Archive for the ‘Blogroll’ Category

Disappointed in Barack

April 24, 2017

I will be very interested to see what Barack Obama has to say this week in his first post-presidential address at the University of Chicago. So far, I have not been impressed.

It’s not that I begrudge the Obamas taking a well-deserved vacation after eight grueling years in the White House. But it seems to me that he could have sent a better signal than jetting off from Washington for Palm Springs and then to the British Virgin Islands where he was seen kite-surfing with British billionaire Richard Branson. Oh yeah, and then the Obamas spent nearly a month in the French Polynesia on another yacht.

This is the same kind of disappointment I felt when learning that my former president was moving into a nine-bedroom mansion a few miles from the White House instead of returning to their relatively modest, but lovely, home on the South Side of Chicago.  After his speech to at-risk youth in the Windy City today, Barack will begin a series of handsomely paid speeches in a conversation with Doris Kearns Goodwin (which should actually be quite interesting — she is something else!) and then embarking on a speaking tour in Italy and at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Is Barack Obama really no different from every other politician?

I did not expect him to criticize openly Donald Trump in his first 100 days in the White House. The ” we only have one president at a time” philosophy is a time-honored one. Except when the Donald himself chose to violate it time and time again during the campaign. As Sarah Kovner a New York Democrat who raised more than a million bucks for Obama’s campaigns recently observed, “Why are we not hearing from him? We’ve got to hear from him. Democrats are desperate!”

Today’s speech in Chicago could be a time for the former president to begin to turn things around. Even without mounting a full assault on the Trump Administration, Obama could begin to send us a signal that his post-presidency will begin to take the shape of Jimmy Carter’s or even Bill Clinton’s (whose Foundation, despite all the criticism, has done enormous amounts of good around the world). Barack Obama could begin that trajectory today. Or…

Is Barack Obama  any really no different than any other politician?

Where’s Wyatt When We Need Him?

April 13, 2017

It says something about our times that I was not even surprised to find this headline in today’s Des Moines Register, “Iowa to become latest state to allow guns in its Capitol.” And so we will join 17 others states which allow such foolishness despite the head of Capitol security’s concern about “how guns will mix with heated debates and big crowds as lawmakers take up divisive issues.”

The NRA’s answer, “Iowa state lawmakers know it is hypocritical of them to allow carry elsewhere but to ban it in the Capitol building. In the halls where freedom is celebrated, freedoms should be exercised,”Catherine Mortensen, NRA spokeswoman proclaimed. I guess that might be fine if only the lawmakers were at risk of getting shot dead, but what about schoolchildren who regularly visit the Capitol? Does no one remember Sandy Hook?

Perhaps we should be comforted by the Republican lawmakers who supported the legislation who wisely point out that weapons holders could use them to stop someone intent on killing people. After all, “despite metal detectors, an armed intruder could get into the Capitol through other doors that don’t have security check points.” Oh.

I keep thinking back to Wyatt Earp and his brothers who did their best to bring law and order to the rough and ready frontier towns of Dodge City, Kansas and Tombstone Arizona in the decades following the Civil War. One of the first things they did was to require visitors to “check their weapons” at the first place they visited in town — the livery stable, the bars, the hotels.

They could pick them up on the way out of town but neither concealed carry nor open carry was permitted under the Earp “administrations.” Crime and certainly killing went down. And this in an era when virtually everyone was armed because of the wild territory they inhabited and lack of respect for the law, such as it was, by many. Nonetheless, they checked their guns in Dodge City.

Where’s Wyatt when we need him?

The Greatest Prayer

April 5, 2017

As I prayed the Lord’s Prayer this morning, I was reminded of how easy it can be to say it mindlessly because it is so familiar to us. In my tradition we say this prayer twice each day as part of our Morning and Evening Prayers and it is included in every Eucharist. Most other Christian traditions use the Our Father frequently as well.

I am also aware that the prayer is difficult for some because of its largely first-century world view and the dominant masculine and patriarchal imagery (“Father,” “Kingdom,” etc.). Allow me to share how I understand what generations of Christians including modern biblical scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan have called “The Greatest Prayer.”

