Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Nominees for Twelfth Bishop of Chicago

The Diocese of Chicago will elect a new Bishop on Sat. November 10 at our annual Diocesan Convention. Here is the slate:

1. The Rev. Jane S. Gould, Rector, St. Stephen’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Lynn, Mass.
2. The Rev. Alvin C. Johnson, Jr., Rector, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Barrington, IL.
3. The Rev. Canon Robert K. Koomson, Pastor-In-Residence,
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary
4. The Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, Rector, St. Thomas Church, Medina, Wash.
5. The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean, Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, Ohio
6. The Rev. Margaret R. Rose, Director of Women's Ministries, The Episcopal Church
7. The Very Rev. Petero A. N. Sabune,
Pastor and Protestant Chaplain, Sing Sing Correctional Facility
Associate Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, Ossining, N.Y.
8. The Rev. Timothy B. Safford, Rector, Christ Church, Philadelphia

The initial search process concluded with a slate of five (Gould, Lee, Lind, Rose, Safford), the other three were added Sept. 24, following the open nomination process and background checks. You can read about them here...which includes a link to the 44 page PDF file. The PDF file includes their Bio's and their responses to five essay questions.

Also, for up-to-date news stories on events in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion click on the link in the upper right hand side of this blog called, episcope.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Exhorbitant Forgiveness in a Fractured World

A reflection on Luke 16:1-13, and baptism

She was nine years old, and after months of pleading with her non church-going parents they finally agreed to have her baptized. The girl was thrilled and could hardly wait for the big day, the day that would finally mark her as one of the community, a full member of the church.

On the day of her baptism many other people were also being baptized, in fact she had to wait in a long line until it was her turn at the pool. Her denomination baptized people by full immersion in a huge pool of water. As she watched she realized that the water was deep, probably up to her shoulders. And she began to be afraid.

She was only nine, and could not yet swim. Water made her nervous. Members of her family had recently teased her by throwing her in the deep end of a swimming pool thinking this would teach her to swim; the sink or swim theory. She never sank, but neither did she learn to swim, she just learned to be afraid of water.

Now she stood on the edge of the baptismal pool. It seemed deep and huge. She had to walk up a short flight of steps to the rim of the pool, and then down another flight of steps into the water.

In the middle of the pool stood her uncle, her mother’s brother. This beloved uncle had been there when she had her tonsils out. He came to the hospital and prayed over her. She remembers being two years old, comforted by the uncle laying his hands on her head and praying.

Perhaps it was the memory of this event that gave her the confidence to step into the water. But, as she walked through the shoulder deep water, struggling to get to the middle of the pool, she became terrified. What if she slipped out of the grasp of her uncle and drowned. It could happen. She couldn’t swim and she’d panic and drown in the waters of baptism.

Inch by inch she made her way to her uncle. He reached out for her and took her in his strong grasp and baptized her. Three times he submerged her and three times she arose, “In the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

And suddenly she was baptized. She would live to tell the story of the day she almost died at her baptism.

In many ways the feelings of this young girl are exactly the feelings one ought to have at baptism, dying to one way of life and being born into another. Of course this concept is better when applied to adults who have life experience than to infants or even children. Still we are reminded of this at every baptism we attend and every time we renew our own baptismal covenant, as we will do a moment.

In the ancient church only adults where baptized and they went through two years of preparation. This training was intended to teach people about the importance of leaving behind their old way of living, their old way of worshipping some local god or goddess or the Emperor. It was intended to teach people about the love of God, made known to us in Jesus, and the salvation found through him by living a Christian life. A salvation of love grounded in grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Our Gospel reading today points us in that direction. This reading is best understood when it is read in conjunction with our readings from last week on the lost sheep and lost coin which are gathered back into the whole. Those parables are then followed by the parable of the prodigal son and then today’s readings. They are all connected to frame the point Luke wishes to make about the radical nature of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. As we read these parables we think, “No one would do that.” Well, no one except God.

Remember the Prodigal Son? It’s the story of a young man who demands his inheritance while his father is still living. The father gives it to him but the young man squanders it away. Soon he is living in extreme poverty and decides to swallow his pride and return home. He comes home willing to be a servant to his father but is instead welcomed back with open arms.

