Sunday, February 18, 2018

The First Sunday in Lent-Year B

Lent 1B February 18, 2018 Today is the first Sunday in Lent. And every year, on the first Sunday in Lent, we get the same story in our lectionary cycle: the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But this year, we get Mark’s version. And what does Mark have to say about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness? Where Matthew and Luke give us 12 and 13 verses respectively, Mark gives us 2 verses: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Not a whole lot for a preacher to work with! But here is what Mark does give us, because there is so little detail about Jesus’s time in the wilderness, we get the full story today—how Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the heavens are torn open, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven pronounces that Jesus is God’s beloved son, with whom God is well pleased, and then the same spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness. The same spirit that descends upon Jesus also drives him out into the wilderness. And we can only assume that the time in the wilderness was not easy for Jesus. We read this story of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness on this Sunday of every year to help us see the connection between Lent and Jesus’s wilderness experience. Both are 40 days; both times emphasize how what he does in his active ministry leads to his crucifixion and death. This year, I think it is especially helpful to have Mark’s abbreviated version because it drives home for us the connection between being claimed as God’s beloved in our baptism, driven out into the wilderness to wrestle with demons and temptation, and then coming back to do ministry. It shows that wilderness times can be an important part of each of our lives and our faith development and can spur us on to action, to the ministry that we accept in our baptism. What Mark’s gospel reminds us today is that wilderness times are a normal part of life for followers of Jesus. It’s not something that we talk about on those glorious days that we baptize babies or new converts to the faith, and perhaps we do a disservice in this. Because following Jesus does not mean that we will be exempt from hardship, from suffering. In fact, he promises his disciples quite the opposite on numerous occasions. As followers of Jesus, we too will experience times in the wilderness, times of suffering, times of temptation, times of testing. Our wilderness experiences are different for each of us. They can be prompted by illness or loss. They can be a result of disappointed expectations or frustration. They can be a part of an epiphany, a realization that you no longer fit in your old life anymore. They can be a result of standing up for what you believe in and being rejected for it. What is important to remember is that God doesn’t cause our suffering, but God does work for us and through us in our wilderness times. In the midst of wilderness times and seasons, our prayer could be “Even though I did not wish for this, God, how might you be at work through this difficult period?” My own wilderness time did not end as I expected or hoped it would. But I was given a promise that I have since seen fulfilled. God promised me that what others mean for evil, God means for good. (It’s actually a line of scripture from the Joseph story in Genesis that was given to me by the Holy Spirit during my time in the wilderness: Genesis 50:20 toward the end of Joseph’s story, after he is reunited with his brothers he says this to them.) And you all have actually been a part of the fulfillment of that promise for me in ways I would have never expected, asked for, or imagined. This week, we marked the beginning of Lent by observing Ash Wednesday. One of the most challenging parts of Ash Wednesday for me is when I make the sign of the cross on your forehead in ash and say to each of the “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” As hard as that is for me to do for each one of you, as much as I struggle, the hardest is when I do it for the children, making the sign of the cross on those unblemished foreheads and saying to them those wilderness words. And this year, after doing that, I came home to the news of the latest school shooting with 17 dead at a high school in Florida. 17 people, many of them children, beloveds of God, whose lives have been snuffed out by one senseless act of violence. Truly, we as a culture are in the wilderness. And nobody knows the answer to this problem: how to stop our children from being murdered at school. The voices clamor and blame. Each political party blames the other. We bicker and fight among ourselves, and nothing seems to change, and children continue to die. We are lost, wandering in the wilderness. What would happen if we remember our baptism, especially the part where each and every one of us is God’s beloved? What would happen if we hold fast to the promise that God is present with us, even in the wilderness, and if we, as a whole people, all agreed to lay aside our opinions and personal and political agendas and say to God: “Look, none of us meant to choose this world where children are murdered at school. God, how can you work through us, through this difficult period; show us the way out of this wilderness and give us the strength to come together and to follow you.”? This season of Lent, this wilderness time, and really any wilderness times in our lives, can be an opportunity for each of us to reconnect with the truth of our baptism, that each of us is God’s beloved who is claimed by God for the purpose of doing God’s work in this world. Lent is also a time to remember that God is with us in the wilderness, that God does not cause our suffering, but God does work in and through it. So whether it be for your own personal wilderness that you find yourself in or whether it be as a part of our cultural wilderness, your invitation this week, this season, is to ask God: “Even though I did not wish for this, God, how might you be at work through this difficult period?” And then to lay aside our personal biases, and selfish agendas and listen and follow.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ash Wednesday 2018

