Monday, May 18, 2015

Mission is Who We Are

Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish
Sunday, May 17, 2015
John 17:6-19

Last week I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to present at two separate conferences. The first conference was sponsored by the Global Episcopal Mission Network, also known as GEMN. GEMN’s mission statement proclaims, “GEMN is dedicated to the principle that every Episcopalian (and, indeed, every Christian) is a missionary.  We are committed to providing global mission conferences, global mission training, and global mission resources to all those who would like to participate in discerning where God is leading us in mission, as individuals and as a church.”

The second conference was organized by Gray Dove, Inc., an organization that I represent. Grey Dove’s mission statement proclaims, “Grey Dove, Inc. is an organization whose mission is to build healthcare capacity and sustainability in rural communities throughout Haiti. Through direct care, technical assistance, and the training and enhancement of available resources we encourage local leaders to become effective agents of change in their own community.”

You might say, Grey Dove is in the business of operationalizing the theology inherent in the mission of GEMN. Proclaiming and witnessing to the Kingdom of God in ways that bring justice, well-being and the Light of Christ into communities living in darkness.

At the close of the GEMN conference and prior to the beginning of the Grey Dove conference there was an incredibly moving noonday Eucharist service. The celebrant and preacher at this service was Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer of the Episcopal Church.

To say that Bishop Stacy’s sermon was stunningly eloquent is certainly not to do it justice. In simple words and stories he emphasized over and over again – “Mission is not what we do – it is who we are.”

Mission is not what we do – it is who we are.

Following the Bishop’s sermon there was a Hand-Anointing Litany and Blessing of the Oil. Together we prayed,

 “Loving God, we hear your call as you invite us again to share in your ministry. Our zeal in the past has not set the world on fire and our attachment to convenience shields us from the urgency of needs in our global community. And yet you call us to the work of reconciliation and justice, of equity and renewal…it is God’s purpose that we serve as a community when we share our gifts in ministry…We ask you to renew and restore us in our call to serve. We ask that you give to us faith and the confidence to bear it; hope and the openness to be continually expectant; and love, the only true beginning.”

Mission is not what we do – it is who we are.

So, you may be asking yourself…what exactly is mission? What does Holy Scripture say about mission? The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut and one of the four candidates in the upcoming election for a new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, says about mission:

“…it must be pointed out that the word mission, per se, is not found in the Bible…The reason we do not find the word mission, as such, in the Bible is…that the whole Bible, Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament, is a revelation of God’s mission in the world…God’s mission, not our mission…ultimately, it is God’s mission that our Lord Jesus Christ came to bear witness to, it is God’s mission that the Church proclaims in the world today, and it is God’s mission that we share by virtue of our baptisms.”

Douglas speaks at length about God’s mission and God’s missional efforts to rebuild the bonds of love which are continually severed through human sin, or falling away from God. God’s mission was always, and still is, a mission to reconnect humanity and to heal the divisions that separate us. The central mission of God is to restore to unity that which has become broken; to reconcile a divided world.

Throughout history God has chosen particular people as the entry point into the world: Abraham and Sarah; Moses; the prophets, perhaps especially Elisha and Isaiah; and finally, of course, Jesus Christ.

Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the prophets were called by God to direct people to him – to be the vehicles, the mechanism through which all the nations could be joined to the almighty Creator and to each other.  Israel’s role in God’s mission was to serve as the central force that would pull all humanity back into relationship with God.

In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God entered the world anew and took the responsibility for God’s mission directly upon himself. In Jesus, God created a new way through which the world could be joined to the Creator.

As the human form of the creator God, Jesus’ mission is one and the same with that of the Creator. His mission is God’s mission. Jesus demonstrates in word and deed that the Reign of God, made real in the sending of God’s son, must continue to expand, to move out to the ends of the earth. Jesus sends out his disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to be the bearers of his mission, of God’s mission, in the world.

The ultimate act of Jesus’ participation in God’s mission is his sacrifice upon the cross and his victory over death. The joining of Jesus’ pain and suffering with our pain and suffering upon the cross is where we are passionately connected with God, with one another, and with all creation.

In Jesus’ death and resurrection we are given the means by which we become one with each other and with God…the divisions between God and humanity are overcome, and the promise of reconciliation is made real.

