20 December 2010

The Christmas Message from The Primate of TEC

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light - Isaiah 9:2 

That's how the first lesson of Christmas Eve opens. It's familiar and comforting, as the familiar words go on to say that light has shined on those who live in deep darkness, that God has brought joy to people living under oppression, for a child has been borne to us. The name of that child is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace -- and God is bringing an endless peace through an heir to the throne of David (vv 3, 4, 6, 7).

The Most Rev'd Katharine Jefferts Shori
This year we're going to hear a bit we haven't heard in Episcopal churches before, in that missing verse 5. It's pretty shocking but it helps explain why the hunger for light is so intense, and the joy so great when it comes: "For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire." The coming of this prince of peace will mean the end of all signs of war and violence. An occupied people will finally live in peace, without anxiety about who or what will confront them the next time they go out their front doors.

People in many parts of this world still live with the echo of tramping boots and the memory of bloody clothing. Many Episcopalians are living with that anxiety right now, particularly in Haiti and Sudan. Americans know it through the ongoing anxiety after September 11 and in the wounded soldiers returning to their families and communities, grievously changed by their experience of war. Remember the terror of war when you hear those words about light on Christmas Eve. Remember the hunger for peace and light when you hear the shocking promise that a poor child born in a stable will ead us all into a world without war. Remember the power of light when you go out into the darkness after hearing those words -- and pray that you and those around you may become instruments of peace.

Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors! - Luke 2:14

- The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

24 November 2010

What General Synod really said

Anglican cyber-land has been ablaze this morning with the news that the General Synod of the Church of England, the Mother Church, has "voted to approve the covenant." It was stated that the vote was by a large majority in favour. Well, that's hogwash as they say in the Southern United States.

Rowan changed his opening address to bully the first form school children that he thinks they are, into a vote of confidence for his reign as the worst archbishop of Canterbury in the history of the world. Being obedient, the naughty first formers gave him what he told them to give him. But, just barely. The vote was a "simple majority" not an overwhelming majority.

The delegates to General Synod knew that the vote would postpone any action on the dreadful document forced on the sane Anglicans by the insane and power greedy primates who want to be queens. General Synod send the whole covenant idea to the dioceses where it will be "discussed in a gentlemanly fashion" in the deaneries, which is, in my opinion, where it should be discussed. This will allow the sane voices to be heard.

Life or death of the Covenant in England is in the hands of the local Anglicans who are, thankfully, more sane than most of the bishops and primates in the Church of England.

Recognizing this, the Deatheaters issued a statement which says, in effect, "we aren't interested in anything the rest of you do because we aren't playing cricket with you. We have our own court now, and we have our own balls, wickets, and bats, and more important, we have our own umpires. So sod off, the lot of you." The name of deposed, former bishop Bob Duncan on the document as one of their leaders proves that they are not Anglican nor wish to be Anglican.

What this statement did is not what it intended to do. I think it will be used against the covenant in the deaneries of the Church of England. Sane Anglicans can say, "It's impossible to be cricket with these people. We have given them just about everything they demanded and they still won't play a gentlemanly game."

But what can one expect from a bunch of lying malcontents bent on world domination and a theocracy where people are murdered for disagreeing with them or their Neanderthal moral code.

One thing is certain: The Anglican Communion is dead as of today. It's been gasping for breath ever since Rowan allowed the stormtroopers free reign. Requescat in Pace, Communio Anglicana. we can only put our hand into the hand of God and go forth into the unknown.

Counterlight has a post that very much agrees with me. You'll find it here. The Lead's commentary is here.

UPDATE: Brother Tobias has a good commentary here.

11 November 2010

Remembrance Day

The eleventh hour of the eleventh month of the eleventh day. Where ever you are at 11 a.m., please take two minutes to remember the sacrifice that ended the First World War and all the military who have died in times of war.

08 November 2010

Chauvinistic bishops to flee contaminated sect

According to reports, five Church of England bishops will make their submission to Rome to avoid contaminating themselves by being in a church that recognizes the existence of women in the ordained ministry.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said Bishop of Ebbsfleet Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Richborough Keith Newton, Bishop of Fulham John Broadhurst and retired bishops Edwin Barnes and David Silk have decided "to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
This is, of course, utter nonsense and it's all about misogyny. The Apostle Paul plainly taught the church that there is no distinction between males and females in God's eyes. Therefore, the distinction is purely an Old Testament patrimonial relic of a bygone millennium and the vestiges of dying old white men.

01 November 2010

All Saints' Day and the Electrician

All Saints' Day
BCP Service II

The Lectionary


I could talk about a lot of people today - very holy women and men who did great things. But today I want to talk about a holy electrician who taught me about the Communion of Saints.

A year ago, my cousin Bernie died. Well, actually, Bernie wasn't my cousin; his wife is my cousin. But in our family, after an arbitrary number of years, the "by marriage" label dissolves and the person magically becomes blood family. So much so that the family tends to side with the "by marriage" partner in disagreements. It's funny how some families function, you know?

As we approached All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, I thought of Bernie a lot. He certainly qualifies for sainthood:  He put up with my cousin for more than 50 years; he was an absolutely stellar parent to three children living in mental darkness as our former Book of Common Prayer used to phrase it; he was an ardent supporter of our parish for 68 years' he was honest and upright at all times. But all of that isn't why I've been thinking of him so much.

I've been thinking of Bernie because of the experience of the Viaticuum.

Our former rector was asked to come when Bernie's wife, and sister thought "it" was getting close. He is having some problems with his memory but he managed to do a proper liturgy for Bernie. But, at the time of Holy Communion he added something. (You need to know that Father is of African ancestry and there is more than just a little Baptist in him.) Before he placed the Body of Christ on Bernie's tongue and spoke the works we all know, he added, with a voice and 'authority' I had not heard him use before:
Bernie, my brother, the next time we all do this with you we're goin' to be doin' it in heaven with Jesus.
It wasn't a comment, it was a fait accompli. That is the moment I a actually realized Bernie really was going to die. But it was also the moment I fully understood what the Communion of Saints really is: mystic, sweet fellowship and connection with those whose rest is won.

I stayed with  his wife and his sister for several more hours and then I went home. I somehow new Bernie didn't want me there when the chariot came.

But before I left, I had the opportunity to thank Bernie for being such a good husband to Zela and a a good father to his children. And, for loving me when I was pretty unlovable. And I told him I was glad he was my cousin and my brother in the Lord.

What I should have thanked him for was teaching me what "The Communion of Saints" means.

As we approach All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, I sing, "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God..." but I add one wee bit, "and one was an electrician named Bernie who taught me more in his death than he did by his 'good life long'."

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

31 October 2010

Pentecost XXIII

The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 26

The Lectionary


Hookworm. Largely eradicated in the U.S. for nearly a century, these tiny parasites are one of the leading causes of maternal and child mortality in the tropics and subtropics. Debilitating the immune system, they are a known cause of anemia, and hookworm infections can make the body more susceptible to malaria and HIV.

But in 2004, David Pritchard, a British immunologist, applied a bandage to his arm covered in hookworm larva, intentionally infecting himself. This wasn’t an act of self-destruction but was the beginning of years of study into the possible benefits of the tiny parasites.

