July 15, 2018

2018 July15
Proper 10- Year B

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


There is a lot going on in the three readings today. The only one that is completely straightforward is The Gospel. The Beheading is a sad and gruesome story that is filled with insecurity, fear, selfishness and abuse of power. There is still a lot of subtext within it. And again, there are verses taken out of the 2 Samuel reading. “David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom” because in verses 5-to-11 Uzzah touched the Ark and was struck down by the Lord, which made David afraid, so he took the Ark to Obed-edom’s house for a few months.


There is a lot going on in today’s scriptures, so I’m just going to make it more convoluted. I’ve got the pulpit; it’s my prerogative.


Every 3 years, the whole of The Episcopal Church gathers for General Convention, and the 79th General Convention finished on Friday in Austin, TX. For those of you unfamiliar with – or disinterested in – the politics of the Church, this is basically the triennial session of Congress for The Episcopal Church. One of the topics is the gender of God and how God’s gender will be handled in future liturgical developments, including any update of the Book of Common Prayer. It was said:


“Prayer book revision is needed immediately to correct the overwhelming use of masculine language to refer both to God and to human beings, as well as a lack of imagery calling for the care of creation.”


General Convention passed a resolution to revise the Book of Common Prayer, which will consider:

“inclusive and expansive
language and imagery for
humanity and divinity”

In normal language, that means
that the Church will move
toward referring to God as male
less and less.


Let’s look at God in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and consider gender. This passage is a distilled and clear description of God’s relation with humanity. This loving and compassionate passage is unlike anything else in Paul’s letters. Apparently it can be written as a single eloquent sentence in the Greek. It circles around the central theme of God’s Love, which gives it a depth and resonance found nowhere else.

It is chronological: It starts with God and blessing, and then Jesus’ role in Creation. The blessing is more than significant, because the word used for blessing is that which only comes from God and indicates nothing more wonderful can be imagined or spoken of than God. This blessing stretches from the beginning of time (chosen ‘before the foundation of the world’) to the end of time, the fullness of time when all will be summed up in Christ.

St Paul makes clear that the whole of God’s purpose from the beginning is focused on being in and through Christ; that Jesus and His Death were about Redemption, and that Redemption is all about personal liberation and forgiveness. This is all brought about ‘in Christ’, which is a phrase that is repeated throughout this passage. And because of God’s love through Christ, we are able to stand ‘holy and blameless before God in love’.

So, this passage refers to God as “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. That must mean that God is male, right? The Bible is the inerrant Word God! Well, the writers of the Bible use “Father” and masculine pronouns for God because that was what they were used to. Additionally, there is the linguistic complexity: what words were used for God, translating ancient Hebrew into Greek into Latin into English, languages with gendered nouns and languages without. And as the Church moved through time and then Westward and Northerly, masculine language became a way to elevate the status of men and diminish the status of women, particularly in affairs of the institution of the Church.

These are the things that St Paul writes that God has done or will do:

  • blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing
  • chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world
  • grants us to be holy and blameless before God in love
  • destined us for adoption as God’s children
  • freely bestowed grace upon us and lavished grace on us
  • will gather up all things in heaven and things on earth
  • marked us with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit

Does the supreme divine being need to be male or Father in order to do all of that? Surely not. Even if we must anthropomorphize God, even if we must imagine God as a superlative human being, God does not need to be male to bestow all of these riches which St Paul says God has given to us.

I have believed for most of my life that God is more than male or female. I use “Father” and male pronouns because that is what I am used to. But to me, if God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, surely God is omni-gendered. If God is not confined by space and time, God as a being is not confined to human construct. If God “created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”, as it is written in Genesis 1:27, then surely God embodies both male and female.

God being more than the sum of
all Creation must be

Christ Himself came into this world to not only share God’s love, but to BE God’s love in this world. Jesus in the Gospels is male. We often make the mistake of looking at God in the Bible and believing that that’s it – it’s there in black & white, and therefore that’s what we believe. Well, that’s both anti-intellectual, and lacking in theology – talking about God. The Bible contains all things necessary for salvation, but it requires humanity to understand how God is speaking to us through it and through its writers.

So, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Does that mean that Salvation could not have occurred had Jesus been a woman? In Eucharistic Prayer C, we acknowledge the role of Mary in the Incarnation: “in the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman…” Mary is not part of the Godhead, I know. But God chose a woman through whom God became human. That is God living up to the words, “In the image of God, male and female, God created them.”

Over the next decade, we will be systematically working toward more inclusive language with which to describe God and one another in our liturgy. A draft of the new Prayer Book should be available in 2024, and its full approval should be in 2030. The aim is:

“That such revision [will] utilize the riches of Holy Scripture and our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship.”

This undertaking is not without controversy. And it will not be an easy task. My seminary, more than half female in student body and staff, demanded that non-male language be used to refer to God whenever possible. There were times when the resulting liturgy was overwrought to the point of being ridiculous and made us giggle in the pews. That said, the Church of England restructured sentences in the Nicene Creed so that the Holy Spirit did not require pronouns at all:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

There was no change in content, only a change in sentence structure. But the Prayer Book revision won’t be as simple as that. And the press releases about this come with scathing comments, almost all negative responses to the proposed change.


Today, it is hard for us to imagine the tangible significance of the life and ministry of Jesus and the power it must have made upon those of Jesus’ time and of St Paul’s. For St Paul to write what he did must have come from a profound experience of God in Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t hang out with Jesus; he had his Road to Damascus moment, but no meals or healings or boat rides. Such a profound experience surpasses human understanding; God surpasses human understanding.


For many of us, faith is largely an intellectual exercise – we lack the earthly experience of Jesus. Our belief in the God-made-Man comes with the real experience of forgiveness, of grace being imparted, and of the Spirit working within the life and community for the glory of God. How we understand God affects that experience. If we narrow the existence of God to our limited understanding of The Divine, then we are making God in our own image rather than expanding our understanding of what it means to be made in God’s image.


The full nature of God is a mystery, one that we must incorporate into our own prayer lives and worship. As Episcopalians, we believe that Jesus Christ is present in the Bread and Wine at Holy Communion, but how Jesus is present is a mystery. The Sacrament is a mystery, and the word “sacrament” is the Latin version of the Greek word for “mystery”.


There is mystery within and
around our relationship
with God.

The Ark of the Covenant was no less mysterious in its association with God. God struck down Uzzah for simply trying to keep the Ark from falling off of the ox. The Ark represents the presence of God. Imagine a little man in there!

Or...imagine that the presence
and nature of God is somewhat of
a mystery.

The mystery around the nature of Jesus is evident in the Gospel. The story of the Beheading of John the Baptist is awkwardly placed between the Mission of the 12 and the Feeding of the 5,000. But it underscores how mysterious Jesus was, that even King Herod was worried that the power working within Jesus was a threat.

The mystery around the nature of God and our relationship with God is a part of our spiritual journey, and good reason for expanding the language we use to describe God. We speak about God in human terms because of our natural limitations, a reality that St Paul writes in Romans 6. Yet, when we come for Communion, we are reminded of the mystery that the Sacrament bestows upon us: that we are marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit which is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of God’s glory. And with that, God is the source of light and life, who made us in God’s image, and called us to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The awe and mystery around
who or what God is certainly
cannot be confined by a single
and simple human description

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