Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Christian Ecumenism February 14, 2017

A talk with the Deerfield Daughters of the King February 14, 2017. It is a pleasure and a privilege to talk with you all today. I’d like to speak for a little while and then have some conversation. My topic is Christian Ecumenism.  

October 31, 2017 will be 500 years from the time an Augustinian monk posed 95 questions for theological discussion on the Wittenberg college bulletin board. Pope Francis has said that Martin Luther sought to reform the church, not divide it. But Luther’s was not the first nor the last church division.

I have spent 50 years of ministry in Christian Ecumenism in 3 dioceses, and was privileged to serve on the national Episcopal Church ecumenical dialogues with the Moravians and with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province in America. In those 50 years some progress has been made, and we have a way to go. I bid your continuing prayer and service for Christian unity.

Some history:  Jesus prayed that all might be one, and the Church was once united – when Jesus walked alone at the Sea of Galilee. His first apostles are claimed as founders of different churches – Peter of Rome, Andrew of Constantinople New Rome, James of Armenia. Egypt claims St. Mark as its founder. Communion with Armenia and Egypt was broken after the Council of Chalcedon in 381. Communion between Rome and Constantinople was broken in 1056. The Armenians and Egyptian Copts, called Oriental Orthodox, agree with the other Orthodox  that they share a common faith expressed in different words and languages, but internal conflicts make progress toward full communion difficult. Rome and Constantinople continue their discussions and slow progress toward unity.

Anglican interest in church union began shortly after our mid-16th century break with Rome, continued in the early 18th century and took on new life in the mid19th century.  In 1870 the Rev. William Reed Huntington, Rector of All Saints Church, Worcester, Massachusetts wrote “The Church Idea, An Essay toward Unity” suggesting “a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing, made toward Home Reunion.”  Huntington’s 4 points were adopted by the Episcopal House of Bishops in 1886 and by the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1888. The 4 points are these:
1.  The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
2.  The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
3.  The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ's Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
4.  The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.
They are Historic Documents in the back of the Prayer Book, and they continue to frame our church’s ecumenical life.

Charles Henry Brent was born in 1862 in Newcastle, Ontario where his father was rector for 42 years. He was ordained in1887 in Buffalo, New York, and served there and in Boston until he was elected missionary bishop of the Philippines in 1901. His ministry combined chaplaincy to the American community and missionary work among the pagan head-hunting Igorot people of northern Luzon and the Muslim Moors of Mindanao. He began with clinics and schools. Most Phillipinos were Roman Catholic, though all the prewar Roman Catholic bishops were Spaniards. A Philippine Independent Catholic Church had been formed by supporters of the prewar Philippine independence movement, Brent cooperated with them. After World War II under a full communion agreement Episcopal bishops re-consecrated the Philippine Independent Church bishops, and the churches now share St. Andrew’s Seminary.

Brent attended the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, and was General Pershing’s Chief-of-Chaplains in World War One. In 1917 he was elected bishop of Western NY. He organized and presided at the August, 1927 First World Conference on Faith and Order in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was attended by 406 delegates from 108 Christian denominations.  Brent died in Lausanne March 27, 1939 (exactly 10 years before I was born.)

The World Council of Churches was formed in 1948 to continue the work of the Faith and Order Movement, the World Missionary Conference, and the Life and Work Movement.  Life and Work, led by Archbishop Nathan Soderblom of Sweden, held its first international meeting in 1925. The WCC includes 348 member churches including Protestants and Orthodox. Roman Catholics are active “observers.” Headquarters are near Lausanne, Switzerland. A number of national councils of churches are administratively separate but cooperate with local and state councils in a great deal of practical social ministry, and they are an important part of the Episcopal Church’s ecumenical work.

Continuing World Council Faith and Order work led in 1982 to an agreement “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry” made in Lima, Peru. It recognized that all churches share convergent teachings on baptism and eucharist and all exercise a ministry of oversight – in Greek episcope’ - in various ways. This agreement has influenced all subsequent dialogues. Anglican history prepared the way for this statement.  

In 1931 in Bonn, Germany, the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht and the Church of England agreed on three principles of full communion between them: (1) Each communion recognizes the catholicity and independence of the other and maintains its own.
(2) Each communion agrees to admit members of the other communion to participate in the sacraments.
(3) Full communion does not require from either communion the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacramental devotion or liturgical practice characteristic of the other, but implies that each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith.

