Responding to Tanzania

The Primates of the Anglican Communion, including TEC’s Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, have just concluded (last Wednesday) a meeting in Tanzania. They issued a communique from that meeting.

I am saddened by this communique on several levels. After the election, consent and consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, I remained optimistic that the Anglican Communion would survive as it always had. After all, we had elected a woman bishop, and while “the bonds of affection” that hold the Anglican Communion together had been strained, they had not broken.

After reading the Tanzania communique, I am not so optimistic. The Episcopal Church is chided for failure to satisfy the rest of the communion that we are living up to the Windsor Report, while the actions of those Primates who are crossing provincial boundaries to provide oversight to disaffected members of the Episcopal Church (a novelty never before countenanced in the Anglican Communion) are seen as a “pastoral response.”

Also, the Primates clearly do not understand the polity of the Episcopal Church. The communique asks our House of Bishops to provide guarantees by September 2007 that the language of Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention means that consents will not be given to any openly gay or lesbian person in a committed relationship elected as bishop. The House of Bishops cannot provide such guarantees. In the Episcopal Church, it is really the General Convention that has primatial authority. The Presiding Bishop only convenes the house of bishops, and that house can take no unilateral action for the Episcopal Church. I hope the house of bishops will point this fact out to the Primates.

And most deeply I am saddened that the Presiding Bishop has asked us to put the status of our GLBT brothers and sister in the faith of Jesus Christ on hold yet again. In our baptismal covenant, we promise to respect the dignity of every human being, to seek and serve Christ in all, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice for all. While the Episcopal Church has been slow to embrace our GLBT brothers and sisters among this “all”, we have at last taken a courageous few steps out over the stormy waters of our baptism. I can only hope that we won’t sink like Peter when we see the severity of the storm, and come in for our Savior’s rebuke, “Oh, you of little faith.”

Nearly three decades ago, when I moved to a new city after college, and found myself alone and in a strange place, it was a group of gay men who welcomed me into the Episcopal Church. I heard marvelous church bells on Sunday morning, and thought church would be a good way to meet some people. I found my way to source of those bells, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Burlington, VT. Soon a group of men had invited me to join them for brunch after service. I was so naive that if I had known they were gay, I would never have joined them. Thank God, I hadn’t a clue. Soon I was baptized, trained as a lay reader, and the rest, they say, is history.

Along the way, God overcame my blindness, and I discovered these true friends were gay. When I moved away to Boston for Divinity School, I attended a church in Boston with a strong gay and lesbian presence. Again, I was taken in and welcomed, despite my naivety. This is the only Episcopal Church I have known, and I resent those voices trying to impoverish it by silencing the GLBT witnesses among us.

I also find it terribly ironic that the Primates communique makes repeated reference to Lambeth 1998, as represented the “consensus” among Anglicans on issues of sexuality. Lambeth 1998 also called for a 10 year listening process during which all provinces of the Communion should listen to the voices of gays and lesbians, and during the process treat them with pastoral care and sensitivity. Peter Akinola has thrown his support behind the laws of Nigeria making it a crime to be gay or lesbian. How is this listening? I believe it is time of us to stop letting ourselves be bullied by such voices. Until persons like Akinola really listen to the witness of gays and lesbians in their own churches and in the communion, they are less in compliance with Lambeth and Windsor than the Episcopal Church. I pray our Presiding Bishop will have the courage to demand fairness in further dialog within the communion.

While I am less optimistic than in 2003 that the communion will hold together, I am no less confident that thisĂ‚ is Christ’s church, not ours. If push comes to shove, I would rather remain where I am confident that I am in communion with Christ and all his brothers and sisters, of whatever orientation, than with people who stop their ears to the richness of gifts given to this church.

And finally, I would pray that however deeply the actions of the Primates have hurt our GLBT brothers and sisters, they would know that my life and my faith would be the poorer without them. I cannot know the hurt this causes, but I pray our church will have the courage of its baptismal covenant, and I know our Savior won’t abandon us to sink in the waters if we have the faith to step out of the boat.

Tempted like as we

Lent 1C

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Psalm 91:9-15

Romans 10:5-13

Luke 4:1-13

The story of the Temptation of Jesus comes from Q (the source common to Matthew and Luke, but not Mark). According to Burton Mack (The Lost Gospel: The Story of Q), the Temptation story enters into Q in its final revision, as the Q people loose their public bearings after the Jewish Wars, and the group turns inward moral reflection. Having imagined Jesus as a child of Wisdom, they now imagine Jesus as Son of God.

