Archive for January, 2010

“There, But For The Grace of God…”

January 26, 2010

While I would never seek to take away any kind of spiritual solace people such as those suffering in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, I am always so astounded when people say things like “there, but for the grace of God go I” or even “God saved me from losing my life in the rubble.”

What kind of God provides grace for some and not for others? Is that what we mean by “grace?” What kind of God saves one and abandons another? Not the God I have come to know and love through Jesus Christ!

I will not even bother to comment on “Christian” comments like Pat Robertson’s that this disaster was somehow God’s punishment on the people of Haiti. Or the young men I sat next to at a bar the other day who were talking about how “those people deserved what they got…all that AIDS down there and all…”

“Natural disasters” are always the hardest for me to understand. One killed by a drunk driver is a tragedy, but we know who was responsible. A smoker dying of lung cancer is so sad…but we know why…and so do they

Hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunames and the like are harder. Part of the brokenness of creation, I guess. Or, part of the ongoing creative process and formation of the earth. But people sometimes get in the way. People live (or are forced to live) in the wrong places and under difficult circumstances. And they suffer or lost their lives because of it.

When there is apparently no one at “fault,” I guess we can lay the blame at God’s doorstep (talk about the ultimate “buck stopping here!”). But, when we meditate on the Cross, and hear the Incarnate God crying out in forsakenness, perhaps we are able to hear that God crying along with us and with the innocent victims, even as he provides “real” Grace in the time of their need.

“That We All May Be One” takes on a different tone in times like this. May we indeed Be One with those who suffer in Haiti and around the world. And may we know that we are all in need of God’s grace — all of us…at all times…

Varieties of Gifts

January 22, 2010

Epiphany IIC – Trinity Cathedral.

Today’s Gospel sets forth the third of our Epiphany themes – the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus, and now the miracle of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Each of these Gospel stories describes a way in which the light of Christ was “manifested,” “epiphanized” into all the world.

Gentile astronomers finding their way to his cradle; the crowds at the River Jordan experiencing his baptism by water and the Holy Spirit; now scores of wedding guests experiencing a miracle of abundance! And the point of each event is summarized in the last line of today’s Gospel: “Jesus…revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)

You and I are the successors to those disciples. Today we will have our annual meeting here at Trinity Cathedral taking stock of just how Jesus has revealed his glory to us…and how much we believe in him. And I’m so glad that our Epistle today is from the 12th chapter of First Corinthians! This has been a favorite passage of mine since I first read it in the original Greek and wrote my Senior Thesis in seminary on “Charismatic Christianity in the Corinthian Church.”

This passage is all about “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.”  The little church in Corinth was torn by internal divisions and factions. Some were loyal to Paul, some were followers of an evangelist named Apollos, some gave their allegiance to Peter, others claimed to be the “true Christians” who sought to follow Christ alone! (Sounds sort of like the Christian Church of today, doesn’t it?)

There were people in that church who were wise beyond their years. There were those who seemed to have almost supernatural knowledge.  Some seemed to be able to have faith in God even when everything seemed to be crumbling around them. There were those who had healing ministries, those who were powerful preachers, those who were deeply discerning of God’s will, some who prayed in other tongues and languages and those who seemed to be able to understand those prayers!

Sounds like quite a church, doesn’t it? The problem was…they couldn’t get along with one another! Everyone seemed to think that their gift was the most important one, that they and they alone were the truly “spiritual ones” in the congregation, and they didn’t much want to make room for anyone whose gift, or whose ministry, or whose perception of God’s will differed from their own!

Have you ever been in a church like that?

But Paul would have none of it! And as he began to frame his letter to them, addressing these issues, he points out that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is same God who activates all of them in everyone!”  No need for competition here. We need everyone…and everyone’s gifts!

It is the same right here at Trinity Cathedral! I was pleased to see our mission statement printed on the front page of the Report for our Annual Meeting today. It reads:

“The mission of the Parish of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is to be a ministering community which restores all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.  We carry out this mission as we pray and worship, seek spiritual renewal, preach and teach the Gospel to all ages, nurture individuals and families, reach out in service and evangelize in the name of Christ.”

