Just days after former Penn State football coach Gerrald Arthur "Jerry" Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period, his pastor and friend the Rev. Edwin Zeiders responded to the case, the verdict and its implications in a Sunday sermon titled "Peace! Be Still!"
Zeiders, the Senior Pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church where Jerry and Dottie Sandusky worship, sought to define the purpose of the church and the calling of Christians in light of the sexual abuse case affecting the State College community. Zeiders, speaking on Sunday, June 24, suggested in the sermon that the congregation was among "the most scrutinized parish in the United States" because of the case. He described the attention given the community a "divine opportunity" for believers to show the world their moral strength and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here is a full transcript of Pastor Zeider's sermon:
"I want to introduce these remarks today and then preach. You will know the difference because there is a prayer in the middle."
"I want to express my gratitude to all of you who have been gracious to sustain one another and especially the pastoral staff during these last three years. That is the length of time that I have been conscious of the circumstances that have impacted our community."
"Over the course of many years, now beginning my 46th in the ministry, I've been asked by a number of people and even recently, 'How do you do this?' I think that Pastor Karen and Pastor Eric and all of my predecessor pastors in this place have all been asked the same question and for a variety of reasons."
"Today we are living with the implications of something quite important in our life together. And I want to respond to the implications of this with this homily. Copies of this homily will be available through the week if any of you are interested in actually reading it, to pursue its content in a fuller way and to talk with me about the implications of this self-disclosure."
"One of the important things about being in ministry is the degree to which the pastoral leader leads, and also the degree to which the pastoral leader is transparent. This is a risky time in the life of the church, and I'm going to explore that deeply as we move through this homily."
"Essentially, I want to share with you an operating assumption that has guided my life. And it may have been obvious to you that this operating assumption was operating or not, visible or not. I make the distinction spiritually and theologically and personally between the words 'acceptance and agreement.' They are not the same thing."
"Acceptance is a way of understanding a set of circumstances and working within those set of circumstances. Agreement, you know, is a very different matter of yeses and nos, or I agree and disagree, or I have a different perspective. Over the course of these years of my journey if I have been congruent about anything, it's about this distinction between the meaning of acceptance and agreement. That operating principle in my life lays behind this text and everything I want to tell you today about my journey."
"Let us pray. Holy and benevolent God we stand in a most peculiar place at this time in the world, as your people, specifically in this congregation. We and others have faced such adversity and have been challenged by the opportunities that are before us. Thank you for my colleagues, pastors and staff and congregation. And for the wonderful ways in which we have shared together. Pour Your spirit upon us now for the preaching of the hearing of the Gospel. Let these words be Yours and these ideas Yours. And help us to focus our attention together for these moments, that Your word might live in our heart and energize the way in which we live together. Amen."
"If you would ask me, 'Pastor Ed who are we?' I would respond quickly as I am about to do, thus the note paper on the cover of your bulletin. Although those note spaces are available for lots of things, perhaps today as I reveal the fundamentals of my own journey in light of the consequences that we face together in our region and our world, it may help you to write things down."
"If you ask me, 'Pastor Ed, who are we?' I would respond like this: one, we are God's people, the consequence of God's calling us into the Gospel of our Lord; two, we are the recipients of God's amazing love in Jesus Christ. God acted on our behalf – for God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life."
"First, we are God's people, the result of God's interventions; second, we are the recipients of God's amazing love in Jesus Christ; third, and of great importance for this homily, is that we are gathered together, the consequence of the work of the Holy Spirit. Congregations are expressions of God's work, the forming of them is God's work, your participation in them is God's work. Don't ever believe for a moment, don't ever believer for a moment, that St. Paul's exists because you've chosen to be here. You have been chosen to be here."
"Next, we nurture one another toward Christian maturity, that's who we are – we are responsible in the vows of baptism and the covenant of membership to take care of each other. That is to nurture each other in the faith, not aloof from one another's journeys at all. But deeply committed to each other in the way in which me mature in the Gospel."
