The Way of Love

One of the difficulties I had with not actually attending General Convention this year is that, when you aren’t immersed in it 24-hours a day for the 58 days it lasts (a small exaggeration), it can be hard to keep up with everything that is happening.  For example, the worship was scheduled for 5:15 in the evening.  This usually meant that something else was happening here, and I couldn’t tune in to hear some of the most gifted preachers in the church share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I’ll try to catch up, as I am able, but it is slow going. I have, only now, finally found my to Presiding Bishop Curry’s opening sermon on The Way of Love.

I got there by way of the weekly email from Forward Movement, which invited me to engage in the Way of Love, a seven-part way of life to which the Presiding Bishop is calling all Episcopalians.  Over on the Way of Love page, there is a nice, three-minute video introducing the seven practices, but inexplicably, there is no way share that video on blogs or social media.  You’ll have to click this link.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Welcome back!  I hope you enjoyed hearing from the PB about the seven practices of:

  1. Turn
  2. Learn
  3. Pray
  4. Worship
  5. Bless
  6. Go
  7. Rest

My digging into the Way of Love is timely, as it seems that all seven points are represented in some way in Sunday’s Gospel lesson.  The disciples are freshly back from their first missionary journey where they have listened to Jesus’ call to go, taken what they have learned, and blessed the many villages to which they have travelled.  In response to their success, Jesus orders them to rest, but when he sees the crowds desperate for more, he turns his attention to them, prays for their healing, and in turn, the crowds will worship Jesus.

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As disciples of Jesus, each of us are called to follow a similar model for our own lives of faith.  As you heard in the Presiding Bishop’s short video, we are invited to turn our lives toward the Kingdom of God, to learn from the teachings of Jesus, to pray for hearts that are open to love, to worship God who is the giver of all good gifts, to take those gifts and bless others as we go into the world with the love of God in our hearts and on our lips, and then to return for rest, in order to be empowered to do it all again.

There is much to learn in the Gospels about this life of faith, but I commend to you this seven-fold model for a way of life.  Following Jesus into the world in the Way of Love will, without a doubt, bring us ever closer to the Kingdom of God.

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Crazy Enough to Hope – a sermon

It feels really good to be back in Mark’s Gospel.  After spending Easter season in John, I’m glad to be settling back into Mark.  Reading John reminds me of the rides my parents would make us take on Sunday afternoons.  We would load into the family sedan and drive out into the country, not really going anywhere, in search of I don’t know what.  Depending on which direction we were headed, either my sister or I would spend most of the time complaining about the sun baking us in the back seat, while we argued over what color the sky was.  Mark’s Gospel, on the other hand, is more like my trip back from the Gulf Coast of Alabama yesterday.  We pointed the car north and, with only a few traffic slowdowns and the Clanton, Alabama Whataburger trying to feed 5,000, we headed home just as fast as we could.

Mark’s Gospel moves very quickly.  You’ll recall that the author’s favorite word is “immediately.”  We hear it more than forty times, as Jesus immediately moves from this thing to that thing and on to the next thing.  In this morning’s lesson, we find ourselves only in the third chapter, and yet so much has already happened.  Jesus has been baptized by John, tempted in the wilderness, and called his first disciples from their fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee.  He’s healed Simon Peter’s mother, cast out demons, and cleansed lepers, and that’s only in chapter one.  By chapter two, Jesus has already gotten under the skin of the religious powers that be.  His disciples don’t fast like the Pharisees think they should.  Worse yet, they plucked a few heads of grain on the sabbath.  Clearly this man was not from God.

After what must have felt like a whirlwind couple of weeks, Jesus and his disciples returned to his hometown, presumably for a bit of rest and refreshment.  Instead, as our Gospel lesson opens this morning, we hear that the crowds that surrounded him were so thick and so desperate to hear his preaching and receive his healing that Jesus couldn’t even get a bite to eat.  His family feared for his life.  They had heard what the religious authorities were saying about him.  They could see the rabid crowd surrounding him.  They knew what he was saying and doing.  Despite the NRSV’s translation that says, “people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind,’” the Greek really seems to say that the people who thought he had gone mad weren’t strangers in the crowd, but his very own family.[1]  Having seen with their own eyes what was happening around Jesus, it was his mother Mary, his brother James, and his other siblings who were concerned that he had lost his mind.  They were fully convinced that he had gone crazy, and the only way to save him from himself, was to try to get him back under control.

