The Unspeakable Weight of Glory – Sermon for Last Epiphany A (RCL)

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

Three of the four gospels tell of Jesus ascending the mountain with Peter, James, and John. For those who know the story, regardless of the particular gospel we draw it from, the plot is familiar: on the mountain, the disciples see Jesus’ clothes become a bright and dazzling white, and watch as he speaks with Moses and Elijah. Peter offers to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to remain there. A bright cloud overshadows everyone, paralyzing the disciples with fear. A voice from heaven proclaims Jesus as “my son, the Beloved.” The cloud dissipates, Jesus looks again like he has always looked, and they leave the mountain. And the disciples then tell no one of what they have seen.

Nobody ever talks about the Transfiguration. Jesus doesn’t concretely explain to the disciples what they have witnessed, but in today’s account he does tell them not to speak of it until after his resurrection.  He doesn’t impart meaning to the event itself, but largely leaves it sitting in the hands of those who were present on the mountain. And Peter, James, and John don’t say anything until after the resurrection, by all accounts. Yet even after his resurrection, there’s not much evidence that the disciples ever say much of anything about this incredible moment, high up on the mountain. The passages in the gospels themselves, and one stray passage in the 2nd Epistle of Peter, all written many years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, are the whole of the witness to what transpired on the mountaintop.

The gospel tells us that the disciples saw the glory of Jesus Christ on the mountain, when the voice roared out from the cloud, they were terrified, and fell down on their faces. And they weren’t simply terrified, but overcome – struck with that deep combination of fear and awe that lead them to collapse to the ground, not solely out of a choice to be reverent, but in a kind of instinctive, reflexive and primal response when in the presence of something – or someone – unimaginably pure, unimaginably powerful, unimaginably holy.

Would the disciples have simply remained there, transfixed in worship, awe, and fear forever? Matthew seems to think so. The disciples remain there, seemingly paralyzed, until Jesus who comes to them, reaches out and touches them, and tells them not to be afraid.  Then, and only then, they look up, and see the face of that same Jesus they had known since he called them away from their nets in Galilee. Only then do they stir from their places, rise, and go with Jesus, back down the mountain, back to the world they once knew and were yet to know again.

Somehow, I suspect that after that experience on the top of the mountain, where the disciples fell to the ground, struck with fear and awe, Jesus’ command to them not to tell anyone was somewhat of a redundancy.  The deep reverence, deep awe inspired by the frightfully close encounter of Peter, James, and John to the bright, shining, paralyzing revelation of Jesus’ glory would likely tend to make leave them speechless and keep them quiet, lest the luster of the event wear thin, and the vividness and crispness of their memory be worn down by the constant strains of analysis, like the pages of a well worn book of photographs which begins to fray at the edges after constant handling.

But the story, did, of course, get out. Peter, James, and John told someone after Jesus rose from the dead; we wouldn’t have this reading from Matthew to study otherwise. And yet, after two thousand years, the account of the Transfiguration is still vivid. It hasn’t frayed around the edges, or lost its air of ineffable mystery. Jesus and three of his disciples walk up the mountain, and Jesus and three of his disciples descend, yet what happens in the midst of the cloud – the piercing light of dazzling brightness, the voice of God proclaiming the belovedness of his only Son, remains as terrifying and transfixing as ever. As humans we tend to be able to rationalize away any event, or action, or behavior with enough discussion, enough thought, enough language – and it would seem that the same should have been true for the disciples on the mountain. So why not this story, too?

I suspect the Transfiguration remains so resonant, so precise, to clear today because when we follow after Jesus, we’ve been in the same place as Peter, James, and John.  We follow after our teacher, friend, and brother Jesus day by day, drawn from our own unique worlds, until one day, we are knocked over at once by the power and the clarity of our vision of Jesus’ glory. Those moments come like shots out of the dark, with little warning, often without preparation, and we become paralyzed with fear, with wonder, and with awe just as the disciples were.  The moment hits us when we know ourselves to truly be in Jesus’ presence – in the presence of God himself, and touched by the overwhelming weight of his glory. And just as with Peter, James, and John, we are paralyzed be the vision, caught up in one place, bent over in fear, in awe, and in adoration. And then, suddenly, Jesus reaches out, touches us, and tells us to get up, and appears to us as our friend and brother once again. So we then know ourselves to be disciples of Jesus who is as we are, and yet worshippers of the one who is so unspeakably and infinitely greater than all we can ever begin to imagine.

Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

Nobody ever talks about the Transfiguration. Instead, we react and respond to it, to the undeniable and overwhelming vision and weight of Jesus’ glory, shown to us on the mountain and in the world, and given to us as Christ’s body at the font, and at the table. In the face of God’s glory, manifest and visible, terrifying and awe-inspiring, Jesus comes, and touches us, and says: Get up. Do not be afraid.

The End of Safety – Sermon for Epiphany 3A (RCL)

“Come and see,” was the invitation Jesus gave to two of John the Baptist’s disciples in last week’s reading from John’s gospel. When they heard John the Baptist proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God, they begin to follow him – just as they had been disciples of John the Baptist, they then turn and follow after Jesus, asking him where he was dwelling. John’s gospel says that one of those two disciples was Andrew, who then went and brought his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus. Jesus’ invitation begins the process that causes the disciples to follow after him.

How different, then, is today’s account from Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus calls, and the disciples follow him.  In Matthew’s gospel, there’s very little in the way of invitation; no sign that Andrew, Peter, James or John were in any sense aware of what was about to happen to them or had already chosen to follow after John, Jesus or anyone else. Instead they were all going about their business when Jesus enters the scene, tells them to follow him, and changes everything:

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea– for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.[1]

Jesus calls the disciples – they respond and follow. That’s it – no questions, no promises, no guarantees – the text says they immediately respond, without any delay or reservation. They leave their nets, and in the case of James and John, their own father, and they follow the Lord. They leave the lives they knew to follow after Jesus.

Simon, Andrew, James and John were all fishermen in Galilee. Contrary to our common impression, there’s no reason to think that they were firmly stationed at the bottom of society. Fishing was a major industry around the Sea of Galilee, and our account suggests that the disciples owned boats, nets, and implements of their trade. [2] While they may not have been at the top of society, they certainly weren’t at its bottom, by all accounts, making for themselves a comfortable life.  They didn’t seek Jesus out, and, in all likelihood, they wouldn’t have. Instead, Jesus found them, called them, and they followed after him. That, too, is strange – Jesus called them to follow him – they didn’t seek him out. It would have been customary in Jesus’ time for disciples to seek out a teacher – much like in our gospel from last week, where disciples who were following John turn of their own accord to follow after Jesus. The opposite – a teacher seeking out his own disciples – was not at all a normal or expected behavior.[3]  Yet Jesus seeks them out to follow, chooses them to follow him, calls them to follow him.  And, somehow, they do.

I would love to be able to say that it was a moment of great faith that compelled Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to leave their comfortable lives by the sea to follow after Jesus, but somehow, I don’t think that’s true.  The Son of God called them and they had to answer; they didn’t choose Jesus; Jesus chose them, called them to follow him, and they didn’t pause, they didn’t think, and they didn’t argue – they simply left their nets.

When the Lord calls us beyond the safety of our nets, out beyond the safety of our familiar seashore, to a life of discipleship, a life of following after him, how do we respond? The gospel tells us what happens as soon as the disciples follow Jesus, he went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.[4]

As soon as they leave the seashore behind, the disciples hear the good news of the kingdom; they see lives changed and transformed. They experience something infinitely more interesting, more trying, more exhilarating than they ever would have seen sitting by their nets on the sea.

Yet I would imagine when Jesus calls us to follow now, we can all to often equivocate. I know I do: I may give Jesus my loyalty and my devotion and the efforts that seem easiest and most conventional; absolute submission and surrender, however, is so much more difficult.  I know that following Jesus changes my life and the life of the world; yet I’m not so certain that I want it to change, even with the promise of something more.  The author James Baldwin once wrote:

“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free… for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”[5]

It is only in surrendering ourselves to following after Jesus do we begin to see God’s great dream for the world, do we begin to see the kingdom of heaven.  “Follow me,” Jesus tells us, and “I will make you fish for people.”   Hearing Jesus’ call we are to follow; out beyond the edges of safety and comfort, losing ourself in God’s great goodness, trading all we know and all we hold dear to venture out into the unknown, for in the Lord’s service is perfect freedom. Amen.


