Possessions or goods?

11 October 2015
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 23B (RCL)
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

As I write this blog this morning, I am desperate for news out of South Sudan. We have just learned from a friend on the ground that a war plane has bombed the Amadi Junction, five or so miles from Lui village. People were hiding in the bush near the junction. We have an unconfirmed report that Lui village has been burned, and there are bodies lying in the road. Nyamilepedia several weeks ago reported that the SPLA had attacked Lanyi (in the Lui Diocese along the “good road”) on their way from Juba to Mundri (which would take them through Lui). The reading from Job, and the passage of Psalm 22, certainly fit my mood this morning. Continue reading “Possessions or goods?”


Easter 5B (RCL)
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

The RCL places the reading from Acts in juxtaposition to the saying in John’s Gospel about the vine and the branches, which the old BCP lectionary did not. I wonder if that was intentional on the part of the designers of the lectionary?

The reading from Acts concerns Philip’s preaching to the eunuch from Ethiopia. He has just been preaching to the Samaritans, who were despised by good Judeans. Now, here he is preaching to a eunuch, some excluded from the covenantal congregation (Lev 22:24; Deut 23:1). He may have gone up to Jerusalem to worship, but he would have been prevented from entering the court of the Jews. So, on his way back to Ethiopia, he is reading Isaiah 53:7-8, a passage about the suffering servant, an outcast like himself. Interestingly, just a few verses down (Isaiah 56:1-5), in speaking about the return from Exile (while the servant songs had concerned the Exile itself), Isaiah says, “Let not the eunuch say to himself, I am a dry branch.” God will set up in the Temple an everlasting memorial for all those castrated in the Exile. Shame it never happened.

But nothing prevents the eunuch from being baptized. That goofy christian community will accept all comers, whole and sound or not. And then, we hear the vine and the branches. Anyone who does not remain in community withers and dries, and will be burnt. But those who do remain in community will bear much fruit. What a great thing.

The passage from John’s first letter carries all the confusion of boundaries for which John is famous. By the time we finish reading, we wonder “who remains in whom?” Love is what keeps one in the other: God in us, us in each other, us in God. And we do this not out of fear of punishment, because mature love casts out fear. So different from much evangelical preaching about punishment and reward. We love God not to get any reward, but because God loved us. We love others, not to get any reward, but because God loves us. Love is the sap which flows through the vine.

So, what does it mean to be fruitful? Obviously, it’s not just children, as the case of the eunuch shows. It’s living a juicy life, full of sap, overjoyed at the love of God for all, extending it to any and all, because there is more than enough. It means including even the seemingly fruitless in the community of God’s people, accepting the broken, damaged and dry (which we all are at one time or another) and nurturing them with the sap of God. Sometimes, it must mean cutting off what is unhelpful in our lives, learning to prune carefully, or letting God prune, for the greater harvest. And then enjoying a great vintage!

Sympathizing with Jonah

Epiphany 3B (RCL)
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:6-14
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

I’ve never quite understood the image of fishing for people. I just imagine all these wet, naked people flopping around in the hold of the boat. Why should anyone want to do that? We typically hear this story as one of evangelism. In Luke’s Gospel, before the disciples leave and follow Jesus, he has them put out to deep water and cast their nets, even after they have caught nothing all night. Of course, they catch so many fish the boat begins to sink. I’ve always associated this story with the “Gentile mission.” The Church starts fishing of the “other side” of the boat, and lo and behold, all these people come aboard. But in Mark and Matthew, there is nothing to suggest the “Gentile mission.” The four fishermen, two poor, two a little better off, just follow Jesus — no explanation. Perhaps its the imagery of the net that is compelling. Connecting people onto a network, restoring them to their place in community, linking up Christians all around the sea, might make following Jesus worthwhile.

