17 December 2007

Just Which Advent???

Delivered at Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH on 16 December 2007

(based on Matthew 11:2-11)

The Season of Advent can be a very confusing time for some people:

· on one hand, we all wait with wide-eyes for the birth of the Christ child
· on the other, we are waiting for the second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world.

Indeed a major part of the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus will return to earth and all believers shall be drawn to him and an eternal life. And in the liturgical year, Christ’s ‘Second Coming’ is celebrated during the Advent Season when we are usually more focused on the birth of Jesus.

Today we enter the third week of Advent – with it the anticipation of the Birth of Christ. In just a little over one week we will be sitting here celebrating Jesus’ birth that nativity story from so long ago. You would expect the readings to center on that blessed event in Bethlehem.

But today’s scripture is not foretelling the birth of Christ.

We are hearing about that other advent – the advent of the New World, the New Jerusalem. The church’s liturgical year is a cyclical reminder of the life of Christ – from birth, to death, to the resurrection and His second coming at the end of the world. So, as we once again celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, we ARE reminded to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God when Jesus comes to earth again.

In today’s scripture we find John the Baptist languishing away in prison. John was considered a fanatic and zealot in his own time, so , when Herod Antipas married his brother Phillip’s wife after divorcing his own, john had much to say, about it, far and wide. John, of course, would rail against this; it was his life’s business to prophesy and accuse! In an attempt to silence him, Herod had thrown him in prison. He has been there for over a year and must have felt abandoned and out of the mainstream. He heard rumors that the Jesus he had baptized and proclaimed to be the Messiah was traveling the countryside preaching and prophesying. The time of the Messiah must surely have come. His hopes high, John is sure that Jesus will ‘ride up on a white horse’ and rescue him from prison.

But what was actually happening? What do his messengers tell him about Jesus?

He hears that Jesus is busy performing miracles, preaching mercy and compassion and love. This is not what he expected of the Messiah!!!

Jesus was not proclaiming himself the Messiah King,

. . . not bringing about the destruction of Rome

. . . or overthrowing Herod’s rule.

Instead of preaching revolution and smiting evildoers he is proclaiming good news to the poor and destitute, the broken-hearted and downtrodden, the captives and oppressed. He was even saying people who believed in Him would be persecuted!

Even though they were cousins and had known each other since the womb, John was no longer sure that THIS Jesus was the Messiah he had foretold. He was certainly not doing what he expected Him to do.

So John sent his disciples to speak with Jesus. After all, John had been prophesying that the Messiah would come with fiery judgment, pitchfork and axe in hand. But here was this man, preaching and teaching hope and love and healing, not fomenting revolution.

What was going on here?

Imagine you were John, foretelling the reign of the Messiah, only to find out that He was not the revolutionary you had predicted – or at least not in the sense John expected. Jesus was preaching and healing, not riling up the citizens to revolt. There was no message of revolt in his teachings and stories. He stressed compassion and inclusion of everyone in the Kingdom of God.

The Jews had been waiting a long time for the appearance of the Messiah with the expectation that he would save them from Roman oppression and restore them to their rightful kingdom. This Jesus was certainly not acting like that Messiah! Disappointed, John wanted to know if Jesus was that man . . . or if there was another Messiah coming.

He must have thought:

· Had he been wrong about Jesus?
· Was he looking like a fool?

Some folks may have thought so then, but today we know better . . . that even John didn’t fully realize what the kingdom of god would be, and indeed sometimes, we forget, too.

The scripture goes on to say that Jesus affirmed John and his prophecy. Jesus reminded John that he was ‘the voice crying in the wilderness’, in camel skins, eating locust and honey. He reminded him that his calling was as a preparer - he had called many to the wilderness to be baptized. He was more than a prophet; he was a forerunner, reformer, a preparer of the way.

Those times for which John was baptizing people and foretelling had truly come to pass. Just as Elijah foretold of Jesus’ birth, John was foretelling of Jesus’ life on earth. John’s purpose was to prepare the people for the arrival of Jesus among them.

· That prophesy was fulfilled in the person of Jesus: a Jesus that was a man of words and compassionate actions, not one of authority and military might.
· A man of the spirit, not of the sword

Jesus sends the disciples back to John, telling them to tell him what they had seen. Tell him about:

· Healing the sick
· Casting out demons
· Raising the dead
· Forgiving sins
· Preaching to the poor.

We can only hope that when the disciples returned and told John what they had seen, he remembered the prophecies of Isaiah that we heard about in your reading today about the marvels that would take place in the desert. And he remembered his faith in that man he baptized so long ago.

But wouldn’t it have been natural for John to have been a little upset that he was sitting in prison suffering for an itinerant preacher who gave mercy to anyone who asked (even Romans) and would lead his followers into a brutal death? Possibly John sent his disciples to Jesus to try and prod him into the action that John had expected from the Messiah.

This Jesus - this Messiah - was not what John the Baptist expected. He was not coming to destroy Rome; they could and did do that without his help. He was here to establish the Kingdom of God.

A Kingdom of God where everyone is welcome, all are loved, and mercy and compassion flow like waters.

This is Rose Sunday, or to the Anglican community ‘Stir It Up’ Sunday. In the Collect, we ask God to ‘stir up his power’ in us. And we got our blood flowing when we sang one of my favorite hymns: ‘Sound the Trumpets!! Spread the Message!!!

We need to be prodded and poked to strive for a sinless life. We need to be pushed forward to who is coming. We need to be reminded in this Advent Season that our King and Savior comes not only as a human child, but promises to return again to triumph over death and make that possible for us also. That our Lord comes twice to bring eternal life and peace and in an everlasting Kingdom.

This Kingdom of God is what we are waiting for as we continue this Advent Season. As we anticipate the birth of that little baby in Bethlehem, let us keep our eyes fixed on the real prize:

The Kingdom of God!!

10 December 2007

Render Unto Caesar

Delivered at Procter Center, Anglican Academy for Morning Prayer, 8 December 2007

(based on Matthew 22:15-22)

This is one of the most famous stories about Jesus and, probably, the most misunderstood or misapplied. It has been used as a bludgeon for centuries to justify the separation of things of the Church from the affairs of government.

The Romans now controlled the land God had promised the Israelites and brought with them their pagan ways. Most Israelites saw this as a contamination of the Creation that God had given them. So why would one willingly give taxes to the Roman Empire? After all, withholding taxes was just about the only thing that the Jews could do to express their displeasure with the occupation.

We all know that the Pharisees asked Jesus that question, trying to trap him into either being counter to Jewish law, or a seditionist against the Roman occupation. They felt that no matter how he answered the question, they could ‘get’ him. Either he disobeyed the Jewish Law and said pay the taxes (which would be an affront the YHWH), or said withhold taxes which would be treason to Rome.

But Jesus was too smart for them – he was not the uneducated preacher they thought he was. When he pointed out that the name and likeness of Caesar, not YHWH, were on the coin, there was no way they could trap him. In fact, they had just trapped themselves. Tribute should be paid to Caesar, using Caesar’s money.

But I think this set of scripture has a much deeper meaning for Christians. I think it admonishes us to be good citizens of the world we live in. As Paul often told people in his letters, “God ordains the higher powers” and Christians are subject to its authority. Peter and Paul both stressed that Christians should be law-abiding citizens.

As Deacons, we need to be good citizens. . . and we need to set an example for others.

But how do we do that??

First of all, we must respect the institutions of our communities and country. But that DOES not mean we can’t disagree with what the government/institution is doing, but that we be law-abiding, tax-paying, contributing citizens. If you remember,

· Daniel spent some time with a lot of lions because he disagreed with King
Darius’ notion that everyone should pray to him. .
· Shadrack, Meshak and Abadnego ending up in a furnace for protesting against
King Nebuchadnezzar.
· All of the apostles spent time in prison because they proclaimed their faith
contrary to the policies and wishes of the local government.

