A sermon preached by Canon Anne E. Kitch at Diocesan House
June 28, 2012
Last night our Diocesan deputies to General Convention enjoyed a wonderful dinner hosted by our Bishop. The evening was part of our preparation for General Convention, which begins in a few days. It was a delightful gathering. And while we did discuss issues and schedules and the place of our diocese in the larger Episcopal Church, perhaps the most important part of our preparation was the fellowship, laughter and camaraderie we shared. I can truly say I am grateful for my companions as we travel to Indianapolis next week to take our part in the counsels of the Church.
Given that I have been somewhat distracted by my preparations for the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I could not help but admire the serendipitous appearance of this passage from Second Timothy designated for the commemoration of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies.” (2 Timothy 2:23)
I will confess to having contemplated the upcoming General Convention with a certain sense of dread; I know I have complained, to anyone who would listen, about the budget, the issues, and the process. The problem with complaining is the more you do it, the better you get at it. It not only becomes a habit, but it actually reinforces certain neural pathways changing your brain so that you are even more prone to complaint and negativity. More recently I have tried to exercise a discipline of being positive, of reminding myself of the gifts I bring and the grace that must be present in doing this work.
Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies. Which begs the question, how do we discern the wise and sensible controversies?
I believe Jesus gives some hint when he tell us, “If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light.” (Luke 11:34) In pondering how we might keep our eyes healthy, a line from a familiar psalm came to mind, “Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless.” (Psalm 119:37) Keeping our eyes healthy and our bodies full of light is a matter of where we place out attention.
In this context, Irenaeus presents a wonderful example for us. Living in the second century, Irenaeus was a third generation Christian. He was brought to the love of Christ by Polycarp who himself learned of the redeeming love of our Savior from John the Evangelist. Irenaeus paid attention to God. He faithfully proclaimed the Gospel and is best known for writing, Against Heresies, in which he clearly discerned what were the wise and sensible controversies of his day. He set out to refute the extreme Gnostic position that emphasized the spiritual to such an extent as to deem the body and the physical world as corrupt and even evil. Irenaeus asserted that God created the world and all that is in it, humankind included, and that what God created is good.
Irenaeus paid attention. He set his eyes on worthy sights. He observed where the attention of many followers had strayed, he called attention the problems of these heresies, and he placed his attention on loving Christ and telling of that love.
Following the example of Irenaeus, we need to pay attention to our own sight and be willing to examine what we call light in ourselves and observe if we have been mislead. We need to seek out wise teachers who can call our attention to the one true light.
If we want to discern the wise and sensible controversies, if we want our eyes to be healthy and our bodies full of light, we need to set our eyes, our attention, on what is holy. We need to look for and see and pay attention to God’s grace, ever abundant and present.