Ash Wednesday 2018 Back in my early 20’s, my housemate and I decided to do a juice fast. It was pretty simple: for 36 hours, we would consume nothing but apple juice diluted in half by water. And at the end of the time, we would be a few pounds lighter and feel better. We determined, in our 20 year old wisdom, that we should also include in our fast as much sugar-free gum as we wanted to help us survive our 36 hours without food. We did ok the first day, but half-way through the second day, we ran into each other at work and each of us confessed that we were experiencing such light-headedness, that we could scarcely function, and so we determined that this was probably not a helpful course to continue pursuing. I tell you this story because the season of Lent is a season which we begin today by talking about fasting, and during which many folks like to “give up” something as a part of their practice. However, like my ill-fated juice fast, many of these practices seldom last beyond the first couple of weeks of Lent because they are not necessarily helpful. I often wonder if it isn’t because we are thinking about fasting all wrong. We think that fasting may be a way for our self-improvement, to prove our worthiness before God, to sacrifice so that we feel that we are accomplishing something, that we are “making the most of our Lent”. This is what fasting has come to mean in our culture that is so fixated on self-improvement. But this is not what Jesus or the other writers of scripture meant when they talked about fasting. Look at the Isaiah reading for today. This part of Isaiah is happening when the children of Israel have been taken into captivity in Babylon after forsaking the way of the Lord. They say to God, “"Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" And God retorts, “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…” For Jesus and the writer of Second Isaiah, fasting had a connection with justice, with taking care of the poor and oppressed, with considering interests beyond our own selfish needs and desires and to do that work as a whole people, as the people of God. Another writer put it this way: “Jesus did not intend to use Ash Wednesday to give up chocolate. Jesus has a deeper intention as the following story illustrates: While teaching his students, a Rabbi asked, "What is the difference between night and day?"i The students in their pride tried to give their best existential reasoning, "Is it the difference between a cloned sheep and a natural one? Between a boat and a car?" All of their reasoning was wrong. Fed up with being wrong, the students asked, "Then what is the difference?" The Rabbi answered, "When you look in the face of another person and do not see your sister or brother." This past Sunday, Rev Aimee quoted a famous line from Les Miserables: “to love another person is to see the face of God”, and she reminded us that this should be at the heart of our keeping of a Holy Lent. What if, instead of giving up chocolate or sugar or Diet Coke for Lent, we gave up being on our cell phones in pursuit of mindless activities when other members of our family are in the room with us? What if we gave up judging other people for Lent? What if we gave up mindless consuming—eating, drinking, buying? What if we gave up fear for Lent? What if we, like Pope Frances suggests, gave up indifference for other people for Lent? It sounds a lot harder to me than giving up chocolate. But there is a gravitas to taking on a challenge. We may very well fail; we may fall short. We will definitely be imperfect in our pursuit. But one of the truths of Lent is that in God, always we can begin again. So your invitation today (and really for all of Lent) is to choose deliberately how you will try to keep a holy Lent. Will it be a fast that is worthy of the Lord or will it be something to further your own agenda or goals? Will your giving up or your taking on during this Lent be a way that you show the face of God to other people in your life and a way that you can more easily seek the face of God in others? i. Michael Battle CREDO meditation 2/22/12

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Epiphany 5B_2018

The 5th Sunday after the Epiphany-Year B February 4, 2018 I’ve always had trouble with this gospel passage. It used to bother me that Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and she immediately gets up to fix them something to eat. I used to think, “Come on, couldn’t you guys at least give her the day off from cooking for you since she has been so sick?” But I see it differently now. My 1st year of seminary was an especially challenging time in my life. The year started with our second day of classes at General Seminary in New York City on 9/11/2001. The year ended with the death of one of our most beloved classmates in a New York City cab of an anyeurism. In between, I had a nasty bout with mono and several other persistent infections. And I went from classes straight into Clinical Pastoral Education, a summer-long hospital chaplaincy program where I learned pastoral care skills and also did work with my class-mates in learning about myself. (Believe me, it was much worse than it sounds!) That summer, my mom contracted what we later learned was West Nile Virus, and she was seriously ill back in Mississippi. In my brief summer break of a week or two, I flew back to visit my family, and as a part of that trip, I drove my mom and I over to Vicksburg to visit my maternal grandmother. I don’t remember