained down death and a various assortment of brutal persecutions upon thousands of Japanese Christians.

“Now, Silence opens itself to the relativism of the 21st century – removing itself even further from the faith of the 17th.” Really? Does religious fervor for “the relativism of the 21st century” really look more kindly upon the persecution of members of the Christian religion than it does upon said Christians when they willingly, joyfully even, suffer for their (17th century) faith?

VI
The Christian religion has always been a source of discomfort for those who are not of it (and indeed, for those who are of it as well). There are some fair reasons for this, of course—the history of Christianity is not without blemish. However, at the heart of the Christian faith we have Jesus.

Gandhi famously quipped, what was it, “I like your Christ but not your Christians,” or something like that. Nicholas Kristof recently wondered aloud, “Am I a Christian?” “I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity.”

But this is a load of rubbish.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.”
John 1:10-11

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.”
John 19:14-16

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”
1 Corinthians 1:22-23

The story of Jesus is not of his coming to a world that “deeply admires” him. But of him coming to a world that deeply despises and rejects him, even unto death. (And in cases where the world does purport to “deeply admire” Jesus, it is likely a Jesus of their own fashioning that they fancy).

Keller suggested that Kristof might not be. A Christian, that is.

VII
Perhaps it is simply easier then to strip the film of its “religious and philosophical trappings,” as some critics suggest. To rob it of it’s particularity and turn it into more of a universal tale of inclusivity, tolerance, the strength of the human spirit, or something more palatable to the “contemporary audience.”

VIII
The face of Jesus appears throughout Silence. Not only on the fumie where it is trampled upon but also as an object of contemplation for the Padres and the Japanese Christians. In one scene, moments before Fr. Rodrigues is finally apprehended by the authorities, he sees his reflection in a pool of water morph, momentarily, into the face of Christ. The theological point here is clear (too clear, perhaps): the suffering of the Christian missionaries and of the Japanese Christians themselves is a participatio Christi, a participation in the sufferings of Christ.

Onlookers might stand aghast, wondering why Japanese Christians would suffer so? Trample upon the fumie, deny your Christ, “it is only a formality.” And for the Padres who would look on who, we are told, have brought this suffering upon the people—how could they standby and watch the terrible suffering inflicted upon these dear people knowing that all it would take to release them from suffering would be for they themselves to apostatize? (Whether or not this would have actually released the Japanese from suffering is another matter)

What is missed in the assessment of critics here is the way in which the Padres and the Japanese Christians were not so much suffering for their faith in Christ as they were suffering with Christ himself. Or rather, confident that Christ himself was with them in their own (inevitable) sufferings.

IX
“We are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Romans 8:17

X
I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.”
Romans 9:1-3

It is perhaps this suffering, the suffering of the Apostle, that is the interpretive key to understanding the suffering of Fr. Rodrigues himself.

God be praised.

 

Well, it looks like Canon XXI isn’t going to be changing any time soon.

A little bit of background info for the uninitiated: This July the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada is set to meet and the big debate/vote on the docket has to do with changing our Church Canon (i.e. Church law) on marriage.

You can read the Marriage Canon in its entirety here, but for our immediate purposes I think it sufficient simply to say that Canon XXI affirms that marriage is an indissoluble covenant (“until they are separated by death”) between one man and one woman which is ordered towards, “mutual fellowship, support, and comfort, and the procreation (if it may be) and nurture of children, and the creation of a relationship in which sexuality may serve personal fulfilment in a community of faithful love.” One could spend a good deal unpacking this and indeed we have spent a good deal of time doing so.

It’s important to note that the Anglican Church of Canada affirms this understanding of marriage, “according to our Lord’s teaching as found in Holy Scripture and expressed in the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer.” That is, the Anglican Church of Canada believes that our present teaching on marriage is not only faithful to what Anglicans have always believed and taught but is the very teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ himself as we have it in Holy Scripture.

Now, not all Anglicans believe this. So, at the General Synod of the ACoC in 2013 a resolution was passed to draft a motion, “to change Canon XXI on marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples…”

A Commission was struck. They met. They prayed. They studied. They produced the report This Holy Estate. Many people rejoiced at the report. Others were disappointed. My own response was one of concern. I thought the theological and biblical reasoning was, shall we say, insufficient. Ephraim Radner, Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College, said, “It was not a theological report. It was a report that used some theology, but for a non-theological purpose.” I think he is right. Moreover, it raised concerns for me with respect to Catholicity. What does it mean to disregard other churches who are asking us not to go forward with such a change? How can we disregard the majority of our Anglican brothers and sisters from around the world? What would it mean for me as a priest to be subject to a church with whom I disagree doctrinally?

