Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lent is for Turning: In Community

I wrote last week about how some of our turning in Lent can be understood as more course correction than reversal.  Our movements should respect the context and those others who are moving with and around us.  Overcorrection or undercorrection can invalidate our efforts.

The worst result from overcorrection is isolation and from undercorrection is inertia.  Neither are outcomes that faithfulness in community intends.

Yes, there are times when one must go it alone but not into isolation.  That's how the "Reconciliation of a Penitent" works.  Only I can say my prayers of confession.  You must say yours.  The sacramental rite is structured to support that principle.  Because it is sacramental it also ensures that the church, in the person of a priest or other designated confessor actually hears what is said.

Indeed it is the very hearing of what is said in confession that expresses the church's sacramental intention.  Once what is confessed is heard, God has something real with which to work and ultimately effect forgiveness.

Between the regularity of the rite and the effect of God's forgiveness is a focusing embrace that validates what has been previously only hoped for.  Through dialogue with one's confessor the penitent is given direction and counsel and is assured of their continuing to be held within the fellowship of the church.

The confessor doesn't absolve the sin but speaks the words of absolution that rely entirely on God's promise to forgive.  We do what we do trusting God to do what God promised and we say so! It's audacious!   Without that audacious trust there'd be little with which for us to make a community.

Undercorrection may be more of a problem because it has less ritual proscription.  But as in the case of reconciliation's prevention of isolation speaking and hearing are the keys.  Even the hymns we share on a Sunday can help.  As we sing, each one's heart is lifted or moved.  Together we urge each other along, to try harder, to do more, to not stop so that our timidity or lack of confidence doesn't prevent further turning.

Everything we do in unison can have that urgency.  Our common prayers, our creedal rehearsals, our call and response biddings assume an "us" on the move.  Again the context is community. Again we are ritually cooperating with God so that our actions express an inclusive, forward focus. 

TBTG when each one turns it is the church turning!  TBTG we are community turning toward God!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Lent is for Turning: It's a stumbling-block thing.

I was walking on a sidewalk on the Sewanee campus with my son David this past Saturday and moved into single file to make room for a group passing the other way.  They did not similarly align themselves and effectively forced both of us off the walk.  It was disturbing.

Just common courtesy would say take some level of care for others in a situation like that.  That's what people do.  We adjust our direction and make room for each other.  I'm still trying to figure out how it happened.  Maybe, they weren't aware of us.  They didn't seem to be in a hurry.  They for sure were not competing in a three-legged race or in any way constrained to stay side-by-side.  All they had to do was what David and I did; turn enough to keep our overall direction and leave space for others to pass.

That is also a type of turning that Lent expects of us.  Yes the core definition from the Hebrew of turning is a reversal of course back toward God.  But that only works if we understand repentance as a one and done act.

Check pages 293 or 304 in the Book of Common Prayer and you'll see this question, "Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?"  It is part of our Baptismal Covenant.  We promise to persevere, "with God's help" because our lives do not stop at the moment of our promising.  Because our lives continue to suffer falling into sin.

Like navigating a Sewanee sidewalk we must keep turning, resisting evil, and repent and repent and repent.  Some turns are reversals, some adjustments, some courtesies, and some have nothing to do anyone else but we must keep turning.

Lent is for turning and turning and turning and not for locking in on a path born of stubbornness or dismissal or even worse, fear and enmity.  Like it says in 1 John 20:10, "The one who loves his kindred continues in the light, and his life puts no stumbling-block in the way of others."

It's even harder when we're intending to walk with each other or in parallel.  Sometimes our own failing/falling leaves us unable at least for the moment to adjust or to turn.  Sometimes we need someone to turn and lend a hand or turn and protect themselves and avoid piling up others also coming along the path.

Each person's life is unique and known as such in the eyes of God.  So it will not work to impose -- like lockstep marching -- the exact same gait, pace or progress. Our walking together, our shared passage back to God calls us to turn and turn we must. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lent is for Turning: Whose Turn is It?

It was a busy morning at the Tasty World Restaurant on I-26 across from the Asheville Airport.  My fellow cook was at the grill while I hustled a new batch of biscuits into and out of the oven.  Our saltiest waitress was at the window anxious to get her order completed.  It included eggs "over easy."

She said with some pepper on her salt, "Come on Raymond!  They won't turn themselves."

In Lent with all that we do:
  • Adding penitential rites to the beginning of our Eucharistic worship
  • Adding solemn prayers to the end
  • Reading Stations of the cross
  • Adding an SSJE book study
  • Learning about the saints through Lent Madness
  • Reading Luke-Acts thanks to Bishop Wimberly
  • etc, etc.
 . . . you'd think we were trying to turn ourselves.

