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A SERMON

The following is the text of a sermon preached by the Rt. Rev. Alden M. Hathaway at the consecration of Mark Lawrence to be Bishop of South Carolina on Saturday last.

Mark Lawrence Consecration Sermon January 26, 2008

St. Paul admonishes his young protégé Timothy:
Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord – but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God. II Timothy 1:8

It is the worst of times. It is the best of times.

To be consecrated a bishop of the one, holy catholic and apostolic church. Mark and Allison, here we are, finally and at last.

It has been a long way since that telephone call. The Lord had been speaking to you, as to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you”. Go from the land of the High Sierra that you love. Go to the coastland of the Low Country. Go to where it is deep enough for the Ivorybill. And there I will bless you. And by this all the families of the Carolina shall bless themselves.

It has been a long and anguished journey. The tortured politics of the Episcopal Church. The whole thing has given you name recognition throughout the breadth of the Communion. Second only perhaps to the Bishop of New Hampshire.

It is a most auspicious thing we do here today, setting you over us as our bishop; and for the wider church, apostolic witness to the gospel of Christ.

Thank you Mark and Allison for your obedient patience, your steadfast willingness to lash your lives and your destiny to the foremast of the ship of Jesus Christ. You encourage us. You strengthen us. You give us hope for the perilous, the glorious voyage ahead.

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control”. That was St. Paul’s charge to Timothy – and His promise to us.

We know already Mark, that it is God’s Holy Spirit that so powerfully dwells within you and so singularly drives your ministry.

We rejoice this day and pledge ourselves to labor with you for the great cause of Christ that He lays before us – the years ahead.

* * *

For indeed – It is the worst of times.

It is pointed out that we, as Episcopal Church, are in the midst of a Class
5 Conflict. Nobody listening, all giving negative spin to everything said, demonizing each other and bending every effort to bar access to influence or credibility, property or power to anyone who professes or sympathizes with ‘The Other Side’.

The ordeal of your canonical confirmation, case in point.

The issues are purported to be about sexuality and doctrine and ideology.
But our problem is about trust. Big time. There is precious little of it. So we are locked in a pernicious process of ecclesial shunning and realignment.

The question at the heart of our issue is the Gospel itself. Do we really trust it? Are we ashamed of it? Does it not need something extra to make it credible? To make it effective?

Now I am using these terms advisedly and with tongue in cheek – But for a neopuritan, fundamentalist, reasserter like you Mark, in this neounitarian, pluralist, revisionist Episcopal Church of ours – it is the worst of times.

You will suffer for it. I speak as one who has the scars on my back from 27 years in the House of Bishops. Hey, we all bear the scars no matter what side we have been on, even when we would with all our hearts wish it other wise.

But it is also the Best of Times;

For as bad as things are in the Episcopal Church, to my view;
To my unashamed confidence in the Gospel point of view,
Things have never been better.

Look at it this way:

Sure, there has been a fifty-year movement pressing upon the church the teaching and practice of the popular progressive agenda. And thank God for the real and legitimate social gains it has championed.

We can even be grateful for the pop theologues who teach Jesus as
‘A Way’ rather than ‘The Way’ to the Father. They have quickened the debate and begged theological clarification regarding the fundamentals of the faith.

Along side of all of this, even perhaps because of it, there has been a great movement of spiritual renewal going on; a movement that has touched every aspect of our life as church.

At a time when the National Episcopal Church was looking to close and consolidate seminaries, this renewal movement produced a new seminary and revitalized an old one, now pumping out well-trained and prepared candidates for ordination. Trinity School for Ministry is after 30 years the second largest seminary in the church. Mark Lawrence, its first graduate to be made Bishop. There are many more coming forth to cast the future faithful witness of Anglicanism in America – and around the world.

At a time when the National Church was bringing missionaries home and teaching that foreign mission was cultural imperialism; The South American Missionary Society was started. It has spawned a plethora of other mission societies both domestic and foreign putting the Episcopal Church back in the missions business. Talk about ‘New Wine skins’.