Coinciding with all of this in the Canadian church, the Episcopal Church went ahead and voted to changed their marriage canon in the summer of 2015. In response to this and a growing tension in the Anglican Communion the Primates (leaders of the Anglican Communion) met in Canterbury in January. It was an overwhelmingly successful meeting, though not a pain-free one. Indeed, some lamented their communiqué for in it the Primates overwhelmingly agreed on the traditional Church teaching on marriage as outlined in the BCP and Canon XXI of the ACoC.

OK, back to the Canadian vote this summer. I believe the saying is, “ball in your court,” Canadians.

A quick explanation of what it would take for the motion to change the marriage canon to pass on first reading (if it passed the first time, it would have to pass a second reading in 2019). In July 2016 the motion would be debated and voted on by three different voting bodies: the laity, the clergy, and the bishops. In order for the motion to pass it would have to pass with a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses.

Well, it looks like Canon XXI isn’t going to be changing any time soon.

The Canadian House of Bishops met last week. Many Canadians were praying and fasting for this meeting. Today they released their statement. Here’s the money quote:

In our exploration of these differences it became clear to us that the draft resolution to change the Marriage Canon to accommodate the marriage of same-sex partners is not likely to pass in the Order of Bishops by the canonical requirement of a 2/3rds majority in each Order. Some of us talked of being mortified and devastated by this realisation.

And so we (continue to) pray.

I imagine that the motion will still be debated and voted on but barring any unforeseen circumstances or changes of heart it will not pass. That means that the Anglican Church of Canada will continue to uphold the traditional teaching of Jesus Christ and of the whole Church on marriage.

It’s been interesting to see some of the responses thus far to the Bishops. I think I’ve written enough for now but I’ll try to address one or two of them in another blog post.

Grace and peace.

JT+

“Lord, take my heart and break it:
break it not in the way I would like,
but in the way you know to be best.
And, because it is you who break it,
I will not be afraid, for in your hands all is safe and I am safe.

Lord, take my heart and give to it your joy,
not in the ways I like,
but in the ways you know are best,
that your joy may be fulfilled in me.
So, dear Lord, I am ready to be your priest.”

– Archbishop Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today, p.93-94

JTordination-1 copy

A Sonnet for Transfiguration
by Malcolm Guite

For that one moment, in and out of time,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings,
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face.
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar,
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

transfiguration-header

Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C – Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

CanaWedding

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now,” (John 2:10).

In our gospel reading this morning we have a story about water and wine but it is not really a story about water and wine. It is meant to show us something about Jesus, something that we wouldn’t know on our own, bright as we may be. It’s a story about water and wine, the very best wine we are told. Indeed, so blown away is the steward that he calls the bridegroom over and commends him on the quality of the product in what is the focal point of the story: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Here we need pay attention, for here is the key to understanding what we are being shown about Jesus in and through this story. “But you have kept the good wine until now.” A true statement but it’s ironically true in the mouth of the steward because while it ought to be directed towards Jesus—the one who miraculously created this delicious wine from tasteless water—it’s actually directed to the bridegroom. So, the statement is true but not in the way that he means it, in fact, it’s true in a way which points to a much deeper truth—it is not the bridegroom but God who has “kept the best wine until now.”[1] The wine that God gives now is qualitatively better than the wine that came before it.

But this isn’t really a story about wine.

This is the language of Israel’s Messianic hope and expectation—the hope of a future that would be characterized by greater blessings than anything that had come before, and the wedding feast and the wine are a sign for the joy of this age. Consider this passage from the prophet Isaiah: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever,” (25:6-8a).

Notice the connection between the finest wine and the abolition of death. The same connection is present in our reading from the wedding in Cana but it’s hidden away in Jesus’ somewhat cryptic response to his mother: “My hour has not yet come,” (2:4). In other words, what’s happening here when Jesus miraculously gives them the best wine they’ve ever had is merely a foretaste of what will come into greater focus at a later hour when the glory of God is most fully revealed in Jesus, the hour of his death and resurrection (12:23, 27; 13:1). The hour in which he gave himself wholly to us and for us, for the forgiveness of sins, for our liberation from sin and death—the wine of our redemption, which would obtain life for all (Maximus of Turin).