The “participate in the sacraments” clause includes recognition of a common ministry. Clergy of churches in full communion may serve in both churches – subject to the requirements of each church.  Besides the Old Catholics, and the other churches of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church is in full communion with these churches:  The Philippine Independent Church, fully since 1961, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India since 1979, the Churches of South India and North India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan where Anglicans joined with Protestant missions to form united churches. Our diocese has a companion relationship with Durgapur in North India.  And since 2001we have full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and since 2010 with the Moravian Church in America.

Full communion dialogues continue with the United Methodist Church.  Full communion recognizes present unity and a move toward greater unity. We have two joint Lutheran – Episcopal congregations in Robbinsville and Newland.

Some churches have moved toward organizational unity, sometimes to heal old divisions. Four efforts succeeded; one failed.  The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church joined in 1939, and in 1968 added the Evangelical United Brethren Church.  Congregational churches and the Evangelical and Reformed church joined in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ.  2 successes.  Beginning in 1960 the Consultation on Church Union proposed a merger of northern Presbyterians, Methodists, UCC, and Episcopalians, later joined by the black Methodists and the southern Presbyterians.  Its 1970 Plan of Union on the Church of South India model failed to be approved by the churches. But Northern and Southern Presbyterians, divided by the Civil War, reunited in 1983 after a 1973 division formed the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America. In 1988 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed by the merger of three Lutheran denominations.  2 more successes but probably the last.

Unity and diversity and division. In the Episcopal Church: in 1873 some old style low church evangelicals formed the Reformed Episcopal Church. 100 years later some old style Anglo-Catholics left over women priests and other issues. In 2003 almost 10% including 4 dioceses left over gay bishops and other issues. They are organized in the Anglican Church in North America. The Anglican Communion is divided over gay marriage and other conservative – liberal issues. We’re not alone. Presbyterian and Lutherans have had other conservative split offs. And independent evangelical megachurches have sprung up.

But the Eastern Orthodox last year held a Great and Holy Synod in Crete, attended by most of the churches in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople, the first in over 900 years. Our dialogues with the Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and others continue. The councils of churches continue to provide a way for us to talk and work together. I hope for dialogue among the separated Episcopalians and Anglicans and recently the ACNA dean of Trinity School for Ministry expressed a similar hope.

We seem to be in a time when all Christians will face increased pressure from militant secularists seeking a godless society. It remains to be seen whether these pressures will encourage Christians to work and pray together.  In the meantime your work of prayer and service – and the work of all of us – continues to be important to us all.    

A personal word:  I came to western NC in 1980 to be rector in Shelby. Bishop Weinhauer appointed me to the diocesan Ecumenical Committee and I continued in the 1990’s when I worked for the national church General Board of Examining Chaplains. I represented our diocese at meetings in Raleigh, particularly on the Christian Unity Committee of the NC Council of Churches.

At one of those meetings in the early 1990’s I sat next to the new Moravian Church representative. As we went around the table saying what our churches were doing he said, “We’re talking with the Lutherans.” Knowing of Bishop Weinhauer’s service on the Lutheran Episcopal Dialogue, I said, “We’re talking with the Lutherans.” At the coffee break we said, “We should be talking with each other.” And we began – one day once a year for several years. The NC folks decided we had enough in common that we should move this to a national dialogue, and our Bishop Robert Johnson got the General Convention to approve and fund a national dialogue and put me on it. In 15 years, by 2010, we came to an agreement of full communion and shared ministry, like the agreements both of our churches had made with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In many ways agreement with Moravians was easier to come to than with Lutherans. The Moravian Church has a succession of bishops from near its beginning in the 1450’s while the ELCA had to begin to ordain bishops in the historic episcopate, calling on the Swedish Lutheran church and the Episcopal Church. Moravians and Episcopalians share a theology based on relationships and the Bible without using the theological categories of the Lutheran Book of Concord.  But the Moravian Church is a single world wide body, and the American Moravians had to secure permission to enter into this agreement on shared ministry. And both Moravians and Lutherans have understandings of the ministry of deacons different from each other and from the Anglican understanding.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent 1 2016 CPR

Advent 1, 2016 CPR

          How many of you have learned Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation?  A few years ago I took a course sponsored by the Health Department. We started by watching two video presentations, and then two people demonstrated the technique. That was all the first night, and it was interesting in an abstract sort of way.

