Friday, October 13, 2017

Wedding Banquet


We all have wedding stories. Some stories are about our own weddings, or our children’s weddings, or our parents, other family members, friends. Many of the stories are happy stories; a few are sad, some are poignant. When Lucy and I go to weddings, and we get to go to a lot, we come home with a deeper appreciation of our marriage.

Jesus spent much of his last week of earthly ministry in controversy with the official leaders of his people, people who misused their authority and power to lie about Jesus to the Romans who misused their power and authority to hang Jesus on a cross to die. But God his father raised Jesus from the dead, and gives us the authority and power to share in Jesus’ resurrected new life.  

On Easter Day the church reads part of the passage from Isaiah we read today, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.”

A favorite image of heaven is the wedding feast, when the church as bride is united with the Lord the bridegroom. James Boswell in 1781 quoted the English writer Samuel Johnson, “marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” It is always interesting to see at a wedding reception how two groups of extended families and friends begin by having in common only a relationship with one of the two people getting married and sometimes find groundsfor friendship and a continuing relationship.

In Jesus controversy story the invited guests refused their invitation to the wedding banquet. Those who heard Matthew’s gospel could see them as the leaders of the Jewish community; we might see them as leaders of our secular society. So the king’s servants brought in the street people, “both bad and good.” We know ourselves as both bad and good, but “street people” maybe not so much. Our churches tend appeal to middle class retired folks. But even middle class retired people need Jesus’ love and grace.

But in the parable one of the guests did not have a wedding garment, and the king ordered, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” That seems really unfair, doesn’t it?  But what does “wedding garment” mean? And how does that fit with bringing in the street people?

Martin Luther began the 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” 

When we go to a wedding we focus on the bride and the groom and wish them all the happiness of married life. We try to leave our bad feelings at the door. We plan to be as gracious as we can to our fellow guests. So at the wedding feast of the church and her Lord we focus on the Lord. Our wedding garment includes repentance and faith.

In the early 19th century John Keble, an English parish priest, wrote a hymn:

“New every morning is the love, our wakening and uprising prove, through sleep and darkness safely brought, restored to life and power and thought.”

“New mercies, each returning day, hover around us as we pray; new perils past, new sins forgiven, new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.”

“If on our daily course our mind be set to hallow all we find, new treasures still, of countless price, God will provide for sacrifice.”

“The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we need to ask, room to deny ourselves, a rod to bring us daily nearer God.”

Only, dear Lord, in thy dear love fit us for perfect rest above, and help us this and every day, to live more nearly as we pray.”

Our wedding garments of repentance include sacrifice and self-denial, “the trivial round, the common task” and we ask God, “help us this and every day, to live more nearly as we pray.”

 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Blessings: Anmals and Quilts


`At the Blessing of Animals October 8, 2017

Sovereign of the universe, your first covenant of mercy was with every living creature. When your beloved Son came among us, the waters of the river welcomed him, the heavens opened to greet his arrival, the animals of  the wilderness drew near as his companions. With all the world’s people, may we who are washed into new life through baptism seek the way of your new creation, the way of justice and care, mercy and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.  (From Evangelical Lutheran Worship p.152)  

Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of all things and giver of all life, extend your blessing to all these animals. May our relationships with them mirror your love, and our care for them be an example of your bountiful mercy. Grant these animals health and peace. Strengthen us to love and care for them as we strive to extend the love of Jesus Christ our Lord as you demonstrated in the ministry of  your servant Francis. Amen.

The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. where there is hatred, let us sow love;  where there is injury, pardon;  where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O Divine Master, Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;  to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

For the Blessing of Quilts

Gracious God, you have filled the world with beauty, the fields with summer flowers and the trees of the forest with the bright colors of the changing autumn leaves. In the psalm (90:17) we pray, “may the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us, prosper the works of our hands, prosper our handiwork.” 

We give you our thanks for all who have contributed to the making of these quilts. We especially thank for the gifts you have given those who made them. We thank you for their work together and for the fellowship and joy these women have received in making these. 

We now offer these quilts for your service. We ask you to make each of these quilts a sign of your love and blessing to each person who receives one. We trust that each quilt will be a source of comfort and hope in the midst of disaster and fear, a symbol of Christ’s love to those who suffer, a reminder that each recipient is a beloved child of God. We pray each quilt will bring warmth in the cold and joy in beauty. May it be a sign of your love and care, an offering by a friend whom the recipient may never meet.