[1] Matthew 4:18-22.

[2] Daniel Harrington, S.J. The Gospel of Matthew. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007.) p. 72.

[3] Harrington, p. 75.

[4] Matthew 4:23

[5] James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (New York: Vintage)

A Grand Invitation – Sermon for Epiphany 2A (RCL)

Epiphany 2, Year A, RCL: Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

We are conditioned, at least in my mind, to pay attention to “first” things.  We keep track of a baby’s first steps and first words with fevered intensity.  Growing up, I remember each year’s “first day of school” as being a touchstone by which I knew a certain amount of time had passed.  First kiss, first car, first love, first job… generally the first time something happens, we take note, and remember. “Firsts” make memorable milestones in our own lives and our relationships with others.

Our reading from John today contains Jesus’ first words in the fourth gospel. Yet, all too often, they get buried – buried under the incredible poetry of John’s prologue, perhaps overlooked next to John the Baptist’s two successive proclamations, given in Jesus’ presence, for those around to “Behold the Lamb of God!” We may often miss them, but there they are, right in the middle of today’s reading:

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”[1]

When he sees his new followers, Jesus asks them: “What are you looking for?”  At first glance, this sounds like a rather ordinary, almost corrective question, like when a security guard asks an errant pedestrian “may I help you?” when they get a little bit off the prescribed path.  Jesus’ question, though, is no mere pleasantry, because the people who hear it – both those who first left John to follow after the Lord on that day, and people like us, who read the fourth gospel two thousand years later, are well informed as to who Jesus is. It is, in fact, an invitation, issued from the mouth of a loving God to a beloved world.

For those who first left John to follow Jesus, it was abundantly clear who they were walking after; John’s words are clear: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him[2]… I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”[3]  When we read Jesus’ question from John’s text today, we’ve already encountered that big, bold statement in the prologue: “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… and to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…”

When God asks you what you’re looking for, how do you answer?
What are you looking for?

The people follow after Jesus in today’s lesson seem to know who Jesus is, and they reply to Jesus’ question with another one: “Teacher, where are you staying?”  Their question, like Jesus’ previous one, at first glance seems relatively banal, a kind of pleasantry exchanged as a matter of a typical conversation with a person travelling from out of town. Yet the question can also be translated on a deeper level: “Teacher, where do you remain? Where do you abide? Where do you dwell?” Jesus’ response: “Come and see.”

When Jesus invites you to the place where God dwells, how do you answer?
What are you looking for?

“Come and see,” Jesus invites us.  In today’s reading from John’s gospel, the people do; they follow after him, and do go and see the place where Jesus was literally staying that night. But the text tells us, “they remained with him that day.” But one of the ones who followed after him, Andrew, went and got his brother Simon first, and told him, “We have found the Messiah.” And Simon, Jesus then says, will be called Peter, Cephas, Rock.

This is a different kind of discipleship story then we’re used to.  The three other gospels have brought another story of Jesus to front of our minds: the calling James and John by the Sea of Galilee – where the Lord says, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Perhaps we think of the story of summoning of Matthew the tax collector to discipleship from his tax both with the single command, “follow me.” We certainly know that story of Jesus saying “if anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

That call-response dynamic is certainly part of our life together with Jesus. Following after Jesus does mean hearing his call, and taking up his cross, and following. But today, John reminds us that it’s also a grand invitation to share in the life of God – an invitation to come and see that place where God dwells – where God abides.