And that has connected us with the our fellow Anglicans globally,
At the level of outreach and evangelism, Where we are partnered with them as they seek to build their churches and extend the reach of the gospel in engagement with the great spiritual challenges of the 21st Century.

As bad as some may conclude things are in the Episcopal Church, in reality they have never been better – for the witness of the Gospel.

Because finally – and here I am deadly serious – the greatest asset to the
Power of the gospel – is the strife itself;

All the opposition, the abuse, the shunning, the suffering, the ecclesiastical cleansing, the persecutions – if we can go so far to call it that.

For we follow the one who when He was reviled, reviled not in return,
But gave his back to the smiters. And who said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross”.

It is by the witness of our suffering and our unwavering perseverance in suffering that we commend the integrity and the power of the Gospel we proclaim.

It is said that God first wounds those whom he will heal. It is true.
For in the wounding is the healing. It is the power of the Cross.

The many, the increasing stream, of people and clergy, congregations and even diocese departing the Episcopal Church – ‘To provide safe haven for the traditional, the orthodox Christian’, they contend. They have suffered much for their stand. I cannot gainsay their decision (they are as sincere of conscience as I). But indeed it breaks my heart.

We should rather be thankful that our Lord Jesus did not elect such recourse, or we would still be in our sins.

The gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ needs no protection, no safe haven. It needs rather to be proclaimed even in the face of both its determined detractors and its patronizing friends.

The power of the gospel, the power of the cross, is the joyful willingness to be abused for Christ, to suffer for Christ, yea to die for Christ.

That is the very power we are called to proclaim. We preach that. It is rare privilege that we have opportunity to live it. But when we do, Aye, there is the witness that does change the world.

I love the story John Stott used to tell about the preacher man who was going on an airline flight. He had his bible in one of those zip up leather covers. The security man challenged him, “What’s in that parcel sir?” To which the preacher man replied, “DYNAMITE”.

If you can find anywhere a better doctrine than this, a more comfortable refreshing teaching. If you have a more credible ex
planation of the way things are and the way they must need to be redeemed. Then go for it.

I have heard them all and so have you. For my money the old, old story of Jesus and his crucified love so far surpasses them, they are not even in the same league with the plain gospel of the cross of Christ. And it is the job of the church that professes to call itself Christian, to teach that gospel without apology. And not be distracted by lesser things.

As Yogi Berra reminds, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

* * *

But – Now, it must be said: It is indeed an ill wind that blows no good.
I just wonder. How does all this confusion ecclesiastical look from God’s perspective?

This whole business about the uproar in the Episcopal Church.
There isn’t anyone in the whole of Anglicanism that has not heard about it, got an opinion about it, is incensed about it, wonders what it is all about, what is the problem, wish it would just go away so we can get on with the work of the Church.

God has got our attention.

We have until now, simply taken for granted this thing called the Anglican Communion, just a congenial gathering of national churches that have a common heritage with Canterbury and British Reformed Catholic Christianity.

Who all wait on the Whipples catalogue to see the latest in fashionable Anglican, clerical attire.

All of a sudden we are being forced to face what being Communion really means; ‘How we are accountable to one another, how we care for one another; How we shoulder one another’s burdens; How we are Church together’.

We have got a lot of work to do on this one. But the promise is of the utmost importance. What does it mean to be a truly global church?
There is the Roman – model All authority from top down
There is the Protestant model – Every one doping their own thing.

But Anglicanism works a different way, a councilor model. And so we have a grand opportunity to show what a worldwide fellowship of believers is meant to be, peoples so different yet equal members of the Body, Jesus Christ being the head. The truly global Church.

The other communions and denominations are watching us.
“Can the Anglicans pull it off? Oh, God, we hope they can.
For then there is a way for all of us to come together in the great missionary challenge of the 21st Century”.

* * *

The pieces are all in place for us. All that is needed is a positive, unifying, compelling vision. The only difference between a catastrophe and an opportunity is a matter of attitude.

The problem is that the conservative, orthodox, biblical, evangelical, gospel side of our Episcopal Church has had an attitude problem. A negativity, a pension for playing the game of ‘Aint it awful!’ God does not honor that. You cannot lead out of a negative agenda.

