Love your enemies @ #DioCGC14

As I type this, I’m sitting by myself in the nave of Saint Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Pensacola Florida. In about 30 minutes, an open hearing will begin on the 19 (+/-) resolutions put forward by the We Dream of a Diocese Committee, on which I have served for most of the past year and which came into being as a result of legislation I co-authored that was passed unanimously at last year’s convention. To say that I have a vested interest in this restructuring plan would be an undesrtatement. I care deeply about my Diocese and I think our plan is a positive step forward in the midst of the transition and election of the 4th Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast.

Of course, there are those who disagree with me. They other prevailing wisdom, which comes from thoughtful, caring disciples of Jesus, is that we should wait. Their sense is that the timing is wrong, that to engage in any sort of change at this point could potentially limit our ability to call the best bishop for us. They would rather we enjoy ourselves at this convention and hang out until the election in February 2015, and the new bishop’s consecration in July of that same year.

Sometimes, when we have a vested interest in something, it gets hard to remove our ego from the thing we care about. Whether or not this convention decides to take on our plan or even if they choose to set is all aside until someday down the road, it isn’t about me. It isn’t a referendum on my understanding of Church. Even the title of this post betrays the fact that I’m not quite there yet. Those who disagree with me are not my enemies, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. They are thoughtful, caring people who have come to a different conclusion on the matter than I have.

The truth of the matter is that there are millions of Christians who disagree with me on some issue at any given moment. Some matter a great deal: like whether or not Jesus was physically resurrected from the dead. Some don’t matter a lick: like if the Central Gulf Coast has a Diocesan Council or not. In either case, to view the other as my enemy is to fall into the trap that Jesus prayed we’d stay out of, to forget that we are one in Christ.

As we prepare to open the 43rd Annual Convention of the Central Gulf Coast, I pray for the Spirit of God to be present, to offer peace and wisdom, and that no matter what happens over the next three days, that we leave this place excited for a future in which we share ministry together for the upbuilding of the Kingdom and the spread of the Gospel.

Oh, and BTW, SHW ruled that social media was kosher in the midst of my media fast as I am the Chair of the Commission on Communications. So I’ll be back on the Facebooks and Twitters boring you with Parliamentary details in the near future.

We Dream of a Diocese – Final Report

In February of 2012, the 41st Annual Convention of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast (CGC) passed, albeit begrudgingly, a resolution encouraging the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church to create a Task Force charged with restructuring the Church.  This resolution was combined with scores of others to create what became known as Resolution C095, “Structural Reform,” and passed unanimously in both houses.  That group, now known as the Task Force for Re-imaging The Episcopal Church, continues its work (you can read about their most recent meeting here).

Following on the heels of C095, the 42nd Annual Convention of the CGC was invited to pass a similar resolution committing, as a Diocese, “to a season of reform, restructure, and reawakening,” which it did, again, unanimously.  For the past eight months, I have had the pleasure to serve on the committee with some amazing people who have a heart for the Gospel and for the Church.  We’ve listened for the Spirit, to each other, to our shared history, and to the Church in seeking to present a plan to help the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast more fully live into its mission of “sharing Christ crucified and God’s reconciling love through effective ministry, leadership, stewardship and communication.”

As of this morning’s edition of The Coastline, our Diocesan E-Newsletter, our final has been made public.  While the broader Church will find nothing in it that is earth shattering, the structural changes proposed by our group are significant changes for a Diocese that is barely into its fifth decade of existence.  Below you will find the Executive Summary of our work, which is well and good, but the meat of our material and our rationale behind the recommendations are in the first five pages of our full report, which can be downloaded from the Diocesan Website.

I bid your prayers over the next three months as we prepare for the 43rd Annual Convention.  These recommendations will bring about both excitement and anxiety, joy and struggle, and as a Diocese in the early stages of a search for our next Bishop, it is our hope that our work will not bring about divisiveness, but help us come together around some common goals, a shared vision, and a desire to once again be The Episcopal Church in the Central Gulf Coast.

