The Great Rummage Sale

As my sabbatical draws to a close, I’m thankful to once again be preparing a sermon for Sunday.  Though I am out of the habit and am feeling quite rusty, there is something about being immersed in the study of Scripture that is soothing to my soul.  While I’m not particularly excited about the way in which the great Revised Common Lectionary divining rod has decided to reenter Mark’s Gospel after what felt like 100 weeks in John’s Bread of Life Discourse, it does serve as a great bridge for me from my last sermon through sabbatical time to everyday parish ministry.

My thesis, the proposal for which you can read here, takes a look at the ways in which The Episcopal Church might be well suited to meet the needs of a changing America.  This assumes that we can all agree that things are changing.  Having received some pushback from at least one professor who thinks that this time is no different than any other, I set my sights on the great Phyllis Tickle and her book, The Great Emergence.  Tickle cites the late bishop of Bethlehem (PA), Mark Dyer, in arguing that though our time is not unique, it is a rare moment of opportunity for the Church to engage in the hard work of a rummage sale.

“About every five hundred years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace [1] that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur.” [2]

In many ways, the Church today: be it Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and even non-denominational conservative evangelical; can be accused of the same thing.  Each expression of the Christian faith can be accused of worshiping its worship.  Each can be called to task for paying attention to their own desires over the dream of God.  Each can be accused of inviting God to bless their plans rather than fulfilling God’s plan for them.  Jesus’ message is as needed today as it was in the Synagogue 2,000 years ago.  We must move beyond our obsession with tradition in order to live more fully into the kingdom of God.  The work is not easy, there really is some awesome crap crammed in there, but the task of cleaning house, of seeking to follow God more closely, is certainly holy.


[1] The hard upper shell of a turtle, crustacean, or arachnid.
[2] The Great Emergence, 16.

Sealed for the Day of Redemption

If you’ve hung around this blog for even a short period of time, you probably know by now that I am an unabashed church nerd.  I love our liturgy and I love to study liturgy.  I love our history and I love to study history.  I’m not big on vestments, but I love to know the theology and history behind them.  In The Episcopal Church, there is one service that stands above all the others when it comes to church nerdery at its finest, the Ordination of a Bishop.  Here in the Central Gulf Coast, we had the opportunity to celebrate just such a service a few weeks ago, as we welcomed our Fourth Bishop, the Right Reverend Russell Kendrick.  For all the pomp and circumstance that went on during the more than two-and-a-half hour service, the piece that I find most intriguing happened hours earlier and for the most part, went totally unnoticed until the official pictures were posted today.

Photo by Cindy McCrory of Blue Room Photgraphy.

The Signing and Sealing of the Ordination Certificate is, for me, one of the coolest parts of an episcopal ordination.  It signifies that new bishop’s place in something much larger than the particular diocese two which they have been called.  The wax seals, made with the ring of each bishop in attendance, shows that the new bishop is part of a bigger church, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that encompasses every denomination and every Christian since the disciples stood, staring slack-jawed at the bottom of Jesus’ feet on Ascension Day.

It also signifies the seal that every disciple of Jesus wears upon their forehead, the seal that Paul speaks on in his letter to the Ephesians that we will hear read on Sunday.  We who have been baptized are sealed by and with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption.  We are marked as belonging to the tribe of Christ, the family of God.  We wear upon our foreheads the sign and symbol of the redeemed, the same seal worn by Peter, Paul and Priscilla; Augustine, Francis, and Teresa; William Reed Huntington, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The seals on Bishop Russell’s ordination certificate should remind each of us of the seal we wear upon our foreheads, the seal that sets us apart as sinners restored and disciples of Jesus Christ.  The seals should remind us of our place in the Church catholic throughout the generations.  The seals should remind us of the work to which each of us has been called, reconciling the human beings to God and to each other through the love of God, the mercy of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
The Book of Common Prayer, page 308

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.”

Excelling in Generosity at #GC78

Today is the Big Day, the one we’ve all been waiting and praying for.  No, not the Presiding Bishop election, though that is a big event.  No, not the House of Deputies 230th Anniversary party, though that will be full of delicious vanity M&Ms.  No, not the first four hour legislative session, though that’ll make your rear end fall asleep.  Today is the Big Day because today is the Program, Budget & Finance (PB&F) Committee’s hearing on expenses.  The day when Deputies, Bishops, and registered guests wait in line for hours to take their part in an awful theology of stewardship and scarcity.

