Wednesday, November 28, 2007

St Andrew the Apostle

November 30th is the day we remember Andrew the Apostle. The lessons for his feast are interesting. I am particularly interested in the juxtaposition of Romans and Matthew.

The Romans reading contains a phrase about the confession of Jesus as Lord, and that confession brings salvation. It reminded me of a conversation with my mother, as a child. I remember her explaining to me the relationship between belief and salvation. As a child, I wanted it to be more complicated. The idea that our acceptance was free through grace, and grace was sufficient, troubled me. It challenged my sense of fairness. It wasn’t until later that I was able to make the distinction between free and cheap.

There are several dimensions to the concept of salvation. Part of it is about being saved from eternal death. The Christian hope is eternal life after death, and beginning to appropriate life and freedom, now. Salvation is about delighting in God’s presence. Salvation is, in some sense, about worth. It is about being valued by God.

We, of course, wrestle with salvation. We always seem to be looking for assurances for our salvation and them struggling to believe it is given us by God’s grace. The other side of the coin is how we like to muse about the salvation of others. Can a-blank-be saved? As some argue about the unacceptability of others to God, it is too easy to see those deemed “damned”, as it were, as having no worth. Then it can become license and justification, for all manner of poor treatment.

Ultimately, salvation is something of a mystery. We know and affirm Jesus’ revelation as the Christ, and recognize that he offers the way. We have ways, we describe the process-atonement theories, but at the end of the day, salvation is God’s business. God is the ultimate arbiter of worth, and God makes God’s rules.

The hope for salvation is only part of the life of faith. I wouldn’t want undermine salvation, but I wonder of we expend too much energy worrying about what happens when we die. This brings me to the call of Andrew. We have no way of knowing what Andrew knew about Jesus prior to his call. The Gospel of John places Andrew around John the Baptist, so it is possible that Andrew knew something about Jesus, before his call. However, Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t mention Andrew, until his call.

The offer made to Andrew is that of following, to fish for people. Andrew hears the call and responds to it. He leaves his past, and makes Jesus his present and future. I find it unlikely, that Andrew appreciated the gravity of his response. In the Gospels, it is clear that the disciples don’t fully understand Jesus, until after the resurrection. They may never have fully understood, but through faith, they gained understanding.

I guess my point is that Andrew had no roadmap, but by responding to the grace-filled invitation to follow Jesus, he finds salvation. Maybe, that is the proper understanding of God’s grace and salvation. We are not equipped to earn God’s grace, and the salvation offered in grace. We are called to be alert for it, and respond, when it is offered. There is work to do, when we accept God’s call, because we become bearers of grace. The challenge is allowing God to manage, that that belongs to God, and for us to follow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bishop Lipscomb Desires to Depart for Rome

This morning, I was saddened to hear of Bishop Lipscomb’s, the Bishop of Southwest Florida, intention to leave the Episcopal Church for the Roman Church. It is hard to know the interior process that led to his decision, and why speculate. At the end of the day, individuals choose a course based on many factors. Sometimes, it is a combined weight that leads us in a particular direction. I wish him well and the peace of Christ.

In his letter to the diocese he writes:

“I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home where I was given the gift of a deep love for the Lord Jesus Christ and a reverence for God’s revelation of his love and redemptive purpose in the Word written, as well as the Word made Flesh. I was blessed to be brought into the family of the Episcopal Church 40 years ago. I have a deep love for the sacramental life, most especially the Eucharistic sacrifice through which God continues to pour his grace into our lives in the Word that needs no words.”

This is a beautiful reflection, and I am in no way seeking to be critical of it, but I want to think through it. My thinking is related to reading Karl Barth of late. For Barth, as I understand him, theology begins with the Word of God. By this, Barth means Jesus. The ultimate revelation of God comes in the person of Jesus, the Word made Flesh. The Bible, of course, contains the story of the revelation, but the Bible itself is not the revelation. This is a somewhat subtle distinction. I think it is a distinction that Bishop Lipscomb makes in the above paragraph.

Barth was concerned about bibliolatry, making the text the object of devotion, rather than the revelation contained in it. Many Christians seem to understand this, and it seems that many don’t. I love Jesus. I love the Bible. Does the order in rank make a difference?

I would argue it does. Thoughts?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sermon Notes on Proper 28c

The first time I visited Washington DC, I remember the awe I felt at the grandeur of the city. The Capitol building, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial cast long shadows that embodied history and the greatness of this country for me. I couldn’t but feel pride in our nation, surrounded by those structures. Those structures were more that architectural feats. It seemed impossible to separate from democracy itself.