          The second night they turned us loose on the dummies. These are life size figures that you breathe into for the mouth to mouth resuscitation – the breath of life. They lie there on the floor with a gauge to tell you how much air is getting in, and a pressure device for the closed chest cardiac massage if the heart has stopped beating. The instructor turns it on and out of the side of the dummy proceeds a tape that tells you exactly what you have done.

          As long as it is theory – movies and paper handouts and being talked to and shown a demonstration, it is “interesting,” but when you get down there on the floor kneeling beside that blond haired dummy trying to do it, and discovering you didn’t do it just right the first time, you get involved.

Part of that is a desire not to be beaten by this dummy and this machine, and part of it is a beginning possibility that if you can do it right you might really be able to save a life, but when you are down on the floor with the dummy, you’re involved. When the instructor demonstrates again you watch with great care, and try again, and watch, and try, and finally succeed. I passed the course!

          That course was a great lesson in theory and practice. The theory is easy, but it comes and goes. It is in the practice that we really learn, and we get involved. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”  Our annual celebration of Jesus’ birth is coming soon. Decorations are up; the charitable appeals are in the mail trying to beat the Christmas card rush.

Advent is a time of watching and waiting, waiting both for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth as a babe in Bethlehem and also waiting for the time of our redemption and the fullness of the kingdom of God, the final judgment when “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” We say in the Creed that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” That’s theory, good theory, true theory.

          I invite you to get up off the seat of theory, get down on the floor with the dummy and practice.  Jesus said, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” I offer three ways to practice walking in the light, three ways to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

          First, practice being aware of Christ’s presence here and now. Many of us have committed our lives and wills to Jesus Christ at some time in the past. Some of us need to make that commitment again as we come forward to receive him again, receiving his body and blood in bread and wine. All churches offer an altar call in revival, some more often than others. Some of us may need to make that commitment for the first time. Welcome!

          We are spiritually fed in the communion, and that communion continues. Practice communion. Practice thinking of Jesus sitting next to you when you are alone and when you are in company. Look for him in the eyes of everyone you meet. Short prayers of thanksgiving really help. “Lord Jesus, thank you for being with me here in this happy situation, in this difficult situation.”

          Second, work on getting to know Jesus better. If you don’t regularly read the Bible, begin today. Resolve to read and think about some part of the Bible every day. There are lots of ways to do that. One is to start with a gospel and read and think about a chapter a day. You can read St. Mark in 2 weeks and 2 days, St. John in 3 weeks, St. Luke in 24 days, St. Matthew in 28 days, the Acts of the Apostles the same. Learn to know Jesus as he comes to you in his holy Word.

          Third, practice being prepared. If you don’t have a will, make one; it is the best Christmas present you can give your heirs. Leave your work each day as complete as you can. If you need to forgive, or be forgiven, do it today and every day. Take some time each day to cultivate the fruits of Christ’s spirit in your life – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, kindness, self-control.

          You all know the story of the young musician in New York who asked the older musician how to get to Carnegie Hall. The answer was, “Practice, practice, practice!”

          Wait in joyful expectation for Christ’s coming to fully establish his kingdom. While you wait, practice kingdom living. Don’t just sit there listening to the theory of a sermon. Get down on the floor with the dummy, and practice, practice, practice!  Amen.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Proper 28C November 12,2016 Post-election

Proper 28C  November 12, 2016

        As we come toward the beginning of a new church year – Advent Sunday in two weeks - we hear Isaiah’s vision of the new creation – “new heavens and a new earth - Jerusalem a joy; its people a delight.” In the canticle in place of the psalm Isaiah reminds us, “Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.” In the Gospel Jesus tells the disciples about the end time, assuring us, “not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  Many of the hairs of my head have in fact perished, but for all who continue in faith, by his death and resurrection Jesus opens the gates of heaven – today and forever – until he comes again in the new creation.