Our reading today tells the story of steward who has been embezzling funds from the land owner. It appears he has done this by skimming a portion of the rent monies from the servants who work the land for the owner. The owner figures it out and the steward realizes he is about to lose everything. So he takes some radical measures to ensure his future security. The steward forgives the servants a good portion of the debt they owe the land owner. The subtext, based on ancient farming practices, tells us that it is quite likely these servants think it is the master who has forgiven the debt. Thus, when the master comes to town the servants would be thrilled to see him. They’d rave about what a great master he is, how generous and kind. It seems from this reading that the master figures out, yet again, what the steward has done. This time his steward has brought him the loyalty of his servants, and so now the master forgives the steward.

The prodigal son and the unworthy steward are two sides of the same issue: squandering resources followed by exorbitant forgiveness. Basically pointing us to the idea that we humans are forever squandering what God has given us, and yet God continues to love us. God continues to pour forth grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

We lose sight of what this means if we focus too closely on “money;” to understand it we need to broaden our lens and pull back. Both the son in one parable and the steward in another are guilty of squandering. The same Greek verb for squander is used in both parables – so we get the connection.

Then, we need to understand that the Greek verb which means squander also means “to broadcast or scatter away.” Our entire understanding of this reading can hinge on this verb – squandering and broadcasting. The son and steward squander, but God broadcasts – God spreads forgiveness broadly. God forgives us all the time. Each Sunday we pray - in the body of Eucharistic prayer – Our Father who art in heaven, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…. Pointedly we remember that Judas, who was about to betray Jesus, was forgiven and fed. We all live complicated messy lives. Sin is the word we use to articulate that messiness. Sin is broken relationship in all its forms – broken with ourselves, broken with one another, broken with God. We live lives filled with hurt and fear; hurt by others, and afraid to take the steps to make amends. Nonetheless, these words, “The gifts of God for the people of God” invites us to come just as we are, in all of our brokenness, hurt, pain, or sorrow. It is an invitation to come to the table to be healed, renewed, restored. The waters of baptism bring us into this community; the bread broken and given for us keeps us connected to the whole, the body of Christ the bread of heaven. Forgiving ourselves, forgiving others, even at times forgiving God, is the effort we make to participate in God’s grace and mercy. It’s not easy; no one can throw us into the pool of forgiveness and make us do it. We have to make the effort, and learn to learn to swim the rugged waters ourselves. Thinking about it can scare us to death. Doing God’s work is often like that. It frightens us because it means we will die in one way and live again in another. Our baptismal covenant guides us along the way and reminds us as we pray, “I will with God’s help.” With God’s help we can forgive. With God’s help we can strive to restore wholeness to a broken, fractured, fractious, world.

portions of this sermon were inspired by Sarah Dylan's blog

Monday, September 17, 2007

Called to Gather, Called Together...

a reflection on Luke 15:1-10

Hildegard was the tenth child born to a family in Germany. The year was 1098, and in those days the 10th child was considered a tithe. We think of tithing as that portion of our income that we give to the church. So, what this meant was that the tenth child of a family was given to the Church as a tithe. Hildegard was raised by a woman named Jutta. The two of them lived in seclusion, in a cottage near a local Benedictine monastery.

Jutta and Hildegard lived a life of silence and prayer eventually gaining a reputation for their profound spirituality. Soon other women joined them. Before long they had started their own religious community focused on developing intellectual gifts. Later Hildegard started two religious communities for women, one in Bingen and one in Eibingen. Hildegard ran these on her own and was able to function with a tremendous amount of autonomy and authority for a woman in the medieval era.

Hildegard describes having these dazzling visions, common to many mystics. Modern medicine believes that these visions were migraines, but at that time they were understood as a spiritual gift. At the age of 43 Hildegard’s visions became more intense and from them she began to create music, art, literature, and drama. Her work was filled with images of God as mother and woman many centering on creation stories.