As I have matured, I have recognized my own proclivity toward romanticism. It has meant recognizing that a beautiful building is just that, and no matter the motivation of the ones that designed and built it, a building is not as important as living up to the principles a structure is intended to express. It is to easy too be swept away by the beauty of the Lincoln Memorial, and forget that for which Lincoln stood and stands. If you loose that connection, then the Memorial is just a tomb.

Jesus and his disciples perused the the Second Temple of Israel. The Twelve are quite properly awed by the scope and beauty of the place. It was not anything like the First Temple, but it still had a commanding presence. Jesus let them soak it all up for a few moments, and then he delivered the bad news. This Second Temple would not last. It would face the same fate of the First Temple. It would be destroyed, as much of the city of Jerusalem would be. Israel would be left with no site of religious focus. The question is what then?

Jesus warns them of the chaos that ensued in the year 70. He warns then of the false options that arose in that year. There were various figures and parties that came to the fore, claiming be have the answers, but none endured.

Jesus warns them that in the midst of all of this, they will be singled out and persecuted. All will seem lost, but it won’t be. Through, endurance and reliance upon the ongoing presence of the Spirit, all will be gained.

Some have heard these words of Jesus, and have extrapolated a curious interpretation, and have even set their hopes upon their interpretation. You see some have accepted the chaos and turmoil that Jesus spoke of as part of God’s plan. They have taken Jesus’ words, and developed a theology that looks ahead for the end of time. They want to interpret world events, as signs of the end, and they are even somewhat giddy about it.

This interpretation, I believe completely misses the point Jesus is making to his disciples. You see Jesus isn’t functioning as a fortune teller. The very Gospel we are reflecting upon was most likely written 10-20 years after the Temple was destroyed. This Gospel of Luke most likely represents its author remembering words of hope that Jesus offered them, during his ministry. Jesus wasn’t telling them an unforeseen plan of God. He was telling them that the conflicts they were experiencing, during their present, would escalate and that the Temple, the sign of God’s presence, could be destroyed as the previous Temple had. The assurance that he offers is that the Temple points to God’s presence, but is not the sole repository of God’s presence. He assure them that if that sign ceases, God will still be. While he is with them, Jesus is God’s presence. When he appears to be gone, they need not worry. Through the Spirit, Jesus will be with them.

The Good News is that Jesus message is just as much for us, as it was his first disciples. There is no shortage of chaos and turmoil in our world. Yet, Jesus words to us are the same. This is not God’s plan. Jesus promise is the same as well. We need not worry. Through the presence of the Spirit, Jesus is with us, and will give us what we need. Structures may crumble, nations may rise and fall, but as long as faith and endurance live, all will be gained.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Insurmountable Obstacle

Lately, I have been reading several things that are coming together for me. N. T. Wright’s book, Simply Christian is the topic of a book study at St. Columba’s. Wright reminds us, the history of Israel is marked by leaving and return. Another way of putting it is: Israel vacillates between honoring the covenant with God and compromising it. At some points, even those convinced of their righteousness are not so.

The six rules of serious theological discourse, posted earlier, address this reality. By recognizing no matter how certain an individual is of their correct assessment of a theological point, the individual can be simply wrong. The history of the Church is marked by countless examples of this truth. Indulgences, the Inquisition and various Millennial movements are just a few examples.

Finally, I am reading some Karl Barth, an important theologian of the last century. One point that he makes is: theology is the product of humans, sinners at that. Therefore, theology itself cannot guarantee its veracity, since it is the product of fallible human beings.

This is not license to ignore the task of trying to understand, and say something meaningful about God. It is more of a warning about our propensity to err. The task of human beings is not to grasp God within our self-constructed systems. Ultimately, our task is to stay awake to witness God’s revelation. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we are positioned to see what God is revealing.

The Bible is the primary source of that revelation. We find there the ultimate revelation of God in the person of Jesus. For Christians, Jesus is the reconciler of the past, and the provider of the vision for the future. For Christians, Jesus is the culmination of the history of God’s working through Israel. He is also the starting point for the completion of the purpose, God holds for creation. We call this the inauguration of the coming Kingdom.

The Church is to be a community that furthers the coming kingdom. The Church is a community united by the Spirit. It is through the presence of the Spirit, the Church is able to recognize revelation, when it occurs. The Spirit enables us to see. Our challenge is being open to what the Sprit is trying to tell us.