Executive Summary of Action Items for the 43rd Annual Convention The Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast

We Dream of a DioceseThe recommendations from the Committee are based on feedback received from our Diocesan Survey as well as historical study and conversation across the wider Church and can be grouped in two general categories. Category I includes recommendations requiring Canonical changes. Category II contains those recommendations that suggest changes to existing Diocesan policies. In addition to a full summary of our work and the rationale for the items themselves, the full report includes a complete red line edition of the Canons to facilitate a thorough review.

I. Diocesan Constitution and Canons
1. Establishment of five Regions in the Diocese for the purposes of mutual ministry support, fellowship, voting representation, and increased opportunities for participation in governance. Each Region will be led by a Regional Convener, appointed by the Bishop for a three-year term.
2. Establishment of a Diocesan Council to oversee ministry, program, and budgetary planning, to serve as the legislative arbiter of the will of Annual Convention when that body is not in session, and provide direction to the various agencies, departments, and commissions.
3. Define the duties of the Standing Committee in accordance with those set forth in the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church and realign other Diocesan agencies, departments, and commissions accordingly.
4. Clarify the use of electronic voting (telephone, internet, etc.).
5. Clarify the eligibility of retired or disabled clergy to serve as General Convention Deputies.
6. Provide, where possible, for parishes to have one additional Annual Convention delegate, provided the delegate is 16-25 years old.

II. Diocesan Policies
1. The recognition of the existing Best Practices for business affairs as prescribed by The Episcopal Church and the application at all levels of the Diocese, including the recommendation for the development of a similar protocol for human resources.
2. A recommendation assigning priorities in the ordination process and the subsequent deployment of ordinands from this Diocese.
3. Recommendations for a mutual ministry review and compensation guidelines for the Episcopacy and subsequent recommendations for all clergy.
4. Recommendations regarding the regularization of Vocational Deacons within the Province. Recommendations pertaining to the opportunities available to all such Deacons to obtain pension and health insurance benefits.
5. A proposal to expand Annual Convention voting rights to non-canonically resident clergy serving congregations in this Diocese.
6. A request to the Finance Commission to recommend the establishment of an Annual Reserve.
7. A recommendation that the appropriate Diocesan entities construct a process to encourage all congregations to achieve parish status.
8. The recognition of the need for a formal planning and evaluation mechanism as currently described in the Five Year Plan but suggesting a Three Year model as more practical,
9. A recommendation that the Diocese review the frequency and character of the Annual Convention.

Jury Duty

I’ve been summoned to serve jury duty beginning this morning. I’m guessing blogging will be frowned upon, so I’ll be out of pocket until I’m sent home. Thanks for your patience.

On Faith and Fear

Over the last year, 20 search terms have landed people on this blog ten times or more.  If I combine like terms, the number drops to 8:

  1. Images of Heaven – 203
  2. Faith and Fear – 156
  3. Draughting Theology – 74
  4. Hearing vs. Listening – 29
  5. Fig Monday Holy Week – 14
  6. Mandatum Novum (Maundy Thursday) – 12
  7. ego eimi statements (I am) – 11
  8. theos agape estin (God is love) – 10

Clearly, people are interested in what heaven will be like, but I doubt an old blog post with broken picture links will help much.  What I find most interesting is that faith, fear, and “the opposite of faith” are searched for again and again.  Last year’s post on faith and fear is the third most read post in this blog’s history with 814 reads.

And wouldn’t you know it, but we’re back at faith and fear again this week.  The Hebrew’s lesson for Sunday is the classic faith text, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen,” in which, Paul uses Abraham as the prime example of a life of faith.  Right on the heels of Hebrews 11, we’ll hear Jesus tell his disciples, “Do not be afraid.”

Both are about faith.  One, Hebrews, coming from the positive side – here’s what faith looks like.  The other, Luke, coming from the negative side – here’s why you shouldn’t fear.  Both, however, articulate the same truth as summed up in the words of Jesus, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

That’s the Good News, friends.  The Father wants to give us the kingdom, he wants us to share in his joy.  All it takes is having faith and not fear.  More on that as the week progresses.

