Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

On The 25th Anniversary of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Des Moines, Becoming A Cathedral

November 18, 2018

After I was elected bishop of this diocese in 1988, for the next couple of years I spent Christmas Eves and Easters away from my family. This, because in the tradition I was raised in, the Bishop was expected to be in his Cathedral on those high holy days – especially for Easter. And, in Iowa, the Cathedral just happened to be located three hours east of where the bishop lived and worked – Trinity Cathedral in Davenport!

That Cathedral had been established there for all kinds of good reasons. Iowa’s first bishop, Henry Washington Lee, had lived there and started the missionizing of Iowa from that base of operations.  Trinity was only the second church built specifically to be an Episcopal cathedral west of the Mississippi River.

But, as the state developed and the capitol was eventually established in Des Moines, it made sense for the Bishop of Iowa to live here, in the geographical, political, and eventually economic center of the state. Yet the Cathedral remained in Davenport!

Not only because of the slight inconvenience of those first Christmases and Easters spent away from home, but because St. Paul’s had functioned as a kind of “stand in” cathedral for many decades, hosting Diocesan Conventions and diocesan gatherings of different kinds and because St. Paul’s had a history of the kind of good liturgy and great music associated with cathedral churches, I began to wonder about moving Iowa’s cathedral here.

When I floated the idea there was some support –and some resistance! — here and also, of course, at Trinity, Davenport!  Here, because of a concern that “the diocese” and even “the bishop” might exercise too much control over St. Paul’s. In Davenport, obviously, because they had become quite accustomed to being the cathedral after 121 years!

But, because of the support of Dean John Hall of Trinity and Michael Barlowe who was rector here at the time and — I might add — a little politicking on my part, in 1993 we were able to pass a carefully-crafted Canon at Diocesan Convention entitled “Of the Cathedrals!”  Section 1 reads:

“The Convention of the Diocese of Iowa hereby acknowledges Trinity Church, Davenport, and St. Paul’s Church, Des Moines as the Cathedrals of the Diocese. Trinity Cathedral is recognized as the historic site, and St. Paul’s Cathedral as the liturgical center of the Diocese.” With that, we joined the Diocese of Nebraska and the Diocese of Minnesota – and a few others around the country – as dioceses with two functioning cathedrals, for similar historical reasons.

My experience and dream for a cathedral church had been formed and honed by the years I spent as Canon Residentiary at St. John’s Cathedral in the Diocese of Florida. That great Gothic church sits in the middle of downtown Jacksonville.

When The Rev. Bob Parks (later Rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street) was Dean, there had been a move to relocate St. John’s out in the suburbs thereby joining the “white flight” which was taking place out of the inner city in those days.

Bob fought that impulse and the congregation eventually recommitted itself to stay in the city as a witness to Christ’s healing and constant presence. Today (and when I was there) St. John’s boasts three senior citizen high rise apartment buildings, a nursing home, a cutting edge ministry in the heart of the inner city called Urban Jacksonville, and Jacksonville Episcopal High School.

Since I left, they have added a preschool serving the downtown area and serve a Friday Café luncheon in partnership with a local Culinary Institute frequented by business people and others from the downtown area. St. John’s is a vibrant presence known and respected by many in the city – church folk or not.

Well, the times are different today.  Government money is not as available to partner with churches and other non-profits which agree to sponsor and support such senior housing and nursing home projects. Church-related high schools and colleges are fewer and farther between.

But cathedrals still have special vocations and responsibilities today, as they always have, and as you no doubt heard from Gary Hall who knows a thing or two about the subject, having been Dean of Washington’s National Cathedral – one of our Church’s finest legacies.

I believe cathedrals should have a special relationship with the bishop and the ministry of the entire diocese in which they are located. Our family made St. Paul’s our church home during my years here. I was able to preach and preside at the Eucharist on most Christmas Eves and Easters as well as at a midweek service in the chapel from time to time.

When Mills House was undergoing some much-needed sprucing up, we enjoyed the hospitality of St. Paul’s as we officed here for a few months and Dean Barlowe and I even talked about the Diocese selling Mills House and building a second story over the office wing, having the bishop’s office down here… until we learned that structurally that would be impossible.

I believe that cathedrals should offer the best contemporary liturgy and music possible, reflecting — as far as they can —  the best of the spirit and style of churches across the diocese in which they are located. They should be models of good liturgy, great music, worship and prayer.

