Let me begin by saying how encouraged I am by the Presiding Bishop’s emphasis on Jesus and his saving works. It is not my purpose to pick apart aspects of the “Jesus Movement’ which might give someone of my persuasion pause. Rather I want to seek a way to contribute to Bishop Curry’s visionary call.
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” So wrote the author of the second Epistle to the Thessalonians.
Paul, let’s call him the author of this short letter Paul, encourages his hearers and readers to stand firm in the faith communicated by the spoken and written word. He describes his teachings as “traditions.” We get here a glimpse of the earliest “Jesus Movement.” Across the Roman Empire, and perhaps beyond, groups of people drawn from different classes, regions, nationalities, religious backgrounds, male and female were uniting in the belief that Jesus is Lord. They prayed that the Kingdom of God would come and that God’s will and purpose established.
Before a decision had been made about the authority of a growing corpus of Christian writings appended to the books of the Jewish Holy Books, these Christians sought to stand firm on a foundation made up of oral and written “tradition.” This tradition told of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of a man named Jesus, from Nazareth, a Jewish carpenter’s son whom they worshipped as God. Already, through their devotional lives and particularly their principle act of Christian worship, a fundamental if rudimentary Trinitarian awareness was becoming “traditional”. At least weekly, if not daily, and often at great risk, the followers of the Way, of the Christ, met together to break bread in prayer and to be instructed in the the teachings of the Apostles and those “Apostolic Men” set apart by the laying on of hands.
When 2 Thessalonians was written, a second generation of Christians was emerging. This was made possible by the evangelical zeal of those called to be “witnesses” Beginning with Jesus’s household, his family of followers, and gradually by a growing company of those who heard and received the “evangel” and submitted to an adapted Jewish purification rite, Baptism, the movement of Jesus followers spread far and wide, even into the household of the Roman Emperor, a potentate who soon found himself challenged by the imperial claims of the carpenter from Palestine. The Christian movement was thoroughly subversive. It eradicated even the differences of ethnicity, gender and status. Within the community slaves and aristocrats were equal. Christianity challenged the fundamental areas of human division, nationalism, class, gender and human rights. These causes of division and violence washed away in water poured and were thrust back down daily as all broke Bread and prayed. There was no magic fix to humanity’s ancient sins. They were to be confronted again and again, as we note in St. Paul’s and St. Clement’s letters to the Corinthian church, written decades apart but on the same subject, division.
Those of us who remain in the Episcopal Church, who some call “traditionalists” offer this tradition to the Jesus Movement. We seek to be “witnesses”, life-givers, armed with the “traditions” upon which we are grounded, “the Evangel” we have received. We believe ourselves called and sent people, of differing race, nationality, gender and social class, made one, forgiven our sins, made new, redeemed through baptism. We worship God through the perfect offering of Jesus on the Cross, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that it is within the family or household of Christ that racism and all other sinful “isms” are vanquished and particularly in the offering and receiving of the Eucharist. We believe that the most vital program for justice is the project of passing on that which we have received in Word and Sacrament. Our firm foundation is built upon the received Scriptures, the Church’s Creeds, the writings of the Church’s teachers particularly in the first five centuries, the Councils of that period and their decisions and the traditions of every age which express what St. Vincent describes as the faith received “everywhere, always and by all.”
We hope that this offering equips us and qualifies us to be partners in the Jesus Movement.