much about that visit, but what I do remember is vivid. Mom and I sat at the kitchen table and visited with my grandmother as she joyfully buzzed around her kitchen cooking for us. She cooked for us because that is what she did—she was an excellent cook—and cooking for and feeding us is one of the ways that she loved us. (And my mom might not appreciate me saying this, but we were both a mess!) I remember eating those chicken and dumplings in my tattered state, accepting it for the healing gift that it was, and thinking, “this is a sacrament.” In our gospel reading for today, Jesus heals a bunch of people, and then he withdraws to a place to pray, and then he tells his disciples that it is time for them to go on to a different town: “So that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came to do.” And what exactly is this message and how is it connected to all the healing work he’s been doing? The message is found a little earlier in Mark when Jesus 1st speaks: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” Jesus is the Kingdom of God come near, and as a result of that, his very presence heals people. Maybe we cannot come into the presence of the Kingdom of God without it healing something in us? And maybe Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was like my Ma ma. She was immediately restored to fullness of health and life, and it was her deep joy, her vocation, her act of thanksgiving to feed people. You’ve probably heard this before, but the theologian Frederick Buchner talks about this when he writes: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”i That is vocation. I wonder about all those other people who Jesus healed that same day and what their joyful vocations were? How they once again lived into them with the fullness of life and health restored to them through their brush with Jesus, through their encounter with the Kingdom of God? At least once a week, every week, we are offered this brush with Jesus, this encounter with the Kingdom of God. And really we have infinitely more encounters every week—we just have to be open and to pay attention. We are, through the Eucharist, restored to fullness of life and health every single week, and we are able to go out into the world and live out our unique vocation, our calling to meet the deep needs of the world with our own unique and joyful giftedness. Your invitation this week is to reflect on this: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” And then explore how you may live into that more fully, more faithfully, in thanksgiving for your encounter with the Kingdom of God. i.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

4th Sunday after the Epiphany-Year B

4th Sunday after the Epiphany Year B January 28, 2018 When I first read the readings for today in light of our Annual Parish meeting, my reaction was “ugggghhhh”! But the more that I spent time in prayer with the readings and in thinking about my hopes and dreams for this parish, in connection with our unique giftedness, for the coming year, I began to see them as a gift. Let’s look at the gospel reading for a minute. We spend all of this liturgical year, year B, going back and forth between the gospels of Mark and John, partly because Mark is such a short gospel, and we need John to fill it out. I’ve never really been crazy about Mark’s gospel. In it, Jesus is so stern, and there isn’t even really an ending to it. Just wait ‘til Easter, you’ll see! Total cliff-hanger! Today, we have Jesus healing a man of an unclean spirit in the temple. At first glance, not really applicable to our vision for the year, right? But then I started looking at Mark, and I realized or remembered a few things. Our reading for today is actually the first public act of Jesus’s ministry in Mark’s gospel. Think about that for a minute. He has called his disciples, begun teaching them, and they head to the synagogue where we have our reading for today—he heals a man of an unclean spirit. Now, I’m not going to even pretend to understand the notion of what that means to heal a person of an unclean spirit or to even try to translate that into our context today. But I will tell you that in Jesus’s time, if a person had an unclean spirit, he or she is called “unclean” because the effect of the condition was to separate the unclean person from the worship of God. This unclean spirit caused this man to be separated from God, from his family, from his community. So Jesus heals the man and through that healing, he restores him to relationship with God, his family, and his community. So, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’s first act public act of ministry is to heal a specific individual and to restore him to fullness of life and relationships. That takes my breath away to talk about this today because that is the mission of the church! Now I know y’all are sick of the catechism, so I won’t ask you to turn in your prayer books, but I have to share this with you because I didn’t even know this until well into many years into my priesthood. But when the prayer books asks “What is the mission of the Church? The answer is: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” And “How does the Church pursue its mission?” “The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.” Just like Jesus’s first act was to heal and individual and to restore him to unity with God and others through himself, that is also the mission of the church. And fortunately for us, this church is especially gifted in doing this. I have seen it, and I have experience it first hand. This church can be a place of healing and restoration of relationships. I have received that gift from you, and I like to think that you have eagerly received that gift from me as well, in our brief time together. I think that is why these past 6 months have felt so much like a love song. Because the Holy Spirit