In his book Transforming Mission, David J. Bosch elegantly summarized these concepts when he wrote, “Mission is, quite simply, the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus, wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to believe. It is the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world. This is the deepest source of mission…there is mission because God loves people.”

Mission is not what we do…it is who we are.

Jesus High Priestly Prayer draws to its conclusion in today’s gospel reading from John. As Jesus prepares to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the world, he intercedes on behalf of his disciples.

Jesus prays, “I am asking on their behalf…Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one…I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they may also be sanctified in truth.”

Jesus prays that we may go forth into the world with a unity of heart and purpose. He asks God to sanctify us – to make us spiritually whole – holy. Jesus lays the groundwork for his disciples – Jesus lays the groundwork for us – for all God’s children to carry forth his incarnational ministry of bringing the world into relationship with God.

Mission is not what we do…it is who we are.

In a sermon preached at the Trinity Institute in 2006, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, and also a candidate in the upcoming election for Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, proclaimed,

“…the reconfiguration of the nature of life by God was what Jesus was talking about--that anyone in Christ is a new creation, and that "he [God] has given us the ministry of his reconciliation."

"This mission of reconciliation is about God's reconfiguration of the landscape of our realities. From the nightmare that it often is into the dream that God has intended for the foundation of the world."

"The ministry of reconciliation is about participating in God's work of reconfiguration. The work of reconfiguration is calling the creation back to itself, to its origin, to its momma, to its roots, to God, to each other and when that happens, life can flourish."

"Reconciliation is about the very life of the world," said Curry. "As the world and the creation lives into the loving purposes of its creator [and] as we live in the communion and love in relationship with God and with each other, we will discover that that is the context for life that not even death can destroy."

Curry ended by saying, "this mission, this work is the difference between civilization or mutually assured self-destruction."

Mission is not what we do…it is who we are.

Participants in last week’s two Atlanta conferences, 80 people in all, heard these and similar messages over a somewhat exhausting three-day period. A three-day period during which we all struggled with how best to be, not do, but be missioners in this complex and troubled world.

We participated in wonderful conversations, rich worship that frequently brought tears to our eyes, and we all grew a little in our spiritual formation as Disciples of Christ, knowing that there was a lot more work, a lot more growing to do.

As I sat in stunned silence after Bishop Stacy’s sermon at the closing noon-day Eucharist, I wondered how in the world I had ever gotten into the space in life that I currently occupy. The blessing and the privilege of being among so many spiritually whole – and holy – fellow missioners literally took my breath away, as did Bishop Stacy’s closing remark, “As you go out into the world, take care. It is not your world, it belongs to God. He has charged you with its care.” AMEN

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Alleluia. He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia

Easter Vigil April 4, 2015
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish

Alleluia. The Lord is Risen. The Lord is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!

What an incredibly complex and rich fabric of our Christian heritage fills this holy evening on which we celebrate The Great Vigil of Easter - the first service of Easter Day.

As you may know, the Great Vigil is actually a four-part liturgy. We open with the Service of Light – the Lighting of the Pascal Candle. The term "Paschal" comes from the word Pesach, which in Hebrew means Passover, and relates to the Paschal mystery of salvation, the Divine truth and life to which God through the Church - the sacraments, the Word of God, and faith - makes himself known to those who choose to follow him.

The flame of the Paschal candle – the Light of Christ - symbolizes the eternal presence of Christ’s light of the world in the midst of his people. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians described this mystery when he wrote, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” (Eph 1:17)

Tonight as we entered the church, darkness engulfed us. A fire was kindled – the Paschal Candle was lighted - the Light of Christ appeared, and a lone voice bathed in the new light proclaimed, “Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout salvation for the victory of our mighty King…This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life…This is the night that Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave…How blessed is this night when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”

Powerful words – extraordinary images – passionate prayers in which we yearn to burn with heavenly desires so that we may come to know the divine mystery of salvation.

After the Service of Light, we moved into the Service of Lessons in which we heard the beloved stories from Scripture that tell of God’s saving deeds in history. Stories that remind us of the power, the scope, and the beauty of God’s creation.

The testing of Abraham who was blessed by God and whose offspring would be a blessing to all nations. The compassion and love of God as he delivered his people at the Red Sea. God’s plan of salvation for the whole word as described by the prophet Isaiah. And, in Zephaniah, God’s dramatic announcement of a time in which God would act decisively to re-establish justice after the exile.

