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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Monday, November 15, 2004

Feast of Edmund of East Anglia (transferred)

(This feast was celebrated in Seabury's chapel today. My homily is below.)

1 Peter 3:14-18
Psalm 21:1-7
Matthew 10:16-22

“Do not worry about how you are to speak, or what you are to say,” the scripture says. A fine reminder for a seminarian preaching with her bishop in the chapel! Of course, this is the same bishop who started me on the rocky road to seminary with the same words we hear in 1 Peter this morning: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands an accounting for the hope that is in you.” Now you know why I’m here: three years of self-defense training.

But seriously, I like the advice that these two bits of scripture offer. I think they balance one another well, and in fact may well be part of the reason they were selected for the feast of Edmund, King of East Anglia. They both deal with explicit warnings of persecution, and how followers of Jesus are to deal with that. Living as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are reminded, is not a “cushy corner-office” kind of job; suffering and abuse and at times physical danger are part of the job description. The “Good,” in Good News, is not the same thing as “comfortable,” or “easy.” Not by half.

Certainly Edmund found that to be true. This 9th century saint was 30 years old, and had been a Christian king for about 15 years, when Danish marauders overran his country. He was eventually captured; but then offered an option to save him from execution: if he would accept the role as their vassal, and forbid Christian practice in the country, his captors promised they would spare his life and end the fighting.

You know where this is going, don’t you? One does not earn a day on the liturgical calendar, and a page in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, by denying the Christian faith. Edmund refused the offer, and was martyred. Martyred thoroughly, I might add-- the history says that he was first beaten with cudgels, then savagely whipped, then shot through with arrows, then finally beheaded.

(Your COM’s looking pretty good about now, isn’t it?)

But really... imagine for a moment how it must be to hold fast under such vicious mistreatment. The strength of conviction that shows-- when one word, one moment of acquiescence would have been so very much easier, would have avoided all that horror. Where did that come from?

The Holy Spirit, yes, of course-- but I also believe that, in Edmund’s case, it was at least in part the culmination of a lifetime of discipleship. The stories told about him give one example of this: they say that he took a year’s retreat, early in his reign-- during which time he memorized the entire psalter.

Now, as much of a “Bible geek” reputation as I have around here, even I’m not about to say that simply memorizing a lot of scripture is the answer. But the commitment to faithful practice that exemplifies-- intentional learning, and living discipleship, by word and example-- is integral to being ready, as much as we can, for whatever (or whomever) holds us to account And if we have done that-- if we continue to prepare-- by study, and in prayer, and by caring for one another in the name of Jesus Christ who calls us together-- then we need not “worry about what we are to say,” for we will have prepared to “make our defense to those who demand an account for the hope that is in us.”

Oh, but did you notice? That verse from 1 Peter-- I haven’t yet finished the sentence. The whole thing actually says, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do so with gentleness and reverence.

That last is key. We have been reminded recently, by recent events in the wider Anglican Communion (and by some local adventures as well) that we are a body of committed Christians who are not of one mind on some very fundamental issues. And it’s been obvious that gentleness and reverence have not always been the first priority in the exchanges that we’ve heard, and read, and seen over these issues. Sometimes, in fact, those traits have been most notable by their absence. We talk a lot about loving our enemy, and welcoming the stranger, and rightly so; but it seems harder, somehow, when we realize that the stranger has turned out to be a relative-- when the enemy is actually one who, by virtue of shared baptism into the body of Christ, is family-- is sister, or brother.

Maybe that’s why we have this reminder. It is important, vitally important, to be able to defend the hope we have in the risen Lord, and to speak our convictions formed in that faith. That’s one reason to value the example of the saints, like Edmund, who show us what we can be, in the face of opposition-- what is possible, when we trust in the Holy Spirit.

But how we make that defense, how we treat one another in the process, is just as important. As I was reminded by a dear friend yesterday, “we are disciples of a Lord who calls us always to make room for people to be better than we have grounds to expect them to be.”

We will be challenged, my brothers and sisters. We have, and will have, plenty of opportunities to answer those who demand an accounting for the hope that is in us. That is the inevitable nature of having radical faith in a radical God, who lived with us, and showed us first how to face the challenge-- and then who died, rather than compromise the conviction and gift of God’s love. An infinite, unbounded love for all of us, on both sides of every argument.
It is important to remember, above all, that those who challenge us are also beloved children of God.

So study and pray, my brothers and sisters; form convictions, be strong in faith, and ready for the challenge. But also pray that we hold those strong convictions-- and one another-- gently.


Blogger David said...

I bet your Bishop is excited.....I wonder if the wheels are turning as he contemplates where to place this excellent preacher.
This is good work. I loved how you dropped the bombshell of the end of the 1 Peter passage, gave it much more ummph that way.
We have a neighboring parish that is really up in arms and I may have to send this over to some friends there.

November 16, 2004 7:32 AM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

Yes. An excellent sermon. And I will meditate on it, although I have found that "speaking softly" simply results in people assuming that one really doesn't care about the matter. Traditionalists would not be in the process of being forced out of TEC had we been speaking with the volume used recently in the past 30 years that we engaged in "dialogue" and "conversation". It is only now that the "dialogue" has been unilaterally ended that voices are raised. Would that they had been raised earlier.

November 16, 2004 8:50 AM  

Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

Nice job sister. I may have to put you on the rota out here. Gentleness and reverence. We get so wrapped up in trying to be "right" that we think we need to turn up the volume. There's an old preaching joke that has a preacher reviewing his sermon, and while making notes he writes, "Weak point -- speak loudly!"

Maybe this is why God speaks in a still, small voice.

November 16, 2004 11:44 AM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

Yeh. Though I noticed that God only did the still small voice" bit after he got Elisha's attention with considerably louder and more noisome theatricals.


November 16, 2004 1:51 PM  

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