Even I, in several non-violent actions, have protested the manner in which churches abuse their LGBT children and can proudly say that I have been arrested and jailed with some of the finest people in the religious community. Civil protest and civil disobedience is a biblical tradition, based on answering a HIGHER calling from God.

The Bible says that we are stewards of the world God created. For us to be good stewards, we need to know what is going on in the community and government and who is doing it. Deacons provide a valuable service, connected those within the church walls with what is going on in the secular world of politics.

How many of you know who your senators and representatives are?

Don’t you think you should know?

And don’t you think you should know what is going on in the legislative sessions?

What bills are in process?

What impact they will have?

Don’t be an ignorant voter, casting your precious vote based on sound bites provided by a less than neutral new source.

Read the Bible and books that will help you solidify your faith and beliefs. Know what you believe and why. Be able to defend your position using principles of God.

And most of all, honor that which should be honored.

The next time you take out a dollar bill or a coin, notice what inscription is on it.


Remember that


Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s


Unto God what is God’s!

05 November 2007


On 31 October in the 2007th year of Our Lord, I received the support of the Diocese of Southern Ohio's Commission on Ministry, Standing Committee and The Right Reverend Thomas E. Breidenthal and am now officially. . . .

(drum roll)

A candidate for the Sacred Order of the Diaconate

(more drum rolls).

I will answer my questions in December, take my canonicals in January and (God willing - and He has been directing this path from the beginning), will receive the support of the Standing Committee and be ordained as a Vocational Deacon on 14 June 2008.

Praise be the Lord!!!!!!!

Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector

Delivered at Lindely Assisted Living Center, 28 October 2007

(Based on Luke 18:1-14)

This is yet another one of Jesus’ parables which teaches us about the quality of prayer. In several other parables within the Gospel of Luke, Jesus addresses our need to prayer faithfully and unceasingly. This parable addresses whose prayers are welcomed by God and whose fall on deaf ears.

Here we have to people – a Pharisee and a tax collector.

Now, the Pharisee was held up as an example of a godly person within the culture of the day. Here was a man who followed all God’s commandments and religious restrictions and duties --- after all, didn’t he pray daily in the temple, even at times when it was not required? Pharisees were members of the priestly class and highly respected in the community; they fasted twice a week and tithed their income as well as a tenth to alms. They considered themselves righteous and their prayers to God were heard only by God.

Then we have the tax collector, one of the most despised people within the Jewish or Roman community. They were charged by the sovereign government to collect the taxes from the people. But, they were not paid to do this, so in order to support their families, they would collect above what the government required so that they could feed their families. Being a tax collector essentially gave them a license to steal --- and everyone knew that. No matter that this was the only way they could provide for their family.

Both of these men were in the temple praying, not because of an obligation, but because they felt the need to offer prayers to God. But this is where the similarities end.

The Pharisee was standing a distance from where everyone else was praying where everyone could see, holding himself upright and regal. He was sure that he was far better than the poor tax collector and was thanking God that he was not a rogue or thief or adulterer or even the tax collector. He extolled to God his worthiness and virtue: after all he obeyed all the laws.

I can just see him standing there, with his chest puffed up with pride and self-righteousness.

Then we have the tax collector, standing far off from the other people in the temple, particularly the Pharisee. He knew he was despised by people and wanted to be where the Pharisee would not be offended and other people would not look scornfully at him. And he so ashamed that he could not even lift his hands or eyes up to God in his prayers, as was the custom. He felt his own shame and was beating his breast at his unworthiness. He was crying out to God to be merciful to him, an unworthy sinner. You know he had to have seen the Pharisee standing there. Imagine how much more unworthy that must have made him feel.

The tax collector’s prayer was one of humility and repentance for what he had done. He could not look up because the weight of his sins laid heavy on his head. He is prayer is very short:

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner”

He may have repeated this prayer again and again, even listing those sins he had committed.

And his prayer was answered by God.

If we pray like the Pharisee, because it is our duty or to be seen as righteous, our prayers fall on deaf ears. As happened in the Book of Job, proud men who praise themselves for their godliness and righteousness will be brought low by God. They will be rejected because they lack the humbleness to realize they need the mercy of God more than those they despise.

When we confess our sins with a completely open heart, God hears these and is reconciled to us. God favors those who ask for mercy rather than those who expect is because they have ‘earned’ it. He accepts those seeking mercy and forgiveness into communion with Him, as part of this kingdom. The greater the sin, the greater the repentance and the greater the mercy.

When we come before God in prayer, remember we are there to ask for mercy and forgiveness, not praise God that we are so righteous and deserving. Rely on that mercy of God and our prayers will be answered.

22 October 2007

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

(Delivered at The Church of The Good Shepherd, Athens, OH on 21 October 2007)

The Gospel According to Luke, 18:1-8

Welcome once again to the Parable Parade.

In Year C of the Episcopal Liturgical Calendar, we read a lot of scripture from Luke. And Luke LOVED to relate Jesus’ parables. For those of you who are tired of trying to figure out the real meaning, you will be happy to know that we are almost out of Year C.

In this parable Jesus, as he is oft to do, disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed. As we listen to the parable, we go ‘Aha – I know where He is going with this’. In this and other parables, he seems to point to a logical conclusion only to suddenly add a twist that gives us an unexpected ending. All the sudden we are somewhere we didn’t expect.

The parable in today’s Gospel is often called the Parable of the Persistent Widow or the Parable of the Unjust Judge. It is one of the few parables that states the point at the very beginning: Pray and do not lose heart.

But there is another theme in this parable: the desire for change.

According to the customs of the day, a marriage contract stated a husband's obligations to his wife, and on his death she had a right to be supported out of his estate as specified in the contract. The widow had no legal right to inherit. Normally a husband's estate would take care of a widow's needs. But the normal condition was by no means universal. Many widows and their children were left destitute. So common was this state of affairs that "widow" came to mean not simply a woman whose husband was dead but also one who had no means of financial support and thus needed special protection.

The poor widow in this parable wants retribution for a wrong done her so that she can improve her own life. She represents poverty and vulnerability – a victim of exploitation and the abuse of power. However, instead of being paralyzed by the injustice, this widow cries out long and hard with hope. I am sure she figured if she became such a thorn in the judge’s side, he would eventually relent . . . just as he did. Not because:

· it was the right thing to do,

· not because he took pity on her,

· not because her cause was just,

· but simply because he got tired of her harping.

The widow, by constantly haranguing the judge, eventually gets her retribution. Not because the judge saw that it was the right thing to do, but rather to just get her to be quiet and stop bothering him. He readily admitted that he was not a godly man or even had much use for people; he just wanted her to shut up! He didn’t even consider the merits of her case.

Sometimes people feel that God is just a little too much like the judge; not really caring enough to respond right away, but needing to be irritated by constant prayers before answering. If we feel this way, we create an image of God that is aloof and cold. That in order to get his attention, we think we need to pray unceasingly until He perhaps gets tired of hearing from us and decides to answer the prayer so we will shut up.

But is God really like the unjust judge?

Or, perhaps, are we the unjust judge?

Are we not dominated by our own egos?

Are we just looking for what is in it for us?

We neither fear God nor respect other people. Just like the widow, we want what is due us, no matter whether it might be wrong or unjust. The widow not only wanted a righteous judgment, but she wanted revenge. She was shouting ‘I have been wronged and I deserve better than this!’ She wanted to be heard for who and what she was, a person wronged. She did not simply want justice done, she wanted to be avenged.

