24 December 2009

The Even of Christmas

Nothing says it better than the sermon Dudley wrote for Christmas Eve in the movie The Bishop's Wife.

Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sounds of bells, and with gifts.

But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except for one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that.

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.

While you are contemplating the pivotal event of the world, visit Trinity Wallstreet and listen to their presentation of Messiah

09 December 2009

A letter from Armstrong's Vestry

My thanks to a friend in st. George's Anglican Church for this letter sent out in on 18 November.

We have a significant challenge before us which is every bit a portion of our collective witness to Christ Jesus, a continuation of our standing for the truth in the public square, and finishing our current fight with the principalities and powers of both the State and the Episcopal Church of Colorado.

As the result of obsessive efforts by the Episcopal Bishop of Colorado and his attorneys, the false allegations against our Rector have escalated into full criminal proceedings. A trial is set for February 22, 2010.

We have always paid Father Armstrong's compensation according to the long standing procedures and practices of our church, and have verified by a forensic auditor that the criminal charges against him are false. We now need to prove these allegations false in a court of law.

It is important to understand these charges are simply part of the attack against our Rector and the parish purposes he has served in Communion-wide theological debates. For twenty years, the minutes of the Vestry praise our Rector for doing our theological and political bidding in the councils and processes of the church. In the same way he was successful in building our parish to a significant stature within the Episcopal Church, he was also successful in bringing together people to clearly articulate an orthodox Anglican theological understanding of the faith.

In the eyes of those who longed to change the gospel of sin and redemption, our parish and our Rector needed to be eliminated to undercut his successful campaign and our funding of this work. An attack was mounted from both a small minority within our previous congregation and the Diocese of Colorado from without. The call for us to fightback continues. It is critical we remain engaged as long as the battle against us rages on.

Our Rector has taken many personal and public attacks on our collective behalf, becoming the focal point in this fight. It is imperative that we participate in this suffering for the Gospel's sake and fully fund his legal defense. We have walked him to the end of the plank, and unless we fund his defense, we will have essentially pushed him off. We cannot allow this to happen.

An immediate $100,000 is needed to hire investigators, expert witnesses, researchers, and mount a case equal to the one funded by the Diocese of Colorado, the DA's office, and Colorado springs Police Department. In difficult economic times, we are asking you to dig deep and help us assure that the Bishop of Colorado and those he has effectively lobbied will not be victorious in their attempt to silence our conservative voices and jail our Rector.

The $100,000 is part of the legal defense included in our debt we are working to retire and is not an additional amount. So the Vestry is again asking those who haven't contributed $1,500 per household to retire our dept, to join us in taking care of our first debt priority -- paying the money to the Legal Defense Fund. When the battle is over and our Rector has been vindicated, our parish will flourish, and we will be in a position to do those things we would all much rather .

but we first need to eliminate this cloud over us and the burden that has befallen us. Your Vestry asks you to answer this call and stand firm in our faith.

Yours in Christ,

John Wroblewski, Senior Warden
Chad Friese, Junior Warden
John Newsome, Chancellor
Gib Weiskops, Chancellor
Marilynn Daring
Curt Emery
Jack Gloriod
Rip Hollister
Jason Huntley
Emily Kline
Phil LaTulippe
Carl Willenbrock

This letter is troublesome for many reasons, and, in my opinion raises some civil issues that the court and the IRS might find interesting.

At any rate, this letter proves the Stockholm Syndrome is hard at work in Colorado.

For background on this issue, see this post.

06 December 2009

Cast away the works of darkness

The year now drawing to a close has been one of great change in my life. Most of the change is too personal to put into a blog post. Change, for me, is never easy. To reflect upon the year 2009, I decided to take a silent retreat during Advent from the blog.

However, today, I am forced by the spirit to make a small post in the form of a photo I created after reading a statement by the worst English Archbishop since Cardinal Wolsey. Who would have believed it would be an archbishop of Canterbury who destroyed the Anglican Communion.

Rowan is as silent as the tomb regarding the plight of homosexuals in Uganda, but he instantly screamed bloody murder when a lesbian was elected bishop suffragan in Los Angeles. I think I know what Christ will say to Rowan on the day of judgement -- "Depart from me ye worker of iniquity."

Make sure to read this by Andrew Brown who calls Rowan the coward he is.

22 November 2009

Where were you?

"Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs.
Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others."

Mrs. Cooper's class; we were just beginning a spelling test.

Christ the King - The Sunday Next Before Advent

Christ the King - The Sunday Next Before Advent
Dignus Agnus

(RCL) 2 Samuel 23:1-7 and Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19); Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

    Introit: The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power and divinity and wisdom and strength and honor; to Him be glory and empire for ever and ever. -- (Ps. 71. 1). Give to the King, O God, Thy justice, and to the King's Son Thy judgment.

    Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    Gospel: Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?" Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not [a]of this realm." Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."

“Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” the magi asked.

That question alerted Herod to the presence of a rival in his midst. To eliminate the rival he had his soldiers kill all children in an entire region of his realm.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked Jesus mockingly.

The very idea of the Jews having a king in any meaningful sense must have seemed ridiculous to Pilate. Furthermore, Jesus must have looked far from regal as he stood before Pilate. He had been arrested in Gethsemane; all his disciples had abandoned him; he had defended himself before a Jewish court; and he had probably been roughed up by Roman soldiers. But there was also a serious side to the question. A king of the Jews would have represented a challenge to Pilate’s authority and (more importantly) to his masters in Rome. The Roman Empire responded to such challenges just as ruthlessly as Herod had.

In reply to Pilate’s question, Jesus denied that he was a king in any way that would make sense to the Roman governor. “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.”

The confrontation with Pilate was rich with irony and ambiguity. Pilate appeared to be powerful but was really powerless; Jesus appeared to be powerless but was really powerful. John had already told his readers that part of Jesus’ mission was to “cast out” the ruler of this world who has no power over Jesus. Paradoxically, Jesus brought down the “ruler of this world” by submitting to his power; his death brought about the destruction of the powers that nailed him to the cross.

Pilate and Herod were not the only ones who misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ kingship. Even the disciples failed to understand it. James and John wanted to sit beside Jesus in his kingdom. To “sit” was to occupy a position of power, and to sit beside the king was to share in his power. But Jesus told them that they completely misunderstood the nature of his kingship and kingdom: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”

A friend who is a rabbi once said to me, “Christian triumphalism makes me uneasy.” It makes me uneasy, too, and the feast of Christ the King is awash in triumphalism.

“Crown him with many crowns,” we sing, and “All hail the power of Jesus’ name.” I am uneasy because it is all too easy to give Jesus the crown but to take the power for ourselves. The followers of the Crucified One overcame Rome by martyrdom, but after Constantine’s conversion, the victorious Christians started making martyrs of their former adversaries. The history of the church is spattered with blood because power requires violence to maintain itself. To put it another way, we use the rhetoric of Jesus but behave like Herod and Pilate.

The kingdom over which Jesus reigns still defies our understanding. He rules over a kingdom with no borders to defend, no soldiers to defend it, and no weapons for the soldiers to use. It is a kingdom that inverts our values. The one who serves is the one who rules.

We still ask the questions that the magi and Pilate asked: “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” and “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Knowingly or not, Pilate answered his own question; the Gospel of John tells us that “Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. It read: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.’”

The cross is Jesus’ royal throne and also the antidote to Christian triumphalism. Jesus reigns from the cross, and to share his kingship, we must also share his suffering. There is plenty of room at the right and left hands of Jesus, but those who would share his power must also share his cross.

