Archive for June, 2012

Is Christ Asleep in You?

June 29, 2012

Community of the Transfiguration Retreat

  As you’ve heard over the last few days, I grew up inCentral Florida. It was a very different world in the 1950s and 60s than it is today. I call it the “pre Disney” days ofFloridabefore the state was ruined by overdevelopment and under-taxation. Before a thousand people a day began pouring across the borders and actually moving intoFlorida. Before greed took over and began to ruin the water…and the land…and the lives of so many people.

 But, I digress! It was really a wonderful time and place to grow up. My Dad was really into boats and we had a succession of them, ranging from little runabouts to a pretty good sized cabin cruiser we once took up theSt. John’sRiverfromSanfordtoJacksonvilleand back down the Inland Waterway all the way to the Keys. It took us most of the summer and was a vacation I shall never forget!

 Early in the trip we were crossingLakeMonroewhich was a large, but relatively shallow lake into which theSt. John’sRiverflows and from which it continues its lazy, northern flow. On this particular day, a storm came up on the lake and the whitecaps began tossing us around pretty badly, even breaking over the bow and threatening to swamp the boat! We broke out the life jackets, began to bail, and Dad began trying to steer us back toward the shore.

 Suddenly, a large fish jumped right into the boat! It was flopping around all over, and I asked my father, “Should we keep it, Dad?” He said, “Hell no, throw it overboard. We don’t have time for that now.” Well, I did so…we made it safely back to shore, and then began to laugh out loud, because it was the largest fish either my Dad or I had ever caught. And all we could think of to do was throw it back because we were so anxious about the storm!

 I never read the story in Mark’s Gospel about Jesus stilling the storm that I do not think about that incident! TheSea of Galileeshares a lot in common withLakeMonroeinFloridain that they are both relatively shallow bodies of water and can be whipped into a frenzy by a sudden storm before you know it. Even experienced sailors can find themselves in a perilous situation in a hurry!

 It’s easy to panic in such a situation. And that’s exactly what the disciples did even after they had awakened Jesus and asked him, “Don’t you even care if we are perishing?” But he calmed them as well as the storm with two commands, “Peace! Be still!” I hope that’s what you have experienced during these days of retreat. Peace…and stillness.

Many sermons have been preached on this Gospel pericope about the stilling of the storm. All the imagery is there – the trials and difficulties of life as a storm-tossed sea; the Church as a boat or a ship (the “Ark of Salvation”); our tendency to panic and to forget that Jesus is right alongside us in the boat – the One who can always bring peace and stillness into any storm life may throw at us.

 As an anonymous homily in The Living Church put it last week: “Our boat is small and the seas are rough. But the master of the sea is with us, and at a word he will speak peace. Have we left him asleep in the stern, or does he command our way through the shoals? He is with us, but how often do we fall into faithless fear? Let us,St. Augustineurges, awaken him by prayer. ‘When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the wind blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. Why?

Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten his presence. Rouse him, then; remember him, let him keep watch within you, pay heed to him.”

 The young David had to rely on that presence of the God of Israel when he confronted Goliath in our First Lesson today. (I Samuel 17) “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine,” said the brash young man. And so he did!

 St. Paul had to draw on that constant presence of the Risen Christ on an almost daily basis as he faced the kinds of obstacles he lists for us in this morning’s Epistle (2 Corinthians 6) –afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger and all the rest of it. As we have reflected together on our spiritual journeys over the last week, we have remembered some of the trials and tribulations you and I have gone through…and what we’ve learned along the way.

 As Christians living the vowed life you have sought, over the years, to stay in touch with the Risen Christ in the same ways Paul did – by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.

 Oh, you haven’t always done it perfectly, I’m sure. But those were your best intentions. As a member of this particular Community you even know what it is to live “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

 We began this retreat with a little reflection on my favorite Psalm 84 which gave us our theme: Hearts Set on the Pilgrims’ Way. I’d like to conclude with us praying it together – as an act of thanksgiving for the life and ministry that have been ours…and as an act of rededication to the life we have promised to live. (It begins on page 707 in theBCP…)

This Diocese Is All About Mission!

June 11, 2012

One of the things I have been most impressed with over these six months that I have served as Assisting Bishop in this diocese is that virtually every congregation I have visited so far is serious aboutMission! Our Prayer Book Catechism defines mission as “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” But, in recent years, we’ve begun to put some flesh on those bones by adopting something called “The Five Marks of Mission.”