First of all, when I say “Our Father” the emphasis is on the “our.” Alan Jones used to send his students at General Seminary out to ride on the New York subway and say the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father,” Alan would smile wryly, “surely not Their Father, God?” Yes, my friends, “father” of us all. And though the masculine image of parent should be supplemented in other prayers with more gender inclusive terms, no serious scholar debates that “Abba” was Jesus’ favorite way of referring to the God of Israel. It is at least one way to understand God.

This God “who art in heaven” surely does not only live above the clouds in the top story of a three-tiered universe. But just as surely God can be found in heaven…in the heavens. I see the Holy One in the beauty of a sunrise and in the orderly rotation of the planets around the sun, and in the dying and the birth of stars too far away even to imagine. That God is in the heavens as well as all around me and in the depths of my spirit.

“Hallowed by thy Name,” of course, refers to the holiness of the very name of God which the Hebrews believed had been revealed first to them. The Tetragrammaton (YHWH) of the Hebrew Bible is unpronounceable in the tradition but is perhaps best rendered “Yahweh” – I Am Who I Am or I Will Be Who I Will Be. Or, “Being” itself, “Existence.” For this is the essence of holiness. Holy is our very being.

I refuse to stop praying “Thy Kingdom Come” just because a monarchial system may be foreign to many today and not the best way to understand God anyway – as some kind of Middle Eastern potentate. But, as biblical scholars as different as Borg, Crossan, and N.T. Wright all remind us, to speak of the Kingdom of God really means God’s king-ship, sovereignty and reign. And it is another way of reminding ourselves that God is king and the principalities, powers, and rulers of this age are not. This has enormous implications for our mission as Christians.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we express our desire that that state of affairs, this commonwealth be established soon. And that it come into existence here on earth, in our societies just as it is wherever God is truly present. Our prayer is that the commonwealth of justice and peace which is God’s dream for this world be established in our communities just as firmly as the immutable laws of the universe in which this planet exists as a tiny speck.

Too many of our prayers are petitionary in nature, asking God to do this or that for us or for someone we care about. That can be a self-serving and egocentric thing. Yet surely it is appropriate to ask the Giver of all things to “give us this day our daily bread.” It’s a way of being grateful for the fact that everything we have, even bread enough for today, comes from the Creator of us all.

Now, I also believe that we spend way too much time, in my tradition, begging for God’s forgiveness (Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us) as though God has not already forgiven us because God is the essence of love and forgiveness itself. We don’t need to beg for it. But, if we truly believe that we stand forgiven because of the love and grace of God we see revealed in Jesus, then is it not right that we appropriate it, receive it into our consciousness. And, even more importantly, that we forgive others as we believe we have been forgiven?

“And lead us not into temptation” is the most problematic phrase in the prayer. We have no idea what was intended. We know that God does not lead anyone into temptation so that’s out! “Do not bring us to the test” or “Save us from the time of trial” may well be about as close as we can get to its original meaning and should remind us that, if we are faithful witnesses to the God of our salvation, we may well be called upon to suffer, even to face persecution or death. In that eventuality, we call upon God for strength and courage.

I am told that I have a “high doctrine” of original sin. That is probably true even though I do not believe it had much to do with the follies of Adam and Eve in the mythological Genesis story.  Whatever the cause (a “fall” from a primitive state of oneness with the creation we see in some indigenous communities still, or an “incompleteness” in this universe which is surely, but ever-so-slowly, evolving toward that perfection which will one day be)  evil is real and this world at least is full of it. From street violence in Chicago to grinding poverty is the two-thirds world to the nuclear ambitions of a madman in North Korea. I am not too proud to ask God to “deliver us from evil” such as that.

I’m glad at least one of the Evangelists and church tradition has included the doxology at the end of Jesus’ prayer whether or not it was original. I often slow my words and try to experience each concept as I pray “For Thine is the kingdom… and the Power…and the GLORY” forever and ever” This universe belongs to God. The power that holds it all together is the power we call love. And the beauty and majesty we can glimpse in the night sky or hear in the harmonies of a symphony show us something of the nature of the Holy One. And this Divine Being will remain forever and ever. To the ages of ages. World without end.

Amen…So be it.

 

Standing At The Mother Mosque

March 29, 2017

Not many people outside of Iowa are aware that the longest standing mosque in North America is in Cedar Rapids. It was built in 1934 by a local community of immigrants and their descendants from what is now Lebanon and Syria. My experience is that most Iowans are proud of this fact and of the surprise it brings to people who hear about its existence for the first time.