But if there is vengeance to be given, it will be given by the Lord, not by humans. We may want to have the final say, but that belongs to God in God’s time.

I believe the judge in our parable represents the world, which has no sense of justice or place before God. It is that world that ensures ‘Life is not Fair’. In many ways, I think the widow represents Christianity; Jesus associated with the poor, the outcast, those with disease. The widow represents all three – widows are often homeless, therefore beggars, attacked by thieves, ignored by a disdainful public. Ejected from Jewish synagogues as heretics and hated by the pagan population as Jews disloyal to the Roman Empire, Christians also were alone, poor and outcasts.

We, as Christians, are called to be there with those in pain; to be in touch with the struggles, poverty and all things that make people cry out in our world. But we also must live into the affirmation that God cares, even though the answering of the prayers may not come speedily. We need to build sustaining communities where people can be supported in their crying out and not lose heart, communities where we do not tune one another out, but live in hope and the faith that our prayers WILL be answered by God. We need communities where we do not need to shoulder the burden alone, where we have others who will help us see a glint of hope in the situation. Even in the most corrupt environment, there is the possibility of hope and faith if we just band together to support each other.

In truth, I believe that God is persistent in his love for us. He is like that widow who eventually wears us down by constantly pursuing us. Eventually we yield and let God enter our lives and guide us to do the right thing. Prayer is the means for God to enter our lives and challenge us to change our self-destructive behavior. By praying, we invite God into our spirit; He then begins his work and our transformation. When we pray in a difficult situation, after a failure or during illness, God provides the answer in most unexpected ways: it may be

in a sermon . . .
or a book . . .
in the joy of a student learning in your class . . .
or a movie . . .
or a child in the park . . .
or perhaps in the widow in today’s parable.

God does not force us to accept His gift. We have the choice of whether to be open, ready, alert and listening to the demands God may be making on us.

Let me tell you a story about the power of prayer. Four years ago I finally answered a lifelong call to ordained ministry. I came back from the 2003 General Convention, where resolutions were passed welcoming all people into the church, particularly God’s LGBT children. It was as if God had thumped me on the head and said, ‘alright girl, it is time’. So I began the discernment process. Within a period of six weeks, I had completed the discernment process with my committee, presented my report and case to my home parish and received the vestry and rector’s blessing. I made an appointment with the bishop for postulancy.

But alas, it was not to be. You see, I am a lesbian in a long-term committed relationship. Now the Episcopal Church says that I am welcome and deserve everything by rights of my baptismal covenant, but our prior bishop did not see it that way. So after much waiting, I found out that I would not be granted postulancy. The only course of action seemed to be to wait until he had retired and try again.

The only thing that got me through this rough period was prayer and the support of those around me. I know God must have gotten tired of hearing me cry ‘How long, O God, How Long?’. But my prayers were answered in an off-handed way. For reasons still not completely clear to me, I was contacted by the interim dean of the Anglican Academy to start school without my postulancy. I saw this as a sign from God that it was finally time.

One year passed and the 2006 General Convention passed B033 which, among other things, put a moratorium on consecration of non-celibate gay bishops – and some dioceses chose to filter that down to all gays. Then, we didn’t have a diocesan bishop so no one would grant me postulancy. SO, I had to wait another year for postulancy. Again, although my head understood the issues, my heart was torn and I again was crying to God ‘How Long, O God, How Long?’. But finally, in God’s time and with the blessing of this diocese, this spring I received postulancy. And now y’all have me.

It has become increasingly clear that if I had not been delayed, I would never have been here. Father Carroll would not have been your rector, and I would not have been compelled to ask to serve at Good Shepherd.

And as a result,

. . .all the things I am learning here

. . . and the wonderful people I have met

. . . and will cherish forever . . .

would not have happened.

It wasn’t until the end of last spring (the end of my second year of a three-year program) that I realized that the reason God did not answer my prayers to soften people’s hearts earlier was for a more divine reason.

Because I was delayed by one year, I entered a class of twenty-one, including two other gays. The three of us are very diverse and have given the class an experience which would not have happened had I started school when I originally applied. Because we are sure in our belief that God has called us to the ministry, the other class members have gotten to know us and the pain that each of us has gone through to get this far. One of us is a defrocked protestant deacon and the other signed a pledge of celibacy in order to start school; two of us are partnered in long-term, committed relationships. Because we have all been open and honest about our faith and struggles, the diocese has become more open to gay clergy and laity. I believe that is why God did not answer my prayers sooner.

But he DID answer my prayers. . . just as he answers the prayers of all who pray to him. It may not be on our time schedule, but he loves us enough to answer when it is right for us – even when we can’t see that.

Constantly praying for God’s will builds up not only faith, but hope and charity for all his creatures. Praising and thanking a benevolent God strengthens trust, which in turn gives hope. Interceding on another’s behalf deepens the bonds of friendship and love. Prayer naturally increase faith, hope and love. They empower us to obey God’s commands.

Jesus says in this parable that we are ‘to pray always’. That does not mean that we have to pray every single minute of the day. If we did that, those prayers would be dead prayers; we would never have time to do the work required to answer the prayer.

‘Always’ means we should be faithful to our regular times of prayer. And we should pray in the good and bad times. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:7 that ‘long prayers and useless repetition will not make God hear us better’. He already knows our needs.

We need to include in our prayers, not only prayers for help but more importantly prayers of thanksgiving. Think about how many times God has answered a prayer or provided a blessing --- have you thanked Him for those?

Do you pray for God’s will or for your own desires?

Is your faith strong enough to trust God with an unknown future?

“Always” also means that we should always be ready to pray – praying whenever a crisis hits or a need arises. Even the saints found that sometimes their minds wandered, causing them to think about everything else except what they were praying for. In a recent biography of Mother Teresa, she admitted that she always felt distant from God and never was quite sure that He heard her when she prayed. Good prayer habits show our dedication to God and strengthen our relationship with him.

But God is God,

not the arrogant, nonchalant judge of today’s parable.

And He will hear and He will answer

– in his time

- and as you need.

So pray continually and never lose heart.

For surely God will answer your prayers as he has answered mine.

Curing of the Lepers (Or Curing of Nine and Healing of One)

(Delivered at Lindley Assisted Living Center, 14 October 2007)

The Gospel According to Luke, 17:11-19

In this Gospel, we see Jesus traveling between Samaria and Galilee. This was frontier-land and could be dangerous; lots of unsavory characters roamed the roads and waylaid the travelers. Jesus deliberately went this way to seek out the lepers, as the scripture says ‘for he found those that sight him not.’

Leprosy was considered an unclean disease, and those suffering from it knew enough to keep themselves away for other people. They were the most outcast of the outcast. So when they saw Jesus approach, they remained at a distant but cried out to Jesus ‘Master, have mercy on us’. They did not ask to be cured, but only to have Jesus show mercy on them. They had heard stories of Jesus and thought he might help them.

Jesus told them to go to the priest responsible for inspecting the lepers. Now, they all knew they had leprosy and I am sure that some of them thought this was a useless journey. But the all followed Jesus’ instructions and presented themselves to the priest. As they traveled to the priest, they became cured of the leprosy.

But one of the lepers, having realized where his cure had come from, turned back the way he had come to meet Jesus. He knew where the cure had come from and wanted to thank Jesus and glorify God’s name. You see, this man was a Samaritan – someone who was by birth an outcast among the outcasts. The Jews thought the Samaritans were the lowest of all people and would not have normally associated with them.

Eventually the lepers saw the priest and were declared clean. They were cured of the leprosy, but not healed of their dis-ease.