Cathedrals should offer a ministry of hospitality, not only to diocesan conventions and state-wide meetings, but a place all members of the diocese should feel is their “church home” when they are visiting or working in the “see city.” In Jacksonville, St. John’s offered a daily Eucharist presided over – not only by the Dean and Canons – but by visiting clergy from across the city.  Parishioners and non-parishioners alike attended those services.

When – as is so often the case – cathedrals are located in an urban center, they should be part of the city itself and active in ecumenical and interfaith witness when they occur. When that “see city” happens to be – as it is here – the state capitol, cathedrals have a special role to be a voice for the Church speaking truth to power, be that the governor, the state legislature, or the judiciary.

Cathedrals are often impressive church buildings offering a visual statement of the majesty of God and forming part of the beauty in the landscape of the city. But Jesus warns us about being too caught up in that aspect of our life in today’s Gospel,

“As (he) came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:1-2). The transitory nature of earthly monuments!

Some attention will always need to be paid to bricks and mortar, and there is much to be said for visual witnesses to the presence of God in the city. But the heart of a cathedral, like any Assembly of God’s people, is our commitment to the Risen Christ and our witness to him! As the author of Hebrews wrote:

“…since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:20-25)

Hearts in full assurance of faith…holding fast to the confession of our hope…provoking one another to love and good deeds…meeting together and encouraging one another

Those are the marks of any Christian community, not only a cathedral.

But surely a cathedral is called – in a special way – to hold them high.

Thank you for being willing to rise to that challenge 25 years ago. And let me encourage you to find new and even better ways to carry it out over the next 25.

I’ll see you on the 50th!

 

 

The Widow and Her Mite: Exemplar or Victim?

November 11, 2018

Sort of wish I hadn’t agreed to preside at the Eucharist today for Elizabeth – especially after I took a look at the Gospel where Jesus tells us to: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk about in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” (Mark 12)

Now, I think Jesus was talking about an attitude of mind and heart more than he was about ecclesiastical haberdashery, but you get the point. In a liturgical church like ours, we have to always keep in mind that “uniforms” like vestments and clerical collars are about designating functions and roles – NOT about spiritual superiority or oppressive hierarchy. But we must always be vigilant to assure that one does not turn into the other — Because they certainly have throughout much of our history.

I am glad that I got to wrestle with the second part of this particular Gospel reading though, because I’d like to use it as an example of how Scripture can always be looked at in a variety of ways, and that that’s part of why it can be fresh and new in every age and in different contexts. And I’m grateful to a young emerging church pastor named Doug Pagitt for his little book Flipped in which he talks about how “flipping” certain passages of Scripture from how we have traditionally understood them can challenge us in new and exciting ways.

In one chapter he takes on our Gospel reading for today. And, I’m going to quote him directly just so you’ll know I’m not making this stuff up! Doug writes: “About a year ago, I Flipped a story of the widow who gave all she had. At my church, Solomon’s Porch, we use an open discussion group on Tuesdays to put together the sermon for the following Sunday”.

“We are reading this story, and I was telling the group how I had used it at retreats. A man who was visiting had joined us for the evening. When I finished talking, he said, ‘I think you have that story totally wrong.’ As he explained himself, I knew he was right.”

“He suggested that Jesus wasn’t using this woman as an exemplar of faith. Instead Jesus was pointing her out as a victim of the temple’s requirements. Because this was a Temple tax, not a freewill offering! Jesus wasn’t saying, ‘Be like this woman.’ He was saying, ‘Be careful or you will be like this woman. The system will leave you penniless and broke. It will take all you have and leave you with nothing to live on.’ It was as if he were saying, ‘For the rich, this system works fine. But for those who have given all they have, they end up with nothing.’”

“This guy pointed out the verses that preceded this story.  Jesus was in the temple issuing warnings: ‘Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers.’ Then a widow came along and proved Jesus’ point!” (Flipped, by Doug Pagitt, Chapter 6)

And the verses which follow directly after this passage strengthen the argument, “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings?’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2) Those verses, and the warning about the scribes, form the bookends to the story of the widow who gave to the Temple treasury “all she had to live on.” Interesting!

Now, I’m not here this morning to convince you to throw out the traditional interpretation of this passage, the way most of us grew up understanding it. I am here to suggest that sometimes “breaking open the Word of God” with a group, or even by regular Bible study yourself, can reveal some surprising things.

