Archive for November, 2007

Faith and Works

November 28, 2007

 

Our Lessons today are perfect for the commemoration of the great 19th century monarchs  of Hawaii, King Kamehameha and Queen Emma. The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (17:22-31) shows us the gentle and sensitive evangelism preached by St. Paul to the Athenians where he builds on their primitive faith without undermining it. He acknowledges their altar to “an unknown god” and tells them that this is the God he has come to proclaim!

A similarly gracious approach must have been taken by the English missionaries (unlike some of the earlier ones in Hawaii!) who came at Kamehameha’s invitation and which led to the confirmation of both king and queen on this day in 1862.

They had already proven that they were people of good will and motivated by a Christ-like spirit by building Queen’s Hospital for their people in the wake of a devastating small pox epidemic. It only remained to introduce them to the Good News of the One who was the Source of such generosity!

And the great Gospel text from Matthew (25:31-40) reminds us that, while justification may indeed come by faith, Christ’s final Judgment will include seeing just how that faith has been lived out in our lives. “For I was hungry and you gave food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t read that list without thinking of another one to which The Episcopal Church has committed itself through General Convention action – The Millenium Development Goals – eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS and malaria and other diseases and all the rest.

 I know that we have come under some criticism by adopting such “secular” goals and giving them such a high priority rather than, say, The Great Commission to “go into all the world, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” For the life of me, I can’t separate those things! I don’t think Jesus does either! Our Presiding Bishop has described the MDG’s as images…icons…lenses for how we can help build the reign of God in our own day.

“Show me your faith apart from your works,” St. James writes in his Epistle (2:18b), “And I by my works will show you my faith.” Queen Emma of Hawaii did that in spades!

After she lost her son and her husband to death, she devoted the rest of her life to good works and built schools and churches and took many other initiatives on behalf of the poor and the sick.

When was it, Lord, that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or in prison…and came to your help?

 

When you did it to one of the least of these, dear child, you did to me.

The Food and Wine of the Empire

November 26, 2007

 

I started reading the Book of Daniel today and found that there’s actually a great Commentary on it in the New Interpreter’s Bible series by a Quaker named Daniel Smith-Christopher. He says that Daniel is one of the most unusual, and one of the most dangerous, books in the Hebrew Bible!

Unusual because part of it is written in Hebrew and part of it in Greek and because the first half is collection of court stories, con-text stories and con-flict stories while the second half comprises the most important example of apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament. But the book is dangerous because it can contribute to social unrest, and even perhaps to revolution!

The book begins with what Smith-Christopher calls “the cuisine of resistance” (what a great phrase!) as Daniel refuses to eat “the king’s food and wine” and instead chooses to remain faithful to the dietary laws of his people. It’s an example of the kind of non-violent resistance many oppressed people have chosen to keep their dignity even in the midst of their captivity.

But it’s also a reminder that our faith often calls us to active non-conformity with the world. And perhaps we all need to ask ourselves what aspects of “the king’s food and wine” we Christians ought to resist for the sake of the Gospel. For the writer of Daniel, food was just a symbol of the resistance he thought we were called to show toward total domination and assimilation by the culture of the day!

Are we not also called to a life of resistance to the enticements of financial power and control over the destiny of other people? Are we not called to question the control powerful nations like our own exert over the developing world? What is the food and wine that the modern-day Empire is offering us?

So much of the advertising and marketing we have been seeing over these last days of “black Friday’ and the beginning the Christmas shopping season is geared toward changing our habits and convincing us that luxuries are really necessities that “we can’t live without!” And the tragic thing is that, so many times, those luxuries are disguised as necessities – things we need, rather than just things we want!

I wonder if this season is not the appropriate time for North American Christians like us to begin asking serious questions about our habits of consumption. Not only whether what we are buying is too much, but also whether it’s consumption that supports a living wage or a consumption that fosters a safe environment for workers.

John Woolman, that great itinerant preacher of the 18th century, refused to wear clothing that was either dyed or made by means of the slave trade. Perhaps we 21st century Christians need to think about no longer defiling ourselves with “the king’s food and wine.” And instead, like Daniel, begin standing with those exiled people the Empire continues to control!  

   

  

   

Sanctifying Time

November 24, 2007

“Wake up, my spirit; awake, lute and harp; I myself will awaken the dawn.” (Psalm 108:2)

For all of the problems with our old apartment building in New York city, one of its blessings is that it we are up nineteen floors and overlook the East River and across Queens to the horizon. On days when I do not say my Morning Prayers with the staff at the church center where I work, I say them at sunrise looking out my living room windows at the dawn.

