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Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: reflections (page 2 of 2)

From the Vicar's Desk, #1

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. That’s not necessarily new–I’m a bit of a book worm. But what is new is the number and range of things I’m reading. From books on why men hate going to church, to marital counseling books, Christian sexual ethics, congregational development and a whole host of others. And the thing is–they are all important, all of them have something to say about where we are as a Church or where we need to be. Often they have great practical ideas about congregational life or mission. Some have been extremely helpful to me as I’ve transitioned into this new position at St. Francis and have helped me (hopefully) to not fumble my way around too much.

During all of this change and new reading, and most especially after our congregational meeting on August 5th, it occured to me that there is something very important about the Anglican way of being Christian, something often only slightly grasped, but something that makes Anglicanism unique and special. I think I’ve touched on it in conversations with some of you about how Anglicanism is unique in that it doesn’t have one dominant theological figure–something I think is a strength.

My thoughts finally came together late last night as I skimmed the book The Panther and the Hind: a Theological History of Anglicanism by Aidan Nichols. At one point Nichols notes the disparate ways lovers and critics of Anglicanism have looked at its theological and doctrinal topography:

The Anglican Church is one of the most pluralistic churches in the world, certainly the most pluralistic of the historic churches. It has never had a single theological orthodoxy. Although it has promulgated confessional statements, and above all the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, it has never committed itself to a single theological elucidation of those statements. There is no one theologian, in other words, who plays anything like the role of Calvin in the Reformed churches or even Luther in Lutheranism. The theological pluralism of Anglicanism has received very different evaluations. Some regard it positively, calling it ‘comprehensiveness’. […] Others would argue that the different traditions are not complimentary but contradictory and that their representatives have in fact spent as much time in conflict with each other as they have in peaceful coexistence. (p. xvii)

Nichols continues on to mention the fact that many detractors of Anglicanism would prefer it if it shattered and it’s constituent parties went their various ways. One might dialogue with one segment of Anglicanism on its own they say, but doing so together is an impossibility: what do they actually believe for goodness’ sake, someone might ask.

But as I’ve reflected on it, I’ve come to believe that people are less negative about Anglicanism per se, than they are simply made uncomfortable by its existence. For those people inclined to nail down every segment of the faith, even those things that are not central, then Anglicanism must be an incredibly frustrating entity. Not to mention the fact that the dysfunction of Anglicanism as it presently is, and the criticisms that raises.

I suppose one of the main things I’ve learned is that while there may be some justified criticism of a lack of authority and discipline in the Anglican Communion, many of the theological criticisms simply come from people with a different understanding of the nature of theology. They may view Anglicanism as a political rather than theological compromise or comprehension, but there are those of us who believe that “comprehension for the sake of truth,” as the collect for Richard Hooker’s day puts it, is an important and needed stance within the Church.

Sermon for Proper 10c

Sermon for Proper 10c
St. Francis’ Church
Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37; Psalm 25 or 25:3-9

Have you ever wondered what it would really mean to follow Jesus today?

I know sometimes I used to think about it and I’d think it’d take a lot of work…

Like super-human effort

I had this mental list of what I really needed to do and I knew that if I really got done with all of it I would be living a faithful life…

I would’ve been a sort of cross between a monk and a super-hero too, but I had this idea….

And the odd thing was, that as long as I had this idea that I had to accomplish all these amazing things for God…

I didn’t get any of it done…

So how can we be faithful

How can we serve Jesus without trying to be some sort of spiritual super-hero—which we can never really be?

This question becomes even more urgent when we take a look around us and see some of the things that happen on a daily basis, some of the things that we do to one another,

The horrible way many of the weakest and most needy among us are treated for no more reason than they have no way to stand up to the way the world is…

I read an article several months ago about a case of something that has evidently become an increasing problem in larger cities such as Los Angeles: it’s called “homeless dumping.”

Basically this is what happens when a sick homeless person is treated at a hospital and discharged before they are well.

Since they aren’t healthy, they can’t really get themselves anywhere, and since they are homeless they don’t really have anywhere to go, so they end up being “dumped” somewhere on skid row…

The LA times reported that there are more than 10 hospitals being investigated for over 50 cases of homeless dumping by the LA county attorney.

One of these—Hollywood Presbyterian—has been investigated for a situation in February when a 54-year-old homeless paraplegic was discharged from the hospital and later found wearing a soiled hospital gown and with his colostomy bag still attached, crawling in the gutter near a skid row park.

In the article “Police said that as onlookers demanded help for the man, the driver for a van company working for the hospital applied makeup and perfume before speeding off.

Hospital officials acknowledged that some procedures weren’t followed. They said they have made changes and will make more.”

I’m thankful that they are making changes and pray they’re effective…but notice the name of the hospital—Hollywood Presbyterian.

That hospital like thousands—maybe millions—of others founded by Christians since the time of Constantine when Christianity became a legal religion, was founded because Christians wanted to follow our Lord’s command and “Go and do likewise…” in caring for the sick, the injured and the forgotten.

And many, many Christians still get involved in healthcare because they want to help people, to heal people…

There are several people in our own congregation—Shelly and Linda for example, who I know have hearts for those who are in need of help.