As Bishop Stanway was fond of saying, “If you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it.”

How desperately our Episcopal Church needs a faithful, positive leadership.

Therefore it is indeed the best of times to be made a bishop.
To be made Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
To make Mark Lawrence Bishop of South Carolina.

Not because South Carolina is a safe haven. Not because it has determined to be under alternative primatial oversight, whatever that means. Not because it is protected from the storm that is rocking the church.

But because it is a diocese that is together with itself. It is a diocese that is clear about what the gospel is. It is a diocese that is not ashamed of it.
And therefore confident and enthusiastic to make disciples of all people.

The faithful leadership of its past bishops, the dedication of its clergy, the amazing resources of its people – This diocese is locked and loaded, ready to sail into battle.

And to stand among the other dioceses, to stand in the House of Bishops and The General Convention and everywhere else we can engage this old Episcopal Church under the challenge of the prophet Isaiah: “Come let us reason together, though our sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’’.

We have got a gospel to proclaim and a story to tell. Come and taste and see. It still has the stuff of truth in it and the power to sort out the souls of women and men.

Not those tired and tawdry old slogans that the pop culture wants to lay on us full of bluff and bluster, signifying nothing. The junk bond theology, sub prime spirituality, fast food morality

As church we have no time for that, there is a mission to be launched. There is work to be done. And Let us in South Carolina model the way.

And we have in Mark Lawrence, A man of God whom we trust, and by whose voice already we hear the voice of The Good Shepherd.
Him who goes before, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

* * *

What might that vision look like for us in this time of our witness?
I speak as a fool but let me presume to suggest. And here as I am coming better to know this diocese, perhaps I am ‘bringing coals to Newcastle’.

Let me tell you my parable of Fifth Ave. It is a paradigm of the Missionary Challenge before us.

In Pittsburgh, Fifth Ave. runs up from downtown through the University District. The University of Pittsburgh’s great tower of learning, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, row on row of hospitals clinics and research centers, Carnegie Mellon University, many small colleges and institutes that are committed to shaping the minds and inspiring the aspirations of the rising generation. All along Fifth Ave.

And right in the middle is St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.
This great gothic pile. We consecrated Bob Duncan as my successor Bishop of Pittsburgh there 12 years ago.

We would gather for wonderful ecumenical events, the soaring arches and stained glass, singing the old hymns, praying the familiar prayers, church leaders in various costumes of traditional ecclesiastical attire – and at the conclusion we would all recess down the long aisle, out through the great west doors –

And there directly across the street, the foyer of the Carnegie Mellon University Institute of Software Technology. The young guys and gals from every corner of the globe dressed in their sweatshirts and blue jeans, sodas in their hands – and they are looking at us and we are looking at them. And the great question is:

How does the Gospel get across Fifth Ave?

Our mandate is to carry the cross of Christ to those bright young men and woman who are building this brave new technologically interconnected global world that increasingly is becoming ‘flat’, oh so flat.

Yes and also to those others, those voiceless millions, who are being quite by-passed by it all.

The gospel is transformation of the mind through hope in God, especially when the promises of the world are in free fall. It is the training of the soul to sacrifice and service, over and against the ideologies of terror and force.

Our primary mission is to sow the idea of the cross within the imaginations and intellects of our youth. “To Timothy, my beloved child”. That was St. Paul’s passion, to pass on the great gospel of hope down the generations. Let it be ours. Let us be strong to carry it across Fifth Ave. and to carry it up Mars Hill.

Our mission is to The College of Charleston and The Citadel
– And to Yamacraw Island, where the Water is Wide.

Mark, we recall your story about the man standing across from a church in a small English town. Watching a woman come out and put some things in the boot of her car. “Mam”, he says, “Can you tell me? Does this church work?”

In a time when so many things simply don’t work. Things we are supposed to believe in, depend upon, trust in, that si
mply don’t work.
“Does the church Work?”

Oh Mark, Yes it does! We have our Lord’s promise that it does.
“The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it”.