This Messianic wedding feast with the best wine, this marriage of heaven and earth, this hoped for time of union with God, was not just for Israel but for “all peoples.”

This is the goal of the Christian life, of any life at all, of human life. For this reason alone were we created, that we might be joined to the Living God in an indissoluble union of love. To live from God and to God and with God, moving ever deeper into his love and light.

However, we only come to realize that this is the goal of life once our eyes have been opened to behold the glory of God in Jesus Christ, to see in his death and resurrection God’s very own self-giving to us and for us that our condemned marriage with sin and death might be annulled, so that we might live anew with God in fullness of life. This reality has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, the very best wine that God has to give, his own Son. And we receive this gift every time we receive the bread and the wine of the Eucharist.

I was filled with great joy as I read Archbishop Colin Johnson’s recent letter to all the churches in the diocese, a letter which we will hear read at our vestry in a few weeks. The letter ends with these words: “I have a continuing concern that we deepen our own understanding of our faith in Jesus Christ and our ability to speak of that faith reasonably and confidently, and to give voice “to the hope that lies within us” as St. Paul writes.” Yes! O that we might be such a people here at St. Mary and St. Martha’s this year and always, drawn ever deeper into the mystery of Christ and finding in that deep treasury hope and life and faith and love.

One of the great Biblical figures for this union with God is—you might guess from the setting of our story—marriage. Throughout the Old Testament God is depicted as the faithful Bridegroom of His oft-unfaithful people Israel. Consider, for example, this morning’s reading from Isaiah: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you,” (62:4-5).

Later, looking back on the Old Testament in light of the risen Jesus, the apostles saw in him the figure of the Bridegroom par excellence. Thus, the gospels are full of parables about wedding feasts. Moreover, the bridegroom in the wedding at Cana a stand-in for Jesus, a fact confirmed by the words of John the Baptist in the very next chapter: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled,” (3:29). John’s joy is fulfilled because he is the friend of the Bridegroom and now, finally, the Bridegroom has come for his Bride.

Is it any wonder that he who came to Cana for a wedding came to this world for a wedding?

St. Augustine reflects on this saying: “Therefore he has a bride here whom he has redeemed by his blood and to whom he has given the Holy Spirit as a pledge. He wrested her from enslavement to the devil, he died for her sins. He arose again for her justification. Who will offer such great things to his bride?” And the Church is the Bride of Christ, to whom and for whom he has given his very life, his own blood.***

This is the best wine—life with God in Christ. That the Holy Spirit might direct our life in the Church such that we grow up into maturity and fullness of life with God in Christ. And this happens slowly, over time. Indeed, our present experience of this reality is merely a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet that is to come where we will truly be one with the Bridegroom. Even so, as with the steward in the story, a foretaste is enough to elicit great joy! What joy is to come then, that even now is at work within us! When Christ, as a sign of his power, changed water into wine all the crowd rejoiced at its marvelous taste. Now we all are partakers at the banquet in the church, for Christ’s blood is changed to wine and we drink it with holy joy, praising the Bridegroom (Romanus Melodus).

My prayer for you this year, for us all, is that we might come to know ever more deeply the glory of God in Jesus Christ, who poured his very life and love out for us on the cross and then into us by the Holy Spirit. That we might be transformed in spite of our sins and failures, into the Bride of Christ. And that this union with God in Christ would generate spiritual children, new followers of Jesus. This year, more than in the past, may we be drawn ever further into this mystery. Amen.

[1] Richard Bauckham, Gospel of Glory, 180.

Sermon was preached by the Rev’d Jonathan R. Turtle at St. Mary and St. Martha’s, Mount Dennis, on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 17th, 2016.

***At this point in the sermon there was an additional section which I included during the 8:30am service but made an editorial decision between services to exclude it from the 10:30am service. Below is the text that I cut-out.