Through stories and psalms we heard in one way or another, and over and over again, comforting words that assured us, “Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense and he will be my Savior.” (Canticle 9; vs 1-2)

After the Service of Lessons came the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, a time in which we renewed the solemn promises and vows of or Baptismal Covenant. Vows in which we promised to love our neighbors as ourselves and to serve God faithfully – without hesitation – always.

And then, finally, we arrived at the Holy Eucharist with the administration of Easter Communion. The Altar candles were lit from the Paschal Candle – The light of Christ burst forth, and we proclaimed: Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

The Light of the resurrected Christ shines out of the darkness; our hope is restored. Our Easter opportunity to leave behind an old way of life – a way of life beholden to distraction and self-involvement – stares us straight in the face – challenges us. Are we ready for this new life, once again given to us through God’s grace and love?

Once again this Easter we have the Easter opportunity to be renewed both in body and in mind to a way of life that brings Jesus the Christ front and center in our lives. Jesus Christ as the way – our way, the light – our light and the truth – our truth– all that we need, really, to live into the Baptismal vows that we have just renewed.

With candles lit and joy in our hearts we listened, once again, to the Gospel story of Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Salome who, with spices in their hands, approach Jesus’ tomb. They are there to anoint his body, as was the custom; to ensure that he receives the compassionate care and love that he taught and so profoundly demonstrated. They go to the tomb to honor their beloved teacher.

The tomb is empty – Jesus is not there. Instead, they see a man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side of the tomb. He speaks to them saying, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” (Mark  16:6-7)

Mark tells us that the women fled – they were seized by terror and amazement. Terror and amazement – powerful and graphic words that remind me of Luke’s shepherds who were terrified when the angel of the Lord shone around them bringing “good news of great joy,” and, then amazed when they saw the baby Jesus lying in a manager surrounded by the angel and a multitude of the heavenly host, who were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Lk 2:13)

As we experience this incredibly rich Great Vigil of Easter liturgy are we not filled with terror and amazement? Is it not frightening to consider the power of God as he reigns over his Kingdom? Is it not amazing to consider the benevolence of God as he continually bestows grace upon us – both sinner and savior?  If you were at the tomb, would you, like the two Marys, not also be filled with terror and amazement?

What does the resurrection of Jesus mean to you? When you contemplate the gift of the resurrected Jesus in your everyday life, are you not both terrified and amazed?

Sister Joan Chittester, a Benetictine nun, author and lecturer writes: “To say, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ... who rose from the dead then, is to say I believe that the Resurrection goes on and on and on forever. Every time Jesus rises in our own hearts in new ways, the Resurrection happens again. Every time we see Jesus where we did not recognize him before — in the faces of the poor, in the love of the unloved, in the revelatory moments of life, Jesus rises anew. But that is not all. The real proof of the Resurrection lies not in the transformation of Jesus alone but in the transformation awaiting us who accept it.”

That is to say, we also are resurrected tonight, and through the resurrected Christ, God has given us the gift of continual resurrection. Along with Jesus, we become a new people. A people who know the darkness, and a people who continue to walk through it because we are assured that the Light of Christ shines brightly, guiding us in our journey…healing us in our pain…and bringing us into the eternal Kingdom of God’s grace and salvation.

“This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life…This is the night that Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave…How blessed is this night when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Unless I Wash You

Maundy Thursday – April 2, 2015
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

The hour for Jesus to depart has come. In less than 30 minutes we will leave the church in darkness and silence. The altar and the sanctuary will be bare. The candles snuffed; the crosses covered in black; the music silenced.

Our minds will be stunned; our hearts numbed. With tears welling from the anguish of a saddened heart, we will exit into the darkness of night – a night in which the light and life of our Lord Jesus has been extinguished.

In less than 30 minutes Jesus will depart.  Yet, in these all too brief, but incredibly important, few moments we, as Disciples of Christ, will have the opportunity to be with him in a most amazing way. A way that is perhaps more compelling, more fraught with emotion, more powerful than the darkening of the church, the setting of the Altar of Repose, the stripping of the altar, and our silent exit in grief and silence.

