A Trinity Sunday

 

Sermon by The Rev. Deacon Robert J.A. Zito, J.D.

Former Deacon, Church of the Incarnation

Mark 1 21:28

My story for you today begins with a phone call. It was a Wednesday evening at about 10 pm when I received a call from the Vicar of Trinity Church. To put this in context, I don’t work for the church, so whenever I get a call, especially at late hours, I know there is some emergency brewing.

 

This call was asking me to attend a meeting that would start the following day at 6:30 in the morning. The discussion was going to be about how Trinity would handle the up-coming day activities for an anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. We were told previously that the Occupy movement wanted to occupy a portion of Trinity’s property that is located near Duarte Square.

 

Ultimately, Duarte Square would become a battleground of positions. It would become a battleground for authority. Having been evicted from its encampment in Zucotti Park, the Occupy movement was looking for another space for its encampment. They found a triangle bit of property near Canal and Seventh Avenue, which to them appeared “unoccupied.” The Occupiers decided they should have it for their new encampment. A portion of the Occupy movement does not believe in the idea of “private property.” They talk in terms of liberating space. The irony is they want to liberate the space for themselves.

 

When the Occupy movement discovered that the space was owned by Trinity Church, a religious organization, they seemed to have assumed that Trinity would just turn it over to them because they believe God is on their side. Various Episcopal clergy who were working with the Occupy movement started to urge Trinity to do simply that, just turn the property over to the movement. They used theology to support their position: it was the Christian thing to do.

 

The Occupy movement didn’t seem to care that this was private property under a legal lease to a not-for profit group that was scheduled to exhibit art in the space in the springtime.

Trinity decided not turn the property over to the Occupy movement for various reasons. First, the property was subject to legal rights of the tenants who were in possession and who were going to exhibit art. Also, the area is zoned for commercial use; it is not legally suitable for residential living, let alone an encampment. Further, the area surrounding Duarte Square does not have facilities that could support an encampment. Finally, the property is for everyone. As an art exhibition space, the property was to be used, viewed and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people. In sharp contrast, an encampment is only good for those who are encamped within the space to the exclusion of everyone else.

 

The good thing about Trinity Church is that it has financial resources. And these financial resources are used to fund a broad base of ministries locally here in New York, around the country and around the globe. The bad thing about Trinity Church is that is has financial resources. As a result, Trinity is forever under scrutiny about how it spends its money. And there is no shortage of opinions over how Trinity should manage its property. The Rector of Trinity and all the clergy staff received numerous emails from clergy and others telling Trinity what to do.

 

Fueled by the media, Duarte Square became a vortex of issues under tension. The media reveled in pitting a Christian Church with financial resources against a movement that stood for financial equality.

 

Most of the stories I read made it a simple case of poor against rich and cast Trinity as a hypocritical Christian church that was, on the one hand, preaching care for the poor, and yet shutting its doors to those in need.

 

Conspicuously absent from these stories were the underlying legal implications of the issues such as the lease and the local zoning. What was often absent from the reporting is that Trinity Church has opened its doors and daytime facilities to the Occupy movement. The movement has had use of Trinity’s conference rooms during the day; they use Trinity’s bathroom facilities and Trinity’s community center called Charlotte’s Place. There was sporadic mention of these facts and little reprieve for Trinity in the reporting process.

 

Trinity Church has been supporting social and economic justice for over 300 years. Just last year the theme of the Trinity Institute symposium was titled Building an Ethical Economy, Theology and the Workplace. This symposium featured the Archbishop of Canterbury, and renowned scholars to discuss the theology and fairness of the global economy. This was a year before the Occupy movement ever started. There was little reporting of that.

 

But the biggest story for the media seemed to be the way in which the Duarte Square controversy pitted Episcopal clergy against brother and sister Episcopal clergy. It seemed that whenever Trinity’s position was stated in the press, the press was able to quote a contrary opinion from another Episcopal clergy person.

 

Push literally came to shove last month on December 17, the three-month anniversary of the movement. The Occupy movement threated that it would try to break through the fences securing Trinity’s property near Duarte Square. Such an act is against the law. Such an act is a criminal trespass. The Bishop of New York and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States each issued a statement urging people to respect private property rights and not to break the law.

 

But our Bishop’s statements went unheeded. A retired Bishop of our church, other clergy and numerous protestors climbed over the fences and in some instances broke through the fences to occupy the space. It was a frightening scene. I am grateful no one was seriously hurt in this process. I am deeply grateful no one died.