Lord, we ask your blessing on these fruits of our labor, on these works of our hands, on this our handiwork. We ask you to continue to bless the group who make these quilts and to pour your continued blessing on all who will receive them, and we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    

Vineyard & Cornerstone


Pentecost 18 Proper 22 October 8, 2017

We thank God who makes himself known to us in Jesus Christ, We thank God for Jesus’s life, and death, and resurrection, and for his gift of his Holy Spirit. We thank God for the witness of family and friends and fellow church members in whose lives we see the fruit of the Spirit of God. We thank God for the opportunities he gives us to love and serve him. We thank God for the vineyard, and we thank him for the cornerstone of right living. We thank God.

The last week of Jesus’ ministry before his Crucifixion and Resurrection was a time of controversy and conflict with the leaders of the people. Our bible readings for 3 weeks of October and 2 weeks of November tell of this controversy and conflict. Today we hear two parables, one about a vineyard and the other about a stone.

We read the first parable about the vineyard in three gospels – today in St. Matthew, in St. Mark 12, in St. Luke 20, in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, and also in early Muslim writings. Roughly a century after this gospel was written, Irenaeus began the tradition of understanding the vineyard parable as an allegory. God planted and prepared the vineyard is God. The people of Israel, and particularly the leaders of the people, are the tenants.  The prophets came to collect the harvest and were beaten, killed, and stoned. Jesus is the son who was killed and cast out. The destruction of the Temple in 70 AD shows that the wicked tenants have been removed, and replaced by the Gentile church.

This understanding of the parable has some problems. First, parable says the owner of the vineyard, “leased it to tenants and went to another country.” But “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”  (Psalm 24:1)  The Lord God has never gone “into another country.” That is the error of deism. No, God continues to be present, sustaining and maintaining the world he has created. On the 7th day God rested. He did not go away on vacation. Genesis tells us the Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening. He spoke to Adam and Eve. He continues to speak to us in Scripture and by the Holy Spirit. God continues active in our world and in our lives.

A second problem with the allegory is that the new tenants in the vineyard have only partly given the owner the “produce at the harvest time.” The produce of the vineyard is spelled out by St. Paul in Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” We enjoy some of that spiritual fruit in our lives and in the life of the church.  We offer some fruit, by God’s grace. At the offertory this morning we will ask God’s blessing on the fruits of the labor of the quilt makers in our congregation.

But we also fail to give all the “produce at the harvest time.” Last Sunday’s murders in Las Vegas and the other offences we see against God’s love and peace show us that we do not at all times and all places respond as we should.  

A third problem with the allegory is the bad fruit it has produced.  The idea that the people of Israel are the wicked tenants, the wretches to be put to death, has been misinterpreted as a proof text for antisemitism, for hatred of Jews. Antisemitism is no longer respectable, but a century ago it was. Only after the Holocaust and World War II did the church recognize antisemitism as a sin. Only in 1948 did the U.S. Supreme Court rule that restrictive covenants forbidding sale of property to Jews, blacks, or Asians could not be enforced at law. God loves all his creation and offers his love to all people. As the song says, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The vineyard is a sign of God’s love, but not our judgment.    

In the second parable about the cornerstone Jesus quotes from Psalm 118 – the last of the psalms sung at the Passover celebration – the Passover for which the people were preparing in this last week of Jesus’ earthly life. We place a cornerstone in a building because its right angle is necessary for the building to be square and secure. Jesus’ hearers remembered Isaiah 28:16, “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation . . . and I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet.” When Peter and John were tried by the chief priest for preaching Jesus’ resurrection in the Temple, Peter said (Acts 4:11-12) This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

We thank God who makes himself known to us in Jesus Christ, We thank God for Jesus’s life, and death, and resurrection, and for his gift of his Holy Spirit. We thank God for the witness of family and friends and fellow church members in whose lives we see the fruit of the Spirit of God. We thank God for the opportunities he gives us to love and serve him. We thank God for the vineyard, and we thank him for the cornerstone of right living. We thank God. Amen.  

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Authority


Pentecost 17 Proper 21 October 1, 1017

The other day at dinner I heard about an event that happened over 60 years ago. A high school sophomore had been raised in a church. The church was central to the life of his family; uncles were ministers; he had been elected president of the youth group. This young man was interested in science, and one Sunday morning he asked his Sunday school teacher, the pastor’s wife, “Is it necessary to believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian?” She didn’t answer the question, but got offended that it had been asked. Later in the week a girl at school, a fellow student, told the young man that the the pastor’s wife, his teacher had told her to tell him that, she, the pastor’s wife, had removed him as president of the church youth group and appointed the girl in his place. The young man never came back to Sunday school – or youth group. He did continue to go to church and do his church job recording the service for the shut-ins. He later found out that the teacher, pastor’s wife, had been telling parents that the young man, “had a filthy mouth.” The young man later became an eminent scientist, but the story of the reaction to his innocent question in Sunday school continued to rankle more than 60 years later.