* * *

Let me conclude with a parable of the modern Church. I love this one.

The Church is like a bunch of good ole boys that had a fishin camp up on the lake. Where they went to fish a little and drink a lot and tell tall stories that were only a little bit true.

Now these good ole boys began to notice every afternoon an old fellow come into the landing, his beat up aluminum boat full of fish. They wondered how he was doin it, catching all those fish.

One of the good ole boys, who was also the game warden, said,
“I have my suspicion. Tomorrow morning I’ll be there when he goes out and I’ll see if he won’t take me fishin with him”.

The next morning the game warden, without his uniform and not identifying himself, greeted the old fellow, “Can I go fishin with you?” “Sure, get in the boat”.

Now the game warden was amazed to see that all the old man had for tackle was an old metal box and a net. They motored up to the end of the lake, pulled into a deep cove and let down the anchor. The old man opened the box. It was full of sticks of dynamite. He took a stick, lit the fuse, and threw it into the water. BOOM. He took the net and scooped up all the fish, stunned by the blast.

The game warden sat dumfounded. When he got his wits about him, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his badge and shoved it under the old man’s nose. The old man looked at the badge, looked at the dynamite, took a stick, lit the fuse, stuck it into the game wardens hand and said.
“Are you going to sit there – or are you going to fish?”

Mark, I’m told the fishin is pretty good down around this Low Country.
And there could not be a better time to go fishin.

This diocese is ready to go fishing with you Mark.
And I know that you are ready to lead us.

If I may paraphrase that great text from Hebrews chapter 11:
For we who are speaking thus make it clear that we are seeking a homeland. If we had been thinking of that land from which we have gone out, we have ample opportunity to return. But we desire a better country that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called our God, for he has prepared for us a city.

* * *

If there would be one word that I would leave with you Mark, it would be this. I believe it was Robert Murray McCheyne who first said it to a group of ministers: “Your Holiness is your people’s greatest need”.

Our greatest need of you as our bishop is your own relationship to God. Take care of your own soul. Take care of Allison and your family. Take the time to pray. Take your treks back into the marshes and streams where it is deep enough for an Ivorybill.

Listen to us Mark, and from what you discern by your prayers and by what you shall come to know of us by our life together: our selves, our souls, our needs and our dreams – pastor us.

Yet Abide in the Lord – and from what you hear from Him, And him alone lead us. As with St. Paul, “Decide to know nothing among us except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.

And it shall be well with us; all things shall be well. And it shall be well with the Church.

It is the Worst of times; and therefore it is the best of times:
To be made a bishop of the one, holy catholic and apostolic church.
To be made The Bishop of South Carolina.

Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord – but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God. II Timothy 1:8

God bless you Mark, God bless us all.

Amen

TWO CREATION NARRATIVES AND THE PB

Father Jake, whose last name I don’t know, writes a regular blog from a liberal point of view. He’s a graduate of Nashotah House which makes his consistent attacks on orthodox Episcopalians the more odd.

Today he reports on a meeting between the clergy in Fr. Jake’s diocese and our Presiding Bishop and Primate. Fr. Jake reports that +Katharine uses the two accounts of Creation in Genesis to differentiate between the God of love and acceptance of the first story and the God of sin and retribution in the second account. Some have written in saying they have heard this speech in their areas as the PB moves around. The first account is supposed to be embraced by liberals and the second by traditionalists.

Now I am quite prepared to hear that this account is a biased version of what the PB said. Fr. Jake suggests that those who oppose what +Katharine says do so because she is a woman or supports the Bishop of New Hampshire. The first is a political shot. Call a traditionalist a bigot and one doesn’t have to hear what is said. As for the second shot, the PB has an obligation by her office to “support” all her comprovincial bishops whether they are left, right or center. I suppose Fr. Jake means those who do not accept the rightness of the Bishop of New Hampshire’s consents and consecration are also bigots and so talk nonsense. Ah!

I wrote in comment:

“I’m not sure that one would have to object to +Katharine’s being a woman or her support of Bishop Robinson (do you mean his election/consecration?) to disagree with her on some points. But perhaps that section was hyperbole?

