General Convention – Zero Minus One and Counting!

An awful lot happened on the last day before General Convention officially opens. Legislative Committees held meetings and Open Hearings at seven a.m. We all, Bishops and Deputies, gathered in the House of Deputies to hear opening statements from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings. The House of Deputies had a two hour orientation to the new “Virtual Binder,” and at 1:30 in the afternoon we got the opportunity to hear from all four candidates for Presiding Bishop.   In the evening there were receptions hosted by The National Cathedral, The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, Integrity and a “host” of others. Then at seven p.m. the legislative committees reconvened for more meetings and open hearings. My day ended with a gathering of the Deputation from our diocese debriefing the meetings and hearings we had attended, sharing our impressions of the candidates for Presiding Bishop, and speculating about the shape and scope of the resolutions that would come out of the various committees in the next few days. It was a very busy day!

There are lots folks posting news, reviews, and resources to help the whole church stay informed about what is happening here.

I would highly recommend the opening statements by our Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. You can view a video of their presentations here. If you are a Trekkie, and you know who you are, you will appreciate the way that Bishop Katherine riffs on the TREC (Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church) and the Episcopal Church’s mission to go where only one man has gone before… You can read an article about their opening remarks on the Episcopal News Service here. You can read the text of Bishop Katherine’s remarks here and the text of Rev. Jennings remarks here.

Our joint session for the presentation of the candidates for Presiding Bishop is also available to view on line. You can watch it here. And the accompanying article from the Episcopal News Service is available here. You can watch a short video of Deputies to convention sharing their impressions of the candidates here.

After all of this “pre work” the Convention officially opens today with an eight am legislative session to elect officers and begin the process of organizing the convention, the opening Eucharist, a full afternoon of legislative meetings and hearings, a two hour legislative session late this afternoon and more meetings and hearings after dinner.

I will post again later today with more news about the work of the various committees and the resolutions that are coming before the convention. Don’t forget to check out the Diocese of Milwaukee at General Convention for resources and info. We also have a facebook page where we are posting updates. The Rev Dorota Pruski, Associate at Saint Andrew’s in Madison is writing for Episcopal Herald, and our Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Steven Miller, is blogging at MilwaukeeBishop.

 

Peace,

Andy+

 

 

 

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Blessing Same Sex Relationships: Doing the Theology

The issue of blessing same sex relationships is once again front and center in the the life of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee.  Bishop Miller has decided not to authorize the use of the Blessing Rite that General Convention approved for trial use in 2012.  His concerns are with the language and structure of the rite itself and with the possibility that offering the sacrament of Marriage to heterosexual couples and a blessing to homosexual couples creates a second class status for some.

The Bishop is also concerned that we have not yet done the theology necessary to the establishment of a new practice, the blessing or marriage of same sex couples, in the church.

The church has been wrestling with this issue for a long time and page upon page has been written in support to, and in opposition to, the acceptance of homosexuality as compatible with the Christian life and whether we should recognize, honor and bless committed, monogamous, covenantal relationships between same sex couples.

As the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee works to develop a “generous pastoral response” to our LGBT brothers and sisters I will be working to highlight and lift up the theological and pastoral work that has already been done.  It is my hope that this will assist us all as we work to discern a way forward together.

As a beginning I am re-posting this sermon from May 13, 2012, just about two months prior to last year’s General Convention and a blog post that I wrote on June 30, just a week prior to convention.

These two posts begin describe the scriptural and theological basis for my assertion that we should be offering the sacrament of marriage to all of God’s children and I hope that they serve as an introduction to the important conversation that we will be engaging in the months to come as the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee.

The Very Rev. Andrew B. Jones

May 13th, 2012

Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Madison, Wisconsin

This sermon is based on the readings for the 6th Sunday of Easter in year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.  You can find those readings here.

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning is only a few short lines.  So as we read through it we may be tempted to rush ahead to our Gospel text of the day.  Baptizing Gentiles doesn’t seem like such a big deal to us in this day and age so let’s just jump straight to what Jesus has to say about love!  But if we take another look at the reading from Acts and read it in its context, read it thinking about the themes of the book of Acts, we begin to recognize that this is a passage fraught with conflict: fraught with potential and hope.  It is a passage that demands our attention today.

It says in this passage that the Holy Spirit descended upon a group of people and Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)  Apparently, someone has been saying that the Gentiles should not be baptized.  We get another clues as to what has been happening when we go back a few more lines and read that “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…” (Acts 10:45) people who they thought were on the “outside.”  The leaders of “The Way, this new faith, this new idea about how to be in relationship with God were in conflict with one another.  Should converts to the faith be required to be circumcised according to the Jewish tradition and Mosaic Law in order to participate in this community?