I’m here to suggest that interpretation from “below,” from the grass roots, from faithful people just like this guy who visited Doug Pagitt’s Bible Study can revolutionize our understanding of Scripture! Catholic Christians in the “base communities” of Latin America have been telling us this for decades! These poor people, meeting in small Bible study groups in which they apply the plain reading of Scripture to the oppressive situations in which they live, gave birth to Liberation Theology which applies to so many in our world today.

I’ve been reading the Bible daily for just under fifty years! Following the lectionary I read several Psalms and a couple of chapters of Scripture each day. I am constantly surprised at how, paying attention to the context of the passages, learning something about the historical situation in which they were first written, and applying them to real-life situations we face today can “blow us away” with fresh insight and new interpretations.

Our Jewish sisters and brothers know this so well which is why they engage in Torah study and argue endlessly about the meaning of each verse and each word as they seek to apply ancient wisdom to the world in which we live. The Book of Hebrews says, “…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

Reading the Bible every day sheds light on the thoughts and intentions of my heart most every morning and evening. So, whether you understand the widow in today’s Gospel as exemplar or victim, do know that Jesus was no fan of the religious establishment of his day. He was a faithful and practicing Jew, but – like the prophets before him – he spent a lot of his time criticizing the chief priests and the Temple hierarchy.

He knew that God does not live in a temple made with hands and that, while religion is an essential part of life, we must be constantly vigilant that it is not misused to lay heavy burdens on people and manipulate them through threats of hellfire and brimstone or fear of God’s judgment, or ecclesiastical rules and regulations.  For:

“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!”

And perhaps, just perhaps… that’s NOT what God had in mind…after all!

 

 

From Where Is Our Help To Come: A Vigil

October 31, 2018

“I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?” This verse from Psalm 121 formed the text for a powerful reflection by a young rabbi, the first woman to head an historic Iowa City synagogue, as she spoke to some 250 of us gathered for a vigil on the University of Iowa campus. We were there to remember 11 faithful Jews slaughtered at their worship in Pittsburgh and 2 African Americans gunned down at a convenience store in Louisville.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?” she said again. “Jews and African Americans need help in this country today, my brothers and sisters. Where is our help to come from?” She knew perfectly well that the next line in the psalm is “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

But, as a line from the contemporary song she led us in at the close of the service reminds us: if God is to build this world in love, WE must build this world in love. We are the hands and feet of the Holy One in this time and in this place.

The vigil service was hastily put together, as were so many across the nation, but scores and scores of people of all ages, races, faiths and no-faith walked through the light rain to stand with our nation’s Jewish and African American communities in their grief and to pledge our support.

A Muslim woman, well known in Iowa City and head of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, officiated at the entire service after beginning with an appropriate reading from the Qur’an.  Community members lit thirteen large votive candles while the names and brief remembrances were read for each of them.

The Mayor of Iowa City spoke, actually quoting the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in a recent sermon in reminding us that the only solution to our problems was Jesus’ Summary of the Law “Love God, Love your Neighbor (and, while you’re at it, Love Yourself).” An African American couple who lead a local community effort known as the Johnson County Interfaith Coalition spoke of their fear that, when their young children grow up, they will still be hated…and killed….because they are Black.

Token notes of solidarity came from our two state senators and lone Democratic congressman, apparently too “busy” to make it to the vigil in person.

And one of the most powerful reflections came from a leading community activist and Presbyterian minister who began by acknowledging his concern as a “tall, white, privileged, Christian male” that he could have anything meaningful to say in such a gathering.

“My tribe has had it all — wealth, power, privilege. But my tribe is dying. And people who look like me are very afraid. Yet death throes can be dangerous. Be careful, my friends, my tribe is dangerous.” It was a moving moment of contrition, confession, and lament. A humbling moment of truth telling.

Yet, there was hope in the service — hope in the haunting and ancient Jewish music and chant; hope in the Muslim readings, hope in the Christian prayers. And, most of all, hope in our commitment to stand together and not to be afraid to act.

A white-bearded rabbi, dressed in the black hat and suit of Eastern European Jews passed out “mitzvah” cards with a half a dozen “good deeds” we could do, indicate them on the card, and send them back to him to forward to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; good deeds done that these lives might not be lost in vain.

We concluded with a contemporary Jewish song, led by the young, blonde, European rabbi, complete with her guitar as we lit candles and held them high aloft, pledging to build this world in love…that God may build this world in love.