 These marks were originally articulated by the Anglican Consultative Council from about 1984 to 1990, but they have since been adopted by the Lambeth Conference of Bishops and our own General Convention of The Episcopal Church. They are really a practical and easy-to-remember “check-list” of what it looks like to DO God’sMissionin the world. They are:

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 the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

    And it seems to me that, to one degree or another, you and I are about all those things today in this glorious service! We are here – perhaps before all else – to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, the Reign, the Sovereignty of God. To remind ourselves and the world that God is King and that we are not!

 That’s why we take some time out of our busy schedules each week to gather for worship and to do what our Baptismal Covenant  calls “continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” That’s what we do every time we celebrate the Eucharist.

 Certainly today, we are baptizing new believers! In fact, we are not only baptizing a new Christian we are confirming and receiving other Christians who are taking the next step in their lifelong journeys into Christ. Each of these sacramental moments have been preceded by the teaching of the Faith; and we will promise in a few moments to continue to nurture and support all these people in their new life in Christ. That’s what parishes and Christian communities are for! Your commitment to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and Journey to Adulthood and ongoing adult education make it clear that you are committed to this nurturing role.

 The third mark of mission is to respond to human need by loving service. I don’t know all the ways you do this (and I’ll be interested to learn more as we talk together after the liturgy this morning), but the very welcoming and inclusive community you identify yourself to be is itself a response to human need. People are desperate for genuine community today (even if they are not aware of it on some level). And a church which really reaches out and welcomes “all sorts and conditions” of folks, a church which can sing “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live” and MEAN IT, that church is itself responding to human need!

 If you do that, it won’t be long before you are led to the fourth mark of mission: “to seek to transform the unjust structures of society.” For, after you stand alongside the river bank long enough pulling our survivors of bigotry and hatred, pretty soon you decide to go upstream, find out who’s throwing them in, and make them stop! I know you’ve had some relationship with our wonderful Diocese of Haiti and you know that there are systemic issues as well as natural disasters that need to be responded to there.

 Not that it will always be easy. Jesus ran into conflict with the “powers that be” in today’s Gospel (Mark 3:20-35) and they even accused him of being in league with the devil, but Jesus had the same confidence as St. Paul who wrote, of his own conflicts twenty years later, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure…” (2 Corinthians 4). Yes, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. But also to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.

 But it goes beyond even that! For our fifth and final mark of mission challenges us to “safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” Simple things like the Blessing of Animals (which The Episcopal Church has actually become quite famous for, over the years!) reminds us that we are called to go beyond the estrangement of human beings from the rest of creation which we heard about in the wonderful, ancient text about Adam and Eve this morning (Genesis 3) and to celebrate the Covenant with Noah which is all about the restoration of God’s Creation.

 A new heaven and a new earth where “the whole menagerie of birds and mammals and crawling creatures, all that brimming prodigality of life…can reproduce and flourish on the Earth.”

As we sang together this morning, “Praise for the earth who makes life to grow. The creatures you made to let your life show; The flowers and trees that help us to know…The heart of love.”

 And indeed, my friends, the ‘heart of love’ is what it’s all about. When we baptize Vanessa today in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, what we are really doing is baptizing her into a community of love. Love is the very nature of God. Love is what we see in action in the life of Jesus. And love is what is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. Remember that as we baptize Vanessa. Remember that as we confirm and receive these other adults today.

 Remember the five marks of mission. And remember that they are all intended to do what we sang today in our gathering hymn: “Let us build a house where love can dwell/ And all can safely live/ A place where saints and children tell/ How hearts learn to forgive/ Built of hopes and dreams and visions/ Rock of faith and vault of grace/… the love of all shall end divisions/

 All are welcome…all are welcome…all are welcome in this place!

























Clergy: Remember Eldad and Medad!

June 5, 2012

Dan chose a great set of Lessons from the Bible for this service! Each one has something unique to say to us about the occasion we’re celebrating here today – Dan’s ordination to the priesthood and the ministry he shares here with all of you atSt. Pauland the Redeemer. We usually start with the Gospel for the day because Christians read the whole Bible through the lens of Jesus and his life and ministry and teaching.

 Today, Matthew tells us that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” (Mt. 9:35). Clearly, priests are to follow that pattern, set out for us by our High Priest, Jesus. Priests (primarily because we have the benefit of a theological education and, hopefully, time to read and reflect on the Bible and theology and what God may be up to in our world today) priests have a rabbinical, or teaching, role in the congregation. One teacher among many, hopefully.