There was a lot at stake here for Peter and the leaders of the early church.  They are members of a new and growing movement trying to understand how to live out their new faith and their new understanding and to integrate that with their Jewish identity.  At the same time this new movement is under the scrutiny and suspicion of Rome who is very concerned about this movement’s ability to claim people’s allegiance and to subvert their fealty to the Emperor.  This new way of being is also being regarded with great suspicion and hostility by the temple authorities, the Scribes and the Pharisees who, even as we approach the day of the destruction of the Temple and the end of Temple Judaism, are concerned and angered by claims that Jesus is the Messiah.  They are anxious about the competing claims of this new group in their midst.  They are also angry about the ministry and preaching of that radical, liberal malcontent who is claiming that God’s love and grace is open to everyone… even to the Gentiles.  You know… that radical, liberal malcontent Paul!

Paul, whose ministry and teaching is in conflict with the Temple authorities, is also in conflict with Peter and the leaders of the early church.  Paul is saying that people who are converted to the faith from outside of Judaism should not be required to undergo circumcision in order to become members, and Peter and the leaders of the church have been fighting him.  But here, in this moment, Peter meets a group of Gentiles and he learns that he must in fact offer them the sacrament that forms us as the church, and that he must offer that sacrament without asking them to become circumcised.

What evidence do Peter and his group of “circumcised believers” find that causes them to change their minds?  After all, in the seventeenth chapter of Genesis God makes a covenant with Abraham and in that covenant makes a lot of promises to Abraham and to the people of Israel through him:

I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:6-8).

These promises are so deeply imbedded within the people of Israel that even as they come to this new faith they are clinging to them, to the reality and to the understanding that this is not something new, this is not something drastically different.  This is a fulfillment of the faith and the promises that were established in their forefathers, the faith that they have understood and held all of their lives.

In that seventeenth chapter of Genesis God goes on and tells Abraham that his part in this covenant is to circumcise every male among his people.

You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (Genesis 17:11).

And a few short lines later God says:

“Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (17:14).

So as Peter and the leaders of the church, in this new and evolving culture and context, with hostility from the synagogue and from Rome confronting them on every side, trying to understand how to be faithful and to live out the teachings of Jesus, are confronted by people who have not been circumcised and yet want to be baptized… they are deeply troubled.

What could make them change their minds?  All along they have been saying “no” to requests like this one.  Something must have shifted their position!   What, short of the very teachings of Jesus himself, could have led them to affect this radical shift in their understanding?

But if you go back and read through the Gospels, through Jesus’ teachings, Jesus doesn’t say anything about circumcision!  We know that he himself was circumcised.  We have that story in our sacred texts.  And we know that Jesus says through his words and actions, over and over again, that the Kingdom of God is for all people.  But Jesus himself does not address the specific issue of circumcision.  He doesn’t ever say whether or not circumcision is a requirement for being a member of his Body, the Church.  So by what evidence do Peter and his colleagues abandon this requirement that is as old as the book of Genesis?

Go back to our passage from the book of Acts and we will see that it was the presence of the Holy Spirit in those who sought the sacrament of Baptism that convinced Peter that he must in fact offer them this blessing.  The people there began to speak in tongues and to extoll God.  Peter and his friends saw this as evidence of the Holy Spirit in these people.  God was already there.  God was already present in these people.  How could they possibly refuse to baptize them?

Now that may seem like a radical thing to do: to overturn all those years of tradition and that sense of scripture based on what seems to be their subjective observation of an event in their lives there in that moment.  But there is scriptural warrant for this kind of interpretation and this kind of change.

In the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus says:

 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-31).

Two chapters later in the Gospel of John Jesus says:

 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16.12-13).

Jesus himself says that revelation will be on going, that the holy Spirit will come and will guide us into change, that the Holy Spirit will move us forward, and that God is not done speaking yet.

So when Peter and his colleagues encounter these Gentiles who begin to speak in tongues and to extoll God, and they perceive this to be a manifestation of the fruits of the spirit, they baptize them.

We are reading this morning from the 10th chapter of Acts and really, this is the beginning of the end of this conflict.  The conflict between Paul, with his radical liberal views, and Peter and the circumcised believers has been building for the first ten chapters of the book of Acts, in chapter 15 it comes to a head.  In chapter 15 Paul and Barnabas are talking to other church leaders in Antioch and we read:

“And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church…” (Acts 15:2-3).

No small dissension and debate!  They were sent on their way to meet with Peter and the elders of the church.  Seems to me they were going to General Convention.  In the end Paul and Barnabas prevailed.  After a long and serious conversation Peter stood up and said to the rest of the church:

My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us” (Acts 15:7-9).

So just to make sure we understand what we are talking about here… We have the early church struggling to find its way forward, struggling to define its mission and vocation to the rest of the world.  It is doing that in a context that is shifting dramatically and there is opposition from the culture around them, and from those in authority over the nation of Israel.  There is dissension within the church itself.  And then they are confronted with something that seems to go against the scriptures that they hold sacred and which challenges the very core of their beliefs.  These uncircumcised Gentiles have come seeking the sacrament of baptism, the sacrament that binds us one to another and makes us the church.  And in the face of that challenge, the church changes and offers that sacrament because of its faith and trust in the manifestation of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Just to make sure that we understand what we are talking about… we are talking about the sacrament of baptism.  But all week long, as I wrestled with these passages, I was confronted by the reality that we could just as well be talking about the sacrament of marriage.