Why give alternatives based on the Creation stories? Again one is offered supposedly conflicting possibilities which up until now the church seems to have harmonized. Why always the “either/or”. I suspect it must have something to do with Republicans versus Democrats or football, making it impossible to contemplate symbiosis?

Does not God look at all God made and say, “It is good”. Is it not true that our response, to want to be “as god(s)” rendered us, in the words of the Articles NOT totally depraved, but “very far gone from original righteousness”? Does not the Creed we profess speak of “baptism for the remission of sins” and of God’s continued loving kindness in that God adopts us through Christ’s death and passion and resurrection, and restores us to that gracious relationship which was “In the beginning”?

So one remembers, the Liturgy, which is our primary source of faith and doctrine, speaks Anglican orthodoxy. Why divide us up on something which should surely be the coin of the realm?”

One apologizes for using the word “God” so much in the above comment but if one uses “He” one is not pc despite the Lord’s Prayer and I’ll write their jargon to get over the church’s teachings.

I hope I am not getting the PB right. It was the Gnostics who spoke of a good god who created everything and an evil lesser god who corrupted the earth and humans. But the Gnostics tended to be Puritans when it came to sexuality, perhaps wishing that God had devised a purer method of procreation, as do many schismatic sects and odd amalgams of religions which the Gnostics were as reflected in their “Gospels.” It is passing strange that many find the Gnostics and their Gospels so affirming, but like Thomas Jefferson and his New Testament, they manage the manuscripts with a handy pair of scissors.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

We are told by our church’s leadership that there’s ample room for traditionalists and “orthodox” moderates in the fold, that we should “stay in and fight”, an unfortunate metaphor for Christians, and “take our place at the Table.” We are even told that traditionalists are valued and appointed to commissions and committees of the National Church and of General Convention, although the evidence for such a deliberate policy is perhaps less than obvious.

I am associated with a very bright and positive group of clergy and laity at the “Covenant-Communion” web site. Some of them are engaged in post graduate studies at excellent seminaries. One wonders whether there will be a place for them on the faculties of our seminaries? I lament our loss of Dr. Ephraim Radner to the Canadian Church. Wycliffe Seminary was far-sighted enough to appoint him to their faculty along with the Reverend Dr. Christopher Seitz. Fr. Ephraim is a world class theologian, the author of some splendid books, recognized as such by the Archbishop of Canterbury and unsung in our own church. So much for inclusion.

What seems to be the case is that those of us who are firm in our Anglican ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) and believe that without its unity, as far as we may experience unity in the divided Christendom, justice, mercy, compassion and reconciliation are impossible, are invited to remain, grumble, grouse, and get nowhere!

This isn’t entirely the fault of the Establishment -who still believe and yell that they are a minority – although I would suggest that most theological liberals, firm in their righteousness, find it utterly impossible to get into the minds and hearts of those who still believe with Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626…yup an old guy!) in Anglican authority based on “One canon…two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of Fathers in that period…determine the boundary of our faith.”

The major problem theological liberals have with the rest of us -maybe we are the silent majority but the silence is deafening – is that our religion seems archeological, the dead voice of tradition. Well they also oppose such a “belief system” because it offends their sentimentalism. Many seem to walk through this world blind to evil and the suffering and the destruction evil brings, confident that the eradication of poverty – a worthy and splendid cause -will usher in a brave new world. Not believing in “our father below” and all his works, dysfunction in families and societies and the world at large is attributed to social and psychological pathologies. They may well be right, but what lies behind such pathologies? To suggest that evil lies behind dysfunction is taken by many to suggest that dysfunctional people are necessarily evil. Some may be, but to the orthodox, so are we all prone to be evil without God’s grace in Christ mediated in Word and Sacrament. The living tradition so teaches.