The hookworm, like all of our earthly co-habitants, evolved alongside us, and in this case, within us, in an intricate balance. As it turns out, hookworms, in small amounts, can work to keep our sometimes overactive immune system in check. A small hookworm infection can serve to prevent certain allergic reactions in humans, to reduce asthma, and eradicate hay fever. Allergies, in their modern ubiquitous array of manifestations, may be, in part, a result of our attempt to sanitize our world and rid ourselves of this and other tiny parasites.

In our culture, we are obsessed with sanitation and control. For many of us, our vision of the reign of God, whether we call it that or not, is one of simplification, where there exist no unknowns, where the world is a mechanical, predictable, responsive, finite network, and where justice is a system of equal give and take.

The signs of this vision are all around us, as are the signs of its destructiveness. In our attempt to groom God’s creation into a controlled environment, we’ve cleared millions of acres of forestland, prairie, and meadows for single cash crops. We’ve dramatically reduced the biodiversity of our most populated areas in order to make them safe for a handful of domesticated species. We’ve developed simplistic systems of labor, talent, and currency equivalences. We’ve envisioned a world as white as individually plastic-wrapped disposable cutlery; the whiteness of a single-use fork to accompany our individually packaged organic spinach salad.

But today’s readings remind us that the world is a complex, messy place. Consider the reading from Isaiah. The Jewish people of the prophet’s time had a vision similar to ours: a world where simple exchanges could right the spiritual disorder, where quick cures would undo long-term spiritual decline and disease. Their hands were bloodied with their burnt offerings, their schedules were filled with church-stuff without really engaging the broken world surrounding them. But the justice of God asks more: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

One would think that these commands would be clear enough. Stop doing bad; do good. But God, speaking through Isaiah, admits to the fallacy of any system of symbols, even language. Isaiah, interpreting God’s revelation, speaks the beautiful line: “Come now, let us argue it out.” Or in other translations “Sit down. Let us reason together.” In an invitation, God, through Isaiah, admits to humankind that even God’s commandments, when written in human language, are insufficient to know and envision the reign of God.

God calls us into conversation, even argument, over what it is to follow God’s will, to resist, to listen, to adapt, to contest, to move forward in relationship with God. God speaks to the continuing revelation of God’s will in the world, a revelation dependent on relationship, on placed-ness, on the past and the present realities of human life from which we speak, and read, and act. It is in this “arguing out” of justice that God offers us the possibility of redemption, of the cleansing that makes us “like snow.”

But the whiteness of snow can be a slippery slope into the vision of a dry-erase world, where the past is forgotten in an attempt to not be bound to it. Who has not heard or sang of the cleansing power of the blood of the lamb? We are to be washed as white as snow by the blood of the lamb, by claiming him as our personal Lord and Savior. Sometimes we imagine that Jesus is the ultimate re-start button, that to find and be found by Jesus is to forget the past and simply live by love into the future. But that is not the Jesus we encounter in today’s gospel reading.

There’s a fun children’s song to tell the story:

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree,
And he said, “Zacchaeus, you come down;
“For I'm going to your house today, for I'm going to your house today.”

But the story is not quite so simple. Zaccheus is a tax-collector and a rich man. His money had been made through the extortion of the people by the ruling empire, and by his own wickedness, as he tells it, in “defrauding” others. Having welcomed Jesus into his house, having come into personal relationship with him, having not only seen Jesus, but having been seen by and recognized by Jesus, he was transformed. As a result, Zacchaeus took it upon himself to make restitution for his past.

This is not a case of “Go and sin no more.” Zaccheus had to confront those he has wronged, paying them back four times what he has wrongfully taken. The restitution, the resurrection, is in the confrontation with God that results in a confrontation with ourselves, our pasts, and our world. The “arguing out” of God’s justice is a complex invitation.

“Cease to do evil.” What is the evil we turn from?

“Learn to do good.” Who will teach us the good?

“Seek justice.” How will we know justice when we find it?

“Rescue the oppressed.” Who, indeed, are the oppressed and how are we called to rescue them?

“Come now, let us argue it out.”

As a faith community, we have often found it sufficient to say we are “open and affirming” or tolerant or inclusive. We have hung banners and said, “All are welcome.”

But have we truly wrestled with the reality of the experience of people who are oppressed? What might it look like to pay back fourfold what we have wrongfully taken in terms of dignity, social place, relationship, and of life? Not just to this community at this time in this place, but to all those we have wronged and continue to wrong? What might this type of justice look like? We must “argue it out,” with God, with each other, and ultimately with God present in those we have wronged.

The question is not whether we should stop trying to eradicate hookworm or move forward into more inclusive communities. The issue at hand is confronting the reality that we are not operating in the artificial whiteness of a lab, or in the mansions of an imagined hereafter. The vision that we share with the ancient Hebrews, that vision of a sanitized and simple world that can become a productive, predictable, controllable machine operating within the confines of human logic, will always be a violent and destructive dream. At the end of the day, we will always be called from real lives with real relationships to make real sacrifices for the sake of real justice.

The crumbs will always fall to the linen, the wine will always drip from the chalice, and, by grace, the body will always be broken open and shared. Come, let us argue it out.

-- Jason Sierra is a member of the Office for Young Adult and Campus Ministries at the Episcopal Church Center. He resides in Seattle, Washington, and holds a BA in American Studies from Stanford University.

24 October 2010

Pentecost XXII

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 25 RCL

The Lectionary


In the early years of our country, one Southern family stood out in offering leadership to a fledgling nation. Most renowned among the first families of Virginia, the Lees were wealthy, capable, intelligent, and dedicated patriots.

Using the legend of this family and what some consider a bit of overexposure, lyricist Sherman Edwards crafted a clever song for his Broadway musical “1776.” In a classic scene, John Adams asks fellow Continental Congress member Richard Henry Lee to help the cause for independence. He challenges the Virginia representative to get his colony’s House of Burgesses to pass a resolution calling for independence from England. In the course of their conversation, Adams prays, “God help us.”
Lee replies confidently, “He will John. He will.” Then, as if to prove his statement, Lee launches into a delightful song that includes this wonderful stanza:
They say that God in heaven is everybody's God,
I'll admit that God in heaven is everybody's God,
But I tell you, John, with pride, God leans,
A little on the side of the Lees, the Lees of old Virginia!
This humorous song rings true because it is so natural to think that since we are faithful, we must be special, and that God must be on our side. It’s a good example of what Jesus was getting at when he told the parable in today’s gospel reading.
The Pharisee in today’s parable was basically a good guy – a member of what might be considered one of the first families of the faith. But like Lee in the play, he lost sight of his place in God’s world. He knew that thanking God was a good way to pray, but he allowed his prayer to degenerate into prideful boasting.

And he forgot about the need for repentance. As a human being, he had a dark side, but he tried to hide it. He made the mistake of choosing to look on his good side. He attempted to boost himself by comparing his good qualities with what he perceived as the negative attributes of others. He set himself up as the judge of his behavior over against the actions of others.

