ÒThe Readings for Sunday, August 2, Proper 13 (18) Year B, Revised Common Lectionary:
- 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a
- Psalm 51:1-12
- Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
- Psalm 78:23-29
- Ephesians 4:1-16
- John 6:24-35
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ
VERY WIND of Doctrine… If you’ve spent any time in CHurch, you know how this sermon is supposed to go. By “every wind of doctrine” the apostle clearly means fads, current silliness, treating whatever comes through the front door as the most important thing ever – until something else comes through the front door. And, in the way this sermon is supposed to go, the preacher is then supposed to hold up his church (and it is usually a man doing it) or his Bible or his denomination, or the Pope or maybe a copy of the book of order – whatever. And say, “HERE is Sound Doctrine not pertaining to the wisdom of men, but rather to the wisdom of God…”
Then we’re all supposed to rejoice that we are right.
And that, of course, means that everyone else is wrong.
Here’s a story…
Back in 1999 or so, when – after 10 or more years as a Wiccan elder and a Gnostic priest – I returned to Church, I went to the most amazing parish ever: St Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco. Eventually I joined the parish, started taking classes, took on liturgical service, recommitted my life to Christ, renewed my Baptismal vows and began to explore the possibility that I was called to Ordained ministry. They are a loving community, dedicated to offering the hospitality of Jesus to anyone who comes through the door. They feed the hungry around their altar, they sing beautifully, they dance in church. They laugh, they drum, they explore, they struggle…
But in my time there, I became convinced they were doing it wrong – not as Episcopalians, per se, but as Christians. I began to struggle with them – when they asked questions like “Is Jesus really God?” or when I heard things like “Trinity is one way of understanding God, but not the only way…”
We know how this sermon is supposed to go now. I left the Episcopal Church, looking for the Church that was not blown about upon the winds of Doctrine and I found Holy Orthodoxy (play here the Chorus, “Hallelujah”, from Handel’s Messiah). St Raphael of Brooklyn (my patron, and whose relic we have here on our altar), said, “The Holy Orthodox Church has never perceptibly changed from Apostolic times, and, therefore, no one can go astray in finding out what she teaches. ”
Except, of course, that’s a myth. It’s one we like to tell ourselves because it helps us feel “Right”. And a visit to any Orthodox Parish (if you get honest people) will let you see people who struggle, people who question, people who don’t quite get it 100% right all the time. To this you should expect to hear a reply, “Yes, but the church herself is right…” as if there is an invisible church other than the people in front of you who – like the saints and fathers before them sometimes got it right and sometimes wrong, or as if, simply because the doctrines on paper somewhere are 100% right, it matters not what these living souls in front of you do or do not believe. The Doctrines are right here we may or may not believe them.
I met Orthodox CLergy and Laity who support gay marriage. Who don’t. Who even like the idea of women clergy. Who don’t. Who do like – and use and accept – modern biblical criticism. Who don’t. Who do believe all the stories in the Bible and/or of the Saints. Who don’t. Thing is, I know this all to be true of every other denomination I’ve visited or experienced: Roman right on down.
THere was one other issue, of course: officially, on paper, the EOC doesn’t support persons who sexuality is different from the accepted norm of heterosexuality unless they follow rather difficult path. For five years I tried to follow that path of celibacy. To be honest, I really wanted to hold hands again, and I missed cuddling. Simple physical contact – where I wouldn’t have to go to confession and admit that something had transpired internally that was “a sin”. When I say that the Orthodox – no more than any other church – have something on paper in a room somewhere and an entirely different thing “in the pews” or “Where the rubber meets the road”, I began to ask myself, “Why am I wrestling with these doctrines???”
The doctrines are not the problem, per se. (The same word in the Greek, didiskalia, is used in both good and bad ways in the NT.) The problem is in being blown about on the winds of them…
Paul says the purpose of the Church – that is, us here – is to build each other up using the gifts we each have until all of us “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
Follow that? “The faith” is not a set of Doctrines… It’s not a creed. It’s a growing together into Christ. It’s the “Faith of christ” – not the Doctrines of Christians! (THe Greek word translated “Faith” means “Trust” rather than a set of Doctrines.) Somehow we are all to move into the trust Jesus had, the quiet trust in the Father of Jesus. We become Christ here on earth. We – the Church, not individuals each of us, but all of us as one – are to be the “Body of Christ”…
Paul even puts this above political doctrines: he says there is “one lord”, One Kyrios. That’s a title reserved for Political Officials – Especially Caesar. To say “Jesus is Lord” is to take the debate out of the political realm. Here, growing into the unity of the faith… we are to be beyond even the political debates that divide us, police and republicans, drugs and democrats… stop being blown about by the winds of doctrine and come here, to the calm center where we feed each other at God’s own table. And meet. In love even when we disagree about things that are not important.
There is a prayer in the Eastern tradition that I will use in a few minutes at the end of this service: it’s not normally used there, but it seemed to make sense today. It asks, specifically, to grow us into the “unity of the faith” surrounded and shielded by the Angels.
How can we be angels for each other? Shielding each other by our wings from the winds of Doctrine: how can we grow to the unity of the the faith.