Monday, April 28, 2008

Ascension Reflection

Easter is not Just a day in our life together in he Church; Easter is a season. This season is a block of time that begins with resurrection day but it continues until Pentecost, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. But, we don’t get the Spirit until Jesus makes his final exit in the ascension.

You see, from the resurrection through the ascension Jesus continued to appear to his disciples. Jesus appears first to the women at the tomb, then on the road to Emmaus, then in the locked room, and along the shore at the sea of Galilee. In these appearances Jesus shows them that the promise of resurrection is true. He renews the sacred meal with the disciples. He continues to offer them instruction and, in the case of Peter, he reverses denial in favor of affirmation.

Then, perhaps in the climactic scene in the entire New Testament, Jesus departs. Rather than stay forever, Jesus leaves. Jesus gives the final instruction to take the message to all nations, blesses the disciples, the first time in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus blesses them, and ascends out of their sight. Their response is somewhat unexpected. They are filled with joy and offer praise and worship. This is the first time in Luke’s Gospel they offer Jesus worship. They then head back to the Temple.

The firsts of blessing and worship are punctuation. All Has been fulfilled. All has come full circle. This Gospel that begins in the Temple ends there. This Gospel that begins with God becoming flesh, ends with flesh returning to God. The entire action is complete.

Humanity has been restored to a state of grace. God has made the restoration known in the acceptance of flesh. The distance that once separated God and humans has been bridged. It is only now left to humans make use of the bridge.

Think about the language of the Eucharistic Prayer from Rite One. We invoke not only Christ’s death and resurrection, but his ascension as well. They are all part of the same action of salvation. Together, they bring us to the new place of celebration, for the end is the starting point.

The end of Jesus’ ministry is the beginning of ours. The Christ accomplished in death, resurrection and ascension, what we could not, and now we are empowered to accomplish the mission that is uniquely ours.

Seven Marks of a Healthy Church

I came across this resource created by the Anglican Diocese of Southwark. I commend it to you for reading and reflection. It is dedicated to the seven key features of healthy churches. I will list the seven points and, below, provide a link to the full document. The full document explores each mark in greater detail.

Despite the fact that this distillation of healthy practices is not rocket science, I think it is spot on. Together, they insure growing in faith, sharing faith and remaining flexible. It is pretty good.

Seven Marks of a Healthy Church
1)  A Life Giving Spirituality
2)  Engagement in God’s Mission
3)  Building up the Christian Community
4)  Expectation of New Christians
5)  Faith Development of Children and Young People
6)  Leadership that Enables Lay Ministry and Witness
7)  An Openness to Change Experiences

7 Marks

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pope Envy

I really enjoyed catching bits of the Pope’s visit. The Eucharist celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC was something to behold. The transcendent quality of the service was moving.

I love being a priest in the Episcopal Church. Our “middle way” has always resonated with me. Intuitively, It just feels right.

However, the centrality of the papacy is somewhat attractive. When someone asks me what the Episcopal Church teaches about a particular subject, a nuanced explanation is required. It must be nice to be able to point to an encyclical and say, this is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. It evokes a kind of clarity that some must find comforting. It must also lead to a strong sense of identity as a Roman Catholic.

Yet, in my heart of hearts, I prefer the messiness of Anglicanism. Faith is somewhat messy business. We have clarity offered in the revelation of God revealed in the Bible. We have clarity offered in the history of the Church. It is the application and understanding of revelation that is messy.

We might understand much about a particular subject addressed by the Bible. We might even understand the situation a particular scriptural text addresses. It becomes much more difficult to take a text and apply it to a present situation that might be very different. This difficulty is compounded when there is no absolute authority to settle the matter.

This perceived weakness of Anglicanism, I would argue, is a strength for those that can tolerate temporary ambiguity. At its best, Anglicanism is built to settle these matters in community. As a catholic tradition, we make use of all the resources at our disposal to reach conclusions. It is not tidy, and maybe stresses an internal sense of identity, but it is our way.

We are a catholic and apostolic tradition. There is a core to the Christian faith. We have it. Why can’t we accept that, and combine it with our messy way of interpretation? If we did, we might understand more about our faith and our identity as Anglicans.

The Anglican Centrist

My friend, Fr. Jones, is doing a group blog over at the Anglican Centrist. I have a link to his site. He has asked me to be a contributor, so I will be posting there as well, but have no fear the eternal pursuit goes on...


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Rich and Happy

Apparently, being rich and being happy seem to go together. I have not delved deeply into the research at this point. On the surface, it makes me a little sad. Hopefully, humans are fulfilled by many pursuits, not just the accumulation of resources. We obviously long for security in some measure. Financial concerns are the source of much fear. Yet, I have known some very unhappy people of means. I wouldn’t be surprised if happiness turned out to be more of a balance of factors. Surely, meaning and purpose come into play somehow?