I took part in the event that makes Jesus weep three years ago.

Fat Steve took part in the Event-that-makes-Jesus- weep three years ago.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth imploring them to excel in generosity by giving out of their abundance.  The Episcopal Church has abundant resources, however the vast majority of them are in the wallets of our members.  Despite the inroads made by groups like TENS and the Alabama Plan, the reality is that most Episcopal priests and the congregations they serve have succumb to popular pressure and avoid talking about money like the plague.  Coupled with the fact that our young leaders are members of a third generation of an un-churched, de-churched trend, this means that even those who care deeply about the Church, her ministry, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, don’t have any clue what it means to excel in generosity.  They’ve got no concept that the tithe is the biblical minimum for giving to the building of the Kingdom.

This means that by the time money trickles to the top, there is less and less money to do bigger and bigger things, which leaves us standing in line to beg for the scarce resources, afraid that our favorite thing won’t get funded.  A theology of scarcity is a terrible theology.  It has developed, in part, due to pressures from the wider culture, but the real reason tonight’s PB&F hearing will make Jesus and not a small number of deputies cry is that we’ve gotten here because of a lack of leadership.

Paul encourages the Corinthians to give generously to the needs of others.  He lays before them a vision of what it means to be a member of the body of Christ and asks them to live into it.  He offers them a compelling reason to be generous.  Instead of casting a vision for the Church, our leadership has, over the last, well as long as I’ve been in the Church, allowed 1,000 competing voices to create their own vision to the end that no one knows in which direction the Church is headed and instead we walk in one giant circle every three years.

The time has come for a compelling vision.  The time has come for a Presiding Bishop who will confidently lead us toward that vision.  The time has come for us to fund that vision boldly; to stop competing for line items, but rather to give generously to the glory of God, no matter how it impacts the bottom line of our pet project.  Let’s excel in generosity this triennium, and the rest will take care of itself.

Our faith will make us well #GC78

Median ASA

According to the Report of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, between 2001 and 2013, the Average Sunday Attendance of the average Episcopal Church has fallen from 80 to 61, a 24% decline in twelve years.  Twelve years?  Where have I heard that number before?

“Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.” Mark 5:25

It may seem crude and crass to compare the state of the Episcopal Church with the struggle of the hemorrhagic woman, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an apt comparison.  Over the course of twelve years, thanks to our very public internal struggles over human sexuality, a growing culture of unaffiliated nones, and, as the State of the Church Report says, “The advanced — and still advancing — age of the Church’s membership, combined with a low birth rate, means that the Church loses the equivalent of one diocese per year through deaths over births” The Episcopal Church has, on the whole, been hemorrhaging members for a dozen years.

The hemorrhagic woman lives on the margins, she is destitute, she is desperate for healing and so she does the only thing she can think of, she reaches out to touch Jesus.  In the midst of such a large crowd, all she can manage to do is get a finger on the hem of his robe, and immediately her bleeding stopped.  Jesus turns to her, realizing what she has done, and says these most powerful words, “Your faith has made you well.”

How I long to hear those words from Jesus for my beloved Episcopal Church.  The Living Church published an article yesterday entitled, “Jesus for Presiding Bishop,” in which they argue that the “walk-about” with the Presiding Bishop Nominees showed that The Episcopal Church is ready to return to and outward and visible faith in Jesus.  It isn’t so much that we haven’t had faith in Jesus all along, but more that we’ve been so preoccupied elsewhere that we’ve nearly forgotten about it, which is, to my mind, the true source of our decline.

Our faith can make us well, but we must be willing to put our faith in nothing less than the saving love of God through Jesus Christ.  Doing so will change our lives individually and our culture corporately.  We need not be afraid of the name of Jesus, but in his name, be willing to be healed, and through his name, be willing to be saved, and using his name, be willing to share the Good News.  I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to reach the hem of his garment and find our bleeding stopped.  Won’t you join with me in praying for the renewal of the Church?

The Foundation of #GC78

The Collect for Proper 8B could not be more appropriate as the 78th General Convention *finally* gets underway today.

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

As deputies and bishops gather to do the work of the Church, to speak prophetically to the culture, to shape our vision for the future, and to restructure for mission, we do so not in a vacuum, but upon a foundation that is more than two thousand years old.  To switch metaphors slightly, our goal, it would seem, would be to tap into the deep roots established by the Spirit on Pentecost as we seek to align ourselves with the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed so boldly that it cost him his life.

