Jesus was Tired

It is hard for me to believe, but it has been more than two years since the candidates for the 4th Bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast took part in the walkabout portion of the discernment process.  Over the course of several days, the candidates traveled around the diocese attending a series of large gatherings in which they were invited to answer questions, many canned, so that we might be able to get to know them a little better.   The folks from St. Paul’s in Foley attended the event in Daphne, which was the fifth and final event in a rugged week for these candidates.  I remember being glad that I was able to attend this final walkabout meeting because I wanted to see how my future bishop might behave at the end of a long week.  “I need a bishop who can take my call at 5pm on a Friday when I’ve just learned the treasurer has been embezzling money,” I told one person.  It was a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is that the ministry of a bishop means long hours, lots of personal interaction, and the ability to be “on” at the drop of a hat.  All four candidates seemed to handle the situation pretty well, and I left feeling like we would be in good hands with any of them at the helm.

When preaching on Sunday’s Gospel lesson, most preachers will focus on the narrative of Jesus and the woman at the well – with good reason – but this morning, still fighting through the haze of last night’s nighttime cold medicine caplet,  I’m struck by the context that John spells out for his readers.  “Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.”  Jesus was tired out by his journey.  Not only does this detail do the hard work of humanizing Jesus, a noble task in John’s lofty and cosmic Gospel, but it also gives us a lens through which we see the rest of the story.  When Jesus rather curtly demands a drink from the woman at the well, we are more apt, I think, to brush it off because he was tired.  And maybe we read the story of this deep encounter between Jesus and the woman with more awe because of how spot on Jesus seems to be, even in the midst of his exhaustion.

starbucks-jesus

Just as I needed a bishop who could do the hard work of ministry when s/he was tired, so too I appreciate the Messiah who, though worn out by the journey, is still ready to show love and compassion.  It is dangerous to moralize Jesus’ behavior since we can never actually be like Jesus, but I think this detail is a helpful reminder to all of us who represent Christ in the world that even when we feel like we need to hide away for a while, even when we are tired and ready for a break, even when we would rather do anything else but be around God’s beloved and hurting people, we are called to love, to show compassion, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ both by our words and through our actions.

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On Following a Leader

A Monday holiday, a post on Tuesday, a Wednesday in the car, means a meager week here at Draughting Theology.  I’m sorry for that because the texts this week are good.  They are short and sweet and packed with preaching material.  My Rector is pondering Jonah, which I find exciting; it a great story worth being unpacked from time to time.  To make matters worse, we don’t read Scripture in a vacuum, which is why I can’t be a member of the sola scriptura party.  The way I read the Bible is influenced by my life, by the life of my Parish, and by what is happening in the wider world.  I’m also not preaching this Sunday, so my thoughts are less about what I might say to my congregation and a much more general interpretation.

That being said, here’s where I am.  Last night, at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Daphne, AL, I attended the third and final Walkabout sessions for the four finalists for the 4th Bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.  Over the course of about three hours, I had the chance to hear from The Rev. Cn. Dan Smith, The Very Rev. Ed O’Connor, The Rev. Russell Kendrick, and The Rev. Chuck Treadwell as they attempted to cast a vision for the future of our diocese all while tap dancing around hot button issues and trying to put as good a face forward as possible.  Obviously, each of them is already a proven leader in their ministry context, otherwise they wouldn’t be a finalist in our search, but last night, along with Jesus’ calling of four disciples by use of two words, got me thinking about what it means to follow a leader.

Jesus said to them, “Follow me” and the damnedest thing happened, they dropped everything and followed him.  What was it about Jesus that led them to follow?  Was there already a relationship established between them?  Had they heard of his teaching and healing ministry? Or was there just that “je ne sais quoi” about him?

During the Walkabout last night, one of the four candidates led me to write this in my notes, “The room is silent as he speaks.  Authority seems to rest on him.”  Some people just have it.  When they speak, people follow.  Their authority is earned, sometimes even in a brief encounter, for many different reasons, but when a real leader is in your midst, everyone knows it.  Some react positively; they drop everything and follow her.  Others react negatively; they push back against him because they are jealous or because they don’t like the direction they are being led or they… whatever.  Either way, leadership is acknowledged and accepted or rejected.  As my diocese completes its discernment toward an election on February 21st, my prayer is that we will find a leader, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who will invite us to follow him like Jesus invited Andrew, Simon, James and John; an invitation to be co-workers in the Kingdom to the glory of God.

Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for this Diocese that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 818)

Resurrection Requires Death – Some Specific Thoughts on TREC’s Open Letter

At 5:08 every evening my iPhone buzzes and “Pray for the Church” flashes on the screen. It is a leftover of an early attempt at an Acts 8 Cycle of Prayer. While the prayer list has not been kept up as we had hoped, the Google Calendar still exists, reminding me everyday of the importance of praying for the Church, capital C. And so I pray using the words of our Book of Common Prayer and a collect appointed for Ash Wednesday and Ordinations.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world know that things that were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Things which were cast down are being raised up and things which had grown old are being made new.” The purpose of the Acts 8 Moment is “to preach resurrection in The Episcopal Church.” The first step in resurrection is rather unpleasant: death. Something must die in order to be raised from the dead. I have no problem admitting that Mainline Christianity, of which The Episcopal Church was an integral part, is dead. And so I read with great hope the opening scripture quote in last week’s Open Letter to The Episcopal Church from The Task Force for Re-Imagining The Episcopal Church (TREC).

Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (John 11:43–44)

Finally, someone in a position of authority in the Church had admitted what many of us have known for quite some time. We’ve died. Some have argued that the Lazarus metaphor isn’t a good one – that Lazarus was recucitated rather than resurrected, but I disagree. John gives us two details to make sure we know Lazarus is really, really dead. He’s been that way four days, one day longer than the Hebrew mythology thought the soul hung around, and he stinketh. Lazarus was really dead and needed Jesus to resurrect him.

Note the lady unbinding Lazarus. He stinketh!

The Episcopal Church is really dead, and only Jesus can bring us back to life.  Thankfully the good people who make up TREC have realized this.  Before I go on to critique one specific point in their work, I want to make it clear that I’m supportive of their overall goals, I pray for their success, and I’m thankful that they have been communicative and are actively seeking feedback.  Their task is unenviable, and the vitriolic reaction from some of the entrenched leadership is as unhelpful as it is unsurprising and boring.  I am hugely in favor of TREC’s focus on mission, church planting, and the need for transparency at all levels of the Church.  In fact, I was so excited that we’ve finally decided to admit that we’re dead that I let the fact that the “specific examples” of the Church as catalyst, connector, capability builder, and covnenor are neither specific, nor really even examples.

I was stopped short, however, in the section dealing with the role of the executive structure.  Specifically, their suggestion to retain the Presiding Bishop as “the CEO of the Church, Chair of the Executive Council, and President of DFMS, with managerial responsibility for all DFMS staff.”  After all that talk of death and resurrection, they’ve hung on to a model of episcopacy that should have died long ago: Bishop as CEO.  The Episcopal Church is an episcopal church.  As such, we readily acknowledge the importance of the historic episcopate both in the Apostolic Succession of the actual laying on of hands and in the Apostolic Succession of committed obedience to the tradition of the Apostles as the original witnesses and messengers of the Gospel (Kung, “Signposts for the Future” p. 95).  Unfortunately, with the growth of the corporate world, the office of Bishop has taken on more and more of the business functions, while struggling to maintain the spiritual essence of the office.  As such, we have bishops who are too busy running a staff, signing off on legal documents, and flying off here, there, and everywhere to serve on committees, non-profit boards, and to act as chaplains at Diocesan Conventions to reasonably serve the real needs of people of their dioceses.  This, in turn, leaves dioceses feeling disconnected from their Bishop, their episcopoi, and clergy without a chief pastor, which drives us further and further into Congregationalism.

At the top level, the Presiding Bishop as CEO exacerbates these confused roles.  Is the PB the Presiding Officer in the House of Bishops, a primus inter pares (first among equals) or is the PB the CEO of the Church?  These are two very different jobs, both of which would easily make up at least one full-time job.  As I read the TREC letter, it became clear to me that in order for us to be resurrected, in order to move past the power struggles between Church-wide staff, the Executive Council, General Convention, the PHoD, and the PB, we have to admit that Bishop as CEO is dead, and if it isn’t, we have to kill it.