Notice this sudden obsession with the theory that a National Church creates dioceses which are part of that structure and whose property is held in trust for that structure? Now it may well be that our National Church by its missionary zeal did forensically create most of the dioceses in the USA. It is also true that the National Church was itself created by delegates from existing Anglican churches in the colonies, who organized themselves as dioceses and elected delegates to the first General Convention. But in Anglican ecclesiology the diocese and not the national church, the bishop surrounded by priests and deacons and laity at the altar table, constitutes the essential unit of a “Catholic” church. Why? Because that is how the early church began as episcopal-“men” like SS. Timothy and Titus were sent to establish the first Christian churches. From them, in various ways, with a very few exceptions developed the form of a bishop and his “parochia” or family of Christians. As these “parochias” grew they subdivided into “parishes”, eventually pastored by episcopal delegates or priests and extended outward into “Provinces”. The term “National” Church is anachronistic, expressing the emergence of the Nation State in the 16th. Century, a concept any true modern global liberal will want to alter if not abjure!

It’s marvellous how an old-fashioned idea like the “National Church” can catch on again when property is in danger and dioceses split off. One cannot help a degree of cynicism.

Back to incomprehension! It is also true that theological conservatives often cannot get into the minds and hearts of theological liberals. They prefer to create safe bastions of faith, either in internal or external schism, into which may be attracted like-minded people. If the early Evangelicals and Tractarians had decided on such a policy -it is so like the Puritan paradigm of the church Anglicans firmly opposed in the 16th and 17th Century – their extraordinary transforming effect on the Church of England and the American Church would have been impossible. In this respect the Establishment challenge to traditionalists and “orthodox” moderates is cogent. “Make yourself heard”. “Be fruitful and multiply.” “Speak as true prophets to the church.” A prophet says nothing new or novel, proclaim no developments as do many among us who claim the prophetic mantle. The task of prophets is to say “Thus says the Lord” and call the church back to repentance, conversion and new life. St. John the Baptist was a prophet, and he said “Behold the Lamb of God” and called the Church of Israel to repentence and newness of life.

Yet perhaps after the extraordinary battering traditionalists have experienced during the past forty years in TEC, the time has come to call for “affirmative action.” Let us hear ourselves affirmed by the TEC leadership. Find places for us at the Table in churches, seminaries, Conventions and commissions. Listen to us. When that happens we will believe the burble about inclusiveness and comprehension, and not until!

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING

I have been reading a good deal about the Elizabethan, Jacobean and early Caroline church recently. The clergy by and large were not a very literate lot and thus were under constant attack by the Puritans who wished for a more reformed Church of England, more biblical preaching and less “ritualism.” Few of the bishops were much better with some notable and splendid exceptions. The Puritans dreamed of a pure church, a gathered church. “Anglicans” inherited the ideal of a “parish” church which embraced the whole community. This vision, of parson and parishioners ready to serve all who will accept their ministry in the community, rather than the paradigm of a “membership” church remains at the heart of Anglican self-understanding although TEC has fairly recently opted to stress a denominational model and ironically more and more embraces the Puritan model of church ministering to adherents of a brand of religious thought, left, middle or right.

It is now understood, for instance, that Lancelot Andrewes began his defense of the church as opposed to the idea of gathered communities of true believers before Hooker wrote his seminal “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.” Andrewes believed that what really mattered was not that sermons were orthodox -many were not through bad training and ignorance – but that the Liturgy was daily celebrated with its essential round of lessons, feasts and fasts in the context of the Christian Year. Naturally he and the leaders of the “Anglican” Church wished for a better trained clergy. It would take two hundred and fifty years before the first seminaries emerged, first in America. Whether that experiment in an elite priesthood has been entirely successful is an open question!

It was in such a context that the Word was to be heard, read, marked and inwardly digested, rather than in sermons which often were rants on the same old subjects of predestination and election. “Revivalism” and the notion of individual conversion had not yet taken off as it were. When people hark back to the Edwardian and early Elizabethan church as a pattern for Evangelicalism, they often pick up the baggage of Victorian revivalism and Georgian evangelicalism on the way. Of course, as a wonderful preacher Andrewes did not discount preaching anymore than did George Herbert. But the emphasis was not that of the Puritans and sectarians.

