Ecclesiasticus 2:7–11; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:15–23; Luke 6:20–26

The natural principle which God raises to blessedness in the Communion
of Saints is the interdependency of the created order. That is
everything you need to remember about what I will say today. The
Creator desires nothing other than the perfection and bliss of all that
the Creator has brought into being, and the Creator has not made
anything that cannot be raised to blessedness. Everything that we
proclaim as participant in salvation occurs naturally in the created
order; there is no other source for what can be saved. All that is has
also a holy state towards which God draws it. When we proclaim and
celebrate the Communion of Saints—as we do in this great feast of All
Saints—we proclaim that God is raising to blessedness the
interdependency of the created order.

As Paul says, God’s plan for the fullness of time, according to his
good pleasure set forth in Christ, is to gather up all things, both
heavenly and earthly, in him, who is the fullness of the One who fills
all in all. This mystery—that we and the world are made congruent with
each other and vulnerable to each other—is what human beings, through
evolution, have arisen to witness. This touching vulnerability to
nature and to each other, raised into its blissful and blessed form, is
the Communion of Saints.

As we know from the human life of the incarnate Word of God, Jesus
Christ our Lord, who went about among all the people, healing and
teaching, it is God’s good pleasure to sanctify what is, to make what is
human holy. Where the presence of God is found, where the holy is
discerned, there, in that place, what God has created good, God is now
making perfect. The great sacrament, the visible and effective sign, of
God’s love for all creation is the companionship of all the people of
God. Our life is one life by virtue of our participation in the
exchanges of breath in Creation; our being is one Body by virtue of our
incorporation by the sanctifying grace of Christ. This what we proclaim
as the communion of saints and celebrate this feast day.

You must think this is a heavy handed beginning to a sermon on a day
which ought to be a feast of unbridled joy and ecstatic delight in our
earthly and heavenly companionship made one in Christ. However, in
these days, when the results of a national election and the report
issued by a task force charged to study the future of Anglican Communion
are before us, these fundamental matters must be chewed slowly one more
time, as we ruminate in the fields of God and try again to digest what
God has blessed us with. The national election showed a severely
divided nation, but did not result in an evenly balanced government,
certainly not one in which power is shared or mutual interdependence
recognized. The Windsor Report also pointed to a troubled fellowship,
calling for expressions of regret and recommending an austere
centralization of ecclesial authority to inhibit innovations in
discernment and pastoral response. In both cases, the presumed natural
rejection of and revulsion against human homosexuality was directly
cited, apparently steering the election and certainly precipitating the
report.

In every sense, this is the anguish of our times: the inability to
name and affirm what makes us one—one across political opinions, one
across global locations, one across economic potencies, one across
ethnic identities, one across religious convictions, one across sexual
desires. And yet this is the mystery of this feast: that gathered
around the throne of God, from every tribe and tongue and people and
nation, this multitude no one can number, whose lives were washed in
blood, surrenders every prejudice and every fear and every resentment
into the cataract of God’s power, which rinses every tear from their
eyes and thunders as never-before-heard praise across the surface of the
earth, restoring it to crystalline beauty.

My dear sisters and brothers, what is most terrifying about the murky
triumphs we are undergoing in these days is their certainty. All we who
share a primate ancestry and kinship know the adrenalin-induced euphoria
of bloodshed–this is how a tribe is birthed: the relief of knowing who
has been expelled, so that we can return to the mundane and familiar.
The explosive clarity of exclusion induces a similar euphoria; and so, I
understand, does the final drop into suicide. That is how we know that
euphoric certainty is no proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Euphoric certainty increases when we know we cannot turn back. But the
blood spilled on the ground always cries out to God—and it is always our
brother Abel’s blood that we have spilled—and when our guilt visits us
again and again in our dreams in the night, we claim not to know where
he is and we deny being our brother’s keeper. Barring another from
participation does not advance the Reign of God or announce the Good
News. Even the Hebrew prophets, who were given God’s words of doom,
found their power, not in juridical and legislative authority, but in
their solidarity with the people they warned, and above all else in
their own surrendered and transformed life amid the circumstances they
shared with those whose cynical abuses they were trying to restrain.

The potency and persuasiveness of the Good News lies in personal
witness. The Good News that I have divine authority to announce is how
God has changed my life. The truest testimony to the redemptive power
of Jesus Christ is how I live my life. That is why the Good News is
always the attractiveness of liberation, of freedom from bondage, not
new regulations. And since the Good News is spoken from a life that has
been saved from ruin and shame and set free, since it arises from
personal transformation, so it arrives as an invitation, never an
imposition, to participate in a similar restoration in the hearer’s
life, who longs for similar release. Most significantly, the test of
the Good News is that it is announced to the poor. The relieving and
liberating truth that trickles down through all the layers, even down to
the most impotent, soaking all equally with the cleansing and refreshing
of God, is what the poor recognize as Good News. The Good News is not
what is announced as Good News by the oppressor, but what is received as
Good News by the oppressed.

The Good News of this feast day is that all have a place. The
natural interdependency that constantly manifests itself in the infinite
variety of the created order is made self-aware and joyful in the
Communion of Saints. The fact that they include and number more than we
can ask or imagine is God’s glory. This is the manifestation of the
infinite power of creation and eternal power of sanctification that
belongs to God. This vast household of faith is what we show forth by
being in communion with each other; it is our sacramental sign to the
world of the oneness of Christ’s Body. It is no wonder that one of the
responses to the Windsor Report is the same grief any family feels when
what has been familial becomes contractual. It is a bitter moment when
inheritance disputes require mediation and negotiation and binding
agreements. But these contracts are always the means of affirming and
distributing what all those involved prize and hold in common, and over
time—over slow cautious deliberate time—they can become clear avenues of
approach that free the family members for affection in the future.