Let us no longer leave the most vulnerable among us, asking the question, “From where is our help to come?”

On Labor Day: Save Our Labor Center

September 3, 2018

Ostensibly because of the need to trim the budget, the University of Iowa administrators announced not long ago that they intend to close the UI Labor Center which is the only unit in our state university system that specializes in research and development for Iowa workers.

The Center was established in 1951 and built by the contributions and support of generations of Iowans. It provides direct education for over 2500 Iowa workers across the state each year on such issues as health and safety laws, anti-discrimination rights, and leadership skills.

Continuing education students then bring those learnings and skills back to their workplaces and communities to strengthen Iowa’s economy. This extends the reach of the Center to impact thousands more.

It is a model of public-private partnership because it is sustained by funds from program fees, competitive grants, and a small but essential university commitment. Now the university is trying to hijack the only university funds across the state that are committed to serving Iowa’s workers.

Even worse, this action is being taken with no prior discussion with the Labor Center, University of Iowa faculty, workers, students, or community partners! We are being urged to contact UI administrators and faculty and urge them to protect the small amount of university money that has been committed for decades to research and education on issues that matter most to Iowa worker.

You may do so by contacting:

UI LAW SCHOOL DEAN KEVIN WASHBURN: 319-384-4658/ KEVIN-WASHBURN@UIOWA.EDU

UI PRESIDENT BRUCE HARRELD: 319-335-35-3549/ BRUCE-HARRELD@UIOWA.EDU

 

For more information see: saveourlaborcenter.com

Facebook: “Save Our Labor Center”

Or be in touch directly at savrourlaborcenter@gmail.com

 

No Hate, No Fear!/ Immigrants Are Welcome Here!

August 17, 2018

We gathered under the slate gray, early morning skies in front of the Veteran’s Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa. The “we” was just under a hundred members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a social justice advocacy group in the forefront of the “resistance movement” in this Midwestern farm state.

Our reason for gathering on this particular day was to protest a visit and speech by United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  He is, of course, the “top cop” of the Trump Administration responsible, among other things, for executing the “zero tolerance” policy that has separated immigrant families on the  southern border, reversing his Department of Justice’s position that federal law protects transgender workers from discrimination and releasing “License to Discriminate” guidance, and who indeed has spent his entire legal career opposing and actively undermining voting rights for minority citizens.

As we assembled, familiar chants began to ring out:

No Hate, No Fear/ Immigrants are welcome here! No Hate, No Fear/ Immigrants and welcome here!

 

Tell me what democracy looks like!/This is what democracy looks like!/ Tell me what democracy looks like!/ This is what democracy looks like!

 

No Hate In our State!/ No Hate In our State!

But there were some new ones as well:

Hey Jeff come on out!/ See what Iowa’s all about!

and

Hey Jeff, What’s it gonna be?/ Kids in cages or Democracy!

After most everyone had arrived, a pretty good sound system began blasting out a little Aretha Franklin, the sound track of many our lives, the civil rights activist who had just died the day before.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T was what she sang, and Respect is what many of our number demanded!

Next came six Latina dancers, beautifully arrayed in traditional gowns, adding more life to the crowd before one of them moved to the speakers’ podium in her role as spokeswoman for a domestic abuse shelter for immigrants. She was followed by an African American woman who is a leader in ICCI, a young man recently incarcerated who spoke of the horror of America’s criminal “justice” system, and an even younger man from the Democratic Socialist Party who framed some of what we were protesting in the larger context of unbridled capitalism and greed.

After the speeches we moved toward the lobby of Vets Auditorium and tried to enter to deliver a letter to General Sessions. Security saw us coming, slammed and locked the thick glass doors of the entrance. Some of our number in the front of the march — a older woman about  my age, flanked by two young adults, one man and one woman — began banging on the doors as we all chanted.

No Hate!/ Stop Sessions!/ No Hate! Stop Sessions!

That was enough for Security to call for some back up from the Des Moines Police Department. After a few more chants and the reading of our letter to Sessions, we peacefully retreated from the building. Some went on to another venue to deliver our message to Iowa Republican headquarters and Governor Kim Reynolds.

Our message was simple: the U.S. Attorney General is charged with enforcing our nation’s laws as well as ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice for all people. Time and time again, Jeff Sessions has proven that he is unable, or unwilling, to fulfill his impartial duty as Attorney General. We call for the removal of Jeff Sessions and for an investigation into Sessions’ actions, not for, but against justice.