Saint Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”[4]  Jesus’ question to his new followers, “what are you looking for?” speaks to their hearts, and it speaks to ours, because that one question defines so much of our lives.  We’re all looking for something; and often, what we’re looking for is a better understanding of God; we’re looking for rest for our restless hearts. “No one has ever seen God,” John writes in the prologue, “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

When Jesus gives those great words – “Come and see” – to those who would follow after him, he offers nothing less than an invitation to come and dwell in God’s fullness, for just as surely as God creates us, God gives us the grace – in Jesus Christ – to find our rest in him.  God gives us grace upon grace in Jesus to truly know God, and live in God.

This is a grand invitation – come and see where God abides. Come and see where God dwells. Come find your rest. No wonder, then, that Andrew goes to tell his brother Simon about what who he has seen and the invitation he has received – “we have found the Messiah,” he says.  Because the invitation to share in the life of God is one that cannot be hoarded, cannot be kept to ourselves. It’s an invitation that must be shared with others, because it is an invitation to life itself – the life of God who is the source of all life. It is truly good news. No wonder this was is the first message Jesus sends to those would be his disciples…

“Come and see,” Jesus says.

“Come and see,” Andrew repeats, “We have found the Messiah!”

 

 

 



[1] John 1:35-38a

[2] John 1:32

[3] John 1:34

[4] Augustine. Confessions I.1

I Want to Be Called a Missionary.

I’ve read with interest a bunch of stories surrounding the “rebranding” of the staff and environs surrounding 815 2nd Avenue, and its various non-New York satellite offices, to “The Missionary Society.” The quest to find a suitable name for the offices and staff that compose our churchwide governance has always been something of an unreachable goal – I suspect the church won’t ever coin a term that works until Jesus returns in glory. I can think of at least four names I’ve either used or been told to use over the years: “the national church,” “815,” “the Episcopal Church Center,” “the staff of The Episcopal Church.” I should admit up front that I have plenty of problems with the new name, and the way it’s being adopted and promulgated. I’m going to term the organization “The Group Formerly Known as 815.”

But I was surprised to read on the Episcopal Cafe the other day an article written by Torey Lightcap that rooted some of the deepest concern about the change with its use of the word missionary.

Here’s why it surprised me: if, at my funeral, someone were asked to describe who I was, and s/he were to answer “He was a missionary,” I’d consider it the mark of a life, a ministry, and a baptism well lived.

So, I want to respectfully disagree with some of the concerns that have been made about the use of the word missionary. I want to do this by engaging in what I hope will be a wholistic manner with the article, rather than doing the old-fashioned “point-by-point” internet rebuttal. That doesn’t leave room for conversation – which, well, is exactly what missionaries often wouldn’t do in the past.

Let me be clear that my argument is not that the current rebranding is, in fact, conceived in perfection, suavely executed, and a work of sheer genius. It isn’t. But actually, I’m not that worried about the decision. It’s neither here nor there for me.

The essay (read it in full – it’s absolutely worth deep consideration) reminds us of the great historical baggage attached to the word missionary both within the United States and abroad – an assessment that I don’t dispute in the least. I grew up in South Carolina, in the midst of a strongly Conservative evangelical Southern Baptist culture – and can readily feel within myself the word missionary rousing a picture of undying and unyielding certitude and one-size-fits-all packaged faith solutions that are tone-deaf, insensitive to the needs of the world. Most of all, it reminds me of a picture of emotional manipulation. In other parts of the world, the baggage associated with colonialism is even stronger: forced conversions to Christianity under threat of death, genocide, slavery, heedless exploitation and mastery of other peoples and cultures for profit.The baggage of language is intense, painful, and deep. So the term missionary, it is argued, doesn’t play, and can’t possibly play; the weight is too deep, creates too many barriers, it is fundamentally exclusive.

The baggage of the word missionary – as it speaks to the modern mind – needs to be owned by the church for what it is: sin. It’s sinful to force people to convert to Christianity, because it doesn’t respect their dignity as a human being and it leaves no room for the beautiful stirrings of the grace of God that move within the soul in a free and unforced choice to follow Jesus. It’s sinful to view other people as a mark on a “conversion tally sheet,” because it fails to even begin to try and see a person, with wants, needs, joys, and fears – it fails to see the image of God within them. The sins that so many associate with missionaries need to be acknowledged and repented of by the church – full stop.