 

The media feasted on the controversy. There are photographs all over the internet featuring a man in a purple cassock being the first one to break the law, contrary to the urging of the sitting jurisdictional Bishops. The headline of the Daily Mail in England read: “Easy Father.”

 

Soon thereafter I received an envelope in the mail at my home. The envelope contained three photographs of a man in a purple cassock and in handcuffs with quotes from the Bible and the prayer book, reminding me of my ordination vows. The envelope was both creepy and cowardly. There was no return address and there was no mail meter marking on it so it could not be traced. No one was identified with whom I could respond. Because my middle names were all spelled out, I inferred that someone with access to the diocesan clergy directory, perhaps a member of the Episcopal clergy, was responsible for this mailing.

 

As Anglicans, we are proud of our Trinitarian theology of three manifestations of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and we continue to broaden our theology with gender neutral terms such as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

 

As Anglicans, we are proud of the trinity of what we call our three-legged stool that defines our theology. We are grounded in scripture, tradition and reason.

 

But there is another trinity that requires faith and understanding. This trinity is the trinity of relationship among the individual, the church and the world at large. That is, the relationship between the individual and the church and the relationship between the church and the world.

 

There has always been a tension between the individual and the institution, and the Episcopal Church, as an institution, has never been immune to this tension. The Church has struggled to be pastoral in ministering to the needs and beliefs of the individual, while adhering to principals of the theological orthodoxy of the institution. Sadly, we have lost many from all sides in this process.

 

According to statistics of the National Council of Churches for 2011, our national membership is only 2 million members, down 2.5 % from the previous year. The Roman Church claims 68 million members and is up .5 %. The Mormon Church, considered by some to be a sect, is comprised of 6 million members, or three times the size of the Episcopal Church, and is growing at the rate of 1.4 %.

 

The Episcopal Church will find it difficult to grow until we fully embrace the role of authority within the church.

 

Today’s Gospel is about authority. In today’s Gospel, we hear Mark’s story of Jesus teaching in the synagogues and exorcising an unclean spirit. During ancient times, many taught in the synagogues and many exorcised unclean spirits. But Jesus teaches and exorcises with authority. There is a story titled the Testament of Solomon, written about 300 CE, which tells a tale of King Solomon exorcising demons while building the first temple. According to this mythology, Solomon was aided by the power of a ring given to him by Michael the Archangel.

 

What differentiates Jesus from Solomon and all the rest is his divinity, his authority. The Church is heir to this authority. And the Episcopal Church will never be a beacon to the world at large, until it becomes fully one unto itself. And the only way this will happen is by recognition of authority within the church.

 

We are a hierarchal church. We have rules. The individual cannot do what he or she wants. A clergy member cannot do what he or she wants. Even Bishops are bound by doctrine.

The term Episcopal, means Bishop, or literally translated, “overseer.” The Episcopal Church is a church ruled by Bishops. But our theology is from the down up, not top down, as is our Roman cousins’. We have process for our theology. We have a Constitution and Canons for the National Church. We have a Constitution and Canons for our Diocese. We have governance in the form of conventions. Above all we have a prayer book, a tie that truly binds us all together as one church in God.

 

From all of this structure come rules. One rector of one parish cannot tell another rector what to do with his or her parish or property. One Bishop cannot tell another Bishop what to do with his or her diocese. There is no authority behind that. There is no respect in that. This lack of respect, this lack of authority does nothing but pit one against the other.

 

No one is in agreement with everything that happens within the Church. But we have to be faithful in the governance within, and in the Church’s authority that we all must respect as the body of Christ.

 

I was with our Bishop Coadjutor Elect last week. He said in our discussion: I love the Episcopal Church. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t want to become an Episcopalian. I feel the same way.

 

But collectively we have to decide whether we want to get along. And this choice is becoming more and more important as time goes on. Either we get along, or we perish.

 

To disagree is healthy. But we have to learn how to kiss and make-up. It is only in love and respect for one another that we can survive. It is only in perseverance that we will succeed. And it is only in unity that we will fulfill our destiny as a great light to the greater world.

 

If there is one thought I want to leave you with, it is get along and listen to the authority of the Church. You may not always like what the Church has to say, but have faith that God ultimately is in control. This is God’s church. And with God, and with God’s authority, and if we are faithful to God’s authority, we can never, ever fail.

 

Let us pray,

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, “Peace I give

to you; my own peace I leave with you:” Regard not our sins,

but the faith of your Church, and give to us the peace and

unity of that heavenly City, where with the Father and the

Holy Spirit you live and reign, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

 


One Response to “A Trinity Sunday”

  1. charles lucas says:

    great great sermon
    so informative

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