My immediate reaction to him was that the teacher had grossly misused her authority in the church. In 50 years of ordained ministry I have seen other examples of such misuse of authority. About half the congregations I know of have suffered from some kind of serious misconduct by either clergy or important lay leaders. The usual problems we see are with sex, substances – alcohol or drugs, and stealing money, but more subtle that these, and I think more dangerous, is misuse of power and authority.

One of the spiritual dangers of faith is a misplaced sense of entitlement - the sin of pride. We serve a risen Savior; we are not the savior.  Yet again and again I see Christian people asking for special treatment, which is an example of using the Lord’s name in vain. At the end of his first epistle St. John exhorts us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” We can make ourselves and the things we want little idols that turn our attention away from our Lord Jesus. 

We see that in today’s gospel reading. The setting is the beginning of Holy Week, the day after Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. When he entered the Temple Jesus drove out those who were selling and buying in the Temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers; he cured the lame and blind, and accepted the cheers of the children, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” recognizing Jesus as Messiah.  

Jesus drove out the merchants and the moneychangers for God’s sake, to restore the Temple as a place of worship, to restore the people to God’s love and service.   

The Temple priests had a racket going. The four areas of the Temple were (1) at the center the building where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept and the Chief Priest worshipped once a year. (2) Surrounding the Temple building an open area -- the court of the priests - where animals were sacrificed. (3) Surrounding that the court of Israel, where Jewish men stood to worship and (4) Surrounding that the largest area, the court of Gentiles.

“For the convenience” of those who came to offer the animal sacrifices commanded by the Law, the priests had allowed authorized dealers of certified sacrificial animals to set up stalls in the court of the gentiles. The priests also required money contributions be made only in coins minted over 100 years before during the century of Jewish independence. So worshippers changed their Roman money into Jewish money at authorized money changers - and the priests controlled the rate of exchange. Two rackets – authorized animals and authorized money – and Jesus had broken up these rackets.

When Jesus came back to the Temple the temple authorities asked, By what authority are you doing these things; who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered that question with another question about John the Baptist. But the Jewish leaders for political reasons refused to answer.

Jesus in the controversies of Holy Week kept his mind and will focused on the will of God the Father.  God gives us his grace by his gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and of Power so that in our lives we can keep our minds and wills focused on the will of the Father shown us in Jesus. The correct answer to the question Jesus asked the Jewish leaders was “John the Baptist was of God, and we failed to believe him. We acknowledge our sin and repent.”  We who accept Jesus’ authority say the same, “We failed to believe. We acknowledge our sin and repent.”  But by the grace of God poured out on us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are again forgiven, and we are given yet another opportunity to love and serve.

Jesus calls to a life of repentance. The 95 Theses begins, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” That is as true now as it was 500 years ago.  God allows us a small part of his authority in the world he has created. Our task is to live all our lives to his honor and glory, and when we sin and misuse God’s authority, when we make an idol of our desires, then to repent and confess. Amen.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Take up your cross


Proper 17A September 3, 2017

A Palm Sunday prayer sums up today’s Scripture lessons: “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” He asks, “what will they give in return for their life?” St. Paul says in the Epistle, “1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.  3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Since the 16th century we have prayed, “here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee . . .”

The only way of true life and peace is the way of the cross, the way of self-offering in union with Jesus’ self-offering on the cross. Our final goal in life is God, and God’s way of life, his way of final peace is the way of the cross. God gives us life, and God makes it possible for us to give that life back to him. The more we give, the more we receive. We don’t have to fear that we will “give out.” God loves us and gives us the gift of love. God wants what is best for us. God is all-powerful and all wise, and God gives us what is best for us.

I remember a painted clay ash tray I made in 3rd grade and gave my mother. We were living in Philadelphia and on a school trip to the science museum I had been fascinated by the stegosaurus dinosaur – the one with the small head, big body, long tail, and the plates that stick up along the back. The ash tray was more or less shaped like a stegosaurus, painted red and blue, and so ugly only a mother could love it. But I remember how proud I was when I gave it to her, and I remember how she said she appreciated it. The ash tray was really ugly, but she received it in love.    We give God our lives, all our lives, ugly and misshapen as they may be. And God receives our gift in love, and God makes us beautiful, and holy, and acceptable. We have all fallen short; we have all made a mess of least parts of the lives God gave us. But God receives our self-offering, and God makes us beautiful, and holy, and acceptable.

God makes us worthy by the cross, by the complete self-offering Jesus made on the cross. Jesus died on the cross to defeat the power of sin and death and Jesus rose from the dead to offer new life to all who will receive him.