In the meantime, as St. Paul told the church in Thessalonica, we are do our “work quietly and to earn our own living. Brothers and sisters do not be weary in doing what is right.”  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

        We begin today with the collect about the importance of Holy Scripture in our lives and in the life of the church. We feed our souls on “God’s word written.” The idea of eating the word of God is from Jeremiah 15:16, Ezekiel 3:3, and from the Revelation to St. John 10:10, “I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey.” Anglicans believe the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and contain all things necessary to salvation. Our doctrine is contained in, or can be proved by, Holy Scripture. And we pray for grace “so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.” 

        The Book of the Prophet Isaiah might be called the Book of the Prophets Isaiah. Its writings span 200 years. The first 39 chapters (including our Canticle) were written before 586 Before Christ when Jerusalem was captured, the first Temple destroyed, and many people sent into exile in Babylon   The next 15 chapters were written to the exiles, and the last 10 chapters were written after 515 BC when some of the exiles had returned to rebuild the Temple. Times were tough. The descendants of the exiles – old children, middle-aged grandchildren and young great-grandchildren – engaged in continuing conflict with the descendants of those who had remained and with the immigrants of the past 70 years.

        They needed the assurance that God was doing in and through them “a new thing.”  The new Jerusalem would be healthy. “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.”  The new Jerusalem would be secure.  “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. . . . They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord--and their descendants as well.”  The new Jerusalem would be holy. “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox;    but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!  They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”

        The returned exile were strengthened and empowered by Isaiah’s vision of the new Jerusalem. They endured the hardships of their return, of political control by Persia, then Alexander and the generals who succeeded him, then a time of independence, and in Jesus’ time Roman military occupation. But there were constant small scale revolts, and 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection – 70 AD - in a major revolt the second temple built by the returned exiles of Isaiah 56 was destroyed never to be rebuilt.

        All the gospels were written down after the destruction of the temple. The early Christians remembered Jesus’ prediction of the persecutions many had experienced. Christians had been arrested, had been handed over to synagogues and prisons, had been brought before kings and governors because of Jesus’ name. They had been given “opportunity to testify.” Some had been “betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and” some had even been put death.” They took comfort in Jesus’ prophecy, “not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

In our political life, for almost two years we have endured a long, nasty, campaign. We have finally elected a president and others to serve in offices of public trust. Some of us are happy about the results; some are not. As practical endurance, I offer this for all who suffer loss.

        In 1969 Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote Death and Dying. She  introduced a model of emotional reactions to diagnoses of terminal illness and other forms of personal loss. Let’s review. Five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and finally some degree of Acceptance. 

        The model helps us deal with feelings of loss. The stages of grief are not easy or time-limited. We frequently cycle back and forth through the stages. The original form relates to a diagnosis of terminal illness.

The first reaction is Denial. Somehow the diagnosis is mistaken. We cling to a false, preferable reality.

The second is Anger.  – We become frustrated, especially at people near us. We say things like, “Why me? It's not fair! How can this happen to me?; Who is to blame?; Why would this happen?” Sometimes we are angry with God. “How could a good and loving God let this happen?”  It is OK to be angry with God. God can take it.  

The third is Bargaining. We hope to avoid the cause of grief. We try to negotiate for longer life and reformed lifestyle. Many of us have prayed, “Dear God, get me out of this mess and I’ll never do it again.” A Holy Cross church in Chicago recently posted this ad: “You made promises in the bottom of the 9th inning. Redeem them Sunday at Holy Cross.”

The fourth is Depression. “I'm so sad, why bother with anything? I'm going to die soon, so what's the point?; "I miss my loved one, why go on?” We despair as we recognize we are going to die. We may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time being mournful and sullen.

The fifth stage is called Acceptance. We think or say things like, “It's going to be okay; I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it.” In this we come to embrace the inevitable future - our death, or other tragic event. People who are dying may come to this conclusion before others do. Acceptance brings feelings of calm and peace and stability. 

        We all suffer loses in our lives. The spiritual and emotional danger is getting stuck in one of these stages of grief. I recognize that for some of my losses I am still stuck in anger. I think I see that anger expressed in some of the emotional reactions to the recent election. I know I need to move on. But telling me that doesn’t help.