In just a few moments we will participate in the ritual of foot-washing, an act of humility, compassion, and love instituted by Jesus so many years ago in that crowded upper room in Bethany – the site of his last supper with the disciples. In just a few moments we will step back in time and enter that upper room. And now, as then, as feet are washed, the courage, humility and compassion of Jesus will leave us amazed and deeply moved.

Without doubt, the foot-washing is a challenging ritual. After all, who wants to come forward, take off their shoes, and expose perhaps the ugliest part of their body - those funny, sometimes cracked and dirty things called feet? Who wants to expose their ugly feet – who wants to kneel on a hardwood floor and wash the feet of others?

Indeed, many churches eliminate the foot-washing from their Maundy Thursday service entirely. Other churches slip it in quietly and quickly – the altar party as the only participants while the congregation sits in silence listening to beautiful music. And in churches where the foot-washing ritual is practiced in its entirety many members of the congregation hang back, too embarrassed or conflicted to participate fully.

What in the world are we thinking by assigning this embarrassing, messy, and unfamiliar act such a prominent place in the midst of an otherwise somber and compassionate liturgy?

Don’t feel as if you are an odd man out for having these, or similar, thoughts. These are questions that even the disciples had for Jesus. Simon Peter was incredulous when he said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Peter could not believe that Jesus would stoop to such a low level. Why would Jesus, their teacher, their rabbi, their Lord, perform a task not even required of most household slaves? Normally, guests who had walked long distances were provided with water and a cloth and expected to wash their own dirty and cracked feet.

Jesus, undeterred, in fact put off, by Peter’s question, continued about his business. He wrapped a towel around his waist and got started with the foot-washing saying, “Unless I wash you, you will have no share with me.”

When Peter heard Jesus speak these words he knew that the simple and embarrassing act of foot-washing had an alternative meaning. Peter realized that Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet was central to the message of salvation that his Lord was teaching. All of a sudden the act of foot-washing took on importance for Peter – an importance way beyond the simple act itself.

And, Peter wasn’t wrong. The foot-washing was in fact an essential key to these last lessons that Jesus was imparting to his disciples.

Jesus was telling his disciples that the foot-washing was so important, that without it one cannot "share" with him. The word “share” used here – the Greek meros – means to share with or be a partner with; it means in this context not only a fellowship with Jesus, but also a sharing in his heritage, his kingdom. Raymond Brown in the “Gospel According to John” observes that Jesus words are not "if you don’t allow yourself to be washed," but rather: "Unless I wash you." These words point to Jesus’ salvific action, as symbolized by the act of foot-washing.

Foot-washing, then, is much more than a moral example to be imitated, a guideline for better Christian living. By symbolizing the sacrifice of Jesus, it also acts as an invitation to be "washed" into love and fellowship with Jesus; into a share of his kingdom as we are cleansed of sin.

Michael Taylor in “The Different Gospel” writes, “Jesus tells Peter he will be lost if he does not accept this act. The foot-washing as a pre-cursor to the crucifixion-death of Jesus is not an evil to be rejected, a scandal that proves the unworthiness of the one who dies hanging on a cross. The foot-washing is God’s fullest act of love, and unless Peter and all believers embrace it and let it embrace them, there will be no sharing in Jesus’ inheritance.”

If Peter was to have a share with Jesus in his community and in God’s eternal Kingdom then he must be washed by Jesus.  He must allow, without question, without incredulity – he must allow Jesus, graciously and lovingly, to wash his feet.

Now Jesus has Peter’s attention. Peter swings from one end of the spectrum to the other. He wants not only his feet washed – he wants his whole body washed by Jesus. Peter wants to be assured of full inclusion in whatever Jesus is offering – he wants it all. Peter eagerly responds, “Then, Lord, . . . not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus responds – “Peter you are missing the point” - “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet.”

This enigmatic statement has been the subject of many scholarly interpretations. Alan Culpepper in “The Gospel and Letters of John” writes that Jesus’ response can be interpreted as affirming that the “one who has been washed by Jesus’ death, which is to be interpreted as the foot-washing, has no need of any further washings.” R. H. Lightfoot in “St. John’s Gospel” concluded that “the feet-washing is probably best interpreted as having the same significance and efficacy as the Lord’s death.” In other words, Peter misses the point by thinking that the frequency and extent of physical washing would increase his “share” with Jesus. Jesus was undertaking the humiliating act of foot-washing to prophesy that he was to be humiliated in death. Peter’s questioning prompts Jesus to explain the salvific necessity of his death in bringing humanity into relationship with himself, and into a share of his kingdom – all this by the cleansing of their sin through the blood shed at Calvary and symbolized by the cleansing waters of foot-washing.