has been working through our own unique gifts to bring this healing and restoration to fulfillment. But we aren’t done yet. This year, it is our task to grow in this calling of restoring people to relationship with God and each other. We will use our gifts as we focus inwardly on creating a system so we can make sure that people in our parish are cared for during transitions. Y’all are already really good about this, and we want to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks. If you’d like to be a part of this work, let Margaret Minis or me know. Also, this year, we will begin the work of reaching out to those in need of healing beyond our church walls. In my experience as a parish priest these last 13 years, I have been astonished at the number of people I have met who have been deeply wounded by a church. The Episcopal Church can be a great gift to folks who are hungry for spirituality, ancient worship, and good community, and we have all of that and more to offer. We will begin working with a system called Invite, Welcome, Connect. This was developed by Mary Parmer, a lay person who was working in the Diocese of Texas and is now based out of Sewanee, and it is a way to systematically examine how we as a church and individuals Invite, Welcome, and Connect new people to our church and also to brainstorm and implement organic ways that we at St. Thomas might do all of this work better. My friends, this reading from Mark reminds us today that the work of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. In and through our baptism, we are the church—both as a body and also as individuals. You are the church, and your invitation this week is to do one thing that can be healing for another person, that might reassure them of God’s love. Spend some time looking around in your life to discover that person. It may be someone already in your life, your family or your work. Or it may be a complete stranger. Or if you know of someone who needs healing, pray for them and ask the Holy Spirit to inspire your heart to help you offer them healing. This week, look for the people in your life who are lonely, lost, or isolated, and may the Holy Spirit give you grace to offer them restoration and healing as an ambassador of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany Year B

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany—Year B January 21, 2018 This past Wednesday, we commemorated the Confession of St. Peter at our Wednesday healing service. A major feast of the church year, the Confession of St. Peter helps us remember Peter, his confession of Jesus as the Messiah that still rings throughout the ages, and the role that Peter had as the “rock of the church” in the founding of the Christian church. I read to the assembled congregation a meditation on the themes of the day by the Rev Canon Sam Portaro, and one idea from that has stuck with me. Portaro writes about how his relationship with his parents is different than his younger sister’s relationship with their parents. Each lived with the parents during different time frames—Sam was 12 years older, so he was with his parents in “the early years” and his sister lived with them after Sam went off to college and started his adult life. Each of them has different experiences with these same parents that, in a way, change and shape each of their relationships with the parents. Portaro reflects that the same is true about each of our relationships with God. God is the same, but our relationships with God are colored and shaped by our own unique experiences of and with God. Today, in our series on the 7 sacraments, we are going to talk (very briefly) about 4 sacraments that are, like ordination-which we talked about last week- not necessarily sacraments that every person experiences first hand, nor are they necessary for all people in the way that Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist are. Confirmation, Unction, Matrimony, Reconciliation of a Penitent. (And just so you know where I’m going with this, next week, I’m going to take a break from the sacraments and in conjunction with our Annual Parish meeting, talk about my hopes and dreams for this parish for the coming year. Two weeks from today, at both services I’ll be conducting an explained Eucharist which is a celebration of the Holy Eucharist, like we normally do, but it will be without a sermon and with explanation of what we are doing and also the opportunity to ask questions at certain points during the service. And then we will have completed our series on the 7 sacraments.) Today, like the last two Sundays, I’m going to invite you to take our your Prayer Books, and I’ll invite you to chime in where appropriate. Who remembers what a sacrament is? (BCP 857--The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.) Who can tell me what the BCP says that confirmation is? (p 860-- Confirmation is the rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.) And what is required of those to be confirmed? (It is required of those to be confirmed that they have been baptized, are sufficiently instructed in the Christian Faith, are penitent for their sins, and are ready to affirm their confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.) We learned two weeks ago that baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body the church, and that bond established by God is indissoluble, so why do we need confirmation? Turn to page 412 and someone read the first two paragraphs. (In the course of their Christian development, those baptized at an early age are expected, when they are ready and have been duly prepared, to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop. Those baptized as adults, unless baptized with laying on of hands by a bishop, are also expected to make a public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism in the presence of a