Let's not stop these efforts but let's not forget that some of the turning of Lent is God's turning of us.  That's not easy to remember.  We are the first to measure our own efforts toward a deeper prayer life or less consumption or just being intentional about gratitude; all of which are worthy Lenten disciplines.

And we forget that the reason for a deeper prayer life is so that God can be in on it with us and our deeper prayer life becomes pressured by a late meeting or a broken heat pump and we suddenly find ourselves surprised by how late it is and how tired we are.  

Or we forget that less consumption has a close correlation with being present to others, especially those we love and our new practice has us refusing invitations from our friends because the menu isn't going to work.

Or we forget that gratitude helps us to anticipate and more readily recognize more than just the benefits of our privilege or status.  

Yes our hopes to be joined fully to God compel these efforts, within the parish or from within our individual disciplines.  TBTG! the outcome is being provided to us before we even wake up in the morning, before we've said our first prayer, before we stepped on the scale, before we heard the good news, before the eggs are flipped.

Like Paul told the Philippians, "I am confident that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6 NRSV

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lent is for Turning: Straightaway

I've always wondered about the effect or amount of time that passed during Jesus' ministry.  There is no definitive statement in the gospels.  Biblical scholars have to "read between the lines" to estimate.  The synoptic gospels mention only one Passover observance. 

Still, it's safe to say that what we have recorded would have needed more than a year to occur.  With a nod toward John's symbolism many believe that three years or so of activity and travel -- mostly on foot -- filled the time between his baptism and the cross. 

The effect is what matters to me more than any precise chronology.  It comes to bear in the way that Mark writes his gospel.  You can see it in his use of the term, euyuv/euthys, a word the NRSV translates most often as "immediately." Older translations use "straightaway."

The first time it shows up is at the end of chapter 1, verse 3:  "the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.“

In most cases I have understood that use, "making a path straight" to mean being efficient or easy to use.  To make it so people can move without impediment or strain.  Like an interstate highway instead of a winding mountain trail. 

But we are not the ones for whom the way is meant.  It's the "way of the Lord."  The paths are his. 

No wonder Mark makes it feel like Jesus is in an urgent, almost rush from moment to moment.  He is.  He is because we need him to be.  His focus is not frantic but more like a laser.  Deliberate, intentional, committed.

The effect of Jesus' ministry doesn't need John's symbolic three years to make its point.  From his baptism to the cross Mark shows Jesus' focus to be relentless and consistent, that is . . . straightaway. 

We say "Lent is for turning," because we keep straying off the path, leaning away from his gaze, and hiding from the light. 

TBTG! His way is towards us.  His focus is towards us.

And so on the Second Sunday in Lent we could pray, "O Lord, be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them straight back. Amen." (BCP, p. 218)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lent is for Turning

The Hebrew word we translate to “repent” comes from the root word bwv/shuv which means to turn. To repent is change direction back toward God.  We are going to use this season of Lent to redirect our efforts back toward God, to focus on his presence and not our prominence, to trust his power and less so our privilege, to respect each person instead of a position.

So we have chosen a name for our practice during these 40 days: Lent is for Turning. With packets and brackets and pamphlets and booklets and lots of prayers we will do some of that turning by reading about who has walked the path before us and how that path can turn us into witnesses to the whole world and especially how our Savior walks along with us.     

You should consider joining our Wednesday night study: Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John.  You can register and purchase your workbook online at http://meetingjesusinjohn.org/.  The season will be enriched again by our sharing in reading Stations of the Cross on Fridays at noon. 

            Another part of our turning will be right here on Sunday morning.  Both 8 and 10:30 services will include our praying mostly penitential prayers before we do anything else.  We'll use a different entrance rite each week.

Lent 1 -- The Great Litany (chanted)
Lent 2 -- The Supplications, Exhortation with confession
Lent 3 -- Penitential Order with Decalogue
Lent 4 -- Suffrages B, Exhortation with confession
Lent 5 -- The Great Litany from Enriching Our Worship.

Perhaps the most noticeable “turn” will be our changing to a smaller simpler bulletin. It can be used for both 8:00 and 10:30 service and will require all those leading worship beginning with the celebrant, to offer more verbal directions, to help especially those who are less familiar than others with the Book of Common Prayer.  Your own turning will include doing so to help those who are learning to which page to turn for themselves.