We can imagine the details of his thought process, because we are tempted to engage in the same delusion:

I may have told a white lie, but I thank God I don’t cheat on my income tax.

I may be a thief, but I thank God I’m not a murderer.

I may have turned aside when the poor family asked me for help, but I thank God I’m not responsible for the starvation in Africa.

I may hold back on my pledge, but I thank God I’m not one of those reprobates who never gives.

I may not get to church as often as I might, but I thank God I belong to a church.

I may not study the Bible as much as I should, but I thank God I’m not an atheist.

These examples may be a little over the top, but Jesus was using the self-aggrandizing statements by the Pharisee in comparison with the prayer by the truly faithful man who asked simply, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Jesus makes it clear that it is dangerous to compare our relative goodness, whether real or imagined, with that of others. This is because such moral manipulation drives a wedge between us and God. It is especially tragic in its use of religion as a divisive element between us and our brothers and sisters. Such action works against us all by inevitably separating rather than unifying the human family.

Sometimes we can get into trouble even if we use the standard of today’s gospel, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” as a way to compare ourselves to others. For example, Rabbi Joshua Davidson tells a wonderful old story from the Jewish faith that illustrates the danger:
A rabbi decides to model repentance for his congregation. Humbly he beseeches the Almighty for forgiveness, and he beats his breast proclaiming, “Before You, God, I am nothing. I am nothing.”  
The cantor sees him and joins in: “I am nothing. I am nothing,” she cries.  
The temple president, sensing that he too must get in on the act, now comes up. “I am nothing. I am nothing,” he sobs.  
In the silence that follows, the rabbi turns to the cantor and whispers, “Look who thinks he’s nothing.”
In truth, our measure is not one of comparison with others but rather against the values of the gospel, against the Ten Commandments, against the summary of the Law. How well do we compare with these standards? In doing so, we can stand to our full height, whatever it may be.

But then we take the test of the truest measure. How high do we stand when comparing ourselves against the final, and only, model of our faith – Jesus himself? The ultimate comparison can only be between ourselves and God’s perfect desires for us. Of course, such a test leads us to only one conclusion. We fail, and can only offer the tax collector’s prayer: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Only in this way can we move forward in the right kind of humility, asking for forgiveness after darkness invades us, the darkness that we have given into through our sin. Such repentance can renew us as we listen to Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We will become humbled, cut down to size, and this will lead us to the exhalation that comes from a life in Christ.

Standing in the knowledge of our need for God’s forgiveness and love, we can become not only the prayerful people Jesus calls us to be, but we can also act in the faith that despite our sin, God will empower us as children. We can pray, finally, “Lord use us sinners to do your work. Use us as instruments of your peace and grace and love and active concern for your children, our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

-- The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of "John E. Hines: Granite on Fire" (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.

20 October 2010

San Joaquin back in court

From the Fresno Bee:
Who is the legitimate bishop in the San Joaquin Diocese, and who owns the diocese's property, including its headquarters in Fresno and parishes from Stockton to Bakersfield?

Those questions are at the heart of the next round in the legal battle between local Episcopalians and Anglicans. The two groups face off today in the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno. The justices will hear oral arguments in the lawsuit, filed by Bishop Jerry Lamb against Bishop John-David Schofield. 

After an overwhelming vote of its clergy and lay representatives in December 2007, Schofield led the diocese away from the national Episcopal Church and to the temporary oversight of an Anglican archbishop in South America. The Episcopal Church responded by deposing Schofield and installing Lamb as its diocesan bishop.
Schofield and the departing parishes hold a conservative theology that opposes the Episcopal Church's increasingly liberal stance on biblical issues, including the 2003 ordination of a gay bishop and whether Jesus is the only way to salvation [and the biblical second class status of women].

[Many in] The worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, largely supports the conservative view; Archbishop Rowan Williams, who is the nominal head of the Anglican Communion with headquarters in England, earlier this year banned Episcopal representatives from casting votes on global committees. Schism may result, and the San Joaquin Diocese is a mirror of that larger split.

Written arguments in the local case were filed months ago. "We have a seasoned panel of justices. They'll give us a full and fair hearing," said Rusty VanRozeboom, attorney for Schofield. 

Michael Glass, attorney for Lamb, issued a statement Monday refusing comment until after the justices release their ruling, which is expected in about a month. Lamb, who also refused comment, said the diocese "may" have a brief statement after today's oral arguments, depending on the way the hearing goes.

It will be interesting to hear what VanRozeboom has to say about those "seasoned panel of justices" when they rule against Schofield.

Schofield's attorneys will argue that a lower court's ruling naming Lamb as the true Bishop of San Joaquin and owner of all of the diocesan property was in error.  Yet, remember, sisters and brothers, the schismatic sect keep saying they don't care about property. Their actions certainly prove them to be liars.

When the justices will issue a ruling, probably in about a month the case will go back to the Superior Court, where it eventually will be heard by a jury. 

The schismatic sect has a plan and part of that plan is to bankrupt The Episcopal Church though legal fees. The schismatics are funded by a group of extremely wealthy men who are part of a move to return the United States to Old Testament Law as the legal means by which the US is governed. If the schismatics lose, they will try to get their case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

18 October 2010

Crystal cathedral in bankruptcy

Ever since Robert Schuller (Jr) was forced out of the family business by his brothers in law, the so-called Crystal Cathedral has been in a downward spiral. Too many members and supporters saw the ouster as not a Christian Act. well, the chickens have come home to roost for Schuller Sr and his daughter who was appointed by her husband and brothers in law to be the pastor.

The "ministry" filed for bankruptcy Monday in Southern California after struggling to emerge from debt that exceeds $43 million.
In addition to a $36 million mortgage, the Orange County-based church owes $7.5 million to several hundred vendors for services ranging from advertising to the use of live animals in Easter and Christmas services.
The church had been negotiating a repayment plan with vendors, but several filed lawsuits seeking quicker payment, which prompted a coalition formed by creditors to fall apart.
"Tough times never last, every storm comes to an end. Right now, people need to hear that message more than ever," Sheila Schuller Coleman (daughter), the Cathedral's senior pastor and daughter of the founder, told reporters outside the worship hall decked with a soaring glass spire.
"Everybody is hurting today. We are no exception," she said.
The church, founded in the mid-1950s by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller Sr., has already ordered major layoffs, cut the number of stations airing the "Hour of Power" and sold property to stay afloat.
In addition, the 10,000-member church canceled this year's "Glory of Easter" pageant, which attracts thousands of visitors and is a regional holiday staple.
The church was founded at a drive-in theater and attracted congregants with its sermons on the power of positive thinking. Its worship hall opened in 1970.
The "Hour of Power" telecast, filmed in the cathedral's main sanctuary, at one point attracted 1.3 million viewers in 156 countries.
According to reports, the Crystal Cathedral's Sunday services and weekly-telecast "Hour of Power" will continue while in bankruptcy.
Other megachurches have also suffered from the downturn and reduced charitable giving.
Crystal Cathedral saw revenue drop roughly 30 percent in 2009 and simply couldn't slash expenses quickly enough to avoid accruing the debt, said Jim Penner executive producer of the "Hour of Power."
Vendors owed money by the church formed a committee in April and agreed to a moratorium to negotiate a repayment plan with the Crystal Cathedral. But after several filed lawsuits and obtained writs of attachment to try to collect their cash, it was difficult to keep the group together, Penner said.
Now, the church is avoiding credit entirely and spends only the roughly $2 million it receives each month in donations and revenue, Penner said. The church still hopes to pay all of the vendors back in full, he said.
I bet Schuller Sr's "Be Happy Attitudes" are drooping today. I'm feeling some schadenfreude right now. Sorry about that. I go to confession this week.