bishop and to receive the laying on of hands.) Confirmation is the opportunity for each of us who desires to make a mature faith commitment through a public affirmation of our faith, and it is the opportunity for each of us to individually answer the call of Jesus in our lives and to deepen in our relationship with him with the full support of the church and the gathered congregation. Next up: Holy Matrimony. What is it? (BCP p 861: Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows.) The service is found in the BCP on p 423. Marriage is a solemn covenant into which two people enter before God and their gathered community. Unlike other sacraments in Holy Matrimony, the couple are actually the ministers of the sacrament, and the bishop or priest who is officiating is present to pronounce the blessing over the couple. The Episcopal Church requires that only one member of the couple be baptized, and if either of the couple have been divorced, then there are specific directions in the Canons of the Episcopal Church that must be followed before the couple can be married in the church. Next up is Reconciliation of a Penitent. (BCP p 861--Reconciliation of a Penitent, or Penance, is the rite in which those who repent of their sins may confess them to God in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution.) This is the Episcopal version of Confession. Everything that is said during reconciliation of a penitent is confidential and won’t be talked about by the priest with anyone, even including the person unless he or she brings it up. I consider that even the fact that a person is doing reconciliation of a penitent is also confidential. We do this in the church, and I have found that some folks like to do this as a part of their Lenten observance. Others use this as a part of their 12 step/recovery work. (If you’d like to schedule a time to do this with me, just call me up. To learn more about it, read through the two different versions in the prayer book beginning on p 447) And last for today: unction. Who can tell me what unction is? (p 861: Unction is the rite of anointing the sick with oil, or the laying on of hands, by which God's grace is given for the healing of spirit, mind, and body.) The service begins on page 453. Anointing of the sick is done by priests. We use blessed oil and it can be done privately, in a home or hospital room, or publicly—which we do every Wednesday at 10 am in our chapel. It can be celebrated with the Holy Eucharist (which we do on Wednesdays), but it does not have to be. Of special note are the prayers at the back of this section beginning on page 458 that are prayers for the sick, so if you ever want to pray for someone who is sick, these are very useful. And turn the page to 461—there are prayers written to be used by someone who is sick. (I understand one of your previous rectors used to pray the one for In the Morning at every sermon.) Sacraments are the gifts of God’s grace, which is God's favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills. And interestingly enough, in the sacraments, God’s grace is freely offered to us by God through some of the most ordinary materials of our lives—bread, wine, water, oil, hands, and community. Your invitation this week is to think about or remember a specific time when you felt the gift of God’s grace in your relationship with God through one of the sacraments. You might also consider in your prayers this week asking the Holy Spirit to help you be more receptive to the gift of God’s grace.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Year B

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany-Year B January 14, 2018 It was the summer of 1996. I was entering my junior year in college and had not yet declared a major because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had thought I might go to law school (it’s ok, you can laugh at that, it’s funny!), but that just didn’t seem to be the right fit. One day, I was sitting on the window seat in my parents’ kitchen and talking to my mom about the vocational difficulties I was having, and she said to me, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?” I was stunned. Not because I hadn’t thought about it, but because I had. But I hadn’t told anyone, because I just wasn’t sure. But when she asked me that question, it was as if I could actually start really considering it, because someone else had seen that in me. But still I was nowhere near sure. That summer I entered a semester long program of study abroad through Rhodes and Sewanee, and so I set a goal for myself that I would spend much of that time in prayer and reflection, and I would come back with an answer—am I called to be a priest or not. It was an incredible semester! We spent 8 weeks in England, and we tramped around all the old monastery ruins, so many thin places where so many prayers have been offered and the veil between this world and the next seems to be non-existent. We learned about our fathers and mothers in the faith, and I was steeped in English and European history, art, religion, and culture. And in all those holy places I kept praying, “God, please, let me know if you are calling me to be a priest.” I was still so very uncertain. Then one day, we had an extracurricular assignment in a church outside of Florence overlooking the city. It was a very simple church, and my college roommate and I went in and sat and started working on our assignment. As we worked quietly, a woman soloist came in and started rehearsing; she was singing Ave Maria, and I found myself praying my same old prayer, “God, please, let me know if you are calling me to be a priest.” And then suddenly, unexpectedly, a voice, that was as familiar as my own and also not, spoke in my soul and said, “Faith is not knowing but doing.” When I came back to myself, I knew, right or wrong, I was going to pursue the