I was particularly glad to see the phrase “ministering community” because this became our key concept in the Diocese of Iowa during my time as Bishop here from 1988 until the year 2000. The phrase comes from a legendary missionary bishop in the Western part of this country named Wesley Frendsdorff. And Wes used to say that the Church itself is a “ministering community” rather than a “community gathered around a minister.”

That is such an important concept, especially in a “hierarchical” church like The Episcopal Church! Because we honor the historic threefold ordained ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon, it is easy to think that the only minister in the congregation is the priest! And that “ministry” all depends upon him…or her. And nothing could be further from the truth. All of us are ministers by virtue of our Baptism!

And I think you are beginning to understand that here at Trinity Cathedral! The sacramental ministry of this parish is not only exercised by the clergy, but enlarged and expanded by the faithful ministry of Eucharistic ministers who go forth from this place every Sunday.  The liturgy is not just planned and executed by the ordained but by the fine director of our music program and her choirs, the Altar Guild, the acolytes and lay readers.

The teaching is not all done by clergy, but by dedicated lay people who teach young folks and adults about the Bible and the Christian faith.

Pastoral care is not only the care given to you by the pastors, but by a team of pastoral care givers and pastoral visitors as well as our Parish Nurse. Prayer is not the sole possession of your priests – there is a Men’s Prayer group and the Hildegards and a professed Brother who prays with and for us three times a day in this Cathedral church.

And you don’t pay your priest to do outreach for you! You’re involved in PUNCH – People Uniting Neighbors and Churches (seeking to transform the challenged neighborhood in which we find ourselves). And the Salvation Army dinners, and the Angel Food Ministry, Positive Parenting, and so many, many more. No doubt I have left lots of things out.

But these activities – these ministries – do indicate to me that you desire to be a “ministering community” rather than simply a “community gathered around A minister!”

And I’m so grateful for that.

But, of course, we could be doing so much more. With more of you involved, with more of you really being good stewards by tithing or giving sacrificially and not simply relying on whatever endowment we have left, there is no telling what kind of impact we could make for Jesus Christ in this community. No telling!

So, join us for the Annual Meeting later this morning and let’s make a new beginning together in this still-new-year. And don’t every forget that…

“…there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone…All are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses!” (I Corinthians 12)

The Covenant…of Baptism

January 10, 2010

First Sunday After Epiphany 2010 Trinity Cathedral.

Each year, there are three main themes which mark the beginning of the Epiphany season – the arrival of the Magi  to greet the child Jesus (which we celebrated last Wednesday night with a beautiful Epiphany Evensong and Children’s Pageant); the Baptism of Christ (which we observe today); and his first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (which will be our Gospel reading for next Sunday).

Obviously, you and I were baptized because Jesus was! He joined the crowds seeking repentance and a new life under John the Baptist’s teaching at the Jordan River. Although we are not told that the 12 disciples were ever baptized, we do know (from  the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts) that they baptized others – many others! – and it seems strange that they would have done that, and avoided baptism themselves!

Certainly, down through the centuries, the Christian church has seen this “washing with water” as the primary initiation ceremony for new Christians. Our Prayer Book says that “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church.  The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” (BCP 299) Cannot be dissolved!

Although the essential action – the washing with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit –has remained the same over the years, Baptism has been done in lots of ways: full immersion under the water in rivers or large pools; pouring of water into baptismal fonts; even the “sprinkling” of a tiny bit of water in some cases! (Not my favorite method, I have to admit…but we recognize them all as “valid.”)

The kind of preparation we do for Baptism these days is pretty tame compared to the year-long Catechumenate program of the early Church (although there are attempts today to revive that custom). In The Episcopal Church we have at least sought to restore Baptism to its ancient and primary place in the context of the Eucharist on Sunday mornings so that the whole Community can be involved, rather than “privately” in the back of the church on a Saturday afternoon.

We even encourage Baptisms to be done on special Sundays: for example, this Sunday (when we commemorate Christ’s Baptism); at the Easter Vigil; on the Day of Pentecost; All Saints’ Sunday; and on the occasion of the Bishop’s Visit in order to re-connect Baptism to the ministry of those first Apostles’. So, baptism is offered officially every few months throughout the year.

