17 July 2011
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
I had a visit a couple of weeks ago from four Sudanese priests, one of whom was ordained in Sudan during the war, and three who have been ordained in The Episcopal Church after they came to the United States as refugees. They talked of their struggles with culture shock, with the differences between the church they knew in Sudan and the church where they are now, with the need of several to keep working at jobs outside the church to support themselves. We talked about ways that together we might advocate for all the Sudanese in The Episcopal Church, and then we talked about some of the diversity in the church that they didn't really know about. Almost all the Sudanese refugees in the US have settled in cities, where there are educational opportunities, jobs, and some social support. Yet the Church in rural areas, and in the dioceses outside the United States, is much more like what they knew at home. When we can build bridges between those different parts of the body of Christ, everyone is helped. The Sudanese find connections more easily with people who share something of their own experience.
I would guess that this Diocese of Venezuela has some things in common with our Sudanese brothers and sisters, particularly in the challenge between a rapidly changing society and people who don't want the church to change quickly. The church in Venezuela also shares the experience of encounter between tribal peoples and an urban society. The church works a little differently in rural areas than it does in the midst of cities, because people's challenges are somewhat different. One way isn't right and the other wrong - they're faithful responses to different environments.
One of the great gifts of the Anglican tradition is its insistence that the gospel has to be preached in a language that people understand. That "language" includes far more than the tongue we use. It extends to music, cultural expressions, liturgical style, vestments, and the artwork and craftsmanship that surround us in a place of worship. Translating the Bible into different languages always raises interesting questions of meaning. Some translations seem to me to be decidedly colonial in outlook, reminding the faithful to be obedient and stay in their divinely appointed place! Other translations have a much greater emphasis on a theology of liberation. Yet ultimately the truth of the gospel shines through those differences.
That's part of what Jesus' parable is about. What do we do with different kinds of seeds? Are we always able to tell what's going to produce good food and what isn't? Jesus reminds us to wait before we weed the garden, and indeed, he tells us that it's not our job to remove the weeds - it's God's. We human beings are often anxious to make a decision - this is bad, and this is good, that one is an enemy and this one a friend, so let's throw out the bad and get on with things. "No," says Jesus, "wait." God will be able to tell the difference when the harvest comes.
The human desire for judgment pervades every part of life. But God is always calling us to patience, for God always is always working on healing. God created the world in blessing, and God continues to hope for the redemption of all of it, and all of us. That's what Paul is getting at when he says, "we groan while we wait for adoption, and we hope." We groan because it's hard to wait, and it's hard to look for blessing in our enemies, but the revealing and the redeeming isn't finished yet, so keep on hoping.
Look at political systems. My government and yours have been at odds for some time, and a lot of unkind words have been thrown in both directions. Some people think one kind of government is better than another, yet almost all of us recognize that we haven't yet found a perfect one! Injustice and war and violence continue, and no government has yet figured out how to feed all the hungry and house all the homeless. Yet we aren't supposed to give up because it isn't perfect yet. God is still at work.
Have patience, but keep working. That groaning is productive work, helping to bring new life to birth.
Groaning. I imagine Jacob probably groaned a lot through his night of sleeping with his head on that rock. He certainly groaned a lot many years later, when he wrestled with the angel all night. Groaning and wrestling are part of looking for blessing in the person who annoys us, or the one we think is profoundly wrong. Yet that groaning work is ultimately the source of blessing. Jacob wrestled with Esau his whole life - and eventually the blessing included the whole clan.
There has been a lot of groaning in Sudan - decades of it. Just last weekend South Sudan became a separate nation. The Sudanese have plenty of work ahead of them, but the people there also have great hope. The Episcopal Church of Sudan is a major source of that hope, connecting people with the hope we know in Jesus, and showing love in action by healing and teaching. Schools and agricultural projects are some of the most important work going on there.
The Church in Sudan has made one very important and hopeful statement - the Church is not going to divide in the same way that the country has. The Church in the north and the Church in the south are part of the same whole, and they will continue to be the same Church. There will be no distinguishing between wheat and weeds in Sudan.
God is free to leave the wheat and weeds to grow together until the harvest because God yearns for the healing and redemption of every single one. We pray for the dead because we believe God isn't going to decide who is wheat and who is weed until the end of all things. Our job is to practice the same openness, hard as it may be.
Can wretched sinners be redeemed? The crowding in the jails here is a very present reality. It has something to do with the assumption that the people who are locked up are weeds, and that there is no hope for them. The same attitude underlies our difficult relationships with family members, neighbors, or the people at work or school we don't want to talk to. They are all children of God, and God isn't giving up on them just yet. We shouldn't either. We're still waiting for judgment as well - in eager longing, and hope, and even some groaning.
God isn't giving up on any of us. We shouldn't either. Keep wrestling, keep hoping until the end of the ages.
[Taken with permission from the website of The Episcopal Church.]