17 October 2010

Pentecost XX!

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 24 Year C

The Lectionary

Psalm 119 calls for the kind of continued learning Paul commends in his letter to Timothy. As a subject of our recitation and meditation, it offers an entrance into a life of continued, endless prayer. So Jesus tells a story to underscore our need to pray always and not lose heart. It is what Paul elsewhere commends: "pray without ceasing."

And note the forceful summary by Jesus: for those chosen ones who pray day and night, justice shall come and come quickly.

Are we even aware of this linkage? That our prayers are to be linked to justice?

Don't we often tend to be rather selfish in our prayers? We would always like immediate results – but would like those results to be centered on what we want rather than what we need. 

And what Jesus says we need is to pray always and not to lose heart.

There is no better place to begin to pray always than with Psalm 119. One hundred and seventy-six verses reminding us to have Torah, God's law, in our minds all day long. The word "Torah" or one of its synonyms appears in almost every one of the 176 verses: Torah, law decrees, precepts, statutes, commandments, ordinances.

A rabbi was once asked, "What does a rabbi do?" He replied, "A rabbi is to lead God's people to study Torah so that one day everyone will know Torah. On that day when everyone knows Torah, everyone will be a rabbi so that there will no longer be any need for rabbis."

This is the dream of God as revealed to the prophet Jeremiah, "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." God wants us to become experts in loving the law and living the law.

We in the church tend to suffer grave misunderstandings about this word law. These misunderstandings come from misreading of Paul, compounded by particular Christian theologians throughout the ages. The word "law" sounds static with the sole purpose of convicting us of sin and misdoings.

Whereas a regular reading of all 176 verses of Psalm 119 would reveal a much richer range of meaning. The "law" is a treasure, a gift, really, that makes one wise and happy. The psalm is written in the first-person narrative voice, making the words of the psalm personal, words that belong to us, words that are given by God to be ours. Torah is not a static set of rules, but a map that provides a personal way of life, a guiding force, a pathway from which it is all too easy to stray but is sweeter than all alternative paths available.

At its core, Psalm 119 as a source of our daily prayer and meditation directs us to endlessly reflect on the Decalogue – the fancy theological name for the Ten Commandments. The first "table" or "tablet" of the Ten Commandments focuses on our love of God; the second "table" or "tablet" focuses on our love of neighbor. 

Jesus spent much of his time discussing the law, Torah, with any and all persons he could. Jesus demonstrates that continual focus, discussion, and meditation on God's law is what leads one in the way of life that is really life, and offers justice for all people. Torah, as understood at the time of Jesus, was a continual unfolding of God's will, new each day, new in each age. Torah, or law, was not confining, but empowering, and necessary to being God's people in the world.

And meditating on the law day and night, as Jesus lives and instructs us to do ourselves, reminds us of our God-given responsibilities to love and care for our neighbors, especially those in greatest need.

It turns out God does have a plan to care for those in greatest need: we are that plan.

How wonderful it would be if all of us, every day, would read all of Psalm 119. How might the world be different if our love of God's law was something we treasured in our hearts all day long? For Jesus this is faith: Torah in action every day.

The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek is rector of St. Peter's Church in Ellicott City, MD, a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. 

13 October 2010

Blessed Samuel Schereschewsky

“How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?” - Psalm 116.12

Some homilies practically write themselves. Others are like are like having a baby. The idea is rather appealing, but in the end, the baby arrives only after pain, screaming and vows of “never again.” This is one of those homilies.

The epistle is filled with doom and gloom and in the gospel Jesus reminds his followers that he had suffer in order to bring the Kingdom. It is only after knowing the story of the Rt. Rev’d Samuel Schereschewsky, that one sees the logic in the lectionary.

Samuel was born in Lithuania, orphaned at a very young age, raised as an orthodox Jew, and headed for rabbinical fame. Everyone said so. In rabbinical school he was given a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew, and, as he read it, he became convinced that Jesus was the promised messiah.

In 1854, he immigrated to the United States to lead a synagogue. However, he made contact with a group of Jewish believers in Christ. That was the end of Samuel. Everyone said so. But it wasn’t – it was merely the first step to a remarkable service for God in Asia. He was baptized in 1855 in the Baptist Church and he enrolled in Western Theological Seminary (Presbyterian). Two years later he transferred to General Theological Seminary (Episcopal).

While still in seminary he was appointed a missionary to China so he was ordained to the deaconate while he was still a seminarian. During the voyage to China, he taught himself Cantonese – an extremely difficult language for Westerners to learn. He was priested on 28 October 1860 and began his life’s work.

As a man to whom learning languages came almost effortlessly, he quickly learned the local Shanghai dialect and translated the Book of the Psalms from the original Hebrew. When that translation was completed, he translated the Book of Common Prayer into the Mandarin dialect. In 1877 he was elected Bishop of Shanghai, founded St John's University, and began a translation of the Bible into the Wenli dialect.

Tragically, he was diagnosed with the early onset of Parkinson's disease. He lived with the disease for twenty-nine years, the last twenty of which he was almost completely paralyzed. That was the end of Samuel. Everyone said so. But, in spite of almost unimaginable suffering, Bishop Schereschewsky had a work to finish for God – completing his translation of the bible. He typed the final 2000 pages with the one finger that he could still move.

But, he continually assured all those around him of the goodness of God in that God left him able to move that one finger – he saw it as a gift. Like the solitary man with Leprosy in the gospel last Sunday, Samuel was thankful. He was thankful the Parkinson’s disease. You know, I will never be a saint!

In the epistle today we read, “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” That’s a nice, tidy statement containing heavy theology. But the question is, “what does it mean and how do we do it.”

During my long illness, I have repeatedly reflected upon the baptismal office in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve discovered that everything we need is found there. It is a road map for us with the path clearly marked.

One small part of that office dovetails with the life of Bishop Schereschewsky and with us. “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” That’s what Paul means.

But that doesn’t mean wearing Jesus on our sleeves. Paul doesn’t mean ending every sentence with “praise the Lord” or quoting scripture in every conversation. Those things actually turn people “off” Christianity.

What Paul and the Prayer Book mean is that we must live our lives in such a manner that people will notice something different about us. They will see God.

St. Francis of Assisi allegedly put it this way, “Preach the gospel at all times – use words if absolutely necessary.” He was correct: If we need to use words, our lives are not reflecting God’s love to the world.

Those who met Blessed Samuel Schereschewsky stated it was evident that God was working though him.