Instead of the PB as CEO, I would argue that something closer to Alternative III in TREC’s Study Paper on Governance and Administration needs to be adopted.  While I do think that the PB would need to resign his or her diocesan position to fulfill the obligations of the office, limiting the Presiding Bishop’s role to that of Presiding Officer, Chief Consecrator and Pastor, and mouthpiece of the Church seems a prudent move in order to highlight the importance of such functions within the whole House of Bishops.  Allowing the Executive Council, of a similar size and composition of the current Council, to work as a true Board of Directors: taking the work of General Convention to heart in creating a strategic vision and seeking out an Executive Director/CEO who will lead the church-wide staff in implementing that vision for the good of the whole Church, should then create a way for the Church to move forward together and eliminate the undue power of the CCABs, many of which seem to exist only to keep themselves going and are run by a few voices and their pet projects.  This model, it seems to me, would allow for a full representation of the Church, a closer tie to our understanding of the historic episcopate, and allow closer connections to be made at all levels: congregational, regional, diocesan, provincial (if such a thing needs to exist) and church-wide.

At 5:08 this afternoon, I will pray, as I do everyday, for the Church.  My specific prayer today will be that The Episcopal Church, as one part of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, will do its part in helping the whole world see that God’s kingdom continues to unfold through cycles of death and resurrection.  I hope and pray that TREC, as they finish their work, and later the 78th General Convention will see the need to accept death as the precursor to new life.  I hope we can let go of those things which are old and cast down and allow Jesus to raise us up and make us new.  As Lazarus could surely attest, dying isn’t a whole lot of fun, but eating dinner with your family four days later has to be one heavenly banquet.

The Color Purple

As an Episcopalian, I can’t help but read the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus without at least a small chuckle about the reference to the rich man’s attire.  With a linen suit hanging in my closet, this parable hits really close to home, but even more so, I get a kick out of the reference to the rich man wearing purple.  For those of you who aren’t a part of the early-21st century iteration of Anglicanism, perhaps a photograph would help.

 

What color is that shirt?

Purple.

Linen.

Fine Foods.

We’ve got that all covered in The Episcopal Church.  Some two-thousand years after Jesus told this parable, I wonder if we are still tuned into the deeper meaning of the details of the story.  Take the color purple for example.  These days, purple shirts are sold everywhere.  You can get a purple polo from the Rescue Mission for less than $2.  There was a time, a long time in fact, when purple clothing was exorbitantly expensive.  The dyes used to make a purple shirt were hard to come across and the color was even harder to set.  I heard a story this summer about how purple became the color of Lent in some parts of the world, while it is blue in other places.  It seems that the original color of Lent was black, but black rarely stayed that color.  In some portions of the globe, the berries used to made black faded into purple, elsewhere, they faded to blue.  Deep colors weren’t for the faint of heart in the olden days.  So this man, who wore purple, was exceedingly rich, and more than likely a member of some royal family.  (Hence the purple in Bishop’s attire as they were once considered the princes of the Church (though it seems that Anglican Bishop’s took to purple much later than their Roman Catholic brethren, but I digress).  Not only did he wear richly colored fabrics, but he had access to linen as well.  Like purple dyes, linen was (and still is) very expensive to obtain.  To say he was well dressed would be an understatement.

Then there is the matter of his food, about which Jesus says “he feasted sumptuously every day.”  This is an attempt by the translators to make sense of the Greek that is two words joined together: euphraino, which means “to make merry or to be glad”; and lampros, which means “magnificently or sumptuously.”  He “made merry brilliantly” according to Robertson’s Word Pictures, or to borrow a modern colloquialism, this guy partied hearty every day.  I assume most of us can understand the nuance in this phrase.  Think about how you eat on a normal day: three meals and maybe a snack – perhaps a dessert on a special occasion.  Now, think of the last Super Bowl Party you attended.  You probably ate 3 or 4 times more than you normally would.  You grazed on delicious snacks all afternoon, while waiting for the main course to be served and having two too many beers.  Or maybe Thanksgiving is your feast of choice.  This guy ate like it was Thanksgiving Day, all day, every day.

The comparison Jesus sets up here isn’t the difference between an upper-middle class guy and his lower-middle class neighbor.  Instead, Jesus lays down an example of extreme wealth and extreme poverty.  Something like this picture from Rio De Janeiro.

I’m wondering this morning if the extreme nature of Jesus’ example makes it easy to dismiss this story as we think, “Oh, I’m not THAT rich.”  What is the purpose behind such an outrageous dichotomy?  As an average American, what can I take away from this parable?