Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Easter Sharing

During Lent and now extended into the season of Easter a small dedicated group has met to discuss and share their insights, stories and concerns in response to the 5 Marks of Love: Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, Treasure.  Each "mark" capsulizes how we accomplish our baptismal promises as a response to God's first loving all the world and us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  The curriculum is fashioned and led by members of the monastic community known as the Society of Saint John the Evangelist or the Cowley Brothers.

Every meeting has been seen some deep spiritual enrichment for each one of us.  It is exactly the kind of sharing and growth that a Christian community should foster.  One of the participants has offered this reflection following last week's session.
I have enjoyed participating in the Wednesday night “Marks of Love” study.  Last week we talked about transforming.  “Transforming unjust structures, challenging violence of every kind, and pursuing peace and reconciliation.”  Within our conversation, I was reminded of 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, and love, and self-control.”   
Imagine a world where there is no ego or self-consciousness.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can “take ourselves out of the equation.”  If we aren’t worried about ourselves, it frees us up to be more giving, more loving, more able to reach out to others in love and friendship.  Sometimes I feel this more than other times, but it is a goal; and when I pray for it and remind myself of it, I appropriate it more fully.  Justice and peace on earth seem difficult to realize. 
Reconciliation, at least on a personal level, is totally doable as we reach out to love our neighbor as ourselves, because God loved us first. 
I am beside myself with joy.  This is exactly the kind of "contribution toward dialogue" that we should all be offering to each other.  I'm betting that others from the Wednesday regulars as well as those who have done their own different study during Lent could offer similarly edifying and hope-filled comments.  So . . . let's have it!

Please send me your "contributions toward dialogue" however humble or grand they may be. You do not have to have attended any of the Wednesday sessions.  Heck, let's just share because it's Easter!

I'll protect your identity and add a little "packaging" to help us see where it fits in that 5-fold calling of Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, Treasure.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter Gratitude

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
What a wonderful and deeply enriching Holy Week and Easter it was.  There are so many who stepped up to help with a full calendar of worship and activities.  Some of you attended every service! Several served and some at more than one. It was charming how committed both Buck girls were to their now traditional -- I guess -- role of hiding the eggs for the post-Easter Sunday Celebration Hunt.  I can still see some eggs from my office window.  
I can also see a light of recognition in the eyes of those who took advantage of the calendar's fullness and made their way to most of the services of Holy Week and Easter.  Our Book of Common Prayer is a great resource.  By employing each of the Proper Liturgies for Special Days (BCP pages, 264 to 295) and by including non-BCP liturgies like a weekly Friday reading of the Stations of the Cross and Wednesday's Tenebrae we went "over and above" it's provisions.  There are just SO many options.
A quick look back in the worship register shows that Advent's history is uneven with some years missing the Great Vigil, others Tenebrae.  Some years the Stations of the Cross took the place of the Proper Liturgy for Holy Saturday.  At least now we are observing what our BCP directs and making good places for those "extra-curriculars."  
One of the other ways we have been moving through the year is to employ smaller prayer book options, especially in Holy Eucharist that suit the season.  We just finished a Lenten practice of beginning and ending worship on our knees in some penitential element before and from the Book of Occasional Services a “solemn prayer over the people” after. During the season after the Epiphany we prayed using Eucharistic Prayer D at the 10:30AM service. 8:00AM saw us on our knees reciting the Decalogue together during Lent.  Those are just a few of the options we chose.
Some of what we do is to recall practices more ancient but largely forgotten.  The BCP accommodates our joining a worship tradition older than the Episcopal Church itself.  On pages 362, 368 and 372 just where the celebrant begins what is called "the canon of the mass" there is small rubric. It says, "The people stand or kneel." By following that implied preference -- standing is listed before kneeling, because standing during the "canon" is the more ancient tradition and the one that more suits celebrations of Christ’s resurrection -- we are encouraged to act out our Easter aspirations begun in our opening "Alleluia, Christ is risen!"
We can grant that most of us remember one form of eucharistic worship over others, one set of habits, one set of recitations and gestures.  The options the BCP gives us aren't meant to excuse change for change sake but to give us a seasonal consistency that ties us to our ancient forebears even better than doing the same things every Sunday no matter the season.  
You've already heard my appeal to stand up for as much of our worship as possible in this Easter season but I'm a priest not a policeman, a celebrant not a inquisitor, an Episcopalian not some other denomination so I'm happy with your exercising the options that suit you as long as you "lift up your hearts."
I'm grateful for all your faithfulness, your energy, your rolling with the punches, your support, and for joining me in word and action to affirm "The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Challenging a Modern Christendom

Some of you will remember that we read Mclaren's "We make the road by walking" a couple of years ago.  His words have always challenged so much of our "conventional wisdom."

The Deepest Difference in Christianity is not what you think.