But, “They lived not only in ages past…” We at St. James’ knew a woman who was also the embodiment of Paul’s charge. Her name was Jane Yeats. Like Blessed Samuel Schereschewsky, when one was in Jane’s presence, there was no doubt that she was abiding in Him for one could feel the love of God emanating from her.

Can people say that about us?

03 October 2010

Pentecost XIX

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 22

The Lectionary

Collect of the Day: Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Even listening attentively to Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we are probably not going to want to go the distance with Paul when he invites Timothy to “join with me in suffering for the gospel ... relying on the power of God.” 

It’s really easy to hear “Join with me in suffering” and then just zone out. “Suffering” is an unappealing sound bite, even for those of us who listen without Bible Attention Deficit Disorder. We do not want to suffer any more than we already do; indeed, have we not come to church precisely because we need to get away from suffering, or at least hand it over to Jesus, who can do something about it?

Perhaps this is why we do not ordinarily find the Book of Lamentations in Hebrew scripture very useful, either in church or at home. The book is a series of five lengthy poems of inexpressible sadness, raw pain, and deep sorrow. The poets put into words our ancestors’ experience of living through enormous public and personal suffering as their home city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 B.C. For our ancestors, that city was the focus of dreams and hopes, the sign of God’s presence, the promise of God’s fidelity to them; its hills, its Temple, its walls and gates all spoke to travelers and residents alike of what they treasured. And now the place was gone, and they wept. They wept for being invaded, for their national identity and security damaged; they wept for abandonment by their kings; they wept for old ones killed and unburied; they wept for children dead in the streets. They wept for all the questions shouted, sighed, and whispered to God that the heavens did not answer. 

We can, each of us, relate to that; but we would much rather not.

Yet it is there, in the five long poems of lament, there for us in the Bible, the living word of God. And the lamentations are there because the loss, the weeping, the suffering, and the pain goes on.
As it says in the opening verses of Lamentations:
“How lonely sits the city that was once so full of people!
How like a widow she has become
she weeps bitterly in the night,
her cheeks wet with tears
and she has no one to comfort her.”
The ancient poet imagined the city as a lonely, abused woman, grieving. At best, we apply the scenes of Lamentations to Good Friday, Jesus on the Cross. We transpose the lament from Hebrew scriptures to the women who stayed with Jesus to the end, and grieved at the foot of the cross as they watched their friend and Lord dying. 

But when Paul invited Timothy – and by extension, us – to join him “in suffering for the gospel,” Paul was not asking Timothy or us to be observers. Paul knows what we also know: that Jesus repeatedly told his followers to take up their cross and follow him, not to sit somewhere watching his cross and weeping for him. For the sake of the gospel, for witness to the good news, we have somehow to engage the suffering, enter the lament.
“Join me in suffering for the gospel ... relying upon the power of God.”
Like our ancestors who watched their beloved Jerusalem invaded, ravaged, desecrated, and devastated, we have been watching so much of our world and our planet suffer before our eyes. The power of God seems a bit ambiguous and even flimsy when we see the arctic ice mass retreating or that in Africa there is almost no snow left atop Kilimanjaro. The landscapes and languages of all our cities have been invaded by “others.” Un-finish-able wars are being waged with new weapons and even newer peacekeeping goals, yet men and women still suffer and die for a cause, a name, or a flag. These are losses as surely as Babylon invading Jerusalem was a loss, and pogroms and holocausts are loss. Yet the suffering has brought forth into the public arena not the poetic cadences of lamentation, but uncharted depths of anxiety and resentment, rage and fear.
“Join me in suffering for the gospel ... relying upon the power of God.”
We are the ones who share bread and wine at a common table of thanks-giving. We are the ones covenanted to honor God in worship, study and prayer. We are the ones who promise to repent of indifference, brutality and greed, and return to the God of engagement, compassion, and generosity. We hold in our hearts and in our minds’ eyes the raw and bleak edges of violence, and at the same time the glorious vision of God at work in the world about us. Where certain talk shows, tabloids, tweets, and blogs daily degrade the realities of poverty, injustice, and oppression by manipulating the media bites, we are the ones who notice and resist such manipulations. We resist because we are called to live, notice, pray, act, and share in a context where, in Christ, our lives are made one with those who suffer such realities and the consequences of such manipulation. In our time and place, this is what it means to be the ones called to “rely upon the power of God.”

The poets of Lamentations look fearlessly at the consequences of the loss of Jerusalem. They speak terrible things, such as “The Lord has broken my teeth on gravel and ground me into the dust. My life was bereft of peace, and I forgot what happiness was.” The voice of lamentation is fierce and strong – and it is followed almost in the same breath by “But this do I call to mind, and therefore have hope: the kindness of the Lord has not ended, his mercy is not spent.”

It is only by remembering the acts of God in the past and by engaging the living word of God in the present that we can also engage wholeheartedly in both fierce lamentation and in boundless hope.

-- The Rev. Angela V. Askew lives in Brooklyn, New York.

29 September 2010


The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

The Lectionary

Collect of the Day: Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


We've got angels. Boy, do we. There are angels of the month, birthstone angels, dashboard charms that say, "Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly." Bumper stickers that proclaim, "Angels on board." There are gardening angels, Mother's Day angels, Hallmark angels holding everything from Thanksgiving turkeys to St. Patrick's Day shamrocks.

Fat blonde babies with wings cavort on every possible item. Chubby cherubs, swathed in Victorian chintz drapery, halos charmingly askew, look more like spun-sugar dumplings than anything that would cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty!" Greeting cards, wallpaper, candy bars, movies like "Angels in America"— feathered wings joined with human fallibilities are just everywhere these days!

>But then there's this:
Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way
As the Lord of light descending from the realms of endless day
Comes, the pow'rs of hell to vanquish
As the darkness clears away.
Set them side by side, the post-modern depiction of angels as a pleasant remnant of myth, made in our image, bent to our will, filling desire for spirituality and a crass marketing niche all at once —and then the Scriptural image of the vanguard of the army of heaven, the praises of God in their throats and a two-edged sword in their hands, a choir in battle formation, with captains and princes, standards and banners arrayed around the throne of the Lord of Light.

>Singers with shields, messengers, bringers of the divine Word, some appointed to ceaseless praise, some appointed to help us on earth: these are the angels of the Lord.

The cosmology of the ancient world is not ours—or so we think. We no longer see angels behind every physical force of nature, every unexplained scientific phenomenon. Except for the Left Behind crowd and the devotees of Frank Peretti and those who tend to see the world in terms of Star Wars, anyway—most Christians, and certainly most Lutherans, don't describe our reality with reference to a cosmic battleground between the evenly-matched forces of good and evil. We already know what battle standard the Host of heaven carries, what device is blazoned on every shield and breastplate, in what sign they conquer.

>Whether our modern sensibilities accept it or not, the holy angels are not incidental to, or independent from, the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ. In the might of the Messiah and under the banner of the cross, the host of heaven continues to do God's will and bring his Word despite the death throes of the dragon. The war is over, Satan is finished. Cast down. But still he fights on, mortally wounded, utterly defeated. His time is short.