It isn’t about what you can do.

As I said yesterday (in a rambling post that my friend, Evan Garner, made sense of in his post from yesterday), I love the story of Jesus sending out the seventy.  I am particularly fond of the way the story ends.  After what must have been weeks away, roaming the Palestinian countryside, sharing the Good News, and relying on the generosity of strangers for food and lodging, the seventy meet back up with Jesus “with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!'”

I love the excitement they have.  They’ve seen amazing things happen.  Heck, even demons submit to the name of Jesus!  I imagine by now they’ve totally forgotten Jesus’ twice repeated message, “I’m going to be handed over, killed, and raised again.”  Instead, the thoughts running through their heads are about restoration of the nation of Israel.  The disciples often get accused of political wrangling, but here it seems that they are only thinking of the good which could come from a Jesus administration: restoration of Temple worship, renewal in the priestly orders, and getting out from under the tax happy thumb of Rome among them.

The seventy are thrilled as they return to Jesus, but Jesus has already set his face toward Jerusalem.  He knows the cross is looming.  He is keenly aware that the Kingdom of God isn’t about what we can do as individuals, but about the power of God’s Kingdom.  “Rejoice instead that you are registered as citizens of heaven,” is the New Living Translation’ take on Luke 10:20.  My paraphrase is “Rejoice that the Kingdom has come so close you can see it!”  The Good News isn’t victory over what we’re against, but joy in the upbuilding of what we are for: justice, peace, love, renewal, and redemption.

Jesus set his face… a sermon

You can listen to it here or read on

On May 16th, 1865, at Trinity Church Copley Square, Boston, The Reverend William Reed Huntington preached a three thousand, three hundred, ninety-three word sermon entitled “American Catholicity.”  It will serve as the basis of one of the papers for one of my classes this summer, so I thought maybe I would just read it to you instead of preaching this weekend.  It should only take forty minutes…  But then I thought better of it and instead I will simply say thank you for the opportunity to take another three weeks away from Saint Paul’s to study, pray and relax atop the holy mountain at Sewanee.  I took two great classes that I hope to share with you in some sort of teaching in the fall, and better than that I secured a thesis advisor and should have a proposal approved by the end of the year.  I know it was a difficult few weeks for the Saint Paul’s family and you were fervently in my prayers each day.  Now that we’ve dispensed with that bit of self-indulgence, I suppose y’all are waiting for me to actually say something about the Bible.

 

In the fifty-first verse of his ninth chapter, Luke writes, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  This is almost a throwaway line: just one more decision Jesus makes in a lifetime of decisions.  We could easily skip over Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem, but we’d be foolish to do so.  You see, not only will the rest of today’s lesson be shaped by this short phrase, but, in fact, the next 15 chapters of Luke’s Gospel will be defined by Jesus’ choice to head to Jerusalem.

 

When Jesus set his face for Jerusalem, he knew full well what was ahead of him. He wasn’t heading off to study at Sewanee. He wasn’t traveling for his summer vacation at the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly.  No, Jesus wasn’t headed to the comfy setting of the tourist city of Jerusalem. He was headed for the cross. Jesus set his face for the cross.  At this point, he knows full well what the future holds for him, and here, at the base of the Mount of the Transfiguration he has made the choice to fulfill his mission and set out toward the cross and our redemption.

 

Of course, like any major life decision, this one comes with all sorts of consequences.  As Jesus and his disciples set out on their journey they find themselves in need of a place to stay.  The messengers that Jesus sent ahead to secure lodging for the night have returned with bad news: they can’t stay in the nearby Samaritan village.  Luke knows that it is because Jesus has to keep moving, but James and John are indignant.  As if they have their finger directly on the red button, they press Jesus, “You want we should command fire to come down from heaven and turn their town to glass?”

