Archive for November, 2009

Hope…And New Beginnings

November 30, 2009

Advent 1-C. Trinity Cathedral. I love Advent! It’s my favorite season and the beginning of a new Church Year. Part of it is that I love Christmas and Advent is the season of preparation for that great feast. I love the violet vestments and the Advent wreath and the smell of greens in the Church. I love the great Advent hymns and the powerful Readings from the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, which we hear during these four weeks!

 Part of it too is that Advent is, above all, the season of Hope! The hope of the Jewish people for the coming of their Messiah. The hope of God’s in-breaking into our lives every day in new and exciting ways. The hope of God’s Reign one day coming in its fullness here “on earth as it is in heaven.” All these are Advent themes, and they make for a season of hope, a “theology of hope.” Which is my personal theology!

 We have all three of these manifestations of hope in our Lessons for today. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord (in our First Lesson from Jeremiah), when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 33) Hope for the Messiah!

 “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus Christ direct our way to you,” writes St. Paul to the church in Thessalonika, “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…” (I Thes. 3) The great apostle is expressing his hope that he will soon be able to visit the little church he had started and which he so wished to visit again. And he hopes that God will allow that to happen.

 And finally, in the Gospel, Jesus himself says, “…when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near…Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21) So, his disciples are to have hope that, in the ministry of Jesus, God’s reign, God’s kingdom has already dawned.

 Advent is all about hope. And about new beginnings. How about us? How about us here at Trinity Cathedral? Are we all about hope? Are we all about new beginnings? We’re an historic church. We’ve been here in the City of Davenport for a long time, over 150 years – as those of us privileged to be at our first annual Founders’ Day last month learned in such a delightful and informative way!

 Generation upon generation of young people have been baptized and confirmed in this parish. They have learned the story of Jesus Christ and his Church. They have served as acolytes and choristers and they’ve enjoyed youth groups and mission trips. Hundreds of couples have had their marriages solemnized in this beautiful building. Confessions have been heard, the sick have been anointed with oil. Priests and deacons have been ordained in this church, and at least one bishop who shall remain nameless was “seated” here when he took over as diocesan bishop in 1989!

 Many of our forebears have had their caskets brought down this center aisle and had their souls commended to God in the same church where they worshiped Sunday by Sunday. And, oh yes, Sunday by Sunday the Word of God has been preached, the Body and Blood of Christ has been received in the Eucharist, and the joyful praises of God have been sung by choir and communicant alike.

 And we have gone forth from this place to make a difference for good in this community and beyond. By providing leadership in the Quad Cities, by making contributions to business and the arts and education, by supporting community outreach and direct services to the poor, by supporting the Diocese of Iowa and The Episcopal Church – even sometimes, it must be said, when we may have disagreed  with some of the directions our church has taken.

 And these are only some of the things of which I am aware in the history of this great parish. As I begin serving as your interim Dean, I want to learn much more! I want my first several months here to be months of listening and learning. I want you to tell me your stories of Trinity Cathedral – by making appointments to come in and see me, in small groups and in large ones, formally and informally, at coffee hour and in Vestry meetings.

 Part of the task of interim ministry is helping a congregation reclaim its past and its history. Not as an exercise in nostalgia, but in preparation for the future! You cannot really claim your present and move into your future until you understand your past.

That’s why our Advent Readings focus on the Old Testament preparation for the coming of the Messiah as we prepare to celebrate his birth at Christmas and his Second Coming at the end of time!  

 Our history has not been without its problems either. No church which has been around as long as this one, has been without its parish fights and budget crises, its scandals and its mistakes, its problems with clergy and its problems with laity! That’s because the Church is made up of human beings, and human beings are not perfect. We need to tell and hear those stories too.

 I keep hearing that there’s a lot of pain here as well, and a lot of healing to be done. But I don’t know what that’s all about. I need you to tell me so I can help you tell it to one another. Because we need to learn from our past – all of it – as we live ever more consciously into our present and prepare for the future.  

 I’m going to ask you to be here every Sunday morning that you possibly can in the coming months. I’m going to ask you to contribute to the ministry of this parish financially by honoring your pledge, or even increasing it (we certainly have not reached our pledge goal thusfar!), and by involving yourself in the life of this church. On Sunday mornings for sure, but also in the various groups and ministries of Trinity Cathedral, in the myriad of education events we going to be offering, and in loving Christian service and outreach to this neighborhood and to the community God has given us to serve.

 Yes, the season of Advent is all about hope. And about new beginnings. I have a lot of hope for the future of this congregation. And I am prepared to help you make a new beginning. A new beginning which honors your past…embraces your present…and prepares you well for the future. But I cannot do it alone. Nor should I. This is your church and your community. What I can tell you is that the words of St. Paul this morning to that little church in Thessalonika could be mine for you as well. For he wrote:

 “How can I thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (I Thessalonians 3:9-13)

 Have a blessed Advent, my friends. This is only the beginning!




Come Home To Rome

November 18, 2009

 Now that the full text of the Vatican’s “Apostolic Constitution” dealing with certain former Anglicans who wish to become Roman Catholics has been released, it is clear that what is being touted by some as an ‘ecumenical gesture’ may be understood as ‘pastoral’ but is not necessarily very ecumenical.

Even though Cardinal Walter Kasper has now given one newspaper interview, there has otherwise been a noticeable silence on the part of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on this matter. This appears to be a unilateral action on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which flies in the face of the slow, but steady progress made in the real ecumenical dialogue of over forty years.