And that's where we live. In the now and the not yet. Satan defeated but not yet destroyed. In the time where Paul can claim that our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Where the reality is that Satan accuses our brothers—and us—day and night, and assails the church of Christ at every opportunity. We can smell the dragon's scaly stink in our denominations and parishes, in our seminaries and colleges—and in the kitchens of our parsonages. The devil dogs us through the holy work God has set our hands to, sin deadens our testimony and witness, unbelief is rampant, apostasy common.
Though with a scornful wonder / the world sees her oppressed;
By schisms rent asunder / by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping / Their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping / Shall be the morn of song.
How long, O Lord? How long will our cry mingle with that of the saints and angels? Many of you come here year after year, wounded and angry and sick in body and spirit, dried up like a potsherd, shrunken like a leather flask hung in the smoke, weary of putting your hand to the plowshare, desperate to look back. Some of you are tired of taking up the cross, sick to death of the command to follow, exhausted by always being last with no glimmer of first in sight, suspicious that "servant of all" entails a lot more dying than you first thought. Other of you come to weep over the Church and our Lutheran communions, and to rejoice for a brief time with brothers and sisters with whom you do not have to measure your words so carefully. For all of you there is this word: in the middle of the scornful wonder of the world and the laments of saints and angels joined with our night of weeping, a single loud voice sounds forth. Michael, the great prince, whose name is all we need to know: Who Is Like God.

Who is like God? Not you. Not me. Not even the Holy Angels, whose archangel names have the murmur of distant, ceaseless prayer: God is my strength. God is my healer. Who is like God? It is the Lamb alone who conquers, gives strength, brings healing. Sustains the weary with a word. Jesus only.

And who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised who is at the right hand of God who intercedes for us. He did not count equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Christ Jesus did not cling to life even in the face of death, giving his back to those who struck him, his cheeks to those who pulled out the beard, and his life as the high priestly sacrifice for sin. Your names are found written in his blood in the book of life

And that is your starting point. Your only foundation. That you have been bought with a price, redeemed from hell, and the one who has begun a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is God's vineyard to tend, God's responsibility. Any authority you have been given, just like that of the angels, is only given by the Lord God. Any triumph over the power of the enemy is through the blood of the Lamb alone.

You are promised that nothing will hurt you. This could also be translated "in nothing will he hurt you." Clearly, you and I can be wounded, downtrodden, despairing. Clearly we bear in our own bodies the effects of sin. Our whole ministry is marked by dying and failing. But God through the cross has defeated the eternal power of the unholy trinity: sin, death and the power of the devil. God continues to guard and protect you, not through the sentimentalized and demythologized angelic spirits, reduced to inane caregivers cast in ceramic—but through the muscular and vivifying power of the cross—the incongruity of life come from death, the slain Lamb victorious, God's power given form in the heavenly host of angels. He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. All his ways. He forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities, and causes you to stand, upheld by his righteous, omnipotent hand.

With such strength, even though you are weak, with the knowledge that your angels are always before the face of the Father in heaven, and are given to you for help on earth, you go out of here and back to the tasks at hand, back to the feeding of the flock entrusted to you, back to the struggle against the short-timer Satan, secure, if not settled, in the trust that Jesus is Lord.

And at the last, one more angel there will be for you. Not with sword or shield or choir book—but with the simple white robe of resurrection and the trumpet and the archangel's voice that will call you out of sleep in the dust of the earth for God to redeem your life from the grave, crowning you with mercy and lovingkindness and making you to shine like the brightness of the stars forever. And then, what was proclaimed from the beginning will be at last completely fulfilled: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah." And then, we will sing. What else is there left for us but singing?
Weeping, be gone, sorrow be silent,
Death put asunder and Easter is bright.
Cherubim sing, "O grave, be open!"
Clothe us in wonder, adorn us in light.
Jesus is risen and we shall arise, give God the glory! Alleluia!

City of God, Easter forever
Golden Jerusalem, Jesus the Lamb.
River of Life, saints and archangels
Sing with creation to God the I AM.
Jesus is risen and we shall arise, give God the glory! Alleluia!

28 September 2010

Virginia Supreme Court refuses to hear ACNA case

This one slipped by me, folks.

On 24 September, the Supreme Court of Virginia declined a request by the CANA congregations to reargue the decision of June 10, 2010. The Court's original, unanimous ruling in favor of the Diocese stands, and the case will return to the Fairfax Circuit Court.
The Diocese is gratified by the Supreme Court's decision," said Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese. "This is another positive step on the path toward preserving Episcopal property for future generations. We are ready to return to the Circuit Court and hope that today's announcement brings us one step closer to concluding this litigation and bringing our faithful Episcopalians back to their church homes."
The Diocese will post scheduling information on the upcoming Fairfax Circuit Court case online at www.thediocese.net as soon as it is made available.

27 September 2010

1785 - 2010

Two hundred, twenty-five years. Celebrate the Journey, friends!

26 September 2010

Pentecost XVIII

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 21

The Lectionary

Collect of the Day: O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What do you think heaven is?

A man told this story of his experience just before his father died. The man and his sister were taking care of their father who was in the last stages of cancer, the man staying with their bed-ridden father during the day and his sister staying with their father through the night.

It had been a hard day. The man and his father had not always gotten along well, and on this particular day his father was especially irritable and giving him a hard time. The man was impatient, waiting for his sister to come for the night shift. He had his coat and shoes on so he could leave as quickly as possible when she arrived. But he heard his father call to him from the other room. He went in, and his father asked, “What do you think happens to us after this life?”

A big question. A serious question. The man didn’t have many words, but he thought he could show his father his answer. He got into the bed and lay down beside his father. He asked him, “Dad, do you love me?”

“You know I love you,” his father said.

The man touched his own chest and then touched his father’s, right above his heart. The man asked, “How much of our ability to love do you think we use during our lives? Ten percent?”

“Fifteen,” said his father.

“Okay,” said the man. “In heaven,” he said, touching his own chest and then his father’s, “100 percent.”

The next day the man got a call from his sister, telling him his father had died, quite peacefully. But before he died, he made a gesture she didn’t understand. Just before he died, he looked at her, and he touched his chest – his heart – and then reached up and touched hers.

In heaven, 100 percent: true connectedness, true love, right relationship, no chasms between us.

We were made for relationship. We were made to be in right relationship with God and one another, 100 percent. But we don’t live that way. We always have a relationship with something else, something that takes up part of that heart space so we don’t use all 100 percent for loving God and loving our neighbor. Sometimes that something is money or seeking our own comfort over the needs of others.

In our reading today from 1 Timothy, Paul exhorts the faithful not to get too close to the uncertainty of riches, but instead draw close to “God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” If you live in right relationship with God, it will show in this way, says Paul: doing good, being rich in good works, being generous and ready to share. And living this way will allow us to “take hold of the life that really is life.” Not the appearance of life – what this world trumpets as the good life – material comforts – but the life that really is life, the abundance that comes from living heart to heart, 100 percent now.

The story Jesus tells in the gospel could be an elaboration on this reading. It is easy to talk about righteousness in general, as a concept, in the abstract. It is quite another matter to deal with it in the particular.

“Poverty” doesn’t lie outside the rich man’s gate; a poor, starving human being does. He is covered with sores, willing to eat scraps; a man, with a name: Lazarus.

