[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] The following sermon was preached July 6 by House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis, Ind. through July 12.
General Convention – Community Eucharist
Friday, July 6
President, The House of Deputies
In the Name of the Creator, Sanctifier and Redeemer. Amen
In the collect we prayed just a couple of minutes ago we recalled that God gave John Hus the courage to confess God’s truth and recall God’s Church to the image of Christ.
Today we are witnesses of incredible courage. We are witnesses to the courage of our ancestor, John Hus, who publicly called into question papal infallibility, calling also for the removal of a heretic pope. John Hus a priest, and Bohemian reformer who influenced a reform movement and willingly gave up his life rather than recant his affiliation with scripture. Courageous John Hus, burned at the stake while loudly singing “Kyrie Eleison.”
C.S. Lewis reminds us that “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at its testing point.”
Courage animates all our virtues- honesty, confidence, humility, compassion, integrity, valor. Without courage, all these virtues lie dormant.
There is no prescription for teaching courage. You may have noticed that courage 101 is not taught in school, or even in college, or even in seminary.
Even though, taught intentionally in school or not, all our lives, we are students of courage. We learn it from our parents, from friends, from role models like people in our Christian communities, from public figures who take courageous stands on important human rights concerns. We are students of courage all our lives. We read the wisdom of some early Christian mystical theologians who related that our spiritual journey embraces an essential conversion moving us from fear into abiding courage.
Some people who teach us about courage we will never know. Particularly, however, at this technological age, we have unprecedented opportunity to be watchers of courage all around the world. Even today in this Eucharistic celebration we are blessed by the courage and witness of the language of Southeast Asian highlanders, targeted for genocide in communist controlled Laos in 1975 flow through our ears singing a melody to a courageous tune. The Hmong people in Vietnam continue to be marginalized and live in poverty. Every day they are called to be courageous. So much so, their courage has been intentional and is inherent to their spirit in their daily lives.
Individual courage builds in us from memories created by life events- events we witness where someone we know, love or admire is courageous. Or a time when we ourselves have been courageous and stand up for something that really matters to us.
I can vividly remember the first time I stood up for something. I bet you can too. That memory becomes the story of a defining moment that is incorporated into our spiritual selves and becomes a cornerstone of our morality or our moral courage. If we are to reflect on our life, each of us can probably name today, events and people who helped to shape our moral courage. Moral courage defines us at our core and prompts us to act in spite of fear.
There is something unique about courageous acts. Courageous acts are infectious. We get courage from each other. Like the truth, we know courage when we see it and it is hard to witness a courageous act and not be courageous ourselves. Courage is a kind of “pay it forward” all its own. Beginning with individual courage, inspired by defining moments in our lives, one person acts and others are inspired and encouraged to do the same.
When we don’t “exercise” our courage, like an unused muscle without regular use, courage is weakened and slowly recedes. Without regular use our courage becomes harder for us to conjure up, less available to us. Finally if we aren’t regularly courageous, our courage dries up and “courageous” becomes only a memory of how we used to be.
But make no mistake about it. Regularly exercising our courage, being a courageous Christian, even a courageous Episcopalian, has a high cost. But we have a bit of an edge here. We are spiritual AND religious. No mere ritual for church membership, our baptism places each of us in an ancestral line of wild and courageous people, John the Baptizer and Jesus, for example. The high cost, of course, is that our baptism, in the words of my friend Jeannie Wylie Kellerman, baptism requires “obedience to our Lord’s perverse ethic of vulnerability and gain through loss.”
So really, you see, in order to follow Jesus, in order to be his disciples, we have to exercise our courage. We have to study courage and teach courage by our own courageous acts born out of deep love and faith. We have to be courageous. We need to be in Christian community that is centered always on Jesus. A Christian community that is prayerful, authentic and truthful. Singing all the while loudly until the day we die, “Kyrie Eleison.”