Welcome Text Week Readers

I am honored to have earned a spot on the regular roster of The Text This Week resources.  If you’ve landed here from there, thank you for clicking over.  My goal is to blog Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so if you’re here early in the week, check back.  Be sure to comment if you have thoughts, and sign up for email updates.

–The Rev. Steve Pankey

The Measure of Christ’s Gift

Paul is careful, very careful, to make sure the Ephesian Christians know from whence their help has come.  As he lays out before them the various gifts of the Spirit, he is sure to mention that these are not merited or earned, but are given through grace by the measure of Christ’s gift.  It is a somewhat archaic turn of phrase, which the New Living Translation tries to make more understandable by rendering it, “he has given each one of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ.”

The Church, to her credit, has continued to try to remind Christians, especially those who are called to leadership, that the gifts they will utilize in their ministries are precisely that: gifts.  In the Examination of a soon-to-be-ordained Priest, the Bishop, finishes the prologue with these words, “In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace…” (BCP, 531)  One of the questions asked of a soon-to-be-ordained Bishop echos those words, “As a chief priest and pastor, will you encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries, nourish them from the riches of God’s grace, pray for them without ceasing, and celebrate with them the sacraments of our redemption?” (BCP, 518)

As Evan Garner helpfully reminds us in his post for today, it is easy to forget that grace is a gift.  Rather than stand on the mountain top with our Savior, we tend to slip down one side or the other: either forgetting all about God in our successes or feeling totally unlovable in our failures, but grace is given out of God’s generosity to those who think they don’t deserve it as well as those who think they don’t need it.

Paul’s message to the Church in Ephesus is the same message Jesus tried to give the crowd in Capernaum: it isn’t about the work you do. Instead, salvation is about the work God is doing, constantly pouring out his gift of grace and the gifts of the Spirit for the up-building of the kingdom and the restoration of creation.  There is great freedom in accepting the reality that grace is simply a gift, but it also comes with real responsibility.  We are to use the gifts of God wisely, not for ourselves, but for the whole world.  We are to share the grace given to us, to use the gifts of preaching, healing, administrating, teaching, etc., to grow the kingdom and to bring honor and glory to the Father from whom every good gift comes.

Works vs. Work

The crowd that finds Jesus in Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee is full of questions.  This seems only right, I mean it was just yesterday that he fed them, at least 5,000 of them, with five barely loaves and two fish handed over by a little boy.  Stranger than that, after it was all over, he seems to have disappeared.  They saw the lightening flashing on the Sea, they heard the thunder, the felt the gale force winds.  Yet through all of that, Jesus seems to have made his way, safely, across the Sea.  Their first question is obvious, “when did you get here?”  It couldn’t have been through the storm.  He couldn’t have walked here in time.  There seems to be another miracle afoot, Jesus, so when, exactly, did you get here.

True to form, Jesus doesn’t answer their question.  John tells us that after walking on the water, Jesus stepped into the boat and “immediately” the boat landed on the other side, but Jesus won’t be telling the crowds about that.  He’s not here to be a carnival show, boiled down simply to a worker of miracles.  No, Jesus has something else that he is about, the Kingdom of God.  In his response to their question, Jesus nudges the crowd in that direction, encouraging them to think not about the material needs of today, but rather the universal needs of the kingdom.  They start to get it, if just barely, and so their second question is much pointed.

“What must we do to perform the works of God?”  Jesus wants to talk about the bigger things of life, and the crowd, acting as appropriate foil, engages him on that level.  Or they try to, but still they miss the point.  Their question, literally, is “What should be do in order to go on doing the works of God?”  They are interested in the specifics of Kingdom living, the sort of things I wrote about yesterday: humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity, and peace; but here again, Jesus calls them to something deeper; something bigger.

It isn’t about works, Jesus says, but about work.  There is a single task through which the Kingdom of God will be made manifest on earth as it is in heaven, “go on trusting in the one whom God has sent.”  As is often the case in these sorts of interactions between Jesus and the crowd, the crowd just can’t quite handle what Jesus is asking of them.  Maybe they can’t see that the very act of chasing him down showed that they already trusted Jesus.  Maybe they couldn’t quite wrap their minds around the fullness of who Jesus really was.  Maybe they just really needed a checklist of things to do.  Whatever the reason, they can’t seem to handle this singular task, the work of God, and so they ask Jesus another question.  “What sign will you do that we might trust in you?”  The Feeding of the 5,000, the seemingly miraculous crossing of the Sea of Galilee, the deep call to discipleship and trust; it all flies out the window with the crowds insatiable need for something to do, something to see, something tangible to hold on to.