The rich man, although his sumptuous lifestyle would have him deny it, has a need too. The rich man needs to serve Lazarus as a brother. Together they could help each other experience “the life that really is life.” But during this life, the rich man does not notice Lazarus, much less care for him. It’s as if Lazarus doesn’t exist for him. A great chasm separates the two men, a chasm of the rich man’s making.

The scene shifts to heaven. All is reversed. Lazarus is content. The rich man is in torment. The rich man longs for even a drop of water to cool the tongue that had tasted so many pleasing foods during his life.

And yet, the rich man still does not care about Lazarus. In his torment, he wants to use Lazarus as a servant. “Send him to put a drop of water to cool my tongue,” he asks.

“No,” says Abraham. The chasm between you that you dug during your life has become impassable. The gulf by which you were comforted in life has become un-crossable.

The truth of this parable is that the rich man needs Lazarus as much as Lazarus needs the rich man. The independence that riches seem to bring is only an illusion. The rich man thinks he can afford not to see Lazarus lying outside his gate. The rich man lives under the illusion that we are islands, contrary to John Donne’s wisdom, entire of ourselves. We are separated by gulfs, and we can only build so many bridges. The rich man lives with the illusion that we are intrinsically separate beings, our own possessions, and that to be responsible only for ourselves is enough.

Like Cain in Genesis, the rich man shrugs, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” assuming it is a rhetorical question, not dreaming that the answer may be “yes.” Yes, you are responsible, and your choices – to see, to notice, to serve, to love, or not – matter.

Perhaps for the rich man the gulf between himself and the beggar with his sores brings him a sense of safety. Perhaps he feels there is little he can do, little difference he can make. Perhaps he sees the gulf as a necessary evil. Perhaps the rich man is afraid of really being seen – of being revealed as inept or powerless or empty despite his material success.

Jesus’ parable points to something better for us, something better and more real – the reality that we were created not to be alone, but to be loved; not to be users of one another, but to be partners in the world. We were created not to dig chasms and let gulfs separate us, but to build bridges.

Who are we in this parable? We are not Lazarus, although we may be longing for something. We are not the rich man, although we may have more than we need of material possessions. We are the five brothers, the brothers and sisters of the rich man, still living, whom the rich man wishes to warn, to save from the torment of being on one side of a chasm; the torment of being separated from God; the torment of being able to envision only using people, not loving them, and ignoring the poor, not serving them. We are the five brothers, in danger of waiting for some spectacular sign from God before we will take the message seriously.

No, says Abraham, you have all the sign you need.

And we do. We have the Word, we have the prophets, we even have a man risen from the dead.

All of us have someone sitting by our gates – someone who gives us the opportunity to fulfill the promises of our baptismal covenant, promises to seek and serve Christ in all people, to respect the dignity of every person. We have a choice: to build bridges or dig chasms. And we can choose to use 100 percent of our capacity to love now and not wait for heaven.

-- The Rev. Dr. Amy Richter serves as rector of St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Maryland, along with her husband, associate, and fellow Sermons That Work contributing writer, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Pagano.

23 September 2010

Bennison: "I have suffered"

In one of the biggest acts of arrogance since Dick Cheney said he's saved the world, Bennison stepped up to the place and told the Episcopal Church, it's House of Bishops, and his own employers to go to hell.

Saying that he has "always been innocent of the charges" Benison  announced  that he would not honor his colleagues' request that he resign his position.

And get this, his publicist released the statement. His publicist? The statement also makes this claim: "the suffering I have endured during the past three years has strengthened me and will enable me to work for reconciliation within the diocese." What about the suffering he caused the victim?
;I have deep compassion for the young woman who was abused. If I could have prevented that abuse, I would certainly have done so.>blockquote>. That is a lie. He knew and he did all he could to protect the perpetrator, his brother.
This is the most revealing bit.
However, they have no cause to be worried. I am, and have always been, innocent of the charges against me. And now the Court of Review of the Episcopal Church has reversed the erroneous decision of the Trial Court, and I have been restored to my position as Bishop of Pennsylvania.
Bennison needs to reread the document by the Court of Review They said that he was guilty but the time limit for charging him had expired. 
For the reasons stated herein, we find that Appellant committed conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy. Because the statute of limitations has run on that offense, we have no choice under the canons of the Church but to reverse the judgment of the Trial Court finding that Appellant is guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy under the First Offense.

Prosecution is bared by the applicable statute of limitations and, for that reason, alone, we are compelled to order and we hereby order that the judgment of the Trial Cour is reversed and judgment is rendered here in favor of the Appellant on the First Offense.

The Judgment of the Trial Court finding that Appellant is guilty of conduct unbecoming to a member of the clergy under the Second Offense is reversed and judgment is rendered here in favor of the Appellant on the Second Offense.
I don't see how "I am innocent" can be supported by the Court of Appeals pronouncement.

Is it possible to bring presentment for mental incompetence? The man is clearly delusional.

UPDATE: Episcopal Life has an article on Bennison's lunacy here.

22 September 2010

For those of you who missed the now removed statement of defense of Don Armstrong on his parish's website, here it is.

Parish Response to Father Armstrong’s Plea Agreement

Today our Rector, The Rev. Donald Armstrong, accepted a plea agreement offered by the Pueblo District Attorney which precludes the pending trial and begins to bring to conclusion this long and torturous ordeal for our congregation and the larger Christian Community.

Specifically, Father Armstrong made an Alford plea, which is a special plea used when there is no admission of guilt or basis of fact for the charge, but the charge, in this case a misdemeanor, is accepted to take advantage of an offer, in this case to reduce the original 20 Felony counts to a single misdemeanor.
We are grateful to Don and Jessie for their courage, strength, and witness during this time of personal persecution. Over these last years God has blessed us greatly as individuals and as a congregation.

In preparation for the now canceled trial we have become convinced even more strongly that controversies within the larger denominational church were the catalyst for the Diocese's investigation and complaint, for the purpose of silencing our bod and successful defense of orthodoxy though our parish's life, discipline, and teaching ministry.

We believe that the courts are not the place to deal with theological differences, and that to have allowed this dispute to continue to be played out in the news by going to trial would have served only to diminish all Christian witness. With this plea offer now in place such further harm to the entire church in this already difficult age for Christianity will be prevented.

We further believe the disparity between the magnitude of charges made against Father Armstrong by the Episcopal Diocese and the final content of the plea agreement vindicates not only Father Armstrong, but also clearly affirms our confidence that we ran an effective and well managed church in our days at the helm of Grace & St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, and continue to do so at St. George’s Anglican Church.

With only a restitution hearing to be held in the distant future, this essentially concludes this long and expensive attempt to silence orthodox resistance to theological innovations in the Episcopal Church. We are thankful we can now move forward under our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, into a future productive for the Kingdom of God. [END]

This entry was posted in Rector Recommends. The statement has disappeared since the local newspaper exposed the deliberately dishonest statement.

It's important to take note of this: Armstrong pleaded "no contest" to a third-degree felony theft charge with a deferred sentence. If he violates his four years of probation, he could face massive fines and up to 12 years in prison. That doesn't sound like "exonerated" to me.