 Priests are also preachers, proclaimers. And what we are to proclaim, according to Matthew, is “the good news of the kingdom.” That means the incredible message that God is in charge of this world…and that we are not! And that our task is to work and pray and give so that this world may begin to look a little more like God’s Kingdom, God’s Realm until, one day, it will be established in its fullness – in God’s time, not ours.

And, priests are healers. Not just when they pray for the sick or anoint us with the oil of unction, but as they gather the community, as they seek to reconcile differences (within the church and within the wider community), as they preside at the Sacraments of the New Covenant which mark and celebrate major turning points in our lives. Priests are to be healers.

 Matthew goes on to tell us that, when Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt. 9:36). Now, there are surely problems with the sheep and shepherd image. You are not sheep, blindly following your shepherd to find good pasturage. You are young people and adult human beings who have your own responsibilities and leadership in this church of ours. But, to the extent that a shepherd keeps his or her eyes out for the lost sheep, cares deeply for them, and is willing to take risks to make sure the sheep are fed, then clergy have a “shepherding” function. And clearly, a priest without “a shepherd’s compassion” will not serve the church….or the world…very well.

 Finally, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Mt. 9:37-38). That’s sort of what we’re doing here this afternoon. We’re asking the Lord of the harvest to bless and empower Dan and to strengthen him in his work of “bringing in the harvest.” (Pause) But I need to remind you (and him) that one of the dangers of using our High Priest, Jesus, as a model for our own priesthood, is that – the last time I checked – none of us are Jesus Christ!

 More clergy than I like to think about have burned themselves out by not getting that fact straight from the get-go! Priests are not Jesus. The Body of Christ, the Church, is Jesus. Or, at least his hands and feet in the world today. And that’s what the author of the Letter to the Ephesians was reminding us of. He writes, “But EACH of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:7)

 And then, he goes on to list examples of the kind of gifts and ministries that he found in that little church in Ephesus and which I bet you can find right here at St. Paul and the Redeemer – “apostles (those who are sent); prophets (those who “tell forth” God’s challenging word); evangelists (people full of good news); pastors (those who care for and tend others); and teachers (those who pass on the faith to this generation and to the next). The priest’s role is not to DO all those ministries, but to identify them and encourage them and bless them in the lives of others so that – as Ephesians says – “…the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16)

 At our best, we have always known that “ministry” is not a lone ranger’s occupation. Ministry is done by a community of God’s people. That insight stretches all the way back to the Hebrew Scriptures and the book of Numbers which tells us that God instructed Moses to identify seventy “elders of the people” and to have them take their place alongside Moses in the Tent of Meeting. “I will come down,” God says, “and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you…” (Numbers 11:15-17).

 So, Moses learns something about shared ministry and he even learns that others in the community beside himself can be “prophetic.”  The compilers of our lectionary, however, left out what I think is the best part of this story. Right after the 70 “chosen ones” begin to prophesy, we are told (in verses 26-29) that two others remained in the camp. For some reason, Eldad and Medad did not go out to the Tent of Meeting. Yet, somehow God’s Spirit fell on these two as well…and they also began speaking prophetic words.

 Moses’ right hand man, Joshua, finds out about that and says “Moses, stop them.” But Moses replies “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them (all).” (Numbers11:29) I love Eldad and Medad! They were non-conformists who stood outside the “holy place,” outside the tent of meeting – and yet God spoke through them as surely as through Moses and his “in group.”

 So, Dan, welcome to your role as teacher, preacher, healer, and, yes, even shepherd to this congregation. But remember, it is not up to you and your ordained colleagues alone. In fact, it will not be healthy for you or the community if you make that mistake. Remember that you are surrounded by other apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers in this congregation. Rejoice in that fact and see yourself as one minister among many in this place. Work to makeSt. Pauland the Redeemer, not a community gathered around a minister, but a ministering community.

Welcome the fact that God’s prophetic work is carried out by all members of this community. But in doing that, don’t forget Eldad and Medad. Don’t forget that there are voices outside this beautiful “tent of meeting” who are speaking God’s word as powerfully to the church and to the world as you are. Remember that Moses’ prayer has now been fulfilled: “All God’s people ARE prophets…and the LordHASput his spirit on them all!”