Answering the Call

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

DSCN2227

Father Thomas and me at my ordination

This post is nearly a decade in the making.  Truth be told, it is probably better suited on January 24th, when I will celebrate the 10th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, but given the bookends of today, it seems appropriate to move things up a week.  As I noted in Monday’s post, today two Colleges of Presbyters will gather.  First, in Mobile, Alabama, the clergy of the Central Gulf Coast will gather at the altar of All Saints’ Church to give thanks to God for the life and ministry of the Rev. Cn. Maurice Branscomb. Then, this evening, priests from around the church will join with those of us in the Diocese of Kentucky to lay hands on the Rev. Becca Kello as she is ordained to the sacred order of the priesthood.  All of that, coupled with the Collect for Epiphany 3 and my 10th on the horizon, I guess I can’t help but be a little nostalgic today.

Today, I have in mind all of those bishops, priests, and deacons who have had an impact on my ministry.  I’m reminded of Bishops like Creighton, Duncan, Kendrick, White, and Brewer; Priests like Bill, Cindy, Albert, and Keith; and Deacons like Patrick and Kellie.  My prayers are especially drawn to those who have entered into the joy of their master: Bishop Mark, Father Thomas (pictured above), Deacon John, Father B, Norm, and Mark come immediately to mind, but there are others.  I continue to hold in prayer those who are discerning calls to ordained ministry: John, Billy, and Ken.  As I think back on a decade of ordained ministry, I can’t help but recall how intense an experience it is to follow that call; how the Tempter always seems to be around the next corner, how the process is infuriating and deeply powerful, and how, in the end, it all makes sense.  I often still hear the voices of my lay discernment committee at St. Thomas, internship committee at St. John’s, and my field ed committee at St. James’, and I give thanks, daily, for the opportunity to develop an understanding of what call really feels like deep in my bones.

It would be easy to get lost in the idea of call exclusively as it pertains to ordained ministry, but that would betray the meaning of the Collect, and the reality that the ministers of Christ’s Church are, first and foremost, the laity.  Sure, we talk about call most often when it comes to ordination, but that is our failure, not God’s.  The truth of the matter is that every follower of Jesus is called.  Called to proclaim the Good News. Called to share in the restoration of all relationships.  Called to vocation.  You see, call isn’t just about the servanthood of a deacon or being pastor, priest, and teacher or, for a few poor souls, being made one with the apostles, but it is about being a bearer of the Kingdom of God no matter where one lives and moves and has their being.  Call is about being a witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ as a doctor, lawyer, grocery store clerk, small business owner, student, stay at home parent, or retiree.  Call is about sharing the love of God within one’s unique sphere of influence.  Call is about allowing the light of Christ to shine through us, so that the God’s good dream for creation can be seen.  Call is about each of us taking our part in the making Jesus Christ known.  If you are feeling a call, be it to ordination or to a deeper lay ministry, talk to someone.  You local clergy, having some experience with call, would love to walk that road with you.  In the meantime, here is one more prayer for all of us who are called to the service of our Lord, lay and ordained, alike.

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in the vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Advertisements

The Episcopal Church’s Budget is a Dim Bulb

There was a movement afoot in the Episcopal Church.  For the first time in my recollection, people were genuinely excited about the E word: Evangelism.  We had a Presiding Bishop who was comfortable talking about Jesus.  A groundswell of support saw a $2.8 million budget amendment to fund evangelism, especially in the growing and heretofore under-served Latino population.  There were revivals planned.  A new Canon for Evangelism and Racial Reconciliation was hired.  One of the best church planting minds in the church came on board to serve as the Staff Officer for Church Planting Infrastructure.  It was looking like we might finally be living into the prayer we pray every Second Sunday after Epiphany, and taking our responsibility, having been “illumined by Word and Sacrament” to “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”

Things were looking good, until the Executive Council met from October 18-21, 2017, and all the hope and good will came crashing to the ground.  The working budget for the next triennium (2019-2021) shows a 41% cut in evangelism spending.  This cut includes a full 1/3 cut in spending for new congregations from $3 million to $2 million and a cut in total Latino/Hispanic ministry spending of more than 45% from $1,219,400 to $558,000.  Meanwhile, as has been noted by several very learned practitioners, including church planter, Susan Snook, mission re-developer, Everett Lees, and Forward Movement Executive Director and discipleship guru, Scott Gunn, investment in the administrative side of things, has increased by close to $4 million in the Presiding Bishop’s office (a roughly 47% increase) and $5.25 million in Governance (nearly 38%).  All that, and there is still $40 million set aside to pay for operations, finance, and legal fees!