On Tuesday night this week we gathered with a group of people here in Madison at Saint Luke’s, to talk about the materials that have been presented to General Convention by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music.  We looked at the thirty-eight year history of legislation in General Convention around the blessing of same gender unions.  We read through the theological points being offered for consideration by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music.  We looked at the materials they have developed to prepare people in same gender unions to have their union blessed.  We looked at the extensive study guide that they have prepared to help congregations and dioceses discern whether or not they are called to participate in the three-year trial use of the liturgy that they have developed.  And we sat together in that space and we read through the liturgy.

Before we began that reading there were people in the room who were uncomfortable with what we were doing.  They were uncomfortable with the idea that we were considering this at all.  There were other people who felt that this is not enough.  “It’s a blessing not a marriage and why can’t we have the same sacrament that everyone else has?”  By the time we finished reading that liturgy everyone in the room was in a very different place…

A very powerful experience, a liturgy that recognizes the covenantal nature of relationships and makes room for the church to offer it’s blessing on two people who have made life long monogamous commitments to one another in the kind of love and joy that is manifested by God’s relationship to us and by God’s relationship to the church.

It was particularly difficult to come home from that meeting on Tuesday night and to learn that the state of North Carolina had passed an amendment to its constitution banning same gender unions, and civil unions, and partnerships: stripping away hospital visitation rights and all sorts of things that married people take for granted.  It was a difficult and strange juxtaposition.

It was even stranger then the next night when I came home from an all day retreat with the Diocesan Executive Council and the Diocesan Strategic Planning Task Force, and heard my son exclaim from his room down the hall that he had just read on Face Book that President Obama had affirmed same sex marriages in a televised interview with a reporter from ABC.  It has been a difficult and tumultuous week.

This issue is not going away.  Our nation is grappling with it.  Our government is grappling with it.  And my brothers and sisters, denominations all across this country are wrestling with this issue right now.

We, and I say that because I believe this is true for most if not all of us,…  I can say without doubt that I know and love many people who love people of the same gender.  And I have perceived holiness of life and the movement of the Holy Spirit in many of those people.  I know many people who are in monogamous, lifelong committed partnerships with people of the same gender and I have seen the fruits of the Spirit and the ends and purposes of marriage served and made manifest in those relationships.  And I believe that we are confronted and convicted by that truth and that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit leading us and teaching us to a new thing.

This summer I am serving as a deputy to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis.  Last April I went to a workshop in Atlanta sponsored by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music as it developed the materials and resources that are now available to all of us in “The Blue Book” so that we can prepare for this conversation at General Convention. I am proud to have been a part of that work.  And I will be voting to allow the three year trial use of this liturgy when we gather at General Convention this summer.

In the time between now and then, and while we are there, I will also be praying.  I will be praying that we in this church and that we in this diocese will be allowed to recognize, and to honor, and to bless the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we experience in the same gender couples who are members of this parish, who are members of this community, who are members of the Body of Christ, and who are beloved children of God.  I will be praying because I believe, that faced with the evidence of the Spirit’s work among us, we must, must, bless what God is doing in our midst.

Amen.

The Very Rev. Andrew B. Jones

June 30, 2012

Three years ago, the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed resolution C056:

“Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge the changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations, as legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons is passed in various civil jurisdictions that call forth a renewed pastoral response from this Church, and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishops, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention;”

As part of the process of “collecting and developing” resources the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music held a Church wide Consultation in Atlanta GA in March of 2011.   Each diocese was asked to send one lay and one clergy deputy to participate in a process designed:

“to inform the deputies about the work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in response to Resolution 2009-C056;

to engage the deputies in theological reflection in response to the Commission’s work, and to solicit feedback that would inform the Commission and its task groups as they continued their work;

to equip the deputies to report to the rest of their deputations and engage them in ongoing theological reflection about the blessing of same-gender relationships.”

I attended this gathering as the clergy deputy from the Diocese of Milwaukee.

As we were introduced to the process and the materials that we would be using at the consultation It was made very clear to us that we were gathered to engage the work with which the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music had been charged, specifically, the collection and development of theological and liturgical resources to be considered by General Convention 2015 for blessing, not for marrying, same gender couples.

This was a very important distinction. When the church gathered at General Convention in 2009 the church was not in a place to talk about a marriage rite. It was important, if this work was to move forward, that we be clear that the materials being collected and developed were for blessing and not designed to be a marriage rite.

We are now in a very different place.  Resolution 2009-C056 acknowledged that circumstances in the United States and in other nations had changed with regard to same gender couples and in they have continued to change in the three years since.  Public opinion poles for the first time show that a majority of Americans favor or approve of same gender marriage.  The president of the United Sates endorsed same gender marriage in a nationally televised interview.  Many states here in the US and much of Europe have now legalized same gender marriage.  Great Britain is wrestling with legislation that will make it legal for people of the same gender to marry.  And within our own church people are moving, hearts are changing, and the topic of discussion has begun to shift.