This is one of the reasons why it matters what the Church believes about marriage. It has become increasingly clear in the late-Modern West that the traditional teaching of the Church on matters of sex and marriage—these deep issues that cut to the heart of what it means to be a human creature—are at growing odds with particular cultural orthodoxies. We live in a time and place where it is not only possible but desirable, so we are told, to separate sex from marriage and procreation from sex because sex and marriage and procreation are ultimately about realizing one’s self. Thus, in a strange inversion sex and marriage and even children are ordered to nothing greater than the pleasure and experience of the individual. We turn ever further in on ourselves and experience not abundant life. But the Church has consistently rejected this in various ways over time, insisting that sex and marriage and children are meant to go together, and that God orders them towards something greater than our own pleasure or experience, that they have the power not only to communicate to us the mystery of Christ and his Church but to form us after his likeness as we are called to lay down our lives for our spouse and children.

As the marital love that unites a man and a woman bears forth fruit, that is children, so too the marital love that unites Christ and his Church bears forth fruit, that is spiritual children: new disciples, new believers, new followers of Jesus Christ, new recipients of his abundant and life-giving grace. “And his disciples believed in him,” (2:11).

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, 2015 – Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

christ-children

Yeah, yeah. I know this technically goes with another passage but you get the idea.

“Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me,” (9:36-37).

Brothers and sisters, it is hard to believe that I’m standing here before you this morning preaching my last sermon at St. Cuthbert’s. Five months hardly seems like a sufficient amount of time to be together. And yet, I am deeply thankful. I know not why, but God in His providence saw fit to have our paths cross if only for a short time. You all, all of you, have been a gift to me, and to my family, and I can only hope and pray that I have been the same to you. And so I thank the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the gift of your friendship. In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul writes: “There is one body and one Spirit…one hope of your calling…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all,” (4:4-6). Indeed, we are one in Christ if we hold firm to him. Be assured that I will remember you in my prayers and I ask that you would pray for me as well.

I’ve heard it said that every preacher really only has one sermon and for the most part that’s probably true. Reflecting back on my time with you, I think that today’s gospel reading from Mark nicely sums up the one sermon that I think I have been given to share with you all.

“Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me,” (9:36-37). Christians pride themselves on being a welcoming bunch. If you don’t believe me just pay a visit to most any church website and I’ll bet that one of the first words you come across is “welcome”. And what would a Sunday morning be without coffee hour? This is good, we should practice hospitality and welcome both friend and stranger. But where does this welcome come from? And into what are we welcoming others?

Last week we looked at a passage from earlier in Mark’s gospel and discovered that we find life, not when we try to secure it for ourselves, but when we lose our life for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel. This week we have a similar scene a little bit later in Mark. Jesus foretells of his death for the second time, in response to which the disciples grow increasingly confused and fearful.

They then come to rest in the home of a friend and Jesus sits down and begins to teach them, fully aware of what it was they were discussing on the way: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” (9:35). Last of all? Servant of all? Perhaps we, like the disciples, feel that this is a hard teaching. Perhaps we are likewise confused and fearful—if we are honest with Jesus about our questions along the way, will his response fit nicely into our life, or will he turn our life on its head?

In the next chapter we witness a similar scene, only the disciples are more brazen this time: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory,” (10:35-37). We then hear Jesus’ refrain again: “whoever wishes to be first among you must be a slave of all,” (10:44). “For,” he continues, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many,” (10:45).

Last week we heard the command, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This week we hear, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” The lives we are called into as apprentices of Jesus are lives that are conformed to our master.

But how does any of this happen? How do we become a people so marked by humility and charity? Well, we have the gospel accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We could, perhaps study them, see what Jesus is like, and try our best to do what he does. Or, we could look to Paul’s letters and try to practice all of the virtues he talks about and avoid all of the vices. But if living in God’s new world were as simple as following Jesus’ example then the crucifixion would seem a bit over-the-top, no? “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again,” (9:31). Our problem isn’t that we don’t try hard enough, it is that apart from Christ we are dead in our sin. And what sinful human creatures need is not motivation but resurrection.

“Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me,” (9:36-37). In this picture, we are confronted with a great mystery, that God has given Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. As the very fullness of God with us, Jesus Christ is our life.