In the support document for the budget, the Executive Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM) indicated that this budget has been built to reflect the Presiding Bishop’s vision for The Jesus Movement.  They explicitly state that evangelism, racial reconciliation & justice, and environmental stewardship are the priorities of this movement, and yet, these priority areas make up only 10.1% of the overall budget.  The only real priority in this budget is the governance, finance, legal, and operations of the Episcopal Church.  Of course, we should have known this, since these four items make up the cornerstone of the Episcopal Church’s strategy.

strategy_house-1_10-21-16

This Sunday’s Collect and Gospel lesson are centered on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We pray that we might have the grace to go forth and shine the light of Jesus Christ in all the world, and we hear the story of Jesus calling Philip to follow him.  In turn, we hear about Philip finding Nathaniel and inviting him to come and see.  Unfortunately, the current 2019-2021 budget of the Episcopal Church would have us turn inward and hide our light under a bushel basket.  The Episcopal Church’s draft budget is, at best, a dim bulb.  As with all things in Christ, there is hope!  There is still time to make a difference.  Prior to January 10th, you can make your feelings known to FFM and the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F) by way of their survey.  Let them know that evangelism is important.  Make sure they hear that ministry to our Latino/Hispanic sisters and brothers is a vital part of our ministry. Help them to see that calling something a ministry priority means funding it extravagantly.  Ask the question, “What is our chief cornerstone: our administrative structures or Christ Jesus our Lord?”  As we saw on the floor of the 78th General Convention, the people can make a difference.  You can make a difference.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Inwardly Digest

Life is a lot more hectic these days.  I feel like my schedule is not my own.  I try to plan for the unexpected, but it always lives up to its name.  It was about a year ago that I began the process of transitioning from being the First Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s in Foley to the 25th Rector of Christ Church, Bowling Green.  During that period of saying good-bye, pondering hello, and experiencing more change than I can recall in my life, people offered me a lot of advice.  Much of what they told me was wise.  Some of what I heard was ominous.  The most frightening thing someone told me in those two months was “good luck keeping up your blogging schedule.”

A year later, I am keenly aware that I have not kept up this blog with the rigor I once had, though I am proud of what I have accomplished this year.  Rather than four days a week, I’m probably averaging three.  It is a 25% reduction, which I lament, but it is better than a 50% or 100% drop.  Still, while some of you have noticed the infrequency, and especially the occasional week of silence, I assure you, no one feels my change in writing more than me.  For nearly 15 years now, I’ve been writing a blog about the Bible.  More than any other spiritual discipline, I have kept up the practice of reading and journaling the Scriptures.  Each year, on the week of Proper 28, I am reminded of the gift blogging has given me when we pray this collect.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This blog is, for me, an opportunity to inwardly digest the Scriptures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Each day, I take time to read the lessons appointed for Sunday.  As a word jumps out at me, I pay attention to or mark it.  I take that word to BibleWorks or Studylight.org or to one of my commentaries and try to learn more about it.  Finally, I turn my attention to how I might take what I’ve learned and inwardly digest it so that I can explain that understanding to someone else.  Honestly, I would write this blog if nobody else read it.  Though, if I’m honest, I do check my stats daily.  But it is in the action of taking what I’ve learned and turning it into words on a screen that I really begin to deepen my understanding of what God is saying through the Scriptures.

Blogging may not be for you.  Perhaps you don’t think people need to hear your thoughts on the Bible, or aren’t so conceited as to think you have some insight to offer.  Journaling privately might be your way into the Scriptures, but then again, maybe that isn’t for you either.  No matter how you do it, I hope this week, as you pray the Collect for Proper 28, you might take some time to consider how you will live it out by hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the holy word of God.

Hold Fast to Hope

hope_by_licks_ninjas2

I told myself I wouldn’t let it happen.  I prayed that I’d steer clear of it.  I wrote two blog posts in a row against it.  And I failed.  Last night, as I watched the election results, I fell into fear.  As a minister of the Gospel, called to care for “young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor,” I stand firm against any and all forms of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-semtism, and any other oppressive force employed by human beings against another human being.  I watched, somewhat from the periphery for my own mental well being, as the candidate Donald Trump tapped into these very forces in order to drum up an electorate from every nook and cranny in every one stoplight town in America.  And last night, as the map turned red along with the stock markets, I let fear creep into my heart.

