First Sermon Preached by John Bryson Chane
A FIRST EPISTLE
Let us pray!
Most gracious God, we come to you this morning as gathered brothers and sisters from diverse religious traditions. We come to you also as spiritual pilgrims, searching for that spark of faith and light that will illuminate in each of us your divine touch, renewing our spiritual journey, and redefining more completely that holy mystery of your unconditional love for all creation and for all your children.
As I begin a new ministry as the Eighth Bishop of Washington, help me to live faithfully into the great trust placed in me by the people of this diocese. Strengthen me to be a patient listener, a prophetic preacher, a faithful pastor to all, a wise teacher, and to live simply and yet as one who seeks out and works for justice and the full inclusion of all your children into your church. As a bishop in your one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, help me to reaffirm the wisdom and live into the vision of one of your great bishops, the late John E. Hines who said; “A Bishop’s job is to keep his church firmly on the firing line of the world’s most pressing needs and to learn to accept the exquisite penalty of such an exposed position.”
Most gracious God, strengthen us as a people and diocese in the days ahead and grant us above all else the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of your son Jesus Christ. Open our often hardened hearts to his presence so that we might make this broken and violent world and a church that has been far too often divided by arrogance, self-righteousness and limited compassion, to be more open, accepting places that hate less and love more. Help us to be unafraid to look into the eyes of those not like us and see through their eyes your glorious, loving and accepting presence.
In the Name of Jesus…the Christ, your son and our savior let us pray…Amen!
(The People sit)
It is a great honor to once again be in the pulpit of the Washington National Cathedral and I would like to acknowledge The Very Rev. Nathan Baxter, dean of the cathedral for his great leadership in continuing to make this cathedral a house of prayer for all people. I look forward to working with Dean Baxter, his staff and members of the Cathedral Foundation as the ministry of this National Treasure continues to expand and touch the ecumenical and inter-faith communities that define the lives of all Americans and those from the global community who look to it for moral and ethical leadership. The ministry of this cathedral has never been more important now that the world is caught up in the chaos of religious wars, persecutions and economic injustice that continues to confound the plans of a single creator who called the whole of creation “good” and saw in it the truth that all had an equal claim to its abundance, it resources and its promise of life in all its fullness.
The Rt. Rev. Henry Y. Satterlee, first bishop of the Diocese of Washington and grand visionary for the building of the great cathedral you are seated in this morning wrote about its role as a cathedral thusly; “As such a church has no favors to ask or receive from the State; no temporal power to gain; no propagandist work to do in a spirit of proselytism; as she simply stands witness for the Gospel Truth and Apostolic Order, her officers will be above suspicion and their innermost motives will be an epistle seen and read of all men.
And this constitutes a great spiritual opportunity. The Cathedral preachers will be free, like Christ in the Temple, to rebuke the class sins, the political sins, the national sins of the people; free to stand forth in denouncing corruption, unpatriotism or immorality, whether in dominant political party or in the highest rulers of the land. Think of the tremendous moral power of a great cathedral preacher, who dares from the pulpit of a free church in a free state, to hold up the mirror of Christ’s pure Gospel, with its high ethical standard, before the eyes of those who neglect the responsibilities their country has laid upon them, or who forget that public office is a public trust.” May this cathedral have the courage to continue living into the vision of this great bishop who wrote these words on Christmas Eve, 1901.
The Diocese of Washington was established by action of General Convention meeting in Minneapolis in 1895, with Bishop Satterlee serving as its first bishop. Since that time Washington has been blessed with a gifted, courageous and prophetic Episcopate. Names like Dunn, Creighton, Walker, Haines, and Dixon join with bishop Satterlee and others to define this diocese as one of the great diocese in the Episcopal Church. This morning I want to publicly acknowledge the person of Jane Holmes Dixon, Bishop in Christ’s Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and one who has served as bishop “pro-tempore” for almost two years following the retirement of Bishop Ronald Haines. Jane Dixon you have been a beacon of hope and a person of great courage during some very trying times in the life of this diocese and the larger Episcopal Church. You have held the course and defended the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church and for that I salute you on behalf of a very grateful diocese. And you were able to do this never losing your great sense of humor or for that matter your ability to pastor well the people you were called to serve. I thank you as does a grateful diocese and larger Church.
As the Eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Washington it is my profound hope to support the vision and work of those who have gone before me. It is also my intention, to acquire the appropriate financial resources within and outside of the diocese to bring to Washington the very best staff support that can be found in the Episcopal Church today. They will support me in addressing the pressing needs of growing and sustaining new models of College Chaplaincy, youth ministry and Christian education for all ages. They will work tirelessly to support new and challenging forms of missional outreach, growth and congregational development and clergy deployment. We will be about the business of bringing to the diocese of Washington the very best priests and deacons we can find to make this diocese the most exciting in the Episcopal Church today. We will seek out and lift up the very best leadership within the baptized and empower that leadership to grow this great diocese. With the support of a solid and talented staff I hope to live into a vision for this diocese that will allow me to be pastorally and physically be present with the clergy and people of the diocese in more than occasional ways.