Indeed, I try to “awaken the dawn” by beginning as the first narrow strip of purple appears on the skyline and finishing in the full light of the morning sun. That is not always possible, of course, but when we can say our prayers somehow in harmony with the natural order, it is very powerful. Like when I when I can pray the “phos hilaron” just at sunset — “Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’

Monastics often refer to the “sanctification of time” and it is this phenomenon to which they refer. Praying at (relatively) set times each day — morning, noon, vespers, bedtime — helps us be aware of God’s presence throughout the day and night. It draws a thread of praise and thanksgiving through the sometimes-not-very noble activities of the day and, in fact, makes them holy. Jews, Muslims, and many other religious share this same insight and practice.

And so, in our prayers, we remember that it is God who has “brought us in safety to this new day”…that it is God whom we ask to “preserve us”…to help us “not… fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity” and to “in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling” of the Divine purpose..”

May it be so. Amen.

Thanks Giving

November 22, 2007

We thank you, Lord…

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea…For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ…For daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends…

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve…For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play…

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity…For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice…For the communion of saints, in all times and places.

We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord; to him be praise and glory…

We thank you, Lord.

(from a litany of thanksgiving,  page 837, The Book of Common Prayer)

Sheep In The Midst of Wolves

November 20, 2007

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves…” (Matthew 10:16a)

I spent last week at the General Seminary attending a Concordat Council meeting with representatives of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (the Philippine Independent Church) and our own Episcopal Church. We have had a full communion relationship – like we do with the Lutherans — with the IFI since 1961.

It’s a church of nearly 5 million people in the Philippines and it was borne out of a fierce independence movement which was tired of the Roman Catholic Church’s perceived complicity over the decades with every invading and occupying power from Spain to the United States. So, the Philippine Independent Church has steadfastly stood for civil rights for all, for worker justice, and for the dignity of every human being ever since its founding in 1903.

The last time I met with this group, we were in Manila and one of their council members was Bishop Alberto Ramento, a retired “presiding bishop” (or Obispo Maximo) of their church. I remember him as a tall, courtly gentleman who was nonetheless focused on the issues of human rights and who would not let us stray very far from those concerns in all our discussions.

His parishioners used to warn him about being so vocal and for speaking out in a country not known for its toleration of dissidents. He used to say, “They won’t shoot me in the public square…I’m too well known for that.” He also said, “I know they are coming for me next…but I will never desert my people.” On October 3, 2006, just over a year ago, Bishop Ramento was assassinated in his rectory, found by members of his own family with seven stab wounds in his frail body.

Part of our discussion last week centered around the possibility of having his name included in the calendar of saitns in our “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” (LFF) and those of other full communion partners. If that were to occur, he would join the man we remember today, Edmund of East Anglia.

In the year 870, Danish armies invaded England. When they reached the area of East Anglia, they offered King Edmund a deal. “They would share their treasure with him if he would acknowledge their supremacy, forbid all practice of the Christian faith, and become a figurehead ruler. Edmund’s bishops advised him to accept the terms, and avoid further bloodshed, but the king refused. He declared that he would not forsake Christ by surrendering to pagan rule, nor would he betray his people by consorting with the enemy.” (LFF, page 434)

He was captured by the Danes after a brief battle, torturned, beaten, shot through with arrows, and finally beheaded on this day, November 20, 870. The cult of his martyrdom grew rapidly and his remains were eventually enshrined in a Benedictine monastery — a place today known as Bury St. Edmund’s.

That’s how he became part of our church calendar. It’s too soon to know about Bishop Ramento. A 9th century Englishman…a 21st century Filipino…both “sheep sent into the midst of wolves.” I wonder if I would have the courage to follow where these men have led?

Globalization and Catholicity

November 17, 2007

My office is supporting a three-year project called “Globalization and Catholicity.” Participants include The Episcopal Church, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philipine Independent Church). We were joined this year by observers from the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden with whom we have a long relationship as well. The goal of the consultation is to explore together what it means to be (non-Roman) catholic churches, in full communion, spread across the globe in various places, but all in the context of an increasingly globalized world.