The work of God is impossibly simple.  Believing in the one whom God has sent seems to easy, and yet, without the ongoing miracles, the ever present high calling, the engaging preaching and teaching, it can be so hard to maintain.  So we look instead for works, for things to keep us busy, to keep us preoccupied over and against or worries whether or not this Jesus can be trusted.  It happened even as he walked the earth, and heaven knows it happens now.

Summing Up Discipleship

Most Episcopalians are familiar with the opening rite to the baptismal service.  Most probably dont realize that “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Perhaps they will notice on Sunday when the fourth chapter finds its place in the Lectionary.  I may say more about those famous lines later in the week, but today I’m struck by the sentence that comes immediately prior in which Paul does his best to summarize what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity, peace and above all the Spirit: these are the hallmarks of a live seeking after the kingdom whether you’ve been a disciple for 15 minutes or 100 years; whether you are a layperson or a bishop.  It starts with the Spirit through whom we are strengthened to endure the hard work that is peace and love and patience. Inviting Jesus into your life is only the first step in the path to salvation. The lifelong journey that begins in baptism assumes that your will join with the Spirit in seeking after the goals of the kingdom.

I wonder why the baptismal liturgy doesn’t go back to include Ephesians 4:1 explicitly?  The Bapismal Covenant assumes many of the items from Paul’s discipleship but oddly we skip the overt biblical citation, we pass over these beautiful words and never look back.  I’m not preaching on Sunday, not for another five weeks in fact, but if I were, I might spend some time on these seven keys to discipleship. After all, you’ll have plenty of time to deal with the Bread of Life Discourse.

Sir, give us this bread always

Over the weekend, I had the honor of serving as one of the Eucharistic Ministers for the Episcopal Ordination of J. Russell Kendrick, IV Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast.  I was partnered with a new priest in our diocese, who thankfully has a sense of humor similar to mine.  When faced with the question of who would distribute the bread and who would have the cup we used the only reasonable means to settle the issue: rock, paper, scissors.  I won, and chose to distribute the bread.  Being on sabbatical means that this was the first time I’ve distributed bread since the end of May.  I was a chalice bearer a couple of times while at Sewanee and once while at General Convention, but for the first time in my seven and a half years as a priest, I’ve gone more than three weeks without having the pleasure of sharing the broken body of our Lord with my fellow hungry souls.

Photo by Robbie Runderson

The logistics weren’t perfect, which meant there were several distractions (running out of bread not least among them), but there was, as always, a deep sense of connection and call as I took part in communing part of the crowd of nearly 1,500 who had come to celebrate, to offer thanks and praise, and to be fed by Word and Sacrament.  Together, we joined with generation after generation of disciples who have come to ask of Jesus, “give us this bread always.”

As we will hear repeatedly over the next several weeks, Jesus is the bread of life.  Those who are hungry for righteousness, justice, compassion, healing, and love will find their fill in the Eucharistic Feast.  The Bread of Life is broken and shared that the whole world might receive their fill now and always.  I miss my table ministry, and am excited to return to share the family meal with the good people at Saint Paul’s and our new bishop on August 9th.  I’m grateful for the chance to share the feast with so many on Sunday, and I look forward to many years of taking my part in sharing the bread of life with a hungry world.

On vacation

Dear Readers,

As much as I want to write everyday, spending time with my family while on vacation is proving a much more valuable use of time. I’ll be back to writing on Monday, July 27th.

Grace and Peace,

Steve+

Perplexing words we like to hear

As the calendar flipped over from June to July, the internet in my hotel room at General Convention quit working.  I’d been fighting with it for days, and ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the effort for a 256k connection that 16 year-old Steve on a dial-up modem in an AOL chat room would have scoffed at.  So I’ve been remiss in keeping up with my duties here at Draughting Theology as of late.  I apologize to my regular readers for my failure to maintain my usual pace, but I hope to get back in the habit again.

