18 June 2010

Moravians vote for full communion with TEC

This evening the Moravian Church Northern Province voted to enter full communion with the Episcopal Church. There was only one "no" vote. In September the Southern Province will vote on the issue and both votes will need to be approved by the international body of the Unitas Fratrum which will meet next in 2012.

It's interesting that they should move closer to full communion with us today mere hours after Lambeth Palace (LP) told our Executive Council that "ecumenical relations are at an all time low" because of TEC's actions. It would appear that TEC's ecumenical talks are proceeding in a healthy manner. Perhaps Lambeth's talks are not going well because of Lambeth Palace itself.

Although the Moravian Church does not allow openly gay and lesbian persons to function as ordained clergy, TEC's full inclusion was deemed "not a matter of doctrine" by the Unitas Fratrum the international governing board of their church.

According to their blog, David L. Wickmann, president of the Provincial Elders' Conference of the Northern Province said
This is an important day in the life of our churches. This communion means our Church has the opportunity to engage with one of our historic partners in a more complete and meaningful way.
One must wonder why LGTB clergy is not a problem for the Moravian Chruch but is a "communion breaker" for Fundamentalists in the Anglican Communion.

The Moravian Church was founded in 1457 by followers of Jan Hus. It was founded 50-years before Luther nailed his thesis to the door of the Church in Wittenburg.

The graphic on this post is the seal of the Moravian Church.

Is Communion worth the price?

In the recent hostilities as the sun ostensibly sets on the Anglican Communion as we have known it, one must wonder why we care, and if we should care. Why should we suffer the slings and arrows coming from Lambeth Palace and the Global South.

A strong supporter of the Anglican Communion, I have lately advocated pulling our money from the Anglican Communion Office and channeling it to other important works in the Communion, and, walking away from the bigoted primates' club.

I was wrong.

When our presiding bishop preached in London last Sunday, it was more than a Primate preaching and presiding at the Lord's Table. It was more than a female bishop preaching and presiding. It was a beacon of hope in a stormy See (Sorry, but I couldn't resist the pun).

As I write this post the Rt. Rev'd Mary Gray Reeves, bishop of the Diocese of El Camino Real is in England visiting our partner diocese of Gloucester. The home page of Gloucester reports that
The Bishop of El Camino Real in America, Mary Gray-Reeves and the Bishop of Western Tanganyika in Africa, Gerard Mpango will spend a week in the Diocese of Gloucester with others from their countries. They will enjoy a full programme, which involves special services, a pilgrimage and visiting parts of our diocese including Cheltenham, Gloucester, the Forest of Dean, the Cotswolds, Stroud and Cirencester.

One of the joys of being part of the Christian Church is the series of international friendships that can develop, which help us to understand what it means to be part of a worldwide community, whether that community is the family of the church or whether it is the human race. The teams coming here from Tanzania and California, led by Bishop Gerard and Bishop Mary, will enable us to explore and deepen that friendship and so to play our part in the building of unity within the Church and beyond it.
That is an important and telling statement.

There is another, far greater joy that +Mary is there even though she and the organizers probably don't realize it: pastoral care to the oppressed simply by being there - being seen.

I cannot imagine how much it must mean to oppressed women in the Church of England to see women bishops. I cannot imagine the hope it gives to disheartened GLBT members of the Church of England to see bishops who support their full dignity and inclusion in the life of Christ's Body on earth.

The presence of ++Katharine and +Mary also gives encouragement to those in the Church of England "establishment" who are trying to move the Church of England and the Communion itself into the Future.
  • Encouragement - it can change
  • Hope - it will change
  • Support - we are not alone
And things are changing. Did you know that Changing Attitudes, the English version of Integrity has given relatively good marks to the Rt. Rev'd Michael Perham for his support of LGTB and The Episcopal Church? For an Church of England bishop to support the GLBT community is a huge, folks. For a Church of England bishop to openly be supportive of TEC, at this time, is really commendable. Anglican Mainstream has this to say about +Michael:
In an urbane presentation +Michael argues that same-sex issues are second-order issues and that the difficulty with the Glasspool consecration is its timing; TEC has again failed to honour restraint. However, +Michael's clear trajectory is towards the acceptance of partnered gays and lesbians in the priesthood and episcopate in a plural (for now) church. [Emphasis added.]
And there is also a credible rumor (if rumors can be credible) that David Cameron will soon be pressuring the Church of England to perform same-gender blessings. [See Selictive gay rights from the coalition.]

As for Lambeth Palace, well, its actions are not popular in England. They are an embarrassment to the English Church. A friend of mine worshiped in a parish in Yorkshire last Sunday. He wrote that
Nearly everyone in the congregation of about one-hundred came up to offer apologies for 'recent developments in the Communion' and to assure me that the people in the pews are TEC's friends. The most repeated comment was 'Please tell your friends that the [Lambeth] doesn't speak for most of the Church of England'.
This was in Yorkshire folks, "out in the sticks". However it is not an isolated event; other Americans are hearing the same comments. There are even those in the Church of England who would welcome a Missionary Diocese of the Episcopal Church coming to England. Indeed, some have asked for that very thing.