It is only by tapping into that deep foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone, that we can have any hope of finding the will of God for ourselves, for our congregations, dioceses, and, as is the task here in Salt Lake City, finding the will of God for The Episcopal Church.  The schedule is hectic, but time for prayer is built in all over the place, the President of the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gay Jennings, has already noted that she will always honor a call to prayer in our house, and the Acts 8 Moment is offering a service of Evening Prayer at 9:15 this evening.  As we begin in earnest, we must remember to pray, to tap into the foundational love of God as we seek to do his work in the Church for the world.

A Large Crowd Followed – Evangelism at #GC78

My friend Adam Trambley wrote a piece for the House of Deputy News website entitled, “A church ‘resolved to grow.'”  In his article, he argues that the 78th General Convention is all about church growth, and I am apt to believe him.  Though I would add that I think we are actually coming at it from the backside.  This General Convention might actually be about the Church wanting to stop shrinking rather than the Church actually wanting to grow, and until we repent of that scarcity thinking, we are doomed to shrink our way into oblivion.

As I re-read the Gospel lesson appointed for Sunday, having just finished Adam’s article, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the large crowd that followed Jesus.  This wasn’t a new crowd, a group of would-be followers had been running from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other for a few days, trying to keep up with Jesus as he sailed back and forth looking for a quiet place.  It wasn’t a new crowd, but it certainly was growing.  It wasn’t growing because the disciples fretted about decline or because they passed sweeping structural changes to the Kingdom of God or because Jesus lowered his standards of entrance.

The crowd grew because people told the story of Jesus.  Immediately preceding the story of Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood, we hear the story of a demoniac possessed by a legion of demons.  After Jesus sets him free from his bondage, the man begged Jesus, “Please, let me come with you!”  And do you know what Jesus said?  Of course you do, you smart reader you.  Jesus said, “no.”  He didn’t need or want that man to circumnavigate the shores of the Sea of Galilee, but rather Jesus wanted the man to go home and tell his friends.

Go and Tell.  The key to church growth is evangelism, and evangelism has only three steps.

  1. Experience the saving love of God through Jesus Christ.
  2. Go find someone you know.
  3. Tell them about that experience.

General Convention can’t legislate evangelism, though I think resolutions D005, D009, and D019 can facilitate our learning to be better evangelists.  Instead, it is up to us to figure out if the story of Jesus is worth telling and then to tell it.  Evangelism has only three steps, but that third one is a doozy.  I get that.  It can be scary to talk with family and friends about Jesus.  What if I can’t answer their questions?  What if they get annoyed?  What if they reject Jesus, or worse, me?  Inherent in evangelism is a certain level of risk, and not until the joy that comes from the first step can outweigh the fear in step three will we be motivated to tell people the Good News.  So my prayer for today, for General Convention, and for the Church is simply this, that we might experience the love of God in such overwhelming ways that we can’t help but tell everybody we know the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Distractions at #GC78

Today is Ready Day at the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.  The last of the Bishops and Deputies are flying in to Salt Lake City, registration begins in a few hours, the exhibits open at 9, and legislative committee meetings start this evening, all in preparation for the Big Event.  Tomorrow is orientation, more committee meetings, and the PB Nominees will take part in their very own Dog and Pony Show.  It all leads up to Wednesday’s opening Eucharist and the opening gavel bang.

Every person attending General Convention has their own idea of what it should focus on.  Some think Marriage Equality is the most important thing we’ll do here, others argue that an honest conversation about the Church’s relationship with alcohol is most needed, while still others will say that their own particular social justice issue is most pressing: drones, fracking, women’s issues, you names, we’ve got a resolution dealing with it.  Me?  I think the most important thing we could do at the 78th General Convention is live into the principles laid out in the Memorial to the Church, but I would think that, since I helped write it.

What I’m afraid of, however, is what happens in Sunday’s Gospel lesson: Distractions!

Jesus is on his way to help save a you girl, the daughter of Jairus, a leader in the Synagogue, who was close to death.  As he made his way through the crowded streets, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years realized it was her chance to be healed by this miracle worker.  It isn’t that her issue wasn’t important, it most certainly was, it was that it caused such a distraction that ultimately, Jairus’ daughter died while Jesus was dealing with something else.

