Archive for February, 2012

Lent and the MDG’s

February 27, 2012

Our Presiding Bishop suggested this year, that we might use the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals as a lens through which to view our observance of this season. When The Episcopal Church adopted these goals at our 2006 General Convention, there was some criticism that these were ‘secular’ goals and that we were somehow taking our eyes off the real mission of the Church by using these as guidelines or milestones on our spiritual journey as Episcopalians.

 Well, let’s see – eradicating poverty and hunger…achieving universal primary education…promoting gender equality and empowering women…reducing child mortality….improving maternal health…combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases…ensuring environmental sustainability…and developing a global partnership for development.

 Those sound suspiciously close to Gospel values, if you ask me, particularly when you take into consideration the fact that Jesus’ primary message in the Gospels was not about how individuals could go to heaven, but about establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth! In Mark’s brief account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness which we read today on this First Sunday of Lent, he did not spend a lot of time on the specifics of those temptations, but concludes the story by summarizing the essence of Jesus’ message (which was essentially the same as John the Baptist before him and the Hebrew prophets down through the ages:)

 “Jesus came toGalilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and thekingdomofGodhas come near, repent, and believe in that good news!” (Mark1:15). The good news, for Jesus, was that God was king and Caesar was not! The good news for Jesus was that it was not necessary to wait around for some distant future when God’s reign and God’s sovereignty would be established. That time had come! And it was time to turn around, acknowledge that fact, and begin to live as though it was true! The time is fulfilled….thekingdomofGodhas come near…repent…and believe that good news!

 And how are we to live, now that the Kingdom has dawned in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Well, we are to work to eradicate poverty and hunger – because Jesus once saw to it that 4,000 people were fed because (he said), “I have compassion for the crowd.” (Mark 8:2)

 We are to commit to make universal primary education available to the children of the world – because Jesus once said “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that thekingdomofGod(really) belongs.” (Mark10:14)

 We are to empower women – because Jesus did! The way he treated women (radical in his day!), the fact that they were among his closest followers, the fact that they were the primary witnesses to the Resurrection all speak to the appropriateness of that endeavor for Christians and for the Christian Church!

 We are to work to reduce child mortality — because Jesus was once confronted with a young boy with a terrible, debilitating illness. “How long has this been happening to him,” he asked the father. “From childhood,” the man answered, “It has often cast him into the fire and water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Mark says “the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead’ but Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand,” (Mark 9: 21 passim)

 We are to improve maternal health – because Jesus once healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years (perhaps since the day of her first-born’s delivery). “If I but touch his clothes,” she said, I will be made well. Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.” (Mark 5:28-29)

 We are to commit to combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases because if there is one thing that is absolutely clear from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, it is that he was a healer! He never turned away anyone who sought healing. And he never asked how they got sick!

 We are to ensure environmental sustainability because Jesus came from farming country in northernPalestine. He loved the land, using the cycles of planting and harvesting in so many of his parables. And he came to love the sea – making sure his fishermen friends always hauled in a great catch (even after they had left their nets…to follow him). (Mark1:16)

 And, finally, we are to support efforts to partner with our sister and brother Christians, and all people of good will around the world, because it was said, of Jesus, that he made no distinctions among people and once, when a stranger was found casting out demons in his name, Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:39-40)

 Yes, I think the Millennium Development Goals, perhaps first articulated by the United Nations, meet the scriptural test as being faithful to the Gospel message. And the fact that some people find that so hard to believe is more a testimony of our failure to preach the message Jesus sent us out to preach than it does to their ignorance or hardness of heart. For too often, dear friends, our message has been too timid and our God too small for people even to “believe this good news” let alone to “repent.”

 During these forty days of penitence and fasting, I challenge you to do a bit more than giving up chocolate. I know you’re doing some of these things here at Grace Church and in your individual lives, but I challenge you to continue to dream big dreams and to take on at least one of these goals this Lent – either locally or somewhere around the world.

Because…the time is fulfilled…thekingdomofGodhas come near…Repent, and believe in this good news!






2012 Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast

February 21, 2012

This year I’ve decided to participate in the 2012 Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast sponsored by the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ and endorsed by the four Episcopal bishops of Massachusetts.

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, each day I will receive an email with the day’s suggested carbon-reducing activity ranging from the very simple (eliminating “vampire” electrical use, taking “military showers” and reducing driving speed) to the more challenging and long term (buying local produce, consider getting involved in a community garden).

More information can be obtained by going to

In years gone by, I would have dismissed this as “trendy” and not sufficiently ascetic for a true catholic such as myself, but this year I’ve been paying more attention to the second Old Testament reading assigned for Ash Wednesday. You know, that uncomfortable one from Isaiah 58 where God says:

“Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your homes; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

…then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom like the noonday

…your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

If we are to rebuild the ancient ruins of our cities, raise up a foundation for future generations, repair the breach between Creator and Creation, and restore streets which can sustain life, we had better learn to take better care of “this fragile earth, our island home!