After Jesus had washed disciples’ feet, he put on his robe and returned to the supper table. Once again, he spoke to his disciples saying, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Our marching orders from Jesus – always follow his example – always do unto others as he has done to us.

This then is the challenge that we face tonight as we prepare for the foot-washing. Are we able to move beyond the superficial embarrassment of exposing cracked and dirty feet and instead create a place deep within our hearts and minds that allows us to experience the humility and compassion of our Lord as he prepared for the ultimate act of humiliation, crucifixion upon the cross.

Are we able to intentionally share in this act of foot-washing with the members of our Christ Church community in a way that builds a community that cannot be described in words – a community that is founded upon, is fed by, and grows out of humility, compassion and love – the same humility, compassion and love demonstrated by Jesus in that small upper room so many years ago.

Are we able to be washed by Jesus and to wash one another, thinking not of our feet, but of our hearts, our minds and our souls as they engage with the passion of Jesus and his death upon the cross?

Are we able to love one another as Jesus loved us?

There is indeed a great deal to pack into these precious last 30 minutes - Many words and actions to see and hear with the eyes and ears of our heart -Multiple complex teachings to comprehend if we are to truly grasp the glory­ of the resurrection and the significance of our lives as Christ’s disciples - Much to understand that is, in the end, incomprehensible.

As we wash each other’s feet, pray and break bread together, say our last words of thanksgiving and praise, the words from John’s gospel will linger as critically important lessons in our minds:

·        “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
·        “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
·        “Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, not are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
·        “Where I am going, you cannot come.”
·        “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Monday, March 23, 2015

Let the Light Shine in the Darkness

Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish - March 22, 2015
John 12:20-33

This coming week marks the end of our Lenten journey; a time of intentional reflection, prayer, meditation and self-denial. A time during which we were tasked with pondering the nature of our relationship with God as we journeyed with Jesus, his face set towards Jerusalem; his teaching filled with prophesies of his impending death and resurrection; his passion to fulfill his role as the “Beloved Son of God” so very evident as he expressed over and over again, and in so many different and urgent words, the way to eternal salvation.

In Mark, “If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

In John, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (John 12:26)

Again in John, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:31-32)

Lent – a powerful five weeks in which we, once again, seek to discern the centrality of Jesus and our relationship with God to our way of life. Five weeks during which we perceive anew Jesus as the universal truth; the universal path. Jesus as the decisive disclosure of God in our lives and in the world. Jesus, as the way, the truth and the light.

I am fairly certain that there are many among us who, over the course of this brief Lenten journey, have also been confronted by personal challenges both big and small. Situations that, despite the best of intentions, cause us to ponder anew our relationship with God – situations that generate questions such as “Where is God in all this,” and “What is God trying to tell me.” Situations that make feeling and recognizing the centrality of Jesus in our lives an even more complex and challenging task.

Personal crises, business challenges, family responsibilities that at times seem overwhelming; FOX News, CNN, Facebook, pages upon pages of email, and the myriad social media that blast us out of and into bed and follow us throughout our day to day lives – all of these fast-paced distractions make it even more difficult to carry out our Lenten journey mandate of focusing on our relationship with Jesus and with God.

Jesus  - without whom our day to day life is meaningless, draining, dead - lost in the hub bub of day to day life. Jesus, the decisive disclosure of God in our lives, slowly fading from our hearts and from our minds as each wave of day to day living engulfs us.

I don’t know about you, but for me, when I lose sight of Jesus, when he has fallen away from my mind and my heart, I am lost, confused, and unable to love myself much less others. The light goes out of my life, and I am no longer a light to others. And, that is what we are called to be – a lamp shining forth the love and compassion of Jesus – a lamp that brings those living in darkness into the light.