priesthood because what I understood that one sentence to mean-- “faith is not knowing but doing”--is that we are called to act, even when we are uncertain, and we are called to trust that God will pick us up if we fall. That was probably the first time in my life that I heard God’s call in my life, and I answered, like Samuel, “here I am, Lord. Speak, for your servant is listening.” Last Sunday, during the sermon, I took us through the prayer book and did a teaching on the sacrament of baptism and what we think that we are doing when we baptize someone. But there are more sacraments in this church besides baptism, and so I decided to do something like a sermon series on all of the sacraments. (Who remembers how many sacraments there are? 7 and who remembers what the definition of a sacrament is? It’s on page 857: “The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”) So who can guess what sacrament we’re going to talk briefly about today? Ordination. But before we talk about ordination, we need to talk about ministry in the church. Turn in your prayer books to page 855, and someone tell me who are the ministers of the church? “The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” Now, in the Book of Common Prayer, order is always important when it lists different options. The first thing listed is always the preferred, the norm, or the most important. So which order of ministry of the church does the BCP say is most important? The lay people. And what does the prayer book say is the ministry of the lay people? (We’re still on p 855) “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.” So, if the laity is so important, which it is, then why do we even have ordination? What is ordination anyway? (p 860) “Ordination is the rite in which God gives authority and the grace of the Holy Spirit to those being made bishops, priests, and deacons, through prayer and the laying on of hands by bishops.” What are the different ministries of bishops, priests and deacons? (p855) Let’s start with bishops. The word bishop comes from the Greek word episkopos which means overseer. (How many of you ever wondered what Episcopal meant? The Episcopal church is the bishop church. And the ministry of a bishop? “The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ's name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ's ministry.” The word for priest that we find most frequently in the New Testament is presbyteros which means elder. This is where we get the word presbyter, that we use interchangeably with the word priest. And the ministry of a priest? “The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.” The word deacon is also from a Greek word—diakonos--which means servant. And the ministry of a deacon? “The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.” So, three distinct orders with three distinct roles. And each one has its own unique ordination service that has elements corresponding with the unique role of the order and then there are elements that each of the three different ordination services share in common. What they have in common is the fact that at each ordination service, the ordinand makes what is called “the declaration of conformity”: each one must “solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.” Every ordination is presided over by at least one bishop. (If it is an Episcopal ordination-ordination of a bishop-anybody know how many bishops must be present? At least 3. Likewise at both a deacon and priest ordination, at least 2 presbyters must be present.) And every ordination includes an invocation of the Holy Spirit, the laying on of hands by a bishop upon the head of the one or ones being ordained, a vow made by the ordinand that is unique to the demands of that particular ministry, and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. (If you’d like to learn more about ordination as a sacrament, I encourage you to take read the three different services in the prayer book. They begin on page 510 and are under the heading “Episcopal services” because they require a bishop to preside.) What’s important to remember about the four different orders of the church is that we all have vows, and we all have the opportunity to renew those vows. And we are all called to the ministry of building up God’s church and being agents of Christ’s reconciliation in the world. The only way that any of us are able to accomplish any of this work is together, as the body or Christ and through the grace of God and with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to console, empower, guide and direct us. Your invitation for this week is to spend time inquiring how God might be calling you to grow more deeply in your ministry by opening yourself to God in prayer and, possibly using the words of Samuel, make space for God to speak to you and for you to listen: “Here I am….speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Epiphany 1B 2018

The First Sunday after the Epiphany January 7, 2018 The other day I read an article from The Living Church that was making the rounds on Facebook among some of my clergy friends—you may have seen it. It’s titled A Good Map for the Journey and it is one article in a series about revising the 1979 prayer book which will be up for conversation at General Convention that is happening in Austin this summer. In this article, the author, Scott Gunn (who is the Executive Director of the Forward Movement—best known for the Forward Day by Day devotions) starts his article by talking about a Facebook straw poll that he conducted as a part of research for a new book he’s working on. He writes, “Recently I asked my Facebook friends what they understand to be happening when we baptize someone. ‘Nothing at all,’ a few people said with startling boldness. Several others said baptism recognizes that God already loves us, but that no change is effected in