I’ve always been a strong believer that our call as a church is to present to the world a new and different narrative of what it means to be a follower of Jesus – yes, a missionary of Jesus – than the ones that have caused so much damage in the past. We need to recall words like evangelism and missionary out from wreckage that we attached to it through our own past sins.

For a long time, I ran from these words, having grown up in a culture where they represent so much that is damaging, and hurtful, and sinful. I wanted to be called anything but evangelical, anything but a missionary. I was happy to be called an Episcopalian. At least that term presented minimal baggage I had to wrestle with.

But to create new words, or find new terms for those that the Church has distorted over time through its own sin is, in many ways, to avoid the issue of that sin, and make a deft maneuver away from a difficult conversation we need to have with the world about our own faults and failings. It denies us the opportunity to be fallible, to be human, to be vulnerable to criticism.

And, above all, it surrenders to the idea that things have to remain this way – that the baggage of a history is so great it can never be overcome; that the wounds are so deep, that they cannot be healed. The gospel tells us this isn’t the case – that Jesus loves us with no exceptions. Period. They tell us that God’s grace is open to all, and is the way that we are pieced back together so that, step by step, we begin to see that great work of reconciliation that is God’s dream for the world.

To run from the word missionary because of history is to avoid a conversation that we so desperately need to have with the world:  it denies us the opportunity to show the movement of the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives that led us to realize the actions that created all this emotional baggage was sinful. It gets us out of the difficult task of telling our story, admitting our failings, and then telling how Jesus has changed us, shaped us, and pieced us back together.

So I firmly believe that for the church to run away from the word missionary is to run from the promises of our baptism, and the people the gospel calls us to be; witnesses to the grace of God, to the power of God’s reconciling love for all. The words missionary and the word mission – as I know is repeated ad infinitum in the church – come from the Latin word missio – which has at its core meaning, the act of sending and being sent. Missionaries, therefore, become people “people sent out” – people, who, following after the example of Jesus Christ, are given for the life of the world. People who bear the good news; people who work for justice and peace; people who seek nothing less than healing, wholeness and the reconciliation of the world to God. Missionaries are people fully given over to others. It’s the word – more than any other – that encapsulates what the Great Commandment and the Great Commission charge us to be. As Christians, it’s who we are. It’s who I want to be. 

The church can debate – and should debate – about the process by which “The Group Formerly Known as 815” chooses to rebrand as “The Missionary Society.” We can ask whether it was an astute and well-executed choice, or one that is bound to invite snickers and disdain, and even whether it was canonically permissible. We can debate about the leadership choices and principles inherent in the process. There’s a lot to wrestle with there, that should be wrestled with.

But as to being called “Missionary” – well, that’s a title that I would love to be worthy of. By God’s grace, someday, I hope to achieve it.

 

Editorial Note: Several spelling mistakes and typos changed on a second read. Apologies for that!

Overdue for Posting

I’m realizing how long it’s been since I’ve been writing, and I’m working on changing that. I’ve got at a set of thoughts on Lent and Chapter 49 of Benedict’s Rule in the works, along with any number of other things I’ve been holding back on.

More on that soon.

In the meantime, may I suggest you check out Lent Madness? 40 days, 32 saints, single-elimnation, head-to-head. It’s a lot of fun, and a great Lenten discipline to live among the saints – who are – above all else – our friends and companions on our journey as Christians. (I’m also a contributor, so there’s that.)

Best wishes to all for a Holy Lent. More soon.

Sermon for All Saints (transferred) – November 3, 2012

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10,13-14 Psalm 149 Revelation 7:2-4,9-17 Matthew 5:1-12 

Fra Angelico, The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, c. 1423-4
(Photo Credit: The National Gallery, London)

Who are these like stars appearing,
these, before God’s throne who stand?
Each a golden crown is wearing;
who are all this glorious band?
“Alleluia!” “hark,” they sing,
praising loud their heavenly King.

When I say the word “saint,” where does your mind turn?  Of whom do you think ?

Is it the twelve apostles – surrounding Jesus at the last supper, like in the icon that hangs in the sanctuary?