Like the magi, we are also on a pilgrimage seeking the king. Unlike them, we cannot bring our gifts to a manger in Bethlehem. But we can still find him in those he came to serve.

As it says in Matthew 25:“Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food.’”

The Rev. J. Barry Vaughn, Ph.D., has led congregations in Alabama, California, and Pennsylvania. He has preached at Harvard, Oxford, and the Chautauqua Institution, and more than fifty of his sermons have been published. He is rector of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Birmingham, AL.

15 November 2009

Pentecost XXIV - Trinity XXIII

Pentecost XXIV - Trinity XXIII
Adorate Deum
Proper 28, Year B

(RCL)1 Samuel 1:4-20 and 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

    Introit: Adore God, all you His Angels: Sion heard, and was glad: and the daughters of Juda rejoiced. -- (Ps.96. 1). The Lord hath reigned, let the earth rejoice: let many islands be glad.

    Collect: Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

    Gospel: As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?" Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

In T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Four Quartets,” he talks about going to a church at Little Gidding, the site of a small Anglican religious community founded in the seventeenth century. Eliot writes, “You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity or carry report. You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid.”
Many of us have felt this desire to kneel where prayer has been valid. For those of us who pray regularly, we may long to join our prayers to those who have gone before us. For those of us who have a hard time with prayer, we still somehow desire to kneel in that place where prayer has been valid. In either case, when we come into a place where truthful prayer has been made, many of us feel like falling to our knees.

People attend church services for a variety of reasons. The preaching. The music. The fellowship. The coffee hour. The stained glass windows. One extremely important reason people come to church is to kneel in a place where prayer has been valid. Somehow, we want to put ourselves in that place where truthful prayer has been offered. Even when we feel like we don’t have the words ourselves, perhaps especially when we don’t have the words ourselves, we want to go to that place and receive the sustenance that comes from being in a place where prayer has been valid. Our churches are many things, but one thing that seems essential is that it has been and continues to be a place where truthful prayer is made.

Our Old Testament lesson for today from the First Book of Samuel begins with the simple statement “Hannah prayed.” Such a simple statement, and yet encompassing such depths that we will never fully fathom in this mortal flesh. Archbishop Michael Ramsey was once asked how long he prayed each day, and he responded by saying, “Oh, I suppose only two or three minutes.” Then he added that he had usually been at his prayers in chapel for an hour in order to get to that two or three minutes of prayer.

The Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer gives us a nice introduction to the principal kinds of prayer. This is helpful because often times we think of prayer as simply asking God for things. And, indeed, these are valid prayers, prayers of petition and intercession in which we bring before God our needs and the needs of others. However, our Prayer Book deals with intercession and petition only after explaining prayers of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, and oblation – and the order may be telling us something important. Perhaps there is a reason that adoration and praise and thanksgiving are at the top of the list.

The Westminster Catechism says that the chief end of human beings is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Notice it does not say the chief end of human beings is “to ask God for things and to keep asking for things forever.” It does not say “to confess our sins to God and to keep confessing our sins forever.” Rather, it says “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” When all those other types of prayer pass away, adoration and praise of God will continue forever. As valid as all other types of prayer are, someday they will end. Someday all prayers will be encompassed by adoration and praise.

As German theologian Gotthold Mueller wrote:

“Praise of God … according to the witness of both Old and New Testaments is the only form of prayer enduring ‘from ages to ages.’ As with faith and hope, all other forms of prayer (petition, intercession) come to their eschatological fulfillment and so to an end. What ultimately endures is the doxa (praise) of God which is, at the same time, the only true salvation of humankind and of the whole creation.”
What is the chief end of human beings? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.

What is amazing about prayers of adoration and praise is not only that they will endure from age to age, but also that we can participate in these prayers right now. And Hannah, in our Old Testament lesson for today, shows us how. Hannah’s prayer is a prayer of adoration and praise and thanksgiving. She prays, “My heart exults in the Lord.” Adoration. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one beside you; there is no Rock like our God.” Adoration and praise. “The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world.” Adoration and praise and thanksgiving. Hannah’s prayer then, now, and from age to age. Our prayers joined with Hannah’s, then, now, and forever.

Richard Foster in his book Prayer says that adoration is

“not a special form of prayer, for all true prayer is saturated with it. It is the air in which prayer breaths, the sea in which prayer swims. In another sense, though, it is distinct from other kinds of prayer, for in adoration we enter the rarefied air of self-less devotion. We ask for nothing but to cherish him. We seek nothing but his exaltation. We focus on nothing but his goodness.”
All true prayer is saturated with adoration.

We long to kneel in that place where prayer has been valid because in some way we know that when we do so we are joining in something that will endure from age to age. All true prayer that is saturated with adoration and praise and thanksgiving will endure forever. Perhaps that is why people still come to church services today.

To join in the prayers of our forbearers whose hearts exulted in the Lord, who praised God, and who gave thanks to God for his mighty acts of redemption.

To join in the prayers of all those ordinary and extraordinary saints who have gone before us who have lifted their hearts giving God their thanks and praise.

To join with the present company of the faithful, to add what God has done in our lives to the record of his mighty deeds in our own prayers of adoration and praise.

And to join our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven who forever sing hymns and proclaim the glory of God’s Name.

"You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity, or carry report. You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid."

-- The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore, MD. He received a Ph.D. in theology from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

    14 November 2009

    The Anglican Covenant - the sound of silence

    One of TEC's shining stars for the past couple of decades is Louie Crew. He has been a tireless advocate for equal rights for all members of our church. Today he commented on the Anglican Covenant. He has graciuosly allowed me to post his thoughts on TTLS.

    I rejoice in your patient, painstaking attention to every jot and tittle of Wright's and Williams' statements. You undertake a very important task, one for which I personally do not have a calling.

    TEC has been careful and patient in our response to the demands made upon us by the Windsor Report, the primates, two Lambeth Conferences, and now the drafts of a proposed covenant -- even in the face of a louder and ever more strident cry from some quarters, "We have no need of you unless you repent and conform to our views regarding homosexuals!"

    ++Rowan has boxed himself in (he would say his role as Archbishop of
    Canterbury has thus situated him) to cut off any serious claim that he might have to a pastoral response to lgbt Christians. I used to feel that he needs to visit Samaritan wells, but he has long ago done so, and a friend of mine is even a "fairy at the bottom of his garden" quite literally.

    I was one of seven lgbt leaders with whom ++Rowan met privately at General Convention in Anaheim this summer: we each had a limit of 90 seconds to speak to him, and he spoke for no more than 5 minutes. Most of us described our ministries -- sharing the living water which has blessed us. We did not go away, as did our Samaritan ancestor, proclaiming,"He told me everything I had ever done!"

    Our Baptismal Covenant is enough for this and any conflict the Communion might have, but it is TEC's bounden duty to enter into the conversations about a proposed Anglican Covenant. Executive Council is right to take seriously all drafts. The proposed covenant is not the vehicle that I would personally have chosen for the conversations, but it is the main vehicle we have right now. Most hostile provinces have deliberately defaulted on their formal commitments to listen to lgbt persons.

    I find it interesting how few provinces of the Anglican Communion have responded to the drafts of the Covenant. Low response may derive from lethargy or possibly from an unwillingness to give the sexuality debate the attention that some have lavished upon it.

    The low response may also derive from a shrewd awareness that any new authority to force conformity on this issue may well bite back on other issues not now foreseeable.