I have heard from many people that the theological foundation for the blessing rites that will come before our General Convention in July is inadequate.  I would argue that it is adequate if we are talking about blessing.  I would agree that it is inadequate if we are talking about marriage.   It seems, from much of what I have read, that we are now, in fact, talking about marriage.  I believe that we are finally having the right conversation!

I am always pleased when a couple chooses, for the wedding the passage from the Gospel of Mark that says two people become one flesh.  This reading gives me the opportunity to point out that no one present in the church that day has the power to effect such a marvelous thing.  None of us gathered in the congregation has the ability to make two people one flesh.  Only God can do that.  And so what we are doing is gathering to witness and celebrate something that God has done, is doing, and promises to do forever in the life of the two people who stand before us.

Our Book of Common Prayer says “We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony” (BCP p. 423).  We are not “joining” them.  God has/is/will do the joining.  We are there to “witness and bless.”

The Book of Common Prayer also says that “The union of husband wife is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord” (BCP p. 423).

I believe that the conversation has shifted from blessing to marriage because of our experience of same gender couples whose common life serves and manifest the ends and purposes of marriage.  Many, if not most of us, have experienced same gender couples whose life long commitment can be seen to signify “to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church…” (BCP p. 423).  These relationships are characterized by the mutual joy that the partners find in their relationship and in the help and comfort that they give to one another in prosperity and adversity.   Many of the couples that we are considering here have raised or are raising children and the generativity of their union is manifest in the love and spirit we observe in their children.

I am not saying that the lives of all same gender couples reflect and serve the ends and purposes of marriage but I neither would I make that claim for all marriages between people of different gender.   When we agree to witness and bless the union of two people we do so because we see the ends and purposes of marriage being served in their relationship and union and because we see the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, manifest in their common life.  Often we only see the seeds, or the beginnings, the early growth of these fruits and we witness and bless their union in the faith and hope that those seeds, that early growth will blossom into a new creation in Christ.

I said before that I am pleased when a couple asks me to preach on Mark 10:6-9, 13-16 at their wedding because it allows me to point out that it is God who is effecting their union.  I am pleased because I believe that the implication of this passage of scripture is clear.  If God has/is/will join two people, making them one flesh, if we observe the ends and purposes of marriage being served in their union, and if we see the Fruit of the Spirit manifest in their common life… how can we, the church possibly refuse to bless what God has done?

My experience of same gender couples leads me to believe that we should be having a conversation, not about blessing, but about marriage.  There are many in the church who now share this view.  The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee asks “is the proper matter for marriage simply two human beings?”  Along with a growing number of people in the church, lay and ordained, I would answer with a resounding “yes!”  But this “yes” leads to another question.

Does this mean that God’s truth has changed or has the proper matter for marriage always been “simply two people”?   It seems to me that the only possible answer to this question is to face the reality that our refusal to witness and bless the unions of our LGBT brothers and sisters for all of these years has been wrong.  For years the church did not recognize, would not witness or bless the union of people of different ethnicities.  Can any of us look back on those days and believe that God was sanctioning our refusal to witness and bless the union of two people because one was black and one was white?   We were wrong!  And in our refusal to acknowledge God’s presence those relationships, in our refusal to say publicly that we saw God manifest in their unions we hurt people and participated in a system of oppression in a way that is not worthy of our prophetic heritage.

If the proper matter for marriage is simply two people then the proper matter for marriage has always been simply two people and we have been participating in a great wrong by refusing to acknowledge God’s action and presence in the unions of faithful members of our church.

In the sixteenth chapter of John Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12,13).  As Anglicans and as Episcopalians we believe that revelation is ongoing.   To borrow a phrase from our brothers and sister in the UCC, “God is still speaking.”  Three years ago we were not ready to talk about marriage.  Today, with three more years of revelation, of guidance from the Holy Spirit, we are talking about something that we could not have addressed in the same way three years ago.  We have a long way to go.  Changing our canons and our prayer book to allow for the marriage of same gender couples will require two consecutive votes by General Convention.  We might be able pass a resolution this year that will allow for that second vote in 2015 but frankly, and I am only a first time deputy to General Convention, I don’t think that we are going to be able to move that far this year.  So marriage for same gender couples is at least three and maybe six or nine years away.  This begs the question.  Can we as a church continue to deny the presence and work of God in the lives of two people, can we continue to tell them that we do not see God manifest in their relationship and in their common life, can we continue to inflict injury and hurt on people who sit in our pews and kneel beside us at the altar while we wind our way through the legislative process of General Convention and struggle to get the wording “right”?

I believe that the conversation needs to be about marriage and I am glad that we are moving in that direction.  At the same time I wonder how we can decline to bless the relationships of our LGBT brothers and sisters while we work towards a theology of marriage that will allow us to offer the sacrament of holy matrimony to all of God’s children.   Resolution 2009-C056 declared that the changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations call forth a renewed pastoral response from this church.  Would it be a “renewed pastoral response” if, having come this far, we decline to take a step in the right direction?