The struggle continues!

 

 

Prayer and Action

July 15, 2018

You know, sometimes when I am preparing a Sunday sermon, I never get past the Collect of the Day! Some of these Sunday prayers in our Prayer Book so rich, and many are very ancient. Our one for today goes back to at least the 10th century. And they often contain as much spiritual wisdom and insight as the Scripture Readings which follow!

The Collect’s theme for today is prayer and action, and the relationship between the two. We prayed: “O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…” The first part tells us the primary purpose of prayer — that we may know and understand what things we ought to do!

I’m afraid we too often understand prayer as telling God something we want done for us. We ask for forgiveness, we pray for others, we pray for ourselves. Sometimes it’s as though we think of God as some kind of heavenly Butler, just waiting around to fulfill our every need. But the truth is, prayer is not meant to change God’s mind. It’s meant to change ours!  We pray so that we might know and understand what things we ought to do!

That means that a good portion of our prayer time each day needs to be spent in reading and meditating on the Bible and other spiritual books, and in quiet and silence, learning about God and listening for God’s gentle direction and guidance for our lives. That’s prayer too! So that we can know and understand what things we ought to do.

Secondly, our time spent in prayer and worship is meant to recharge our spiritual batteries so that we can rise up from our knees and get about the task of doing what God wants us to do out there. As the Collect says, as we know and understand what things we ought to do, that we may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them!

Our First Lesson today (Amos 7:7-15)) describes the prophet Amos following what he understands as direction from God in confronting the king who was oppressing his people. Amos has such confidence in his vision of the plumb-line that he even takes on the court-appointed priest, Amaziah, who tries to stop him from carrying out his mission.  He says, “O seer, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary…”

But Amos says, “I am no (professional) prophet; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, (but) the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Amos prayed first, and that gave him confidence to follow through even in the face of opposition.

Today’s Gospel (Mark 6:14-29) tells a similar story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom at the hands of another king, Herod Antipas. We know that John was a man of prayer because Jesus’ followers once wanted him to teach them how to fast and pray like John the Baptist had done for his disciples. John fasted and prayed in the desert so that he would have the grace and power to speak truth to power and challenge Herod, not only to clean up his tangled marital relationships, but to stop oppressing his people and keeping them in poverty.

And finally, St. Paul begins his Epistle to the Ephesians (1:3-14) today with words of prayer, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” He goes on to say that “…he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” Why? So that “we might live for the praise of his glory!” Again, Paul counsels prayer so that we might know and understand what things we ought to do, and then have grace and power to accomplish those things!

It’s become quite fashionable these days for politicians when confronted with the now-commonplace incidents of gun violence, or some other devastating human tragedy, to say that they are sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. This, whether or not it seems likely that said politician has uttered a serious prayer in decades! In recent months, some of those victims and families have suggested that the politicians keep their thoughts and prayers to themselves and get about the business of doing what we elected them to do:

And that is, to find solutions to these problems – whether it’s the scourge of violence, the immigration mess, or the increasing gap between rich and poor here and around the world, or environmental concerns which threaten the planet. I must say I have some sympathy with those sentiments! Keep your thoughts and prayers to yourself! And get about the business of solving the problems!

Of course that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray for victims and survivors! But if we think that is all we need to do, that pious utterances and assurances on cable news networks absolves us of our responsibility to be about the hard work of making this world a better place, then perhaps we had better pray again. And to pray this morning’s Collect:

“O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…”

So, spend your prayer time this week more in listening for God than talking.

And then, rise up from wherever it is that you pray, knowing that you have the grace and power to accomplish whatever it is that God wants you to do.

For that is God’s promise!

 

 

Shattering The Silence

May 22, 2018

We marched, singing, to “Shattering Silence,” a limestone and steel structure on the west grounds of the Iowa Judicial Building. This powerful piece commemorates the 170th anniversary of the landmark 1839 Iowa Territorial Supreme Court ruling that prohibited the enslaved Ralph Montgomery from being extradited to Missouri after he failed to raise the $550 he promised to pay to buy his freedom. We thought it was an appropriate place to share our witness.