    Bonds of affection have served us well in the Communion's history: juridical or curial pronouncements inhibit bonds of affection.

    Given other major crises of our time, it is not reasonable to think that conformity of practice regarding responses to lgbt Christians should have the high priority it would have were it to become the only issue on which the Communion has fundamentally changed the way it makes decisions and exercises authority.

    The Anglican Communion is a secondary result of colonialism. The sexuality debate derives much of its energy from the pain and injustice that colonialism long heaped on those who have only recently become a numerical majority of the Communion. I rejoice in their opportunity to flex their ecclesial muscles, and I am not surprised that they have chosen to do so on a subject that they think is not present among them, at least not present in a way likely to surface among their leadership.

    As recently as 1979 TEC's House of Bishops officially held the views of Lambeth 1998 on this subject, and many, perhaps most, of those voting thought that the "issue" and lgbt Christians were not coming near their congregations or dioceses. Yet behold: "Yoo-hoo. Hi there! Helloooow? Yo bro!"

    We don't need divine intervention to help us cope with these challenges: God already has given all that we need: be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven an old queen like me.


    Well said, Louis.

    12 November 2009

    Superior Court rules in favour of Diocese of San Diego

    In another ruling favouring The Episcopal Church, the San Diego Superior Court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego on November 10.

    This time, the dissenting congregations in the San Diego Diocese were members of St. Anne's in Oceanside and Holy Trinity in Ocean Beach. In 2006, leaders of these congregations renounced their membership in the Episcopal Church. They then began their open dispute with the Diocese of San Diego regarding who owned the property.

    Tuesday's ruling leaves no doubt that the diocese owns the property.
    According to the Bishop Mathes,
    While I know this comes as a hard decision for the members of these dissenting congregations, this is also an opportunity for reconciliation and renewal. We are eager to welcome these individuals back into the Episcopal Church. There is no need for anyone to change their place of worship. We will celebrate the same service from the same prayer book at the same altar.
    And that's the way it is. Even mad bulls give up, eventually. One must wonder how long the schismatics can keep funding the sinking ship of schism.

    08 November 2009

    Pentecost XXIII - Trinity XXII

    Dixit Dominus
    (RCL) Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

      Introit: The Lord saith: I think thoughts of peace, and not of affliction: you shall call upon Me, and I will hear you; and I will bring back your captivity from all places. -- (Ps. 84. 2). Lord, Thou hast blessd Thy land: Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.

      Collect: O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, he liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

      Gospel: As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely." Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

    No, this isn’t a sermon about tithing, so you may take your hands off your wallets.

    Our television screens bombard us with offers of deals. No doubt your spam contains similar offers. From time to time we read about elderly people who have been duped out of their funds by unscrupulous people offering deals. There are even crooks who recently played with peoples’ health by offering spurious swine-flu remedies. So we build walls around our lives, taking care not to be “had.”

    It is easy for us to become so protective of ourselves that we are no longer able to give or receive easily. Those of us who have been hurt badly build walls around ourselves and then wonder why we are so lonely and unfulfilled. Christians are not immune to this “natural” reaction.

    Sometimes we don’t give to worthy charities, excusing ourselves by muttering that they spend too much on overhead. And yes, we get moody when the annual pledge campaign hits us in our parish. The odd thing is that we don’t feel our consciences tugged when we read the sort of lessons appointed for this Sunday.

    The story of Ruth is a non-Jewish love story. Ruth takes a leap of trust and faith and decides to stay with her mother-in-law and marry Boaz rather than retuning to the safety and security of her own homeland.

    In Kings, a woman left with nothing to feed her son and herself feeds the Prophet with what she has left. She may starve to death, but still she makes bread and gives drink.

    In the gospel Jesus points to a widow woman, obviously without children to care for her. She gives her last penny. In the light of what Jesus says later about the scams going on in the Temple, the fact that he commends the widow for giving all she has to the Temple treasury is astounding.

    Surely Ruth should have required a prenuptial contract! Surely the poor woman should have told the Prophet to go and find her son and her something to eat. Should not Jesus have rather suggested that the widow keep her few cents for herself? “Charity begins at home!”

    Protecting our assets, the things we cherish, our integrity, seem to be natural reactions, survival instincts. Yet we follow a Savior who calls us to risk all in order that we may truly love and be truly whole. It would be said of Jesus, “The foxes have lairs, the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus’ mother and his relatives pleaded with him to come home, to be safe and to stop living so dangerously. The love of Jesus was extravagant, self-sacrificial, and utterly without concern for his own well being.

    Well, we think, that is fine for Jesus, but he is unique. Sometime early on we absolve ourselves of commitment to follow his example, and settle for a faith that allows him to do the sacrificing, while we receive the benefits.

    In the gospel, Jesus points to professionally religious people who parade their religiosity and who love the power their religious rank gives them, but who defend their institution and their place in it vigorously. When the Chief Priest decided that Jesus must be killed, he justified it as the death of one to protect the peace and prosperity of the settled religious Establishment. “It is expedient that one should die for the people.”

    How often we rephrase Jesus’ command to “Go Baptize, Go Tell” with “Come through our church doors and help us maintain the building!”

    Christianity calls us to love extravagantly, care extravagantly, and give extravagantly. Saints such as Francis of Assisi took that challenge to heart, to the dismay of his parents and the contempt of the world.

    One of our lovely Collects contains the phrase “In whose service is perfect freedom.” Remember “service” once meant slavery. Jesus, we are told by St. Paul, gave up his equality with God, emptied himself, and became a servant, a slave.

    That’s wonderful. Jesus is our servant. Just what we need.

    But what of us? How do we measure up “to the fulness of the stature of Christ?” Do you remember when your parents used to put you against the wall and mark how tall you were growing? Next to Jesus we seem small in love, in caring, in giving. Yet if we are to commend our faith, our parish, our Church to a needy world and above all to our Lord, we are called to a more excellent way. We are to remember in our Lord’s chilling words, that when we have done all we are still unprofitable servants.

    How on earth can we follow Jesus? He gave up life itself on the cross. On our own, as parishioners, clergy, vestry members, we fail and mutter our apologies in the General Confession. Yet “in Christ” and his love, we can grow to risk the life of love we were born to in our baptisms. Only then may we be truly free.

    -- Fr. Tony Clavier is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, La Porte, Indiana, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He is also dean of the Michigan City deanery. His email address is anthony.clavier@gmail.com.

            04 November 2009

            Another sad day in America

            Once again justice has suffered a setback and bigotry as triumphed. "And Jesus wept."

            Grant unto us, Almighty God, in all time of sore distress, the comfort of the forgiveness of our sins. In time of darkness give us blessed hope, in time of sickness of body give us quiet courage; and when the heart is bowed down, and the soul is very heavy, and life is a burden, and pleasure a weariness, and the sun is too bright, and life too mirthful, then may that Spirit, the Spirit of the Comforter, come upon us, and after our darkness may there be the clear shining of the heavenly light; that so, being uplifted again by Thy mercy, we may pass on through this our mortal life with quiet courage, patient hope, and unshaken trust, hoping through Thy loving-kindness and tender mercy to be delivered from death into the large life of the eternal years. Hear us of Thy mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord – Amen.

            01 November 2009

            All Saints Sunday
            Year B
            Gaudeamus Omnis

            Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

              Introit: Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival day in honor of all the Saints: at whose solemnity the Angels rejoice, and give praise to the Son of God. (Ps. 32.1). Rejoice in the Lord, ye just: praise becometh the upright.