Lambeth Palace's unilateral actions, based on a covenant that isn't yet, and its personal insults to ++Katharine, are creating a much stronger centre in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. A centre that is working for a Church where all of God's children are welcome at the Table and in the councils of the Church.

TEC has many, many friends in the Communion and they do not want to lose us or our voice "[proclaiming] liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof". Leviticus 25.10 They value The Episcopal Church and recognise that we are the whipping boy for all that is wrong in the Communion and, indeed, the world.

Of the coming Messiah, Isaiah said
The bruised reed he shall not break, and smoking flax he shall not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. Isaiah 42.3 Douay-Rheims
That is why we need to stay.

If the Communion dies God will still be God. If The Episcopal Church is "sent down" (Rowan's final trump card - if he plays it), God will still be God. But we will not leave in disgrace as some hope.

We must leave in a procession carrying the banner of Christ unfurled singing "We walk the King's Highway". Hymnal, 647 Our witness will be untarnished and the world will take note of how we acted in all of this and it will be counted to us as righteousness.

We shall continue to "to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners". Isaiah 61.1 NAS

Some primates will rage and snort and refuse to be seen at the Lord's Table with us, but they represent only their princely selves. The majority of people in the pews throughout the Anglican world will continue kneel at the Altar rail next to us and be fed by the same Lord.

And that, my friends, is the Anglican Communion. The other thing, the thing that is transmogrificating into a something either the Vatican or fundamentalists would embrace, that is just a bureaucracy founded in 1861.

Enduring the insults is the price of prophetic mission. Are we willing to pay that price? Our presiding bishop appears to be willing. Jesus was, too. Can we do less?
Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Luke 6:22 NSA

About the photo: The photo was taken at the consecration of the Rt. Rev'd Mary Gray Reeves. I wanted to use it for our parish directory and I erased the background and substituted the interior of our parish as a bit of humor. The Presiding Bishop has NOT been to our parish. If you are reading this, ++Katharine (and I know you aren't) we'd love to have you preside any time and bring all your mitres!

13 June 2010

The Presiding Bishop's Sermon for Pentecost III

A friend emailed me this morning about today's sermon in Southward Cathedral. London, England. He'd driven to Soutwark to hear the Most Rev'd Katharine Jefferts Shori preach at the principle sermon today (13 June). Ian said that the sermon was the best he'd heard in several years. I broke my rule of Sunday rest to track down a copy of the sermon and I found it. Here is an excerpt:
I come from a notorious place. Gambling and prostitution are legal in Nevada. Ministry there means that many congregations host 12-step programs not just for alcoholics and drug addicts, but for those addicted to gambling. There are a few groups for sex addicts, too. A story quietly circulated when I was there, about a priest who encouraged the local madams and their employees to visit the churches he served. One congregation made a warm enough welcome that the women of the night returned frequently. Other congregations acted more like Jesus' fellow dinner guests – "who let her in here?" The women didn't return to those dinner tables. ...

Jesus invites us all to his moveable feast. He leaves that dinner party with Simon and goes off to visit other places in need of prodigal love and prodigious forgiveness. His companions, literally his fellow tablemates, are the 12 and "some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities." Hmmm. Strong, healthy women, and three of them are actually named here: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. Together with many others they supported and fed the community – they became hosts of the banquet.

Those who know the deep acceptance and love that come with healing and forgiveness can lose the defensive veneer that wants to shut out other sinners. They discover that covering their hair or hiding their tears or hoarding their rich perfume isn't the way that the beloved act, even if it makes others nervous. Eventually it may even cure the anxious of their own fear by drawing them toward a seat at that heavenly banquet. There's room for us all at this table, there are tears of welcome and a kiss for the wanderer, and the sweet smell of home.

Want to join the feast? You are welcome here. Love has saved you – go in peace. Lean over and say the same to three strangers: you are welcome here. Love has saved you – be at peace.

Read it all at Episcopal Life.

Pentecost III - Trinity II

The Third Sunday After Pentecost
The Second Sunday after Trinity
Proper 6

The Lectionary: 1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

Collect: O Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today’s story from Luke could easily be a contemporary one-act play – a single scene where characters, conflict, and social norms clash together to reveal an unexpected and utterly transformative truth. The set: a well-decorated dining room, simple but expensive looking. The characters: Simon the Pharisee, a curious intellectual with an eye for the interesting; Jesus of Nazareth, the guest of honor and eventual game changer; and the Woman with the Alabaster Jar, a character with no name who is the source of the scene’s most uncomfortable moments.

Like any good drama, this story begins with the mundane. A Pharisee asks Jesus over for dinner, Jesus accepts, and the two sit down for a meal. So often in the gospels the Pharisees are cast as the villains. Unable to accept Jesus’ teaching, confused by his deliberate opposition to certain devout customs, this group of religious leaders is often understood as an organized faction out to get Jesus. But here, we see a different side of the Pharisees. Simon is obviously open minded enough to invite the renegade rabbi over to his house for dinner. As we find out later, he is not quite excited enough about the event to make a big show of it – to ask a servant to wash Jesus’ feet, for example – but he is willing to hear what the increasingly popular teacher has to say. There is no evidence to indicate that the dinner invitation is a plot or a trick. It’s simply a dinner, and Simon has at least an intellectual interest in this man named Jesus.