The conversation of the last three years has moved us forward in an exciting and prophetic way.  I will travel to our General Convention with the faith and hope that our conversation, our journey together, will be advanced by our coming together in the presence of the Holy Spirit.   And I will travel to General Convention with the full and certain knowledge that I will be changed by what I experience there.  But today, given all that I have heard, read, learned and experienced I would vote for a resolution that called for the amendment of the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons to allow for marriage between two persons regardless of gender and I would vote to approve the blessing of same gender relationships so that we can begin to publicly affirm what God is doing in our midst; making two people, regardless of their gender, one flesh “for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord,” thereby, “signifying to us to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church…” (BCP p. 423).

Peace,  Andy+

Not To Be Served But To Serve

It was one of those moments that preachers hope for; that flash of insight, the sudden revelation, the line that connects all of the dots that have been dancing around in your head.  And it was one of those moments that preachers dread.  It came at 11:00 on a Saturday night as I was struggling with a sinus infection and trying to fall asleep.  You look for these moments on Thursday morning, when there is still plenty of time to pull it all together. Saturday night is really pushing it.

I record my sermons now so that I can transcribe them and post them to my blog, so I know that I didn’t do a great job of incorporating this last minute insight into the sermons that I preached this past Sunday.  It wasn’t until after I was home from the doctor on Monday, antibiotics on board and neti pot in hand, that I felt like I was doing this justice.  So, with apologies to all of you who sat through the drafting process on Sunday, here is the Sermon that I would have liked to have preached!

This Sermon is based on the Gospel reading for Proper 24 in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.

You can find that text here.

All week long I have been wrestling with James, John and the rest of the disciples.  How could they be so blind?  How can they not see?  Why don’t they understand what Jesus is saying to them?  This is, after all, the third time that he has told them that he was going to be handed over to the authorities, crucified, die, and on the third day rise again.  How many times does he have to say it before they catch on?  What does he have to do to make them see?

It’s hard to watch.  Here he is telling them who he really is and what is going to happen to him and what happens?  James and John come to him, like two little children, and try to trick him into making them a promise.  “Teacher, we want to you to do whatever we ask of you.”  It seems so surreal!  Now granted, we have a little bit of an advantage over James and John.  We know the end of the story.  We know that when Jesus asks if they can rink from the same cup as him he is talking about his suffering on the cross.  And we know that the baptism that he is referring to is his passing through death into life.  The Disciples haven’t experienced Jesus’ resurrection, his ongoing presence among us but Jesus has told them three times.  Shouldn’t they be getting the idea by now?

All week long I wrestled with this dimwitted bunch of followers, trying to figure out how to make their story, their lack of understanding, their lack of, ok…  if we want to cut them a little slack… their lack of experience and historical perspective, with regard to Jesus’ vocation and mission relevant to us today?  We know how the story ends.  In fact, Mark told us right at the very beginning of his Gospel who Jesus is, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  There’s the rub.  The preacher is supposed to help us all understand how this story about people and events some two thousand years ago is actually about us, is actually our story?   How does the story of the Disciples lack of understanding become our story?  It was 11:00 on Saturday night when it finally hit me.  I had been focusing on the wrong part of the story.  I was focusing on the set up and not the punch line.

The first time that Jesus tells the Disciples that he is going to die Peter begins to rebuke him and Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  The second time that he tells them that he is going to die the Disciples get into an argument on the road about which of them is the greatest.  Now that he is told them for a third time James and John come and ask to be seated at his right and left hand in his “glory!”  I don’t think that the Disciples were stupid.  I think that they were afraid!

They had their minds on “human things…” the things of the flesh, this stuff that we are made of, this stuff that wants its own way, that is always looking out for itself first, this stuff that, even when we are operating out of the best of intentions wants to be recognized, affirmed, and held up.  James, John and the rest of the Disciples weren’t stupid.  They heard what Jesus was saying and it frightened them.  They were looking for an earthly “glory,” an earthly kingdom where their positions would accrue some significant benefits.   That’s not what Jesus was offering them.  Jesus has told them three times that he is going to suffer at the hands of that earthly kingdom, that he is going to die on a cross, and that he is going to be raised again.  In some ways this passage is a reiteration of that theme.  As it turns out, that reiteration of the theme isn’t the point.  It is the set up.  The real point, the punch line is the last line of today’s Gospel:  “…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

A servant?  Slave of all?  Following in Jesus’ footsteps, participating in his kingdom means serving others and not being served?  James, John and the rest of the Disciples found what Jesus was saying to be so abhorrent that they were trying to remake the kingdom in their image.  They were trying to shift it back to the model that they were familiar with.  They would have preferred a kingdom of “glory” where their place in the hierarchy assured them of status, rank, privilege and power.  They weren’t stupid.  They were fighting against the model that Jesus was proclaiming, and they were fighting with all they were worth.

I told you that all of this started to unfold in my head at 11:00 on Saturday night.  I am going to admit to you now that this isn’t the first time that this has happened to me.  I won’t say how exactly how many times it has happened, but it has happened more than once.  Usually I am pretty good at synthesizing the new idea, incorporating the inspiration, weaving in sudden revelation in a way that allows me to go back to sleep.  That wasn’t what happened this time.  The idea that the Disciples were trying to remake the Kingdom of God into an earthly kingdom was troubling enough that it kept me awake for most of the night.