              Collect: Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

              Gospel: Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?"

              Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, ut I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

            Mary and Martha of Bethany are deep in shock and lost in grief for their brother Lazarus. The sisters had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill. On receiving the message, Jesus had waited two long days. By the time he got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days.

            “If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.” This quote is from the opening paragraph of the first book of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The author, who writes dark tales for children under the pen name “Lemony Snicket,” explains that this is how the Baudelaire children felt when they became the Baudelaire orphans after both their parents died in a house fire.

            Those words of how difficult it is to convey a sense of loss fit with today’s gospel reading. Martha is hurt when she sees Jesus. She says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then she calls for her sister Mary who repeats that same accusation, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

            Then John tells us that, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’”

            Then in that shortest verse in the Bible, we are told that “Jesus wept.”

            Jesus loved Lazarus. He weeps at the grave of his friend. Yes, this makes sense in Jesus’ humanity, but if anyone believed in the resurrection, it should have been Jesus. Yet Jesus wept. This shows us that grief is not unchristian. Christ wept at the grave of his friend. We too weep over the graves of those we love. On this All Saints Day as we remember not just the great saints of the church, but also the saints in our own lives, we remember those we love who have died. That remembrance comes with sorrow.

            It is a sorrow that does not go away. Real grief stays with you. In fact, not only can one not expect grief to go away completely, we also shouldn’t want it to. For as the person you loved is not returned to you, how can you stop grieving? The loss remains, and so does the sorrow. But grief can and does change. We pray not for an end to the grief, but for an unbearable sense of loss to be replaced by a sorrow we can bear. And in this, we are helped by the hope of the resurrection.

            Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus knew people would continue to die. He taught that not only do we find death in the midst of life, but we find life in the midst of death. Those who die will live again. This is Christian teaching and it is why even at the grave Christians can and do praise God.

            So while grief is a Christian response to death, Mary and Martha’s line of reasoning is flawed. They said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They assume Jesus was absent from the situation. But we know he was well aware of what was happening in Bethany and waited two days before going. After his resurrection and ascension, Jesus is even more fully present by the power of the Holy Spirit with those we love at the time of their death.

            In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the writer said, “If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.”

            That is so true, and scripture tells us that in Jesus, God knows how it feels as Jesus experienced real grief. Jesus experienced not just the death of Lazarus, but also the loss of his father, Joseph. There would have been others whom he loved who died as well. In becoming human, God was and is with us in Jesus in a way that caused him to experience the depths of human pain and loss. God can readily imagine grief as our “with-us” God has known that pain firsthand.

            God is not distant and reserved. God is close, caring, and compassionate. Scripture tells us that the time is coming when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and when even death itself will be defeated. Yet, in the here and now, there are many tragedies, personal and even national or international, which cause people to question their faith.

            In all these cases one hears people ask, “Where is God?” And the answer is “with us.” God was there when the towers fell on September 11. God was there when the flood waters rose following Hurricane Katrina. God is there in the tragedies large and small that have us wondering why. God is there in the midst of suffering, present with those in pain, as one who learned the depths of human suffering while living among us.

            Knowing that Christ knows how it feels to experience the death of a loved one, we can hear more clearly Jesus call to put away the fear of death. Jesus calls “Come Out!” Come out from the grave. Grief is real, but that loss is not the end. Don’t let grief overwhelm you. Grab hold of the sure and certain hope of the resurrection that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

            Jesus said, “Unbind him and let him go” to those around Lazarus, and he says the same to us. We are to be unbound, set free from the power of death. For even as we find death in life, we find life in death. We know that Jesus is resurrection and life, and those of us who believe in him, even if we die, we will live.

            -- The Rev. Frank Logue is a church planter in the Diocese of Georgia and the Vicar of King of Peace Church in Kingsland, Georgia.

                    25 October 2009

                    Pentecost XXI / Trinity XX

                    Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost,
                    Year B, Proper 25

                    Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

                    Recipe for success: one part awareness, one part knowledge, one part motivation, one part action. Slowly add one ingredient at a time, gradually and with care. Then begin again. Note: you may be inspired to start over at any point in the process.

                    One might place knowledge before awareness, but without awareness how does knowledge develop? Once we are aware and know, it takes motivation to produce action.

                    This recipe for success is present in the lessons we’ve read today with one specific difference; where the accountability lies.

                    Our reading from Hebrews describes a sort of “designated hitter” concept and might be heard as supporting a hint of clericalism. Priests abound, and their work keeps them going. Their main purpose is to intercede for others. In this context, the recipe for success might be difficult because the action ingredient belongs to someone else. For some, this might be just fine. In fact, for some, not having the final action or burden for action enables a lack of accountability for individual relationship and success.

                    The gospel, on the other hand, provides us with an account of the recipe for success from the perspective of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was aware of the ministry of healing that Jesus had become well-known for at this point in the story. Bartimaeus asked to be healed, to be able to see again. And Jesus healed him.

                    These two stories lead us to interpret the recipe for success in two very different ways: one, giving over the final ingredient to someone else; and the other, total responsibility for our own outcomes.

                    Certainly each of these readings describes Christian life as the end product in a recipe for success. In our experience of our faith and tradition there have been times when we have relied on someone else to intercede for us. An example might include a reliance on a priest to connect us with God in worship. Our Book of Common Prayer, however, would suggest that we are all equal in this process; we are all called into total engagement with the mission and ministry of the church.

                    Our Anglican tradition encourages a balance between scripture, reason, and tradition, suggesting an individual and corporate collaborative awareness and knowledge, not a reliance on intercessors or interpreters. Certainly we must be aware of the scholarly perspectives throughout history that guide us in understanding scripture. Throughout history we have become aware of just how important the scholarly perspectives are that impact our tradition and expression of our faith. There seems to be some difficulty when we begin to apply reason to the mix, as we have seen in recent debates.

                    But back to our recipe for success – the one thing that is certain is that awareness and knowledge, the first two ingredients, are essential to the end product.

                    Once we put the two readings together, our recipe for success might lead us to understand that it takes both individual and corporate restoration to wholeness for “real” success.

                    Using the metaphor of sight in the gospel story, we can understand that physical sight is not required to produce faith. In fact, although Bartimaeus was blind, his faith was strong. His faith did not seem to depend on whether or not he could be healed or whether or not Jesus would stop and heal him.

                    Throughout history, God has worked miracles through political forces, social action, and ordinary events, meeting people where they are and restoring them to wholeness. Whether or not we fall and call out from the gutter like Bartimaeus or turn ourselves around with a heightened sense of awareness and knowledge motivating us to act justly and walk humbly with our God, the product is faithful living.

                    The Bible tells us that those who return to the Lord are restored. But how do we arrive at this point of return? Some make it sound easy and quick, but remain skeptical when it comes to shortcuts. The journey is as important as the destination. God’s presence on that journey across generations inspires, sustains, and guides us in a reformation or transformational process.

                    Contemporary reformation synonyms are familiar: renovation, reorganization, restructuring. These are, interestingly, words we use in large corporate settings rather than small personal ones. The church, the corporate body of Christ, is a voice that calls for the wandering to return and then hosts the restoration banquet. In order to fulfill this mission, it must constantly be reforming. All of these words indicate that something will change. And change is often heard as a synonym for loss.

                    The radical new ways eventually become beloved traditions. We are always moving from blindness to sightedness, from unfaithfulness to faithfulness. And our faithfulness is what leads us into action or mission, a major focus for our church.