This is “come home to Rome” with absolute clarity. Any former Anglican who has been ordained will not only have to be re-ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, not only re-ordained as a transitional deacon, but even re-confirmed as an adult member of the Body of Christ! Any one who does make this move is not an Anglican, nor an Anglo-Catholic, but a Roman Catholic convert. As we have said on numerous occasions, we commend with our blessing any Anglican who in good conscience wishes to become a Roman Catholic just as we welcome any Roman Catholic who in good conscience wishes to enter into full communion with the Anglican Communion.

But these decisions are to be made as individuals not as communities of persons. The Vatican may rest assured that we will never create “Roman Catholic Ordinariates” within the Anglican Communion for former, disaffected Roman Catholic converts. We will continue to welcome individuals, from the Roman Catholic Church or any other Christian communion, who desire to be in full communion with the See of Canterbury, and therefore with the Anglican Communion.

For our part, The Episcopal Church remains committed to genuine, ecumenical dialogue both on the national (Anglican – Roman Catholic Consultation in the USA) and international (Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission) levels. We are encouraged by Cardinal Walter Kasper’s comment in Osservatore Romano on November 15 that these will, of course, continue. The recent “Apostolic Constitution” is a distraction, but likely only a minor one, from the real goal of ecumenical conversation between the largest (Roman Catholic) and third largest (Anglican) Christian communion in the world.

“Little Christs”

November 2, 2009

We’re celebrating the Feast of All Saints’ today. All Saints’ Day is one of the few holy days which can be celebrated on a Sunday, using the Lessons for the feast day instead of the regular ones for this Sunday in the church year. We began with the wonderful Reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, a book in the Apocrypha which we sometimes read at funerals because it is so comforting:

 “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died…but they are at peace…the faithful will abide with (God) in love because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect.” (Wisdom 3)

 Psalm 24 picks up on the same theme: “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord and who can stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and a pure heart…They shall receive a blessing from the Lord and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”  

 And then the marvelous vision of the kingdom given by St. John the Divine in his book of “Revelation” really sums it all up: “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21)

 So, why do we need all these images? Why do we need all this comforting? Because – in the final analysis – death is what we fear most! Dying…ceasing to exist…ceasing to “be”…is humankind’s greatest fear, our great enemy. And all religions, as well as many other philosophical systems, try to deal with it. Many secular people fill their lives with ceaseless activity and the accumulation of “things” and “stuff” because they don’t want to think about dying, to think about that day when life, as we know it now, will end.

 Sometimes the Church is accused of having a rather “Pollyanna” attitude about death and dying — an “otherworldly” approach to it all. You know, “Pie in the sky by and by.” Be good on this earth and God will reward you will a perfect existence one day! Don’t worry about suffering now…some day things will get better in heaven!

 Well, I don’t think you can read the Bible and accuse its writers of having a “Pollyanna” view of death…or of denying its reality or its pain. Genesis virtually begins with the murder of one brother by another. The children of Israel slaughter others, and are slaughtered themselves, throughout much of the next five books of the Bible! Job and the other Wisdom writers wrestle with suffering, death and dying philosophically even as they struggle to understand God’s seeming absence in their own lives. And the prophets warn of impending death and destruction on every page of their books!

 Our Gospel Reading this morning is the very poignant story of Mary and Martha and their grieving at the death of their brother, Lazarus. They go through the five stages of grief, of death and dying, that Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described decades ago, and Mary is pretty obviously stuck at the Anger stage as our Gospel begins, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

 She’s mad at Jesus! She knows he has the power of life and death. Lazarus was his friend! Why did he let him die? You and I often get angry at God or at life itself when we lose loved ones, and the Bible is telling us it’s OK to feel that anger, even to “ventilate” that anger. God can handle it! 

 This Gospel story doesn’t even shy away from the gruesome realities of death. They resist opening the tomb at Jesus’ instruction because the decomposition of Lazarus’ body will have already begun in that desert heat…and no one wants to see (or smell!) that! And yet Jesus asks them to look squarely into that tomb, to confront the painful reality of death and decay and not to run away from it. Why?

 Because, he says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11) In other words, if you trust in God (which is what “believe” really means), if you trust in God you can look straight into the jaws of death itself and see – instead of your worst nightmare – God’s glory!

  Later that same Jesus himself would face his own fear of death (“if it is possible, let this cup pass from me”). He would experience his own despair at the seeming absence of the Divine (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”) But Jesus would finally make that final act of trust just before closing his eyes for the last time (“Into your hands, I commend my spirit).    

 Well, there is a community of people down through the centuries who have taken those words and actions of Jesus at face value. A community of people who have not only believed in the existence of God, but who have put their trust in that God…indeed who have “bet their lives” on that God.  Bet their lives on the belief that the God who made us in the first place loves us enough never to let us go.

 This is the community of the baptized. This is the community which dares to call its members “little Christs” – Christians. This is the community of All the Saints! Peter and Paul and Mary Magdalene, Stephen and Phoebe, Ignatius, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Cranmer, Evelyn Underhill,  C. S. Lewis, Florence Nightingale, Martin Luther King…

 And you, my sisters and brothers. You who have been washed in Baptism and anointed with the Holy Spirit. You who faithfully each week are nourished by Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. You who put your trust in the love and mercy of God to one day grant you a place at the Table in the heavenly Kingdom. You…the people of St. Paul’s!

 Happy All Saints’ Day!