Often times, we are shown mercy by God and don’t think to praise him for his goodness. We often find it is the least expected that appreciate the saving grace; those who may not be raised in the church and Jesus’ teachings.

The Samaritan, but going back and thanking Jesus was made whole again. . . in other words healed, not just cured of the disease. He had the faith in this man Jesus and his faith made him whole. Not only did the Samaritan receive the blessing of a cure of his leprosy, but was doubly blessed because he saw Jesus and knew that he was the Son of God. Jesus’ mercy was two-fold: one in the curing of the disease and again when the Samaritan praised God.

Do we remember to praise God for the little miracles that happen to us everyday?

Or do we just note them and go on about our daily lives?

Are we the cured Jews or a whole Samaritan?

12 October 2007

Liturgical Angels

Daily Reading for October 12
From Episcopal Cafe

The range and variety of intermediary functions of the deacon have been emphasized in recent studies of diakonia. Ormonde Plater, for example, notes that in the liturgy the deacon “embodies two symbols, servant and angel” and recalls from the New Testament the image of the four living creatures guarding the altar of heavenly liturgy, as seen in Revelation 4. Thus the deacon, Plater tells us, is not only a liturgical table waiter but a liturgical angel—a guard and messenger, one who manages and conducts transactions with the outside.

In one of the earliest patristic references to deacons, Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to the Philadelphians, indicates that one of the deacon’s functions is to serve as a messenger outside the liturgy, traveling between the churches of distant cities:

News has reached me that the church at Antioch in Syria is at peace. Consequently, it would be a nice thing for you, as a church of God, to elect a deacon to go there on a mission, as God’s representative, and at a formal service to congratulate them and glorify the Name. (Philadelphians 10)

Bishop Richard Grein has recently generalized the go-between status of the deacon in this way:

I like to think of deacons as people on the boundary, that is, on the boundary where the church and the world interface. On this boundary they sometimes face the world to speak the message of the Gospel. Other times they face the church to speak on behalf of the world. In this their task is to keep the boundary open to exchanges between church and world.

The media of those exchanges are matter/energy (for example, bread and wine) and information (money, words, pictures). Whenever the church is in transaction with the world, there is diakonia and there should be its deacons.

From “Serving Intermediary” by Frederick Erickson, in Diaconal Ministry: Past, Present and Future, edited by Peyton Craighill (North American Association for the Diaconate, 1994).

The seven preachers?

Daily Reading for October 11
From Episcopal Cafe

Philip, Deacon and Evangelist

Deacons have constantly been inspired by the story of the seven Greek men who were presented to the apostles who, in turn, ‘prayed and laid their hands on them’ (Acts 6:6). Tradition has seen in these men, and in particular the most famous of them, Stephen, the forerunners and prototype of the church’s deacons. Ancient authority and nineteenth-century scholarship give to the idea of an original seven deacons the look and feel of authenticity. And yet Lightfoot himself was aware that the idea of deacons so early in the church’s life—and in this passage in particular—had been ‘much disputed’. A prominent contemporary voice here would be that of James Monroe Barnett, a long-standing champion of the diaconate, who closes his pages on the subject with the plain statement, ‘we must conclude that the Seven were not deacons’. This too has been the view which my own study of Acts 6 has demanded. . . .

Luke does not use a diakon-word again until Acts 6:1, where he refers to ‘the daily ministry/diakonia’ (which we have already met in the phrase of the modern translation, ‘daily distribution [of food]’). Then, in the same part of the story, the Twelve rededicate themselves to their original commission of ‘the ministry/diakonia of the word’ (6:4). Luke then closes the scene of the Seven with the tell-tale phrase, ‘the word of God continued to spread’ (6:7).

With these touches Luke keeps us in mind of his major theme as he moves into the great preaching event in the brief career of Stephen, one of the Seven (7:2-53). With Stephen’s death immediately following, the theme of the progress of the Word re-emerges in the account of another member of the Seven, Philip, engaging in a mission to Samaria; Samaria is the first station outside Jerusalem and Judea according to the stages of the Lord’s programme outlined by Luke (1:8). This mission leaves Philip poised at Caesarea, the port leading to Rome (8:4-14, 26-40), which is Luke’s ultimate objective in the trajectory of the Word. . . .

What does this make of the Seven? It makes of the Seven a new group of preachers, directed at first to the needs of the Hellenists—note how happily the story ends at 6:7: ‘the word of God continued to spread; the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem. . . ’ —and then, after the death of Stephen in Jerusalem, to the wide worlds beyond, as begun in Philip’s mission (8:5). Indeed the only other time we hear of Philip he is called simply ‘the evangelist, one of the seven’ (21:8).

From Deacons and the Church: Making Connections between Old and New by John N. Collins. Copyright © 2002. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

10 October 2007

Provide a Place

Particularly relevant in this day and age when there are still presbyters and bishops who do not see the need for deacons as a full and equal order:

Daily Reading for October 10
From Episcopal Cafe

You bishops, gather the faithful with much patience, and with doctrine and exhortation, as ministers of the kingdom everlasting. Hold your assemblies with all decent order, and appoint the places for the brethren with care and gravity.

And for the presbyters let there be assigned a place in the eastern part of the house; and let the bishop’s throne be set in their midst, and let the presbyters sit with him.

But of the deacons let one stand always by the oblations of the Eucharist; and let another stand without by the door and observe them that come in; and afterwards, when you offer, let them minister together in the church.

And if any one be found sitting out of his place, let the deacon who is within reprove him and make him rise up and sit in a place that is meet for him. And let the deacon also see that no one whispers, or falls asleep, or laughs, or makes signs.

For so it should be, that with decency and decorum they watch in the church, with ears attentive to the word of the Lord. But if, while young men or women sit, an older man or woman should rise and give up their place, do thou, O deacon, scan those who sit, and see which man or woman of them is younger than the rest, and make them stand up, and cause him to sit who had risen and given up his place; and him whom thou hast caused to stand up, lead away and make him to stand behind his neighbours: that others also may be trained and learn to give place to those more honourable than themselves.

But if a poor man or woman should come, especially if they are stricken in years, and there be no place for such, do thou, O bishop, with all thy heart provide a place for them, even if thou have to set upon the ground; that thou be not as one who respects the persons of men, but that thy ministry may be acceptable with God.

From the Didascalia Apostolorum, quoted in Deacons and the Church: Making Connections between Old and New by John N. Collins. Copyright © 2002. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

09 October 2007

An Open Letter to the LGBT Community from Bishop Gene Robinson

Received this morning from the Bishop of New Hampshire:

An Open Letter to the LGBT Community
from Bishop Gene Robinson
October 9, 2007

Now that the Church has had some time to absorb and consider the recent meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans and its response to the Anglican Communion, I’d like to share with you what I experienced at the recent House of Bishops meeting, and where I think we are as a result.

There is NO “mind of the House” nor a “mind of the Episcopal Church.” In fact, we are a House and a Church of many different minds. We are in transition from the Church we have been called to be in the past, to the Church we are called to be now and in the future. We are not there yet.

I value highly the thoughts and needs of my brother and sister conservative bishops, who have no intention of leading their flocks out of the Episcopal Church, but come out of dioceses which, for the most part, find the Episcopal Church’s actions of the last four years troublesome and alarming. I listened to them when they voiced the fears of their people that changing our views on homosexuality is a precursor to moving on to denying important tenets of our orthodox faith, from the Trinity to the Resurrection. We worked for a statement which would reflect the diversity we recognize and value as a strength of our Episcopal communion. It was our goal to describe the Church as it currently is: NOT of one mind, but struggling to be of one heart.