                    As we move forward we must recognize our blind spots as we look at our corporate life and we must see it with new eyes. Only then will we transform the process so that our recipe for success produces a new product. There is no question that a new product is necessary. We recognize already at some level that the mission of the church is a corporate activity. But once again, individually we have to undergone the reformation process, the transformation into wholeness, before we can corporately share that same process.

                    As with the readings today, we cannot rely on others to intercede for us and seek God’s blessing on our behalf. Waiting for this to happen puts our own relationship with God at risk. It is very obvious as we view the world around us that inaction on our part or reliance on someone else to be the instruments of God in our world, produces a less than perfect world. The time has come for us to change our awareness and anticipate just what kind of world we are leaving for our grandchildren.

                    We disciples of Jesus have vision problems. We sometimes describe our blindness as an inability to see the forest for the trees, but more worrisome is the inherited blindness of each generation, which so often assumes it is the best generation of all, with no lessons left to learn, only an inheritance to enjoy. This arrogance is the root of our blindness. We still need the miracle of restored sight.

                    This is the time to follow the recipe for success once again: first individually, with the gospel as our guide; and then corporately, creating the new sight, the new vision for the church. We have so many gifts to share, so why would we rely on someone else to do what God has called us all to do?

                    The path has unfolded before us once again. Ask for new sight just as Bartimaeus did, and then use what God has restored in you to transform the world.

                    -- The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People's Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member. E-mail: debroyals@yahoo.com.

                    24 October 2009

                    Secrecy in South Carolina

                    In an interesting move, the special convention the Diocese of South Carolina held a closed convention. Only delegates will be allowed in, because of space issues, you know. as they teeter on the edge of schism, the diocesan leadership will provide all reports to the media and people in the pew. As one person from SC, "The diocese's spin doctors" will be hard at work. Watch the convention here.

                    But all is not lost, There are some delegates dedicated to truth. You'll find unbiased reports at South Carolina Episcopalians . At the site now, there is a wealth of information that is useful in understanding what is going on including some very useful background information on this special convention. Via Media is expanding in SC and will publish reports, too. There s a "feed"
                    I stay away from things political, but where there is a clear connection between the teachings of Jesus and hate, I step into the arena, briefly.

                    There is a new film coming soon. It is called Mormon Proposition. You'll want to see the film. Here is a trailer for it. There is a blog for the film here.

                    In a related matter, the Church of Sweden has made marriage gender un-specific. Read about it here. The vote was 176 Ayes, 62 Noes, 11 abstentions.

                    Ah, I do love the Swedes!

                    18 October 2009

                    Pentecost XX / Trinity XIX

                    Pentecost XX / Trinity XIX
                    Proper 24
                    Year B

                    Job 38:1-7, (34-41); Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

                    James Hewett writes, “God did not save us to be a sensation. God saved us to be servants.”

                    Today’s gospel reading provides a remarkable contrast between sensation and servant. In this reading we hear the story of two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, who make the request to Jesus to receive a position of prominence in the Kingdom: “Let one of us sit at your right, and one at your left in Glory” they ask of Jesus. The disciples’ impudence and lack of understanding is beyond belief. How could two people who are so close to Jesus miss the boat so completely? Did they forget the encounter with the rich man that occurred just before their request? Or the encounter with the little children? And have they not heard Jesus’ own prediction of what was soon to happen to him? In light of all of this, their request is truly astounding.

                    And it angers their fellow disciples. But what seems to anger the other disciples is not so much that James and John have misunderstood Jesus’ teachings – which could perhaps be justified – but that James and John went to Jesus requesting a place of power ahead of the rest of them. The other disciples do not seem to be acting out of righteous indignation; rather, it appears that they are jealous. And Jesus’ loving response to them all is to take the opportunity to contrast earthly greatness with divine greatness. Earthly greatness is defined as having power over, whereas divine greatness is defined as being servant to.

                    Today, there are examples all around us of the secular quest for greatness and its often accompanying spectacular fall. Bernie Madoff is an obvious example of the quest for monetary power, but our country’s growing credit-card debt hints at how widespread the problem is.

                    In contrast to worldly greatness, to be great in God’s eyes is to be a servant modeled after Jesus’ own life of service. For many listeners, the story of James and John is disconcerting because if James and John, who knew Jesus personally, couldn’t incorporate his teachings into their lives, how on earth are we to do so?

                    These stories are a reminder for many of us that, try as we might, all too often our actions are more reflective of motivations of the secular world than the divine. So how do we become better servants?

                    One way is by making sure that the motivation for our service is love. Eighteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Secker said, “God has three sorts of servants in the world: some are slaves, and serve Him from fear; others are hirelings, and serve for wages; and the last are sons [and daughters], who serve because they love.”

                    In the week ahead, as you seek to serve God, check your motivation. Divine servanthood is always motivated by love.

                    Another way to become better servants is by being mindful of who it is that calls us to serve. We should remember that in all things we serve God, and God alone. By becoming more aware of God’s presence in everyday life, we can strive to understand that all we do is somehow of God. With this approach, even the most mundane tasks that might not usually be associated with our spiritual lives can be viewed as service.

                    One young mother recalls her difficult transition from paid employment to being a stay-at-home mother after the birth of her first child. A spiritual director assisted her in the process, instructing her to walk with the baby each day, being acutely aware of her surroundings and being alert to where God might be. She recalls seeing nature and the created order, as well as the frenetic pace of those around her, in a new way during these walks. She also began to see her tasks, such as the endless piles of laundry that had to be washed, as a service of love.

                    A third way to become better servants is by ensuring that our church is a “servant church.” Theologian Karl Barth discusses such churches in his book Dogmatics in Outline. Barth describes the living church as one that:

                    [P]roclaims the Gospel to every creature. The Church runs like a herald to deliver the message. It is not a snail that carries its little house on its back and is so well off in it that only now and then it sticks out its feelers and then thinks that the claim of publicity has been satisfied. No, the Church lives by its commission as herald. Where the Church is living, it must ask itself whether it is serving this commission or whether it is a purpose in itself.

                    Is your congregation a living servant church? Does it have a clear understanding that it exists in service to Jesus? Do all actions stem from Jesus’ commission to proclaim the gospel? Do worship services, community outreach, and activities all have the possibility to transform those they touch? If not, then perhaps it might be time to begin a conversation about refocusing on Christ’s divine purpose for your congregation, because, after all, the mission of the church is the mission of Jesus Christ.

                    The story of James and John is disconcerting because even the most pious listeners can see a bit of themselves in the story. How many of us are able to truly base our lives and actions on the divine definition of greatness – servanthood?

                    Fortunately, this story closes with a message of hope. Jesus proclaims that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus promises us that although we will all fall short, through his death we are redeemed.

                    And that is the Good News.

                    -- The Rev. Suzanne E. Watson has worked at the Episcopal Church Center in New York for over three year in the areas of strategic planning and collaboration, Center direction, and small church ministries. She has also served in congregations in New Zealand and Carmel, California. She is a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. She was a candidate from St. James' Paso Robles (my parish) and her sponsor was The Rev'd Terry Martin.

                    11 October 2009

                    Singing the songs of saints of God

                    Today the Diocese of El Camino Real celebrated a unique group of saints and one in particular. We celebrated the life and ministry of the Rev'd James Shannon McGowan. The Rev'd Mr. McGowan was a missionary priest in the Diocese of California from which the Diocese of El Camino Real was carved in the 1980s.

