Presiding Bishop’s sermon from Executive Council

Posted Mar 21, 2015

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori delivered the following sermon on March 21 during the opening Eucharist at the Episcopal Church Executive Council meeting currently gathered  at the Radisson Salt Lake City Downtown.

Thomas Cranmer
21 March 2015
Executive Council closing Eucharist
Salt Lake City, UT

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

The Psalm assigned for today includes this line: Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people.[1] Only a few hours more for half of this body, and then you can rest in peace. Like Israel, give thanks for coming into Zion[2] and finding it a land of plenty – of beauty, hospitality, and the invitation to live in peace with family and neighbors.

The Europeans who first settled in this valley came with strong religious convictions, believing that God was sending them into a new and pleasant land. But as Israel discovered, there were already people living in the land of promise. Like many if not most of the early European settlers, the followers of Joseph Smith[3] began by trying to live in peace with the indigenous people, but eventually pushed them out, took their land, hunted their food, stole their water, and sometimes massacred them[4] or others who came after them.[5]

Visions of the holy frequently lead human beings to believe they have seen the whole of God’s salvation in one particular revelation, in one code of behavior, or in one new ecclesial direction. The saint we’re remembering today is a notable example.

Thomas Cranmer had great gifts as well as immense blindnesses. His life was a striking mix of deeply provocative theological wrestling and expedient action, both personal and political. One writer describes his character as encompassing a range “from a champion of the faith to a compromising sycophant and vows-breaker.”[6] He revived Christian worship by insisting on language “understanded of the people.” The Prayer Books[7] that he organized include language that still defines some of the most beautiful of English literature. Yet he was so certain of his own rightness that he forbade any other usage than what he himself had written and authorized.

And then there are the marriage issues, which we still haven’t completely solved. When Cranmer was ordained a priest, clergy were forbidden to marry, but he did so anyway. Maybe that’s why the first Book of Common Prayer counts the primary purpose of marriage was to avoid fornication. When the reality was discovered, he was sacked from his academic position. His wife died in childbirth shortly thereafter and he quickly got himself reappointed to the same post. Some years later, Henry VIII sent him to Europe, where he married the daughter of a Lutheran theologian. When Henry needed to appoint a new Archbishop of Canterbury in 1532, he named Cranmer, and he got him ordained bishop and installed, in spite of his married state. Henry later began to have qualms about that reality, so Cranmer sent his wife back to Europe. Cranmer, you may remember, was also responsible for much of the legal, political, and ecclesiastical work involving Henry’s marriages.

Every religious tradition has its skeletons and its saints, and sometimes they are the same people. Paul is warning his hearers not to count themselves better than their ancestors, for they all depend on the same rootstock – a root that nourishes the olive tree or the grape vine we cling to as intimate connection to God as Creator of all. That root is why we are here, and it is also why the LDS church is here.

When General Convention shows up here just over 3 months from now, many of the volunteers and dispensers of hospitality will be our sisters and brothers from that tradition. Will we recognize their welcome as a product of the same root, or will we assume that they come from a different and unrecognizable species?

Complexity defines human beings and their relationships, which just might convince us of the otherness of God. Difference is part of God’s creativity, from the riotous diversity of the species of creation to the inner chaos of most human beings. Paul names it when he says he wants to do the right thing, but he does something else instead.[8] Nevertheless, when people stay connected to that one rootstock, God can usually be found to bring something new and holy out of the mess.

Branches that seem radically different grow on the same tree and the same vine, even though we love to hate the ones who are not like us. We often in the church focus our attention on differences in reproductive customs and norms – yet both the grape vine and the olive tree has multiple ways to be generative. Flowers can be fertilized by pollen from the same plant or another one. The fruit and seeds that result are eaten by birds and animals and left to grow far from the original plant, yet they are still related. The vine also generates new branches from its rootstock or from distant parts of its branches. But all those kinds of vines and branches are related, however they come about.

God continues to bring new life out of chaos. Some time ago the LDS discovered, in the roots of their tradition, ways to include African-Americans after having long excluded them, and they are beginning to do the same for LGBT folk. Today Salt Lake ranks 7th in the nation for its proportion of gay and lesbian residents.[9] Episcopalians are still wrestling with our own patterns of exclusion: racism, classism, sexism, as well as assuming that everyone who should an Episcopalian already is.

Cranmer was right – worship and gospelling have to be understood by the people or they are utterly in vain. We have seen the evidence, and we are beginning to learn new ways. Jan Butter, who has just stepped down as the Anglican Communion Office’s Director for Communications, left a parting gift in a provocative paper about new ways of communicating. [10] He pushes us to take Cranmer’s genius about the vernacular and apply it to how we share Good News on our journey into Zion. We have opportunities to build and nurture community that didn’t exist even a few years ago. We are beginning to see the possibilities of recognizing and nurturing other parts of the vine for the good of the whole creation. Butter holds up the Episcopal Asset Map as a rare and innovative example of what might be possible.

We have all committed to follow the apostles toward Zion, resisting evil, proclaiming Good News in word and deed, seeking and serving Christ in everybody, striving for justice and peace, and recognizing the dignity of all humanity. That will always challenge us to see past the categories and labels that we use to divide and distinguish ourselves from others. Our repentance must not be just about turning over a new leaf, but about changing our minds enough to recognize a new and different leaf as part of God’s creation, intimately related to us and to all that is. Proclaiming Good News can only begin with listening and beginning to understand the vernacular.

We have much to celebrate in the work of recent years – like the Mission Enterprise Zones and launching into new vineyards. And we must keep learning to talk to different branches of the vine.

What branches can you recognize today that you wouldn’t have three years ago? What are you doing to nurture their growth and vitality? What new vines or olive trees can you see in the distance? Cultivating an eye for recognizing other branches is an act of blessing and affirming what God is up to. Pray that we might see all creation is a grown on God’s own rootstock, and pray that it all might be fruitful.

Blessed be the Lord who has given us a vision of rest and peace for all, and for giving us vines, olive trees, and branches to keep us connected to that vision.

[1] 1Kings 8:56

[2] Both the Salt Lake Valley and the figurative sense of a community of the righteous

[3] Brigham Young led the migration to what is now Utah after Joseph Smith was assassinated in Illinois in 1844



[6] John-Julian, Stars in a Dark World, p 613

[7] Both the 1549 and 1552 versions

[8] Romans 7:15


[10] Jan Butter, “The Choice Before Us” 18 March 2015, Anglican Communion Office. This will be posted at a later date.