My own goal – and that of many bishops – was to do NOTHING at this meeting. That is, our goal, in response to the Primates, was simply to state where we are as an Episcopal Church, not to move us forward or backward. Sometimes, “progress” is to be found in holding the ground we’ve already achieved, when “moving forward” is either untimely or not politically possible. And, doing nothing substantive respects the rightful reminder to us from many in the Senior House that the House of Bishops cannot speak for the whole Church, but rather must wait until all orders of ministry are gathered for its joint deliberations at General Convention.

While many of us worked hard to block B033 and voted against it at General Convention, it IS the most recent declaration of all orders of ministry gathered as a Church. The Bishops merely restated what is, as of the last General Convention.

Yes, we did identify gay and lesbian people as among the group included in those who ‘present a challenge” to the Communion. That comes as a surprise to no one. It is a statement of who we are at the moment. Sad, but true.

Many bishops spoke on behalf of their lgbt members and worked hard to prevent our movement backwards. We fought hard over certain words, certain language. We sidelined some things that truly would have represented a movement backwards.

I want to tell you what I said to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the course of his comments, it seemed to me that the Archbishop was drawing a line between fidelity to our gay and lesbian members, and fidelity to the “process of common discernment,” which he had offered as a prime function of a bishop. I heard him saying that gay and lesbian members of our Church would simply have to wait until there was a consensus in the Communion. When we were invited to respond, I said something like, “Your Grace, I have always respected you as a person and your office, and I always will. But I want you to know and hear, that to me, a gay man and faithful member of this Church, this is one of the most dehumanizing things I’ve heard in a long time, and I will not be party to it. It reminds me of Jesus question ‘Is the Sabbath made for man, or man for the Sabbath?’ Choosing a process over the lives of human beings and faithful members of this Church is simply unacceptable and unscriptural.” The next morning, the Archbishop tried to assure us that he meant both/and rather than either/or. I tried to speak my truth to him.

On the issue of same sex unions, I argued that our statement be reflective of what is true right now in the Episcopal Church: that while same sex blessings are not officially permitted in most dioceses, they are going on and will continue to go on as an appropriate pastoral response to our gay and lesbian members and their relationships. Earlier versions of our response contained both sides of this truth. I argued to keep both sides of that truth in the final version, providing the clarity asked for by the Primates.

Others made the argument that to state that “a majority of Bishops do not sanction such blessings” implied that a minority do in fact sanction such blessings, and many more take no actions to prevent them. All this without coming right out and saying so. That argument won the day. I think it was a mistake.

Another issue to which I spoke was this notion of “public” versus “private” rites. I pointed out on the floor that our very theology of marriage is based on the communal nature of such a rite. Presumably, the couple has already made commitments to one another privately, or else they would not be seeking Holy Matrimony. What happens in a wedding is that the COMMUNITY is drawn into the relationship – the vows are taken in the presence of that community and the community pledges itself to support the couple in the keeping of their vows. It is, by its very nature, a “public” event – no matter how many or how few people are in attendance. The same goes for our solemn commitments to one another as lgbt couples.

I suspect that these efforts to keep such rites “private” is just another version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” If avoidance of further conflict is the goal, then I can understand it. But if speaking the truth in love is the standard by which we engage in our relationships with the Communion, then no.

Let me also state strongly that I believe that the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and Primates MISunderstood us when they stated that they understood that the HOB in fact “declared a ‘moratorium on all such public Rites.’” Neither in our discussions nor in our statement did we agree to or declare such a moratorium on permitting such rites to take place. That may be true in many or most dioceses, but that is certainly not the case in my own diocese and many others. The General Convention has stated that such rites are indeed to be considered within the bounds of the pastoral ministry of this Church to its gay and lesbian members, and that remains the policy of The Episcopal Church.

Lastly, let me respond to the very real pain in the knowledge that the change we long for takes time. This movement forward is going to take a long time. That doesn’t make it right. It certainly does not make it easy. Dr. King rightly said that “justice delayed is justice denied,” but that didn’t stop him from accepting and applauding incremental advances along the way.

We have every right to be impatient. We MUST keep pushing the Church to do the right thing. We must never let anyone believe that we will be satisfied with anything less than the full affirmation of us and our relationships as children of God.

BUT, I will continue to try to remain realistic in my approach. I work hard, and pray hard, to find the patience to stay at the table as long as it takes. And I hope we can refrain from attacking our ALLIES for not doing enough, soon enough. The bridges we are burning today may turn out to be the bridges we want to cross in the future. Let’s not destroy them.

We need to be in this for the long haul. For us to get overly discouraged when we don’t get all that we want, as fast as we want, seems counterproductive to me. We should never capitulate to less than all God wants for us, but to lose heart when we don’t move fast enough, and to attack the Church we are trying to help redeem, seems counterproductive.

The two days of listening to the Archbishop of Canterbury and some members of the ACC were the two hardest days I’ve had since my consecration. (It was a constant and holy reminder to me of the pain all of YOU continue to experience every day at the hands of a Church which is not yet what it is called to be. Ours is a difficult and transforming task: to continue serving a church that seems to love us less than we love it!) I was comforted by the support I DID receive from those straight bishops who spoke up for us, and especially by many of the Bishops of color, who implicitly “got” what I was trying to say and defied the majority with their support of me and of us. I was even encouraged by many conservative bishops’ willingness to work together to craft a statement we, liberal and conservative alike, could all live with.

I believe with my whole heart that the Spirit is alive and well and living in our Church – even in the House of Bishops. I believe Jesus when he told his disciples, on the night before he died for us, that they were not ready to hear and understand all that he had to teach them – and that he would send the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth. I believe that now is such a moment, when the Church, in its plodding and all-too-slow a way, is being guided into truth about its gay and lesbian members. It took ME 39 years to acknowledge who I was as a gay man and to affirm that I too am considered precious by God. Of course, the very next day after telling my parents, I expected them immediately to catch up to what had taken me 39 years to come to. Mercifully, it has not taken them the same 39 years to do so. The Church family is no different. It is going to take TIME.

I voted “yes” to the HOB statement. I believe it was the best we could do at this time. I am far less committed to being ideologically and unrelentingly pure, and far more interested in the “art of the possible.” Am I totally pleased with our statement? Of course not. Do I wish we could have done more? Absolutely. Can I live with it? Yes, I can. For right now. Until General Convention, which is the appropriate time for us to take up these issues again as a Church, with all orders of ministry present. I am taking to heart the old 60’s slogan, “Don’t whine, organize!”

I am always caught between the vision I believe God has for God’s Church, and the call to stay at the table, in communion with those who disagree with me about that vision – or, as is the case for most bishops, who disagree about the appropriate “timing” for reaching that vision of full inclusion. In this painful meantime, please pray for me as I seek to serve the people of my diocese and you, the community of which I am so honored to be a part.

Your brother in Christ,


30 September 2007

Truth in Advertising

Compliments of Louie Crew

29 September 2007

Integrity Responds to the HOB Statement

620 Park Avenue #311 Rochester, NY 14607-2943

September 25, 2007


NEW ORLEANS—The members of Integrity have prayed unceasingly for their bishops as they met this week to consider a response to the primates' communiqué. The bishops were pressured by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other international guests to comply with the primate's demands. The bishops struggled mightily amongst themselves to achieve a clear consensus on how to respond. Integrity is gratified that the final response from the House of Bishop declined to succumb to the pressure to go backwards, but rather took some significant steps forward.

We are encouraged by their strong language against the incursions of uninvited bishops into this province, their commendation of the Anglican Listening Process, their unequivocal support that the Bishop of New Hampshire should receive an invitation to the Lambeth Conference, and their affirmation of safety and civil rights for LGBT persons.

