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From Columbus: Text of June 20 homily preached by the President of the House of Deputies

6/27/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  The President of the House of Deputies, the Very Rev. George L.W. Werner, preached the homily at June 20 Eucharist at General Convention in Columbus, Ohio. The text of Werner's homily follows: 

"When God was about to create Adam, the ministering angels split into contending groups. Some were in favor of Adam being created; others were against it -- and that's why, the story goes, Psalm 85 proclaims, "Mercy and Truth collided, Righteousness and Peace clashed." Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points to a bold rabbinic interpretation. "God takes truth and throws it to the ground, meaning: for life to be livable, truth on earth cannot be what it is in heaven." [Alan Jones, "Common Prayer on Common Ground," "Love Letter to Anglicanism."]

Now that I no longer have regular responsibilities for a congregation, I return to my pew after receiving Communion and open the Prayer Book to Psalm 85. "Mercy and Truth have met together; Righteousness, Justice and Peace have kissed each other." Justice doesn't appear in our current prayer book version, but I have seen it often replaces righteousness in other biblical translations. My biblical mentor, Ken Bailey and other scholars including (Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan) Gayle Harris have taught me that the root word is the source for both righteousness and justice, a sermon by itself.

Imagine, if you will, a community which is marked by Mercy, Truth, Justice, Righteousness and Peace. Unfortunately that is a dream, because we are sinners who see through a glass darkly, sinners who must be saved by Grace.

I printed my sermon yesterday, but realized in the middle of the night that I must tear it up. Back in 1960, in the first Episcopalian magazine, there was a short saying, "Moses brought all the people to the Promised Land, not just the Commandos." As most of you know, I have been reminding people of that ever since.

There is another Rabbinic Story: The ministering angels ran to celebrate with God when Moses successfully led his people through the Red Sea. But they were stunned to find God weeping. "Why are you weeping on such a glorious day?" And God sadly replied, "Were not the Egyptian Soldiers my children also?

In Alan Jones' translation of Psalm 85, the gentle words of "met" and "kissed" are replaced with "collide" and "clash." I know how impossible it is for us humans to get our arms around justice, peace, righteousness, mercy and truth all at the same time. Perhaps in community… and not just the community of those we agree with, not just in our own "Plato's Cave"… we are called to be vulnerable, our symbol Jesus with his arms stretched out on the Cross. Our discussion is about Truth (and righteousness, mercy, justice and peace as well)... Boarding more than 500 planes in six years, I have found truth in all the groups I have met with... I don't believe I have found the whole truth and nothing but the truth in any of them... but then, that is God's truth, and we are definitely not God.

Fourteen Deputies and five Bishops came here from many different places, and I am not referring to geography. It seemed impossible for them to find common ground, but they made themselves vulnerable, they worked and prayed and struggled day and night and in deep pain, found a place which they thought might lead to a community where there is justice, righteousness, peace, mercy and truth… knowing that the pilgrimage would be long and hard and only by the Grace of God could it bring all the people with us.

I don't know what to tell you. I know that at this moment of God's history, I have to bend the knee of my heart. I know that whatever we do, someone will be hurt more than someone else.

I know of no "magic bullets," no clever or brilliant rescue plans… I know that we will have to walk through the desert, maybe even up to Kidron Valley and up to Jerusalem and to Golgotha… But I love Jesus Christ and on this day when we are called to "Grow in Hope…" I close with one more song from South Pacific: "I'm stuck like a dope with a thing called hope, and I can't get it out of my heart, not this heart."