The Peaceable Kingdom

As I work through the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, the themes seem to be that Jesus comes to save all, Jews and Gentiles alike, and that his reign (romanticized in modern thought as “the peaceable kingdom”) will be marked by peace and harmony.  In other words, it will be radically different from the world as we know it.

I’ve just finished reading Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, which is about how the spiritual disciplines (prayer, solitude, service, etc.) help us live out our faith.  The vision of the peaceable kingdom isn’t a major theme in Willard’s book, but he does discuss it as the logical next step in our growth as followers of Jesus.  If we follow Jesus and adopt his values as our own, the world will change radically for the better.  Instead of a society which resorts almost automatically to violence and coercion, society will look more like heaven.

Willard also says that it’s not logical for us to expect anything other than more of the same in our world until we do this.  It’s a jarring reminder that things aren’t going to get better until people get better.  Simple idea, but easy to forget in our dreams of a better day.  That day won’t come from better government policy, more able leaders, better weather, advances in scientific knowledge, economic growth, or superficial trends in human interaction.  It will come from the surrender to God that John the Baptist calls for on the banks of the Jordan when he says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  (Matthew 3:2)

Advertisements
Posted in General | 1 Comment

Obedience

In this Sunday’s Gospel lesson (John 13:31-35), Jesus gives us what’s often called the Eleventh Commandment: love one another as I have loved you.  The commandment is given on the eve of his crucifixion.  One of the key ideas working here, in Jesus and the disciples, is obedience.  Jesus obeys the will of his father, even to a painful death.  The disciples, for their part, will learn to obey.

For us, obedience does not come naturally.  We live in a cultural context that stresses the value of self-actualization.  To obey is to subjugate the self, and that goes against the cultural narrative.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship works through the importance of obedience better than any Christian work I have read.

This command from Jesus that his disciples put selfless love before all other considerations in their common lives makes us wonder how they did at obeying this command, how they worked it out in their daily lives.  I think we all long for selfless love to be practiced in our circles, but we also know that it isn’t.  Perhaps the most effective thing that could be done to revitalize the church in our culture is for us to obey this command.  I frankly can’t even imagine what life would be like if we did.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Hearing Aids

In my preparation for the April 17, 2016 sermon I found myself pondering the deep question of how we are able to “hear” Jesus.  Our Gospel lesson today (John 10:22-30) is about the Good Shepherd and how we hear his voice, and more particularly about how some of Jesus’ challengers were unable to hear.  Why were they unable?

One possibility is that they were predestined by God to be deaf to Jesus.  I am not a proponent of predestination, and I found myself resisting this idea, which is commonly associated with Calvin.  I’m more of an Erasmus guy; we hear if we choose to, and then by willingly opening our ears (figuratively speaking).

But my guess is most people aren’t too excited by the arguments of Reformation-era theologians, as important as they are.  Let’s consider it on a simpler level: we hear by trial and error.  I expect we often “overspiritualize” events in our lives.  I know I’ve caught myself justifying this or that endeavor by telling myself that I am responding to Jesus’ call, only to determine later that it wasn’t so.  I’m left with the conclusion that it takes practice to hear Him accurately, and that part of that practice is to get out of our own way.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Money and Me

I think I have had every false idea there is to have about money:  that it would make me happy, that I am above it and don’t care about it, that I don’t need to be careful with it, that how much I have determines how I’m viewed by others, etc.

We must deal with it.  Money isn’t needed in heaven but it’s quite useful here — even though, as the title of this blog indicates, this is eternal life too.  I suppose the hardest thing about coming to grips with our relationship with money is that it’s frightening.  What will happen if we don’t have enough?  And here is the crux of the problem.  Will we trust God, or will we rely on money instead?  Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money.”  To me this says, you must not turn to money for your security.  Turn to me instead.  In a money-driven world, that will always feel very risky.  It’s good for us to be honest with ourselves on this subject, face our fears and shortcomings, and embrace the opportunities to break the grip of money on our souls and psyches.

It helped me to start small, not at the tithe, but with a proportion, and to hear the cries of the selfish me with each check written to the work of Jesus.  Each person’s circumstances will be unique but the principle will be the same.  Each dollar given is like a little key that unlocks the chains around my heart.  Give until it hurts, and know that the pain brings healing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

House of Bishops Approve Same Sex Marriage Rites

By now you’re probably aware that the House of Bishops approved Resolution A054, approving of the use of new liturgies for same sex marriage.  The compromise was carefully worked out, and each side seemed somewhat disappointed, which is usually a sign of a good compromise.  The resolution approves what has already been going on in several diocese — the marriage of persons of the same sex using a liturgy which is akin to that of the marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer, though not of the same Constitutional stature.

The resolution, as amended, makes the use of the new rites subject to the approval of the Bishop of each diocese.  It also provides that no Member of the Clergy may be forced to conduct such a rite or be penalized for refusing to do so.  It also requires that the rite be made available, in one way or another, to everyone.  It is anticipated that Bishops who choose to disallow the use of the rites may satisfy this requirement by making referrals to churches and clergy in other dioceses.

A centrist movement showed itself in the House of Bishops, as this compromise was led by moderates who wanted to make a place for the traditionalists.  The compromise also reflected concern over the extra-Constitutional means by which these changes are being sought, as indicated earlier.