It is in this vein that I have hope that while the Liturgy is daily, or at least weekly celebrated (not just the Eucharist) within the same round of lessons, feasts, fasts in the context of the Christian Year, God will not entirely remove the candlestick from our midst

A COMMENT ON "NEW CREED"

To my astonishment “Stand Firm” commented on my ditty entitled “New Creed.” I replied to the comment and link in these words:

I think what I want to say is that my comments on my friend’s list of popular mantras -if only I could say who he is! – isn’t the sort of blither that I find when discussing the faith with the parsons I meet around TEC in everyday life. That, I believe, is the injustice of the whole thing. TEC isn’t what some of its leadership and most vocal “sound byte” parsons, purple or not, would have the world believe it to be. It isn’t even that which its House of Bishops sound as if it well could be. The tragedy is that so many have been cowed by the suggestion that to oppose those who advance an odd religion is to be a bigot or a moral coward. The peddlers of the new religion have not won their battles by using cogent argument and logical deduction let alone Holy Scripture, but by serving a diet of sentimental twaddle and moral blandishment.

Yet if surveys are to be believed 70% of our communicants have no part or parcel in this agenda. They love their parish church and the name “Episcopal”, distrust the diocese, largely because dioceses are often run by purveyors of packaged programs which seldom work and of regulation upon regulation which have no basis in Canon Law – ask a search committee – and disown many of the policies of HQ. The term “815” is not often looked upon with devotion.

The tragedy is, as I say, that the faith and devotion of our parishioners, the ones who keep the doors open and pay the bills is discounted and the sound and fury of a small elite is judged by Anglicans abroad to be that which ordinary Episcopalians believe. It ain’t so, except perhaps in hot house parishes to be found largely on the East and West coast of this country.


A COMMENT ON "NEW CREED"

To my astonishment “Stand Firm” commented on my ditty entitled “New Creed.” I replied to the comment and link in these words:

I think what I want to say is that my comments on my friend’s list of popular mantras -if only I could say who he is! – isn’t the sort of blither that I find when discussing the faith with the parsons I meet around TEC in everyday life. That, I believe, is the injustice of the whole thing. TEC isn’t what some of its leadership and most vocal “sound byte” parsons, purple or not, would have the world believe it to be. It isn’t even that which its House of Bishops sound as if it well could be. The tragedy is that so many have been cowed by the suggestion that to oppose those who advance an odd religion is to be a bigot or a moral coward. The peddlers of the new religion have not won their battles by using cogent argument and logical deduction let alone Holy Scripture, but by serving a diet of sentimental twaddle and moral blandishment.

Yet if surveys are to be believed 70% of our communicants have no part or parcel in this agenda. They love their parish church and the name “Episcopal”, distrust the diocese, largely because dioceses are often run by purveyors of packaged programs which seldom work and of regulation upon regulation which have no basis in Canon Law – ask a search committee – and disown many of the policies of HQ. The term “815” is not often looked upon with devotion.

The tragedy is, as I say, that the faith and devotion of our parishioners, the ones who keep the doors open and pay the bills is discounted and the sound and fury of a small elite is judged by Anglicans abroad to be that which ordinary Episcopalians believe. It ain’t so, except perhaps in hot house parishes to be found largely on the East and West coast of this country.


SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN EPIPHANY

And now for something more serious. You may also read this sermon, as it was written for “Sermons that Work”, a service of the Episcopal Church. http://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work.htm

January 13, 2008 – First Sunday After the Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord – Year A [RCL]

Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17


“Covenant” is an interesting word. Mind you Episcopalians hear so much about the “Baptismal Covenant” nowadays that it is in danger of becoming one of those pious slogans often used and seldom contemplated.

When The Book of Common Prayer was revised in the 1970s, some of the leading thinkers in our church were developing a new emphasis on baptism and its place in our faith. A new emphasis doesn’t mean something newly invented. In the sixteenth century some of our Anglican reformers who had spent time in exile in Switzerland eating chocolate and cheese and listening to a preacher called John Calvin came home and talked and preached a lot about Covenant. Anglicans were reminded that all are called into God’s new world.