Six years ago, next month, I was in Indianapolis with more than a thousand other Episcopalians worshipping in a convention center ballroom.  It was the third day of General Convention, and the then Bishop of North Carolina, Michael Curry, was preaching.  In a sermon that was later expanded into a book, Bishop Curry invited us to ponder the response of Jesus’ family to his ministry.  He asked us to look at the lives of the saints of the Church, focusing especially on the first Apostle, Mary Magdalene, and abolitionist and author, Harriett Beecher Stowe.  Bishop Curry called on us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, Mary, and Harriett by becoming Crazy Christians.[2]  It has been six years since that sermon.  Michael Curry is now our Presiding Bishop, leading the church out into the world to be Crazy Christians.  He was elected for many reasons, not least of which is his ability to preach the truth of God’s love to the masses, but what struck me in the profile for the Presiding Bishop candidates was his desire to serve the Episcopal Church as CEO, Chief Evangelism Officer.  Not only does Michael Curry ask us to live as Crazy Christians, but he expects us to invite others to join in the fun.

The Good News of Jesus Christ that each of us are called to proclaim seems crazy to a world that is in love with power, privilege, and violence.  Jesus’ family thought he was crazy because he was challenging the status quo.  The status quo, whom Mark collectively calls the Scribes, went a step further, claiming that he was possessed by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, precisely because he was a direct threat to their power, privilege, and comfort.  Jesus, however, knew that the only thing that was truly evil in this world was an inability to see God’s hand at work.  Jesus was, and is, seen a crazy because he showed the world what it looks like to have hope in the face of hopelessness.  Jesus was, and is, seen as crazy because he believed that love was stronger than hate, that peace was stronger than violence, and that God’s grace was sufficient for the sins of the whole world.  Jesus was, and is, seen as crazy because he lived his life to show us that the power of God’s love could keep the plundering power of evil at bay.

The promise of God’s loving grace frees us to be Crazy Christians.  It frees us to claim that hope is stronger than despair, that love is stronger than hate, and that God’s grace is open to everyone.  In that same sermon, Bishop Curry called on the Episcopal Church, gathered in General Convention, to embrace the craziness of Jesus.  “We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord,” he admonished the fairly staid congregation, “Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God — like Jesus.  Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it.”[3]

Here at Christ Church, we call that crazy way of living “radiating God’s love to all.”  We show the world God’s crazy love through our Wednesday Community Lunch, by opening our doors to the homeless, by helping our neighbors keep their lights on, and by bringing fresh water hours into the Amazon River delta.  We live out the crazy love of God when we care for the sick among us, when the grace we share at this table goes forth to be a blessing to others, and we engage our children, youth, and young adults.  We empower the craziness of God’s grace when we take the time to support these ministries and so many others, by giving generously so that our collective ministry can continue to flourish, and by sharing our gifts and talents for the building up of the church and the restoration of the world.  We share the craziness of God’s love when we tell the story of how Jesus has changed our own lives.

To the world, it makes a whole lot more sense to sleep in on Sunday mornings, to have whatever you give financially back in your monthly budget, and to not worry about the problems that exist outside your front door.  Many see all that we do as nothing more than a crazy pipe dream, but that puts us in good company.  Jesus was, and is, seen as crazy, and as his disciples, we too are called to be crazy: crazy enough to believe that God loves sinners, just like you and me, and that by God’s grace, we can change the world.  May God bless us with a willingness to be crazy enough to live in hope and love.  Amen.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3675

[2] https://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/general-convention-july-7-sermon-bishop-michael-curry

[3] Better to hear it than to read it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abJMKeyCWoQ

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.

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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.

Why I’m Praying for Kim Davis

Kim Davis is, at least as of now, the most famous County Clerk in America.  You’ve heard about her on the news, read about her in the paper, and been subject to various “We support Kim!” and “Kim needs to go!” social media posts from your friends across the political spectrum.  Truth be told, Kim Davis isn’t the only government official who is in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality.  Alabama has a few of its own.  She just happens to be the one being sued for it.  Whether you are for or against marriage equality, however, the one thing we should all be doing is praying for Kim Davis.

