Unity and Thanksgiving
125th Anniversary of IEAB; 50th Anniversary of Province of Brazil; 30th Anniversary of Women’s Ordination
7 June 2015
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Porto Alegre
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
What does it mean to be “one”? On the flight here I thought about what it’s like to be packed like sardines on a commercial airplane. It seems to bind people together more closely than most find comfortable, but it doesn’t begin to promote a sense of oneness until there’s some sort of crisis. If a passenger gets sick, or there’s a big delay, people begin to reach out to each other. If the crew recognizes some newlyweds, other passengers clap and congratulate them. Oneness begins in some sort of shared experience that’s outside the norm, and for most people that process of coming together produces a sense of gratitude – or even a big dose of joy.
Ecclesiastes talks about oneness as acting together for mutual benefit and protection.
The psalmist sees oneness as blessing, abundance, and life that endures. That’s pretty much what Jesus calls abundant life – “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”
The Ephesians are challenged to be one in the Spirit by living at peace with one another, and they’re reminded of the many ways they are already one: in baptism, in following Jesus, in seeking oneness with God, and in God’s own self.
In the gospel, Jesus prays that his friends will be one with him as he is one with God, and again it has something to do with holiness and with love.
This Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil has the same vocation of oneness that Jesus asks for his disciples. Your history here has been a long process of drawing people together in ways that bless them. Your gift has been the conviction that oneness in the Church is supposed to bless the wider community as well. Becoming one begins in sharing the good news of God’s love for all and teaching people how to live together as friends – friends of God and one another. We see that oneness happen in congregations and in the ways in which their members are present in the wider community – feeding, teaching, healing, and seeking justice. Yesterday we saw an example in a Guaraní community, where friends have been accompanying one another for 20 years, growing in solidarity, and today everyone is finding a greater sense of wholeness.
Think about that crowded airplane again. Sometimes people are so tightly packed that when one person reclines his seat, the person behind him has so little space that she leans her seat back, too – and often it causes the whole plane to rearrange itself – like rows of dominos falling over. It’s a very physical reminder of how connected we are, but it’s very mechanical. You move only because you’ve been pushed. The system is designed for interchangeable parts, not unique human beings of different shapes and sizes with different desires for quiet or physical space.
The body of Christ isn’t quite like that cattle car in the sky. It IS profoundly interconnected, and it is meant to respond in solidarity to the pain or joy of another member, but not because of fear or physical force. The community of God’s friends is meant to live interdependently and responsively, and to be intentional and conscious about the other members, all the time. The body of Christ doesn’t expect every part to fit in identical seats. The Anglican Communion is learning to rearrange the chairs and recognize that we aren’t all meant to face exactly the same direction or get identical cardboard meals. The IEAB is working to celebrate the diversity of God’s people and creation, and we’re all learning to serve as passengers and crew together, shifting roles as necessary and as our gifts permit. God’s mission, with all of us together on this planet of 7.3 billion people, is flying through time, trying to learn to live together in peace.
The ministry of oneness is most essentially about breaking down walls and healing relationships. When that happens, we’re thankful because we are experiencing the life for which we are created – wholeness, peace in community, and the near presence of the Reign of God. Oneness is never about uniformity; it is about celebrating the unique gifts of every person, all of whom bear the image of God. Oneness gathers those diverse and complementary parts into a healthier and holier and more effective body of Christ.
There are abundant signs of that oneness here – in the profound respect shown to every member of the interreligious group we met here on Friday; in your conscious and pro-active empowerment of women, sexual minorities, and indigenous people; in your care and solidarity with all the poor, including our poor abused environment. Together, all God’s people are working to build a more effective whole.
This celebration is about that growing health and wholeness, and lots of boundaries have been broken down to bring us to this point. For anyone who doesn’t have a clear sense of what life is truly about (and that’s every one of us at some point), your new prayer book will help people recognize the holy all around us and within us. It will bring us closer to a church that truly does respect the dignity of every human being, male and female, gay and straight, the descendants of every nation, and the other parts of God’s creation.
The 125 year history of the IEAB has been a continuing search to honor and encourage the variety of life here, to encourage all parts to grow in their leadership for healing what is broken in the lives of human beings and in the wider society. Your half-century of autonomy celebrates growth toward the full stature of Christ, as a mature part of the body of his Church. You are able to help other partners do the same – and the request in 1990 for a bilateral committee is a good example. You said to The Episcopal Church, ‘come and partner with us as equals – let us learn from each other and support one another.’ We give great thanks for your challenge and invitation, and I expect that we will continue to grow in solidarity with one another and with others, as fellow passengers and crew on this flying planet.
Sitting together in that cramped and crowded airplane can be like the disciples after the crucifixion, who locked themselves in the upper room, too scared to move. It can be a useful reminder of our interconnections, but also a kind of slavery. We know a way out of that captivity. It’s called God’s mission, God’s sending – going out, going to Galilee, where Jesus told those disciples they would find him. We’re meant to be on that journey, moving together out to the far edges of the globe, looking for the lost and the least and the left out. We’ll find oneness there on the margins, and we’ll be immensely grateful, for there is joy and wholeness when companions lean on each other.
Felicitações em seus aniversários, e que Deus continue a abençoar a todos vocês.
 Grupo de Dialogo Inter-Religioso de Porto Alegre http://wp.clicrbs.com.br/blogdasreligioes/?topo=13,1,1,,,13