Is it Saint John – our patron – who gazes down at us from the icon on the choir loft – pen in hand as the author of scriptural texts? Or from the scenes of the triptych, drinking the cup of poison, as pious legend holds it, to prove the power of the Gospel?

Is it Saint Peter – so fickle and fiery in the course of the gospels – who deny Jesus three times before the crucifixion to save his own skin – only ultimately to die on another cross, on another hill outside of Rome, hanging upside down, because he proclaimed himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his  Lord?

Is it Paul, blinded on the road to Damascus? Stephen, stoned to death outside a city wall?

Is it the holy poverty of Saint Francis and Mother Teresa? The reforming zeal of Martin Luther or the seeds of contemplation of Thomas Merton?

Who are these of dazzling brightness,
these in God’s own truth arrayed,
clad in robes of purest whiteness,
robes whose luster ne’er shall fade,
ne’er be touched by time’s rude hand?
Whence comes all this glorious band?

Our observance of All Saints’ Day tends to lead us to think rather grandly about the saints. This is nothing new – the cover of our bulletin has vision of the saints given to us by the 15th century artist Fra Angelico.  He paints a grand vision of the saints – his painting contains no less than two popes, five bishops, three deacons, kings, abbesses, monks. “Let us now praise famous men,” the author of Ecclesiasticus writes, “The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning. There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, those who gave counsel because they were intelligent; those who spoke in prophetic oracles; those who led the people by their counsels, those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing; rich men endowed with resources, living peacefully in their homes– all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times.”

Yes, this is a grand, glorious list that is worthy of praise. We wouldn’t have the psalms without King David, we would not have a church without Peter and Paul; we would not have known how to express our yearning for God were it not for the words of Augustine; We wouldn’t have the comfort found in Julian of Norwich’s meditations, or even a (semi)settled date for Easter without Hilda of Whitby. Indeed we have much to thank them for, much to commemorate. But it does seem so remote, doesn’t it? A bit far beyond our grasp?

These are they whose hearts were riven,
sore with woe and anguish tried,
who in prayer full oft have striven
with the God they glorified;
now, their painful conflict o’er,
God has bid them weep no more.

During seminary, as part of my course work, I spent a summer doing chaplaincy work at New York University Hospital on the east side of Manhattan. The place was, in my kindly estimation, a dump. There were three elevators to serve the twenty floors of Tisch Hospital, which lead to unending lines. Patient rooms always seemed crowded, and there was little privacy, even by hospital standards. The hospital was one that tended not to recommend palliative care or hospice care at the end of life. It was a place that felt cold, didn’t give much comfort in the course of treatment, or seem to me a place where people could die with dignity.

But in spite of all of this, the staff was superb. They looked to their patients with fierceness and intensity that I seldom see people able match in their own work and vocation. And they did so even when the patients rejected their care, or didn’t want their help.  So it came as no surprise to me that, on Monday night, as Sandy bore down on our region, and the hospital building right by the East River became flooded and unusable, to see the news reports of those doctors and nurses carrying patients down the stairs, through the rain, and into the ambulances that would usher their patients to higher ground. And then they did so again, and again, and again.

I can assure you from my time there, that as they cradled infants in their arms down fifteen flights of stairs, their minds were fixed on a task in front of them that needed to be done. While I can’t be certain, I’d imagine that those doctors and nurses and aides didn’t decide to carry people down those flights of stairs because of their immense faith. In fact, I’d imagine that their minds would have been filled with what we’d imagine to be “un-saintly” questions: How could God allow something like this to happen? Who is responsible for this? Why must these people suffer, here, now?   How could this be?” In the midst of all of this fear, uncertainty, and doubt – they did the work that they had to do. They did it only because it was there, because there was a need that required a response. And in doing so, they became visions of God working in our midst.  Without any intention or thought, they, too, bore the imprint of God’s saints. They became visible saints without any intention of doing so.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says in our Gospel, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Blessed are you, who are called to be saints. Blessed are you, who give witness to the world as God intended it to be. Blessed are you in your trials and tribulations. Blessed are you in the midst of the storm. Blessed are you in the midst of the wind and rain. Blessed are you in your doubts, and fears, and questions.