Defining “catholicity” has been less of a challenge than defining “globalization!” The three full communion partners (TEC, the Old Catholics, and the IFI) all trace our histories back to the undivided Church, consider the diocese (with its bishop as president of the eucharistic community) as the basic theological unity of the Church, and treasure our “communio” ecclesiologies. “Globalization” is another matter!

The Filipinos, coming from a troubled part of the 2/3 world, rife with extra-judicial killings, the threat of marshall law ever present, and suspicious of their President, Gloria Arroyo, and her cooperation with the United States’ “war on terror” complete with its violation of human rights at home and abroad can only (understandably) see the down side of globalization. The phenomenon is, for them, almost wholly negative.

For us, and to a somewhat less degree, for the Old Catholics of Europe, globalization has an upside as well as the obvious downside. We point to the relative ease of travel (allowing them even to be with us for this meeting…and for us to join them next year in Manila), to rapid communications like the internet, and even to a sense of being a “global village” impossible a century ago.

One paper made distinction between globalization as a “process” which has been going on at least since the 16th century and globalization as a “strategy” or tool of a neo-liberal economic policy which is often experienced as oppression and marginalization by peoples around the world. How can catholic churches, particularly catholic churches which have found their identity partly in opposition to the “imperium Romanum,” stand together to speak out against the negative affects of globalization while yet welcoming the positive results it can bring to the world?

This is the burden of our consultation. An “interim report” will soon be released, but the work will continue next year in the Philippines!

Times of Crisis…Times of Opportunity…

November 12, 2007

 

The themes of Advent seem to me to get sounded earlier and earlier each year! Which is OK with me since I love the season of Advent above all others, and four weeks is much too short a time to cover all the richness and variety of the season. Certainly in our Readings today we have “semi Advent” themes. In fact, this is kind of an interesting transitional Sunday between the All Saints’ observance and the approaching Advent season!

 

First of all, we had Job’s powerful affirmation of eternal life that even after his “skin has been thus destroyed (by death), then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:26-27). And then we move on to St. Paul’s words to those Thessalonian Christians “beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

 

And, finally, Jesus’ assurance in the Gospel that — even though the mystery of resurrection and the specifics of eternal life are far too complex for us to comprehend fully — we can rest assured that God “is not a God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him” (Luke 20:38).

 

I don’t know about you, but those are welcome words of good news for me in a time such as this. Good news for those of us living in apocalyptic times: with the continuing insecurities of domestic and foreign terrorism; of a seemingly never-ending war in Iraq; and worrying tensions about escalation in and toward Iran. We see the ravages of nature quite literally in earthquakes, fires and floods – and the crushing realities of poverty at home and abroad which makes some people so much more vulnerable to those natural disasters. Economic uncertainties of a fairly large magnitude.

 

On a less cataclysmic scale, but still important in my life – and those of us who care about ecumenism and church unity – we’re in somewhat of a crisis time in the ecumenical movement today. With our own difficulties in the Anglican Communion, our ecumenical partners are a bit suspicious. We have mixed signals at best coming out of the Vatican as all non-Roman Catholics are reminded by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that we are, at best, “ecclesial communities” rather than part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church we confess ourselves to be each Sunday in the Creeds. I wonder what your former Rector, William Reed Huntington — that great ecumenist — would have to say about that!

 

A bright spot in all this is Cardinal Walter Kasper who is the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome. He has admitted that we are in a time of transition in the ecumenical movement, perhaps even a time of “crisis.” But has pointed out  that the word “crisis” also means a time of opportunity. It’s like balancing on a knife edge, and we can go either way.

 

Kasper has suggested some attitudes Christians need to have during this crisis or transitional time. We must avoid stereotyping one another or trying to convert one another from one denomination to another. That’s not easy to do with “fellow Christians” like Pat Robertson threatening a Pennsylvania community with the wrath of God for throwing out their school board in a vote against the teaching of so-called “intelligent design,” or the Vatican seeking to purge Roman seminaries of gay students in a misdirected effort to deal with their problems of clergy sexual abuse. But we need to avoid making snide comments or taking cheap shots at one another, even if we do disagree…and have to say we disagree.

 

Next, Kasper says that we need to find new forms and structures for our national and world councils of churches. Indeed, an encouraging development in our time is something called “Christian Churches Together in the USA,” a new expanded ecumenical table including Roman Catholics, Orthodox, historic Protestant churches, Evangelicals and Pentecostals, and those churches which define themselves largely through their Racial or Ethnic identity. A similar effort is underway internationally with something called The Global Forum which just concluded a very successful meeting in Nairobi.