Integrity President Susan Russell said, "In response to requests for 'clarity' the House of Bishops made it clear today that the Episcopal Church is moving forward in faith. I believe today’s response will be received as a sign of great hope that we are committed to working through the hard ground of our differences. I look forward to taking the support of the House of Bishops for the Listening Process with me when I and other Integrity representatives meet with Anglican colleagues in London next month to prepare for our witness at the Lambeth Conference."

"Integrity is confident that The Episcopal Church will continue to move forward," concluded Russell. "Integrity expects General Convention 2009 to be a tipping point for equality. We will be working hard in the months ahead to repeal B033 and to authorize development of a rite for blessing same-sex relationships as steps toward the goal of the full inclusion of all the baptized into the Body of Christ."


The Rev. Susan Russell, President
714-356-5718 (mobile)

Mr. John Gibson, Director of Communications
917-518-1120 (mobile)

The House of Bishops Responds To The Primates

The House of Bishops Responds To The Primates

House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
New Orleans, Louisiana
September 25, 2007

A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by our Anglican Communion Partners

In accordance with Our Lord's high prienstly prayer that we be one, and in the spirit of Resolution A159 of the 75th General Convention, and in obedience to his Great Commission to go into the world and make disciples, and in gratitude for the gift of the Anglican Communion as a sign of the Holy Spirit's ongoing work of reconciliation throughout the world, we offer the following to the Episcopal Church, the Primates, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), and the larger Communion, with the hope of "mending the tear in the fabric" of our common life in Christ.

"I do it all for the sake of the Gospel so that I might share in its blessings." 1 Corinthians 9:23

The House of Bishops expresses sincere and heartfelt thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates for accepting our invitation to join us in New Orleans. By their presence they have both honored us and assisted us in our discernment. Their presence was a living reminder of the unity that is Christ's promised gift in teh power of the Holy Spirit.

Much of our meeting time was spent in continuing discernment of our relationships within the Anglican Communion. We engaged in careful listening and straightforward dialogue with our guests. We expressed our passionate desire to remain in communion. It is our conviction that The Episcopal Church needs the Anglican Communion, and we heard from our guests that the Anglican Communion needs The Episcopal Church.

The House of Bishops offers the following responses to our Anglican Communion partners. We believe they provide clarity and point toward next steps in an ongoing process of dialogue. Within The Episcopal Church the common discernment of God's call is a lively partnership among laypersons, bishops, priests, and deacons, and therefore necessarily includes the Presiding Bishop, the Executive Council, and the General Convention.

* We reconfirm that resolution B033 of General Convention 2006 (The Election of Bishops) calls upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

* We pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.

* We commend our Presiding Bishop's plan for episcopal visitors.

* We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end.

* We support the Presiding Bishop in seeking communion-wide consultation in a manner that is in accord with our Constitution and Canons.

* We call for increasing implementation of the listening process across the Communion and for a report on its progress to Lambeth 2008.

* We support the Archbishop of Canterbury in his expressed desire to explore ways for the Bishop of New Hampshire to participate in the Lambeth Conference.

* We call for unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons.

Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention
The House of Bishops concurs with Resolution EC011 of the Executive Council. This Resolution commends the Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion as an accurate evaluation of Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention, calling upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.

Blessing of Same-Sex Unions
We, the members of the House of Bishops, pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action. In the near future we hope to be able to draw upon the benefits of the Communion-wide listening process. In the meantime, it is important to note that no rite of blessing for persons living in same-sex unions has been adopted or approved by our General Convention. In addition to not having authorized liturgies the majority of bishops do not make allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions. We do note that in May 2003 the Primates said we have a pastoral duty "to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations." They further stated, "...[I]t is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care."

Episcopal Visitors
We affirm the Presiding Bishop's plan to appoint episcopal visitors for dioceses that request alternative oversight. Such oversight would be provided by bishops who are a part of and subject to the communal life of this province. We believe this plan is consistent with and analogous to Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) as affirmed by the Windsor Report (paragraph 152). We thank those bishops who have generously offered themselves for this ministry. We hope that dioceses will make use of this plan and that the Presiding Bishop will continue conversation with those dioceses that may feel the need for such ministries. We appreciate and need to hear all voices in The Episcopal Church.

Incursions by Uninvited Bishops
We call for an immediate end to diocesan incursions by uninvited bishops in accordance with the Windsor Report and consistent with the statements of past Lambeth Conferences and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. Such incursions imperil common prayer and long-established ecclesial principles of our Communion. These principles include respect for local jurisdiction and recognition of the geographical boundaries of dioceses and provinces. As we continue to commit ourselves to honor both the spirit and the content of the Windsor Report, we call upon those provinces and bishops engaging in such insurvions likewise to honor the Windsor Report by ending them. We offer assurance that delegated episcopal pastoral care is being provided for those who seek it.

Communion-wide Consultation
In their communique of February 2007, the Primates proposed a "pastoral scheme." At our meeting in March 2007, we expressed our deep concern that this scheme would compromise the authority of our own primate and place the autonomy of The Episcopal Church at risk. The Executive Council reiterate our concerns and declined to participate. Nevertheless we recognize a useful role for communion-wide consultation with respect to the pastoral needs of those seeking alternative oversight, as well as the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian persons in this and other provinces. We encourage our Presiding Bishop to continue to explore such consultation in a manner that is in accord with our Constitution and Canons.

The Listening Process
The 1998 Lambeth Conference called all the provinces of the Anglican Communion to engage in a "listening process" designed to bring gay and lesbian Anglicans fully into the church's conversation about sexuality. We look forward to receiving initial reports about this process at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and to participating with others in this crucial enterprise. We are aware that in some cultural contexts, conversation concerning homosexuality is difficult. We see an important role for the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in this listening process, since it represents both the lay and ordained members of our constituent churches and so is well placed to engage every part of the body in this conversation. We encourage the ACC to identify the variety of resources needed to accomplish these conversations.

The Lambeth Conference
Invitations to the Lambeth Conference are extended by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Those among us who have received an invitation to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference look forward to that gathering with hope and expectation. Many of us are engaged in mission partnerships with bishops and dioceses around the world and cherish these relationships. Lambeth offers a wonderful opportunity to build on such partnerships.

We are mindful that the Bishop of New Hampshire has not yet received an invitation to the conference. We also note that the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed a desire to explore a way for him to participate. We share the Archbishop's desire and encourage our Presiding Bishop to offer our assistance as bishops in this endeavor. It is our fervent hope that a way can be found for his full participation.

24 September 2007

Are We They?

(Delivered at The Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, Ohio on 23 September 2007)

Amos 8:4-7, 8-12

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, my Lord and my Redeemer.

We are taught in Deacons School that we are to always preach on the Gospel reading for a given Sunday, since one of those things exclusively reserved for Deacons is the proclaiming of the Gospel. And I DID indeed have a sermon prepared on today’s Gospel of Luke. However, the more I read the Old Testament reading of Amos, in fact the more I read all of Amos, the more I felt compelled to preach on that instead.

So, I won’t tell. . . if you don’t tell.

Amos has always been a prophetic man and generally he was a real pain to the Israelites. I have a mental picture of him standing on the rooftops railing away to the Israelites about the things they were doing - and forecasting their gloom and doom. It reminds me of a street preacher who used to stand on the corner of Broad and High in Columbus every day, standing on a soap box and proclaiming the world was going to end in the next couple of hours. He hasn’t been there for a while, and I sometimes wonder what happened to him. He was, most of all, very amusing.

It was interesting to watch people’s reactions to his sermonizing:

· some would literally cross the street to avoid him
· some would lower their heads as they walked by,
· and there were a few brave souls who would take him on.

I can tell you, that he could out shout anyone

. . . except maybe Amos.