        The God who made me made all of me – body, soul, emotions, spirit. God the Holy Spirit is at work in me – and in all of us. He will help me work through my feelings; he will help me get unstuck and move on. He will help us all if we ask him to. 

        We are all sinners saved by grace. We are all called to exercise the Christian grace of humility in all areas of our life. And Jesus calls us in today’s gospel to endure.  Endure comes from the Latin word for hard. We do the hard things for Jesus’ sake, in Jesus’ strength, to help accomplish Jesus’ will in the world he has redeemed by his death and resurrection.

        As St. Paul wrote the church at Philippi, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  And as St. Paul told the church in Thessalonica, we are do our “work quietly and to earn our own living. Brothers and sisters do not be weary in doing what is right.”  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

        When I was a boy I had a card in the corner of my bathroom mirror - by an unknown author:  Why were the saints, saints?      Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful,
patient when it was difficult to be patient;
and because they pushed on when they wanted to stand still,       and kept silent when they wanted to talk,
and were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable.
That was all.   It was quite simple and always will be.”          

I’ve lost the card, but the thought remains. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Monday, August 29, 2016

Philemon Elias Neau September 4, 2016

Proper 18C

 “. . .  no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” 

Christian faith is fundamentally subversive. Jesus stands in final judgment over against every human institution, calling us to give God the glory, and not to glorify ourselves and our own works. 

This sermon has three parts: first about the Epistle to Philemon, second about slavery particularly in early America, and third about a Christian response to that slavery.

Every 3 years on Labor Day weekend we hear the whole Epistle to Philemon. The epistle appears to recognize slavery as a part of the culture, but it fundamentally subverts the institution of slavery and calls us to live in God’s freedom, to live not for ourselves, but for God.

The letter appears to begin as a personal letter to Philemon, but it is also addressed to “Apphia our sister, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house.” Philemon was an individual but he was part of a community – “the church in your house.” We are individuals, and we live in a society. We are born alone, but we are born into a family, into a network of relationships.  At baptism we are born again into the spiritual body of Jesus Christ, “the blessed company of all faithful people.”

St. Paul begins with thanks to God for Philemon’s life and ministry.  “When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. . . .I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.”

St. Paul sets Philemon up, and then moves to the ask.  “I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.”   Onesimus is the Greek word for “useful.”  It was a common slave name. Onesimus – useful. This Onesimus apparently ran away from Philemon in Colossae and got to Paul in Rome.  Colossae was a town in the mountains of southwestern Turkey, where they grew cherries and made wool cloth.

Playing on Onesimus’ name, St.  Paul says, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.” He suggests, “perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-- especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” He ends, “Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

 Philemon is neatly boxed in. He has to choose between his personal economic interest as a slave owner and his spiritual life as a member, with Onesimus, and Apphia, Archippus, and the church in your house, of the spiritual body of Jesus Christ, “the blessed company of all faithful people.” The tradition is that he sent Onesimus back to Paul. Ignatius of Antioch wrote about 100 AD of a Bishop Onesimus of Ephesus not far from Colossae.

Second – slavery in America. Based on the teaching of the Epistle to Philemon, the early American settlers believed that baptism made slaves free. The population of colonial America grew rapidly. It more than doubled every 20 years. Not counting native Americans, a population of fewer than 27,000 in 1640 grew to over 2,700,000 by 1780.  Until about 1640 whites and Africans were treated alike. Pay back your passage in 7 years and you were free. After 1640 skin color mattered. Africans and their children were to be slaves forever – or for 225 years. But people continued to believe that baptism made slaves free. Slave owners refused to allow Church of England missionaries to preach to their slaves. Finally in the early 1700’s when the colonial population approached a quarter million people – white and black – colonial legislatures passed acts declaring that baptism did not make slaves free. Black slaves began to be baptized, to evangelize one another, to form churches. Some, mostly house slaves, some of whom had some white ancestors, would be brought to church by their masters.

Slave revolts brought increasingly violent reprisals. The General Assembly of North Carolina in 1830 passed a law making it a crime to teach a slave to read or write. No Bible reading for blacks in this state – no reading of Philemon, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother”  Slaves have been legally free for 150 years, but we are still dealing with the results of bad decisions made almost 400 years ago. This is the 120th anniversary of Plessy v. Ferguson – legal segregation – and the 62nd anniversary of Brown v Board of Education. We’ve come ways; we have some way to go. The Epistle to Philemon offers us both inspiration and instruction in the way.