Her decision to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples isn’t the result of her own ignorant bigoted opinions, as the left would have us believe.  Instead, as Tony Jones rightly pointed out yesterday, she has made the choice to stand her ground based on her being taught some very dangerous theology in her church.  I’ll let her tell you, “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word.”

It wasn’t that long ago that I was really struggling with the decision of General Convention to allow the ordination of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as Bishop of New Hampshire.  In my struggle, I was labeled and dismissed just like Kim Davis has been.  Over the course of the last 12 years, I have found my opinions on things pertaining to human sexuality to be changing.  I’ve seen the Holy Spirit at work in the lives and ministries of many gay clergy and lay leaders.  I’ve come to know the powerful witness of same sex couples eager to make a life long covenant before God.  I’ve realized that in a world filled with terrible understandings of the role sex in relationships, the Church should be lifting up monogamy and the two parent family as the ideal, no matter the genders of the two individuals involved.  I voted against the canonical changes for marriage equality at this last General Convention, but not because I don’t support marriage equality as a justice issue, but because the changes proposed were sloppy at best.  I’ve come a long way on the question of sexual orientation, but I know how long it took, I know how hard that change is.  Some continue to look at me as narrow minded for having ever held those opinions or for holding Church canon to a high standard.  They would label and dismiss me, but thanks be to God, I’ve come to know that it is OK for us to be at different places on this issue, just like we are on many others.

My favorite Greek word, that I’m pretty sure doesn’t appear in the Bible, is adiaphora, which means “things indifferent.”  In the context of theology, it means those things which are not necessary to salvation.  To use Kim Davis’ words, things that aren’t “Heaven or Hell decisions.”  Despite what you might hear from the extreme right or the extreme left, one’s opinions regarding same sex marriage are not, and never have been, a matter of salvation.  We should pray for Kim Davis that she might come to know the freedom that comes from the word adiaphora.

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we are faced with the tricky reality that even Jesus, the eternal Word made flesh, God in man made manifest, needed time to come to grips with the fullness of God’s love for all of his creation.  In a story that is shocking to our 21st century ears, especially in the heightened racial tensions of the past several months, we hear Jesus using a racial slur in telling the Syrophoencian Woman that he came to show God’s love for the Jews.  In the course of Jesus’ encounter with the woman, he is changed.  His divine will overcame his human will as he realized what he had known all along: God loves everyone, no exception.

God loves you in your struggles.  God loves me in mine.  God loves David Moore and David Ermold, one of the couples to whom Davis has refused issue a license, in theirs.  And yes, God loves Kim Davis.  I pray she knows that even in her struggles, even if she did issue a same sex marriage license, God loves her.

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.

Episcopalians as Apostles – Sharing the Good News #GC78

I did it.  I went to the Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F) meeting and I testified.  I engaged in the very system I hate, so that I might call the Church outward and upward toward evangelism.

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As I finished my brief testimony, there were shouts of “Amen!” and applause.  It is the mind of this Church to move beyond the either/or mentality that says if we talk about Jesus we can’t talk about social justice and instead embrace the reality that talking about Jesus brings with it changed hearts and minds and moves us toward a more just society.

Today in the House of Deputies, we have a chance to turn the mind of the Church into concrete action.  We are scheduled to take on four resolutions, B009 – Digital Evangelism; D005 – Church Planting; D009 – Revitalization of Congregations; and A012 – Mission Enterprise Zones which combined, call the Church to put its money and energy into spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.  These resolutions come with a big price tag, $11.7m over three years, but the reality is that even at nearly 10% of the triennial budget, this is just a drop in the bucket.  We must embrace evangelism, not in order to save the Church, but in order to fulfill the commandment of Jesus to “Go!” and to live more fully into our identity as his followers, disciples, and apostles.

In the Gospel lesson for Sunday, Jesus sends the 12 out two-by-two.  Mark tells that they followed his directions and “went out and proclaimed that all should repent.”  Those who had been disciples became apostles, that is “one who is sent,” by following the command of Jesus to go into the neighborhood, traveling lightly, to share the Good News.  The Episcopal Church has a similar opportunity.  We are being called to go, to share the Good News, and to change the world to the honor and glory of God.  It is time for the Church to stand up and re-commit itself to evangelism, not just by passing resolutions that make us feel good and not merely by throwing money at it, but by each member becoming an Apostle: taking seriously Jesus’ call to “Go and make disciples.”