We tell these stories, we stand here in church on Sunday mornings and we “proclaim” the Word of God as our own story. We tell these stories because they help us to know and understand the God who creates, redeems, and sustains us.  We also tell these stories because they reveal deep truths about who we are, about the people God created us to be, and about the ways that we have fallen short of God’s dream for us.  So this story about James and John is a story about us.  This story of the Disciples wanting something other than what Jesus was offering is about us.  This story of the Disciples trying to twist God’s vision for their lives into something they wanted…  tells us something about ourselves.  This story is our story and we tell it to remind ourselves that we are called to sacrificial living and that we are called not to be served but to serve.

I may get myself into hot water here, it wouldn’t be the first time, but I found this to be very troubling and with your permission I am going to trouble you.

I wonder what Jesus would say about the ways that we, his Disciples, have built and structured his church?  I wonder what he would say about the ways we fight with one another over who is in and who is out.  I wonder what he would say about our need to manage, control, and “protect” the gifts that he has given us.

I am troubled by the possibility that we have created the church to our own ends in an effort not to serve but to be served.

We need some structure.  We need some order.  We need a framework that will allow us to explore our scripture, our tradition and our experience of God and the world.  We need a common language and some common understanding about the ways that we will be in relationship to and with one another.

But when that structure, order, framework and language cease to be our “means” and becomes our “end,” when we use it as an excuse to point at people and treat them as “other…” excluding them from full inclusion and participation in the church and its sacraments, this Gospel passage calls us out and asks us who is being served?  Are we serving in the way that Christ calls us to serve, becoming the servant and slave of all, or are we seeking to preserve our position, to secure at place at Jesus’ right and left hand so that we might be seen in the light of his glory?

This summer at General Convention, at the first gathering of the movement called The Acts 8 Moment, we were asked to finish the phrase, “I dream of a church…”  I sat and listened to people stand at the microphone and respond to that prompt but couldn’t quite get find the words… or maybe it was the courage that I couldn’t find, to express what I was thinking.  I had it the next morning though…

I dream of a church where we have the courage to give ourselves away.

I dream of a church that has the courage to stop being defensive, to stop trying to protect God as if God were somehow vulnerable and at risk of becoming dirty by association with some of us.  I dream of a church that is ready to offer itself on the cross, a ransom for many and to shine God’s light and love into the world.  I dream of a church where we can stop looking for reasons and ways to keep people out and begin to look earnestly for ways to fling wide the doors and bring them in.

I dream of a church that seeks not to be served but to serve.

Amen.

Sing a New Church into Being!

On July 10th the House of Deputies voted unanimously to adopt resolution C095 Structural Reform

The next day the House of Bishops also voted unanimously to concur.  C095 had passed!

When the vote passed in the House of deputies we all stood clapped, cheered, hugged and sang:

Sing a New Church

Delores Dufner, OSB
(sung to “Nettleton,” the melody for “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)

Summoned by the God who made us
rich in our diversity
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
richer still in unity.

Refrain:
Let us bring the gifts that differ
and, in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.

Radiant risen from the water,
robed in holiness and light,
male and female in God’s image,
male and female, God’s delight.

Refrain

Trust the goodness of creation;
trust the Spirit strong within.
Dare to dream the vision promised,
sprung from seed of what has been.

Refrain

Bring the hopes of every nation;
bring the art of every race.
Weave a song of peace and justice;
let it sound through time and space.

Refrain

Draw together at one table,
all the human family;
shape a circle ever wider
and a people ever free.

Refrain

The General Convention: Epilogue or Sequel?

July 14, 2012

“Epilogue” connotes some level of closure, of conclusion, tying up the loose ends so that you can put the story down without having to wonder what happened to all of those secondary story lines and incidental characters.  A sequel on the other hand picks up more or less where the original story left off, sometimes offering further development of the main story line, sometimes exploring those secondary story lines or the unexpected consequences of the major events and happenings in the original.

Given those non technical definitions it is clear that we don’t want to write an epilogue.  The Acts of General Convention are not taken in a vacuum.  They are intended to guide, shape, and move our common life as the Body of Christ.  As General Convention comes to a close and we all head home from Indianapolis the conversation doesn’t come to an end.  It moves to the diocesan and parish level.  We need to begin work on the first of many sequels, stories about local dioceses and parishes that take up the work of General Convention, exploring and implementing the resolutions passed on the floor of our triennial family reunion and business meeting.  There should be sequel after sequel, coming from diverse bodies and places all over the church as we move forward together.

But what to name these stories?  “General Convention: The Sequel” is too generic.  That probably wouldn’t garner much attention.  We need something with a little flair and a solid hook.  Something that will grab the interest of people outside the church and draw them to our story, that will help them to appreciate the way the Episcopal Church is working for reconciliation in the world.  Unfortunately, as I scanned the internet, my face book feed, and emails, a rather overused title presented itself for the first of our series of sequels: “The General Convention meets Frankenstein”!