I missed blogging about several things at General Convention during my internet blackout, but what I feel saddest about was not getting to tell you how excited I am about the election of the Rt. Rev’d Michael Curry as the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.  In his Vision Statement (see page 11), Bishop Curry wrote these words about the future of our beloved Church:

At a deep level I am suggesting a church-wide spiritual revival of the Christian faith in the Episcopal way of being disciples of Jesus. While not the only player in this, I believe a significant role of the Presiding Bishop is to provide leadership, inspiration and encouragement for that revival. Obviously the Presiding Bishop has CEO (Chief Executive Officer) responsibilities that must be exercised clearly, collaboratively and effectively. But in this mission moment of the church’s life, the primary role of the Presiding Bishop must be CEO in another sense: Chief Evangelism Officer, to encourage, inspire and support us all to claim the calling of the Jesus movement.

In his first public sermon following his election, at the Closing Eucharist of the 78th General Convention, he preached a sermon based firmly on this vision.

We are all a part of the Jesus Movement, called to go and make disciples, and we are going to hear that call again and again and again over the next nine years.  At an event like General Convention, it is easy to get swept up in the energy of it all.  We cheer and applaud when Bishop Curry calls the impromptu mega-church to Go, but the reality that for most of us, the call to evangelism is downright scary work.  The words of Bishop Curry feel easy because he fervently believes them, he lives them, and he offers them in a medium that makes us feel like we can live them too, but as with any prophet, the words of Bishop Curry are perplexing, even if we like to hear them.  They are, in many ways, like the words of John the Baptist, whose arrest and death we hear about in Sunday’s Gospel lesson. They push us out of our comfort zone.  They invite us to see the world differently.  More importantly, they invite us to see ourselves differently.

As General Convention fades into the past and we prepare for the seating of the Presiding Bishop-elect on November 1, 2015, it is my prayer that a we will, over the next nine years, move beyond being enamored with the medium of Bishop Curry’s message and fall deeply in love with its content.  I pray that we will allow his words to perplex us, challenge us, and propel us into the world as evangelists; heralds of the Gospel; bringers of the Good News.  May we have the grace to follow our Chief Evangelist and Go!

A Double Word of Warning for #GC78

Yesterday was, by and large, a great day for The Episcopal Church.  The House of Deputies accomplished quite a bit of business, including passing all 5 Episcopal Resurrection resolutions that came our way: D003, Amend Article V of the Constitution; D004, Task Force to Study Episcopal Elections; D005 Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches; D009, Revitalization of Congregations; and B009/D019, Conducting an Online Evangelism Test.  By an overwhelming majority, we said that we wanted our Church to be about evangelism, making disciples, and sending apostles.  Thanks to Deputy Melody Shobe from Rhode Island, we stopped short of replacing our Calendar of Saints, though we did make some changes to the criteria for inclusion on such a calendar a bit wider than I would like.  Still, it was by and a large a good day except for one very uncomfortable moment of snark and back biting.

Simon Cowell would have been proud, but I don’t think Jesus was.

An amendment was made to a resolution calling on the Development Office of The Episcopal Church to focus its fundraising on evangelism.  Deputy Van Brunt suggested that we not be so bold as to “direct” that office but rather to invite it to “consider” the opportunity.  Things got ugly when another Deputy, whose name I can’t recall, made a 2 minute long speech that was full of passive aggression, snark, and vitriol.  This was followed by a Deputy who poked fun at the previous Deputy’s speech and “considerable humor, but I wish to speak to the merits of this amendment.”  It was a side time to be in the Church, when a young women rose with a Point of Order and asked the President of the House of Deputies to call on the Chaplain to pray about “how we are speaking to each other.”

In today’s Daily Office Lectionary as well as Track 2 for Proper 9, Year B, we are assigned Psalm 123, which includes these words, “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy, * for we have had more than enough of contempt…”  The days are getting long.  The topic of conversation will only get more controversial: structure comes today, as does substance abuse issue, and same-sex marriage will be before us tomorrow; and the words of the Pslamist from 123:4 should be on our lips repeatedly over the next few days.  It comes to us as a double warning today, an invitation to think before we speak; an opportunity to give up contempt, passive aggression, and bitterness and to embrace the call of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Or, if the case requires it, the words of Psalm 123:4 might be a call to follow the command of Jesus an love our enemy.