Bernard of Clairvaux, another well known saint from this era, read one of her books and recommended it to Pope Eugenius III. The Pope read it, a book written by a woman, not at all common in the 12th century, and from this Hildegard became famous. She was sought after for counsel on all matters by kings and queens, archbishops, and several popes. Imagine being a woman, who in any period of time was an advisor to, not one, but several popes.

Hildegard went on four preaching missions through out Northern Europe. Again, such a thing was completely unheard of. And, in addition to her spiritual and religious work she also practiced medicine and published treatises on natural science and philosophy.

But for Hildegard, music was the most essential element. This was especially true for worship where she wrote her own liturgical compositions. Her music is filled with unusual structure and tonality. We listened to her music and chanting during our meditation time this morning. In the Episcopal Church we celebrate her feast day on Sept. 17.

Hildegard of Bingen gives us a wonderful introduction to our worship life this year. Her innovative approach to faith changed the world she lived in and continues to inform ours. Her creativity enabled her to face challenges with the spirit of an artist, of one who is not afraid of failure. Artists, anyone of any depth and experience in faith, understands that we grow the most when we encounter challenges. It is through facing challenges straight on and moving through them that we grow in depth and breadth. Building on the theme, “Deepening Our Faith” I hope we too can engage many creative avenues in the year ahead. Here are some of the ways we try to do this.

First we have our Sunday morning meditation time. We offer this every Sunday for 15 minutes before the service begins. This means that all of our work preparing for and setting up for worship needs to be completed by 7:45 or 9:45, depending on the service. The choir rehearsal needs to be finished, the altar set and candles lit, the books readied, the lights dimmed, and the music turned on.

Into this quiet meditation space we are invited, if we are so inclined, to come and sit. It affords ua a few moments to shift from the busyness of our lives and make time for God. This is really an invitation into private, personal worship. As the quiet meditation time ends we are invited to gather as whole into corporate worship. Our corporate worship time is an invitation to be together. After 15 minutes of meditation the lights go on and we begin to worship as a community. Combined, this personal quiet meditation time and the corporate worship time holds the potential to deepen our faith. Which is the point of our gospel, Jesus calls us to gather and to be together. When we hear Jesus speak about gathering the one lost sheep, or the one lost coin, and bringing it back together with the rest, it is a call to unity, to wholeness.

In October we will enter into a month long celebration of our ministries. We kick it off with a blessing of the animals on Sat. night, Sept. 29, at a 4pm service. During October we will celebrate the work, or ministries, we do in our personal lives and the ministries we do here together. This month of reflection will culminate in our Celebration Sunday on Oct. 28. As we prepare for the 28th we will be blessed by three parishioners who are going to preach. Each one has taken a Sunday in Oct. and will offer a reflection on their faith and how their faith may have been challenged, and how faith forms and informs their lives. Those sermons will take place on the 7th, 14th, and 21st of Oct. I’m not going to tell you who is preaching, you’ll have to come and find out for yourselves.

The celebration on the 28th will include our annual brunch and the blessing of individual ministries of this parish. This is when we will make an offering, a pledge for the year ahead. This is when we tithe to the church, not our 10th child, but our time, talent, and resources.

During the rest of the year we will have the opportunity to read, in the newsletter, a variety of essays written by parishioners on the theme, “This I Believe.” This process is part of NPR’s revival of Edward Morrow’s show in the 1950’s, of the same name. Several parishioners are gathering already to ponder, discuss, and draft essays. If you would like to join us please let me know.

Deepening our faith is a theme that points us to look at how our lives are being lived and in what ways we are striving to find wholeness. Wholeness in how we treat one another and ourselves. Wholeness in how we strive to open ourselves to God. Wholeness as we gather to worship together, a whole community, not just a bunch of individuals in a room together. Our Gospel reading this morning also points to this wholeness. Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are stories that call us to a reconciled unity. The emphasis is on the community and not on the individual. They are parables of love, of the depth of love God has for us. God loves for being who we are and calls us to bring ourselves into community. To share, to learn, to receive. How can we be part of this community? What will we, in the midst of the our busy lives, give of our time, talent, and resources? How can being a part of this community help to deepen our faith?