The Iowa Poor People’s Campaign was about the task of Shattering The Silence Around Systemic Racism in Iowa. After a  period of testimony and song, we made the following commitments to each other and to our state. I commend them to you as a way of combating the racism, xenophobia, and misogyny so present in our land today:

  1. I won’t be silent when I see racial profiling on the street, at the store, at my workplace. I won’t be silent when I hear racist speech at home, at church, at work, at clubs. I won’t be silent when stand  your ground laws are passed to justify murders.
  2. I won’t be silent when immigrant families are torn apart. I won’t be silent when asylum seekers are treated like criminals. I won’t be silent when people seeking the promise of freedom are called animals.
  3. I won’t be silent when indigenous women are murdered and missing. I won’t be silent when land is taken and exploited from sovereign nations. I won’t be silent as 28.3% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives live in poverty.
  4. I won’t be silent when voter suppression laws are passed. I won’t be silent as over 52,000 people with felony convictions are disenfranchised in Iowa. I won’t be silent when people are turned away from the polls.
  5. I won’t be silent when hostility and hatred are aimed at Muslims in and beyond my community. I won’t be silent when there is a ban on refugee resettlement. I won’t be silent when people are persecuted because of their religion.

Will you join us in “Shattering The Silence?”

Pentecost At Spirit Lake!

May 21, 2018

Mary always felt better when she could be with his friends. True, all of them except the young one John had deserted him in the end. But she understood that. She’d been afraid too. And she wasn’t even in immediate danger from the Romans like they were. In any case, he’d told her just before he died, “Behold your son.” And to John, “Behold your mother.” So, clearly, he wanted her to be part of them. He was taking care of his mother!

She really would have preferred to stay in Olivet which is at least a little distance from where it all happened. But, as they gathered there, it was clear that Jerusalem was where Jesus had wanted to go, and Jerusalem was where they must re-assemble as well. So, they crept in, over the course of a couple of days….individually, sometimes two by two…and began meeting in that same upper room where they had celebrated Passover.

Now, it was the Feast of Weeks, Pentecost, fifty days after the ceremony of the barley sheaf during Passover. It had originally been a harvest festival, marking the beginning the offering of the first fruits. She’d always loved its celebration as a child…and so had Jesus. So, she accepted their invitation to be together that morning. There were other women there in addition to his brothers and, of course, the Twelve (and they were 12 again now, with the addition of Matthias – who had, in any case, never been far from their assembly.)

They had just begun to dance…and sing the Hallel – “Hallelujah! Give praise you servants of the Lord; praise the Name of the Lord” Psalm 113:1 – when the wind picked up. It first whistled and then howled through the streets of the old city. And, even though they had been careful to secure the door, suddenly the shutters rattled and blew open. Strangely, there was no rain or fog as one might expect with the wind, but sunshine – bright glimpses of it, illuminating every face around their make-shift “altar table.” But they were too caught up in their praise dance to worry about open windows now! And the volume of their singing only increased over the noise of the wind:

“Let the name of the Lord be blessed! Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory! How can I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation…Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him all you people!” (Psalm 113-117 passim)

It was their custom, during the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) to gather the poor and the strangers, as well as the priests and the Levites, for the communal meal which was the highpoint of this great agricultural feast. It was a way of recognizing their solidarity as people of the Covenant, across all the natural divisions and inequities of life. Rich and poor together!

And so, people in the streets were from all over the Mediterranean world. But their racial and ethnic diversity was no barrier to understanding God’s praise that day! She had no idea how it happened, but no matter in what language God’s praise was being spoken or sung, everyone heard it. Everyone “got it!” All of them from east to west, from the different traditions, ethnic Jews and converts.

And, when the praises began to abate, Mary saw Peter slowly walk to the open window and, flanked by the other Eleven, he said, “People of Judea, and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you…and listen to what I say…” (Acts 2:14)

Well, that may not be exactly how it happened on the first Pentecost. But it must have been something like that.  Clearly, something momentous must have happened to transform that ragtag group of frightened disciples into missionaries and evangelists.

And that “something” had been promised by Jesus shortly before he died. He had said that something called “the Advocate” would come. He called it the “Spirit of truth” and said that that Spirit would guide them into all the truth. (John 15:26 passim) Their Pentecost experience must have felt something like that.

In fact, Pentecost felt like another story they had been told since they were children — The story from the Prophet Ezekiel about the “dry bones.” At just the point when their religion and their faith was about at its lowest ebb, dry as dust, God was expected to breathe new life into those bones, to raise them up, and to renew the people of God.