The General Convention Meets Frankenstein would be a perfect title for the story of the media coverage that we are receiving.  Both my face book feed and my inbox were filled with inquiries and statements of outrage over an editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Jay Akasie entitled, “What Ails the Episcopalians.”  Mr. Akasie’s article is full of errors and untruths.  He seems to be arguing two sides of the same arguments, and his sense of the history and future of the church seem to be skewed by a vitriolic anger the source of which we are left to guess on our own.  There are several good articles and blogs that offer a line by line corrective to Mr. Akasie’s article and I list them below.  I hope that you will take the time to read them.  If, like several of the people who wrote directly to me yesterday, someone has sent Mr. Akasie’s work of fiction to you as a challenge or a slap at the Episcopal Church, you will find all the information you need to refute their concerns or slights in these responses.

The General Convention Meets Frankenstein…  clearly not the sequel that we want spreading the news about the Episcopal Church and what we did together at General Convention.  But this chapter of the story about General Convention makes it clear that “WE” need to be the ones telling the stories, reporting on our history and looking to our future, talking about the ways that we engage the outcomes of General Convention, and writing the titles of the many sequels that are to come.

I have to say that after 10 days of living in a hotel, eating at restaurants, and spending at least ten hours a day on the work of the church gathered for convention, I am exhausted.   And yet I am committed to speaking up and speaking out, to telling our story and to making sure that we are represented fairly and honestly both within and without the church.  It was that same commitment that drove me to spend a couple of hours at the end of those very long days blogging and telling our story.  We need to be the ones that tell our story.  If we are silent, if we leave it to others to tell the story, then we have no one to blame but ourselves when the story that people hear and believe is the wrong one!

We have to move fast.  If we leave a vacuum, if we wait until we are rested, if we take the next two weeks off to recover from the marathon we have just run we will find ourselves behind and our story will have been thoroughly spun in the interests of those whose livelihood depends on writing sequels full of vitriol, conflict, and scandal.

The General Convention is now in recess until 2015 but the work of convention goes on.  We now take up that work at the diocesan and parish level.  We need to continue to tell our stories, to find ways to spread the good news of God in Christ, and the ways tat we are working to realize the Kingdom of God here and now, in our own communities and dioceses.

I am calling on deputations from every diocese, on all of the Bishops who were present, on each and every diocese where we will be working to embody the work of General Convention, to tell your stories now!  The temptation to rest is strong but we cannot afford to allow someone else to tell our story.  The longer we wait the harder it will be to convince people of the truth.  A vacuum breeds anxiety.  If we don’t speak up now that growing anxiety will cause people to grasp at even Mr. Akasie’s article as a referent for understanding our church.  We must speak up!

I did not create a link to Mr. Akasie’s article when I cited it in the paragraphs above because I don’t want you to read his highly skewed version of General Convention until you have read the church’s description of what we did in Indianapolis.  Please read “Convention wrap-up: Re-envisioning church for the 21st century” on the Episcopal News Service web site first.  You might also read, “Summarizing General Convention #77” on the Episcopal Café web site.

If you want to read Mr. Akasie’s article for the Wall Street Journal you can find it here.

The Rev. Scott Gunn, one of the bloggers whose writings helped to create The Acts 8 Moment and the Executive Director of Forward Movement Publications writes an excellent response to Mr. Akasie’s article here.

The Rt. Rev. Kirk Smith, Bishop of Arizona writes about Mr. Akasie’s article on his blog.

George Conger writes for GetReligion.org in response the Akasie’s editorial here.

And our own Fr. Jonathan Grieser responds on his blog here.

Peace, Andy+

The Closing Act….

The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church is in the books.  And I would say that this one goes in the “win” column.

We had two legislative sessions today.  The first went from 8:00 to 11:00 am.  We celebrated the Closing Eucharist at 11:30.  The final legislative session went from 2:15 until past 6:00 pm!  It was a marathon day!

It is 10:30 here and I need to meet folks in the lobby at 5 am so we can catch a cab to the airport.  I am still trying to stuff all of my belongings back into my bags.  I only bought a couple of books at the exhibition hall but I have a whole shelf worth of materials from the floor of convention.  I hope they don’t charge me extra for my bag!

Here are some links to the “news of the day.”  I will be writing more in the next couple of days as I process this last day of work.  See you all in church on Sunday!

Peace, Andy+

Stories from the Episcopal News Service:

Convention calls for new rites, prayers for care of beloved animals

The Presiding Bishop’s closing sermon

House of Deputies consider a flurry resolutions on its final day

Bishops end convention with busy legislative session

General Convention digest

Convention wrap-up: Re-envisioning church for the 21st century

 

A reflection from Fr. Jonathan Grieser, Rector of Grace Madison

A reflection from The Cristy Old Dean

The Center Aisle, a great source for information about General Convention

General Convention Day 8: Part 2

July 11, 2012

This was a different kind of day for me.  The Diocese of Milwaukee sent four Lay and four Clergy Deputies to General Convention.  The Diocese also sent one Lay Alternate and one Clergy Alternate.  When I got up this morning I knew I needed The Rev. Anna Doherty, Rector of Saint Aiden’s Hartford, to take my seat on the floor.  I was glad that she was here to give me a chance rest.