However, with Islamophobia rising across our land due largely to the Donald Trump presidency with his fear-mongering technique against all immigrants and his insistence in using the offensive phrase “radical ISLAMIC terrorism” (emphasis on the ISLAMIC), two Iowa women decided, over coffee, that they should do something about it. The younger woman, a lay person, said “Wouldn’t it be neat to form a Circle of Safety around the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids to show our solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters?” The second woman, an Episcopal priest from Grinnell, said, “Go for it” and got busy using her contacts to organize the event.

And so it was that I joined four hundred people from across Iowa and as far away as Chicago on a rainy Sunday afternoon for what turned out to be a glorious occasion. They arrived by the carload and parked up and down the side streets of the modest residential neighborhood where the Mother Mosque is located. There were tours of the tiny mosque, bottles of water and cookies and doughnuts to share. And then some brief addresses.

Imam Taha began by welcoming us all and thanking us for making the effort to be there. He was clearly moved by the turnout. A rabbi (college chaplain at Grinnell College) spoke of the need to stand together. The organizing Episcopal priest used Paul’s analogy of the body with many, diverse members as a metaphor for the American vision as well as for the church. A Hindu layman spoke of peace as did a Sikh woman. A representative from the Atheist Society was bold enough to point out that his group and Muslims were now the two most hated groups in America! And he pledged their support.

And, perhaps most movingly, a gentle woman from the Meskwaki nation near Tama, Iowa reminded us that, as the original residents of this land, they welcome us all here and that we need one another if we are to achieve God’s vision for the world. She spoke, as is her peoples’ custom, with eyes lowered in humility, but with a strong voice and powerful message.

We then sang “This Land Is Your Land” complete with a final verse I had never heard, written from the Native American perspective and included the refrain “this land was stole by you from me!” And, as we sang, we fanned out to ring the little mosque which sits in the middle of a manicured lawn and full city block. We were two and three deep, all around the perimeter, four hundred in all. And it was a beautiful thing to see.

A simple act. Not terribly risky. But a reminder of the better angels of our nature as Iowans…and as Americans…and as people of faith.

What is it about this vision that Donald Trump does not understand?

Grateful For Health Care

March 23, 2017

As we watch this astounding legislative day unfold before us in which the future of health care for many Americans may well be determined, those of us who are clergy of the Episcopal Church might well pause in gratitude for the committed lay people and church leadership over the years who have worked so hard to provide amazing health insurance coverage to say nothing of an extremely generous pension program which is virtually impossible to disappear as so many have in corporate America in the last decades.

“The seed for CPF (the Church Pension Fund) was planted by the Rt. Rev. William Lawrence of Massachusetts when, in 1910, he brought before the General Convention of The Episcopal Church a resolution to create a Joint Commission on the Support of Clergy because he was appalled by the ‘suffering and poverty of the aged servants of the Church’.”

“In 1913, the General Convention voted to establish CPF to provide retirement and disability benefits to eligible clergy…Initial funding for CPF was raised by a committee working with Bishop Lawrence that was led by J. P. Morgan, Adolph Ochs (owner and publisher of the New York Times, and Newcomb Carlton (president of Western Union Telegraph)). More than $8.5 million was collected by March 1, 1917 … the value of that $8.5 million raised to start the fund is over $159 million in today’s dollars.” (Church Pension Group web site — http://www.cpg.org)

Today, the Church Pension Group has expanded to include other products and services and to cover lay employees so critical to the Church’s ability to carry out its mission. In 1978, The Episcopal Church Medical Trust was formed to provide health benefits to eligible clergy and lay employees. And in 2009 the Denominational Health Care Plan was established to provide equal access for lay persons as well as clergy for health care benefits.  The DHP has not been without its difficulties in implementation, but is a much-needed attempt to be just and fair to lay as well as clergy employees of the Episcopal Church.

I have been the beneficiary of fine health insurance since my ordination in 1972 and now continue to count on its benefits in retirement as well as enjoying the security of a rock-solid pension. Having served congregations large and small as a parish priest for sixteen years and walking with similar congregations as a bishop for nearly forty more, I am well aware of the struggles many congregations have had to go through to provide such health insurance and pension payments for their clergy.