Try as we might, we can do nothing to make ourselves acceptable, holy, worthy to God. God has done it all in Jesus Christ. We receive the new life God in Jesus offers us, and offer ourselves in thanksgiving and service.  The cross we are called to carry is this gospel, the good news of God’s perfect love in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose to give us new life.

The cross and the gospel are not acceptable by the standards of this world. By the world’s standards, we are measured by the acceptability of the things we have. By the standards of the world, we don’t give; we buy and sell. The world is basically me-centered, not God-centered. When we conform to the standards of the world, we think of ourselves - first, and last.

But St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect.” St. John learned in his exile on Patmos that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of the alphabet, the first and the last. When we are made new people in Christ Jesus, we think of God first, and last.

As new people in Christ we learn a new way of life. We learn to put God first, to live the good news of God’s perfect love in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose to give us new life. It takes regular practice. It takes daily self-offering in prayer and worship and thanksgiving. And God makes us worthy to bear that cross.

 “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Reconciliation and Forgiveness


Proper 18 Sept 10, 2017  Pentecost 14

Alleluia. In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. Alleluia. Reconciliation and forgiveness are possible only by the power of God working through the spirit of Christ is us. 

In today’s gospel reading Jesus gives his disciples God’s direction to deal with conflict. He gives three steps: First when we are offended, speak directly one on one. Second, if that doesn’t work, try again with one or two others. And third, only then, seek the help of the whole community.

I, and others generally don’t work that way. When I am offended I don’t tend to deal directly. I go not to the person who offended me but I go look for a sympathetic ear, for someone who will agree that I have a right to be offended, who will support and affirm me. I’ll tend to minimize or excuse. “He didn’t mean it; it’s not that important.” And I’ll nurse that grievance.  I’ll remember it in the middle of the night – and other times. Sometimes I’ll try to avoid dealing with the person, avoid contact, “unfriend them” on Facebook. Left to my own devices, I’ll try hard to avoid conflict and confrontation.   If I can’t avoid the person sometimes I’ll deflect my anger and try to hide what’s really bothering me, picking on something else. Frequently I’ll find myself doing this without noticing it.

But I’m a sinner saved by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. And sometimes God gives me both the insight to see more clearly what’s really bothering me and the  courage to do what Jesus tells us to do. In Christ I will find some way to speak one on one, andtry to speak directly, not in accusation, but simply reporting my feelings.  “When you did - whatever, I felt – what I felt – disrespect – or whatever I felt.”  That kind of language tends to reduce automatic defensive reactions. I’m not making a direct accusation; I’m simply reporting how I felt.  Generally the response I get is, “I’m sorry you felt that way,” followed either by an explanation of what the other person was trying to accomplish or by an offer of some action in mitigation. I’ve never had to go back with witnesses or take the matter to the church.

My witness is that the gospel pattern, when we use it, really does work better than the pattern we learn in the world. It works because God acts through Christ’s spirit to help us see our situation clearly and to give us the courage to do what Jesus tells us to do.   

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. Reconciliation and forgiveness are possible only by the power of God working through the spirit of Christ is us.

Since 1983 The Church of the Savior has been a witness to the power of the spirit of Christ Jesus to bring together Lutherans and Episcopalians in one congregation. When I served in Shelby in the 1980’s  Bishop William Weinhauer of this diocese was the Episcopal co-Chair of the national Lutheran Episcopal Dialogue.  

Let me briefly review some of that history. From 1969-72 in the United States the Lutheran Council – then including the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – and the Episcopal Church committees met in dialogue. Worldwide Anglican-Lutheran International Conversations from 1970 to 1972 led to a “Pullach Report” recommending mutual recognition.The American dialogue resumed in 1976 and agreed in 1982 to Interim Eucharistic Sharing.

In 1988 the ELCA was formed and continued dialogue leading in 1999 to the Called to Common Mission agreement for full communion and shared ministry. In Europe from 1994 to 2010 Anglicam and Lutheran national churches have come to share communion under a Porvoo Common Statement. And in 2001 the Waterloo Declaration established full communion between Anglican and Lutheran churches in Canada.

The ELCA has been in full communion since 1997 with the Presbyterian Church, USA, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ, since 1999 with the Moravian Church and since 2009 with the United Methodist Church  I helped write the 2012 Moravian- Episcopal full communion agreement. Recently a United Methodist and Episcopal full communion proposal was published. It will take 6 to 8 years for that to pass the national conventions. Other Christian and interfaith dialogues continue. Issues of history and theology are complex.    

As a society and as individuals we all badly need the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation. Alleluia. In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. Alleluia. Reconciliation and forgiveness are possible only by the power of God working through the spirit of Christ is us.  Our good news is in Jesus we forgiven sinners have our part in his redeeming, forgiving, and reconciling ministry. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

 

77 or 70x7?