But, today, I am particularly attracted to poor old Jonah. This is the second time God has called him. The first time, he refused, and ran toward Tarshish, only to be discovered and thrown to the fishes. God has the fish vomit him up, and says, “Let’s try this again.” Jonah goes to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, that arch-enemy of Israel which conquered her in 722 BCE. Jonah walks a day’s journey into the city and preaches one rather half-hearted sermon: “Forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown.” And, wow, the whole city puts on sackcloth and ashes. Jonah has to know it wasn’t the effectiveness of his preaching, but only God’s mercy at work.

You know how the story goes from here. Jonah says to God, “I knew this would happen. Now I look the fool.” He pouts under the cucumber plant, until it dies and then pouts for the cucumber plant. God asks him if he does well to be angry, and he says, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Sounds like a two-year old’s tantrum. But Jonah finds himself in the position of every missionary. He ends up caring for the people he was sent to preach to, even if his original motive was hell fire and brimstone.

On Monday, ENS ran an article about the Lord’s Resistance Army’s activities in the Diocese of Mundri, just across the Yei River from the Diocese of Lui. As we began to look carefully at the place-names in the article, and a map of Southern Sudan, we realized that one of the villages being terrorized by the LRA, Ladingwa, is just 15 to 20 km due west across the Yei from Lozoh, Advent’s sister parish in Lui. Deb and I went to Lozoh for Church on 4 January. These people served us lunch as honored guests in the Church piyat. And now, they are sheltering the IDPs from Ladingwa, worrying that the LRA could move across the river. I’m feeling a bit like Jonah. I didn’t bargain on this aspect of the mission trip. These places and people are now real to me. Damn it, God! Why did you make me care? Especially when there is nothing I can do but pray (and write to every official I can think of to urge them to make peace in Sudan a top priority). I’m like Jonah under the cucumber, worrying that it may die so easily. Not fair. But should I be immune for care, when God is not. The book of Jonah ends with the marvelous line, from God’s lips: “You are concerned over the plant which cost you no labor and you did not raise; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from there let, not to mention many cattle?”

Where do we go from here?

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13A (RCL)
Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

The Windsor Continuation Group made its report at the Lambeth Conference yesterday. Reaction was mixed. They called for moratoria on cross provincial interventions and on blessing of same sex unions and consecrations of partnered gay persons as bishops. Nobody is happy.

I am glad that we have been reading the Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebekah, Jacob/Rachel and Leah saga with the Revised Common Lectionary this year. I have not before paid much attention to what surrounds our reading this week from Genesis. We all know the story of Jacob crossing the Jabbok, and its outcome: no one comes away from an encounter with God unmarked. But, I’ve not before paid much attention to his circumstance. He has just had a meal with Laban in which they establish an uneasy relationship of detente. They set up a pile of stones and each promise not to cross it into the other’s territory. It’s the last time Israel and Aram (Syria) are on familial terms. The relationship degenerates into one of enmity. Jacob is cut off from his immediate past.

And he faces an uncertain future, from even further in his past. He is going to meet Esau, who has every reason to hate him. No wonder he spends the night wrestling with God: the results of all his machinations are about to come home to roost. Jacob grows up. He learns that he can’t scheme and deceive without consequences. His wound is of his own making. But, he does wrestle with divine and human beings and survive. He’s screwed up, he’s going to pay for it (and does so with a limp), but he’s alive.

The Episcopal Church will face some decisions after Lambeth. There will be elections for bishop in which partnered gay or lesbian persons are elected. Then what? Pastors of congregations will be approached by gay or lesbian couples asking for the relationships to be blessed. Then what? We will have to wrestle with God. Jacob can’t go back. He can only hope to reach some kind of peace with Esau.

The crowd in the wilderness fed by Jesus is in similar circumstances. They have crossed the stormy sea, been healed of infirmities (demon possession, death, etc.) which rendered them unfit for table fellowship. Jesus instructs his disciples to “give them something to eat” (the same instruction he gives to the crowd around the dead girl). Make a place for them at the table. They’ve crossed the sea and entered the wilderness. God must now provide bread from heaven. So, what boundary are we called to cross? What’s our Jabbok or Sea of Galilee?