"We are called next to stand by one another as we promise in our vows: 'I will uphold you. I will uphold the church with my prayers, my presence, my participation in one another's life, in my gifts, cash and otherwise, and my Christian service in the world.' To take those vows is to be spiritually entangled with one another and there is nothing we can do about that. That is definitive of who we are. And finally, we are sent into the world as disciples of Jesus for the world's transformation. And that implies a lot about my transparency today."
"If you would ask me a second question – 'Pastor Ed, in light of who we are,' the assertions I just made, 'what are we to do?' The to do question is a very complex one because 'doing' is linked to the nature of the experience of others around us. Those of us who serve in very public ministries here, and actually there are hundreds of you and I congratulate you for that – literally hundreds of St. Paul's people are at work in these communities around us and in many other ways across the world. The 'do' question is particularly singular and collaborative. What are we to do is a very different proposition than what the congregation tells the pastors and the staff what they ought to do. Here, we are dealing with the unfolding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is meant to be transformational for all of us personally and together.
"Think about the Jesus story with the sinking of the boat and the angst of the sailors. 'Jesus,' my paraphrase, 'we are swamped with the water and frightened of the storm around us. Wake up, Jesus! Do something, and do it quickly!' I should publish that,what do you think? Now is the moment, now is the moment for the divine intervention in the storms that are raging around us. In my notes and in my heart I want to say something to you right now. Now is the turning point for St. Paul's United Methodist Church, and we dare not miss this divine opportunity. We must seize the holy moment, when the world we know is terribly torn, at war and upside down. Don't miss the moment. Don't do anything to add to the confusion, lest all of us perish.
"For many years, the most glorious affirmation of the church has been the resurrection of our lord Jesus Christ. And the evidence of the resurrection is in the existence of the church itself. This has been the most profound argument for the resurrection. Not just that the church exists, but that the church is empowered by the Holy Spirit for the work and the life of the ministries with Jesus at the center. And for two millennia those who have been a part of the body of Christ have given witness to this affirmation: that Jesus Christ is alive, that Jesus Christ is the redeemer, that Jesus Christ is transforming our lives.
"The most profound witness to the efficaciousness, the effectiveness, the reality of the Gospel is your life. The way in which you assert on the one hand that Christ is your savior and lord and on the other hand, make that visible on the Earth real time, in real human relationships. The historic Christian story only matters in every generation if the people who claim it actually incarnate in their behavior those truths that we assert together.
"Now I want to talk to you about the way in which I get by and the implications for this would be evident to some of you more than others. But I want to begin now to link the affirmation of our faith to the questions of our morality. This is often uncomfortable to assert, but I'm going to do it anyway, because I think it's high time. Given the circumstances in our community and the life of one of our families in particular, you can begin to understand how the fabric can be soiled, how hearts can be broken and how lives individually and together can be turned upside down. Today is that day.
"I want to put forward, based upon the introduction in my opening remarks, the first assertion. To be in Christ, calling upon the words of St. Paul, my ordination text, is to be a new creature. And that newness has vast implications spiritually, relationally, certainly ethically and morally. The newness that is in the Gospel of our lord Jesus Christ has a built-in contract between the proclamation of the Gospel and the evidence of the ways in which the transforming power of God changes our lives, literally changes our behavior.
"This operating assumption is not new. If you remember the story of St. Paul – 'wretched man that I am, who can deliver me?' – who remembers that great soliloquy of the apostle? 'Wretched man that I am' – here is the greatest of the emerging leaders of the Hebrew movement acknowledging his wretchedness. That is, his obedience to the law that became for him a form not just of righteousness, but his disobedience emerged as he confessed how he had transgressed the very thing that he loved the most.