In these passages Amos is, once again, admonishing the Israelites. Actually, Amos might be considered the first voice of a social conscience in the world; he preached social justice before we even knew what social justice was.

This time he is shaming the Israelites for the way they were treating the poor. I find these passages are especially relevant today since last Friday was Yom Kippur, the holiest of holy days in the Jewish tradition.

Yom Kippur is a ‘day of atonement’ on which you confess, before the Book of Life is closed, all those things you have done in the last year that are sinful or you consider to be failings. And, in the Jewish tradition, you then can start with a clean slate for the new year.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

On Yom Kippur, even the least observant Jew acknowledged the occasion and all markets and industry were closed. That means, of course, for the money changers and the merchants, this is a day when they are not making any money. . .

not a shekel!

Since most of the merchants were of the noble class, Amos is particularly hard on them

. . .and they are not too happy to have the straggly-bearded, bombastic old man once again slandering them.

They would just as soon he would fall in a hole somewhere and disappear forever. I imagine this is probably like the feeling many folks in Columbus had about that street preacher.

In the time of Amos’ prophesying, money and wealth were considered rewards from God for living a righteous life. This is not unlike the 'Prosperity ministry' a number of modern-day preachers are extolling today (and getting very rich themselves doing so!) "The more you have, the more God loves you" is their common mantra. "If you are doing well, it shows God’s approval. . . God wants you to have a big house and fancy car and pleasure yacht!"

But Amos seems determined to tear down that cultural norm.

Just as in the Parable of the Unjust Steward in the Gospel this morning, there are acceptable ways to accumulate wealth

. . . and there are other ways . .

What Amos is ranting about is the accumulation of wealth at the expense of:

the poor,
the homeless,
the hungry,
the ill,
the elderly ….

all of those who are without a voice, a protector, a way to provide for themselves.

I can imagine the merchants and nobles sitting around grousing because they could not open their shops, beating their breasts about the money they were losing, and plotting how to make up for it.

Aha, someone said,

"Let’s make the ephah small and the shekel great".

In other words, they were going to buy things with a light weight (the ephah was used as the weight when buying things and the shekel was used when selling things)and sell it with a heavy weight. In no time they would recover their losses from the holiday.

What a great idea!

Just like selling products more cheaply today…

products that are shoddy and easily fall apart,
and are made by someone on a poverty wage in a foreign country . . .

a practice that is also taking away the jobs of some of our neighbors
. . . causing them to need cheaper and cheaper products;
. . .an endless cycle demeaning honest work.

In addition, they were going to "buy the poor for silver" -- because the poor were so needy, they were going to be "righteous" and hire them for just enough money to keep them indebted. This brings to mind the old company houses that used to exist in coal mine towns or on large plantations during Reconstruction and even in Detroit in the early years of the auto industry.

It is what the World Bank is doing to many third world nations today, enabling them to only payback their interest and never any of the principle.

Were . . . and are . . . these people looking out for their neighbors . . .
or just lining their own pockets?

And they bought the needy for the price of a pair of sandals”. . .

Think how distraught and desperate someone would have to be in order to be bought for such little money in order to have a pair of shoes to wear.

Even today the roads of the Holy Land are dusty and rocky and the weather is hot;
one must have sandals. In Biblical times, it was even more difficult to navigate those roads and paths, so sandals were an essential part of life.

How arrogant and cruel to indenture another human being for such a small thing as sandals.

Or today,

for food stamps . . .
or a used winter coat . . .
or a ramshackled tenement to live in.

But, isn’t that what we, as a society, are doing today when we hook people on welfare – giving them just enough to subsist but not enough to make a better life.

Even our soldiers risking their lives in the Middle East are only getting an average of $1500 a month in wages, forcing their wife and children to depend on their families for help just to exist.

Should Amos be railing at us about this situation?

I think he would be standing on the top of the Capitol Dome in Washington yelling his lungs out!!

Amos warns that if the Israelites don’t change their ways, there is going to be rumblings of the earth and upheavals like the flooding of the Nile. Maybe he meant

that the oppressed would rise up,
there would be much dissention and moving about in the streets,
and people would be protesting against unjust conditions.

Does any of that sound familiar?

Been watching TV lately?

God remembers the sins of the mighty against his lowly. And there will be retribution. Amos warns that all this ill-gotten gain is going to naught; it will be no more.

And they will be left monetarily poor and their souls will be bankrupt.

The righteous can always look to God for assurance, but those with no souls have no source of succor.

Individual sins and national sins will be atoned by God. And there will be retribution.

And there shall be great mourning among those who forsake righteousness for their own greed. The famine will be a famine of the soul; many times they had the opportunity to listen to the prophets calling them short, but now they are past the time of grace. Theirs will be a life of sorrow and the Kingdom of God will be taken from them.

In verse 12, Amos foretold: “They shall wander from sea to sea, from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the world of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

I want you to take a minute and consider what is going on in the Middle East right now. . . who are the greedy?

Who is trampling down the poor and needy?

Who is profiting while the majority of the people are going without water and electricity and health care?

Who is sitting in Saudi palaces or coastal mansions and sprawling ranches while their brothers and sisters are living amidst violence, disease, misery, and chaos of their making?

Have we become those to Amos’ prophecy? are we they?

Do we sit here, fat, dumb and happy, because our economy is growing due to the wealth generated by big business as it wages war? Because our earthly stock is going up?

Mark 16:9 says “lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal”.

Do we do nothing because we think we are only one person and can do nothing to affect world problems?

Do we shrug and say “it is out of our hands”?

A renown 19th century clergy, Reverend Everett Hale, said it so well:

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

17 September 2007

Parable of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin

(delivered at Lindley Assisted Living Center, 16 September 2007)

The Gospel According to Luke, 15:1-10

You will have noticed that we have been hearing a lot of parables in the last couple months. We are currently reading from The Gospel According to Luke, and parables are one of Jesus' favorite means of teaching.

Today, we again have a parable that is really two parables, but concentrate on the same teachings.

In the first part of this parable, a shepherd finds that one of his 100 sheep has wandered off. We need to remember that a herd of only 100 sheep was pretty small and indicated that the shepherd was not of moderate means; each and every one of those sheep provided a livelihood for himself and food and clothing for his family.

So the shepherd goes off to find that one lost sheep. When he finds him he lifts him to his shoulders and rejoices that the lost has been found. He calls all his friends together to celebrate finding the lost sheep.

We all can remember those pictures we have seen since childhood of the shepherd with the sheep on his shoulder.

What a happy sight!

In the second part of this parable, a silver coin is lost. This coin was the equivalent to a day’s wages. That is a significant amount of money, even now. After turning the house upside down, turning over beds, and sweeping all the dust bunnies out of the corners, the woman finds the coin and rejoices. She too calls her neighbors together to celebrate that the lost has been found.

In each of these parables something of value is lost or misplaced.

Don’t you think that we are as valuable to God as the coin and sheep were to their owners?

We find throughout the Bible that Jesus is always associating with sinners: remember when he ate with the tax collectors and talked to women of ill repute.

Those were the people to whom Jesus brought the good news of God’s love and the path to salvation; these were the lost that would be celebrated when found. Even the angels celebrate when a sinner is found. God is far happier when one lost soul is found those nine-nine good souls.

We need to remember that God is diligently looking for sinners. We never escape his eyes. And he has sent disciples to show us the way. We meet them every day; they show us the way to repentance and salvation. God continues to sweep in every corners, round up the dust bunnies and turn over every stone to find those of us who have lost our way.

So, no matter how ‘lost’ we may feel, we can be assured that someone will come and ‘find’ us and show us the way. And when we repent, there is great rejoicing in Heaven,

Even the angels are dancing!