Trendy? “Secular?”

Yeah, just like old Isaiah!

World Mission Sunday

February 18, 2012

 Today has also been designated “World Mission Sunday” by The Episcopal Church. Each year on this Last Sunday after Epiphany when we read the great Gospel story of the Transfiguration, we are asked to remember that another name for The Episcopal Church is “the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.” In other words, we are all missioners for Jesus Christ, and our mission field reaches around the world, but begins right here at home.

This seems like a good theme to celebrate here at St. Andrew’s Pentecost Church because you are both a domestic and foreign mission and have been from your beginnings! From the Spirit-led leadership of Ester Bryant, Mary Jackson and Louise Scott who petitioned this diocese for mission status way back in 1919 to Fr.  Nwachuku’s outreach to Nigerian Anglicans in Chicago in 1998 through the growth of that ministry in its several locations to the eventual merger of these two congregations in 2006 you have been all about domestic and foreign mission!

Our Prayer Book defines the mission of the Church as restoring “all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” So many people are separated from God today! They either don’t believe in God or they are afraid that God doesn’t believe in them. And people are separated from one another! Whether it’s discrimination and prejudice… or the widening gap between rich and poor… or because of broken families or alcohol or drugs, people are looking for healing and for reconciliation – with God and with one another. And it’s our job to make that happen! But how do we do it?

Well, in the 1980s and 1990s the worldwide Anglican Communion began developing something called “The Five Marks of Mission.” It’s a kind of check-list to see if we, as Anglicans, are doing all that is necessary to be about the mission of the Church. These marks were accepted by the Lambeth Conference in 1998 and at our last General Convention in 2009, The Episcopal Church adopted them officially and asked that the whole budget and program life of our church begin to revolve around them.

Our Presiding Bishop says that these marks are “digital” – that is, you can tick them off by the digits on one hand! 1)to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; 2) to teach, baptize and nurture new believers; 3)to respond to human need by loving service; 4)to seek to transform the unjust structures of society; 5) to strive to safeguard and renew the life of this planet earth. This is a well-balanced plan of action!

And it begins by each of us, in our own way, sharing the Good News of God’s love with our families and friends and neighbors. Let people know that God “is,” and that God loves them. And by so living our lives in such a way that we are witnesses of God’s Kingdom, witnesses that God is in charge…of our lives and of the world! Peter and James and John were “witnesses” of Jesus’ transfiguration on that holy mountain in today’s Gospel. Now, it’s true that Jesus told them not to share what they had seen until he had risen from the dead. But after he was raised on that first Easter morning, those three disciples, and all the others, preached that message all over the Mediterranean world and finally to the ends of the earth. We’re to do the same thing!

Secondly, we are to teach, baptize, and nurture new believers. That’s what the Church is for. It’s to be a place of Bible study and teaching…a place to baptize and confirm people (like we are doing here today!)…and a place to be nurtured by Word and Prayer and Sacrament so that our faith may continue to grow!

Next, we are to respond to human need by loving service. I don’t know all the ways you do that here at St. Andrew’s Pentecost Church, but I know that you do. I know you’ve done Thanksgiving dinners for the lonely and have contributed to women’s outreach programs in Nigeria. And I’m sure there are other ways that you provide direct services to those in need. But we also need to work to transform the unjust structures of society. That’s the fourth “mark of mission.” Someone once said that we can either keep pulling people out of the rushing stream, or we can go upstream, find out who’s throwing them in, and make them stop!

I noticed just ten days ago, at the Church of England’s General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of his grave concern for our fellow Christians in Nigeria who are under threat at the hands of one of the most extremist Islamic organizations in the world, Boko Haram. He said, “We are talking in Nigeria not simply about a few incidents of interfaith conflict…we are talking about a threatened disintegration of a society…”

And after his words, the Synod unanimously passed a resolution requesting the British government to do all it can “to support those in Nigeria seeking to protect religious minorities of all faiths and enable them to practice their religion without fear.” Sometimes, specific acts of loving service are not enough. Actions must be taken to address systemic injustice! And that’s why the Anglican Communion is so important… so that we can stand in solidarity with one another around the world.

And finally, as Christian “missioners” today, we are to play our part in taking care of Mother Earth – this “fragile earth our island home” as our Prayer Book describes it. That can be as simple as re-cycling our garbage or trying not to litter as we move about the city or it can be as complicated as supporting the efforts of our government to move to cleaner energy sources which will do less damage to our land, our water, and the very air we breathe.