In a time of declining church attendance and participation, it has become increasingly difficult for smaller congregations to provide this health coverage and various attempts at premium cost-sharing with clergy and lay employees and other cost-saving measures are being discussed all across the church. Whatever the solutions are, I have confidence that my church will be there for its clergy and lay professionals and will do all in its power to keep us healthy as we serve and financially secure in retirement. I am so grateful for that.

Perhaps because Episcopalians have worked so hard to address this issue and we clergy realize how very fortunate we are, we continue to advocate for universal coverage, for health care seen as a right and not as a commodity, and — many of us, at least — eventually for a single-payer, “Medicare For All” type of national health insurance such as that which much of the developed world enjoys.

Let us continue to advocate for those whose health insurance coverage and long term retirement security are at risk in the modern world and specifically in today’s debates.

And let us do so, motivated at least in part, by our mindfulness of how very blessed we are and how grateful we must always be!

 

An Isolationist Budget Blueprint

March 17, 2017

I am not as worried about the Trump administration’s proposed budget blueprint as some are. It is as much a campaign document as a serious attempt at a budget. And, as David Jackson points out in a recent USA Today article, “Even some Republicans balk at some of the proposed double- digit reductions in programs ranging from foreign aid to the Environmental Protection Agency, with outright eliminations of programs that range from the National Endowment for the Arts to legal aid for the poor.”

Trump’s “art of the deal” style, it seems, is to put out the most outrageous proposals, claims, or statements and then begin to walk them back under the rubric of “negotiation” and making a deal. That’s not all bad as long as everyone understands what he is doing and that we should never, ever take this man seriously as to what he says. His rhetoric may be horrifying, but what we need to do is fight like hell to counter and soften the actual policies and legislation which will actually pass. Make no mistake, the final budget will not be good (after all, Republicans control both Houses of Congress and the White House) but it can be improved.

My concern though is that the budget blueprint signals the kind of priorities this Administration will pursue. A release from J Street (the pro Israel, pro peace lobby) puts it most succinctly: This “…blueprint embodies an isolationist worldview and dependence on military might to solve problems at the expense of multilateral diplomacy.” The draconian cuts to the State Department (apparently rolled over for by Secretary Tillerson) mostly in the area of foreign aid makes it clear that the Trumpites much prefer the “hard power” of military threat and action to the “soft power” of actual diplomacy which has proved so effective since the end of World War II.

I do not dispute that one of the chief responsibilities of government is to provide for the common defense and to keep its people safe from “enemies foreign and domestic.” I do dispute the assertion that the best way to do this is through massive investment in military spending when we already have — far and away — the most powerful and effective fighting force in the world.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, makes the point that this budget plan simply reflects what the President campaigned on, but he did pledge to work with Congress to resolve disputes and stated that this is not a “take it or leave it” kind of plan.

Let us devoutly hope not. For, if they try to force us to take it, we will simply have to leave it!

Our Rapid Slide Into Tyranny

March 10, 2017

Let me be clear (as our old friend, Bernie Sanders is wont to say): I am for a single-payer, universal, Medicare-for-all health care system paid for by higher taxes on corporations and the extremely, obscenely rich. I would have supported it when Harry Truman tried to get it passed, I was for it when the Clintons tried it once again, and I was for it when Barack Obama and the Democrats got at least something through Congress in the Affordable Care Act.

I am not naive to the fact that there are many problems with the A.C.A. but I am certain that, with all the energy and political capital now being used to “repeal and replace” it, we could “mend it, not end it” in a bipartisan manner and probably within one presidential term. But not, obviously, with this President.

Watching wonky Paul Ryan with his rolled-up shirt sleeves and outdated power-point presentation the other day, it was as though the unreal world in which we seem to be living these days was unfolding before me. He actually believes that the “free market” system and competition between health care providers and health care savings accounts would provide better coverage at a lower cost to consumers (I prefer the word “patients,” you know – sick people!).

Does anyone actually believe that a single mother of two, working a job and a half to keep food on the table would have the time and energy to run around to multiple doctors’ offices, get a price (a bid?) on what might turn out to be a much-needed, life-saving medical procedure, “comparison-shop” the market and then decide where she should take her suffering child for treatment? The absurdity of such an approach is only rivaled by its heartlessness.