“That’s what happening today” they must have thought. This must be the time when “our sons and our daughters will prophecy, our young men will see visions, and our old men shall dream dreams. For surely, this day, God has poured out the Holy Spirit…and all of us will be prophets!” (From Acts 2)

ear friends, we’re inheritors of that Pentecost promise. If that rag tag group of frightened disciples had not been turned into missionaries and evangelists, you and I would not be here today.  So Pentecost is important! But, let’s not just give thanks for that first Pentecost after Easter. Let’s pray today for a “new Pentecost!”

Let’s pray for a new Pentecost when languages and race and ethnicity are no longer barriers to receiving the fullness of God’s blessings. Let’s pray for a new infusion of God’s breath, God’s spirit into those whose poverty or situation in life makes them feel like those dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. Let’s pray that our sons and daughters will prophecy, that our young men will see visions, and our old men still dream dreams!

Let’s pray today for God to pour out that same Holy Spirit upon us here at St. Alban’s… throughout the Diocese of Iowa, The Episcopal Church… upon the members Anglican Communion of which we are a part…and indeed on the over 2 billion Christians around the world who are our sisters and brothers by water and the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for that!

In fact, we’ve already prayed for that – in this morning’s Collect. Let me offer it once again with what I’ve said today as background: “Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of the Holy Spirit:  Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

A New Reformation?

March 4, 2018

It seems strange to have the story of Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple read on this Sunday in Lent. We usually think of it as coming in Holy Week, toward the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, right after the Palm Sunday story, the so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. In fact, that is where Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this story – setting up the conflict between Jesus and the authorities which eventually led to his arrest, trial and crucifixion later that week.

 

But John, the Gospel writer we are following today, for his own purposes, has this event happen early in Jesus’ ministry. His gospel has Jesus going to Jerusalem several times during the course of his three year public ministry rather than only once at its conclusion. And John was interested, not so much in the conflict between Jesus and the Roman government, as he was between Jesus and his own religion’s leaders!

 

Even though he was a complete outsider to the power structure of the Temple, Jesus here issues a challenge to the authority of the Temple itself that really shakes it to its foundations. By throwing the money changers out of the Temple, and letting loose the sacrificial animals, he throws the mechanics of Temple worship into chaos, disrupting the temple system during one its most significant feasts so that neither tithes nor sacrifices could be offered that day.

 

The implication is that Jesus is claiming authority to challenge the supremacy of the Temple because his whole life bears testimony to the power of God in the world, not in the Temple. The Kingship, the Reign, the Sovereignty not of the Temple, but of God alone!

 

Now, none of this should be interpreted as meaning that Jesus was advocating the superiority of some new religion called Christianity over the old religion, Judaism. Jesus was an observant Jew who (according to John) traveled to Jerusalem regularly for the major holy days. Jesus taught and observed the Ten Commandments we had as our First Reading this morning – including the first two about worshipping God and God alone, and not making anything (even the Temple) into an idol!

 

No, Jesus’ challenge was not to Judaism itself, but to the authority of a dominant religious institution within Judaism – the Temple and temple worship. And he did that – not because he’s anti-Jewish (how could he be?) – but because he stands in the long line of Hebrew prophets like Amos and Jeremiah who challenged a religious system so embedded in its own rules and practices that it is no longer open to a fresh revelation from God. (See New Interpreter’s Bible; Volume 9, page 545)

 

A religious system so embedded in its own rules and practices that it is no longer open to a fresh revelation from God!

 

And that, dear friends, is where all this begins to apply to us.

We hear a lot today about people — and not only younger people – who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” For many of them that means they believe in God, may admire the figure of Jesus, pray from time to time, and believe in some kind of life after death. But they are not terribly interested in what we sometimes call “the institutional church.”

 

They perceive us as being hopelessly out of touch with the contemporary world they live in. They shake their heads at our “church wars” over changing liturgies or the ordination of women, or the place of gays and lesbians in the church. Yet, many of these folks are very generous with their time and talent and treasure given to causes they believe in and often in direct service to the poor themselves.

 

Yet they wonder why we spend so much of our time, money and energy on maintaining church buildings and church governance structures that don’t seem to have very much to do with Jesus or with his primary message to the world!

 

Now, surely there is a certain naivete in that kind of critique. Very few movements can survive, over time, without a certain institutionalization. You need some kind of structure to pass the message on from generation to generation.