"St. Paul's soliloquy about ethics and morality are an important part of my own spiritual journey. It has been my inner tension all of these years. Tempted like everybody else, but finding in the power of the Gospel, the capacity to withstand those temptations, by and large, over many years. Over the course of my five years with you, I've given evidence of this tension as Joan has had to hold me accountable for the way in which we love one another and have cared for each another over 50 years.
"Neither one of us transgressed our vows – that's good news. Neither one of us have been caught up in any schemes that abused or victimized children – that should make you happy too. But the question of temptation doesn't go away. Let me ask you in all sincerity – in all sincerity – have you been tempted to cross over a boundary from righteousness to unrighteousness? Have you ever? All the time, you see!
"The ethical implications of our faith are so real and so profound and so much of a challenge to leadership and the life of the church, that every pastor who is ordained, every lay person who is consecrated to leadership in the church or in the world, comes face to face with the implications of what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus. Not in the rhetoric, not that alone. But in the way in which we choose to behave. What our community is facing and what our congregation is facing, different than – listen to this – different than any other congregation in the United States right now. This is the single most scrutinized parish in the United States.
"Millions of people have had their eyes on Bellefonte, on one single family and the ways in which one congregation lives out its life in faith. Millions of people know your name. And among those millions of people, many are still watching as was evident in my emails since Friday and the conversations I've had and those I've avoided with the media. What is it like to be at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, the nation, literally, the nation has asked. All eyes are on you. And on me. And it's true.
"The question of faith in the assertion that there is faith and an ethical implication of that faith is not a new enterprise. But it must be addressed if we are to give witness, especially public witness, to what it means to be in the Gospel. My own personal working out of my salvation comes with a price. It comes with the price of angst of over 'Is my next move going to be disruptive?' It comes with the angst of whether or not I should hold to the high propositions of leadership in the United Methodist Church. It comes with the angst about the way in which we live together as the Christian community, because it's so easy to get caught up in stuff that comprises the way in which we live and move and have our being. We are meant by the power of God in this assertion to lead lives that reflect the Gospel, lead a life worthy of the Gospel by giving evidence not just with your lip but with the way in which we live together, what it means to be truly priestly and pastoral and prophetic in the world.
"These three roles are often contradictory. Sometimes the clash of values is so severe sometimes it's hard to make a decision. Sometimes the value proposition of the church, the Body of Christ, must take precedent over anyone's self-interest or behavior. We are ordained, I am ordained, to lead the church in its life in such a way that I am believable to you. But the rest of the contract is what? You know what it is: you must be believable to me.
"Over the course of 45 years, I've made every effort to wrestle with the implications of what it means to love God, to love my family and to love the people entrusted to my care. I never realized that millions of people would be watching. It was always a thought that the contract was limited, I think, to the implications of my most intimate relationships, my colleagues, my friends, my sojourners. That day, for St. Paul's, in light of the circumstances around us and in light of our life together, that day is over. A new day has come.
"This is a turning-point time in our own community, when the evidence is everywhere about how leaders in our own communities have forfeited the high and holy principles of the things and the ways in which they lead. The university is in trouble. It's in trouble for the same question: what is the nature of our rhetoric and what is the practice of our life and our institutions?
"I love the way in which my loyalties to Penn State and to each of our families, to you, to the victims and the victimizers is playing itself out. I will not, I cannot, I never will be able to lay down this first assertion -- to be in Christ is to engage in a quest led by the Holy Spirit for that which is sacred, and when I am able to stand up and say I am doing my best and yet you see me flawed, please forgive me. When you are at your best and I can celebrate that, please rejoice in it. I am not the morality police. But we are to be moral people together, in the way in which we live and lead and love.
"My first assertion is the operating assumption is that if we are in Christ, our ethical foundations change. The basis for our decision-making changes. And our morality reflects that new creation, which is in Jesus Christ alone.
