January 28, 2018: May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard. Amen.
So, today St. Paul is talking a LOT about food. Now, I generally like the guy, but considering that something I ate yesterday at lunch while at diocesan convention left me chugging down alka seltzer and lying on a bar couch till I felt good enough to drive home, I have a bone to pick here (keeping with the food theme), when he says ““Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” Sorry, St. Paul, but I totally disagree – I was praying a lot to God asking to be healed…and fast!
But outside of culinary misadventures, there was so much that happened these past two days when your deputies, Christopher Dwyer, Richard Lamb, and Benjamin Reynolds, joined me to represent this church at the 144th Convention of the Diocese of Newark. They will share more about it in a little bit, but this much is true, the convention lived up to its theme of “Stories from the Journey” Joining God in Shaping Our Future – because story telling was the core of every presentation, workshop, and meeting.
If we really think about it – our faith is based on story telling too. Our scriptures are the story of our faith – passed down from generation to generation, and finally put into writing, and copied for centuries – admittedly, not always accurately, but sacred stories nonetheless. Stories of prophets and rulers, war and peace, oppression and justice, disciples and Jesus.
And today we hear another one in the gospel. It is telling to note what each gospel author (or authors) chose to identify as the first act of Jesus’ ministry in their story. For the author of Matthew, it was the Sermon on the Mount. For the author of Luke, the reading of the scriptures in the temple and proclaiming them filled in him. And the community that wrote John focused on making it one of the seven signs – the changing of the water into wine at a wedding in Cana.
But, for the author of Mark, it was a teaching with an exorcism to add an exclamation point. Every gospel writer had a different view of who Jesus was, and was writing to a particular audience. What could the author of Mark be getting at in choosing this story as the first one Jesus does at the start of his ministry? There is a lot to unpack here in this gospel, Messianic Secret/Insiders & Outsiders/the troubling and later changed shorter ending… and we will cover all that in an Adult Forum later in the Spring, but for now, let’s look at this exorcism, because there is a message in it for us all – and it isn’t that you should avoid anyone who’s mother’s name is Rosemary – which, by the way, is in fact my mother’s name, making me, the youngest child in my family, Rosemary’s Baby! I know, I know, you can’t make this up.
But as usual, I digress.
It is important to remember that this whole scene is a dialog between Jesus and the “unclean spirit” possessing the man. It says to Jesus “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” Now THAT is quite a story! And…in a very real sense, it is an important story for our faith – one we heard at convention.
No, as much as my tummy troubled me, it was more a bad sandwich than an unclean Spirit, and the bishop did NOT perform an exorcism – although how cool would that be. No, you see, there were exorcisms done alright, but they were of other types of unclean spirits – those of sexism, human trafficking, gun violence, homophobia, racism, environmental destruction, and so many more. At this convention, we – the body of Christ alive today – were calling out those unclean spirits to come out of those whose hearts have grown cold – to leave the body of our society – that we might return to spiritual, emotional, and physical health and peace.
There were prophets young and old who spoke against injustice, and there were two significant resolutions. [For the full text of both resolutions, click here: Convention Resolutions]
The first was submitted by Laura Russell, of All Saints Hoboken, and it called for the diocese to support the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism (“The Code”) adopted by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), taking this same effort to The Episcopal Church as a whole, that they give preference to tourism companies and businesses, including but not limited to hotels, airlines, and travel agents, that have signed The Code when making arrangements for meetings and travel to meetings. Why? Because “the travel and tourism industry is uniquely positioned to address child sex trafficking. For example, 45% of children trafficked for sex in New York City are exploited in hotels…”
“Supporting The Code when arranging meetings and travel to meetings would allow The Episcopal Church to continue its tradition of using its economic power to stand for justice and supporting the human rights of children.” This was a significant step toward exorcising our world from the unclean spirit of sexual molestation and slavery of children and adults.
But the story I tell is of a young boy, Jason, who stood up at the microphone after this resolution was introduced, and made it clear that no one should ever be treated in this way, and asking all of us to stand in support of this effort to end human trafficking. As I said, our faith story is filled with prophets – and he is surely one of them.
The second resolution I authored, and it was calling for our diocese to establish an Anti-Sexism Task Force to deal with the gender discrimination prevalent church-wide with regard to the treatment of women clergy. I said in my two minute presentation introducing the resolution that “More than 40 years after the first women were ordained in the Episcopal church they are still not offered the same roles, nor even the same level pay for the same role, as male counterparts. Further, it is also sadly true that the “MeToo” movement includes women clergy, which should deeply disturb any of us who are followers of Jesus Christ.”
I love my parish, all of you – I pinch myself sometimes and give thanks to God daily for the privilege of being your priest and serving this community. But, if you don’t think that sexism could ever happen here – just remember that in the public profile in the search process that called me here, there were the congregation’s answers to questions about what they would like to see in their new priest. One person answered that question with – “a male priest.” Hopefully, whoever that was, still feels spiritually fed and nourished despite my not being exactly what they had hoped.
You see, sadly, this is a systemic issue that exists church wide, in much the same way as in society. One priest, the Rev. Rose Cohen Hassan, offered that when she and another female clergy were in the process for priesthood with a few other men, only the two of them (the two women) were asked by the Commission on Ministry (in the Diocese of Long Island) “how do you plan to be able to care for your children and be a priest?” The men also had children – they were not asked this question. Further, I have heard deeply painful stories from my colleagues across the Episcopal Church of harassment, marginalization, and inappropriate sexual contact by their male colleagues, bishops, and by laity.
This resolution was passed as well, and it is a first step toward exorcising the unclean spirit of sexism in the church. The truth is – both resolutions are just first steps, not solutions. And, both call for similar resolutions to be brought forward at General Convention – the triannual meeting of The Episcopal Church – which is this summer. But even if passed there, more work is needed, the exorcism is not fully complete – not only on human trafficking and sexism – but on all the unclean spirits that infect the hearts of many all over the world.
This story of the exorcism makes it clear that Jesus was here to change things. He was here to show us how we are to be, and what is not acceptable. And if we are unsure of what that means, the Jesus of all the gospels are very clear about that – love one another, love ourselves, love God.
We cannot harm another human being and do that.
We cannot harm a part of creation and do that.
We cannot harm ourselves and do that.
The time has come for us to step forward in our ministry, to confront the unclean spirits that dwell in the hearts of our society, perhaps even in our own heart, and with Christ’s help, break their hold on us and exorcise them. We must do this, so that we may one day tell a new story – one of hope, justice, peace, and love for all the world to all the world.
As this was our bishop’s last convention, I will once again close with the words he likes to use at the conclusion of all services. It is a benediction given by the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin.
“May God give you the grace to never sell yourself short; grace to risk something big for something good; grace to remember that the world is too dangerous now for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.
May God take your minds and think through them.
May God take your lips and speak through them.
May God take your hands and work through them.
May God take your hearts and set them on fire.”
For the audio from the 10:30am service, click here:
 Ric Curtis, et al., “The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York City,” The Center for Court
Innovation, NYC, 2008.
 From the text of Resolution 144AC-R04, Laura Russell, Esq.
Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
January 28, 2018
Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany
1st Reading – Deuteronomy 18:15-20
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Gospel – Mark 1:21-28