I went to the morning session to hear the beginning of our discussion of the budget.  We adopted a special rule that allowed us to sit in small groups and share our thoughts and concerns for 15 minutes.  We then discussed the budget using the microphones placed around the room but with a 45-minute suspension on the ability to amend, substitute, or call the question.  When the time allotted for the “Committee of the Whole” we began returned to our usual rules of order.  The conversations in small groups were interesting and helpful.  The fact that some dioceses are not paying the full asking to the church is a major concern for some people.  Some dioceses cannot afford to pay the full 19% asking.  Others seem to be making a political statement, voting with their checkbook, or simply choosing to keep the funding at home.  There was a call for some accountability and a system whereby diocese might explain the circumstances around their lack of financial support for the work of the larger church.

The discussion before the larger group demonstrated the care and concern people have for this church, its ministries and programs and their commitment to good stewardship of the resources and gifts that we have.  It was a very encouraging conversation… but it was still going strong at 12:45 and we suspended the debate for lunch.

Before heading off to lunch Anna Doherty and I went to the certification desk and filled out the paperwork that would allow her onto the floor for the afternoon session.

At 2:00 the rest of our deputation took their lunch, which had just arrived at the tables, stuffed it into to-go boxes and rushed across the street for the afternoon legislative session.  I sat and ate with a young member of the deputation from Southern Virginia who had spoken before the house during the budget debate.  I had never met him before but we had extra seats at our table and we grabbed the next party of two waiting for a table and invited them to join us.  This has been a wonderful time to meet people and to learn about other parts of the church.  Of course it turned out that we had several friends and acquaintances in common.  We had a great conversation.

After lunch I sat in on the House of Deputies.  This was the first time I had ventured down the hall and “across the aisle.”  My first impression was that they are a much smaller group.  We have 840, plus or minus a few, on the floor of the House f Deputies every day.  There are only about 150 Bishops in their room at the convention center.  The only way to conduct a conversation with a group as large as the House of Deputies is to adhere strictly to the rules of order.  We are reminded often that we are not to applaud unless given leave by the President.  The turn taking procedures are strictly adhered to and the conversation, most of the time, seems stiff and formal.  There are exceptions of course.  There are funny moments and laughter.  But if we are going to accomplish the work before us, and do it with decorum and grace, and if we want to leave convention with a common understanding and interpretation of what has transpired, we need to follow the rules.  Things are a little more relaxed in the House of Bishops.

Unlike the House of Deputies, which gathers every three years, the House of Bishops gathers several times a year.  They all know each other pretty well.  The House of Deputies sits at long straight tables neatly arranged in ranks and files on the floor of the house and go to one of eight microphones set up on the floor.  The Bishops sit gathered at round tables with a microphone on each table.  And raise a card when they wish to speak and the house of Bishops lacks the two “jumbo tron” screens that hang on either side of the platform on the House of Deputies.  I had spent so many hours on the floor of the House of Deputies that it took me while to get oriented.

I didn’t stay long.  I wasn’t there to monitor and track the legislation they were addressing.  I really wanted to observe how they worked, how they related to one another, and how they function as the House of Bishops.  I was delighted with what I saw.  They were serious about their work.  The questions asked and the points being offered were important and valuable but they were also able to laugh.  At one point the Presiding Bishop had to remove her glasses and wipe tears from her eyes she was laughing so hard!  Our won bishop allowed his sense of humor to show he rose to speak.  It was a collegial and close knit group.  It made me proud.

I returned to the House of Deputies to find that it is much harder to follow the legislative process from the visitor’s gallery that it is when you are on the floor.  People are coming and going.  Friends stop by to say hello and chat.  And people all around you are engaged in a variety of activities: caucusing their small groups, organizing to hand out literature, searching for the volunteer who is supposed to cover the next shift…  And I thought the floor of the House was a busy place!  There is special seating for alternates only and I suppose I could have moved to that calmer environment.  But I was so tired at that point it probably wouldn’t have made any difference.  So I allowed my introvert to take shelter with a small group of seminary friends and I watched the chaos swirl around me.

By the end of the afternoon the House had passed a budget,

Elected a new President to the House of Deputies,

and dealt with a large chunk of the legislative business before the house.

We still have over 60 resolutions to address.  Tomorrow we have a legislative session from 8:00 am to 11:00 am.  The closing Eucharist is scheduled for 11:30 to 12:45.  Our final legislative session begins at 2:45 and we are scheduled to adjourn around 5:00.  It will be a very busy day.

So how do you wrap up something like the General Convention?  I am not sure what you would do but several members of the Milwaukee Deputation are considering doing something completely different and going to see Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter tomorrow night.  Maybe when all of this is over I’ll turn my attention from Convention to movie reviews!

Peace, Andy+