Thursday, August 27, 2009

Some words from General Convention - we need to hear

These words spoken during our General Convention this summer, caught my attention, and I think we need to hear their words...

Jesus’ critical decision to journey toward Jerusalem is about the city of God’s dream, Yerushalayim, the city of peace, the city of shalom, the city of God’s holy mountain, toward which the nations stream. We Christians often think the only important part of the Jerusalem story is Calvary, and, yes, suffering and killing in that place still seem to be the loudest news. But Calvary was a waypoint in the larger arc of God’s dream – it’s on the way to Jerusalem, it is not in Jerusalem. Jesus’ passion was and is for God’s dream of a reconciled creation. We’re meant to be partners in building that reality, throughout all of creation. This crisis is a decision point, one which may involve suffering, but it is our opportunity to choose which direction we’ll go and what we will build. We will fail if we choose business as usual. There will be cross-shaped decisions in our work, but if we look faithfully, there will be resurrection as well. ~ Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (opening address)

Recently I was reading the religion blog in the Washington Post and one essayist, John Mark Reynolds, wrote: Do you know what you get when you cross an Episcopalian with a Southern Baptist? I didn’t know, so I kept on reading. You get someone who comes to your door and rings your bell, but once you open it has no idea what to say.

No idea what to say? Really? I could swear I was in church at 7 am on Ash Wednesday morning, heard our challenging lectionary, was called out, forced to confront myself by a strong sermon, and then called to be holy by our penitential rite. I thought we had a lot to say, and when I picked my head up to look around there was a big crowd of witnesses sharing that sobering moment with me.

Nothing to say? When my son and daughter and the youth of our parish head out year after year to the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast, and to the Lakota Sioux lands in North Dakota, and to our sister parish in Honduras… they worked hard, very hard… and began and ended every day with worship. Like so many of our youth, they have plenty to say, “Not only with their lips but with their lives.” Or, as Benedict himself might say, ora et labora, pray and work.

At a time of bewildering complexity and ever greater challenge some churches have told us that contrary to what you’ve heard, being a Christian in the 21st Century is actually a piece of cake, all you gotta do is follow a few, very simple rules… The churches that say that have definitely had a good run the last 20 years. There are shelves in bookstores groaning under the weight of critical social science scholarship, marketing theory, and even, occasionally, theology; books that tells us what we’re doing wrong and what the other guys are doing right. And in 2009 we can either stop being us, or hold on, and believe that what we are and how we got to this day has prepared us for whatever God’s going to dish out in the years ahead. We may not know what’s in store, but we must share Benedict’s conviction, in the final words of The Rule that ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus, "that in all [things] God may be glorified." ~ PBS’s Ray Suarez (July 11 Sermon)

One such truth is Peter’s assertion and his understanding that indeed God has no favorites, but that anybody who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God, or in more traditional language, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” So that neither the self-proclaimed orthodox, the selective traditionalist, the evangelicals, nor the progressives and the reformers have any special claim on God’s favor or God’s approval. If indeed God, who doeth all things well, is the creator of all things, how can some things be more acceptable to the Creator than others? It follows, for me at least, that if God is the Creator of all persons, then how can some people be more acceptable to God than others? ~ Bishop Barbara Harris (Integrity Eucharist – July 10)

Some of you here have known and supported my family through the years, my parents in particular. I think particularly of Bishop Rowthorn who was a great friend to us when I used to play hide and seek in the pews and altars of my father's church. Or I think of the silent multitude of prayer that has held us as a family for over 35 years through the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross. I am the daughter of many of the injustices that built this country, and the attempts of my ancestors to right them where and when they could in their contexts. My mother is the descendant of African American slaves, and the native Cherokee people who hid among them in North Carolina, refusing to move west to Oklahoma: two peoples who suffered and comforted each other in the haunted spaces of our nation's history. My father's family arrived in Virginia in explorer's ships, and built a life on the backs of slaves working tobacco and rice plantations in South Carolina. They in their turn cast off the oppressive yoke of Britain, signed the Declaration of Independence, and fought a Revolution. My paternal grandmother was a proud Daughter of the Confederacy. My maternal aunt was a Black Panther. When my father saw and loved my mother in an elevator in Cambridge, MA, it was an Ubuntu moment- 1967- illegal for him to marry her. His bishop refused to ordain him. His family turned their backs on him. It was dangerous for my mother to hold his hand in some places. But they had an Ubuntu vision. And together their generation has built a new family and a new nation, rooted in love, and prayer, some of them under the sacrifice of death. I know I am here because I stand on the shoulders of people like them, and the people among you who supported them and connected to that same vision.

So today, we are again at a Jubilee year, another crisis moment, another opportunity to remake our world order. How, in the future, will my daughter stand on our shoulders? ~ Abagail Nelson, senior vice president of programs for Episcopal Relief and Development (July 14 Eucharist)

In the name of Jesus of Nazareth I call upon the presence of the Holy Spirit … the spirit of the very earth itself and ask that that spirit come into this room and touch each and every one of you who is listening to me now. Let your mind be opened to the truth of what I have spoken here today, let your heart be set on fire … be not afraid Episcopal Church, but stand proud and tall into this great commission of God.

"This is our moment, this is our time, this is our call and under an anointing of the spirit of God we will not fail in that call, but be in the vanguard of a change that will resound around the world full of hope and grace to renew humanity itself through the hope and power of Jesus in whose name I have preached and in whose name I have prayed." ~ Bishop Steven Charleston, (July 15 sermon)

Here at the Eucharist we state who we are and where and why. We give voice to our hunger and helplessness; we name death, in us and around us; we give thanks that we are called from emptiness to life, and our own true names are spoken by the Word. May this gathering be a sign of life in the face of death, a declaration of who we are in Jesus and with one another, in the heart of God the Holy Trinity: chosen friends who, miraculously, know something of that God's longing for what has been made. ~ Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (July 9 Eucharist)

The good news is that this would be a relatively simple thing to change . . . and the Episcopal structure itself, I believe, has remarkable inherent powers of self-renewal. And that’s why, I believe, this moment of Episcopal crisis is also a moment of Episcopal opportunity. Perhaps, in the ways of the Spirit, the crisis and opportunity always go together. In that Spirit, let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, You stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of your name. Let us not forget the lessons of the past nor fear the challenges of the future. Anoint us with your grace and shine in our hearts as we reflect your light, seeking to be and make disciples in reconciling communities for the good of the world you so love. Amen. (BCP) ~ Brian McLaren (July 16 Eucharist)

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