Proper 19A   Sept 17, 2017 Pentecost  15

 In the Great Thanksgiving today we say, “we give thanks to you, O Lord God Almighty, not as we ought, but as we are able.”  In our gospel reading Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Because Jesus died on the cross for us, God forgives us all our sins – all our sins – unconditionally and eternally. God forgives us many more than 77 times. The Greek text says ebdomekonta’kis epta, translated in the King James Version as 70 times 7 or 490 times.

Two passages of Hebrew Scripture relate to today‘s gospel. One is about 77 times and the other about how many times we should forgive. In Genesis 4:24 Cain’s 6th generation descendant Lamech says to his wives “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”  The Hebrew text has 77; the Greek version of the Hebrew bible, the Septuagint, has the same words as St. Matthew, ebdomekonta’kis epta, translated 70 times 7. 

The second passage is at the beginning of the prophet Amos, “For 3 transgressions of Damascus and for 4 I will not revoke the punishment.”  From that passage the rabbinic tradition drew the rule that one must forgive 3 or at most 4 times. So when Peter said forgive 7 times he was doubling the usual number.

And 7 is a biblical number of perfection. God created the world in 6 days and on the 7th rested. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and the 7th rest. Luther’s comment on this commandment is, “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” (Page 1160 in the Worship book.)

God forgives us our sins against him, and as we are forgiven sinners, God gives us grace to forgive those who sin against us. We can pass only what we have received. Because we know God’s forgiveness we also know that God makes it possible for us to forgive others. We don’t have to hold on to grudges; we really can let them go. And when they come back to bother us in the middle of the night we can let them go, and let them go, and let them go again  And so the circle of God’s love in Christ Jesus expands wider and wider to include more and more lost sheep.

This is grace, free grace. It is not cheap grace. It costs. It cost Jesus his life on the cross. It costs us the effort and the shame of climbing down from our peak of moral superiority and letting go – taking the sting out of the memory. Forgiveness does not excuse evil. Forgiveness recognizes evil.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but Joseph forgave them and his forgiveness served to save the people of Israel.  Forgiveness recognizes that bad things have been done, recognizes that people have been hurt, and sometimes badly hurt. Forgiveness recognizes that we have done bad things, that we have hurt other people, and ourselves. Forgiveness recognizes that bad things have been done to us, that we are hurt, sometimes badly hurt. And forgiveness lets it go, and lets it go, and lets it go. Forgiveness lets us out of our debtor’s prison of mind and memory and soul.  

In Jesus Christ God makes it possible for us to break the cycle of evil and revenge for evil. Cain’s 5th great grandson Lamech could not do that. He said, (Genesis 4:23b) “I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”  Lamech’s way is the way of “don’t get mad, get even,” the way of reciprocal wrong-doing, tit for tat, eye for eye until all are blind.

God in Jesus offers us the gift to see how to break cycles of sin and revenge. Because we are forgiven, we can forgive. God in Jesus forgives eternally and unconditionally. God’s love is unconditional and eternal.

But we are not God. We have limits, reasonable limits. Scripture can be misinterpreted, and this teaching of Jesus has been misinterpreted to mean that we must set aside issues of reasonable safety and self-protection. We can forgive sins done to us, but we don’t have to put ourselves in situations where we are likely to be injured again. God has given us a precious self. We are to preserve it. On rare occasions some of us may be called to dangerous situations, but only with great care and for the sake of others. We forgive and we continue to forgive up to our limit. That limit is different in every person and every circumstance. We don’t judge one another.

So in Holy Communion “we give thanks . . . not as we ought, but as we are able and in life we forgive “not as we ought, but as we are able.” We forgive because we are forgiven, and we forgive as much, and as often, as we can, with no arbitrary limit, but because God in Christ forgives us eternally and unconditionally.      

Pecking order in the vineyard


Proper 20 September 24, 2017

The University of Greifswald was established in 1456. It is the 4th oldest German university. From 1648 to 1815 it was part of Swedish Pomerania. At Greifswald on May 12, 1921, Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe defended his Ph.D. dissertation, “Gallus domesticus in seinem t├Ąglichen Leben.” – the daily life of chickens.  Thorleif, a 27 year old Norwegian scholar, drew on 17 years of observation and study to introduce the concept of pecking order in chickens. The technical term is “Dominance hierarchy.”  In social living groups members compete for access to limited resources and mating opportunities. Rather than fight each time they meet members of the group develop a set of relative relationships – a hierarchy that lets the participants know the proper order.

