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.

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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

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+

General Convention Day 8: part 1b

July 11, 2012

Dance?  Why would we want to dance?

Our preacher at the Community Eucharist this morning said,

“Benedict would say this is not so. To be Christian is to engage in a dance. To be Anglican is to engage in a dance.”

She was talking about the kind of radical hospitality practiced by the people who live according Saint Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries; he kind of hospitality that greets every guest the way that we would greet Jesus if he came to our door.

Still don’t see how dancing fits in?

If we greeted Jesus at the door we would expect that his presence in our midst would change us.  We would be excited about that possibility.  In fact we come to church on Sunday morning longing to be changed by his presence.  What would it look like if we expected to be changed.  What would it look like if we were excited about the possibility, even longed for the opportunity to be with our guests so that in the dance of give and take, of sharing and interacting, we might be changed, might grow, might learn?

What would that look like for us at Saint Andrew’s?  Let me paint a picture for you.

We might change our Sunday morning schedule in the hope that having everyone: children, youth and adults in formation classes at the same time, and allowing everyone the opportunity to worship together would deepen our common life and prayer.

Seeing the growing number of young families and children on Sunday morning, and knowing that our music program is one of the gifts we have to offer we might decide to start our Sunday morning Church School with Music with Mr. Stancer.  Fifteen minutes of singing songs, hymns, and psalms.  We might use that opportunity to do some music education, helping our children to understand the importance of music and hymnody in our faith.  We might even  adjust the age requirements for the Choristers, our children’s choir, so that more of our Church School kids would have a liturgical outlet for the music skills they are acquiring.

Being involved in that dance would mean that every year we checked in with the poeple in the program.  Does this schedule still work?  Is there something we need to tweak?  Is there something we need to add or to stop doing?  Being involved in the dance would mean that we stayed on the first floor for more than one number.

Seeing that there are lots of mothers who bring the children to Sunday School who need a place to connect with one another and with the rest of the parish we might offer space in the Rector’s office for a Sunday Morning Women’s Spirituality Group.  And when the needs of that group change and it morphs into a group for mom’s with babies we would smile an embrace that change too!

Being involved in that dance, you know, the one that changes everyone who is willing to get on their feet and venture onto the dance floor, might also lead us to start a “Young Families Night” where people whose lives tend to be centered around work and caring for their young children, poeple who don’t often get to socialize at coffee hour because after a long morning their kids are ready to go home, people who really need a way to be in relationship with folks who share their needs and concerns, can come be together and develop and nurture relationships in the church.  We might even learn from them that they can’t participate as easily if it is pot luck.  “Life is busy enough.  I can’t possibly make a casserole or salad to take to a church dinner tonight!”  And we might set the evening up as a gift to them, organizing, arranging and hosting so that they can share in our community and share with us.

Being involved in that dance might mean recognizing that we have a lot of single people and people whose partners don’t attend Saint Andrew’s who would love to gather in a context that doesn’t assume that everyone comes two by two, and working to creat an opportunity for them to tell their stories to one another and to us.

Being involved in that dance might mean that we begin a Men’s Ministry and structure it in such a way that guys who are new to the parish, new to the Episcopal Church, even Guys who don’t come on Sunday but are curious about the church that their wives attend can feel comfortable and participate.

So I stirred the pot a little today.  We are having a conversation about the church on a national, and international level and I shared that here.  It raised some concerns and questions, questions that I hope we can address without anxiety or fear.  How do we practice the kind of radical hospitality that the Benedictines practice?  How do we engage with people so that we are open to the things that they have to tell and to teach us?

Saint Andrew’s is better at this than most places I know and I am not suggesting that we install power point projectors, drop down screens, and a drum kit in the sanctuary.  I am however suggesting that we should be saying the opening collect that we used this morning to honor the feast day of Benedict of Nursia.  There are people in or pews whose stories we haven’t listened to, who have things to tell us about their experience of God and the Holy.  We need to be willing to dance with them the same way that we long to dance with Jesus.

As our preacher told us this morning:

“The prayer to be like Benedict will shatter our well-drawn boundaries, it breaks our hearts, it grows our capacity to love and to fail, and sends us humble as beggars into the arms of Jesus and the arms of the stranger. It is a dangerous prayer. Pray it anyway. And then watch out. God might just give you what you prayed for.”

It is a dangerous prayer.  Please join me in praying it anyway.

