Archive for November, 2011

As It Was In The Beginning, Is Now, and Will Be Forever

November 28, 2011

The season of Advent is, perhaps above all else, a season of hope and expectation. On the simplest level, of course, we look forward to the celebration of Christ’s First Coming at the Christ-Mass (Christmas). We also have the hope and the expectation that this same Christ will come into our lives daily (in Word and Prayer and Sacrament) and in all the ways he shows up in our lives on an everyday basis. And finally we hope for, and expect, one day his Final Coming at the End of time to set things right again once and for all – that his Kingdom truly will “come on earth as it is in heaven!”

These themes are seen all the way through our Lessons from Holy Scripture this morning. Isaiah looks forward to God’s Reign finally being established when he cries, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.” (Isaiah 64:1). And the prophet’s yearning for this future action is not some kind of “Pollyanna optimism” but is firmly based on the fact that God has acted in Israel’s past. He writes, “When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.” (64:3).

The people of Israel had seen God’s mighty acts before – not least in their liberation from slavery in Egypt centuries earlier and his manifestation on Mount Sinai in the giving of the Law. So, even though they are facing Exile once again at the hand of the Babylonians and the people are worried, Isaiah wants to give them the hope and the expectation that they have not been deserted.

“There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand…Now consider, we are all your people.” (64:7-9)

The Psalmist sings the same message in today’s Psalm 80: “Restore us, O God of hosts; show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”  They are suffering now, but because their God is the same God who “led Joseph like a flock” (1) in the past, they can have hope for the future: “And so will we never turn away from you; give us life, that we may call upon your Name.” (17)

Our Lord Jesus Christ preached that same message of hope and expectation hundreds of years after Isaiah and the Psalmist. The people of Israel had indeed been restored to their land after the Exile by then, but had fallen on hard times once again. Now, they are being oppressed by Rome and their land occupied once again by foreign troops, but Jesus says,

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mark 13:28-31)

They had certainly not passed away by the time St. Paul wrote his first letter to the  Christians in Corinth 25 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, “I give thanks to my God always for your because…you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:4-8 passim)

How could all these prophets and mystics and apostles have had such hope and expectation and confidence in God’s coming Kingdom even in the midst of adversity and suffering? Because they had experienced God’s sovereignty in their history, and in their own lives. Isaiah not only knew the history of his people and how God had rescued them, been their hope and strength in the past, he had had a deep encounter with that God in his own personal life – a “vision” of the very throne-room of God where he heard God say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah had said, “Here I am, send me!”

King David, who was likely the author of some of the Psalms if not all of them, knew what it was like to be rescued and redeemed, not only in wartime and battle but from his own personal sins and shortcomings as well. He was a deeply flawed servant of God, but a servant nonetheless! Jesus had encountered his heavenly Father in the waters of the Jordan River at his Baptism, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in countless other ways during his brief, three-year public ministry. And Paul had been knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus, discovering how wrong he had been in persecuting the followers of the Messiah whose faithful servant he would soon become!

Beloved, we live in frustrating and confusing times as well. The world is changing so fast we can scarcely keep up with it. Many of the things we have always thought and believed are being brought into question or are at least up for discussion. In these tough economic times, the “American dream” we used to rely on – that we would do better than our parents and our children do better than us – seems questionable at best. We despair of leaders – in the Arab world, in our own country or even in our church – who can converse with one another civilly, put their own agendas aside, and come together and find consensus for the common good. Reading the newspaper these days can be an exercise in frustration!

But, especially in days like these, it is absolutely essential that we grasp and hold on to that “theology of hope” held out to us by our forebears in the Faith. The reason we want you to learn the history of your Faith through Bible study and theological refection, the reason we want you to seek encounters with the Living God through worship and prayer; the reason we want you to look around you and find signs of God’s activity and presence in the world about you is precisely so that you can be hopeful people! Not just “optimistic” people who think things should get “better and better every day in every way,” but truly people of hope.

We want you to hope in the God who has surely acted in the past. Hope in the God who is mightily at work in the present if we only have eyes to see. And, most of all, hope in the God of the future. Which is why we say every day in Morning Prayer, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.”

God has been with us in the past. God is with us today. And God has promised to be with us always — even to the end of the ages!


Hello, Chicago!

November 21, 2011

It was a joy for Susanne and me to be at the Diocese of Chicago’s Convention last weekend (Dec. 18-19) and to receive a warm welcome as Bishop Jeff Lee announced that I would become Assisting Bishop in Chicago on January 1. This will be a part time position in which I will do two visitations per month and be assigned some other modest responsibilities perhaps in the ecumenical/interfaith arena or with pastoral care of clergy and families.

I intend to remain canonically resident in the Diocese of Iowa and physically resident in Davenport so I’ll be “on the road again” traveling, not only in Western Illinois, but throughout the entire diocese.

As I said on Friday evening this is a “coming home” of sorts since I graduated from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in 1972 and was ordained to the transitional diaconate by Bishop Jim Montgomery that same year in my field work parish, Church of the Advent in Logan Square. We have always loved Chicago and the diocese seems to be a lively place these days. I look forward to being part of the new leadership team, working with Bishop Lee and the faithful across the diocese.