Such hierarchies are universal. We have ranks in the military, pay scales in business and the professions. The Pay Scale website says that in 2015 six of the highest paid CEOs make more than 300 times the salary of their typical employee. The average is about 70 to 1. In 1965 it was about 20 to 1. That is an economic hierarchy. Stockholders vote for boards of directors who approve executive compensation. Dominance hierarchy is the way of the world.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus calls the church to be different.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” Those who heard Jesus – and Matthew – immediately thought of Isaiah 5:5 “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting . . .”  The vineyard owner went out to hire day laborer because when the grapes are ripe lots of hands are needed to pick them. In Israel as today there is a place where day laborers go to be hired. And there is a dominance hierarchy to determine who gets first chance at any available job.

In the parable the owner goes out 5 times to hire pickers – at daybreak, at 9, 12, 3, and even at the last hour of daylight. Monastic communities traditionally pray at those 5 hours - daybreak, 9, 12, 3, before the evening meal and also Compline before bedtime and a night hour before dawn. The first time the vineyard owner agrees with the workers for the standard wage - one silver coin a day. To the other workers he simply says, “I will pay you whatever is right.”  And so they went. Better to take what you can than not work at all. The difference comes at the end of the day. The first laborers hired receive their agreed-on wage. Hierarchical thinking is an hourly wage. Part-time work gets part time money and no benefits. Half day half pay, and so forth. But the owner pays all the workers a full day’s pay. That upsets the hierarchy. Those who “have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” thought they should have received more than they had first agreed to.

What are we working for?  In the parable everyone receives a day’s wage, regardless of how many hours he worked. We receive not a silver coin, but a relationship. Our Creator offers us his unconditional and eternal love; he offers us his unconditional and eternal forgiveness for all our sins; he offers us a clear conscience; he offers us a relationship with his Son, our Lord Jesus. Jesus dwells in our hearts by faith. The Holy Spirit of truth and power guides us into all truth and gives us the power to do that truth. We get it all. All of us get it all, always. The relationship is permanent. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that this relationship of love continues through the gate of death into everlasting life.

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  The Christian community is radically egalitarian. As we enter the church we leave behind the hierarchies of the world. When we are baptized into the one Lord, Jesus Christ, we receive a fundamental identity as a child of God.  Saint Paul wrote to the church at Philippi in northern Greece, “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,” Paul wrote to the church in Galatia in Asia Minor “You have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (3:28)

No more dominance hierarchy, no more of Thorlief’s chicken pecking order. All share equally in God’s unconditional and eternal love. All share equally in the forgiveness of sin through Jesus’ death on the cross. All share equally in his new and eternal life. All share equally in the gift of the Holy Spirit of truth and power.

Our task as a church, our task as Christian people in all of our relationships, is to live as much as we can in this new paradigm of love. In this world the chickens continue in a pecking order and all creation is bound by a dominance hierarchy, but we are spiritually free from these constraints, free to treat one another as loved and forgiven children of God, as St. Paul says, “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and in no way intimidated by our opponents.”

Saturday, July 29, 2017

At the end of the age Proper 12A


“So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  The furnace of fire, the destruction of evil, and the reward of the righteous is Scripture, Scripture we seek to understand, Scripture that reveals to us the will of God.

 So will it be at the end of the age.” The end is coming. In the end, we will face God's judgment on our lives. God's judgment is perfect and filled with love. We are assured of our eternal salvation. In the burial office we pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray thee to set thy passion, cross, and death, between thy judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living, pardon and rest to the dead, to thy holy Church peace and concord, and to us sinners everlasting life and glory ...” (Prayer Book page 489)

St. Paul reminds us we are saved by God's gracious gift received in faith and not by our works. God has chosen to save all humanity by the death of his son, our Lord Jesus, on the cross, and God has chosen to give us new life in Jesus' resurrection. He has chosen us, called us, justified us - made us right with him - and he glorifies us in his love and service.. In words familiar from their use in the burial office, today's Epistle proclaims that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

That said, and it needs to be said, we also cannot forget that the perfect justice of God requires that both good and evil be clearly identified, that good be rewarded and evil destroyed forever. In this life good and evil are so mixed together that we can easily be confused about particular thoughts and actions of life. In very few situations can good be easily or clearly distinguished from evil. But neither the difficulty of the task, nor the assurance of eternal salvation, removes from us the responsibility to exercise godly wisdom and good judgment.

Today's Gospel has 5 parables of Jesus, all about wisdom and judgment. The first two stories are told to the crowd. They are about the growth of the kingdom, growth that reminds us of the greatness of the love of God.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed . . . the smallest of all seeds.” Every part of God's creation, and every person God has made and loves, is worth our careful attention and respect.  “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast...” Yeast makes dough rise and double in size and double again. God gives us the Holy Spirit, his spirit of truth, his spirit of power, so that we may be like yeast in the world, turning flat dough into nourishing bread. 