"This is my second assertion that reveals, I hope my way of life and the peace of Christ – I assert, and I affirm and I celebrate that Jesus Christ is both my savior and my lord. How about you? My savior – yes? And, my lord! There is a great distinction between celebrating the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and what it means for Jesus to be lord of our lives. This question gets more complicated in the ways in which people place the emphasis on the syllables.
"When I was a youngster in the EUB Church and questing for ministry, I was given an evangelical task that I've announced once before. I was asked to go to the small city of Effort of Pennsylvania and go door to door in that city. I was young, I had some credentials, I was so frightened. I knocked on door after door. People would come to the door and I would ask – after I said 'Hello, I'm Ed Zeiders – are you saved?' Now you can imagine the looks on the eyes of those people."
"Is it a wrong question to ask, 'Brother, sister are you saved?' Over the course of the years since the merger between the United Methodist Church and EUB Church, that question for 30 years was dismissed as frivolous. The social gospel was to replace the evangelical inquiry. Sadly, it is only recently, within the last five years or so, that we added the word 'witness' back into our membership vows. That all of us to are uphold the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. To recover that which is the fundamental mandate of the church, to give witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Which I think means these four things. You may write them down on your new notepad if you'd like, if not, see them as an indention to this second assertion.
"By saving, this is what I think about my own life. To be saved is to be in Christ, to receive the gift of God's grace, which is always and always will be a healing, forgiving and reconciling act on God's part appropriated by faith. I can say I am a new creature and you can say you are a new creature because God's forgiving, healing and reconciling love has been at work in your life. Yes or no? Yes or no? You're going to have to say it – I'm not going to play with you here – but you're going to have to say that real loud in a culture and a community that is confused about its future. There is no driving moral principle in the village of State College. There is nothing around which we coalesce. There is no standard operating procedure. There is nothing that guides our community forward, except an occasional law passed by the borough council or the county government or the commonwealth.
"But our law, our life is determined by our relationship with Jesus Christ. And we must live as Jesus told his disciples – 'What's on your money? Give to Caesar what is Caesar's.' Behave as a good citizen, by all means, but you are citizens first of the kingdom of God by your own and my own confession of faith. Second indentation, I believe saving means that we are welcomed again into the heart of God who first gave us life and breath. And that happens, too, as we welcome Christ into our hearts and into our lives, that our saving is not just for eternity, but for the kingdom of God already loose on the earth.
"Next, we confess our sinfulness both private and public, personal and corporate, acknowledging that we like lost lambs wander away into forms of religion of our own design, wanting to have, as I have described often, one foot in the profane, one foot in the righteousness of God and believe that that's an acceptable behavior.
"Here's a part of my assertion, here's a part of my risk, here is a part of my life. You may or may not agree, it's okay, but I have to say it anyway. We must dispel the myth that faith and morality are private matters. That is not true. And now you see in our own region the implications of what that means. Faith and morality in the Gospel of Jesus are never private matters. If the first assertion of faith in Jesus Christ as savior and lord along with a moral implication is true, then this assertion goes deeper to say, in the common life of St. Paul's, in the common life of every congregation on the face of the planet, these compromises of private faith and private morality are the very thing that thwart our capacity to welcome new people into our life. That would be true for me, that would be true for you.
"The assertion that in the West faith and morality are our personal business is a head-on collision with the Gospel of the kingdom of God, where we are formed into the Body of Christ, where our corporate morality defines our personal behavior. That's a hard saying. It makes itself manifest first in the lives of children who grow up to be adolescents. Any of you raising adolescents? This is no easy assignment, but they are testing the theory. Relationally, personally, psychologically, spiritually – they are testing the theory, whether or not they are entitled to a private faith and morality and whether or not you and I are going to stand tall for that which is the commonly held ethic in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You and I are being tested everyday by the normal developmental matters that affect the life of young people. They know it, and we know it.
"When one of those we love and move and with whom we have our being with for many years finds him or herself in a complicated situation, we recognize that the nature of the corporate now is more profound than the nature of the personal.
