Today we are welcoming Reed C_____ F_____ into the Household of God through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. We are also commemorating Dame Julian of Norwich, one of the medieval saints of English Christianity. Twenty-eight years ago I was ordained a deacon on Julian’s feast day which is actually on Tuesday, May 8. So the lessons we heard this morning, and the second of the two collect I offered after the Gloria in Excelsis, were from the propers for Dame Julian’s celebration. But I would like to read you also the brief Gospel lesson appointed for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, which is also from John’s Gospel

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”[1]

In this sermon, I hope to address the nature of the ministry to which all Christians are called and commissioned through the sacrament of baptism, for a small part of which some of us are set apart through ordination to the sacred diaconate or the holy priesthood. A few verses in particular are of interest: one from the gospel for Julian’s celebration: “The Father seeks such as these to worship him”[2], and two from the gospel lesson I just read: “You did not choose me but I chose you”[3] and “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”[4]

The Father seeks us; Jesus chooses us. God calls us to our shared baptismal ministry to love one another, which means not just other members of our families, not just our friends, not just fellow church members, but everyone around us for recall that the second great commandment is to love our neighbors, near and far, as ourselves.[5]

I want to start, though, with a little legal philosophy. About a century ago, a British jurist, John Fletcher, Lord Moulton, made an impromptu speech at the Author’s Club in London which was taken down by a reporter and later printed in The Atlantic Monthly:

The real greatness of a nation, its true civilization, is measured by the extent of [the] land of Obedience to the Unenforceable [the domain of Manners between the region of Absolute Choice and the region of Positive Law]. It measures the extent to which the nation trusts its citizens, and its existence and area testify to the way they behave in response to that trust. Mere obedience to Law does not measure the greatness of a Nation. It can easily be obtained by a strong executive, and most easily of all from a timorous people. Nor is the licence of behavior which so often accompanies the absence of Law, and which is miscalled Liberty, a proof of greatness. The true test is the extent to which the individuals composing the nation can be trusted to obey self-imposed law.[6]

Let me demonstrate what I understand Lord Moulton to be saying.

Over here, in front of the organ pipes, let’s call this Moulton’s “region of Positive Law.” It represents those things required or proscribed by laws enacted by state and federal legislatures, imposed by regulatory agencies, or handed down in court decisions, such things as traffic laws, the prohibition of murder, the regulations of the EPA, the common law definition of burglary, and other such things. Across the nave, at the door to our parish hall, let this be Moulton’s “region of Absolute Choice.” This is where we find entirely personal and inviolable rights from the simplest, such as how one will style one’s hair or what one will eat for breakfast, to the most momentous, such as one’s choice of religion or our freedom of self expression. In between these two extremes is Lord Moulton’s “domain of Manners,” or what he also called “the land of Obedience to the Unenforceable,” where we choose to police our own behavior not circumscribed by the dictates of the government’s laws nor entirely free to “go our own way,” but rather, to a greater or lesser extent, according to the norms of the society in which we live. That society’s greatness, as Moulton said, measured by the degree to which it can trust us to do so.

Today, we have placed our baptismal font squarely in the middle of this physical analogy of Lord Moulton’s “domain of Manners” for reasons I will address in a moment.

More than twenty years ago, an American philosopher, John Silber, in a graduation address at Boston University where he was retiring as president, relied on Lord Moulton’s observation saying:

In America today the domains of choice and law have eroded the domain of manners. As the realm of manners and morals has been diminished by those who claim that whatever they do is right if it feels good to them, the central domain loses its force. And despite the expansion of the domain of law, the consequent weakening of the central domain has resulted in a diminution of the authority and effectiveness of the law.

We live in a deeply flawed society and are moving rapidly toward that state of nature which Thomas Hobbes chillingly described: “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” We cannot end this state of violence and restore the authority of law simply by getting tough on crime, by relying on the police power of the state, or by calling for capital punishment.[7]

In America today, in May of 2018, things are not much different than they were in May of 1995 when Dr. Silber gave that graduation address, and perhaps a good deal worse. There are many who seek to enlarge the region of Positive Law; it threatens to become a region of tyranny. Others seem to be striving to expand the region of Absolute Choice, making it a region of chaos and anarchy. The growth of each is encroaching upon and shrinking the “realm of manners and morals.” Which brings me to the baptismal font here in the center of the “domain of Manners,” here in the middle of the “land of Obedience to the Unenforceable.”