Then in St. Matthew’s gospel follows the explanation to the disciples of the parable of the grain and the weeds that we heard last Sunday, and then three parables about the wisdom of single minded attention to God's will.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure . . . someone sells all that he has and buys the field.” The merchant found “one pearl of great value,. . . sold all that he had and bought it.” We can so easily be scattered in mind, conflicted in our various roles and responsibilities. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” When our priority is to do the will of God, the other responsibilities and pleasures take their proper place.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a net that caught fish of every kind. . . they put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.”  When I was a boy I’d go deep sea fishing with my father. We'd catch rockfish or sea bass or mackerel or flounder, and sometimes sea robins or blowfish or other inedible “trash fish.” We'd keep the good fish and throw the trash away. I was a kid, I didn't know the difference, but better fishermen knew, and knew what to do.  They had good judgment, judgment based on knowledge and experience.

We are all called to exercise good judgment, judgment based on our knowledge and experience of the will of God. Good judgment is not easy. Our capacity for self-deception is as wide and deep as the ocean. There are no easy answers, no quick algorithms that allow us to plug in the data and generate an answer that is always correct.  But we can rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit of truth and power, and when we fail, we trust in the never failing love of God in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!

 “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Sower and Hope

Proper 10A July 16, 2017
 
        We live in hope.  Today we pray that we “may know and understand” what we “ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish” God’s will in our own lives.  The prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” St. Paul  tells us “here is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” And we hear both Jesus’ Parable of the Sower and the explanation of that parable. 

        The Parable of the Sower is explained as a parable of soils – the hard-packed road, rocky ground, thorns, and finally good soil that bears much fruit.  A friend has a compost pile; we put in garbage and she gets out good black dirt for her garden. 

Our lives include all the kinds of soil. Parts of our lives are as spiritually hard as a well trodden dirt path in a drought; parts of us are full of rocks; much of us is prickly with thorns. But in every one of us there is the potential of good soil bearing fruit.  None of us are naturally good soil, but by God’s grace working in us we can become so. Our spiritual task is to increase the good soil in our lives, digging out the rocks and thorns, breaking up the clods, softening the ground with the water of tears of repentance, digging in the compost and digging out the weeds with the hoe of faith and good works.

When we are honest with ourselves all of us know from personal experience that we “have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  Despair is always an option. We can look at our own lives and see our missed opportunities, see how our misbehavior has influenced our present situation. We can look around us to what appears to be increasing political conflict and nasty behavior. It is sometimes hard to hold on to the conviction that those with whom we disagree are simply wrong, but they are not evil. The temptation of pride is strong - to think that we are moral and they are immoral degenerates. That temptation is a false one. We are all sinners saved by grace. 

The good news that by his death and resurrection Jesus has set us free from the need to sin and given us a new life. And St. Paul rejoices, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He ends, “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

        An alternative to despair in our personal and political lives is hope. Isaiah wrote that God’s word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” We know from St. John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.And the light shined in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” The darkness of despair does not understand light, does not understand hope, and the darkness cannot cover the light, can never put out the light.

        Jesus did not return empty to the father. He returned with the only man made things in heaven, the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, the wound of the spear in his side, but the hands and the feet and the wound were healed wounds. And at Pentecost Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to all who have faith in him. He is the spirit of truth and the spirit of power.   

        This morning we pray that we “may know and understand” what we “ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish” God’s will in our own lives.  We have the assurance of guidance and power in the Holy Spirit. We can live in hope.

        So what do we do?  We pray, opening all our lives to God and asking the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. And we listen. We listen to God the Spirit working in our minds and in others who know and love us. We read the Bible and seek to learn God’s will there revealed. We confess our sins to God and we receive the spiritual strength of the sacraments. And having done all, we stand. We stand up straight in faith, in trust, and in hope. 

        A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds . . . fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” 

Wheat and Tares


Proper 11 July 23, 2017 

The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest;  so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers . .”

We are again blessed with both Jesus’ parable to the crowd on the beach and with the explanation to the disciples. Jesus discourages hasty judgment and too quick action against evil. And St. Paul encouraged the church in Rome to “wait … with patience . . . while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” 

Church leaders and leaders in all areas tend to get in trouble over misuse of power, and sex, and money. When wrong is done we need to act. But today’s gospel reminds to act with care.  Today’s collect reminds us that we are too often unworthy and blind – or at least short-sighted. Church history has many examples of action taken without due care for all concerned.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation had many causes, but the precipitating event was a protest against misuse of spiritual power, a misuse related to money,  Martin Luther’s 95 Theses begins, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Luther goes on to attack the whole penitential system of the late medieval western church.