In Matthew Jesus said to his disciples, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” (Matthew 6:22-23)

In the Gospel of John light and darkness define the major theme of the Gospel. They represent the opposing powers of righteousness and evil – belief and disbelief. In the opening words of the Prologue the light is the life that was manifested in Christ. Through him the divine radiance was focused on the world as a searchlight plays on a dark landscape.

The underlying concept of dark versus light is apparent on almost every page of John’s Gospel. In every contact that Jesus made, he penetrated the dark recesses of the human spirit and revealed its true character. The light of his holiness uncovered hidden hypocrisy in sharp relief. Every sign he performed was a manifestation of the light that was in him illuminating the darkness of the world.

Now, we are called to be the light that illumines the darkness. We are asked to, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.” (Luke 12:35-36)

Our Lenten journey was a mandate to seek the light of Christ within ourselves and within others through reflecting on our relationship with God.

My Lenten journey, despite its many moments of darkness, was a time in which I saw the light of Christ and the gift of God’s love more clearly than ever.

It was a time during which I experienced the incredible love and compassion of my family and friends both here and in Florida as that bright searchlight on a dark landscape. A searchlight that found me, encompassed me in its scope, and kept me safe from darkness as it carefully followed me throughout the wilderness journey of my husband’s complex and complicated surgery and recovery.

Looking back, I can still feel the experience of that light, the light of Christ shining forth from within those many friends and family, the warm embrace of their love, compassion and concern. A light that allowed me to hope, to function, and to know that God was with me every step of the way.

The light of Christ that burns within us and then shines forth throughout the world is central to our way of life; to our ability to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is the decisive disclosure of God within us, God around us – God throughout the world.

In a recent blog, Bishop Dan Edwards of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada – the bishop who ordained me – wrote, “I am convinced that all the church growth marketing and charismatic clergy we can buy will not enliven the Church. Our deadness comes from our lack of belief we have anything to offer that the world wants or needs. The problem is we don’t have Jesus in our hearts. We are not being transformed ourselves so that we can, in the power of the Spirit, transform the world. Cosmetics won’t help if our heart is not beating. For our heart to beat, there is one and only one way: we have to follow Jesus.”

Just as we have engaged in the process of examining our own relationship with God over the past few weeks, our own commitment to hold Jesus central to our way of being – so Jesus asked of his disciples so many years ago, just days before his betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.

Jesus asked his disciples to follow him without question, without hesitation – always. Jesus is asking us to follow him to the cross and beyond, without question, without hesitation - always; dying to an old way of life so that we may be raised to a new way of life. A way that sheds love and light into a world of darkness and fear.

How did light and darkness manifest itself in your Lenten journey? When the light of Christ is extinguished on Maundy Thursday how will you feel? What will the return of light to the world through the resurrected Jesus mean to you?

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. (Psalm 51:1-13)   AMEN

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Keeping the Bridge Open

Today, in the Episcopal Church, we celebrate World Mission Sunday and, as an Anglican Community, we also celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Today is a Sunday that we come face to face with Christ in all his glory as he sets his face to Jerusalem and the passion of the cross. It is a Sunday that reminds us that, as disciples of Christ, we are heirs to the mandate from our Savior to Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything that I have commanded you. (Matt. 28:19-20)

It is a Sunday that brings to life in every way the incredibly important, complex, and salvific work of mission in the world. Mission - a way of fulfilling the vows of our baptismal covenant.  Mission - a way of truly experiencing ourselves as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. Mission a way in which we carry out our most profound responsibility of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

In our gospel reading today - Marks account of the Transfiguration of Christ - we are reminded of the divinity of Jesus, the Beloved Son of God. And, we are reminded that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are also children of God. We are reminded that as children of God, we are part of a global family and, as such, we are mutually responsible for one another.  

We are reminded that the price of discipleship can be costly, discouraging, painful, and lonely. But, we are also reminded that to bear the cross of discipleship is to see the face of God and to experience His grace and salvation to enter into a peace that passes all understanding both now and forever more.

Today is a day when we celebrate our lives as Children of God - Disciples of Christ agents of healing, compassion, justice, and dignity for all.

What better Sunday for a deacon to be preaching!