                    McGowan organized seven churches along the Central Coast of California. One of the churches he organized is St. Luke's in-the-Field in Jolon (ho-loan). Jolon is a sleepy valley located between the 101 freeway and the Santa Lucia mountain range a stone's throw from Mission San Antonio where the first Christian marriage of record in California was solemnized.

                    We gathered at St. Luke's to celebrate 125 years of ministry in the Jolon Valley. The celebration was wonderful. The tiny church was comfortably filled with communicants and visitors and it was a time for renewing auld acquaintances as well as making new friends. We may have come as strangers, many of us, but left as friends--united in Our Lord and the English Catholic faith we call Anglicanism.

                    That "united feeling" made me think of Lambeth 2008. This evening I understand what happened at Lambeth differently. I understand the connectedness the bishops felt there which made many of our bishops step back from what I perceive as full equality of all members of The Episcopal Church. The "connectedness" feeling is profound. I think I will stop criticizing our American bishops so harshly for that "Lambeth feeling."

                    Our bishop, the Right Rev'd Mary Grey-Reeves was present as Ordinary, Celebrant and Preacher. I still have "issues" with the bishop, but I decided today, again, that I really like her. Once again I saw a deep compassion and love flow from her. I know that she cares deeply about each member and friend of the Diocese of El Camino Real. And, I am even more certain now that we made the correct decision listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit when we extended a call to her to be our chief pastor.

                    Today's Gospel was the reading about the money changers. "You know, the one where Jesus is having a bad day." Bishop Gray-Reeves said "I was going to say 'bad hair day' but didn't think that was the best expression to use today." Everyone laughed as a venerable assisting priest ran his hand over his nearly hairless head.

                    The bishop changed directions in her sermon and fit the reason we were assembled today with the nature of the Jolon Valley. Bishop Mary said that those who organized St. Luke's were sowing seeds. "That is what Christians do - we sow seeds. And we don't now where the seeds will end up."

                    Some seeds fall to earth nearby, grow and produce more seeds that continue to grow nearby. That's what St. Luke's is, the harvest of seeds sown by the pioneers that produced local wheat that produced more local wheat that has kept St. Luke's a living congregation for 125 years. She said that some of those seeds keep turning up from time to time on Sunday or the famous St. Luke's BBQ.

                    But the winds took some of the seeds to distant places where they produced a harvest and created more seeds that were scattered. We will never know where all the seeds James Shanon McGowan and the organizing members of St. Luke's produced their harvest. The bishop concluded, "but we don't need to know, we were just called to sow the seeds not gather the harvest." She said that, in God's time, God will gather the harvest, and, perhaps, some of those scattered seeds might return to St. Luke's to give us a glimpse of what McGowan's harvest really is.

                    The service continued and included the blessing and anointing of a young family: Jacob, Elizabeth and daughter Victoria. They are members of St. John's. Elizabeth is "in the family way." The blessing and anointing included a special blessing on the yet-to-be-born child. It was such a powerful moment as +Mary, herself a mother, asked God's blessing on the woman and child and prayed for "an easy and quick labour." That is something I'm positive a male priest would never have thought of! I thought of new life beginning in Jolon 125 years ago, and new life beginning there today. In seventy-five years, perhaps the yet-to-be-born child will be in attendance at the 200th anniversary of St. Luke's as part of the harvest of Mr. McGowan.

                    At the offertory, we had the amazing coincidence to meet one of the seeds the wind had taken far afield. One of those pioneers was a man named Dutton whose daughter married an Englishman, A. C. Smyth-Pigott, who was in the area for some reason. Smyth-Pigott wrote to his father, vicar of Kingston, St. Mary, England, about the church being constructed in Jolon and the vicar -father had windows made and sent to newly constructed St. Luke's. A few years later, Smyth-Pigott returned with his bride to England. And seeds were scattered there from the Altar of St. Luke's.

                    It is remarkable that windows from a 600 year old English church should be placed in a new small church in Jolon 125 years ago. But that is not the harvest of scattered seeds.

                    The refined septuagenarian from the Midlands of England who related this story is a grand-daughter of Smyth-Pigott. She and her husband were visiting family history sites and had no clue about today's celebration until they arrived at St. Luke's last Friday. They extended their visit to include today and they met several cousins they didn't know existed. She even had photos of all those seeds from long ago. Indeed, part of McGowan's scattered seeds returned and in God's perfect time!

                    Following the Eucharist was a spectacular Basque BBQ of paella a dish which I had never eaten before catered by the 10th Street Cafe in San Miguel (yes, I am plugging the place). I sat with old friends Bart and Tony and enjoyed the wonderful weather and the comfort of old friends. But I made some new friends as well: Hope, an artist from Canada; a restaurateur; and Bob Denny. Bob is a vintner and supplied the wine for the festivities. He owns Hames Valley Percheronsone. One of his daughters, Amy Zuniga, is priest at St. Luke's, Hollister, (web page not updated) and another daughter, Robin, is a missionary in Sudan (pray for Robin, she is in one of the most dangerous places on earth). Bob is on the bishop's committee at Jolon.

                    While people were sill eating and talking, I walked up the hill to the church yard. It is fenced in the traditional way with a proper gate and arch with its surmounting cross. Accompanied by the songs of birds, I visited each and every marked grave and thanked the pioneers for the seeds they sowed all those years ago and throughout the succeeding years.

                    As I write this post my "son" is playing my favourite Chopin Nocturne on the piano. What a perfect way to end a wonderful day.

                    My thanks to the Rev'd Canon Robert Seifert for inviting me to participate in today's celebration, to the Right Rev'd Mary Gray-Reeves for a wonderful sermon and for just being her, and to Carilyn and Vicki who helped with the music.

                    But, first and foremost, thank you God for planing the missionary zeal in the soul of a middle-aged Irish Anglican priest named James Shannon McGowan. And thank you for the seeds he and others sowed from the Altar of St. Luke's in-the-Field, Jolon.

                    P.S. My shock for the day was having the bishop tell me she's read this blog. I guess excommunication papers must be delayed in the mail?
                    PPS I've decided to start a movement to have McGowan included in the Diocesan calendar of commemorations. I think establishing seven churches that are still in existence deserves some recognition.

                    08 October 2009

                    RIPJamie James

                    Guardsman Jamie Janes
                    1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards.

                    killed in Afganastan

                    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
                    Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
                    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
                    We will remember them.

                    As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
                    Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
                    As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
                    To the end, to the end, they remain.

                    07 October 2009

                    Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

                    Today is the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. St. Pius V established this feast in 1573. The purpose was to thank God for the victory of Christians over the Turks at Lepanto—a victory attributed to the praying of the rosary. Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church in 1716.

                    NB. This was scheduled to be posted at 5 a.m. but due to the brainless activities of the blog owner, he scheduled it for 5 p.m. by mistake.

                    06 October 2009

                    Duncanites to lose property

                    The Episcopal Church in the United States is that which is part of the The General Convention. According to the ruling, which says that property is subject to the terms of the Stipulation of 14 October 2005.

                    Judge James stated that the TEC diocese never went out of existence and that
                    The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, affiliated with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, led by Bishop Duncan, cannot continue to be the trustee of the Paragraph One property.
                    In considering what he described as the “narrow issue” of the October 2005 agreement, Judge James ruled
                    Regardless of what name the defendants now call themselves, they are not the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.
                    Read it all here.