Enter the Woman with the Alabaster Jar. Luke does not give her a name, nor does he give her any lines. We know very little about her aside from the fierce gossip spoken behind her back – “Sinner!” – yet she provides the action that drives the rest of the story. We don’t know how she entered the house, how many people she defiantly walked past before finding Jesus as the table. She stands behind him, then crouches on the ground. She begins to cry, allowing her tears to collect at his feet, bathing them, washing away the day’s dust. Without a towel or even a scarf – maybe she didn’t think this through – she unties her hair and dries his feet, wet with her own tears. Finally, she takes expensive oil and anoints him again and again, kissing him as she does it.

Imagine the room. Imagine Simon, whose carefully casual dinner just became shockingly uncomfortable. Simon’s reaction – or the emotional response that we might picture him having – is not difficult to understand. If he is shocked, there is a good chance that we are too. Even contemporary readers thousands of years removed from the first telling of this story, readers thoroughly on board with Jesus and his message, may find this part of the scene more than a little awkward. A woman overcome with emotion for reasons that we do not know, her tears washing a man’s feet, her hair drying them, her kisses, the oil … it all seems a little voyeuristic on our end, as if we are spying on an a moment so raw, so vulnerable, that it was never meant to be seen at all.

Only Jesus remains unflappable. Only he – the God in him, the man in him – is able to understand this woman’s extravagant gesture, her otherwise inappropriate actions, as a full-body attempt at reconciliation, a plea for forgiveness. If she is a sinner like the rest of us, only Jesus knows her sin.

If this story was a one-act play, it might be titled “Forgiveness.” Here, we get a sense of God’s love, of God’s composed and collected way of accepting our broken pleas, our vulnerable moments, and refusing to turn away from them. While we may find it difficult to forgive, we see that forgiveness is natural to God. While we may find ourselves cringing away from the brokenness of others, we see that God never blinks. For Simon, and maybe for us, this introduction to a God so full of love and so ready to reconcile with us can be almost too much to bear.

In today’s reading from Galatians, we find Paul taking a stab at using theological language to describe the type of forgiveness that Jesus displays at Simon’s house. While the Woman with the Alabaster Jar ignites the right side of our brains, Paul goes to work on the left. “We know that a person is justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,” he writes. “But if in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!”

“Justified,” “faith,” “works,” “law,” “sin”: Paul throws around heavy religious words that can be hard get a handle on. The underlying theme of this and many of Paul’s points is that through the person of Jesus – his whole life, his death, his resurrection and ascension – we, as individuals and as a gathered community, find unity with God. It is through faith in Jesus that all of our sins are forgiven. Even that sin, whether it be one or many, that we cannot even name, that causes us to weep as we crouch at Christ’s feet.

Back in Simon’s dining room, Jesus is about to show his true colors, revealing that he doesn’t care too much for fancy dinner parties or the invitations of respected hosts. While Jesus may have been a bit of a curiosity to Simon, the Pharisee’s status was of little interest to his guest. When Simon questions Jesus’ status as a prophet, claiming that if he really was what he said he was, he would know that this woman with her tears and her kisses was a sinner, Jesus calmly responds. I imagine him meeting Simon’s gaze across the table, setting down his glass, staring for a while. In case we were wondering who is in charge here, we are about to find out. “Simon, I have something to say to you,” Jesus begins, and then he tells a story.

The parable is a simple one. A creditor has two debtors, one who owes a lot of money and one who owes less. Neither of them could pay, so the creditor cancels both debts. In the end, the one with the greater debt loved the creditor more, Jesus and Simon agree. “The one to whom little is forgiven loves little,” Jesus says. Then he turns to the woman and tells her that she is forgiven. Her sins, known to him alone, have been wiped away like the dust on his feet, and she is free to go and live a new life in the assurance of God’s grace.

This final exchange is the resolution of the one-act play and it is the perfect image to go along with Paul’s words about sin and justification. The audience knows that something important has happened, for the Woman with the Alabaster Jar, for us. Like any good play, when the lights go down, the attention shifts from the stage to the silent working of the audience’s hearts and minds, where the lessons learned struggle to take root and grow.

Like Simon, we all might have an intellectual interest in Jesus, an interest that extends about as far as a carefully casual dinner party with Christ as the guest of honor. But we have our “alabaster jar” side, too – that part of us that yearns for reconciliation and forgiveness, that wells up with emotion when we think of the pain and the wrong that we cannot name. Here we learn that Jesus knows us better than anyone else, that he accepts our offerings no matter how awkward, how ugly, and forgives.

-- The Rev. Elizabeth Easton is the associate rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Omaha, Nebraska. A native of Washington State, she graduated from Church Divinity School of the Pacific in 2009.