Paul shifts his rhetorical emphasis at this point in the letter to the Romans. Up until now he has been arguing for a mixed community, Jew and Greek. Now, he laments the fact that most of the Jews won’t accept the offer. He wishes he could be cut off from Christ (literally, anathema, a word which can also mean a gift to a god). Are we ready to go that far in our relationships with others in our communion. Would I be willing to be cut off if I thought the Nigerian Church would join this wild party in the wilderness, where demoniacs, unclean and even the dead are raised and eat? I don’t think so, more’s the shame.

One way or another, we stand at a brink, and we are not going to walk away without a limp.

The mess we’re in

I have to admit that I’ve been a little desultory in following news from the Lambeth conference. Mostly, I’ve been reading Bishop Smith’s blog. So I was a little startled yesterday when he wrote about the news from the Episcopal Church of Sudan, and the pain it was causing. I had to go hunting in the ENS website to find out what was so surprising. Archbsihop Daniel, speaking for the Episcopal Church of Sudan, had issued a news release and held a press conference, in which he called for Bishop Robinson’s resignation. As you can imagine, this statement touched off a storm of controversy on the internet. I read statements suggesting that ++Daniel was the latest and greatest spokesman for orthodoxy and truth, and had the courage to stand up to the corrupt Episcopal Church US. I read statements suggesting that he was duplicitous, accepting money from ECUSA with one hand and stabbing us in the back with the other hand. I’m not going to link to any of these blogs, as the language was really quite startling, on both sides.

All of this would have seemed like so much more of the same, if I hadn’t actually met the man. He preached on Ascension Day here at Church of the Advent (see Brother Andrew’s blog). He was a gracious man, and we enjoyed his company. ECS also issued another statement at Lambeth asking for continued prayers and assistance in rebuilding Sudan and assuring adherence to the peace process. The Diocese of Missouri, of course, has a relationship with the Diocese of Lui in Sudan, and Advent has a relationship with the parish of Lozoh, and Deb has spent six months in Lui, and knows so many of the people there.

Also, out there on the blogosphere, there has even been a call for the Companion Diocese Committee of the Diocese of Missouri to end our relationship with Lui, because of what ++Daniel has said. I can’t go that far. I am surprised and hurt by what ++Daniel has said at Lambeth, but I am encouraged by what our bishop says about God finding a way toward unity out of this complicated communion. When Archbishop Ndungane was at Advent, just as the whole Windsor thing was getting started, someone at adult forum asked him if he thought the Anglican Communion would fall apart. He thought for a minute and said, “This morning I received communion from your rector. He and I are in communion. Nothing will change that.” ++Daniel also received communion here. Nothing will change that.

Every wound in the Body of Christ cuts both ways. But if we separate from anyone who hurts us, what chance will there ever be for healing? When Jesus shows up a second time to his disciples in John’s Gospel, Thomas is with them. Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Only then can Thomas exclaim, “My Lord and My God!” Thomas does not doubt. He refuses to believe in a Body of Christ that has no wounds. It is only when he touches the wounds that Jesus’ identity at last becomes clear (the disciples have been groping after it for the whole of the Gospel). I understand that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have been wounded so often that many would be unwilling to continue in relationship with ++Daniel, but I can only know he received communion at our altar, just like many on any Sunday with whom we disagree, with whom we argue, who have hurt us, and whom we have hurt. But the meal atones, or at least gives a foretaste of atonement. Until we eat it with Jesus in the Kingdom . . .

Pastoral Letter

Pastoral Letter to Church of the Advent

28 September 2007

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have watched the news coverage of the just-concluded House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans. I have read the Bishops’ response to our Anglican partners. I have read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon preached at an ecumenical service in New Orleans. I have kept track of the email conversations on the Oasis Missouri list service. I feel I owe Church of the Advent an insight into how I respond to all of this.

Many GLBTQ Episcopalians have felt hurt by the House of Bishop’s response, understandably so. For far to long, gays and lesbians have known themselves to be almost fully included in our church, and that status remains unchanged. The House of Bishops will continue to exercise “restraint” in consenting to the elections of gays or lesbians as bishops, and will not authorize public services of blessing for same sex unions, just as General Convention 2006 asked them to do in Resolution B033.