There are enduring theological constants to which the Church adheres. God revealed as Trinity, the teachings of Jesus, The two sacraments Jesus practiced and commanded, the Creeds as sufficient condensations of the faith are just a few. We must also acknowledge that the Kingdom is continuing to unfold, and the Spirit is still working. This would seem to mean that our awareness of God’s revelation will develop and grow. Granted, some theological points appear relatively clear. However, should we assume that God cannot offer us a surprise, from time to time, in this process?

My point is only this: We will not find what we need, by and within ourselves. We look to the animating Spirit of the Church to lead us into truth.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sermon Notes On Proper 27c

Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard, Jon Levenson wrote a book last year titled, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life. In this text, he challenges the majority of scholars that argue no sense of the resurrection of the dead existed within Judaism, until the time of the Book of Daniel. This would put the timing somewhere around 170 years, before the birth of Jesus. This was a time of unrest, and a family named the Maccabees were leading a revolt against the Romans. During this revolt, there were high points and low points. Ultimately, the Romans suppressed the uprising. In the midst of the turmoil, there developed an understanding of those who died as martyrs, for they died in the name of their faith, and some sense of the resurrection of the faithful was born.

This has been the accepted understanding of the development of resurrection within Judaism. Professor Levenson doesn’t buy it. He scours the Hebrew Bible and finds numerous texts that seem to offer shadowy allusions to life after death. He draws on the whole story of Israel, slavery in Egypt to freedom, the inability of Sarah to conceive as a threat to the promise, then bearing a child, the near sacrifice of Isaac, and Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. Professor Levenson claims that resurrection has been part of Judaism from near the very beginning, and a fuller fleshing out of it, occurred over time.

Of course, there is nothing like unanimity within Judaism about resurrection. Historically, a belief in resurrection has been one of the things that separated Jews and Christians. The overly simplistic view has been that Jesus gives Christians resurrection, and Jews stick with the tenets of their historic faith.

In the Gospel, we are in the middle of the debate. You have the Sadducees and Jesus debating resurrection. The Sadducees hold to the tradition. They see resurrection as an innovation, at this point, only around 200 years old. They reject resurrection.

We could contrast them to the Pharisees, who are a bit more progressive. They are traditionalists in a sense, but they look to the implications of the law, and anticipate the ethical behavior the implications require. They prove open enough to accept a new, but logical expansion of the tradition. So, Jesus did not invent the notion of the resurrection, but he is there conversing with the Sadducees.

The Sadducees are really pretending to be in a conversation. They don’t ask Jesus to tell them about his understanding of resurrection. They tie a bit of the law to their question, the one bride for seven brothers approach. They present the most absurd scenario to see what Jesus will do with it. This has never happened to me, and I am sure it has never happened to you.

Jesus counters by moving beyond their objections. In effect he says to them, “You think you know what you are talking about, but I am talking about something beyond your categories and institutions. You want this to be about what you think, but this is about what God desires to do. God knows our Patriarchs, because they live, and your particular theological perspectives will not stand in God’s way.” It’s as if, Jesus is saying, “You are overlooking, what has always been.”

I really like Professor Levenson’s reading of the history of resurrection. I like the idea that the seeds were there, and flowered at the right time. I like the idea that resurrection is not new,and that it has been there, waiting to be claimed.

Maybe, the revelation of resurrection tells us something about how God works. Perhaps, God is always revealing bits of God’s will to us. That would mean we have quite a task. It would mean our call to be God’s people requires more than a static response. It would mean that we are called to listen to what God has said that we might understand now, what God’s will is.

The story is not about the past. It is the key to the present and future.

God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Six Rules for Serious Theological Discourse

Yesterday, I attended a presentation offered by the clergy association. The speaker was a professor of logic from the University of Georgia. He offered six rules for serious theological discourse. It was an interesting discussion, and I want to offer you his six rules.

I am fully aware that my notes don’t represent his words exactly, but I think I captured the spirit of them. If you are interested, I would love to hear your thoughts.

1-No matter how firmly I believe something, I may be wrong. 1 Cor 10:12

-Be clear as possible in what we say, paying attention to what we say, never accepting emotional rhetoric.

3-A contradiction should be a stopping point for seeking truth, because there is none there to find.

4-Always strive for coherency.

5-Always seek the views of the expert, the likelihood of the expert being right is better, be on guard against the pseudo-expert.

6-Submit to the rule of authority of our particular discourse.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007


The Episcopal calendar places the observance of Willibrord on this day. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know much about him, until I read his biographical entry in Lesser Feasts and Fasts. It seems that he was an Archbishop and a missionary to Holland. He established a monastery as a launching pad, but generated no real results. He died in 739.

Willibrord’s real success rests in carving out a foothold for those that came after him might flourish. It must have been difficult to work and see no tangible results. It must have been frustrating to toil with no visible reward.

