Archive for November, 2012

Let Us Dream Of A Church…

November 19, 2012

When I was Bishop of Iowa, one of the visions we held before us was a little poem stitched together by Charles Wilson from the sermons and teachings of one of my episcopal heroes – Wesley Frensdorff, the late Bishop of Nevada. It’s called “The Dream” and, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to cite a few of my favorite verses: Wes said,

“Let us dream of a church…in which all members know surely and simply God’s great love, and each is certain that in the divine heart, we are all known by name…

A church in which…worship is lively and fun as well as reverent and holy; and we might be moved to dance and laugh; to be solemn, cry, or beat the breast…

(A church in which) The Eucharist is the centre of life and servanthood the centre of mission: the servant Lord truly known in the breaking of the bread. With service flowing from worship, and everyone understanding why a worship is called a service.

A church…without the answers, but asking the right questions; holding law and grace, freedom and authority, faith and works together in mission…So deeply rooted in gospel and tradition that, like a living tree, it can swing in the wind and continually surprise us with new blossoms.”

Well, I find myself thinking of that poem almost every Sunday I am privileged to visit among you in this fine diocese! Worship is lively and fun in most places, large and small, that I have visited. It’s clear that the Eucharist is the center of your life together, but that the old reminder at the end of the liturgy that “the worship is over…the service begins” is being made manifest in your lives. I don’t think I’ve been to any congregation not involved seriously in some kind of outreach and service in the wider community.

But it’s the last line I cited from “the Dream” I’m most impressed with: that we can be “a church so deeply rooted in gospel and tradition that, like a living tree, it can swing in the wind and continually surprise us with new blossoms.” The Diocese of Chicago has a long and venerable tradition of catholic faith and order, but a tradition open to reformation and renewal. And, whatever church is emerging as we move deeper into the 21st century will only survive and thrive if it can live in the midst of that creative tension.

We cannot remain ossified in traditional-ism, but neither can we yield to the temptation of trying to invent a new church. It’s not necessary to have all the answers. In fact, a church claiming to have all the answers will become less and less appealing as the years and decades roll on. But we must be a church asking the right questions. I see those questions being asked in this diocese in how we structure ourselves, in how we incarnate ourselves into the wider community, and how honest we are in conversation with one another, “fierce” conversation…honest conversation.


I am so very grateful to Jeff Lee and to his fine staff for welcoming us so warmly into the diocese over these last ten months. And to all of you who have made us feel so very at home as we move among you Sunday by Sunday. The best part of being a bishop is what happens on Sunday mornings and I get to do that (without all the stresses and strains that come with the office Monday through Friday!). I’ve also appreciated very much the opportunity to continue my involvement with ecumenical and inter-religious relations by representing the diocese on the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and, occasionally, the Illinois Council of Churches.

I’ve told Jeff that I am open to whatever would be helpful over the next few years as we live into our new staffing structure, complete the amazing project around St. James Commons, and take the next steps in our exciting possibilities with the Diocese of Quincy. One of the good things about being retired is the freedom and flexibility that provides. Whether the future holds the election of a full-time Assistant Bishop or some combination of newly retired bishops working with the diocesan, it has been privilege to be part of your life in these exciting times.

And I look forward to the new church year and to whatever 2013 brings! Thank you for being so deeply rooted…that you can swing freely in the breeze…and continually surprise us with new blossoms!

C. Christopher Epting

Assisting Bishop








Having the Mind of Christ: Thinking Like Jesus

November 12, 2012

Well, I can tell you that it is an exercise in humility for Episcopal clergy to read and preach on our Gospel reading for today! On this Sunday, every three years, we dress up in our long robes, prepare to be greeted with respect in our churches, take our best seats up front when the service begins, and prepare to say long prayers…just before getting the best seats at the pot luck meal immediately following the service. And then, we hear Jesus say, “They will receive the greater condemnation!” (Mark 12) About the only thing we clergy don’t do, that Jesus warns about in today’s Reading, is to “devour widows’ houses!” At least most of us don’t!