It was a widely anticipated move, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s action last week.  The resolution will be heard in the House of Deputies soon, probably on Wednesday or Thursday.  Time was set aside for debate on the “structure” resolutions; they are to be heard in the House of Deputies tomorrow (Tuesday) in the mid-afternoon.  These include shrinking the size of the Executive Council and other proposals for streamlining the church’s bureaucracy, which is of Byzantine proportions.

We had a disappointment in the House of Deputies today; we offered an amendment to a resolution which extends the so-called Task Force on the Study of Marriage for another three years.  The amendment would have called for a minority report, a rather innocuous request, especially since the enabling resolution called for a membership which is to include a variety of viewpoints.  There are no traditionalists on the current Task Force (presumably the re-commissioned Task Force will include some veterans and some new appointees).  It’s unfortunate that the language of the resolution isn’t being observed in practice.  Another amendment calling for the Task Force to consult with our ecumenical partners and the wider Anglican Communion was also rejected.

All in all things are playing out according to expectations.  Tomorrow’s action on the structural reform proposals will be interesting.  I don’t expect wholesale change, but the church could look a little different soon.  More on that to follow.

Posted in General Convention 2015 | Leave a comment

Contrasts

I can’t help compare today’s Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage with the decisions which are being made here in the Episcopal Church’s General Convention.

I’ve made my way through the majority opinion, and I saw what I expected to see, which is that the decision is based upon the US Constitution, particularly the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  It was a long and difficult path of litigation, but at least it followed the safeguards that we have put in place for our decision making.

By contrast, decisions being made at the General Convention are being made by legislative means which are, in my view, contrary to the Constitution of the Church.  One pending resolution would elevate experimental rites to a status equal to that of the Book of Common Prayer, which is more difficult to amend.  I suppose the results would be the same, but a precedent is being set for making end runs around the constitutional processes.  I think people on both sides of the issue are going to regret that.

Today was a big day, highlighted of course by the election of Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina as the next Presiding Bishop.  There was a big celebration in the House of Deputies, and Bp. Curry made a short speech.  He’ll preach at the closing Eucharist of the Convention next week.

We are all doing well and are in good spirits.  We have no major legislative initiatives to push, but we do plan to offer an amendment on one of the pending resolutions on marriage.  More on that soon.

The resolutions on the structure of the church are being deliberated in committee tonight, testimony having been completed.    More on that as the resolutions are reported out of committee and come to the House of Deputies.  We made our way through a short agenda today with nothing dramatic coming before us, with the exception of a resolution supporting programs at the diocesan level having to do with combatting racism.  That was made more salient due to the recent events in Charleston.

The Program, Budget and Finance Committee also meets tonight to report the budget.  That will have a big impact on any resolutions calling for significant funding.

With committee work completed, there is time in the evenings for social events, including a  reception for the Province II dioceses (those in New York and New Jersey as well as Haiti and the Virgin Islands).  On Tuesday night several of us plan to attend a dinner put on by Nashotah House.

A lighter schedule tomorrow, with a legislative session in the afternoon.  I’m planning to attend a forum called “Defining Marriage” featuring a panel of six speakers representing a variety of theological viewpoints.  Should be interesting.

You’re in our thoughts and prayers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Church and State

We enter Day Two, which will feature a “conversation” between the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies having to do with the election of the Presiding Bishop (which will happen tomorrow, not today, as I reported earlier in error) and the various proposals for structural changes.

Day One was mostly administrative, each house passing its Rules of Order and electing officers.  Committee work continues, most notably on “structure” and same sex marriage.

I thought it would be important to let you know that we have just heard the news about the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage.  The deputation was completing Morning Prayer when we got the news.  Obviously, this wasn’t the result we would have preferred, but it didn’t come as a surprise.  We anticipate a lot of celebration here at the Convention, because there is now a strong consensus in favor of same sex marriage both on the secular side and in the Episcopal Church.  We prayed for our interactions with others today, and that we would have hearts of charity toward our neighbors.

The decision will have a powerful effect upon this Convention.  Several resolutions calling for the elevation of same sex marriage to Prayer Book status (my words) are pending.  At least one provides a means of elevating the experimental rites to that status without having to go through the rigors of Prayer Book revision.  The rites would not go into the Prayer Book right away, but they would gain a new status, above that of “trial use” liturgies, and it would be perpetual rather than temporal.  For an example, see Resolution A066, which would amend the Constitution of The Episcopal Church to create the new status.  Other resolutions are less specific, such as A007, which calls for the Convention to take all necessary steps to make the rite of Holy Matrimony available to same-sex couples immediately.

These resolutions are being heard in committees and will gradually make their way to the respective houses for action in the next few days.  Most of the resolutions contain a “conscience clause” making it clear that clergy who do not support same sex marriage may not be compelled to perform one (a difficult scenario to imagine anyway) or punished for refusing, and provide that the use of the rites is subject to the Bishop’s discretion.

The resolutions on structural reform pale in comparison, but are still important.  They include work on reducing the size of the Executive Council, abolishing the Provinces, and adopting a unicameral house for General Convention.  Pretty bold stuff.

We’re a little somber today but we’re still glad to be here representing our diocese.  Please keep us and all God’s people in your prayers.

Posted in General Convention 2015 | 2 Comments