The Collect for the Feat of Benedict of Nursia

Almighty and everlasting God, your precepts are the wisdom of a loving Father: Give us grace, following the teaching and example of your servant Benedict, to walk with loving and willing hearts in the school of the Lord’s service; let your ears be open to our prayers; and prosper with your blessing the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Peace, Andy+

General Convention Day 8 part 1

I almost didn’t go.  I was up until two am and I had thought that I might sleep through the morning Eucharist so that I could begin the day with more than five hours of sleep.  But then my eyes opened at 7:00.  I looked at the clock, reminded myself that I was going to sleep in, and then realized that after the day we had here at General Convention yesterday I really needed and wanted to attend the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving.  I am so glad that I did.

When I entered the worship space the choir was singing, chanting, the graceful steady rhythms of Gregorian Chant.  I looked at my bulletin and it hit me.  Tis is the feast day of Benedict of Nursia, author of St. Benedict’s rule for monasteries.  As I sat there bathing in the power of our tradition I recalled a day ten years ago when, having been newly ordained and deployed to my first parish, I traveled from Frederick, Maryland to Georgetown in Washington, D.C. to observe the feast of St. Benedict with my mentor and field Ed supervisor The Rev. Betty McWhorter at Saint Patrick’s Episcopal Church.  I was deeply moved by the smile that lit her face when she walked into the small chapel and found me waiting there.  This morning I was filled with gratitude for ttie gentle reminder of the poeple who have walked this path with me, Benedict, Betty, and all the saints who have gone before us.  Our tradition and history are rich and they represent a precious gift.

Then there was the sermon.

The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, priest to The Crossing, the emergent worship congregation at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston, was recently named one of two chaplains to the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops, a two-year appointment that she shares with the Rev. Canon Simon Bautista, Latino Missioner in the Diocese of Washington (D.C.).

Her sermon touched me very deeply.  I have heard from some folks in the last week who are afraid that all of this talk of change will lead us to throw the baby out with the bath water.  In fact a few have suggested that we may throw out more than one baby in our attempts to refresh the waters.  On Tuesday we heard Bishop Robinson preach at the Integrity Eucharist.  He told us:

“You know what?” he asked. “I want some answers to things. I want things to stay where I put them and to stay where I think them, and I don’t like to be asked to move on and then move on again and to move on again. And yet, it seems to be the biblical witness that God means for us to live in tents and to move from place to place and to never finally settle down until we’re all in heaven. We are meant to live, in this world at least, in tents.”

Just when we think we have arrived God says nope, you’re not there yet.  Keep on moving.  We are called to be itinerant, on the road, constantly moving, following where the Holy Spirit leads, and resisting the impulse to build foundations that will ties us to one place, one way of thinking one way of being.

Here is how this morning’s preacher, The Rev. Stephanie Spellers talked about our desire and our willingness to change:

“Throughout this Convention, we have prayed and proclaimed our desire to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to welcome emerging generations and cultures. Did we mean to pray that? Do we want the conversion that hospitality entails?

I pray that we do. Because right now, here’s what our legendary welcome sounds like: “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You. We’re so glad you’re here! Now, this is the Book of Common Prayer. Obey it. This is our musical tradition. Master it. This is our English heritage. Adopt it. This is our sense of order. Assimilate it. And the gifts from your home culture, your young culture, your lower-class culture? Would you leave them at the door and pick them up on your way out? They’re not quite Episcopal enough.

I do not think we mean to be unkind or unwelcoming. I think we love what we have received and the most natural thing in the world is to share it with others in that very form. I think we are afraid that opening to two-way transformation with The Other could shatter or simply erase the foundations of our Episcopal identity.

Benedict would say this is not so. To be Christian is to engage in a dance. To be Anglican is to engage in a dance. Stabilitas keeps us anchored, holding fast to what is holy and true. Conversatio morum makes us free to say, “Here is the way we have known Jesus. May this path bless you. How have you known him? What song sounds like God to you? What dream has the Spirit whispered to you in your ear? I am confused, I am scared. But I embrace this dying and rising, this sacrifice and blessing, this transformation into the fullness of Christ. And, I embrace you.”

I hope you will read her whole sermon.  It is posted here.

Oh, and by the way.  The House of Bishops passed the resolution on restructuring the church unanimously today!

The Acts 8 Moment is gathering again this evening.

 

Peace, Andy+