We will engage in worship as the primary means to deepening our faith. Let us ponder ways we can translate what happens here into action, something we are able to express more fully in our lives. And, strive to become living examples of God’s love; the love that is known to us in Jesus and kept alive in us through the Holy Spirit.

Hildegard wrote a poem on just this very thing. It goes like this:

Holy Spirit,
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
Washing them clean,
Wiping out their mistakes,
Healing their wounds,
You are our true life,
Luminous, wonderful,
Awakening the heart
From its ancient sleep.

In this year ahead, as we seek to “Deepen Our Faith,” may we strive to look at our lives with a clear unwavering eye. May we make time for God in personal and corporate worship. May we make glad music to the Lord in the spirit of Hildegard. May we rejoice with others in this church and celebrate our ministries. In doing so, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will wash us clean, heal our wounds, and awaken our hearts. Healed and whole within ourselves may we bring that same wholeness, the love of God, into the world around us.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Grow and Change

A reflection on the Propers for Pentecost 15, by Deacon Coleen

When I’m leading a spirituality group, I invite patients to talk about what spirituality means to them. There are many definitions and approaches to spirituality. In the book, Chop Wood Carry Water, the author (R. Fields) says that “Spirituality is (in part) about the urge to live life more fully and living life with others in love and commitment, surrender, growth and change…”.

In today’s lessons, beginning with Deuteronomy, we hear that the people are asked what they will choose. I wonder if their choices had something to do with living life more fully which involved growth and change. The Israelites were faced with hard times and good times. The hard times were characterized by wandering away from YHWH, and the good times by returning to YHWH. Whether we experience hard times or good times, Jesus warns us to count the cost of our choices – to be conscious in our choosing – because living life that honors Christ is no simple or easy matter. Life in Christ is a choice that effects us to the core.
Again, this choice for each of us requires a conscious awareness that involves surrender, commitment, growth and change. We must be willing to do what is necessary to make sure we are putting God first in our lives – choice … commitment.

The cost of choosing life over death, blessing over curse, comes not only in what we might passively suffer because of the choice, but also in how we decisively act because of the choice. We’re influenced by life’s experiences, our social norms, family, friends and culture, to name a few.

Paul reminds Philemon that he has chosen life in Christ and this choice reorients all his other actions – including how he receives a runaway slave.

Life is, in essence, a series of choices… at the end of the day: what have been our priorities?

Our choices are not dogmatic or prescriptive, not about “shoulds” focused on how am I doing? Choices are about reality and how God is doing in our individual lives, not with perfection but with growth. Our choices are personal… practical, the stuff and rhythms of daily life… choices allow us to name the spirit that activates our days and soothes our nights. Our choices can be a response to God’s call in our relationships with others, how we look at life, our behaviors, our contemplations. There is no standard template.

As responsible Christians the message in today’s lessons is a willingness to serve God and serve others with God’s love. Perhaps it’s as simple as increasing our capacity for gentleness and empathy, friendly hearing, offering a nonjudgmental presence. OR perhaps it’s speaking with the courage of our convictions. In today’s gospel, Jesus is not calling us to hate father and mother, but is instead calling us to a commitment above all other commitments, the love of Christ. (4)

Jesus clearly meant that we cannot be his disciples if we allow the God-space at the center of our lives to fill up with our love of things, whether with money, any earthly possessions or habits.

When we allow our daily rhythms to include conscious awareness rooted in Christ, we have no promise that it will be easy, but we have the confidence and promise that it will be blessed. When we are abandoned to God, God works through us all the time.

Jesus demands commitment, sometimes an unpopular word these days. Commitment goes hand in hand with high standards and integrity. It is in our trust of the Creator, the One who gives us daily strength that we can live with confidence in how we move and have our being.

As we grow and change in our pursuits of living life more fully in Christ, determining our priorities, experiencing a new response to God’s call in our relationships with others, when we have counted the cost, and are conscious of our choosing, knowing the realities of the good news in Christ, knowing and sharing the practical stuff about love and surrender, perhaps one step of change in our life is sharing our personal stories about commitment and choice.

We might ask ourselves the question:
Who needs to hear it?