A Sermon for the Joint Synods Mass (G-3), October 13, 2023
The Translation of St. Edward the Confessor
St. Edward and Changing Time
St. Edward was born around the year 1003 and died in 1066. He reigned as King of England from 1042 until his death. It was a time of extended peace. Edward was the last undisputed English king before the Norman Conquest. The militant nature of that conquest resulted, at least in part it seems, from the fact that Edward promised succession to both a Norman and an Englishmen and left them to fight it out at the Battle of Hastings.
Edward’s life and times are instructive for us because our first generation as a church has been a time of transition not unlike the transition of England from native to Norman rule. Few of our founding members understood that the world they lived in was about the end. Whatever label we want to use to describe our time, the mission of our church is different now.
One example will suffice. When I began in ministry in the 1980s you could draw people to church by advertising. People were still shopping for a church, and you could still sell yours to them. Of course, we still advertise and some people still respond. But if your main mission strategy is to advertise that you are a traditional church, list your mass times, and wait for people to come, my guess is that your mission is not thriving. Things are different now. Unless your church is making a serious effort to answer the real questions people are asking now, you won’t have a mission in this new era.
This change is not entirely bad. Though there were many worthy things about the world that was, it was never as ideal as our nostalgia makes it out to be. In any event, the only world God has given us to live in is the one we now live in. That means God has called us to ministry and mission in this world at this time.
A new era requires new approaches to mission—and it has been difficult for us to change. But change is necessary to growth. There were aspects of our old approach that needed to change. For example, we often talked about the Creeds and the Faith of the undivided church, but we often argued and divided over personalities and minor liturgical preferences. Our disunity is the original sin of the Continuing Church.
The advent of the G-4, which is now the G-3 is a sign of our growth into maturity. We are not dividing about things that don’t matter anymore—or at least we are not doing it as much! We’ve learned an important lesson. A church that is truly catholic must be large enough to include people I may not personally like. This unity is essential to our mission. Unity in and of itself doesn’t create mission. But it provides a more compelling witness and it allows us to reorient our energies away from internal conflicts and towards outward-oriented mission.
St. Edward and the pursuit of holiness
Edward is a saint because he was pious. His life was relatively free from a focus on power politics and the excesses that characterize bad kings. In terms of worldly influence, his reign may not have had any impact at all beyond the good he did and the peace he maintained during his reign. But Edward was devoted to prayer and worship. He was concerned about people’s needs. He was reputed to have healed people by “the king’s touch,” and he lowered taxes—which ought to make him a favorite saint for political conservatives!
Edward built a Benedictine Monastery at Westminster Abbey. This can provide a sort of model for us. It is our vocation to build prayerful communities whose lives are oriented around the Benedictine Rule of the Book of Common Prayer. This is the most essential element for turning our unity into mission. Our church needs clergy and lay people who devote themselves to prayer and mission, and whose lives are aimed at the telos of the kingdom rather than the results of the next election. Our church needs clergy and lay people who focus on cultivating the virtues of faith, hope, and love and not on what they are angry about in a world that is passing away. Regardless of what happens or does not happen in the secular history of our time, our work will be fruitful and praiseworthy to the extent that we, like Edward strive to be faithful and pursue holiness.
Testing and watchfulness
Our lessons today provide two points to take away from this synod and into our ministries. The epistle lesson from Ecclesiasticus focuses on how our faith is tested. The blessed person, it tells us, is the one who has been through a time of testing and has been found faithful; the one who could have caused offense or done evil and did not do it. Testing is essential to vocation. If you want to serve God, you will be tested. To be a little more graphic and visceral, if think God is calling you to do something you will get your butt kicked—“we wrestle not against flesh and blood.” After that happens, God will ask you: Are you sure you want to do this?
In the ministry of the church people often do not endure through the times of testing. They decide that they do not want to do this and abandon their posts. For all of our flaws as the G-3, we are a tested group. Many people here have been through the wars. Our unity is the fruit of perseverance through testing.
We may not have any particularly momentous thing to report to our people after this synod. But significant steps toward greater unity have been taken. Just being together again builds our unity. I’ve been around this battle for a while. I feel a different spirit among us as we gather this year. We are in a different and better place. Let resolve to continue to build on our unity and to fight with vigor against any temptation to put asunder what God has begun to join together. Let us continue to pass the test.
A second point to take away from our lessons is Jesus’ command to be watchful: “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching.” We must be personally watchful against the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil that would distract us from our mission. Chief among these in our time is the temptation to be distracted by various forms of social and other media. These are designed to make us perpetually anxious and angry. We must be watchful against the temptation to orient our lives around the anxiety of the world rather than our life of prayer, which cultivates within us the joy and peace of the kingdom.
Let us pay attention to what we pay attention to. Watchfulness and diligence in our personal prayer lives is our first contribution to the unity, health and mission of our church. As Jesus said:
Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching.