Saturday, December 29, 2012
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Early in her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle refers to Bishop Mark Dyer's comment that every 500 years the Church has a rummage sale, cleaning out structures and theological ideas that no longer serve the Church's sharing in God's mission. The book group here at Ascension is reading Tickle's book, after having read Harvey Cox's The Future of Faith in the spring. I expect there to be lively discussions in the book group of what ought to be in the rummage sale and what should be essential in the emerging Church. Before the first meeting of the group, I have several ideas about what might be emerging as the rummage sale goes on.
I see theology moving from talking about God using the language of the creeds to relational language. While it may have been helpful in the 5th century CE to talk about the Son as being of one substance with the Father, that language doesn't work so well in the 21st century. When the Gospel according to John tells us that Jesus said, "The Father and I are one" (10:30), we don't need to understand that as being of one substance. We can talk about that unity in relational terms, focusing on the love which bound Jesus to the Father.
I see the medieval understanding of the Atonement having fewer adherents as other understandings become more widely accepted. I am a particular fan of James Alison's work in this area and of Douglas John Hall's, but there are others who have proposed other alternatives to the substitutionary theory that has dominated theology since the 11th century. The singulars focus on sin of the substitutionary theory is being replaced by a broader and more relational way of understanding Jesus' death. Hall sees Jesus as God's representative to us and our representative to God, which I find much more helpful than the language of substitute.
I see Church structures becoming much less hierarchical, with networks of relationships becoming more the norm. Oddly, we in the Anglican Communion are already seeing the growth of networks that have become more important than the Communion's formal structures. The downside of this is that these networks may turn into conservative and liberal enclaves with relationships across the diversity of the Church withering. The upside is that these networks can bridge geographical boundaries in ways that formal structures generally don't.
I see the Church having a great openness to and appreciation for other faith traditions and for non-religious movements that share the Church's commitments to peace and justice. In a wedding sermon last week I spoke of the couple's awareness that we are one people and their commitment to work for the good off all the world's people.
Finally, I see the Church embracing its identity as a participant in God's mission of reconciliation and transformation. Not the only participant, to be sure, but perhaps the only one that is conscious that it is God's mission in which it shares. Without the triumphalism that has marred its witness in the past, the Church can proclaim what it discerns God to be doing in the world. Even though some saw it differently, I saw the embrace of the Millennium Development Goals by the Episcopal Church as just such a proclamation that God is at work achieving those goals.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
- The gift of the sabbatical grant from the Lilly Endowment
- The gift of a grandchild that prompted our retiring on the North Shore
- The gift of collegiality in the North Shore Clericus where Brad and I became friends
- The gift of welcome by the people of the parish
- Most importantly, gift of our life in Christ
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Thursday, August 2, 2012
When I asked this past Sunday if anyone could tell me what John 3:16 said, I was pleased that one of the Eucharistic Ministers could recite the entire verse: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, do that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life."
I think that verse is key to understanding the Gospel according to John. Although the Synoptics are certainly about how God's love was made manifest in Jesus, John makes that the explicit focus of his account of the Good News. It was and is in the sending of the Son, the word made flesh, that God's love for the world has been revealed. Although some translators want to make this verse about how much God loves the world, the Greek word translated as "so" means "in this way." God's love is, I believe, infinite, beyond measure, and the point of John 3:16 is the manner in which that love has been expressed.
I have been pleased in the month that I have been worshipping each week with the people of Ascension Memorial Church that they understand that our life together is a gift, that it is all matter of Grace, of God's unconditional love for us and for the world. That gift, of course, challenges us to love the world as God does, to minister as Jesus did to one another and to the least, the last, and the lost.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
The congregation at Ascension Memorial Church is a wonderful mix of members whose families have belonged for generations and members who have joined in the past few years. What I have sensed in the few weeks that I have been at Ascension is that there are not many pew-hoppers, people who are unable or unwilling to make a commitment to what the Benedictine tradition calls stability. When we are willing to stay put, to commit ourselves to belonging to a community even when it isn't comfortable, God has a better chance at transforming us.
Nearly fifty years ago I spoke to a wise friend about how unhappy I was in my current situation and said that I was thinking about moving. He cautioned me about using the "geographical cure," suggesting that I would take my problems with me because I would take with me the person at the core of those problems - me. I didn't move and over several months things got better as I began to face some truth about myself.
Years later, when I was fired from a job that I thought was the perfect one for me, I was ready to move from Buffalo home to Massachusetts. Our daughter changed that when she asked why I needed to look for the perfect job elsewhere when I could find a pretty good job in Buffalo and not have to uproot her and her brother from their friends and the schools they really liked. As we stayed put I realized that the community of clergy and lay people that I had been privileged to join in Buffalo was the community that would help me to grow. Stability in that community was the commitment that God was calling me to make.
If we keep running away when life in community become uncomfortable, when we hear a sermon that doesn't quite agree with our own understanding of the faith, or when people we don't like join the community, we put an obstacle in the way of God, making it just a bit more difficult for God to work to transform us. That won't stop God, but it might take quite a bit longer for us to discover and enjoy the blessings that God has for us.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
It certainly wasn't the boldest and most prophetic act to preach on slowing down on the second Sunday in July, but since my colleague Brad Clark had preached on showing up the previous Sunday, it seemed the right thing to do. The sermon wasn't only about slowing down, but about what we can get to do when we refuse to make hasty decisions. We get to ask an important question. Not "What would Jesus do?" but "What does Jesus want me to do?"
Of course we can never answer either question with absolute certainty, but we ought to be able to make a humble attempt at discerning what out faith requires of us in the many decisions we make every day, and, having discerned, act. Not only is there a chance that if we don't act no one else will, but there is the much more likely consequence of inaction, a missed opportunity to share in God's transforming work in the world.
Several years ago a parishioner asked me to help him discern whether or not he had done the right thing during an encounter in a supermarket. He had been in the checkout line and the customer in front of him was giving the young lady at the cash register a very hard time. The young lady was being very patient with the customer, but my parishioner could see that it was upsetting her. When it was his turn to check out with his cans of cat food, he asked the young lady, "Would you please gift wrap them?" For a moment the young lady looked confused, maybe even angry, and then she broke into a broad smile.
What does Jesus want us to do "to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us?" The Swiss philosopher Henri Amiel urges us to "be quick to love and make haste to be kind" and, I would add, be always ready to forgive.