I close with a story of a church response to slavery, the story of Elias Neau, born 1662, died 1722.  He was born in southwestern France, a French Protestant. He fled to New York and at age 30 was captured by a French privateer and made a galley slave. After a year pulling a heavy oar he spent 4 years in a Marseilles prison. Released in 1698 he returned to New York and five years later was licensed by New York Governor Viscount Cornbury, Queen Anne’s cousin, to teach blacks, young and old. The Church of England Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts began to pay him as a missionary in 1704.  The rector of Trinity Church, New York, New England born William Vesey, first opposed him. Vesey wanted the money for his own assistant, but Neau’s experience as a galley slave gave him the public relations edge,  and Vesey’s opposition became support. Neau continued for over 20 years, teaching all who came to him, praying with them, preparing them for baptism.   His work continues at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Harlem.

“no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother”

 Christian faith is fundamentally subversive. Jesus stands in final judgment over against every human institution, calling us to give God the glory, and not to glorify ourselves and our own works. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Proper 15 C August 14, 2016 Sacrifice & Example

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
The Christian faith is a both-and faith. Jesus Christ is both “a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life.”  We are all forgiven sinners. Jesus ‘suffered death upon the cross for our redemption.” As we say in the Rite I Prayer of Consecration, he “made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” He “did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again.” Among the many meanings of our communion service is our remembering with present power Jesus’ death and resurrection in which he offers us forgiveness and new life in him. We are forgiven sinners.

We come together today to continue that “perpetual memory of his most precious death and sacrifice” and to commit ourselves once more “to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life.”  But it is not in our own strength and will that we can “follow daily in” his most “blessed steps. Only by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit can we “follow daily in” his most “blessed steps... The Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and consciences from the moment we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, from the moment we accept that Jesus’ death and resurrection were not only for the world, but were particularly for us. In the invitation to communion in Rite 2 the celebrant says, “The gifts of God for the people of God. Take and eat them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart with thanksgiving. In our baptism our old sinful spirit is drowned in the water and we receive a new spirit, a new life, to love and serve Jesus, “to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life.”

The order is important. Jesus is both our “sacrifice for sin “and also our “example of godly life.”  He is first our “sacrifice for sin “and then he is also our “example of godly life.” The experience of Christians through the ages is that we cannot live a “godly life” until we know ourselves to be forgiven sinners – until we have accepted for ourselves Jesus’ “sacrifice for sin.”

As St. Paul reminds us in Romans 7:19, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”  In the old Morning Prayer General Confession we used to say, “we have left undone the things we should have done, and we have done the things we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.” We cannot live a life pleasing to God relying on our own strength and will. We have to rely on God’s strength and power as we seek to do God’s will.

Almost all of us almost all of the time really want to be good people. We really want to “follow daily in the blessed steps of Jesus’ most holy life.”  We cannot do that relying on our own will and our own strength. Something very often goes wrong. Unintended consequences, misunderstandings, pure human cussedness – something goes wrong. “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

Our natural human – and sinful – reactions are two: Denial and blame. We either pretend it didn’t really go wrong – that’s denial - or we find some way to blame someone else. A friend told me about TEAPOT – Those Evil Awful People Over There. T E A P O T.   Those Evil Awful People Over There. We learn denial and blame early in our lives. The first reaction of the child caught with his hand in the cookie jar is to deny. “Don’t rely on the evidence of your eyes; trust me, I didn’t do it.”  When that doesn’t work, we then try blame. “She, or he, or more theologically sophisticated, the Devil, made me do it.”  Only as a last resort will we admit the truth of our guilt. “I did it and I’m sorry.”

But telling the truth is an essential first step as we seek “to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life.”  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Everyone’s appreciation of our own particular truth is slightly different, but we all participate in the one truth, who is Jesus.