 

Just fifteen verses ago, the disciples couldn’t even handle exorcising a demon out of a small boy, but now here they are ready to harness the power of fire to destroy a whole town?  “No,” Jesus says, “that’s not the way things are going to work.  This is going to be tough, and it isn’t going to end up the way any of you want it to, but we’re headed toward Jerusalem, toward the cross, toward death and resurrection.  Trust me, it’ll be ok.”  So, they head on to the next town.

 

As they worked their way down the road, someone from the crowd piped up and said, “Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus’ response is perhaps my favorite in all the gospels.  I picture him looking around with his arms out wide, the sun is probably setting, that last Samaritan village is well behind them now and the faint flicker of the next town is on the horizon as Jesus says, “Really?  You want all of this?  All the glitz and glamor?  Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

 

And then, looking at another member of the crowd, one of the stragglers who was obviously preoccupied by something else, Jesus said, “If you are ready for all of this, you are welcome to come along.  Follow me.”  But looking at his shoes and with pain in his eyes, this would-be disciple said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus knew that this man couldn’t really follow as long as he was distracted by outside forces, and so he replied, “Our business is not death; let the dead bury their own.  Our business is life in the Kingdom of God and your job is to proclaim the Kingdom!”

 

Finally, some brown-noser shouted above the crowd, “If that guy can’t do it, I will.  I’ll follow you, Lord, wherever you’d like… But first, let me just say good bye to my family back home.”  Here, I probably project some of my own impatience onto Jesus as I picture him rolling his eyes and saying, “C’mon man!  You can’t plow a straight line while you are looking backwards.  The fields are ripe for the Kingdom, join in and see where we are going.”

 

Life is full of distractions, and it is no less so just because we are disciples of Jesus living in the Kingdom of God.  The truth of the matter is that the distractions of life pull us away from the Kingdom of God.  This week was rife with distractions that looked really important given our place in history, but in the scope of the Kingdom, they are simply things that cause humans to stumble.  No matter what side of the debate you are on for abortion, the Voting Rights Act, Paula Dean, or the Defense of Marriage Act, this week’s Gospel lesson reminds us that these distractions ultimately pull us away from the Kingdom of God.  That’s not to say that racism, abortion, and human sexuality aren’t issues that Christians should have a theologically thoughtful opinion on, but when they distract our attention from our job as heralds of the Gospel: that is to say, evangelists of the Good News of God’s redemption in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of his only Son Jesus Christ; we have allowed the deceiver to take control.

 

Our sole job as Christians is to point to Jesus.  Share the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near, and let the political wrangling about whose side Jesus is on in any particular debate fall to the wayside.  With the Spirit at work in your heart, these issues won’t matter nearly as much as will taking up your cross and giving up your life to follow Jesus to Jerusalem.  Jesus has set his face in that direction, and we have 21 more weeks to follow along, so let’s put aside the distractions and follow Jesus to the Kingdom of God.  Amen.

A busy week – A good read

As regular readers have probably noticed, I’ve been remiss in posting this week. I can’t quite put my finger on why I haven’t made the time to blog, but I do get the sense that a break is a good thing. Still, I feel like I’m missing something by not reflecting on the Lectionary each day. Thankfully, my colleague and, more importantly, friend, Evan Garner has written on Sunday’s Gospel several times this week, including a great piece posted this morning on the nature of discipleship and the request of the Gerasene Demoniac. I encourage you to read Evan’s posts this week and maybe even hit the old subscribe button.

I may or may not write a post of my own today, so if you are looking for something to read via DT, check out my friend and colleague, Anthony MacWhinnie’s post on Palm Sunday.

Lay down your nets...

 

Palm Sunday always reminds me of just how cool Jesus is.  You know… In that too cool for school sorta way…

I did not grow up calling it “The Sunday of the Passion” or “Passion Sunday” or whatever it is we’re supposed to call it these days.  It was Palm Sunday.  Period.

