We Can Bless a Cat, but Not Our Family. . .

There was a portion of Psalm 37 that begged for my attention during worship on Sunday:

7 Be still before the LORD *and wait patiently for him.
8 Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
9 Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
As these words washed over me, I became very nervous about this sermon. So, I opted for honesty with the congregation and told them that I was concerned about my sermon in light of the psalm and hoped that we would all hear a bit of Good News from God seep through some of my anger. I also assured them then (and for any who are reading now) that any anger and frustration I expressed in my sermon was not aimed at them. In fact, to the contrary, I am very proud of the folks at St. Barnabas both for their welcoming reception of me and for the way in which they have handled the un-asked-for local media attention (here and here and here).

Sermon Preached at St. Barnabas-by-the-Bay
on Sunday, October 7, 2007
Proper 22C

On Thursday, I traveled to Trenton for the annual Clergy Homecoming Day. For me, this was the first opportunity to meet face-to-face with many other priests in the Diocese of New Jersey. It was a great day – a lot of happy reunions, a lot of new faces, a lot of good conversation. All in all, a positive experience. And today, I want to share with you some of the information discussed because I think it is truly important that we stay abreast of what is happening at the diocesan level just as I think it is critical that the bishop and his staff be kept aware of what is happening at the congregational level.

Most of the meeting was spent discussing the recent meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans at the end of September. The bishops were there with two primary agenda items: one, assisting in the ongoing rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and two, responding to a document issued by the meeting of Primates last February.

In the first place, Bishop Councell shared with us that each diocese was invited to come to the meeting in New Orleans with $10,000 for Katrina relief efforts. A total of $931,000 was collected from the participating dioceses. Bishop Councell was excited to tell us that $12,000 of that total came from the Diocese of New Jersey and these monies are already providing food, water, shelter, and medical supplies in the Gulf Coast area.

With regard to the second agenda item at the meeting, I’d like to provide you with some background before I share Bishop Councell’s reflections. First of all, a primate is the chief archbishop or bishop of a province of the Anglican Episcopal family of churches – in the United States that title belongs to The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori. Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and her equivalents throughout the Anglican Communion met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last February. At the conclusion of that meeting a document was issued directed to the Episcopal Church in the United States. In it, the Episcopal Church of the United States was asked to comply with two requests.

  1. In the first place, we were asked to “make an unequivocal common covenant that the Bishops will not authorize any rite of blessing for same-sex unions in their diocese[s] or through General Convention;” and
  2. In the second place, we were asked to “confirm . . . that a candidate for Episcopal orders [that is, bishop] living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion.”[1]
This document went on to say that if we do not comply with these requests by September 30th our relationship with the rest of the Anglican Communion will be “damaged at best, and” that this will have “consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.”[2] When the House of Bishops met in New Orleans last month, Archbishop Rowan Williams was invited to speak to the House on these matters. The end result of the week-long meeting was – in a nutshell - that the House of Bishops agreed to comply with these two requests.

Bishop Councell, at his meeting with us on Thursday, indicated that he believes the House of Bishops took an important step to staying in communion with the rest of the Anglican provinces in the world; however, he was clear that it did so at a cost. A cost that he himself, must not bear, but a cost that must instead be born by the gay and lesbian members of our communities.
As I was hearing Bishop Councell speak on Thursday, I had this morning’s reading from the prophet Habakkuk in mind. Because the cost that Bishop Councell spoke of is the cost of justice.

This cost is being paid by New Hampshire where The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, a partnered homosexual, serves as that diocese’s ninth bishop. The cost is being paid in Illinois where The Rev. Tracey Lind is one of three women and the only openly gay candidate among eight nominees on the slate for the 12th bishop of Chicago. And the cost is being paid here at St. Barnabas-by-the-Bay Episcopal Church where you have boldly called a partnered lesbian to serve as your vicar and where I have had to say ‘no’ to blessing the union of same-sex couples and where I have witnessed the pain of some members of our congregation who are afraid to tell you that they are gay for fear of being excluded or told they are no longer welcome here by someone literally or figuratively waving their prayer book in the air [note: this actually happened a few weeks ago when a former parishioner came in 5 minutes before the 8 o'clock service waving his prayer book and proclaiming the "sure and certain hell and damnation of those who followed the teachings of The Rev. Debra Bullock who lies with a woman. . . " and on and on he went -- really this is stuff made for the Vicar of Dibley! But, in all seriousness, I pray for that man every day because his pain is very real.]

And for those among us who are not yet decided on the issue of homosexuality - and please know that you are not alone - let me assure you that there are other issues that have been dealt with in the same way – dealt with by rejecting. Extra-marital affairs, pregnant teenagers, children who steal, spouses who abuse their spouse and/or children, women and men who are gripped by alcohol, gambling, narcotics or other addictions. And just when the church is called to be a place of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, support and unconditional love; instead, we become a place of secret-keeping and deceit. A place where those who need our love and welcome the most are afraid to come into our doors or, if they do venture in, they are afraid to share their story, for fear that they will be pushed away and no longer welcome in the one place that promised, “All Are Welcome Here!” So they sit in the silence of their pain. And I wonder with the prophet Habakkuk:

“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.”[3]
Old Testament scholar, Theodore Hiebert, reminds us that Habakkuk’s words of concern for social justice combined with his daring to argue with God certainly do not ease the pain of the suffering in the here and now, but what they do offer is a model for “dealing openly and honestly with the discrepancy all persons face at one time or another between the facts of human experience and the ideals and visions of religious faith. . . out of a passionate search for the ways of God in the world.”[4] And that is truly what each of us is called to do. We are called to be open and honest about the discrepancies between our lived experience and our understanding of the faith. We are invited to struggle with God when we don’t understand. And, like Habakkuk, we are invited to trust that God’s promise is ultimately reliable – that God still has “a vision for the appointed time . . . wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”

[1] “The Communiqué of the Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam 19th February 2007,” (Anglican Communion News Service), p. 10 accessed online on September 19, 2007.
[2] Ibid.
[3] From Habakkuk 1:2-4.
[4] Theodore Hiebert, “Habakkuk” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. VII (Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, Daniel, and the Twelve Prophets), (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1995),p. 633.


I need to give credit for my title. . . I believe it was Jarrett who commented at Clergy Homecoming Day that we can bless a cat, but we can't bless some human beings. Clergy Homecoming Day was held on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, known to many as the Patron Saint of Animals.

Who approved the liturgies for the blessing of animals. . .