the sacrament. To be sure, some people did give answers that sounded orthodox. I have been saying for a few years that we have a catechetical crisis in the Episcopal Church, and this Facebook exchange confirmed what I suspected. Many among the laity, and not a few of our clergy, do not seem to grasp the fundamental meaning and purpose of baptism and Eucharist. This is a problem in its own right, and it must surely color any conversation about prayer book revision.” So, think about it for a minute. If you had to take Scott Gunn’s poll and answer the question, “what do you think happens when we baptize someone?” how would you answer? Where would you start? One of the things that I like to teach in all my Inquirer’s classes is a short Latin phrase: lex orandi lex credendi. It means literally “the law of prayer shapes the law of believe” or “the law of belief shapes the law of prayer”. We interpret it to mean: Praying shapes believing and believing shapes praying. This is a foundational understanding of what it means to be an Episcopalian. We believe what we pray and we pray what we believe. So if we have a question about an aspect of our faith, we start by looking at the Book of Common Prayer. So, what does the BCP have to say about baptism? Let’s start with the catechism—which is a section of the prayer book that provides an outline of our faith and a summary of the church’s teachings on a number of subjects. (If you haven’t ever read through the catchechism, then I strongly encourage you to do so. It is a font of useful information. My husband has it mostly memorized because he used to read through the catechism and the historical documents during boring sermons of his youth.) Turn to page 857. First and foremost for us, baptism is a sacrament. What’s a sacrament? (“an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”) (Who knows how many sacraments there are total?) There are a total of 7 sacraments in the Episcopal church, but look, the prayer book says that there are two great sacraments of the gospel—Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist have given by Christ to his Church. So, what is Holy Baptism? “Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.” But wait, aren’t we already God’s children? Why do we need to be adopted in our baptism? Good question! We’ll come back to that. (But before we move on from the catechism, I want to say that if you don’t own a Prayer Book, and would like to borrow one this week to continue reading more in the catechism, then you are most welcome to take one home to do that. Just bring it back with you next Sunday.) Turn in your prayer books to page 298—the beginning of the rite for Holy Baptism. Look at the first paragraph. Does someone want to read it out loud? “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” At our baptism, we are changed. We become a part of Christ’s body and receive all the benefits of membership in the church. This is why I encourage parents to let their children receive communion as soon as they are baptized, because Holy Eucharist is the food and drink of the body of Christ and even children, once baptized, are full members of Christ’s body. Our bond that God establishes with us at our baptism can never be changed or dissolved. No matter what. The Eastern Church likes to say that baptism is “becoming who we already are.” From the moment of our creation, each one of us has been claimed by God as God’s beloved. “God loves each and every one of us with a love that is unmerited, unconditional and never ending. There is nothing we humans can do, or need to do, to make that love available to ourselves or anyone else. Baptism is not necessary for a child or an adult to be the subject of God’s love. But it is the means by which we become aware of a love we might not otherwise be able to appreciate of benefit from.” In baptism, we begin a process of becoming who we already are—people who are shaped more and more into the image and likeness of Christ. “This is accomplished by God’s action in our lives to which we respond. Therefore, it is expected that we will renew our baptismal covenant over and over again…Further, to emphasize the need for renewal, it is expected that everyone in a congregation will renew his or her covenant on the various days set aside for baptisms, even if there is no one to baptized.” Turn in your prayer book to page 312 and someone read the first paragraph: “Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints' Day or the Sunday after All Saints' Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany). It is recommended that, as far as possible, Baptisms be reserved for these occasions or when a bishop is present.” (What’s today?) I once had a bishop who, in order to emphasize the importance of baptism, would use blessed water-like what we have in the font up here, and he would invite people to come kneel at the altar rail, and he would make the sign of the cross on their heads with the water and say to them, “Remember you baptism.” This is what we are doing every time we walk past this font and make the sign of the cross with the water. We are remembering the truth of our baptism. We are remembering that we have been claimed as God’s beloved, adopted into the family of God, and transformed into a member of the body of Christ. We remember that in baptism we are becoming who we already are, and we live into that becoming for as long as we are alive. So this week, I invite you to spend some time thinking about what you believe about Holy Baptism. In what ways can you look back over your faith journey and mark how you have grown move deeply into the image and likeness of Christ. How are you responding to God’s action in your life? How are you becoming who you already are? Soures: Westerhoff, John H. Holy Baptism: A Guide for Parents and Godparents. Morehouse: 1996 (revised 1998), p 3 Ibid pp 12-13