 

And even though some of our bilateral ecumenical dialogues seem to have bogged down a bit, Cardinal Kasper has encouraged us all to hang in there with them. “False irenicism gets us no where in these dialogues, “he points out, and we cannot avoid the tough issues today around ordained ministry…the ministry of bishops…even papal primacy in those discussions. As well as honestly sharing our own internal issues as churches.

 

For there are two forms of ‘ecumenism’ according to Kasper: external ecumenism which is the search for unity between the churches; and internal ecumenism which is the search for unity, renewal and reform within our own churches. For, surely, the more we can renew and reform our own church to conform to the will of Christ – and the more other churches do the same – the closer we will draw to one another!

 

Finally, Walter Kasper speaks of celebrating what he calls “spiritual ecumenism,” remembering that the ecumenical movement for the unity of the church has always been and will always be an impulse and gift of the Holy Spirit.  If the Church is ever to be one, it will not be something we create, but will be a gift and work of the Holy Spirit. So, ecumenically concerned monasteries, movements like Cursillo and Marriage Encounter, healing groups like the Order of St. Luke all will make enormous contributions toward unity if we give them our attention.

 

So, times of crisis can also be times of opportunity!  Certainly that was the case in our Readings from Scripture today: Job’s faith was deepened and enriched through all that he suffered. Paul’s frustration with the Thessalonians does not keep him from giving thanks for them, “beloved by the Lord” because God had chosen them from the beginning. And Luke’s Jesus is actually pretty gentle with the Sadducees, even as he tries to correct their faulty view of the resurrection. That is good news, dear friends. Good news even in the midst of troubling times.

 

I just got back from a National Council of Churches meeting in New Jersey and found good news there as well – with the election of a world renowned ecumenist, Dr. Michael Kinnamon, as our new General Secretary, with the NCC speaking out against genocide from Armenia to Dar Fur, reaffirming our commitment to seeking peace with justice in the Middle East, celebrating the good work of our Special Commission for a Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, working hard to reassure and strengthen our commitment to the Orthodox churches by choosing an Armenian Orthodox Archbishop as President and celebrating his election in St. Vartan’s Armenian Orthodox Cathedral with Evening Prayer that included an ordained woman officiating, an Eastern Orthodox priest delivering the homily, and a Black Methodist pastor leading the prayers.

 

So, times of crisis can be times of opportunity! And I challenge you, in these days, to witness to your family and friends about the security you find in God, even in times of in-security. To speak of what really matters, what is really important, and what is not – in tight economic times. To speak of the peace which will inevitably come, finally, on the heels of war. To speak of the compassion which has been unleashed in the wake of natural disasters. Yes, even to speak of an ecumenical springtime in what feels to many like an ecumenical winter!

 

That was certainly the message of the prophets. That was certainly what Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God was all about. That was the Gospel, the Good News, Paul was so passionate about preaching. And, I think that is what the ecumenical movement is all about at its very best.

 

For, like Job, we know that our Redeemer liveth! Like Paul , we know that God has chosen us from the beginning! And, like our Savior Jesus Christ, we know that our God is not a God of the dead…but of the living!

      

 

New Group Prays And Works For The Peace Of Jerusalem

November 7, 2007

Monday of this week found me in Washington, DC at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center among US religious leaders who welcomed the new Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land on their first trip together.

Growing out of the “Alexandria Declaration” of 2002 in which religious leaders made a “commitment to ending the violence and bloodshed that denies the right to life and dignity” in the Holy Land, this is the first “interfaith council” ever to be created in Israel/Palestine and hopes one day to have a voice in “final status” issues of Jerusalem and access to the holy sites for all God’s people.

It was amazing to sit around the table with the Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar; Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamini, Supreme Judge of the Sharia Court in Palestine; Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah; Greek Patriarch Theophilos; Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan; and our own Bishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem!

We American hosts were convened by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (Retired from Washington, DC); Ambassador Tony Hall (former Democratic Congressman from Ohio); and Representative Frank Wolf (Republican from Virigina). Our team included McCarrick, Archbishop Demetrios (Greek Orthodox); Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson (ELCA); Rabbis from B’nai B’rith and other Jewish organizations and rabbinical schools; Dr. Syeed Mohammed Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America; The Rev. Ron Sider (Evangelicals for Social Action); the Director of World Vision; and many more.     