Yes, yes, we did try to fit the whole of the Holy Week schedule into one Gospel reading, just like we do now.  Yes, we did try to do too much that day, just like we do now.  And yes, it is a nod to those who can’t, or won’t, participate fully in the Holy Week schedule.  Please feel guilty right now if that is you.  I’m talking to you, Mr. “I Only Go to Church on Sundays.”  This is the week to branch out.  Live a little.  Taste and see that the Lord is good, or…

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I’m Giving Up Lent – A sermon

you can listen to today’s sermon here.  Or, read on.

          I’m glad to see that so many of you set your clocks forward and made it to Sunday services this morning.  I’ve called you all together today in order to make a major announcement.  Today, the Fourth Sunday in Lent of 2013, having still not decided what to give up this year, it is my great pleasure to announce that for Lent 2014, I have decided to give up Lent.  That’s right, you heard it here first, I’ve decided to give up Lent for Lent.[1]

          I am certainly not be the first person to have this idea, but I am 100% serious about it.  Every Lent, I take on the discipline of reading a few extra daily devotionals.  I signed up for them years ago, and they auto-magically arrive in my inbox beginning on Ash Wednesday.  If I’m lucky, Lainey lets me sleep until 6am, and as I sip my coffee, I strain to read 6 point, yellow text on a white background on my tiny iPhone screen and wonder, “Why am I doing this?”  Every year, I struggle to come up with something to give up for Lent.  I’ve tried giving up sweets, beer, and snack foods.  One year, I tried to give up contempt for Lent.  Inevitably, our wedding anniversary happens during Lent, and Cassie and I go out to a nice dinner, have an adult beverage, and some dessert and somebody annoys me in the parking lot.  As I feel guilty about all of my failed attempts at self-denial, I wonder, “Why am I doing this?”  So, I’ve decided, I’m just not going to do it anymore, and I’m using this morning Gospel lesson as my motivation.

          The Parable of the Prodigal Son is, most certainly, a top-3 best known Parable of Jesus.  It is such a famous text, that I’m fairly well convinced most of us don’t even listen to it being read anymore.  We hear, “There was a man who had two sons,” and our brains are off and running: younger son, inheritance, dissolute living, pigs, running dad, fatted calf, party, and a bratty older brother.  Before we know it, the story is over and we’re ready to move on, but we haven’t heard a thing.  If I’m going to use this text as an excuse to give up Lent next year, I mean, if we are going to hear the Good News in this story, then we need to slow down and really listen to what is happening.

          Our story begins before the beginning.  Before the man with two sons, we hear that Jesus is in the midst of an argument with the Pharisees and Scribes.  It seems that Jesus’ message of repentance, restoration, and the Kingdom of God has hit home with certain undesirables in the Galilean countryside.  Tax collectors and sinners, Luke tells us, were coming near to listen to Jesus.  Worse than that, Jesus was welcoming and eating with them.  This does not sit well with the powers-that-be, and they begin to murmur and grumble.  In turn, Jesus tells three parables, aimed directly at the Pharisees and Scribes.  The Lectionary skips over the story of a man who left 99 sheep behind to search for one who was lost.  We didn’t hear the story of the woman who searches high and low for one lost silver coin, and throws an extravagant party when it is found.  We do hear the third parable, the Prodigal Son, and so it begins, “There was a man who had two sons.”

          The younger son asks his father for his part of the family inheritance.  There being no such thing as 401Ks or reverse mortgages in Jesus’ time, the man’s only choice would be to divide his land for use by his children.  The older son would receive 2/3rds of the family estate when his dad died.  In the meantime, the younger son would have use of 1/3rd.  Rather than fulfilling the law and dutifully farming the land to support himself and his father, the younger son sold it off, took the proceeds and headed to Gentile territory where he spent every last dime with prodigality; living a sinfully extravagant lifestyle.  As fate would have it, a famine struck the land, and the younger son found himself impoverished, hungry, and the indentured servant of a Gentile pig-farmer.  The days were long and hot and the young man was exhausted and starving.  Eventually, the pods that the pigs ate began to look good enough to eat.  Suddenly he came to his senses, “Back at dad’s house, even the day laborers have more than enough food to eat.  What am I doing here, dying of hunger?”  Once again, without regard for law or duty, the young man left his obligations in the foreign land and headed back to the home of his father.  En route, he practiced his speech.  “Father, I have sinned against heaven and you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son, but won’t you please hire me on as a day laborer on your land?”