And, in contrast to the Democrats’ principled opposition to this new proposal, the GOP opposition is mainly arguing for even worse approaches with Rand Paul’s (for whom I used to have at least some respect) being the most callous. And he is a physician. Maybe that explains it.

Except that the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the AARP all oppose this Trump-endorsed, Republican plan. They know that it will throw millions off of their health insurance and put in place a system which will actually cover fewer people at a higher cost.

Donald Trump’s fall-back position is reportedly to step back if the Republican plan fails, let Obamacare collapse under its own weight, and blame the Democrats! All this while thousands suffer and die because their previously relied upon health insurance has been cancelled. His narcissistic and vengeful personality has probably not even thought about those likely consequences. Only how sweet it would be to blame the hated Obama and his Party for the chaos which would most certainly occur in the face of this kind of neglect.

It has been hard for me even to sit down at the computer and compose a blog in recent days and weeks. I cannot believe that this country I love is spiraling out of control and to such depths. Except for fruitless opposition by the minority Democrats in Congress and noble protests at Republican town hall meetings and in various state capitals, nobody even seems to be doing much about it. I do not understand how so many people consistently vote against their own self-interests even when they are motivated by the scare tactics of the oligarchy which supports Donald Trump and his minions.

These are scary times, my friends. Join me in resisting these trends whenever and however you can. And please, please, please cast your votes in 2018 and 2020 for Democrats or progressive Independents who can actually win and begin to slow our increasingly rapid slide into tyranny.

Temptation

March 5, 2017

This first Sunday in Lent is always marked by the story of Jesus’ Temptations in the wilderness, his 40-day fast, upon which our season of Lent is based. Years ago, I did a sabbatical at our Anglican College of St. George in Jerusalem and spent some time in the very Judean wilderness we heard about in our Gospel this morning.

The desert in which Jesus spent some forty days, fasting and in prayer, begins just outside the city of Jerusalem. In fact, it’s positively startling to drive, or walk, a total of a few miles from Jerusalem’s city center…to crest the top of a little hill…and to find yourself gazing out into some of the bleakest and most dangerous countryside in the world. This particular desert is not miles and miles of snow white sand drifts like we sometimes picture it.

It is bleak, barren, rocky ground so hot and dry that you have to wear a hat at all times and drink water constantly in order not to dehydrate and suffer heat stroke in a hurry. My assumption is that Jesus fasted mostly from solid foot during those forty days (as a matter of fact, others have done that) but that he did drink water.

And, during those days of fasting and prayer, Jesus – as a relatively young man, by our standards, but in those days it may have been more like midlife – struggled with just what his life and ministry were going to look like from this point on. He had inaugurated his public ministry by being baptized in the Jordan River by John, but immediately felt led by the Holy Spirit to make an extended retreat, a time apart to get some perspective on his life and to seek fresh energy for what lay ahead.

And Matthew’s Gospel tells us that he had to wrestle with several primary temptations. First of all, Jesus was tempted to try and meet everyone’s needs by turning miles and miles of rocks and stones and boulders into bread enough to feed the known world. And, as wonderful as that would have been, Jesus came to see that not even ending world hunger would satisfy what we are really hungry for. Deep down, we’re hungry for God’s Word.  We want to hear from God, and to know that we are loved and cared about. And so Jesus said, “It is written: One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)

Then, Jesus was tempted to do something even more dramatic, to do something spectacular to prove that he was God’s Son and that God would come through for him by sending angels to protect him just like Psalm 91 had promised.  Actually, we’re told later that Jesus was ministered to by angels, but not in the showy, egocentric way the Tempter had in mind. So Jesus said, “Again it is written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7)

And, finally, Jesus was tempted to “sell out” for this world’s goods. “All the kingdoms of the world can be yours, Jesus, if you’ll just worship them…and me…instead of God.” But Jesus replied, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord our God and serve only him.” (Matthew 4:10) (Pause)

I don’t know what your specific temptations are, but if you’re anything like me, they may not be all that different (in substance) from those Jesus faced. The temptation to try and meet everyone’s needs…the temptation to do something spectacular to draw attention to yourself…and, maybe above all else, the temptation to “sell out,” to forget that we cannot serve God and Mammon and to cave in to the values of the world rather than the values of the Gospel. But, you know, you can ward off those temptations too — in much the same way Jesus did. By being attentive to God’s Word…by refusing to put God to the test…and by rededicating yourself to put God first in your life – and nothing else! (Pause)

We’re entering more fully today into the season of Lent. Like Jesus’ experience in the desert, it is a time for fasting and for prayer. A time to listen for God’s Word…a time to stop putting God to the test…a time for worship and for service. I hope you’ve taken on some spiritual disciplines to help you do some of that. The Ash Wednesday Liturgy told you what some of those disciplines are (but it’s not too late to begin today, if you missed the first days of the season!)