Friday, April 11, 2008


I find myself thinking a good deal about mission. By mission, I mean the Gospel. There are numerous dimensions to the Gospel. Each member of the Church has a embodies a certain slice of the Gospel mission.

At the most basic level, Christ’s command is to go into the world baptizing in the name of the Trinity. We might conceptualize this as telling the story, and calling people to take their place in the unfolding story of God’s love for the world. This basic dimension is about taking it on the road into the ordinary lives of individuals.

It means proclaiming that there is more to life that the pursuits that occupy most of our time and energy. It means rethinking our existence. It means rethinking the purpose of life. If we we are on a mission, then nothing is ordinary. Every act, no matter how mundane, can be an ongoing act of sanctification.

Paul talks about this in the differentiation of the parts of the body. Each member has a different purpose, but comprises the whole. Each whole body, each individual is called to the work that makes up the whole Gospel mission. Awareness of the larger purpose is what keeps us together, working in concert.

In my experience, it is all too easy for us to lose sight of the whole. We can become consumed by our individual labors, and forget the the whole. Worship wants more resources, and thinks outreach gets too much. Mission projects receive less attention than internal fellowship. The roof leaks, but we build habitat houses. We engage those we know, and we look past visitors.

We are called to do it all, and not to the detriment of any single piece. Why aren’t we better at it? I am afraid it it because our vision is too small. We settle on the Church occupying a small piece of our lives. We forget that, at our core, we are children of God. When you strip away all the other labels that inform our identity, we are left bare as creatures of God. We are called to be in relationship with our fellow creatures.

To become myopic about any one component of the Gospel is to settle for too little. Can’t we proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, and work for a just society? Do we not have the resources to take care of ourselves, the Church and those in need? Do we not have the time to be present to our intimates and those that are our neighbors?

Most of the issues that divide denominations and individual churches have to do with competing visions. Some say one thing is most important, and others argue for other things. The Church and the Gospel are not enhanced by competing visions, because the Gospel is all of it.

The lesson from Acts, for this Sunday, gives us that richer vision of Church and the Gospel. It shows us that the first Christians were unified by the presence of God, generosity and love. These marks of the Church spilled over into the communities around the Church, and the Church flourished.

Many claim the Church needs to get back to basics. I agree. The core is awe in the presence of God, generosity and love. It is not one over another, it is all of it. How can we become a community that values the whole?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Thoughtful Article from the Lead

The Church Times, March 28 2008, issue carries an essay by Mark Oakley, who offers some thoughtful concerns about our current controversies:

An issue! An issue! We all fall down
Mark Oakley
The Revd Rod Thomas wrote to this newspaper that 'there are only really two sides to the current controversy over human sexuality . . . there is no room for middle ground'. So far, media commentators have interpreted the division in the Anglican Communion in the same vein — as being between 'conservatives' and 'liberals'.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been mocked as the compromised referee, who ends up managing the ecclesiastical equivalent of herding cats at the Lambeth Conference. The rest of the Church becomes anxious about which side is gaining the upper hand in Synods, councils, and on the bench of bishops. The result is that, as Churchill noted, keeping your ear to the ground means you can't see very far from down there. To be focused more on our purity than our purpose leads to paralysis.

The division, however, is not really between conservatives and liberals at all. It is much more serious than that. It is a division between, first, those who are willing to say that other Christians, who have different views or lifestyles to themselves, are still, nevertheless, Christian, and have a Christian integrity that must be part of the Church; and, second, those who think that this simply cannot and must not be the case.

Following the first approach, and contrary to much reporting, there are Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, conservatives, liberals, radicals, and everything in between — all knowing where they stand, but, in generosity of spirit, acknowledging the different but faithful approaches to the Bible, tradition, and reasoning that there are legitimately other than their own.

These people believe that the Church is a Noah's ark, where every animal has to budge over in the straw to let someone else nestle down. This is a Church where friendships count for more than sound-bites, and which understands that something of God is shadowed every time a believer forgets that Christian faith is an exercise in humility. This has been the Anglican spirit at its best — with a resistance to over-definition of doctrine, in preference to worshipping together in common prayer.

The second approach, however, challenges this spirit. It argues that there is only one way to interpret scripture or tradition on the issues that are presenting themselves, and that all other views are in error and should not be given any oxygen. Some bishops feel so strongly about this that they cannot even meet in conversation and prayer those fellow bishops with whom they so profoundly disagree. An irony emerges: those who argue so fiercely for family values do not set a good example of how to be a family. Communion needs communication.

I was ordained 15 years ago, and, over these few years, I have found myself increasingly worried about the climate change of the Church.