It is important to say, however, that the House of Bishops does not have the authority to rescind resolution B033: that’s the way the Episcopal Church operates. It takes the consensus and agreement of persons from all orders, lay and ordained, with the consent of the Bishops, to enact any binding legislation on the Episcopal Church. We have never entrusted that authority to bishops alone. And so, while we might be disappointed that the bishops did not change the status quo, we can be grateful that they simply cannot make any changes without the rest of us.

The House of Bishops did, in their response to our Anglican Partners, object in the strongest possible terms to the incursion of bishops and clergy ordained in other branches of the Anglican Communion into the jurisdictions of American bishops. If there is any hope at all of preventing schism within the Anglican Communion, we must all play by the same rules, and some African bishops do not.

I want to reiterate that absolutely nothing has changed, because the bishops simply do not have the authority unilaterally to make any change at all. The situation remains exactly the same as a week ago. But, B033 becomes a dead letter on the first day of General Convention 2009. I believe we must start now working for change with the seating of that convention. Perhaps Advent’s Vestry can memorialize our own convention in 2008 to ask the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to prepare resolutions for GC 2009 that will lead the authorization of a liturgy for blessing same sex unions. Perhaps Advent’s Vestry can memorialize our diocesan convention in 2008 to ask that General Convention make clear to the Anglican Communion that dioceses in the Episcopal Church elect their own bishops and that bishops and Standing Committees will respect local elections.

I hope we can turn the hurt and anger at the maintenance of the status quo into positive energy directed at changing the status quo. The time for silence is past. We cannot protect the Anglican Communion by simply swallowing our own hurt. No relationship works that way. We can certainly listen to and understand the hurt of our partners, but our own will not go away by ignoring it. I trust that we and our Anglican partners can find some way of being honest with each other that involves neither name calling nor spite nor self-harm. We have as much right to ask them to listen to us as they have to ask us to listen to them. But for the relationship, any relationship, to survive, each party must be allowed to exercise self-care.

I pray that during the time between now and Lambeth 2008 and General Convention 2009, we will all exercise restraint in any hasty decisions either to leave this beloved Church of ours, or to cast stones at others. I also urge all of us to begin to find creative ways to work for full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians. Advent has done a remarkable job so far of including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and including those who have doubts about their full inclusion. We stay together because we need each other. We honor each other, and find ways to live together. I believe we have that gift to offer to the Anglican Communion. How can we let our light shine for General Convention? I urge us to find ways to do this.



The Episcopal Church grows up.

The Executive Committee of the General Convention (that body charged with carrying out the business of the GC between meetings) has taken the advice of the House of Bishops by declining to participate in Pastoral Scheme proposed by the Anglican Primates meeting this spring in Dar es Salaam (see the Executive Committee’s statement). There is no finger pointing in the statement. The Executive Committee simply points out that all the Episcopal Church USA has to offer to the larger Anglican Communion is itself in relationship. They point out that the basis of relationship within the Church is baptism, and that many of the baptized members of the ECUSA are gays and lesbians. The Executive Committee commits to continue to listen to our Anglican sisters and brothers, but makes no promises about where the spirit may or may not lead us in the future.

There is no apology in this statement, no shying away from what we have come to know about ourselves, no trying to say two things at once. It seems we have finally found the courage of our convictions. It feels good. When Advent had once taken the vote to become an Oasis Missouri congregation, we could begin to be straightforward with ourselves and with all who visited us and have since come to join. We are explicit in our affirmation of welcome of all persons, including gays and lesbians and the whole alphabet soup (GLBTQSA), the whole rainbow. That freed up a tremendous amount of energy that had been spent worrying about what would happen if we did jump in the pool. The statement of the Executive Committee feels the same way. We are what we are, let’s get on with it. We will listen, we will do everything we can to stay in relationship, but we won’t be who we aren’t, because then we are not in relationship honestly, and therefore not in relationship at all. Way to go.