Other essential steps are found in the Ten Commandments. We begin and end in God.
     Worship no other gods. The temptation to give inordinately high value to other things is strong.
     Make no graven images. When I do confirmation classes with young people I show them an engraved picture of George Washington from my wallet. Money is important, but it is not an ultimate goal.
      Do not take God’s name in vain. That’s not just swearing though that is included. We see over and over again people confusing God’s will and their own, seeking to use God for our purposes, rather than allowing God to use us for his purposes.  
     Keep holy the Sabbath day. There are lots of interpretations of this commandment. The point is that since God is first in our lives, we need to take time to be with him – in prayer, in Bible reading, in Christian fellowship in public and private worship.
     Honor parents. They give us God’s life and we honor them for it
     Murder, adultery, steal false witness. All people have a God given right to security of life, security of relationships, security of property, security of reputation.
     And finally “They shall not covet.” We want God, not other people’s stuff. God wants us, not our stuff. When I do confirmation classes with young people I say, Coveting is wanting someone else’s boyfriend (or girlfriend) – not someone as nice, or as attractive, but wanting that person. They get it.

Truth is a beginning. The commandments are early along the way. The process is love.  We “follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life” as we love – as we love God, and as we love our neighbors. We all know from our own experience that love grows as we love. We also know that love can diminish, that relationships of love can die. In 50 years of parish ministry I have seen some marital love be foully murdered by misconduct by one or both persons.

So as you seek to “follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life” look for ways to love God and love your neighbor. It is not too complicated, but it is not easy. Jesus loved us to his death, and the Father raised him to new life. We share Jesus’ new life in the power and truth of God the Holy Spirit – from baptism, through conversion, and in this morning’s sacramental bread and wine, spiritually fed on Jesus’ spiritual body and blood. Thanks be to God!

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, Amen! Amen!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Proper 9C July 3, 2016 Naaman

Proper 9C July 3, 1016

The 70 disciples came back rejoicing, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Jesus’ response was, “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

 Jesus ' word to us today is the same word he spoke to those 70 disciples, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” As St. Paul reminds us in Romans 8 (39) “nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Today, with those 70 disciples, and with all God’s people at all times and places, we “rejoice that our names are written in heaven.”

How is Jesus’s word is active in your life.? How do we “rejoice that our names are written in heaven.” How is that rejoicing shown forth in our lives? How do families, friends, the people we deal with see that we do indeed, “rejoice that our names are written in heaven.”

On 4th of July weekend, with the national political conventions scheduled later this month, how do we “rejoice that our names are written in heaven” in our community and civic life?

We can learn from Naaman, the Syrian general, part of whose story we heard in today’s Old Testament lesson. Naaman had a skin disease. He went to Elisha, finally did what Elisha told him to, and was healed. The rest of 2 Kings 5 tells that Elisha refused a present, and Naaman came to believe in the healing God of the land of Israel. Naaman lived about 850 years before Christ, nearly 3000 years ago. Naaman believed in a national and territorial god, so he asked for two mules’ burden of earth to take back to Syria so he could stand on the land from Israel to pray to the God of Israel who had healed him.  

Naaman said he would (I quote) “never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there. leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimnon, may the Lord pardon your servant for this.”  Elisha said, “Go in peace.” (end quotation) Rimnon was the Syrian national and territorial god. As a Syrian general, Naaman had to bow to Rimnon. And Elisha said, “Go on peace.” 

          We live in a world totally spiritually redeemed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, a world made spiritually new by his resurrection. We look forward to the day of Christ’s final triumph, when all things can be seen to be made new in Christ.  Eucharistic prayer B reminds us that Jesus Christ has brought us “out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.” But in the world – in our daily lives – what we see is error not truth, sin not righteousness, death continuing in life.

          We live in a society that is not yet the kingdom of God where God’s perfect will is not done “on earth as it is in heaven.” We have overcome some of the more egregious forms of social injustice, but there is a lot more to do. We can all think of particular injustices in our own lives. Over the next four months the political candidates will remind us of all the bad things that they propose to fix for us  - if we will vote for them.

          Some parts of our society are better than they were almost 3,000 years ago in Naaman’s time. But some things are no better, and some seem to be worse. Syrians no longer gather to worship the god Rimnon, but Syrian Christians, Jews, Muslims of at least 3 groups – Sunni, Shiite, Alawite, and Druze, ad Yazidi all are fleeing their country by the thousands.