Those disciplines are: self-examination and repentance…prayer, fasting and self-denial…reading and meditating on the Bible. I invite you – once again – to keep a holy Lent this year. May our prayer for these days be the prayer of the Psalmist this morning…a prayer which, quite likely, Jesus himself prayed during his Lent, his forty days in the desert.

You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with shouts of deliverance. (Psalm 32:8)

 

 

 

Reading The Bible Again

March 2, 2017

I am choosing an unusual Lenten discipline this year. In addition to acts of abstinence and dipping back into some Marcus Borg, I am once again embarking on “the Bible Challenge” (reading the Bible through from cover to cover). But this time I am daily reading three chapters of the Hebrew Bible, one Psalm, and one chapter of the New Testament — in the King James’ Version!

Why in the world would I do such a thing? Well, after decades of reading only the most recent translations of the Bible — The Revised Standard Version, The Jerusalem Bible, the New English Bible, The New Revised Standard, etc. — I felt the need to immerse myself once again in the elegance of the English poetry and prose of the KJV. Certainly I am aware of the fact that more recent translations are more accurate in the rendering of the Hebrew and Greek texts and that recent scholarship is reflected in these editions which was simply not available to the translators of King James.

Yet I am thoroughly (or should I say “throughly!”) enjoying the melodic rhythms of this classic text and remembering that one of the reasons it seems so ponderous and downright difficult to follow in places is because the translators of the KJV followed pretty much the order of the Hebrew and Greek words of the manuscripts they had available. Sometimes, new (or rather old) meaning can be gleaned from this original word order  — or at least, so it seems to me.

Undoubtedly some of the pleasure I am receiving from this exercise hearkens back to the fact that I was an English literature major in college and remember with pleasure reading Shakespeare, John Donne, Spencer and Swift marveling at the sheer beauty of their use of the English language. It is a joy once again for me to relish in, and wrestle with, such literature.

I would never recommend the King James Version (or even Rite One, for that matter) for regular liturgical worship these days. Clarity of thought and contemporary theology is best understood in the language “understanded of the people.” That was the whole reason for translating the Holy Scriptures from their original languages into Latin and eventually, by the Reformers, from Latin into English. People need to be confronted with the “Word of God” in language they understand easily.

But, like browsing through an old photo album and thus immersing oneself in one’s history, from time to time it may well be worth meditating on the words of the venerable King James’ Version of the Bible. Or, at least, this Lent, so it seems to me.

World Mission Begins At Home

February 28, 2017

We conclude the great missionary season of Epiphany today. I say “missionary” because this season has been all about the light of Christ shining into the whole world, making it clear that the Good News of God’s love was not to be limited to the people of Israel or any one,  ethnic group, but was always intended to be shared throughout the world to all people.  Because of that, the Last Sunday after The Epiphany every year has been designated “World Mission Sunday” by the Episcopal Church. Our mission to the whole world!

One of the ways we do “World Mission” in our church is by a network of Companion Dioceses. We pray every week for our long-term relationship with the Diocese of Brechin in Scotland and our one with Swaziland which was established during my time as Bishop of Iowa. And, of course, we now have an even newer companionship with the Diocese of Nzara in South Sudan.

They especially need our prayers these days as their country descends even more deeply into chaos and war. Please remember Bishop Samuel Peni and his family. He actually studied for the priesthood right here in our diocese, in Dubuque, at one of the seminaries there, and his family received financial support from the people of Trinity Cathedral. They are our companions in World Mission!

And we always read the Gospel story of the Transfiguration on this Sunday because it was one of the formative experiences for Peter, James and John as they were present at a powerful mountain-top experience of Jesus. And they realized –quite literally “in a flash” – that Jesus was the embodiment of the Law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah). This realization left them silenced for a time, but it didn’t take long for them to regain their voices and to be about their mission as apostles…as those who are sent.