The Good News in this story is that Jesus can bring the little girl back to life.  My concern is that we’ll get so bogged down in the minutiae, that the distractions will keep us from doing the work we have come here to do: that competing voices will create such a cacophony that we won’t be able to hear ourselves think.  Sure, we’ll deal with important issues, no matter what, but will we deal with what is most pressing, most urgent, most able to allow us to leave here having begun the work of adaptive change for the building of the Kingdom?  I hope so, and that is my prayer on Ready Day at GC78.

The Resurrection Question – #Acts8 BLOGFORCE

The Acts 8 Moment is asking candidates for Executive Council to answer one question ahead of General Convention.  While not in the business of endorsing candidates, the Acts 8 Moment (full disclosure – I serve on the steering committee) is interested in proclaiming resurrection, and therefore is asking each candidate for no more than 350 words on this question:

How will you share your love of Jesus inside and outside the church, and how must the church change in order to be more effective at proclaiming resurrection?


Sharing the love of Jesus is my full-time job, not just because I happen to be ordained, but because I am a baptized member of the Body of Christ.  As a disciple of Jesus, among the many demands that makes on my life, I am called to share the Good News of God’s saving love in word and deed.  As a member of the Executive Council, I would have the unique privilege of working alongside some of the best minds in the Church to encourage the lifting up the gifts of every member toward the goal of bringing the whole world to know of the saving embrace of Jesus.  I would continue to use my blog, Draughting Theology, to help committed disciples, both lay and ordained, engage the Scriptures in that place where those holy words meet everyday life.  In my ministry context, I would continue to reach out to the underserved in my community, particularly lifting up the voice of the more than 70% of students in our public schools that live in poverty.  The world is hungry for love, and there is no love like that of the God of all Creation.

With that in mind, my suggestion to the Church is simply this: in order to proclaim resurrection, you must know and embrace your own story.  The author of the First Letter of Peter admonishes his audience to “always be ready to give an account for the hope that lies within.”  Whether we find ourselves seeking after marriage equality, prison reform, educational enrichment, or holiness of life, we need to be prepared to answer the inevitable question, “why?”  Why do we do the things we do?  Because God’s love is so compelling that I can’t help but share it with the whole world.  For you, sharing the love of God might mean picketing for immigration reform, while for others it is opening a soup kitchen.  No matter the manifestation, the saving love of God shown in the resurrected Jesus must always under-gird the work of the Church and her members.

Our Aim is to Please

Back in March, The Acts 8 Moment did a BLOGFORCE series on the mission of the Church beginning at the congregational level and moving upward through the diocese to the church-wide structure.  In her final post in the series, my friend and co-conspirator, Susan Brown Snook pointed out a distinct difference in understanding when it comes to the telos of Christianity. On the one hand was The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, COO of The Episcopal Church, who said that the mission of the Church was “to serve the poor and create servants of the poor.”  On the other hands was the Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, who suggested this as the mission of the Church: “First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration.”

It seems to me that these two definitions show the crux of the problem with the Church today.  Bishop Sauls has a good and noble mission, but it is merely a small part of the much larger Gospel of Jesus to which Archbishop Welby seems to be calling us.

This conversation comes to mind for several reasons.  First, I heard Bishop Sauls speak over the weekend and was reminded of his somewhat myopic view of the Gospel.  More importantly, I read the lesson from 2 Corinthians appointed for Sunday and was immediately drawn to Paul’s understanding of the goal of the Christian life.

“We make it our aim to please [God].”

Caring for the poor certainly pleases God.  There can be no doubt about that, but there is much more that we can do to please God in this life.  The authors of “A Memorial to the Church,” a list on which I’m proud to be listed, gave us several suggestions including daily prayer, Bible study, corporate worship, giving to the Kingdom, evangelism, discipleship, and, of course, service to the least and the lost.

This too is not an exhaustive list.  If our aim is to please God, then everything we do is a means to that end.  Pleasing God is a lot about the religious life, but it is also a lot about everyday life.  Pleasing God means treating the cashier at the Piggly Wiggly or the server at Big Daddy’s or the service tech at Bebo’s with the respect due every human being.  Pleasing God means keeping your word and refusing to engage in improper business practices.  Pleasing God means forgiving that jackass that cut you off on the interstate.  Pleasing God is a full-time job, as you well know, but the rewards are most certainly worth it.  As the Psalmist writes:

“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.”