          Societies whose members’ beliefs and behaviors are not consistent with God’s will are like Naaman’s Syrian society almost 3,000 years ago. Rimnon as the Syrian national and territorial god is dead, but Rimnon’s spirit lives on wherever a spirit of injustice continues.

          We all live in a society where spirits of injustice continue. We were born into a society where spirits of injustice continue. This is what we have. We all from time to time have to conform to unjust and ungodly social norms. We are all like Naaman bowing down to Rimnon. And the Lord says to us, as Elisha said to Naaman, “Go in peace.”

We are forgiven sinners, washed spiritually clean by the shed blood of Jesus, spiritually fed in Jesus’ sacramental body and blood. We look forward to the final triumph of God’s justice in Christ. We do what we can to know God’s truth and do God’s will. And when we fail we are forgiven sinners.

Jesus Christ has indeed brought us “out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.” Let us “rejoice that our names are written in heaven.”     Amen.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Proper 6C 2016 Justice

Proper 6C 2016
          In todays collect we prayed, “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ. . . .”

I invite you this morning to commit yourself again to proclaim God’s truth with boldness and to minister his justice with compassion.

We believe in a creator God who made everything that is, and because he made all things he knows all things. Because God made all things and knows all things God’s justice is perfect. Our knowledge is limited, and our justice is imperfect. Our call is to seek to know God’s just will and do it.

One of the spiritual gifts God gives us is a sense of justice and fairness. We see that particularly in children. Our granddaughters are age 7 and 3, and they are quick to let us know what they think is unfair, particularly to them.

As we mature two things begin to happen, one positive, one negative. We begin to discern fairness and unfairness not only to us but to others – not just personally but also generally. And we begin to be able to evaluate our own words and actions. We ask, “Are we being fair and just to others?”  Jesus summarizes the law and the prophets in both St. Matthew 7 and St. Luke 6, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  That teaching is not unique to Jesus; a version is found in the teachings of all religion and philosophy.  It is the common ethical heritage of all humanity.

But with maturity comes also a negative. We are all incurably self-centered. As we mature and learn how complex life issues are, we use that complexity as a device to screen ourselves from the realities of fairness and justice. We also fall into the great river of Egypt – denial. Our consciences are dulled by our own misbehavior, and we become less sensitive to issues of justice, particularly issues of justice to others. And we also begin to blame others. We find fault with TEAPOT - Those Evil Awful People Over There - TEAPOT are responsible - not us.

God calls us to conversion. We are washed clean in baptism. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth and power comes to dwell in us so we may seek to know and to do the true and life-giving will of God. I invite you this morning to commit yourself again to proclaim God’s truth with boldness and to minister his justice with compassion.

In our scripture readings this morning we see God’s justice in great things and small. 

Naboth and Ahab is a story of greed and murder. King Ahab coveted his neighbor Naboth’s vineyard, precious to Naboth as his inheritance.  A major point of biblical justice is security of property. Commandments 6, 7, and 8: “thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not commit adultery.” We have a God-given natural right to security of person, security of property; security of relationships.

But King Ahab’s wife Jezebel was a princess of Sidon in southern Lebanon. She has not been brought up to know God’s will expressed in the Ten Commandments. She wanted a happy husband, and she escalated the injustice from coveting to murder. She persuaded people of the capital to lie about Naboth and to lynch him. Ahab got Naboth’s vineyard, but he did not live long to enjoy it.

Small sins and injustices lead to bigger sins and bigger injustices. Be aware of the small sins and injustices; repent early and often to avoid being led into greater sin and injustice. 

The Pharisee was not just to Jesus. He did not treat him with the respect due a guest; he tempted him by bringing in a “woman of the streets.” (I wonder how he knew where to find her?) She treated Jesus with God’s love and justice. And she went home a forgiven sinner.

St. Paul writes of “gentile sinners.” Like Jezebel, gentiles did not know God’s law. To good Jews gentiles were categorical sinners. But Jesus’ death on the cross brings forgiveness to all sinners – Jews and Gentiles alike.  We are all forgiven sinners, set free by Jesus, and given the Holy Spirit – the spirit of truth to know God’s truth, and the spirit of power to do God’s will.

I invite you this morning to commit yourself again to proclaim God’s truth with boldness and to minister his justice with compassion.

“Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ. . .   Amen.”