Jeff Lee challenged the Convention (and through them, the wider diocese) to have at least one meaningful conversation with another person about God, their faith, and their lives — evangelism at its simplest and best. Secondly, to engage in some serious Bible study and reflection using one of the many tools out there to assist in this. And finally, to engage in some kind of intentional outreach “striving for justice and peace among all people.”

Three very practical ways to carry out the Diocesan vision — Grow the Church, Form the Faithful, Change the World. Let’s get it on!

Holy Women, Holy Men — You!

November 6, 2011

All Saints’ Sunday, 2011.Last Tuesday, November 1st, the Church celebrated All Saints’ Day. This is the day in the church calendar when we remember the outstanding heroes and heroines of our Christian faith – the Blessed Virgin Mary, the apostles and martyrs and saints right down through the ages like Francis and Clare, Benedict and Julian of Norwich, Teresa and Augustine, and all those who made lasting contributions to our history and development, and to the spread of the Gospel throughout the world.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, we celebrated All Souls’ Day. This is the day when the Church commemorates those so–called “lesser saints.” Perhaps our ancestors and forebears who may not have made a name for themselves worthy of Church history books, but who nonetheless made their own contributions.  I think of my grandfather who read Psalm 91 every day my father was overseas in WW II, piloting his B-24 on bombing runs over Germany and flying gasoline to Field Marshall Montgomery in Northern Africa. I think of the Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders and clergy of my youth who made such lasting impressions, and who formed me in my Christian faith.

Today, on what we call All Saints Sunday, we gather all that up and remember that, in the New Testament, the word “saint,” (hagios in the Greek) refers to “all the baptized,” Christians just like you and me. When St. Paul writes to the “saints” in Rome and Corinth and Philippi he’s not writing to necessarily holy people (as the texts of those Epistles make clear!). He’s writing to people like you and me, baptized members of the Body of Christ, who are striving to be faithful, but all of whom had the same struggles, successes and failures and fears as we do.

Just last year The Episcopal Church – through our Church Publishing Company – provided a new resource to expand our knowledge and remembrance of some of these manifold saints of God. Entitled “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints,” its Preface contains the following words. “ (This book) marks a further stage in the recovery within the Episcopal Church of the liturgical commemoration of the saints.”

“The first English Book of Common Prayer (1549) retained a small number of the many feasts contained in the calendar of the (Roman Catholic)…Missal. All but one of these were major Holy Days directly related to the New Testament; no post-Biblical saints were included. The 1662 Prayer Book, which Anglicans living in the American colonies used in the decades preceding independence, listed the names of sixty-seven saints in its Calendar, but made no provision for their liturgical commemoration.”

“The first American Book of Common Prayer (1789) listed no minor Holy Days…in its
Calendar and this continued to be the case in the 1892 and 1928 Prayer Books. Only in 1964 did things change. In that year General Convention approved the inclusion in the Calendar of more than a hundred saints’ days with liturgical (Prayers and Readings) to facilitate their commemoration in the Church’s worship.” (“HW, HM” pages ix-x). This resource was published under the name “Lesser Feasts and Fasts.”

“In 2003 General Convention called for a wide-ranging revision of (that resource)…”to reflect our increasing awareness of the ministry of all the people of God and of the cultural diversity of the Episcopal Church, of the wider Anglican Communion, of our ecumenical partners, and of our lively experiences of sainthood in local communities. Several years of extensive study and consultation led to the submission (and subsequent publication of) “Holy Women, Holy Men”… (page x)

We use that new resource here at Trinity Cathedral for our midweek services and on special occasions and I have found it to be very helpful. Previous commemorations of saints in our English Prayer Books have been overwhelmingly white, male, clergy and monastics, and – in fact – heavily weighted toward commemorating bishops (who we all know are seldom so saintly!) This new book includes such persons, of course, as well as the giants we know from the New Testament and early Church history.

But we also find in these pages prophetic witnesses like Frederick Douglass from the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Amelia Jenks Bloomer who started her work for women’s equality right here in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Lutheran Johann Sebastian Bach is found within the pages of this book as is Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman priest in the Anglican Communion and Roman Catholic luminaries like Pope John XXIII.

So, why is all this important? I believe it is to hold up before us, on a regular basis, specific examples of what our Lessons from Holy Scripture are describing today. The vision in Revelation of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne of God, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

The reminder from the Psalmist that “the angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, and he will deliver them.” (Psalm 34:7).  John’s challenge in the Epistle to “see what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (I John 3:1). And Jesus’ compassionate reminder in the Beatitudes that the real saints are not always heroes and heroines, but those who are “poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness….the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…those who are persecuted.” (Matthew 5)

In other words – YOU! You are the saints of God, dear friends. And if you read the biographies of some of these names in “Holy Women, Holy Men,” you’ll find that their lives were not so different from yours in many ways. They weren’t all plaster saints! They toiled and sweated and failed sometimes…just like we do. They didn’t spend all their time in church and, in fact, most of what they are remembered for took place, in the world…outside the doors of their churches.

It is no accident that each Eucharist ends with a dismissal sentence and why we no longer linger to watch the candles being put out! You and I are on a mission. We can’t wait to rise from our knees and get back out into our families and jobs and neighborhoods to share our faith in Jesus Christ and to make a difference for him in this world! We’re on a mission…and we can’t wait!

On All Saints’ Sunday, we celebrate Holy Women and Holy Men! On All Saints Sunday, we celebrate YOU!