I know that my mom, who’s also a nurse, does what she does because she believes in helping people…

But why is it that even as individual Christians are still fulfilling the call, are still stepping into vocations to help and serve others, that the Churches have largely abandoned the institutions they founded and for many years funded?

Why have most hospitals in the Catholic Hospital system been sold?

Why is the most Christian element about many hospitals—besides the Christians who may work there—their name or their letterhead?

I think I have a practical answer—the rising costs of healthcare and administration coupled with a decline in the resources that originally enabled Churches to run these organizations have led to their sell off…

But that doesn’t answer the spiritual question of why we, the Christian people, have allowed things to get to this point…

And Hospitals are not the only place this pulling back, this narrowing of ministry is happening…

Did you know that modern Prisons were also originally founded by Christians as a more humane means of punishment at a time when almost everything—I’m only slightly exaggerating—was punishable by death?

And yet, with the exception of a few strong Prison ministries like Kairos, Christian ministries rarely reach behind bars.

Have we forgotten what it means to love our neighbor?

To go and do likewise?

In our gospel reading this morning, Luke tells us that a “lawyer stood up to test Jesus,” saying “teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus responds, as he often does, with a question of his own, “what is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer answers “you shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus tells the man, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But our lawyer friend couldn’t leave it there—he had to ask another question…

“Wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?”

You can tell he’s a lawyer…

“I’m not letting you off that easy Jesus,” he seems to say…

“You haven’t answered my question….I can love god well enough. I know who God is…

but who is my neighbor? Could you clear that little bit up for me?”

That certainly sounds like a lawyer to me… of course it sounds like my own response and I suspect many other peoples’ as well.

Rather than respond directly to the question, Jesus tells a parable about a traveler—in those days they had strict cultural laws of hospitality and rules for the treatment of travelers.

They had to have these rules because travel was so dangerous, especially if you were alone, and people needed some sort of assurance or protection.

The traveler in Jesus’ story finds out first hand just how dangerous travel can be as he is beaten, robbed and left for dead.

Here’s this poor traveler, away from his home ad friends, beaten to within an inch of his life, lying in the dirt, broken and bloody… when up the road comes a priest…

Ok, you might say, the priest will take care of him—but instead the priest passes him by….

But he doesn’t just ignore him or pretend he doesn’t see him—he moves to the other side of the road to avoid him.

I imagine him picking up he robes, sort of sniffing the air a little, looking out of the corner of his eye as he moves quickly to the other side.

Then Jesus tells us a second person—a levite, a preist’s assistant—comes by and does the same thing, moving quickly to the other side of the road and walking right past the traveler who’s still laying there in the ditch, hurting and bleeding.

Finally a third person, a Samaritan this time, comes down the road, sees the man and we’re told that his heart was “moved with pity” or “compassion”

After telling this parable, Jesus asks “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer gives the only answer he can, “The one who showed him mercy.”

It would be easy to just condemn the priest and the Levite for being hard-hearted…why didn’t they just help the poor guy?

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Sermon for Proper 7c: In the Midst of the Storm

Last sermon given at Trinity Winchester

Scriptures: Zechariah 12:8-10;13:1; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24; Psalm 63:1-8

I’ll never forget a conversation I had once. This person contacted me because he’d seen something I’d written and I suppose he saw that I was a Christian.

I can’t recall what I had been discussing or debating in my writing, and I doubt it was very important, but I remember this guy contacting me and starting to ask me questions about Jesus.

As we talked he stopped asking so many questions and instead started to “inform” me of some of the things he knew about Jesus, my answers having revealed my ignorance of several events he thought were very important for Jesus’ life and teachings.

For example. “Did you know,” he said, “that Jesus went to India…”

Well, no, I didn’t know that… it’s not in the Bible and I really don’t think there’s any evidence outside….”

“Well” he interrupted, “you know that Jesus was a Druid, right? He went to England and Ireland with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea and learned from the Druids while he was there…”

If the DaVinci Code had been written I would’ve been sure I was speaking to Dan Brown’s cousin…and if this guy had read it, I don’t doubt I would have gotten a nice summary of all its theories as well.

It became apparent in our conversation he believed any claim about Jesus except the ones found in the scriptures.

It didn’t matter how much effort I put into trying to explain how improbable it would have been for Jesus or any of his relatives to travel to Britain and back, to say nothing of the fact that the Jews, despite those lapses in the Old Testament, weren’t known for their openness to foreign religion, and I’m sure Jesus would have been even less so.

In spite of all my efforts, I’m not sure I changed anything. He may have left our conversation believing that Jesus was really a Hindu-trained Druid while I, well, I still believed he was and is who the Bible says he is—the Son of God, the Word made flesh, my Lord and Savior.

You see, we all want to claim Jesus as our own. But too often we want to claim him on our terms, as a sort of trophy or trump card for what we already believe, rather than on his terms as our Lord.

And of course if we can truly claim Jesus, it is not because we have chosen him but because, as he says, he has chosen us.

One of the great Christian ethicists of the last century, H. Richard Niebuhr once said that Jesus:

can never be confused with a Socrates, a Plato or an Aristotle, a Gautama (Buddha), a Confucius, or a Mohammed, or even with Amos or Isaiah. Interpreted by a monk, he may take on monastic characteristics; delineated by a socialist, he may show the features of a radical reformer; portrayed by a Hoffman, he may appear as a mild gentleman. But there always remain the original portraits with which all later pictures may be compared and by which all caricatures may be corrected. And in these original portraits he is recognizably one and the same. (Niebuhr, 13)

We live in a day and age when people are trying to justify many things in the name of Jesus. Too often by claiming a Jesus of their creation.

But this isn’t a new thing. And thankfully we’ve been given some guidance.

Consider our gospel lesson this morning, where Jesus asked his disciples “‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’”

There are lots of people out there claiming that Jesus is this or Jesus is that—that he’s John the Baptist, or Elijah, that he’s one of the Ancient prophets arisen.

Later on we know that there are enough people calling Christ a blasphemer and traitor to crucify him…

Today we might hear people saying “Jesus was a good man,” or “Jesus was a good teacher,” or “I like what Jesus said, but not what the Bible says he said…” Where exactly they’ve heard anything else legitimate, I don’t know.

We might hear people say that Jesus was a lot like Buddha—a good man who gives us a good example.

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Silence: Icon of a fractured Body

Christ the Holy Silence

“Christ the Holy Silence,” which represents the pre-incarnate Logos

Our ecclesiology class last semester was given the task of responding personally to the Lambeth Commission on Communion’s Windsor Report. I won’t reproduce mine in its entirety, but I invite you to read it here if you wish to better understand my take on the document as a whole. Instead, I wanted to highlight the last few paragraphs of the paper, wherein I made what I know to be a dangerous proposition. Basically I told the Church to keep its mouth shut for a while. I know that probably comes a shock to many of you, both liberal and conservative, and I recognize that there are many flaws in that statement…yet I would ask that you consider the underlying situation that gives rise to such a recommendation, as well as the history of the Christian Church over the past century in particular. Here is what I wrote:

What Williams highlights is that the Body of Christ is like a family. We don’t have a say in who Jesus calls to follow him, any more than the Twelve had a say in who their fellows would be—Jesus called them without a search committee. And since we don’t pick our family, and because we can’t make ourselves not a family, we have to, at some level, endure the disagreements between us as Christians as the marks and wounds of the Body of Christ in the present. The most pronounced of these wounds may be those that come from division within the Body, i.e. schism and denominationalism, yet they are not the only wounds. Disagreement and vitriol over ethical, moral and political issues also cause wounds, because these are all places where people feel deeply and where a difference in language or worldview—even a slight one—becomes very pronounced. Yet:

“If I conclude that my Christian brothers or sisters are deeply and damagingly mistaken in their decisions, I [must] accept for myself the brokenness in the Body that this entails. These are my wounds, just as those who disagree with me are wounded by what they consider to be my failure or even betrayal. So long as we still have a language in common and the ‘grammar of obedience’ in common, we have, I believe, to turn away from the temptation to seek the purity and assurance of a community speaking with only one voice and to embrace the reality of living in a communion that is fallible and divided.”

The recognition that we live in a broken church, amid a broken world with broken people is one that carries with it the death of illusions, but also a sort of freedom. The freedom is in recognizing that the members of the Body do not all have to speak with one voice until our Lord returns, save on dramatic issues where one would desire such univocality in support of the good and resistance of the evil. (Yet, as the situation of the German churches in WWII shows, this may not be the case.)

In spite of this recognition of division—or perhaps because of it—we must recognize the limits of the Church’s corporate voice. Whether it is the urge to speak on contentious issues on which the church has no clear tradition, or speaking in such a way as to reverse tradition on a contentious issue, we must be willing to be dissenters, and not prematurely force change or agreement. On issues where there is the potentiality to fracture the Body on an international scale, one must seek council and be completely honest, and in the end we must be willing to accept the Chuch’s silence as an icon of fragmentation within the Body. In the end, no single portion of the Body can take on itself the authority to alter received tradition on issues where no consensus has been reached. Nor should the Church seek to create division by speaking too often about too little to no end but to bruise consciences and feelings. Part of what it means to accept the lack of purity within the Church is being willing to wait on the movement of the Spirit rather than seeking ways to force God’s hand.

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Humility

Current mood: contemplative

Current music: A Perfect Circle – The Noose

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Christianity as a religion of humility lately, and am considering writing something about that. This idea had been lurking at the edge of my mind for awhile, but I’d never really taken the time to examine it as well as I might. I was prompted into thinking about humility more and more by a question, or rather, a challenge posed by a friend. Christianity is too easy he says, a person can be horrible their whole lives and then ask forgivness at the end, and be forgiven. Now, I know there is a temptation to answer this question quickly, to go to the “correct” passage and explain why those who heed the call early have no reason to lord it over those who heed the call later, or why we are all sinners etc. But his question, and some ensuing conversations have really gotten me to think about Christianity and humility and how important the latter is to the living out of the former.

Pax.

Jody

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