21 September 2010

Thoughts on the election of Dan Martins

Blog-friend Doxy has written an excellent post on the election of Dan Martins as bishop of the Diocese of Springfield. Towards the end of her post we find this:
IMO, if Fr. Martins cannot do those things, he has no business being a bishop in TEC. Because to make him one otherwise is to do something doubly violent. It is to consign this church to having yet another bishop who is not prepared to honor his consecration vows, [by] some misguided attempt to show how "inclusive" we are.
Including conservatives in our church is what we must do for the gospel and the church is, to use the tired phrase, "a large tent." However, giving "friends-of-the-fox" the keys to the chicken coop is shear insanity. The church, and especially the bishops, have a responsibility to be good stewards. That means saying no to those who have actively supported the theft of church property.

19 September 2010


The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Lectionary

Collect of the Day: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


“Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth.” Jesus didn’t really say that, did he?

Imagine the disciples hearing this story. They probably ask Jesus to repeat himself, clean the wax out of their ears, and look at each other for verification: did he really just say that?

It seems he did. Someone remembered this story, and Jesus has demonstrated a knack throughout Luke’s gospel for telling memorable stories. Most of them are parables, which invite us to remember the story and mull on it. It is always a mistake to treat parables in the same way we treat allegories, and this story in particular could represent real trouble for the interpreter who treats it as allegory. Who is God in the story? Who is the dishonest manager supposed to represent?

That’s not what Jesus is doing. It’s difficult to know precisely what he is doing, but he hasn’t stopped believing in and demonstrating the kingdom of God, a reality that includes perfect justice and mercy; so we assume that the dishonest manager, who operates entirely out of self-interest, isn’t a direct stand-in for God, or for us.

This story highlights our need to take great care in interpreting pieces of scripture in light of their context. If we were to read this passage under the rubric that we are to take everything in the Bible literally, we’d find ourselves in real trouble, and probably in jail.

Clearly, the startling image of the dishonest manager as the “hero” of Jesus’ story will help us to remember it. But if it’s not literal, what are we supposed to make of it?

The story in Luke that comes immediately before today’s story is the much-beloved story of the prodigal son, the cranky older brother, and the ridiculously forgiving father. Today’s story may well highlight the same situation: someone in trouble stumbles into grace practically by accident. In the story of the prodigal, the younger son does not acquit himself well. He makes some very selfish choices that offend nearly everyone, and only comes to his senses to the degree that he realizes something must change so that he can survive. Continuing to act in his own self-interest, he returns home to discover that grace and forgiveness have been waiting for him the whole time, and we have a sense that he may finally get what it means to be loved.

In today’s story, the dishonest manager is in an equally bad situation, and for the same reason: he has acted entirely selfishly without concern for how his actions will affect others, just so he can slip some money into his pocket that doesn’t belong to him. When his employer figures out what he’s done, he figures his goose is cooked, and so he continues to act in his own self-interest by cutting deals with his employer’s debtors. What he wants is for these people to owe him something, because he is sure that manual labor is beneath him, and begging is so embarrassing. What’s disturbing to those of us listening to his story is that it works! It works even better than he had planned; not only do the people who owe money to his boss get a better deal, the manager himself has regained some status in the eyes of his employer because of his shrewdness.

This is just crazy, upside-down grace. We who hear his story want him to pay for his dishonesty, not to get out of a sticky situation smelling like a rose. What kind of moral example is this?

Well, it isn’t one. What Jesus seems to be highlighting in this story, which we can perhaps see more clearly by comparing it to the story of the prodigal son, is the ridiculous nature of God’s grace, and our call to live in it.

This foxy manager and self-serving younger son sound a lot like Jacob, whose name became Israel; he connived and manipulated, wrestled and argued, when God’s blessing was available to him from the beginning.

Jesus commends the shrewd – and shady – manager as an example, not for his dishonest dealings, but for his clever solution. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He says this manager – who is “of this world,” meaning someone whose values are entirely plebian and self-oriented – has managed to scratch and claw his way into a better situation; what can Jesus’ followers do, he asks, with the grace of God behind them?

What Jesus thinks his followers are capable of is what he himself has been busy doing: healing, reconciling, truth-telling, and proclaiming the kingdom. We must be as clever as the manager in today’s gospel, with a different goal: serving our self-interest, alongside the best interests of the world that God loves, by building the kingdom of God.

Today’s collect contrasts being “anxious about earthly things” with “loving things heavenly.” It would be simple to imagine that “loving things heavenly” means some kind of ethereal, spiritual experience, bathed in light, with some harp music playing in the background. However, the stories Jesus has been telling in this long narrative of his journey to Jerusalem don’t sound ethereal at all. They are earthy, everyday stories that connect right into regular human lives. It’s once of the central ironies of the Christian life that in order to “love things heavenly,” we must turn toward the dust and dirt of which we are made, and try to envision and build the reign of God.

Today’ gospel is a reminder of a couple of things: when we get anxious about money, status, power, what letters come before or after our name, what kind of car we drive, what brand of clothes we wear; when we get anxious about those things, we end up using our best skills for ourselves alone. It’s also a reminder that in spite of ourselves, we are bathed in grace and forgiveness.

We are called to be shrewd about recognizing grace and sharing it. We are called to love things heavenly, by loving God’s creation, seeking justice for everyone,

Perhaps most importantly, today’s gospel is centered on one action: forgiveness. The manager intends to make his own situation better when he forgives his master’s debtors, but the more he thinks about it, the better it gets: the people who have owed his master more than they’ll ever be able to repay are suddenly going to have their burden lightened, and that’s going to make the master look good, and that’s going to make the master happy, and that means the manager won’t lose his job. Everybody wins. Forgiveness – which is an act, not a feeling – has positive consequences for everyone.

We can get hung up on the undeniable fact that the person in the story who forgives is acting dishonestly and manipulatively, and we’d like to distance ourselves from that kind of behavior. But Jesus chooses his story illustrations carefully, and this one sticks in the memory precisely because it’s outside the boundaries of any conventional morality tale.

Forgiveness and its consequences are central in this gospel and in the story of the prodigal that precedes it. No matter who does the forgiving, it’s going to create ever-widening circles of positive consequences. Forgiveness, Jesus seems to be saying, is the starting point for building the kingdom of God, and of course, this cycle begins with God’s grace toward us. If God kept score, we would be in some serious debt, like the people who owed more than they could pay in today’s gospel. But God’s grace precedes our entire existence, and if we choose to be kingdom-builders, we begin by accepting God’s grace, and extending our own forgiveness to others. There is really no other way to transform our limited sense of tit-for-tat justice into an expansive sense of God’s justice and mercy.

The Good News is today’s gospel isn’t immediately obvious, but it’s there; forgiveness is the engine that drives our journey toward the kingdom, and we who receive it gladly are called to share it freely.

-- The Rev. Kay Sylvester is the assistant rector at St. Paul's in Tustin, California. She is a teacher, trainer, retreat leader, and preschool chaplain. Her prior experience includes teaching piano and guitar, and selling volleyball and wrestling equipment.