But I believe the greatest single advance in the recapturing of the ancient centrality of the Sacrament of Baptism has been the restoration of the so-called “Baptismal Covenant” which we will use today in place of the Creed. This question and answer recitation is probably the way our Creeds developed in the first place, as the early Church sought to summarize what Christians were asked to believe, and how they were to behave, once they became part of the Body of Christ through Baptism.

Candidates were first invited to renounce “the world, the flesh, and the devil” (phrased a little differently today: we renounce “the evil powers of this world, Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness, and sinful desires!).  We are then invited to make some positive promises – to accept Jesus Christ as Savior, to put our whole trust in his grace and love, to promise to follow and obey him as Lord.

Then follows the Baptismal Covenant beginning with the earliest Christian Creed – the Apostles’ Creed. This statement of belief (and its successor, the Nicene Creed) attempts to preserve for us what the early Church came to believe about the Triune God and about God’s work of Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification.

The final five questions of the Baptismal Covenant are attempts to summarize the kind of ascetical, moral, and ethical life Christians were being asked to live:

  1. To follow the teaching of the apostles, to share in the Eucharist, and to pray.
  2. To resist evil but when we do sin, to ask forgiveness and return to God.
  3. To share the Gospel of God’s love by our words and our deeds.
  4. To love our neighbors as ourselves by looking for Christ in all people.
  5. And finally, to work for justice and peace in this world…and to start by, ourselves, respecting the dignity of every, single human being – since all are created in the image of God!

Well, as I say, since the adoption of the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, these vows and promises (which are really very ancient) have been recited hundreds of thousands of times by Episcopalians across this church. And I think it has transformed the way we see ourselves, and the way many of us look at the Church and the world.

So I want us to use these baptismal vows and promises at least on the five times each year when baptisms are being celebrated across the Church and certainly whenever we have baptisms and confirmations scheduled here. It’s a way of remembering, not only that we are the community of the baptized, but just what we are expected to believe and to practice as part of this community.

And it’s a way of living out what we prayed for in this morning’s Collect:

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit:  Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The Holiness of Names

January 1, 2010

The Holy Name of Jesus,

Two themes merge in this evening’s celebration: our commemoration of the eighth day of Jesus’ life when he was formally given his name; and, of course, our celebration of New Year’s eve, the end of one year (and in this case decade) and the beginning of another.

Our Lessons tonight are all about names. The reading from Exodus is the source of the famous Priestly blessing (the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you peace). But every time we read the word “Lord” in English in this passage it is translating the Hebrew Word “Yahweh,” the very Name of God for the Jewish people. Just knowing that name (being on a first name basis with God) was enough to bring them peace…in the midst of every storm!

The Psalm says: O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world. The Name of Yahweh! The reading from Luke gives us our theme for the day and reminds us that Jesus was circumcised on his eighth day and “was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21). That name is Yeshua or Joshua in Hebrew and means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh will save.”

And finally Paul reminds the Christians in Philippi that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth…” (2:5-11) It’s all about names! And just as the Jews feel themselves to be on a first name basis with Yahweh, so Christians are on a first Name basis with Jesus. We don’t have to call him “our Lord” or “Christ” or even “Jesus Christ” (as though Christ was his last name!) We can simply call him Jesus, and in that intimacy, be addressing Yahweh, the God of Israel as well!

This has been one heck of year and, even more, one heck of a decade. Beginning with 9/11…proceeding through two wars (still raging) in Iraq and Afghanistan…and concluding with perhaps the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. It’s been a decade of violence, greed and corruption. Yet, through it all, the sacred Name of Yahweh has sustained the Jewish people; and the Holy Name of Jesus has sustained us.

There’s a great Eastern Orthodox prayer which comes to us from the Desert Fathers and Mothers and from the great monks and nuns of the Russian Church. It pieces together two lines from the Gospels and simply reads, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is said over and over again, like a calming mantra, often in time with one’s breathing. I often use it to fall off to sleep, or when I’m anxious or worried. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

I commend it to your use in the New Year. It is said that, if you pray it often enough, the prayer actually enters your heart and prays itself whether you are conscious or not. What better way to honor the point of our Collect tonight, “Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy Name of Jesus to the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  Lord have mercy upon us all…in this New Year!