See the Episcopal Majority’s comments also.

Lambeth Conference

Archbishop Rowan Williams has chosen not to invited Bishop Gene Robinson to the upcoming Lambeth conference. No doubt, he knows there would be a number of bishops from other parts of the world who would not attend if Bishop Robinson did attend. Likewise, Williams has not invited Marty Minns to Lambeth; Akinola recently consecrated Minns to serve as his “missionary bishop” in the USA. Doubtless, a number of American Bishops would boycott if Minns attended. I wouldn’t want to be Williams.

The Lambeth Conference had its beginning in controversy. The archbishop of Cape Town in the 1860’s had deposed and excommunicated Thomas Colenso, the bishop of Natal. Colenso, who had been appointed as a missionary bishop, appealed his deposition to the Privy Council in England, which overturned it and maintained his status as bishop of Natal because his letter of installation predated the letter installing the current archbishop of Capetown (ah, the constitutional weirdness of being an established Church!). Colenso was teaching biblical criticism which was considered heresy at the time. There were also moral matters involved. A number of American Bishops signed a document to the Archbishop of Canterbury upholding Colenso’s excommunication — seemed to them like his current archbishop had the right to make that call, not a secular court in London. The Canadian bishop pushed the Archbishop of Canterbury to call a conference to settle the matter, which convened in 1867. Fewer than half the British bishops attended, not knowing exactly what the conference was trying to achieve — it looked to them like outside interference in their own business. Even getting the Colenso affair on the agenda was difficult. The real meat of the conference didn’t happen until the last day, when, in private session, a number of bishops from provinces outside of England signed a document pledging to respect the Archbishop of Capetown’s decision to excommunicate Colenso. Without a formal vote, the deal was done.

I think it’s a shame Rowan doesn’t have the spine to invite Robinson, the duly elected, approved and consecrated bishop of New Hampshire. I understand what he is trying to do, but the Lambeth Conference has never been a very successful venture, even from its first meeting, attended by fewer than half the bishops of Britain (who didn’t have far to travel!). I only hope when he meets with our House of Bishops in September, they can express our position to him with appropriate force. Seems like it has taken bishops of provinces outside the Church of England to wag the dog more than once before now.

House of Bishops

The House of Bishops, meeting in Texas this past week, have issued a set of “Mind of the House” resolutions. Reading them, I was greatly encourage by the clarity with which the Bishops spoke their mind. Often, resolutions coming from the House of Bishops are couched in language aimed at being acceptable to all. One often comes away not quite sure what the mind of the house is. This time, they were just as clear as can be.

In particular, in responding to the Primates Pastoral Scheme proposed in Dar es Salaam, the Bishops are clear in their rejection of it. The Scheme, which was already pretty much in place before PB Katharine Jefferts Schori even arrived in Dar es Salaam, called for the creation of a committee, of which she and her appointees would have been a minority, whose job would be to appoint a Primatial Vicar for those dioceses in TEC who have difficulty with Katharine being Primate.

The Bishops rightly decline to participate in this scheme, pointing out that for the first time in our history since we separated from the Papacy in the 16th century, this scheme would replace the local governance of a church by its own bishops, priests, deacons and laity, with governance by a distant and unaccountable group of prelates. Here, I believe they have put their finger on precisely what is at issue in this whole brouhaha since 2003: Are we Anglican or not? Are we governed locally or not? That was the issue in 1525 (not Henry’s divorce).

They also point out that the ultimatum issued by the Primates that TEC be banned from Anglican gatherings if we don’t get our house in order by September 30, 2007, only perpetuates one of the worst sins of Western culture: the willingness to break relationships when they get difficult. This sin, they point out, is what threatens marriage and all other relationships.

They also say just as clearly as can be said that gay and lesbian persons are full participants in the life of the Church. I guess we finally mean it: The Episcopal Church welcomes you. I’ haven’t often been prouder to be an Episcopalian than when reading these resolutions. Now we just have to be equally clear when September 30 rolls around.

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.