Let’s give each other the love and support to do this hard work of turning around toward God, maybe in a new way, maybe in a way long forgotten.  We have much to do that can’t be just more of what we’ve done.  We need to turn, return to God.  Lent is for Turning

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Global Manifestation #5: Savior of the World

I'm remembering the citation from John's gospel in last week's installment.  The one where Jesus claims those sheep that are not in the fold of his audience.  The audience looks to be the Pharisees who are pushing back against the authority he exhibits mostly through healing some whom they wouldn't deem worthy for such.  In this case it is the man born blind.

I'm thinking the disciples were likely within earshot if not also part of the group to whom he is speaking.  so much of the context indicates the difference between physical blindness and spiritual blindness.  I can't help but imagine their looking at each other when he pronounces, "I'll bring them in also" and wondering in the own way about whom he is talking.

It's safe to say there was some confusion but being "a good Jew" was still important for some of the twelve.  Some more than others.  More than one of them believed Jesus to be the one promised to come and save Israel from its latest accumulative crisis of colonialism and unrighteousness.  It's not until Jesus is raised that some of the twelve finally start to understand the teachings about the Messiah as having been misinterpreted.

So for at least two sets of listeners the questions persist, who are these other sheep and how is he going to do this claiming.

The question persists today, still.

At least the questions about who is right and who is wrong; who is in and who is out.  Some have asked the question this way: Is there salvation outside the Church?  Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus is the historic teaching first articulated by Cyprian of Carthage late in the 3rd century.  His phrasing was a little different: "Salus extra ecclesiam non est."  

TBTG there has long been a recognition that what matters more is who is doing the saving.  In other words, those of us who count ourselves "in" or "saved" had better be careful not to think we have accomplished that reality/status without Jesus first having a claim over us.

No coercion here just Jesus' claim resulting in our submitting in humility and gratitude.  

So let's not be blinded by our fear or our pride and instead like the man born that way, accept the gift of sight, which is the gift of really understanding whose we are.

The Transfiguration of this Sunday's lesson is full of things to see.  But more than anything we are being invited to see Jesus as God's beloved Son, as the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth and the Life, Our Savior, and because of who he is we get to be his sheep.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Global Manifestation #4: One apostle at a time.

And I'm thinking about that guy throwing starfish back into the ocean.  Here's the short version: guy on the beach tossing starfish back into the water.  Friend asks, "why are you doing that?"  Guy says, "helping them stay alive." Friend says "there's too many for you to throw them all back."  Guy says as he tosses another into the water, "helped that one."

Pretty soon we'll enjoy the presence of Assisting Bishop Don Wimberly.  On the Second Sunday in Lent February 18, he will visit us to lead worship and to confirm, receive, reaffirm our candidates for such.

In our polity, Bishops “R” us  They are present when we bring in new and returning adult baptized persons because that entrance is not just to the parish of Advent-Madison but to the whole denomination and to the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" and for the sake of the whole world.

We still account for "members" without a bishop's "laying on of hands."  That's because at the parish level "baptised members" matter.  We still account using attendance for prayer and communion as well because at both parish and church-wide levels "communicants" matter, too!  We invite everyone to pledge and you know why that matters.

Confirmation/Reception/Reaffirmation matter in a way reflective of a "bishop centered context."  When visiting, a bishop lays hands on and prays for each candidate and the prayer always mentions the role of the Holy Spirit and each member's new relationship to the Church.  Each candidate is addressed one at a time.  This gesturing is an extension of the act that makes each bishop another minister in "apostolic succession."  A chain of "hands on heads" all the way back to Peter.

Our polity is "episcopal" -- Bishops “R” Us -- because the rest of christendom AND the whole world matter, too.  When a bishop confirms or receives or reaffirms it is because of how God is manifesting God's self -- Christ Jesus -- into the world; one candidate at a time so that in return we each can pledge to join that larger apostolic movement of the Church into the world. I once heard a story about a bishop in Africa stopping for tea because there were so many candidates.  Another story recalls deacons holding up the arms of the bishop because he was so fatigued.  Whether hundreds or just one or two, each person is welcomed and empowered.

If you're still reading please take a minute to consider how you are accounted.  Maybe it's time for you to be presented to the Bishop.  It's not too late.  Certainly you can throw starfish back without being listed under ANY title in the official parish register.  Even Jesus said "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." (John 10:16) 

But we're not just lost sheep or starfish.  Our polity and accounting mean something about how we intend to turn to the world.   Once we are "in," once the bishop's hand are no longer blessing our heads it is our turn to see to it that ours is still a "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."