                    What is going to be so odious to the schismatics is that they've been saying TEC will have to negotiate with them about property. The judge said the schismatics will have to negotiate with the rightful property owners - TEC.

                    But remember, friends, this is far from over. As long as the schismatics have one red stolen penny, they'll fight for the property - even though they don't care about the property, they'll have to be dragged kicking and screaming from the buildings.

                    At issue in this ruling are diocesan endowments, bank accounts, and other resources used in conducting day-to-day business valued in excess of $15 million.

                    Make sure to visit the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh's web page and read about this decision.

                    UPDATE: Our friend, Jim Naughton, has done his usual great job of sumarizing the news. YOu'll find it at Episcopal Cafe.

                    Conservatives say the bible is too liberal - it must be fixed

                    It's interesting that the conservatives believe the bible is the literal, infallible, and inerrant word from God. It is not to be added too or taken away from, according to the their propaganda. However, there is a new page in the "expose the hypocrites" book. (Warning - do not be drinking any liquid near your computer when you read this.)
                    The group cites a few reasons why the Bible is too progressive: Lack of precision in the original language ... lack of precision in modern language" and "translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one [emphasis added]
                    Isn't that interesting - they are going to create an unbiased translation. That's like asking Bob Duncan to create an unbiased report on the theology of The Episcopal Church.

                    The conservatives are going to remove any passages that can have a liberal interpretation and create a thought-for-thought version. That means they don't care what the original text says, they are going to interpret it. From The Huffington Report:
                    1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
                    2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
                    3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level
                    4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop; defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
                    5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots"; using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census
                    6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
                    7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
                    8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
                    9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
                    10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."
                    You can bet your bippy that the passages about love will be the first to go. You may read more about this at Conservapedia. That's right, folks, Conservapedia "a trustworthy encyclopedia"!

                    04 October 2009

                    Pentecost XVIII / Trinity XVII

                    Pentecost XVIII / Trinity XVII
                    Year B, Proper 22
                    Da Pacem Domine

                    Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
                      Introit: Give peace, O Lord, to them that patiently wait for Thee, that Thy Prophets may be found faithful: hear the prayers of Thy servant, and of Thy people Israel. -- (Ps. 121.1) I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord.

                      Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

                      Gospel: Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
                    Remember the central pronouncement of God in the creation story? Throughout the first chapter of Genesis, God has said one thing about His creation over and over: “God saw that it was good.”

                    But now God looks at all he has made, everything, and says, “It is not good.” It is not good that the man (and here “man” means, not a male person, but a human being) should be alone.

                    Think about that. Listen to that. Everything else is good, but this isn’t. Notice also that Adam, the human being, was hardly alone in the garden. First of all, God was with Adam in the garden. That’s a lot all by itself. Then, when the animals were all done, all of nature, all of creation, was with Adam in the garden. The whole world was there. The man was not alone.

                    In fact, this sounds like the perfect situation for much of popular American religion -- one man alone, surrounded by nature, with God close at hand. How many times have we heard people say that this is really all the religion anyone needs: just me, God, and the great outdoors? (Sometimes this is symbolized by a golf course or a trout stream.) But when God saw it, when God saw one person, God, and the great outdoors, God didn’t say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Instead, God said, about this and only about this: “It is not good”.

                    Creation wasn’t finished yet. As long as the man lived in isolation from other people, the creation of a good, a complete, human being, had not yet happened.

                    It was in order to complete creation, to make a whole human being, that the other person, Eve, is created.

                    There are a couple of things to notice here. First of all, this story is not as much about the roles of men and women as it is about what it means to be a human being. Also, it is not saying that everyone should be married or that only married people are whole people. That’s just not true. After all, Jesus, the perfect image of God, was single. But this is saying that we human beings can only grow into who we are created to be with and through the other -- through relationship and community. This growth happens in many ways, but it does not happen alone. If you ask an honest monk where his biggest and most important struggles come from, he’ll tell you “other monks.” We do not become whole or complete in isolation, but through community, through the “other.”

                    It is to this end that God has given us certain structures and situations in which we can, maybe, begin to discover what it means not to be alone, and where we can have our humanity drawn, and sometimes dragged, out of us. God has given us schools of love, places to grow.

                    Marriage and families are first of all about this. They are schools of love. And while not everyone is called to the vocation of marriage, for those of us who are, this business of helping one another grow into who we are created to be is one of the primary reasons God created marriage. To be sure, there is more to it than this, but that is primary.

                    In much the same way, God has called us to be the Church, and he has called us into this church, because without something like this we simply cannot be very Christian, in spite of -- or more likely, because of -- both the difficulty and the joy other people bring.

                    One of the central insights of Christianity is that being a part of a real, human, chunk of the body of Christ is essential to any serious Christian growth. Like marriage and family, parish life, church life, is not really about agreement, success, having our needs met, or happiness. Instead it is a school of love. It is about growth into wholeness. That is why, in Church as in families, the real ties that bind are ties of love and circumstances, not of any other sort of homogeneity.

                    Such growth is simply not possible without commitment to a lifetime of effort and intentionally seeking the grace and help of God. God’s intention that marriage be life-long is not an arbitrary and difficult rule God gives us to make our lives even more difficult. Instead, such intention is a gracious and necessary (if minimal) requirement if a real marriage is even to be possible.

                    In the same way, our Baptismal vows, which include a commitment to the life of the Christian community wherever we find ourselves, are also for the long haul; for better or worse.

                    So are life vows in monastic communities and the commitments involved in the other schools of love we are given. These vows are life-long in intention, because God knows we need at least that long to begin doing what we promise to do.

                    Sure, there are times when that does not happen. There are sometimes situations in which separation is the only option that contains hope and the possibility of healing. We have all known that reality. People leave churches and find new ones -- as most of you know from experience.

                    And the pain and tragedy of divorce -- and the fact that it brings very real possibilities of both destruction and new hope -- is, in one form or another, a part of the lives of every one of us. If it hasn’t happened to us personally, we have been affected, often deeply affected, by it. These failures of relationship are devastating, and those who hurt need our love, our compassion, and our support.

                    But there is also an important thing about these experiences, about the times we fall short. We see them as tragic exceptions to the way we know life should be, and the way we want our lives to be. We know that we often miss the mark of our convictions and our beliefs. Yet even in the midst of our failure, we continue to stand firmly for the truth of God’s vision of life. Our vows, our marriage vows and our baptismal vows, our Ordination vows, these are not for just now, they are not for just when it feels good; they are for life. That is our standard and our goal. We may fall short, but we hold to that standard.

                    All of this is really to say that, at its heart, marriage is not a convenient human institution for protecting property, regulating sexuality, and safeguarding children. And at its heart, the Church is not a voluntary social convenience for like-minded people to share in an essentially private task.

                    As ordinary and as unglamorous as they usually are, both marriage and the Church are vastly more than this. They are sacred mysteries, built into creation and into human nature. They are schools of love, gifts of a loving God. For it is not good to be alone; and the only way to goodness, to wholeness, is through commitment, relationship, community, and the grace of God.

                    - The Rev. James Liggett has been rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Big Spring, Texas, since 1994. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.

                    29 September 2009

                    It's Michaelmas!

                    Ye holy angels bright,
                    who wait at God's right hand,
                    or through the realms of light
                    fly at your Lord's command,
                    assist our song,
                    for else the theme
                    too high doth seem
                    for mortal tongue.