          Again and again, he practiced those words; until he reached the top of a small hill and way off in the distance he saw it, his Father’s land.  Within minutes, he realized that there was another person on the road.  The silhouette was coming toward him.  Quickly.  It was as if someone was running to meet him.  Was it?  Could it be?  It was!  His own father was coming to meet him.  With fear in his belly and lump in his throat, the younger son clenched his whole body as his Father dove toward him.  But wait.  What was happening?  He wasn’t being beaten or berated; abused or arrested.  His father was hugging him, even gave him a kiss on the cheek.

          Confused but undeterred, the younger son began his speech.  “Father, I have sinned against heaven and you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son…”  Before he could finish, before he could ask to be hired on, his father interrupted, barking commands at his household servants, “Quickly!  Bring the best robe and put it on him as a mark of his distinction.  Put a signet ring on his finger as a symbol of his authority.  Put shoes on his feet, he is not a slave, but a free man.[2]  Kill the best calf, we are going to have a party for my son who was dead is now alive; who was lost is now found.”

          It wasn’t until the party was in full swing that the older brother returned from a day of hard work in the fields.  He smelled the calf roasting over the fire.  He could hear the music and see the dancing.  Confused, he asked one of the household servants what was happening.  The slave replied, “Your brother is home!  Your father has killed the best calf to celebrate his safe return.”  Incensed, the older son refused to go into the party.  When his father came out to ask him to join in the fun, he told him, “All these years, I’ve lived as a servant to you and this farm.  I’ve followed every rule, and you’ve never even given me as much as a young goat to have some fun with my buddies.  But now, this so-called son of yours comes back after squandering our livelihood on booze and hot-pants, and you pull out all the stops for him!?!”

          His father looked him square in the eye and said, “My child, you are with me always and everything I have is yours, but today we have to celebrate for your brother has been raised from the dead.  He was lost, but now is found!”

          Did you hear it this time?  Did you catch the Good News?  The story of the Prodigal Son makes it clear that God desires relationship, not slavish rule following.  Both sons see their relationship with their father as one of servant and master.  The youngest son, as he returns to his disgraced home, wants to be treated as a misthios, a day laborer.  The elder son, as he laments against his Father’s prodigality in love and forgiveness, says he’s been his Father’s dulous, servant or slave.[3]  The Father, however, isn’t interested in either.  Instead, he desires relationship: strong, deep, real relationship.  The younger boy he calls his huios, his son.  The older son, his teknon, his child.  These men are not slaves, but beloved children.  As we slog through the middle of Lent, [as we prepare to welcome a newborn child into the family of God] I’m profoundly grateful to hear that God doesn’t desire slaves, but instead hopes that we will live fully into our identity as his beloved children.  I’m giving up Lent for Lent.  I’m giving up seeing God as a master who must be served, a ruler who must be obeyed, and I’m taking on the robe, ring and sandals, signs and symbols of God’s beloved children.  I hope you will too.  Amen.

[1] When this idea came to me on Wednesday evening, I was sure I had heard it before.  Lo and behold, I had.  In 2007, Diana Butler Bass wrote a piece for beliefnet carrying “Giving up Lent for Lent” as its title.  http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/2007/02/diana-butler-bass-giving-up-lent-for.html Accessed 3/7/13

[2] Thanks to Alyce M. McKenzie for the symbolism in the three gifts http://www.patheos.com//Progressive-Christian/Prodigal-Son-Alyce-McKenzie-03-04-

2013.html?print=1  Accessed 3/4/13

[3] Donahue, John R., S.J., The Gospel in Parable, Fortress Press, 1988. Note 62 on p. 157.