 

And there’s nothing wrong with beautiful cathedrals like this one built to the glory of God – and maintaining them once they are built! But I think the average seeker might be forgiven for observing that we don’t look much like followers of a poor, itinerant Jewish rabbi today. So we need to keep ever before us what the church is for!

 

Because, if we’re going to take the message of Jesus in this morning’s Gospel seriously, we need to recognize that he is challenging – not only the Temple-centered Judaism of his day – but the failures of the church…in our day!

 

Over the centuries, we Christians have allowed ourselves to be divided up, often over political rather than theological differences, into tens of thousands of competing denominations. We spend way too much of our time competing for an ever-decreasing membership base by trying to demonstrate that our way of understanding God or worshipping God is better than theirs!

 

We have often locked ourselves only into fourth century ways of talking about God in our historic creeds and liturgies while failing to look for new language and new music which might actually be able to convey the God we have experienced to a new generation of seekers and searchers who desperately hunger for something of that same experience, even if they are not always fully conscious of that hunger themselves.

 

I don’t think we have any idea what the church will be like 50 or 100 years from now. I expect it will look very different from the church we live in today. We can be either fearful of that kind of change and resist it with all our might or we can be open and flexible to see indeed “what the Spirit is saying to the churches” in our time.

 

We have to be willing ask ourselves where and when the status quo of our religious practices have become frozen, and therefore closed to the possibility of reformation, change and renewal. The great danger is that we in the contemporary church, like the leaders of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day, will fall into the trap of confusing the authority of our own institutions with the authority of God. And that, my friends, is what it means to worship an idol!

 

During these 40 days of Lent when we journey with Jesus in the wilderness, I invite you to be open to embrace whatever it is that God is up to in our day. You have wonderful opportunities to do just that in your readings from “The Good Book Club” and discussing passages from Luke’s Gospel (and your own faith) over the soup suppers as well as in the amazing outreach this Cathedral is involved in these days.

 

Michelle Crouch’s teaching on health, leading up to Krista Tippet’s conference on April 12, as well as Mary Hogg’s study on the great figure of David provide yet two more opportunities. And the Lenten Organ Series on Wednesdays invites you to encounter God through the beauty of sacred music

 

I invite you to take this Lenten season of discernment seriously – for surely not everything that is “new,” or claims to be of God, is of God.

But I do believe God is calling us into a kind of new reformation in our day. And if we are to be faithful to that calling, it will require us to be open and to travel light, but at the same time to ground ourselves ever more deeply in prayer and in study and in mission.

 

And Lent rolls around every year to remind us that, as long as we are grounded in God, we need have no fear of changing times or changing circumstances. For it is God alone that we serve.

God is our rock…and our salvation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Love Be Genuine

February 16, 2018

The days are evil.  A dysfunctional Congress (whose work was complicated by a meddling Administration) failed to pass even one bill on immigration — even one which included protecting the Dreamers while enhancing “border security” both of which a majority of Americans approve and which a bipartisan committee had proposed. Thousands of undocumented immigrant families remain paralyzed by fear.

A deeply troubled young man, with a long history of unstable behavior, was able to purchase a high-powered rifle three days after he was expelled from high school and slaughter seventeen students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. No matter how you count the number of school shootings in this country just this year, this one was one too many. Young people are afraid to go to school every morning — afraid for their very lives.

A new breakthrough in the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections, particularly in the presidential election of 2016, includes the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three separate entities for conspiracy to disrupt these same elections. Proof positive that such interference did indeed occur and, whether or not there was any active collusion by the Trump campaign, that this investigation is far more than any kind of “hoax.” Some of us now wonder if we can trust the outcome of any elections in 2018, 2020, or beyond.

What are we to do?

There are many proposals, strategies, and actions out there designed to take on one or more of these vexing issues. Given the divisive political climate of the day — fueled by politicians and the media as well as the Russians — few of them hold any real promise of success at least in the short term. We are hopelessly divided on immigration, gun control, and electoral politics. Perhaps a better question in these Lenten days is

How shall we live?

Christians, and other people of faith, are called to model a completely different lifestyle and set of priorities than those we see played out in the halls of Congress, the mean streets and schools in our neighborhoods, and the vicious world of international “relations.” There are many texts which attempt to describe this lifestyle. Here is one that  has always spoken to me:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit,serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:9-18)

For now…just for today…let this be all you worry about accomplishing.

It will make a difference.

And tomorrow…

Some of these decisions will turn into proposals…strategies…and actions.

But, just for today…

Let love be genuine.