"My third assertion grows out of the same theses. My way of life, my confession of faith in Jesus Christ as savior on the one hand and lord of the other, means that Jesus is the master of my destiny. That's a hard place to get to. I believe in Mr. Wesley's parlance that would be the quest for sanctification. The holiness of life that grows out of these first two assertions – Jesus, faith in him has a moral implication. To be saved is to be saved on the ground, not just for eternity which is a glorious celebration, but for the way in which the people are formed and live together as a light to the communities around.
"But for me to surrender my life to God as lord was an exceedingly hard assignment. This third assertion that Jesus is the master of our destinies is given great, great depth in the text we read as the Gospel lesson and the Corinthians passage in chapter six. Jesus, without you, we are perishing. Jesus, without you, we are not able to sail in the midst of the storm."
"Over these many years and these five, now starting six, with you, a number of you have taken the opportunity to call on us to share your stories. And we cherish those private and pivotal moments when in confidentiality you reveal your life to us. That's what it means to engage in lordship – when the faithful of God do not pretend that they are perfect; when the faithful of God find confidence in one another and yield to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our lives.
"I could tell story after story about parishioners. One of those is Francis Boyer in Arlington church – I told you this several years ago but it seems germane. After one Sunday preaching, Francis waited for me in the back of the sanctuary, and these were her words very quickly stated: 'Ed, all of us know that you want us to do something, but none of us can figure it out.' That was a great gift, because you see I was operating out of my own intellect apart from the lordship of Jesus. I had failed to pray that the Holy Spirit in God's presence in my life to find out what lordship means.
"The answer to the perplexing questions – believe it or not – the answer to the perplexing questions of storms around us and within us is to yield again to the sovereignty of God, so that you are not working in your own strength when the storms and the rampage comes.
"When we pray, we pray like this: 'Our Father who art in heaving, holy is Your name. Your' – what? – 'Your kingdom come' – where? – 'on Earth.' That is an ethical prayer of the deepest proportions, spiritual profoundly so. Politically, yes, as we understand the root meaning of the word 'politics,' the way in which we live together in culture. Profoundly, a prayer for responsibility -- for the church to live in the mandates and the mission of our lord Jesus, but to do it in such a way that we don't compromise our rhetoric. To say yes to Jesus is to say yes to what Jesus commands.
"My pastoral functions with Jerry and others are linked to that priestly mandate – to heal, to forgive, to restore. Our work here with those who have been victimized by lots of things in their journeys – our work here, the pastoral work, administratively and otherwise is to heal, to reconcile, to make new. But to do it in the consciousness that our immorality, our righteousness or our unrighteousness, may have beneficial or devastating effects on the way in which we live together as the Body in Christ.
"We will have to face it. This is a turning-point moment. This is a time for new beginnings, of bold and creative steps forward. If the world has chosen for a little slice of time to watch us, it is our mandate to give back our utmost for God's highest glory. There is no other option. Ponder these things as we come to the end.
"In the midst of our personal lives, our family life, our community life and our life in the world which would include all of our relationships. In every social setting, in our vocations, in our worship and practice life, the discipleship that's given to us, we are called, gathered and empowered by the love of God. There is no other answer. That is our mandate. That is the way I must live. And that is the way you must live, too, personally and together, that Christ might be glorified and some saved.
"This is my response to the trial and my response to the verdict on Friday. May we pray for all of those who are victims and all of those who are predators. Mine is to accept, not necessarily to agree, and to live out of my baptism and you out of yours, so that the world might see us and that will make all the difference, by the power and the spirit of God. Amen."
Pastor Zeiders, asked July 3 by The Christian Post if he would like to add a post-script to the transcript of his sermon, declined, saying, "I have nothing to add to the transcription. I think it speaks for itself and prayerfully reveals the love of God for these white-water times and mysteries."
The full audio of "Peace! Be Still!" is available on St. Paul's United Methodist Church's website.