Even then there was nothing new about it all. The Old and New Testaments are full of language about God’s agreement with human beings. Of course the word “testament” means “covenant” and the word “covenant” is something like our word “will.” The only difference is that God isn’t dead, and we still get to inherit. In a manner we can’t fathom, a manner that makes us gasp with mental pain, we know that Jesus sealed this covenant when he died on the cross “for our sins and for the sins of the whole world.”

Today’s gospel is about Jesus’ encounter with his cousin John the Baptist at the River Jordan. John would horrify our ushers if he turned up in church today. He wore a smelly old camel skin, didn’t cut his hair, probably only washed when he waded in the Jordan — more a stream than a river — and ate an extraordinary diet.

Even worse, John the Baptist was blunt. Yes, we all say that we like blunt people. No we don’t! We may know where we stand with them, but who wants to stand feeling guilty? John had been telling off every part of the community and urging them to “repent”; literally to turn around and walk in a new direction. He even told off the equivalent of bishops, priests, vestries and even General Convention. In the end, his bluntness cost him his head.

Jesus meets this wild-looking preacher at the river and asks to be baptized. John doesn’t want to do it. He knows that his cousin needs no baptism, doesn’t need to turn around. He knows that his cousin is “good.” The word “good” and “God” in English are closely associated. The translation is telling.

As Jesus is baptized a voice is heard by some, and they believe that they are hearing God, and God is acknowledging that Jesus is in a unique manner God’s son.

What has all this to do with a covenant? Probably all of you have been baptized. When water was poured on your heads, God adopted you. You are now children of God and heirs of God’s world, God’s kingdom.

On each of our foreheads there is an invisible sign, marked in holy oil, which signifies that we have been adopted by God and become members of Christ. In the Christian vocabulary, the word “member” doesn’t mean someone who joins, but rather, as St Paul reminds us, it means someone who is joined to Someone. Like the limbs and organs of a human body, we are joined to Jesus and to each other.

Being joined to Jesus in a sense means that we share in who Jesus is. Jesus is described as being, among other things, prophet, priest, and king.

The Covenant means then that first, because we are joined to Jesus, through baptism, we are to be members of a “prophetic” community. That doesn’t mean that we go around making up new things. A prophet is someone who says “This is what God says.” We learn what God says in the scriptures, and above all, as we seek to live as Jesus lived. We belong to a forgiving, loving, caring Jesus-community. Our job is to tell the world that God is love and God is forgiveness. Telling also means living, and living means being practical and demonstrating where we are what a loving, forgiving, caring community looks like.

The Covenant means that because we are joined to Jesus through baptism we are members of a “priestly” community. Priests represent people to God and represent God to people, normally in Jewish and Christian tradition in rituals and meals. As priests, we say to the world, “Here is God loving you through Jesus.” We say to God, “Here is the world yearning to be loved through Jesus.” In the Eucharist we bid those whom God loves to eat and drink with God and to receive God’s Son through the Spirit.

The Covenant means that because we are joined to Jesus through baptism, we are members of a “kingly” community. Kings, or at least good kings, rule the earth for God and for everyone. Jesus is the Good King. In Jesus we are to care for the earth, guard it from exploitation, and in Jesus we are to care for all beings, human and animal, and love and serve them sacrificially.

So that invisible mark on our forehead shows that we are Covenant people. Yet two other points must be remembered. Alone we cannot be or do any of these Covenant things. Alone we “err and stray.” We are to act like God’s people, and when we fail we are to repent and ask God to forgive us and renew us. Secondly, we need feeding if we are to grow in strength. If Baptism begins our Covenant life, in the Eucharist we receive Jesus into the very core and fiber of our beings as we dwell in Him and He dwells in us.

Inheritance is one thing, a very wonderful thing. God’s Covenant tells us that we have inherited God’s Word, God’s sacraments, and God’s world. Yet we must also listen to John the Baptist. Unlike Jesus, we have need to turn around and walk in God’s ways all the days of our lives. Only then will we receive the Baptismal Covenant with thanksgiving. So be it.