The Rev. Dr. Loren Mead is already working with Paul Cooney our new Canon To The Ordinary. They are invaluable resources for the diocese and me and have begun visioning an episcopate that transcends the traditional model of the contemporary bishop…an episcopate that unfortunately has fallen onto the hard times of mirroring a harried corporate CEO. Rather than inheriting this failed model, it is my hope to live into the office of bishop, lifting up the episcopacy as a sign of our unity in Christ as a diocese while also lifting up, celebrating and protecting that great diversity which defines the Episcopal Church today. I reject an episcopacy that finds itself imprisoned behind a desk.
Loren Mead told me a story not long ago. It was about a good priest who was elected bishop. One day the priest was reflecting on the “good old days” when he was a parish rector. “When I was a rector he said, I had a congregation, an altar and a desk. After becoming a bishop I no longer had a congregation, and an altar. The only thing that I had left was a desk.” The desk at Church House in the bishop’s office my friends is not where the action is going to be if I am to be faithful to the call of living into the ministry of this diocese as your bishop. The action is in the world about us and in the lives of the congregations that define us as the Diocese of Washington. And when I begin to forget that truth, the desk that I will be sitting behind in Church House once belonged to the late bishop of Washington, John Walker who taught us all that the church must engage the world or else it will surely die.
As the Eighth Bishop of Washington it is also my desire to engage the secular and political leadership of the District of Columbia, the Congress of the United States and those who hold the highest elected and appointed offices of this Nation, being very clear that this Diocese and the Episcopal Church will be actively engaged in the issues of the day. We will celebrate those great events that lift up the human spirit and the dignity of every American…and we will also challenge and seek constructive reforms and changes in policies and legislative decisions that beat down the human spirit of God’s people everywhere and demean rather than affirm the dignity of all Americans, both locally and nationally.
Times have changed and so have the demographics of our District, Diocese and Nation. Denominational diversities have radically shifted as well, but let us not forget the richness of our Episcopal heritage; the early leaders of this great nation, Presidents George Washington, James Madison, James Munroe and Thomas Jefferson…all who were Episcopal churchmen. The same was true for Benjamin Franklin and thirty-four of the fifty-six signers of the declaration of Independence. Of those thirty-nine persons who drew up the Constitution of the United States, 2/3’s of them were Episcopalians. The separation of Church and State is one of the precious jewels of the American Democratic Experience and the Constitution of this great Nation is still the greatest governance document every produced by humanity for humanity in any generation. Let us not forget however our heritage as a people of God and reclaim our engagement with a Nation that desperately seeks a voice of broad theological reason, reflection and compassionate caring. Such a balance is one of the great gifts of the Episcopal Church and we need to stop apologizing for it and begin to exercise and live into it!
Some have said to me that to be a bishop during these times in the life of any hierarchical church is at best problematic and at worst suicidal. I choose to dwell on neither but rather am called to engage those issues that separate us from the love of Christ. I also love living too much to let the Church kill me! But make no mistake about the times in which we live! There is conflict throughout the institutional churches of Christendom today. And each denomination has its cross to bear and its demons to confront. But for me the greatest controversy in the Episcopal Church over the course of its history to the present day has been how the Church has or has not dealt with the diversity of a Nation that makes up its constituent parts and congregations.
We as a Church have been guilty of our complicity with institutional slavery and racism and have yet to truly repent and return to the Lord, asking forgiveness for “what we have done and for what we have left undone.” Let us begin the process of true repentance, of turning around and of amending our lives, asking for forgiveness for those we have wronged and from the God who judges us.
We have not been open until very recently to the role and place of women in our ordained orders and we continue to shame the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus Christ by living into a homophobia that has weakened our ministries and not respected the dignity of every human being.
The great conflicts of the early Christian Church were not that much different than the ones we face this very day. The conflicts then and now are shaped by this question;
“Who shall be accepted into the body of Christ as a full and participating member and who shall be cast out?” The battle over the admission of the Gentiles into the early Christian Community was one of the most debilitating conflicts in the life of the early Church. If you recall, James, the brother of Jesus stood fast on the side of a rigid orthodoxy which stated clearly that the fledgling church must not dilute the faith, contaminate its sacraments and lower its standards by admitting those who were not Jewish and who were treated by the dominant religious culture of the time as outcasts. Yet…one of the Patron Saints of this cathedral, Paul was the radical of his time who stood his ground, lived into the heart of Jesus and offered this thought that eventually accumulated to lead him to his death. Remember his words; there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free…for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul understood that the idolatry of persons like James and their constraining orthodoxy was a greater threat to the early Church than was the danger of atheism or even adverserial heresies. And there is hope for all of us whenever we find ourselves entrenched in what we perceive to be immovable places…for James conversion which empowered him to embrace the emerging diversity of the early church is one of the great Gospel conversion stories that all of us should read and reread.
I close today with another quote from the late presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, John E. Hines. It is good for us to feed on it this morning as we begin a new Episcopal ministry; “If you concentrate on Jesus Christ with the expectation that such a tactic will ground you in a Gospel that transcends causes and insulates you from conflict, you will be sorely disappointed. Flee to Jesus to escape the harassment of causes, and you will find yourself driven by Jesus back… into all causes you imagined you had left. But this time Jesus…will harass you like the “hound of heaven” that he is.
The more you genuinely concentrate upon the person and ministry of Christ, the more you will be driven into confrontations in his name with the powers of darkness and with the demonic structures that demean human life and frustrate and scar the human spirit.”