In a few minutes, Reed C____ F____’s parents and Godparents will make some commitments on her behalf. Speaking for her, they will enter into what we call “the Baptismal covenant.” We will all reaffirm our own entry in to that covenant reciting its articles and promises along with them. They and we will first all acknowledge our belief in God the Father, our belief in Jesus Christ the Son of God, our belief in the Holy Spirit, and our belief in the Church. In so doing, they and we are not asserting that we assent to intellectual propositions about the existence of these things. Instead, they and we are making statements of love. As it is used in the Christian Creeds the word “believe” harkens back to its Germanic origins, to words meaning to care, to desire, to love. The God in whom one believes, the God who seeks worshipers such as us, is our beloved; the Church in which one believes is our beloved community. The statements of belief in the Creed are statements of love. They are our promise of “Obedience to the Unenforceable,” to the two great commandments:

The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.[8]

As I said earlier, we are not only welcoming Reed into her new life in Christ, into her ministry of “Obedience to the Unenforceable,” we are commemorating Dame Julian Norwich. We don’t really know much about her, not even her actual name; we know that her name was not Julian, but we give her that name because she was an anchoress living in a cell attached to the Church of St. Julian the Hospitaler in the city of Norwich in England. There she wrote the first book ever written in the English language by a woman entitled Revelations of Divine Love. It detailed visions of our Lord she had while ill in which she conversed with Jesus, whom she calls “our courteous Lord.” In these conversations she learned that

. . . before God made us, he loved us, which love was never slaked nor ever shall be. And in this love he has done all his work, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us. And in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had a beginning. But the love wherein he made us was in him with no beginning. And all this shall be seen in God without end . . . . [9]

Again, we see this recurring theme of love. “I am giving you these commands,” said Jesus, “so that you may love one another.”[10] “I appointed you,” he said, “to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” The Baptismal covenant does not end with simple declarations of love and devotion to God and to the Church. Once we have recited those creedal statements, we make promises to behave throughout life in certain ways which embody that love. We commit to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers” . . . To “persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever [we] fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord” . . . To “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” . . . And here is where we really enter the “domain of Manners,” we undertake to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbors as [ourselves],” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, . . . respect[ing] the dignity of every human being.”[11]

We find these baptismal promises repeated in the catechism of the Episcopal Church, which you will find in The Book of Common Prayer beginning at page 845 (and which I recommend you take some time to read prayerfully at some point). The catechism describes the mission and ministry of the Church in these baptismal terms:

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

The church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.[12]

The Catechism then asks, “Who are the ministers of the Church?” to which the answer is, “The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” The ministry of the laity, which is to say the ministry of all baptized persons, is described this way:

The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.[13]

It is this baptismal ministry to which Reed C____ F____ is commissioned today, this ministry shared by all of us, this ministry not limited to the ordained, this ministry of “Christ’s work of reconciliation,” this ministry of defending and strengthening the “domain of Manners,” this ministry of entering into and preserving the “land of Obedience to the Unenforceable.” Reed has not chosen this ministry; she has been brought here quite without her cooperation. Her parents and Godparents have brought her but, though they will take the vows and make the promises on her behalf, they also have not made this choice. Nor have we. “You did not choose me,” said Jesus, “but I chose you.”[14] “The Father seeks such as these,” such as Reed and her family, such as you, such as me, “to worship him.”[15] “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”[16]

Together with Reed we have been sought, chosen, and called to preserve, strengthen, and enlarge the “realm of manners and morals” through our baptismal ministry. When we do so, in the words of Dame Julian, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”[17]



This homily was offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 6, 2018, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons used for the service are those for the commemoration of Dame Julian of Norwich: Isaiah 46:3-5; Psalm 27:5-11; Hebrews 10:19-24; and St. John 4:23-26. These lessons can be found at The Lectionary.)


The illustration is a contemporary icon of Julian of Norwich with her cat.



[1] John 15:9-17 (Return to text)

[2] John 4:23c (Return to text)

[3] John 15:16a (Return to text)

[4] John 15:17 (Return to text)

[5] Mark 12:31 (Return to text)

[6] John Fletcher, Lord Moulton, Law and Manners in The Atlantic Monthly (July 1924), accessed in reprint online. (Return to text)

[7] John Silber, Obedience to the Unenforcable in The New Criterion, Vol. 13 No. 10 , p. 88, (June 1995), available online. Quoting from Thomas Hobbes, Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan, Chapter XIII, Para. 9, The Harvard Classics, 1909–14, accessed online. (Return to text)

[8] Mark 12:29-31 (Return to text)

[9] James Kiefer, Dame Julian of Norwich, Contemplative, at the Society of Archbishop Justus, accessed online (Return to text)

[10] John 15:17 (Return to text)

[11] The Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 304-05 (Return to text)

[12] Ibid., page 855. (Return to text)

[13] Ibid. (Return to text)

[14] John 15:16a (Return to text)

[15] John 4:23c (Return to text)

[16] Psalm 118:23 (Return to text)

[16] Kiefer, op. cit. (Return to text)