I confess before God and you that I thought the worst, if only briefly, about the millions of Americans, some of whom are my dear friends, who cast a vote for Donald Trump.  I got angry at the hatred and fear that seem to run rampant in this country.  I went to bed at 11:30 bitter and afraid.  I hope you will forgive me for my fearful thoughts last night.  I know that God already has. I woke up to my alarm clock at 5, picked up my phone, and read Morning Prayer.  Somewhere in them midst of Suffrages A, I found the peace that passes all understanding.  I let go of the fear and the anger, and I was reminded, yet again, that my calling to care for the outcast, oppressed, widows, and orphans does not depend on who occupies the White House.  I felt a calm resolve to be about the Gospel and to show and share the love of God with everyone I meet.

Then I opened Facebook and saw my newsfeed filled with the vitriol that had made my night so restless, and I felt sad, and, quite frankly, embarrassed by the reaction of my Hillary Clinton supporting friends.  It seems that both sides have forgotten that the other is made in the image of God and we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.  As I scrolled and wondered how it is I had moved from fear to peace so quickly, I kept being drawn to the word “hope.”  The reaction I was seeing was one of hopelessness, and I realized I can’t buy into hopeless.  Instead, as the Collect for Proper 28 reads, I am holding fast to hope.

Over and over again in the Scriptures, the mouthpiece of God, be it an angel, a prophet, or even God’s own voice, commands us to not be afraid.  When we fall into fear, we allow the deceiver access to our lives.  We see others as the enemy.  We see resources as scarce.  We engage in zero sum games, when the reality is that in the Kingdom of God, there are no losers.  Fear is not the Gospel, hope is, and hope leads us to action.  So today, like every other day, I commit to sharing the good news of God’s love with a world that needs to hear it; I commit to checking my privilege with regularity; I commit to caring for my LGBT sisters and brothers; I commit to learning more about the ways in which young black men are incarcerated and killed at a much higher rate than any other group of people; I commit to supporting my Muslim brothers and sisters in their right to worship without fear; I commit to making sure the poor have the means by which to escape their poverty; I commit to welcoming immigrants and refugees as Jesus Christ; I commit to a life of hope  because God is still in control.  I hope you will join me in holding fast to the hope that comes from God and God alone.



You’ll have to forgive a little bit of eisegesis on the Collect for Proper 28C, but the day after a Presidential election this divisive seems to invite some pastoral latitude.

Powerless over anxiety

teeth-grinding

I suspect it would have happened no matter what career path I’d followed, but since my ordination to the priesthood 8+ years ago, I’ve been diagnosed with three medical ailments with stress markers.  I’m honestly not sure what there is in my life to be so stressed about.  I have a solid family, a good job in a good church, and, by and large, things are good.  And yet, my body reacts as if I’m making multi-million dollar decisions on a regular basis; like I’m a brain surgeon working on Stephen Hawking; or the guy who decided to give RGIII another chance.

I am, like most modern Americans, powerless over anxiety.  It is as much a personal issue as it is a societal one.  Yesterday, for example, I spent some time in an outpatient surgery waiting room.  As is the cultural expectation, there was a TV hanging on the wall with one of the 24 hour news networks playing at a reasonable volume.  As I sat there listening to talking heads discuss the Presidential election, I realized that the 24 hour news cycle is designed to make us addicted. They create stress, even when there is none to be had, and let our bodies do its thing.  Eventually, we become so addicted to the cortisol reaction, we can’t look away.  As the 12 Step community would say, we are powerless over anxiety.

The Collect for Proper 20 hits that powerlessness head on.  We ask God to “grant us not to be anxious about earthly things,” but we can’t stop there.  As the old joke goes, you can pray to God to win the lottery all you want, but you have to buy a ticket to have a chance.  We can pray for an end to our anxiety, but part of that prayer has to be about changing our own behaviors as well.  Can we turn off the TV?  Can we step away from the balance sheet?  Can we stop focusing on those things which we cannot change, and instead take the initiative to move the needle where we can?  Can we, in the midst of things that are passing away, turn our focus to things heavenly?

Ask any addict, it is easier said than done, but perhaps this Sunday can be a start.  Maybe I can take this prayer more seriously this week, and begin the process of being set free from my stress and be made alive again in God.

A collect for our times

On Sunday morning in Episcopal Churches around the world, celebrants, on behalf of their congregations, will ask God “the author and giver of all good things” to, of all things, “increase in us true religion.”

true-religion-label

Religion is a rather unpopular word these days.  According to the good folks at Pew Research, “The phrase “spiritual but not religious” [SBNR] has become widely used in recent years by some Americans who are trying to describe their religious identity. While Pew Research Center does not categorize survey respondents in such a way, our surveys do find that the U.S. public overall appears to be growing a bit less religious – but also somewhat more spiritual.”  If this really is the case, then why would we pray such an outdated prayer?