I recently heard wiser people than myself reflect that the great gift
of the Episcopal Church in the United States to the Anglican Communion
is our understanding of the role of the laity. Historically, we have
arrived at this affirmation of the people of God by the circumstances of
our foundation. Our neglect by the Bishop of London, who was charged
with the care of the colonies, was a severe training in independence;
what we learned was that the life of the Church does in fact reside in
its people. This insight ultimately found its expression in the
centrality of the theology of baptism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
All God’s people, by their baptism, are fully initiated into the
household of God, integrated and incorporated without remnant into the
Body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit without reservation for the
councils of the Church. The diocese, in its integrated variety, becomes
the immediately comprehensible sacramental symbol of the Church; its
discernment in assembly of how God’s reconciling power is to be lived
out is its paramount witness to itself and to those who are in communion
with it. A more salutary response than reprimand is awe at the
fathomless grace of God, who makes all things new, expressed in the
voice of the gathered assembly, and then thanksgiving when the same
stone that the builders rejected is made the chief cornerstone, as was
true of Christ.

No Church can regret and disavow what it has done in freedom and in
good faith, to the glory of God and as an expression of the fullness of
Christ, without calling the presence of the Holy Spirit into question.
When the Christians of Galatia hesitated over their salvation and
thought it more prudent to adopt the legal restrictions of Judaism as
extra security, Paul, in exasperation, asked them this: “does God supply
you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works
of the law or by believing what you heard?” This is, in fact, our
question. Have our joy and our hope come from daring to believe that
the Good News really is Good News for all people or from suspicious
scrutiny over the worthiness and acceptability of our selves and others?
It is part of our obligatory praise of God, our bounden duty, to
proclaim that God calls to salvation the full complexity of humanity,
seating next to us Sunday after Sunday those whose presence among us
astonishes and even offends us, but who are nevertheless witnesses to
God’s delight over all Creation and God’s ability to draw all people to
God’s self, because it is God’s intention to lose nothing God has made
and to transform us all into the abundance of the Communion of Saints.
I know this precisely in the fact that God accepts what I disdain and
urges me therefore to understand that God’s mercy is wider and deeper
and higher than any comprehension I can bring to salvation and to what
God is striving daily to restore and to sanctify. It is blasphemous to
tell God whom we will accept. What God has made clean, we must not call
profane.

It is, therefore, a self-serving and cynical ploy to remain ignorant
of the nature of sexual attraction. Same-sex love is neither a
lifestyle, nor an option, nor a perversion, but a gift as irresistible
as any person’s gift of hope and desire. Desire for a member of the
same sex is no more a choice than desire for a member of the opposite
sex. In both cases the longing for the other arises from depths that do
not yield to, but determine, human will. Attraction testifies to the
urgency with which we want to be made whole, to find flesh of our flesh
facing us, since even God knows that it is not good for human beings to
be alone. The crucial point here is to understand that God intends to
sanctify, not overthrow, what God has made. It is blasphemous to cut
off faithful witnesses to God’s power and grace to reconcile all
things.

As I come to know myself, what I discover about how I am made is the
natural category that I inhabit. Natural categories cannot be
condemned; only behaviors can be condemned. While love cannot be
chosen, it must be guided. How to discipline desire into virtue is a
challenge as old as philosophy; the solution has never been to deny and
condemn. Permission to be but not to act is pernicious; it is a counsel
of despair. Sexual behaviors can be reprehensible and abusive and
self-destructive in either heterosexual or homosexual forms, but desire
that longs to express itself as tenderness and nurture and delight and
union is, to that extent, like God’s longing for us. The Church ought
to consider itself obligated to provide guidance for virtuous and godly
living that allows all its members to grow into the full stature of
Christ—but it cannot do that by telling an entire population that any
and all expression of its affection is condemned. That not only puts
God to the test, casting doubt on God’s redemptive power, it also
abjures the Holy Spirit, given to the Church to guide it into all truth
and to discern what makes for the building up of the entire Body of
Christ into an edifice of praise to God.

To conclude I ask that you make allowances for a personal statement
that burdens my heart. For centuries white people in the church told
people of color their place–and still try to. For centuries, men in the
church told women their place–and still exclude them in portions of the
world. And yet, we know that the welcome we hope to claim from God
compels us to welcome others, so that a place is made for all. Now, in
the struggle of the centuries in which we live, heterosexual people tell
us our place, and this is no less a mutilation of the Body of Christ
than all the other expulsions and massacres have been. But the days of
our shame are past, though not the days of their violence. The
testimony of Gay and Lesbian Christians is urgent for the Church,
because it is a proclamation that, despite the institution’s casuistry
and self-preservation and its bondage to the cultural prejudices of its
day, nevertheless, the proclamation of the Gospel is heard here as Good
News by us. The Church has no more persuasive witness to the
unalterable and unequivocal power of God’s redemptive love than the
testimony of Lesbian and Gay Christians who have heard, in spite of the
contempt and double-dealing and evasion and bigotry indistinguishable in
the Church from the same in the surrounding culture, that in spite of
that, God’s promise is sure, God’s forgiveness pervasive, God’s love
enduring, and God’s life unending, in all of which we participate, not
through any merit of our own, but by the same grace received by all the
saints in ages past. With them we join in the praise of the One who,
sovereign over all the saints, nevertheless humbled himself to share our
humanity, and lived and died as one of us, but who now blesses us with
every spiritual blessing, just as he chose us before the foundation of
the world to be holy and blameless before him in love and lavished on us
the riches of his grace, to whom we give glory with all the Saints, on
this day and for all eternity.