This is a fine example for us. We toil in the Church, and the payoff can seem very remote. It may seem that we labor in vain to no end. We journey, and we never quite reach a destination, but the work is not really about us. It is about the God, we seek to know and serve. God’s glory is the is the reward, and in this world, it can come quickly and slowly.

Perhaps, the most faithful service we offer is laboring in spite of the obstacles and in the presence of perceived failure. That may be the most evocative testimony to the one we seek and serve.

Friday, November 2, 2007

All Faithful Departed and All Saints

At St. Columba’s this year, we commemorated All Faithful Departed. I think it is a very useful, and important observance, for a number of reasons. First, it is an expression our Christian hope. We believe that death is not the end of life, but the beginning of a new life. It is a liturgical time of remembering the dead and reaffirming our hope, for new life, for those we love. There is also a pastoral dimension, for those that have lost loved ones in the last year.

All Faithful Departed also adds clarity to the Christian calendar. It is for all the faithful dead, where All saints is a little different. All Saints was started around 610 by Pope Boniface the 4th. It was a time to remember all the martyrs that died as witnesses to their faith. It was intended to capture all the saints, known and unknown, killed by a hostile Roman empire. It was especially meant to include those saints not remembered.

There is an inclusive element to All Saints. We certainly recognize that individuals witness to their faith in every age, and those witnesses are included in All Saints. Through the examples of the saints of every age, we are encouraged to witness to the faith in us.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Presiding Bishop Writes Bishop Duncan

Below is a letter published by ENS. First, it is always sad, when an individual feels the need to leave the Church or a parish church. When we think about parishes and entire dioceses leaving, it is even sadder. I wish the present circumstances were different.

The circumstances are what they are. We didn't arrive at this place overnight. We could easily list the tensions, but let's not. The tensions cannot tear the fabric of the Church. It is how we respond to the tensions. Bishop Duncan and a group within the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh have chosen a response. This did not happen overnight either. The decision to attempt an "official" exit requires time and planning. I think the Episcopal Church has been conversing with partners unwilling to deign to listen, because the die was already cast.

I am weary of the persecution complex of those exiting. There are voices within the Episcopal Church that I vehemently disagree with, from all over the spectrum. There are also many mission-minded clergy and lay people working with God that the Kingdom might come. The Church is not the problem. The problem is that the Church is made up of people. We become so locked into our thoughts and approaches, we damage one another and the Church. Yet, I am not foolish enough to believe that there is anywhere to go, to avoid our broken human nature, and still be the Church.

Some will condemn the Presiding Bishop's letter to Bishop Duncan. I am sure, it is not a letter the author enjoyed writing. It tells me that our Presiding Bishop is clear, in her own mind, about her responsibilities. Some will say she is being punitive and litigious. I say, she seems prepared to do the hard work of leading the Episcopal Church through very difficult times.

I pray for all of us.


Letter from the Presiding Bishop to Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan

The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA

Dear Bob,

There have been numerous public references in recent weeks regarding resolutions to be introduced at your forthcoming diocesan convention. Those resolutions, if adopted, would amend several of your diocesan canons and begin the process of amending one or more provisions of your diocesan Constitution. I have reviewed a number of these proposed resolutions, and it is evident to me that they would violate the Constitutional requirement that the Diocese conform to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. It is apparent from your pre-convention report that you endorse these proposed changes. I am also aware of other of your statements and actions in recent months that demonstrate an intention to lead your diocese into a position that would purportedly permit it to depart from The Episcopal Church. All these efforts, in my view, display a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between The Episcopal Church and its dioceses. Our Constitution explicitly provides that a diocese must accede to the Constitution and Canons of the Church.

I call upon you to recede from this direction and to lead your diocese on a new course that recognizes the interdependent and hierarchical relationship between the national Church and its dioceses and parishes. That relationship is at the heart of our mission, as expressed in our polity. Specifically, I sincerely hope that you will change your position and urge your diocese at its forthcoming convention not to adopt the resolutions that you have until now supported.

If your course does not change, I shall regrettably be compelled to see that appropriate canonical steps are promptly taken to consider whether you have abandoned the Communion of this Church -- by actions and substantive statements, however they may be phrased -- and whether you have committed canonical offences that warrant disciplinary action.

It grieves me that any bishop of this Church would seek to lead any of its members out of it. I would remind you of my open offer of an Episcopal Visitor if you wish to receive pastoral care from another bishop. I continue to pray for reconciliation of this situation, and I remain

Your servant in Christ,

Katharine Jefferts Schori