Blessed are you, because God is at work in you. Whether you know it or not. Whether you see it or not.

These, like priests, have watched and waited,
offering up to Christ their will,
soul and body consecrated,
day and night they serve him still.
Now in God’s most holy place,
blest they stand before his face.

Sainthood is ultimately not about our own deeds or achievements. It’s not about the words we speak, the sermons we preach, and dare I say to some extent, it’s not ultimately about the lives we live – because we all fall short. We all miss the mark at times. Sainthood, instead, is about vision – but not our own vision. The saints are the vision given to us of God working, both in ages past, and right here in our midst, right now. Sainthood is about God at work through his people. The saints show us that God’s work is never done, and God’s work is always ongoing. Indeed, as long as there are people in this world who are so bold as to wish for peace, who strive to be kind, who are open and vulnerable enough to love – there will be saints.  And, by God, that’s a vision – that’s a calling – that I can buy into.

So, as the old song goes, maybe I can’t preach like Peter, and maybe I can’t pray like Paul. I will never be an exemplar of heroic virtue, and dare I say it, I’m not sure I want to be. But, by God’s grace, I can ”tell the love of Jesus, and say he died for all” – right here, right now, as I am.  I may never be what I picture a saint to be  – in fact, I probably won’t. But I can try. I can do the work that is set before me, living out the questions and doubts. Because the saints of God are just folk like me – and I mean to be one, too. Amen.

Structure Omnibus Resolution – Committee Draft

I was in the Structure Committee tonight when they began discussing their “big” restructuring resolution. It was a public hearing, of course (I was there – case and point!), and so I copied from the projector the resolution they’re working with in committee. It is a draft – not the final one to be presented to the House of Deputies – and still subject to work. But this issue is significant enough that I’ve copied it below for the wider church.

The next committee conference is tomorrow at 12:30 pm.

Again – this is their DRAFT, not the final resolution to be sent to the houses.

Resolved, The House of ______ concurring, that this General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself grounded in our rich heritage and open to our creative future so that we may more faithfully:

proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
teach, baptise and nurture new believers
respond to human need by loving service
seek to transform unjust structures of society
strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

and be it further

Resolved, that this General Convention establish a task force, operating independently from direction by existing church governing authorities; and be it further

Resolved, that the task force shall have as many as 30 members, appointed jointly by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies by September 30, 2012. They shall appoint members representative of the church in its diversity,
and ensure that the membership includes those not currently involved in the governance of the church; and be it further

Resolved, that the task force shall present the 78th General Convention a plan for the reform of the church’s governance, structures, administration and program, and be it further

Resolved, that in order to in our the wisdom, expertise, and commitment of all voices in the church, the task force shall gather information and ideas from congregations, dioceses and provinces, and other interested individuals and organizations not often heard in the governing bodies of the church, and be it further

Resolved that the Task force shall convene a special gathering to help discern how our structures can best empower our mission. This gathering shall pay particular attention to the voices not often heard in the governing bodies of the church; shall include from each diocese a bishop, a lay deputy, a clergy deputy, and a person under 40; and shall include other members of the church, such as ministry networks, provinces and seminaries and be it further

Resolved, that the Task Force shall report on its work frequently, and shall make its final report and recommendations to the church by November 2014 along with resolutions necessary to implement them, including proposed amendments to the Constitution and Canons of the Church; and be it further

Resolved, that the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance consider adding $400,000 funds to the 2013-2015 triennial budget, to enable this resolution to be implemented energetically and successfully.

Christmas in Chelsea Square

My alma mater, The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, was featured in a CBS Special this Christmas Eve. In fact, they aired opposite the Midnight Mass with the Pope from the Saint Peter’s Basillica in Rome. Except ours was all in English, with four-part harmonies in the music. Point GTS, I dare say.

In case you missed it, because you were busy doing things like, say, sleeping at 11:35 pm on Christmas Eve, you can now watch it online, in glorious 1080p if you so choose.

Merry Christmas!