I was ordained next to remarkable people, with whom I disagreed theologically, but I felt then, as I do now, that by ordaining all of us — asking us the same questions of intent, requiring of us the same assent and declarations in a liturgy in which the Creed was jointly recited — the Church of England was both drawing life from its historical inheritance, and maintaining its passion for balance in proclaiming the gospel afresh. We shared communion together from the start; for, as the New Testament is keen to point out, fear of contagion is not a Christian fear.

Those who want a Church of strict uniformity will say that behind all the issues that currently divide us lies the primary topic of how the Bible is interpreted, and that what are often referred to as secondary issues are not.

Again, something of the traditional Anglican spirit is under attack here. The Anglican tradition has sought to be a scholarly, reflective, and intellectually honest one. It has therefore known that reading the Bible as a community and taking it seriously — honouring the many genuine historical and interpretative questions that are simply there — will inevitably lead to more than one conclusion.

It is not so much that the Bible neatly answers all our questions, as that it questions all our answers. Its treasures are not yielded up overnight, at whim, or as ammunition. The only ultimate uniformity on offer is the constant fidelity of God towards us all.

The boundaries of our theological thinking have been placed on the table for us long ago. Scripture is read, tradition received, sacramental worship offered, and apostolic ministry retained. To agree then that some of our dividing issues today are adiaphora, 'things indifferent', might be a provisional understanding, but I would argue that it is urgently necessary.

A little self-reflection might be important. I cannot be the only person who, since my confirmation at the age of 11, has found himself changing thoughts and opinions on almost everything as the years pass. In those years, though, the Church of England has been large enough to be my home — a spiritual compass, not a dictator telling me with whom I cannot meet or pray.

In 1930, the Lambeth Conference concluded that Anglicans stand for 'an open Bible, a pastoral priesthood, a common worship, a standard of conduct consistent with that worship and a fearless love of truth'. My fear is that those who would now homogenise our Church place some of these at severe risk.

This is not about conservatives and liberals. It is about the survival of the Anglican soul. There is middle ground — and it is where we should all be at times, for the sake of one another and the message of reconciliation entrusted to us

The Ven. Mark Oakley is Archdeacon of Germany and Northern Europe

More Church Times here.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sin and Globalization

Tinkering with Sin

This is a great little editorial piece. It is so easy to pretend that sin is my personal shortfall, and there are no consequences beyond me. It is just not true.

The discussion of religious strictures is fascinating. Communion tokens might be useful...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Easter 3 sermon notes

This story from Luke’s Gospel is one of the narratives that strikes at the heart of the Gospel. It is about the presence of Jesus on the other side of the resurrection. It is about Jesus appearing to his scattered disciples to continue forming them.

This Gospel lesson contains material that has become the centerpiece of two collects.

-Lord Jesus stay with us for evening is at hand and the day is past. Be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread, grant this for the sake of your love.-

The other is:

-Be present, be present Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest. As you were known to your disciples, be made known to us in the breaking of bread.-

These words of Christ’s presence and the sacrament of breaking bread are the very foundations of the Church.

Now, hold that thought, and let’s get back to the story.

Think about the details of this narrative for a moment. Two disciples are on the road to Emmaus. They left Jerusalem and are walking and talking, when Jesus appears to them. As the crow flies, we are talking about walking roughly 18 miles. This journey is taking place on Sunday, the same day as the resurrection. These two, as the text tells us, are talking about the whole story.

So, my question is what are they doing leaving Jerusalem? They knew of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. These two knew what the first witnesses to the resurrection were saying. What is their response? They get the heck out of Dodge. These two are fleeing the scene. Maybe they fear for their safety in light of Jesus death. Maybe they are completely baffled by the events of the last three days and are retreating to get their bearings.

Emmaus itself might be of significance in the story. Around 165 years before Jesus, A very famous victory was won at Emmaus, by Judas Maccabaeus. Judas was a resisting pagan oppression. At Emmaus, Judas and a small force defeated a much larger army. Judas invokes Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea to rally the troops. So maybe, a trip to Emmaus is a trip to a place of salvation and victory, in the most unlikely of circumstances.

But our two, never make it to Emmaus because Jesus finds them on the way. As they flee, or perhaps seek reassurance and hope in the midst of hopelessness, Jesus comes to them. He is different somehow, but they recognize him because he does a familiar thing. Jesus offers a meal that means more than eating. Jesus offers them the bread that is his presence. In that moment, the two receive the hope they are seeking and they return to Jerusalem to offer that hope with the eleven.

Instead of going their separate ways, they are gathered together into a fellowship. This brings us back to the collects based on this Gospel text. They illustrate the nature of this Christian enterprise. We gather together to partake of the presence of Jesus. We come together because we know that the Jesus is to be found among us and in the sacramental life of the Church.

Part of it is this place. The larger part is us.

We need not seek Jesus, because we know where he is. Jesus is at the heart of this fellowship as we live and work in his name. Be present, Be present Lord Jesus Christ our great high priest. As you were known to your disciples, be made known to us in the breaking of bread.