Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bishop Pope's sermon at Fort Worth Synod

Today, the second Bishop of Fort Worth, Clarence Cullam Pope, Jun., was remembered in his old diocese at a Requiem Mass at St. Vincent's Cathedral. I wish I had more writings and speeches of his. The little that I have seen is great stuff.

One of my favorite quotes from Pope is from when he opened the diocesan convention at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Fort Worth on Friday, 7 October 1994 and made a short farewell statement, which he concluded by noting: “Finally, and I cannot say this more strongly, we are not held together by property and coercive canons. If we fall back on those things, rather than our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to be pitied and the Church ends up looking like a jail keeper rather than the dispenser of the saving grace of God.”

Going back a little further, here is Pope's sermon at the closing Mass of the Fort Worth Synod in 1989 on the text, ". . . that they all may be one, even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee . . ." (John 17:21):

Our Concern for Unity
The Gospel we have just heard read contains our Lord's great high priestly prayer, a prayer that must not be lost on us. The circumstances under which we have gathered these few days might overshadow and tend to lessen our vision of the great Church as we take necessary action to hold and extend our mission

And yet it is precisely because of our concern for unity with the Church that we have met in such an extraordinary way. Our concern extends not only to those who have remained faithful to what we believe to be essential, that is, to the given revelation of God in Holy Scripture and historic tradition, but also to those who disagree with us in fundamental ways.

Our Vocation
Ours is not a vocation to smugness and insularity, but to a holy witness that reaches out to the world, holding Christ high that all might be drawn to him. In particular, if we are faithful to our Lord's great prayer, we must not forget consideration for members of our own Anglican family who do not share our belief and convictions about faith and order. Charity, courtesy, and forebearance must be the rule and not the exception.

We must also remember those other Anglicans who, for the present, are not in communion with the See of Canterbury, but who hold the faith in common with us. We must pray and work diligently that reunion with them might be realized as soon as possible.

And yet our concern cannot stop there, because ours is a mission that reflects that of the Church universal in her quest for the redemption of all mankind. Ours is a loyalty we must claim to be of a higher order than to any institution, and that is to the Church Catholic--"universal, holding earnestly the Faith for all time, in all countries, and for all people" (Offices of Instruction, 1928 Prayer Book). Or, to put it another way--"the whole faith to all people" (Catechism, 1979 Prayer Book).

We can do none of this if we lose sight of who we are--if we become anemic and lose sight of all we claim for ourselves and for our mission. Stressful times are the devil's workshop and we must be on our guard to remember always, even as our forbears of old sat and wept when they remembered.

But let me hasten to say that I am not so concerned about weeping as I am about remembering: "By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows, there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.' How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?" (Psalm 137:1-4).

Memory is a wonderful faculty, and in the portion of the psalter I just read, there is evidence of a remembered remembrance. The past tense of the verbs in the first three verses indicate the psalmist was writing of the past event in which the remembrance of grander times was very painful to his fellow religionists.

These Jews were in captivity and far removed from Zion--Jerusalem--and all that meant to them. Their memory served to remind them of who they were in spite of their sadness, and would ultimately be the instrument of their salvation. It would not be very difficult for those of us gathered here to think of ourselves in those poetically sad words of Psalm 137. We have all sat down and wept when we remembered our own Zion before the capture--before a tireless and demanding secularism began its stifling effect upon the Church in this country.

One has to wonder what happened to those who no longer weep with us--or those who now seem happy in their captivity. What has happened to their memory? St. Augustine, in his work On the Trinity, wrote, "We know many things which in some sense live by memory, and so in some sense die by being forgotten."

Being and Doing Church
But we are not here to weep and wring our hands anymore--we are here to remember and because of that memory to get on with the job of being and doing Church in the sense of the givens of Holy Scripture and the received tradition.

I think St. Paul must have had us in mind when in his second letter to Timothy he wrote, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

"Always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." We do this best when we have a holy remembrance--a remembrance stirred by the Holy Spirit to make lively within us the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we receive Holy Communion in a few minutes, let us be mindful of the remembrance that brings us the sacramental presence of our Savior. This is the essence of our hope and the source of our strength to accomplish the monumental work ahead of us to which we believe God has called us.