In Christian teachings, the Transfiguration of Jesus is a pivotal moment.  The setting on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point; Jesus acting as the bridge between heaven and earth.
Thomas Aquinas considered the Transfiguration "the greatest miracle. He wrote, By his loving foresight he allowed them to taste for a short time the contemplation of eternal joy, so that they might bear prosecution bravely. (Summa Theologiae, III, 45.1)
In other words, in seeing Jesus transfigured, the disciples had the opportunity to see the glory of God radiate from their teacher and to learn that the road to personally experiencing this glory is not necessarily a road easily traveled but, that it is a road most definitely worth traveling. It is a road that leads from the trials and tribulations of this earthly dwelling to Gods Kingdom both here and beyond.
Anointed at our baptism as Disciples of Christ, we have historically struggled with the hows of this enormous, both gift and responsibility, that we have inherited as Christians.  How do we perpetuate the existence of this bridge between the temporal and the sacred? How do we keep God present among us so that the world can know and experience the love, compassion and the salvation that God has given to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
How do we keep Jesus among us?
In 1963, 16,000 Anglicans from around the world gathered together for an Anglican Congress to discuss issues of mutual ministry, and to live into the belief that the Anglican Communion is one family, mutually interdependent on one another.

The congress struggled with issues of interdependence in an economically unequal world. The congress discussed moving away from the idea of giving and receiving, and decided to instead focus on equality, interdependence and mutual responsibility. The congress talked about needing to examine rigorously the ways in which we use the word mission in describing something we do for someone else.

Perhaps the one of the most revealing comments in the final document published by this congress is, We do not do mission for others. Mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky, of giving a little out of our excess. Mission is about
being in a fully mutual and interdependent relationship in which we recognize that we are blood of the same blood, flesh of the same flesh.

In other words, when one person hurts, we all hurt. When one person is not able to live fully into their humanity because of a lack of human rights, then we all are in pain. We are all intimately connected to one another.

In her book, Being a Deacon Today, Rosalind Brown writes, Without rootedness in the world, life and ministry are meaningless. From the very beginnings of the biblical narrative, the story is of God who comes among us - asking the hiding Adam and Eve, Where are you? (Gen 3:9), saying, I have seen the misery of my people and have come down (Exod 3:7-8), and giving the name Emmanuel, God is with us, to the incarnate Son (Matt 1:23). And it is this incarnational self-giving of God [this involvement of God in our lives] that sets our agenda as the people of God. An agenda that calls us to be present in the lives of others.

In a challenge to the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923, Bishop Frank Weston said, You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle of you do not pity Jesus in the slumnow go out into the highway and hedges and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them and when you have found him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of his brethren.

Tough marching orders. Tough marching orders for deacons - and, tough marching orders for laity called into mission through the vows of their baptismal covenant.

This work of mission has, in one way or another, been my lifes calling - first as a social worker intent of serving and bringing dignity and justice to very marginal populations - the dying, those living with HIV/AIDS, and the sexually abused. Now as a deacon my missional work has taken a slightly different path. I am called to bring educational opportunities, food and basic healthcare to communities of Episcopal school children and their families in Haiti.

Over the years, I have learned, at times as the result of grave mistakes on my part, that there can be no doing, no helping, without first being present. Being present among and seeking Christ in those to whom I have ambitious hopes of directing my assistance and support.

This business of being present among and finding Christ in the other is very hard work - it requires prayer, discipline, courage and a servant point of view. It requires incredible humility, with a frame of mind that is comfortable with the concept of I know nothing, - I need to be silent, present, and watch, listen and learn.

I have learned, very clearly, that the act of being present assumes that you lay down your I in search of the other.

Being present allows you to see Christ in everyone you meet and to know that God sees no difference between us and them. To God, we are all one, coming together in prayer and hard work to keep that bridge - the bridge between heaven and earth, the bridge to God that Christ gave us  - to keep that bridge open to traffic 24/7.

My job as deacon is to inspire you to take up, and then to lead you in your missional journey. My task is to encourage us all to move away from the goal of giving to to the task of being with. My prayer is that together we will go into the world, joining our hearts and souls with those who suffer, becoming a light to those who are in darkness, and creating a way for us all to worship, live, and be as a community of brothers and sisters in Christ - both in our own community, throughout our nation, and in a world that is torn by terrorism, famine, and disasters to numerous to imagine.

It is in community and servanthood that the light of Christ shines and the bridge to God remains open.  AMEN.