And, of course, it’s easy to explain all this away by saying, “Oh, but these were the scribes and the Pharisees Jesus is being critical of – not us! But then, just who were the scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day? They were the teachers and preachers and religious leaders of the Temple and synagogue. Just like we clergy are the teachers and preachers and religious leaders of our Cathedrals and churches of today! So…I don’t think we get off so easy!

What Jesus is warning us about, of course, is spiritual pride and the abuse of power which can come crashing down on all religious leaders of whatever denomination or faith. And, since neither the scribes nor the Pharisees were actually “ordained” to the priesthood, we’ll have to concede that this warning is directed to all of us – to clergy and to lay leaders alike! We all need to be on our guard. Because it’s very easy, in a church that honors its clergy and lay leadership to begin to, as it were, “believe our own publicity!”

In a church which dresses her bishops up in hats that look suspiciously like crowns (even though our miters are supposed to represent the tongues of flame seen on the heads of the first Apostles on the Day of Pentecost). And, in a church where at least some of us call our priests “Father” (despite Jesus’ warning about that)…

And in a church which honors the servanthood of deacons with the scriptural description that “the greatest among you must be your servant – it might be easy for even them to say, “Well, see, I AM the greatest after all…because I’m the best servant ever!” And in a church which proudly boasts of its lay leadership and gives Vestries and Diocesan and National Conventions powers unheard of in the rest of Christendom – it would be easy for lay people too to be swelled with their own importance, if they aren’t careful.

And that, of course, once again, is Jesus’ point: we need to…BE CAREFUL! To be full of care. Full of care that we do not begin to “believe our own publicity.” To be full of care when we exercise whatever authority we have been given we do it appropriately. To be full of care for the people we serve and the people to whom we are sent that we may be guided by our baptismal promises to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves…AND to respect the dignity of every human being!” (BCP 417)

There is a famous passage in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians which tells us how to do all that. Paul says, “ If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:1-8)

In other words, we need to learn humility by having the mind of Christ! We need to learn to “think like Jesus.”

And one of the ways we do that is to listen to his teaching. Especially to his parables and stories…like the story of the poor widow which concludes today’s Gospel Reading. Scholars tell us that this story may not have been original with Jesus. There is a Buddhist version…more to the point, there is another version in rabbinic literature and still another in ancient Greek writings. And the point is always the same: God appreciates the small sacrifices of the poor more than the extravagant offerings of the rich.

Most of Jesus’ stories and parables are simple and straight to the point like that. Whether he made them up on his own or borrowed them from the rich storehouse of wisdom literature in his Jewish tradition. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which of the figures in the story has “the mind of Christ,” does it?

The rich people in the story “put in large sums” of money. Jesus never had large sums of money, although we do know that he and his disciples gave money to the poor, paid their taxes, and taught others to do the same. The poor widow in the story “put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.” Yet Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44)

And in the final analysis, this story is not so much about money as it is about sacrifice. The rich folks in the story gave lots of money, but they didn’t make much of a sacrifice to do it. They had plenty. The widow…gave all she had. That, I think, is what Jesus is asking us to do.

Not to be content with a Sunday morning faith in God which means we might be in church if we have nothing better to do. But to give our lives – like Jesus – as “an offering and sacrifice to God.” To find ways to serve God and God’s world, not only on Sundays, or in our spare time. Not even in the hours and days we give to “church work” (which I know many of you do and do faithfully).

But truly to give our lives to God and to try to have “the mind of Christ” (to think like Jesus) as they say 24/7. On the job, in our neighborhoods, and in our families. If you do that you won’t have to worry about spiritual pride or the abuse of whatever power you may have in the world or in the church.

You’ll be too busy “seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” You’ll be too busy “striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of every human being.”

You’ll be too busy…in your poverty…putting in everything you have. All you have to live on.