Well, you and I are the “sent ones” today. We’re the ones who are sent to share with our families, friends, and neighbors what we’ve discovered about God through Jesus and the church, and to continue to let God’s light shine in our dark world today. Our Prayer Book Catechism says that “the mission of the Church is to restore all people…to unity with God…and each other…in Christ.”

But that’s a pretty sparse definition, so the Anglican Communion has tried to flesh it out a bit, by adopting something called “The Five Marks of Mission.” It’s a kind of check-list for us to see if we are being about the mission of the church. I’d like to share them with you this morning:

Mark #1 is “to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.” Obviously, it all starts there. We are to witness, by our words and our deeds, the extremely good news that God is in charge of this world, and that we are not! That’s what it means to live under the king-ship, the reign, the sovereignty of God…and to begin doing it right now! That’s one reason good preaching is important. It’s typically done by an ordained person, but more and more licensed “lay” preachers are being trained and commissioned for this important ministry.

Since Susanne and I moved to Iowa City, we’ve been attending New Song and I’ve been mightily impressed with the several lay preachers I have heard. They bring a unique and different perspective to the pulpit and to the proclamation of the Gospel that never fails to move me.

Mark #2 is “to teach, baptize, and nurture new believers.” So, Christian education is important for a congregation as well. If we have young people, then of course Sunday school and such newer programs like Godly Play and Journey to Adulthood need to happen. But, our formation as Christians doesn’t stop when we grow up and get confirmed!  Bible studies, Education for Ministry, and the kind of ministry formation programs we hope you will get involved in here at St. Alban’s help keep us alive and growing in our faith, instead of just stagnating and sort of “treading water” in our spiritual lives.

Mark #3 is “to respond to human need by loving service.” St. Francis famously said, “Preach the Gospel always…if necessary, use words!” And, by that, he meant that serving other people is also a way to demonstrate that they are valued and treasured by their Creator, and that God, and God’s people, want only the best for them. That’s why we’re so proud of you for the outreach you do in this community by hosting the various recovery groups, by the feeding program, the underwear ministry, the gift bags, and by the faithful jail outreach which emanates from your gathered life here as the People of God.

Mark #4 is “to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” Some people are uncomfortable with the church speaking out in the public square, but the “separation of church and state” doesn’t mean that the church has no role in society. It means that the state may not establish any one religion in this country. The church should never be “partisan” but Jesus does call us stand with the poor and the marginalized, and to challenge structures that oppress and hurt people.

Sometimes, you can either keep pulling people out of a raging river one at a time, or you can go upstream and find out who’s throwing them in…and try to make them stop! The work Grant Curtis and others do to make our community a more accepting and welcoming place for recent immigrants and new citizens of the United States is a good example of this Fourth Mark of Mission.

Finally, Mark #5 is “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” It has to be said that we Christians have not always taken our responsibility to this planet very seriously. And while it’s true that the first Creation story in Genesis says that we are to “be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it,” (Genesis 1:28), the second account of Creation says that God put us in the Garden of Eden “to till it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:1):  in other words, to be good stewards of the earth. Like a good farmer is to be a good steward of the land – so that it will bear fruit for years to come.

I hope that your vestry keeps that responsibility in mind as you make decisions in this congregation about how you care for this beautiful piece of property you are stewards of, whether that’s in how you conserve energy or how you re-cycle or how you take care of the land.

Well, we enter the holy season of Lent this week. This Wednesday is “Ash Wednesday.” Lent is a time of self-examination and repentance, of prayer, fasting and self-denial. I hope you’ve been thinking about something to give up for Lent or something new to take on…or both! But it’s not only a time for self-examination of our personal lives. It can be a time for the church to do some self-examination of our own –corporately.

Are we carrying out the mission of the church here at St. Alban’s, are we willing to make the kind of changes necessary to make sure we can continue carrying out that mission for years to come? Are we proclaiming the Good News? Nurturing our young people? Serving the poor? Speaking out against violence? Being good stewards of this beautiful world God has given us?

If not, there’s still time to repent. Still time to turn around and go in a new direction. Still time to heed the voice from the cloud which spoke to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration: Look: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”