                    Ye blessed souls at rest,
                    who ran this earthly race
                    and now, from sin released,
                    behold your Savior's face,
                    his praises sound,
                    as in his sight
                    with sweet delight
                    ye do abound.

                    Ye saints, who toil below,
                    adore your heavenly King,
                    and onward as ye go
                    some joyful anthem sing;
                    take what he gives
                    and praise him still,
                    through good or ill,
                    who ever lives!

                    My soul, bear thou thy part,
                    triumph in God above:
                    and with a well-tuned heart
                    sing thou the songs of love!
                    Let all thy days
                    till life shall end,
                    whate'er he send,
                    be filled with praise!

                    27 September 2009

                    Happy Birthday TEC

                    On this date in 1785, The Episcopal Church was born when the Anglican churches in the former Colonies became autonomous.

                    Take note of the collect for today as printed in the previous post. Interesting, no?

                    Pentecost XVII / Trinity XV

                    Year B, Proper 20
                    Miserere mihi, Domine

                    (RCL) Proverbs 31:10-31 and Psalm 1; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
                      Introit:Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I have cried to Thee all the day; for Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild, and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon Thee. -- ( 85. 1). Bow down Thine ear to me, O Lord, and hear me; for I am needy and poor.

                      Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to cleave to those that shall abide; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for everand ever. Amen.
                      Gospel: Jesus left with his disciples and started through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know about it, because he was teaching the disciples that the Son of Man would be handed over to people who would kill him. But three days later he would rise to life. The disciples did not understand what Jesus meant, and they were afraid to ask.Jesus and his disciples went to his home in Capernaum. After they were inside the house, Jesus asked them, "What were you arguing about along the way?" They had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest, and so they did not answer. After Jesus sat down and told the twelve disciples to gather around him, he said, "If you want the place of honor, you must become a slave and serve others!" Then Jesus had a child stand near him. He put his arm around the child and said, "When you welcome even a child because of me, you welcome me. And when you welcome me, you welcome the one who sent me."
                    Sometimes the expanse of centuries between when the scriptures were written and when we, in the twenty-first century, are reading them seems to disappear. The readings today that supposedly come from Wisdom and James couldn’t possibly have been written that long ago. They must have been written in our time – in our generation, or at least only as far back as our parents or grandparents. They’re too current – too modern – too right between our eyes, don’t you think?

                    This is true for James, especially. You don’t often hear people say that the letter from James is their favorite. Maybe it’s not used often enough, or maybe it makes us uncomfortable, but we must admit that James is nothing if not practical. James’ very practical outline of behaviors and exhortations on what one must do to live a Christian life is very, well, no nonsense. James really spoke out to his readers back then, but today’s bit of James should still give us a lot to think about. In fact, if it doesn’t, then the bumper sticker that should be speaking to us is the one that says, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

                    Listen again to what James says:
                    “Those conflicts and disputes among you … do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. You covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”
                    That almost hurts to read out loud because it’s so true. Look at the world we live in. Many of us continue to ask why, in this day and age, the only way we seem to be able to deal with problems among the countries of the world is to arm mostly the poor and kill until someone gives up or one side has no one left standing.

                    But even closer to home, look at our own congregations. “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?” James writes. Where indeed? What is it about us church folks that makes it so much easier to exclude than include, when we should know better. What Christian can’t recite by heart the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. And the bumper sticker adds, “No exceptions.” What don’t we understand about what we can recite by heart?

                    And then, of course, we have to look at ourselves. It gets really uncomfortable when we read
                    “Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
                    Jesus says pretty much the same thing in the gospels – but “adulterers”? That seems a little harsh.

                    And we can wonder what’s so wrong with “the world.” The world, after all, is beautiful – it’s a gift from God, not something that should put us at enmity with God. But that’s not what Jesus and James were talking about when they used the word “world.” They were referring instead to the “operating system,” so to speak, of the world; the way we interact with each other, the systems we set up to run the world, our rules. That’s where we get into trouble. That’s where we let our conflicts and disputes, our cravings and selfish ambitions prevent us from truly living out those two great commandments that we all say we believe.

                    And then there’s that rather scary reading from Wisdom. “The ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.”

                    Well, surely that’s not any of us: “ungodly … summoning death … belonging to his company.” That’s the stuff of a Stephen King novel, this personification of evil. So, we can comfortably read on until we get to verse 10
                    “Let us oppress the poor man; let us not regard the grey hairs of the aged, let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.”
                    That should make us squirm, because we have to understand that as long as there is oppression, disregard for anyone, old or young, as long as there are laws that ensure only the powerful get ahead, as long as God’s people are at enmity with God’s people, we’re a part of that. We share in the life and behavior of all God’s people.

                    This all sounds pretty negative – bordering on desperate perhaps. So where’s the good news? Is there good news?

                    I think so. But we may need to turn off our TVs and put down our newspapers so we can better focus on the good that is in our “world,” our “operating system.”

                    There are innumerable good things being done by people in our country, in our church – there are good that each of us do. When James says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom” – that says to us that he knows there are those who are wise and understanding among his hearers. We know the same about ourselves.

                    The connection of gentleness and peace and mercy with wisdom is lovely. Elizabeth Johnson, a Roman Catholic theologian, writes:
                    “The world as a whole is shaped by Wisdom’s guidance. … This ordering is a righteous one, inimical to exploitation and oppression. Sophia hates the ways of arrogance and evil but works to establish just governance on the earth.”
                    Like James, she talks about an orderliness in the world. She reminds us that Sophia (“Wisdom”) works to establish justice and righteousness.

                    Wisdom is a fascinating image. We use it to talk about the nature of God, we use it to describe the gift of understanding that we seek from God. Wisdom is personified as the most hospitable of women. Elizabeth Johnson describes this feminine aspect of wisdom:
                    “The female figure of Wisdom is the most acutely developed personification of God’s presence and activity in the Hebrew scriptures. ... The biblical portrait of Wisdom is consistently female, casting her as sister, mother, female beloved, chef and hostess, teacher, preacher, maker of justice, and a host of other women’s roles.”
                    Women can’t leave the doing of justice and the spreading of the Good News to men, and vice versa. We’re all expected to share that work. So there is good news in today’s readings.

                    And of course, we only read one small bit of Wisdom this morning. If we’d read just a few more verses, we would have come to that most beautiful passage that’s often read at funerals:
                    “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace – their hope is full of immortality.”
                    That speaks of the dead, but it also speaks of us who still live in this world, especially if we believe in the communion of the saints as we say we do in the Creed. All of us – those who have gone before us and those of us still here – are connected. We’re all kin, all a part of the people of God.

                    So, to play with this passage a little: “All those who are righteous are in the hand of God. In the eyes of the foolish, the righteous may seem to be weak, to be useless; but they have peace. They have hope, and that hope is full of the promise of immortality.”

                    And isn’t that God’s promise? Isn’t that what we hope for finally, for union with God? We can experience that here as well as in the hereafter, and part of our ministry is to make sure that we welcome all our brothers and sisters on that journey.

                    These readings give us a lot to think about. This is just a start, and there’s good news all though it. Because even when we’re brought up short and challenged about how we’re living, and even when we’re at our most unlovable, there’s always the promise of God’s love for us.

                    Several chapters later in Wisdom we read: “But you, our God, are kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy. For even if we sin we are yours.”

                    Thanks be to God!

                    -- The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is executive director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches at the School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee, and assistant professor of Contextual Education. She is also publisher of "Tuesday Morning," a quarterly journal of ministry and liturgical preaching.