That system was based on the two ideas of Purgatory and “the Treasury of Merit.”  Purgatory comes from the truth that none of us is worthy by our own behavior to stand before the God to whom “all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” From that experiential appreciation of our natural unworthiness came the idea of an intermediate state between death and the fullness of the glory of heaven in which the souls of the departed were purified until they were ready for heaven. But the idea of purgatory is hard to reconcile with the New Testament, particularly with the radical teaching of St. Paul in Romans, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

The “treasury of merit” is the idea that the saints have done “acts of supererogation,” good works beyond their duty to God, and that these acts somehow add to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our redemption, and that the church can draw on these acts for the benefit of souls in purgatory.

We all draw on the merits of Christ Jesus for our salvation, but Paul’s teaching that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” denies that anyone but Christ Jesus can add to the “treasury of merit.”

That said, in the late 1400’s the popes centralized the authority to draw on the “Treasury of Merit” and issued documents of indulgences remitting the penalties of purgatory. In the early 1500’s financial contributions or payments in thanksgiving for these indulgences helped rebuild St. Peter’s church in Rome. Archbishop Albert in Germany promoted this project heavily, and Luther wrote in response to Albert’s efforts. From our perspective this was another misuse of spiritual power for money.

Other conflicts used the Reformation to stir up the people, but a result was 130 years of war that devastated much of central Europe and bitter division in the Christian church that we are only slowly beginning to heal.

That’s one historical example. There are lots of others. Today’s gospel reminds us to act with care.  Today’s collect reminds us that we are too often unworthy and blind – or at least short-sighted. We need to be very careful when we act to be sure we act with due care for all concerned.

 Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Free Gift of God

Proper8 A July 2, 2017

In today’s reading from the Epistle to the Church at Rome St. Paul tells us, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

I grew up outside Baltimore, was ordained for the diocese of Maryland and served there eight years. We moved to Asheboro in 1974. Asheboro is a hosiery mill town. The mills closed the week of the 4th of July and everyone who could left town. I served there six years, and I came to appreciate the hard work and the generous spirit of the mill working people.

St. Paul tells us of two ways to live. One way is the way of wages. That way of wages focuses on what we get. The other way is the way of free gift. The way of free gift focuses on what we give.  Most of us most of the time live in the way of wages, the way of barter, the way of exchange. As the seven dwarfs marched off to work in Disney’s 1937 musical Snow White they sang what many of us hear as, “I owe, I owe, so it’s off to work I go.” We work to get what we need to live.

That can become a mindset. “You get what you pay for.” “There’s no free lunch.” And it’s not just on the job. What wife has not said to her husband, “We need to have the Smiths over. We own them.” 

A way of wages mind set influences our understanding of God. Many of us at some time in our lives come to understand God as a God of rules. In adolescence those are frequently rules of behavior we don’t want to follow. As in the Christmas song about Frosty the Snowman, God “knows when we’ve been bad or good” and he punishes when we’re bad. 

We have to spend much of our lives in the way of wages. We do need to work; we need to eat, we need to maintain ourselves and our families, and we also need to be able to help where there is need.  St. Paul says to the church at Thessalonica (3:10) “if any would not work, neither should he eat.”  

But the way of wages can be too easily twisted into a way of getting and keeping all we can, for ourselves alone. It can become greed, which is a sin. We can seek to charge what the market will bear and then try to manipulate the market. There is a place for human law and there will always be a place for law as long as we have human sin. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

St. Paul shows us an alternative to the way of wages – the way of free gift and eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our very life is a gift, a free gift of God. You don’t have to have difficulty having children to know well that children are a gift from God. The love we have for one another in families and in friendships is a free gift from God.

As we grow we change our understanding of God. We give up the notion of a judgmental and punitive God and to begin to accept the reality that God is love.  

We learn that God is love in the First Epistle of St. John (4:7-11)   Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”

That is Bible truth, a Bible truth that calls us to a new understanding and to new action. If God loves us unconditionally, who are we to refuse to love ourselves with God’s love and to love others with God’s love. We all misbehave. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but in Jesus Christ, by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven sinners. We no longer have to do the same old thing again and again looking for a different result. We can do some new things; we can take some risks, risks to love, to share, to give.

One place to begin is in our families. In our families we benefit from natural love. So I invite you to think and to pray to see new ways you can show God’s life-giving love in your family relationships, And then when the loving God shows you the way, act on the knowledge the loving God gives you.  Jesus tells us to love our neighbors and love our enemies because frequently they are the same people. Think and pray how you can grow peace and love among the people you know, and then act to grow peace and love.  Our situation requires us to live much of our lives in the way of wages. But when the opportunity to live in God’s way of love and life opens for you, take it. 

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Amen.  

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.