This is a bold step, and begs the question, “What does it mean to be son of God?” For the Q group, even more importantly, the question must be answered, “What does it mean to have the Son of God as our founder?” The temptation story expresses what that does not mean. While it might be tempting to think have the son of god as group founder means having one’s daily bread provided miraculously, that doesn’t happen. We must still pray for (and beg or provide) daily bread. It doesn’t mean that we are going to rule the world (at least not know — perhaps at the end of time we will occupy the twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel). And it does not mean that God will protect us from all harm.

As Luke takes over the Temptation from Q, he puts it to work answering questions specific to his own situation. The Temple is now gone, and while his Gospel begins and ends at the Temple, the second volume of his work ends in Rome. But his characters can be no more certain of freedom from persecution in Rome than Jesus was willing to cast himself off the Temple. Don’t put God to the test. Don’t go looking for martyrdom. Luke’s christians can not make faustian deals with the kingdoms of the world to spread their message. And they have to look to themselves for sustenance, taking care of one another, distributing bread to the widows and poor from their own resources.

Temptation lies at the beginning of a clear ministry. It answers the question of what we will not do. Choosing the passage from Deuteronomy concerning the offering of the first fruits reinforces the point of reliance on God for our ministry, but not counting on magic. Bring the first fruits and then share them with the Levite and the resident alien. This is how God will care for the landless.

The power we exercise is the power of God, but it doesn’t turn stone to bread, or bring the kingdoms of the earth to their knees, or protect us from harm. It is the power of feeding one another through offering, of changing the hearts of power, and suffering with one another in trial. Whenever the church tries to get cozy with the world’s power, a distortion of our ministry is inevitable. Luke shows us through Jesus how to avoid that.

a covenant of intimacy

Last Sunday after Epiphany

Exodus 34:29-35

Psalm 99

1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13

Luke 9:28-36

Deb pointed out at Wednesday Bible Study something none of us had ever noticed. Moses does not veil his face to speak to the Israelites. I had always read that and assumed it was because of their fear that he veiled his face. However, it is quite clear that he unveils his face both to converse with God and then to report that conversation to the gathered people. Only as he goes about the rest of whatever he does, does he veil his face.

Presumably his face shines because some of God’s glory rubs off on him. But the people get to see that glory. They have no more fear of dying in the presence of God’s glory than does Moses. We wondered if Moses might be taking (as Israel’s representative) the role of wife in the marriage with God (cf. Hosea, and lots of other prophetic literature). When he is around the home compound, he goes unveiled (speaking with Israel — intimacy applies here as well as with God). Outside the compoud (in the camp), he veils his face.

This is his second trip up the mountain. The first time down, he smashed the tablets. Perhaps now, the covenant is seen as not just rules, but intimacy.

Fits, then, that we read 1 Cor 13, most often heard at weddings. Then we will see face to face, and recognize just as we are completely recognized.

The voice on the mountain of transfiguration says to Jesus essentially what it said to him at his baptism. By baptism, we are all children of God and transfigured. It is that intimacy that cause our faces to shine. This is not the usual moral gruel that passes for religion in America — not a covenant of rules but of intimacy with God.

The least likely

Epiphany 5C

Judges 6:11-24a

Psalm 85:7-13

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Luke 5:1-11

All of the reading this week have in common a protaganist who claims to be unworthy of the task he’s called to. Gideon, Paul and Peter all claim to be unfit for their vocation from God.

That seems to be a theme in the biblical narrative. Israel, this non-people, becomes God’s chosen, with the mission of bringing God’s justice to the world. It’s a theme repeated again and again. Moses claims to be unable to gather this people to take them into their future. Isaiah, Jeremiah, even Jesus asks to be relieved.

It strikes me as odd that Jesus does so much teaching at the lake shore, and few seem to comment on the fact. Actually, the word in Greek, limne, means something like a marsh or a fen. This is no-man’s land. It’s not cultivable, its not city. It’s at the edge. Is there an echo of the people of Israel standing on the sea shore imploring God’s help before crossing over into the wilderness? It would make sense that the people attracted to the new Jesus movement would understand themselves not to fit, to be the new group of non-people, like the Hebrew slave before them.

Luke’s story of the miraculous catch of fish has a number of features in common with John’s post-resurrection story. Peter’s reaction of abnegation makes more sense in that context: after the catch of fish, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and three times commissions him to “feed my sheep,” rehabilitating him for his three denials. If this is a post-resurrection appearance, Peter is acutely aware of his own failure, and unworthiness to be a fisher of people.

Paul expresses the same unworthiness: he had persecuted the very church he is now upbuilding. Despite our own failures at whatever God calls us to (stewardship of the earth, justice for its peoples, whatever it may be), we are the ones called, and at Jesus’ word we will be successful.

Peter and his companions had success so far beyond their expectations that could leave the whole catch there on the shore (what happened to it? hopefully someone else who needed it took it, rather than it just rotting), and trust their future to God.