Marion Hatchett tells us that this Collect is first found in the Gelasian sacramentary from roughly 750.  During the English Reformation, it took on new life when Thomas Cranmer edited it to ask God not merely for an increase in religion, but an increase in true religion (Commentary, 191). This made all sorts of sense in the 1540s and 50s as the English Continent was at war because of the perceived flaws in the religious practices of the Bishop of Rome as opposed to the true religion of the Reformers.  As years went by, however, the tendency to associate religion with action waned, and as Diana Butler Bass notes in her Christianity After Religion, by the 17th century, religion was more about a system of ideas and beliefs about God, such that by “modern times, religion became indistinguishable from systematizing ideas about God, religious institutions, and human beings; it categorized, organized, objectified, and divided people into exclusive worlds of right versus wrong, true versus false, “us” versus “them” (97).  If this really is the case, then why would we pray such an outdated prayer?

Continuing with Butler Bass, I would like to suggest that this prayer is, in fact, not outdated, but rather a perfect collect for our times as we redefine what it means to be religious away from a  system of beliefs, but a way of living one’s life in devotion to God.  Drawing on the work of Wilfred Cantwell Smith in his 1962 Book The Meaning and End of Relgion, Butler Bass suggests that in contrast to the modern understanding of religion, the Latin root, religio, actually refers to “faith – living, subjective experience including love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, trust, a way of life, an attitude toward the divine or nature, or… a particular way of seeing and feeling the world.”  If, on Sunday morning, we are praying not for our particular set of ideas to be better than the ideas of the Baptists or the Lutherans, but instead for an increase in awe, worship, and trust in God who calls us to a particular way of seeing and feeling the world, then sign me up.  In fact, I’d bet we could get a lot of SBNRs to join us in that prayer.  It is, I would argue, the perfect collect for our times.

Do thou likewise

This Sunday morning, congregations around the globe and across denominations will hear Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus tells this powerful story in response to a lawyer who rose up to challenge him.  In first century Palestine, this would not necessarily been seen as an aggressive act by the lawyer.  In fact, intense debates between Rabbis, Scribes, lawyers, and lay people are an ongoing part of the Jewish faith.  This scene between Jesus and the Lawyer would be commonplace, and Jesus seems willing to engage the debate.

After proving that he knows his law, the lawyer turns the question back on Jesus by inquiring “who is my neighbor?”  Surprisingly, this question is a whole lot more difficult to answer than “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  There is no passage in Leviticus to memorize to understand “who is my neighbor,” but instead it is lived out in the life of faith.  Jesus shows this by creating an absurd scenario.  Not that getting robbed and beaten wasn’t something that could happen on the Wilderness Road from Jerusalem to Jericho, but the odds of the first three passersby being a priest, a Levite, and a dreaded Samaritan are quite slim.  These three are of course necessary for proving Jesus’ point.

The priest, a professional follower of the Law, chose ritual cleanliness over the commandment of Leviticus 19.18b.  The Levite, a man ethnically predisposed to religious practice made the same choice, but the Samaritan, a man who was an outcast, a half-blood, and by his very nature considered to be unclean took the risk and sacrificed his own time and money to nurse the injured man back to health.  When confronted with this story and the question of who acted as a neighbor, all the lawyer could muster was “the one who showed mercy.”  His pride, his privilege, his assumptions, and his fear would’t allow him to even utter the word Samaritan, and Jesus has the audacity to say, “do thou likewise.”

The Good Samaritain - Luke 10:25-37

The word of the Lord to this lawyer is that neighbor means showing mercy to everyone, even those who you fear, those who make you uncomfortable, those who seem outside the social norms.  This word seems particularly prudent in the United States as we once again see videos of two young black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, who were shot dead by police under questionable circumstances.  As tensions run high, and the reality that racism didn’t end with desegregation or the election of a black man as President comes to the fore, it is important for the Church to be present, reminding the world around us that the will of God is that we show mercy to our neighbors no matter their skin color, no matter their ethnicity, no matter their place on the social ladder.

Showing mercy means respecting the dignity of every human being.  It means standing up for justice for all people. It means reaching out with care to those who the world has deemed undesirable because God’s love is stronger than prejudice, fear, and anger.  It is easy to say “love your neighbor as yourself,” but it is really difficult to “do thou likewise.”  Come Lord Jesus, come and show us what we ought to do and give us the strength to faithfully do it.  Amen.