The group will meet with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice later this week and issue a common statement of their commitment to religious peace and non-violence. Will this new group make any real difference along the path to peace in the Middle East? It is too soon to know. But surely having these diverse people meeting regularly is historic and has its own value as, together, they

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem! 

Lives Which Show That God Is In Charge!

November 4, 2007

We celebrate today, of course, All Saints’ Sunday, the Sunday after All Saints’ Day. And we have heard powerful readings from the Bible already! “Let us now sing the praises of (the) famous…” says the author of Ecclesiasticus. (Chapter 44) And then we heard about the vision of St. John the Divine (Revelation 7) in which he sees, “…a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” Truly, a vision of All the Saints!

But then we come to the Gospel of St. Matthew and his reporting of the famous “Beatitudes” from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Up until this point in his Gospel, Matthew has only given us a summary of Jesus’ teaching (In the 4th Chapter, the 17th verse, he simply says: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”). There have also been no miracles stories reported so far because, for Matthew, “words” take precedence over “works.” As the NT scholar Douglas Hare writes in his Commentary on Matthew, “Miracles do not certify teaching; it is the other way round” for St. Matthew. The teaching certifies the miracles!

So, the Sermon on the Mount is the longest, uninterrupted – and carefully structured — speech in Matthew’s Gospel. It’s not a random collection of individual sayings, but a unified discourse with a deliberate structure. Clearly, then, we are supposed to take this sermon seriously! And, I suppose, there have been few texts preached upon more often than the Beatitudes!

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is – as you know – the spiritual leader of our Anglican Communion. Long before he was appointed to this office, he was a scholar and a teacher. And he still takes refuge from his current “day job” of trying to hold together this fractious Anglican Communion of ours by lecturing all over the world and by writing some absolutely amazing books! His most recent one is entitled “Tokens of Trust” and it’s a very readable introduction to the Christian faith …a commentary, really, on the Nicene Creed.

And in Chapter Three of that book – “A Man for All Seasons” – Rowan says this about the Beatitudes: This “…isn’t so much a list of rules to follow; it just tells us what sort of lives show that God is in charge – lives that are characterized by dependence on God’s goodness, that show forgiveness, single-mindedness, longing for peace and for justice, and patience under attack.”

“People who live like this already belong in the new world: the kingdom is theirs. And, as this ought to make clear, this message is both a very sharply social and political one, and one that will never be captured by political and social reform alone…In terms of the historical world in which Jesus was speaking, all this was something of real and immediate relevance.  The Jews of Jesus’ day were acutely concerned about who was going to be a true member of God’s people…when God’s rule was fully established.”

“The different…groups all had rival solutions.  You could be assured of your belonging if you were obedient to the sacrificial laws and the demands of the priestly class; or if you obeyed the oral law in all its detail; or if you went off to the desert and lived a life of strict ritual purity in community.  What Jesus says cuts across all this…The revolutionary claim that emerges is that Jesus is proposing to redefine what it means to belong to God’s people.” (Tokens, page 59)

Well, dear friends, there are a lot of folks in the Church today who want to tell us what it means to be a “true member of God’s people.” Some think it depends upon obedience to certain laws and demands of ecclesiastical structures.  Some stress conformity to certain constitutions and canons. Others emphasize standards for moral and ethical behavior. All of those things have their place and their own importance – as Jesus would have been the first to acknowledge.

But he had a different definition of what it means to belong to God’s people, to be numbered among “all the saints.” For Jesus, you are blessed if you “know that God is in charge.”

You are among the blessed if you are “poor in spirit” – if you know that you are absolutely dependent on God’s goodness (because you have no goodness of your own).

You are among the blessed if you are “merciful” – and show forgiveness to others (because you know you need forgiveness).

You are among the blessed if you are “pure in heart” – single-minded in your desire to know God and God’s will for your life.

You are among the blessed if you are a “peacemaker” and if you “hunger and thirst after righteousness” – because peace and justice are God’s deepest desire for his people. And,

You are among the blessed if “people revile you and persecute you” because of your faith – because then you are showing the kind of “patience under attack” that Jesus himself showed all the way through his life and ministry to the very end!

So, no matter where you find yourself in the various social and political debates in the Church and in the world today, don’t let anybody except Jesus define you in or out of what it means to be a true member of God’s people. You are a baptized member of the Communion of Saints. You are among those called to show the world “that God is in charge!”  Let us pray:

“Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:  Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.” Amen.