In the Old Testament lesson today, Elijah passed along his mantle as a prophet to his friend, Elisha. Today, it has been passed to us! In the Epistle, St. Paul reminds us that we are not to proclaim ourselves, but that we are to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. And, once again, on that Mountain of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John see Jesus standing alongside Moses and Elijah, and seem to hear a voice saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”

That’s what we are here to do today. We are to catch a vision of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And we are to ‘listen to him.” But, more than listen, we are to respond to him in mission. As we prepare to confirm two new members today, please join with them in rededicating yourself to that mission. The mission we will now renew by rehearsing our Baptismal Covenant!

Ministry with a Capital “M”

February 8, 2012

It’s not often that we get to celebrate Ministry with a capital “M” in the various ways we are doing today – and all in one liturgy! That theme is announced in our Collect, or prayer, for today which reminds us that there are “various orders of ministers in the Church.” In addition to the three-fold order of bishops, priests and deacons, our Catechism teaches that there are actually four kinds of ministers in the Church – lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.

 And as a way trying understand all that, let me share an image which has meant a lot to me over the years. About five years ago, Susanne and I lost a dear friend named Jim Kelsey. Jim was the bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan and he was killed in an automobile accident on the way back home from a Sunday visitation in his diocese.

 Jim had been a real leader in what we might call, for lack of the better word, “Baptismal Ministry.” That is, he believed that allChristianMinistry, all service in the Body of Christ, was rooted and grounded in Baptism.  I think he would say that the most important thing that ever happens to us as Christians is that we are baptized – because that’s when we become members of Christ’s Body, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and when the congregation challenges us to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” (BCP308)

 One way Jim Kelsey sought to remind himself of that every day was in his office. When you walk into most clergy offices (including, I must confess, mine) you will see the walls adorned with diplomas and certificates – probably the seminary diploma and at least the ordination certificate to the diaconate, or the priesthood, or the episcopate. Jim only had one large certificate framed on his office wall. And that was his baptismal certificate!

 He used to say that he thought baptismal certificates were the ones which ought to be large and adorned with seals and signs and symbols so that all Christians would hang them on their walls as a constant reminder of their baptisms! And that ordination certificates should be simple and small, sort of like driver’s licenses, clergy could carry around in their pockets in case they ever needed proof of ordination! I love the point that perspective is trying to make!

 Today, we have a unique reminder that all Ministry is rooted in baptism. We were to have some actual baptisms today and that would really have made the point, but we do have confirmations and receptions and we will all renew our baptismal vows. We will also receive into our church a priest from our sister Communion, the Roman Catholic Church. Despite all our divisions in the Body of Christ today it is the One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism spoken of in our liturgy and in the Letter to the Ephesians that we celebrate here today.

 The one Lord is described so beautifully in our First Lesson from Isaiah: “Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth,” the Prophet writes, “It is (God) who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…The Lord is the Everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth…” (Isaiah 40).Israelbequeathed to us faith in the One God.

 The one Faith is what Jesus proclaimed and which is described in the Gospel today as bringing healing and freedom to all whose lives he touched. And it is the one Baptism which compelled St. Paul  to do whatever he could to relate to all people – Jews and keepers of the Law…Gentiles and those outside the Law…weak and strong alike. He says that he made himself a slave to all of them, so that he might win more of them for Jesus Christ!

 Now, we’re all going to be making some promises here this morning. Those being confirmed and received will promise to renounce evil and renew their commitment to Christ. Randy, in being received as a priest of this church, will promise to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them.

 But all of us together will recommit our lives to Jesus Christ as we renew our Baptismal Covenant. That Covenant gives us all our marching orders, whether we are lay or ordained, young or old, newcomers to Christianity or only to The Episcopal Church. Pay attention to those promises as we rehearse them in a few moments – belief and trust in the Triune God…a commitment to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers…resistance to evil and a willingness to repent…proclaiming the Good News of God’s love in word and example…loving our neighbors as ourselves…striving for justice and peace among all people by respecting the dignity of every human being.

 Those promises summarize the response we are asked to make to the God who made us, the God who is in solidarity with us, and the God who empowers us to be the Body of Christ in this world. The Diocese of Chicago has an easy-to-remember motto, or mission statement – Grow the Church, Form the Faithful, Change the World.  It’s pretty clear to me that you are doing those things here atSt. Ann’s. You’re obviously growing the Church – as we confirm and receive new members here today.

 You’re forming the Faithful as you prepare to welcome Randy (Walk Itch) Wakitsch as a priest of this parish and this church. I’m sure he would say that, even as he helped form you, over these last six years in Children’s Formation, Outreach, and Centering Prayer – that you have helped form him as well! Until he has come to this day…

 Now, all that remains is for you to Change the World!

 Sound like a tall order? Well, just remember that Baptismal Covenant. Trust in God…Break the Bread…Resist Evil…Preach Good News…Love your Neighbor…Work for Justice and Peace…And Respect the Dignity of Every Human Being.

 And your world will never be the same!