There’s something significant about Jesus’ identification of himself with the child. Children, at this time, were of low esteem, the lowest order in the social scale, oftentimes abandoned to the elements and whatever else may come. Into this context, God gives himself to us in the form of an infant. As it is put so beautifully in a 4th century Christian hymn: “Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb,” (Te Deum). God with us, in the very weakness of human flesh; in the lowly infant born in a stable, in the lowly man hung on a cross. “And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

As the child is placed in the midst of the disciples so too we receive the crucified Christ into our midst in many ways, concrete and yet surprising. In baptism, where the Spirit joins us to him and his mystical Body, and we enter into the way. In the Eucharist, where we feed on his flesh and blood, nourishment for the journey. In Holy Scripture, where we hear and see the story of our salvation which culminates in Christ, where we have come from and where God is leading us. In the presence of one another, fellow pilgrims along the way, that we might together grow up into the full stature of Christ. And in all of these ways, God opens our eyes to behold the beauty of the risen Christ.

This is the beginning of the whole of the Christian life—not our own effort or ingenuity, but our reception of the God who took on flesh in the form of an infant and entered into the midst of us, giving himself wholly over to us in Jesus Christ. And I thank you for your gracious welcome of me into this faithful community. We have walked along the way some distance now, and together I pray that our eyes have been opened to see, and our hearts open to daily receive Christ into the midst of our common life. What a gift. It is said that Martin Luther’s dying words were, “We are beggars; this is true.” A fitting image of what it means to be an apprentice of Jesus—hands outstretched, seeking, open to receive that which only God can give in the form of his Son, His very self, our very life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon was preached by the Rev’d Jonathan R. Turtle at St. Cuthbert’s Leaside on the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20th, 2015.

adamandeve

“Honey, is that buck checking out my ass?”

Robert Farrar Capon’s Bed and Board: Plain Talk About Marriage is a real gem of a book. The fourth chapter, ‘Roles’, can be no less jarring (offensive?) today than when it was originally published in 1965. In it Capon addresses the distinct and different roles of men and women in marriage. He says, for example, that while men and women are equal husbands and wives are not (and, we can presume, neither are fathers and mothers). The difference between husbands and wives, “is not one of worth, ability or intelligence, but of role. It is functional not organic,” (53). In a lengthy passage he compares marriage and the distinction between husband and wife to a dance, rather than a march:

“[The difference] is based on the exigencies of the Dance, not on a judgment as to talent. In the ballet, in any intricate dance, one dancer leads, the other follows. Not because one is better (he may or may not be), but because that is his part. Our mistake, here as elsewhere, is to think that equality and diversity are unreconcilable. The common notion of equality is based on the image of the march. In a parade, really unequal beings are dressed alike, given guns of identical length, trained to hold them at the same angle, and ordered to keep step with a fixed beat. But it is not the parade that is true to life; it is the dance. There you have real equals assigned unequal roles in order that each may achieve his individual perfection in the whole. Nothing is less personal than a parade; nothing more so than a dance. It is the choice image of fulfillment through function, and it comes very close to the heart of the Trinity. Marriage is a hierarchical game played by co-equal persons. Keep that paradox and you move in the freedom of the Dance; alter it, and you grow weary with marching.”

Marriage is a hierarchical game played by co-equal persons. Marriage involves not spouses, but husbands and wives. To tinker with that distinction is to turn the freedom of the Dance into the bore of a march.

This distinction isn’t an end in itself. In the eschaton there will be no marriage, after all. It is, rather, for the purposes of being united in love. Husband and wife, “are set in a dance in order that their separateness might become membership in each other,” (58).

It seems to me that we live in a culture where to press the distinction between male and female too hard is to put you in the uncomfortable position of being looked at as something of a backwoods ass. In an age of gender fluidity, where “male” and “female” name nothing other than genitalia (and sometimes not even that) to proclaim the (natural and obvious) truth that men and women are different creatures[1] is something rather radical, I think. (And I mean “radical” literally, as a return to the root). What say you? Does Fr. Capon’s image resonate with you? Disturb you? Make you want to give him a post-mortem high-five?

Fr. Capon has a lot of beautiful things to say about being husbands and wives and fathers and mothers, some of which I’ll try to share over the next few days.

Peace.

[1] “It was not enough for the Creator to make us human. Absurdly, he went further. Male and Female created he them. The truth of our being is that we are one species, but just barely. Even without counting porpoises, this planet houses two different sorts of rationality, two different kinds of freedom, and two different brands of love: men’s and women’s,” (48).