The deepest difference in Christianity is not what you think:

It is not the schism between East and West, Protestant and Catholic,

High and Low Church,

Evangelical and Mainline,

Pentecostal and NonPentecostal,

or Conservative/Traditionalist and Mainline/Liberal.

No, the deepest difference in Christianity is the chasm Between imperial and original Christianity,

Between a gospel of oppression and a gospel of liberation.

 In comparison to this difference, other differences are trivial.

In fact, they are merely different forms of the same unoriginal thing. The imperial gospel lives by the sword, the gun, and the bomb of violence; the original gospel lives by the basin and towel of service.

The imperial gospel loves money, pleasure, and power; the original gospel loves God, self, neighbor, and creation.

The imperial gospel pacifies the masses and makes them compliant with elites. The original gospel equips agents for justice, joy, and peace for all.

The imperial gospel follows violent men who kill and rule with an iron fist. The original gospel follows a nonviolent man who touches and heals with his nail-scarred hand.

The imperial gospel sends away children, women, the different, the sick, and the culturally, ethnically, and religiously other; the original gospel welcomes all, saying, “Come to me.”

The imperial gospel is a forgiveness racket, sparing you from torture if you play, pray, and pay by the rules. The original gospel is a journey to freedom, inviting the oppressed and oppressors to be transformed by the one rule of love.

The imperial gospel shows its true colors on Good Friday, with whip, thorn, mocking, spit, spear, and cross. The original gospel shows it true colors on Palm Sunday with tears for peace, on Maundy Thursday with an example of loving service, on Good Friday with the gracious prayer, “Forgive them!,” on Holy Saturday with the courage to wait in silence, and on Easter Sunday with an uprising of life to the full.

The deepest difference in Christianity is not what you think.

It is not what you think.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Hope of Reconciliation

Turn to page 447 in the Book of Common Prayer and you will find the beginning of a liturgy in two forms titled "The Reconciliation of a Penitent."  It is likely the least used of the 5 sacramental rites in the Episcopal Church.  The title matters in that it focuses the actions of penitent and confessor on a "reasonable and holy hope," a positive outcome more closely kin to grace than sin, more to resurrection than death.

There is plenty of room in our lives of faith to employ this rite, to have an appointed listener to hear the utterances of a contrite heart and then to pronounce the absolution that yearns to be spoken. Plenty of room that we instead fill with all sorts of things other than reconciliation.

I've been filling my time recently with a smug self-righteousness of a presumed prophetic indignation.  I didn't mean to do that.  I thought I was reprising my father's heroic stand against racism in opening up Anderson, SC's 1965 Community Thanksgiving Day service to his previously excluded African-American clergy colleagues.  I was wrong.

This is not 1965 and I'm not my father.  Even worse is that I lost sight of the fear and pain by which so many of us are still stunted.

Yes were are largely a privileged people.  We own -- with the help of mortgages -- the homes we inhabit.  Most of us have medical and life insurance policies.  (I frequently forget to thank you all for my insurance. I'm sorry.) Many of us have stock portfolios and thick pensions. Most of us can come and go to any and every place in this county and not be overly scrutinized or shunned.

Still there are all sorts of sadly limiting ideas and beliefs that things are not as they should be, even for us.  We know this on all sorts of levels, from private and personal to parochial and public. Sometimes we take responsibility for the difference between the way things are and the way we think things should be.  Sometimes we don't and instead point at others and their faults.  That's me in my indignation.  It's different for each one of us but its hard not to point away from self, especially when we ourselves are pressed upon by fear, stress or sadness.

There is a better way.  The Reconciliation of a Penitent is exactly the liturgy for heading that way. An important part of that heading is to make sure another human actually hears what is being said.  That's the incarnational part of the sacrament, like the getting wet of baptism, or the bread breaking of communion.

There are other parts that make it work too, like the confession itself, the statement of absolution, the naming and claiming of the power of God's grace, the acknowledgment that even the confessor is a sinner in need of forgiveness, and that this moment begs a descriptive and honest specificity in naming the sin for which one is seeking correction and forgiveness. Both forms touch those points in different but equally valid ways.

One plus for me is that a deacon can hear one's confession as well as a priest.  Thanks be to God, somebody can hear mine AND speak the words of absolution for me to hear.  So . . . I'll be saying my confession this coming Holy Week, too.

For sure I have much for which to ask to be forgiven but also I want to be in the best place possible to speak those words of absolution that you deserve to hear in your hope for reconciliation.  When I'm complimented on a sermon I hope to always say something like this, "I'm glad I didn't get in the way."  I hope for the same usage in my hearing and pronouncing God's forgiveness of your sins, too.

Here's an online link in case you can't find your BCP 1979.  Read through and then send me a note* if you want to schedule an hour for your hopeful reconciliation.

*To minimize the risk of spammers getting access this link will be removed at noon Holy Saturday, April 15.