04 September 2007

Services at Lindley

Every other week members of the congregation of The Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens goes to the Lindley Inn Assisted Living Center for a service and hymn sing. We have an average of 10-20 people each time and they really seem to enjoy the service and hymns.

Most of these residents are Methodists and Presbyterians so we do an 'Episcopal Light' service with opening collect, a psalm, the Gospel reading and Eucharist. Lots of hymns are interspersed before we close with a hymn sing. It has given me a chance to sing all those oldy-moldy hymns that are not considered 'vogue' today. The first time I did the service, when we started singing, everyone stopped, cocked their heads and listened to me sing. Singing unprepared solos was not exactly what I had in mind --- guess I will have to go back to voice lessons. Now they are accustomed to my singing and we all sing together.

It is at the discretion of the person officiating as to whether they will deliver a homily or not; since I am supposed to be learning to preach, I have begun preparing a 'sermon-ette' based on one or all of the readings that makes a single point that they might then think about the rest of the week (I would hope).

I really think I get more out of the service than they do. And I have acquired a couple of 'gentlemen' friends who wouldn't miss the service for anything!
The average age of the communicants is probably at least 80, but they seem to enjoy the fellowship and certainly enjoy the hymn sing.

This ministry has become an integral part of my diaconal training and will be something that I carry with me for the rest of my life. In my dreams, I have envisioned being a chaplain at the assisted living center and this biweekly event has only reinforced how much I like to bring the love of God to older people. Hmmmm - is there a calling there?

If you check my blog on a regular basis, you will find those full-length sermons I do monthly as well as these little 'sermon-ettes' that I do at Lindley.


The Parable of the Great Feast

(delivered on 2 September 2007 at Lindley Inn Assisted Living Center, Athens, OH 2 Sep 2007)

The Gospel According to Luke (14, 1, 7-14)

In this Gospel reading, we again find Jesus teaching through a parable – but this time we get two for the price of one. But they both deal with the issue of hospitality.

Jesus is invited to Sabbath dinner at the home of a Pharisee; there are lots of important people there and they are all watching Jesus to see what he will do. These Pharisees were gathering information that will later be used in Jesus’ trial in Jerusalem.

At these feasts, the tables were usually arranged in three levels so that the most important people were at the elevated tables where they could see and be seen. When Jesus noticed that the invited guests were jockeying for the ‘best’ seats, he used a parable to speak of the quality of humility.

The people trying to get the best seats felt they deserved it because of their position/reputation. Or those people who wanted to be seen as important even if they weren’t . . . sort of guilt by association. This was the time before place cards, so there was a free-for-all as people arrived – each one trying to get the most visible and honored seat.

Jesus’ warning to them was to consider the embarrassment if the host had intended those seats for others and asked them to move.

Can you imagine how you would feel if you were seated where everyone could see you and then had to move to a lesser table?

Your ego would be deflated and you would certainly lose face in the eyes of the other guests.

But those who chose to sit in a lesser seat would not have to move -- or may even be invited by the host to sit at the higher table.

This parable speaks to the humility of God’s children. In ancient times, those seated at the lower tables were considered servants to the upper tables. So, those who chose to sit at the lower tables recognized that although they may have gifts and talents that warranted their sitting in a special place, they were humble enough to realize that these gifts and talents brought them no special treatment. They knew that service, especially service to God, was far more important than prestige.

In the second lesson, Jesus gives a warning to the host that he should not invite only his friends or people who would be obligated to return the favor, but ask those who did not have the means to invite him back in return. As is the custom today, when someone invites you to dinner, you have to reciprocate with an invitation. This is a social obligation which most people do not violate. So it becomes a tit-for-tat. If you want to be seen with prestigious people, invite them to a feast and then they will have to invite you.

But by including those who were poor, crippled, lame and blind, the host would be fulfilling Jesus’ reminder that ‘what you do for the least of these, you do to me’. There would be no expected return from the invitation.

From these parables, we are reminded that we should give back to God with those talents He has given us and we should care for those less fortunate than ourselves.

This is the way to Heaven.

29 August 2007

Is That Door Really ‘Narrow’?

delivered on 26 August 2007 at Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH

The Gospel According to Luke (13:20-33)

The readings for today suggest that not everyone is going to be saved or go to Heaven. In Isaiah, people are told that even though they thought they had their immortality guaranteed, God was going to have His will. Making deals with the Devil was not going to save them; God would rise up and to smite down those who denied him.

This is not a new story – how many time did the Israelites get too big for their own good and end up on the wrong side of God?

Let’s see:

• I remember that they wandered around for forty years because they couldn’t take directions. . .

• and I seem to remember an exile in Egypt. . .

• and one in the land north of Samaria.

Seems like they never quite learned the lesson; when things got tough, they turned away from God to something that seemed to offer more security.

In Hebrews, we are reminded that through Jesus, God has become loving God, rather than the threatening and vengeful God of the Old Testament. Through Jesus we are welcomed into the heavenly Jerusalem. This Heavenly Jerusalem is best depicted in Revelation 21 as a place where God lives with his people, where he ‘wipes away every tear’ from our eyes, there is no death, no pain or suffering, no sorrow or crying. This new city of Jerusalem is a vision that defies our imagination. This jeweled city is without a temple because God is everywhere; the Holy Spirit is always with us, and we are with other believers. And this new Jerusalem will be all that is standing when the world crumbles. Anything built on the foundation of the teachings of Jesus and God’s love will remain while all else falls. All we have to do is follow Jesus to get in; nothing else can save us.

So, according to the readings so far, we are all sitting pretty. . .

We are Christians who love Jesus and try to follow his teachings. That means we are going to be saved and live in the New Jerusalem.


Well, Not exactly!

In the Gospel, we find Jesus traveling toward the worldly Jerusalem – the place where he will suffer and be crucified. . a far cry from the picture of the New Jerusalem in Hebrews and Revelation.

Although he knew where he was headed and what was going to happen, he continued on the road, preaching whenever a group of people gathered. Here was a man walking to his own death, but assuring throngs of others that God’s love was immeasurable and eternal if they would only follow Him.

I think, had that been me, I would have been inclined to run as fast as I could in the other way. And I think most other people would have too.

But not Jesus! He trudged on down that dusty road!

As Jesus was teaching, someone wanted to know who would be saved. If you remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer wanted to know how to be saved. Although we have learned that salvation is for everyone, our own human foibles cause us to question our own worthiness. So this was a question that Jesus got on a regular basis. Last time, in the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked who was our neighbor. This time he gets a little more specific about who will and won’t be saved.

We can all picture that narrow door, just wide enough for some to pass through but not for others. Jesus says the door to salvation is like that. But the ‘narrow’ is not whether you are fat or skinny; the ‘narrow’ is the focus of your belief and your desire to know and follow Jesus.

We all know some very prominent ‘Christians’ who wear their faith on their sleeve like a badge of honor – who say, ‘Look at me, I am the perfect Christian’. But in their private or non-public lives they live for their own selves and gathering of riches and fame. They may be outwardly ‘godly’ but are inwardly morally corrupt.

Do you think they are going to be in Heaven?

What did Jesus say about them in the Scriptures?

We can only be saved by the grace of God through his son, Jesus. Even the most lowly can enter the door if they have a true desire to follow Jesus; no amount of wealth or influence can buy our way into God’s love. Only through acknowledging our sinfulness and accepting God’s forgiveness can we enter that door. Listening to the words of Jesus or admiring his teachings are not enough

Let’s talk a minute about the ‘narrow’ door.

The narrowness of the door refers to the commitment in our own lives to turn away from sin and walk ‘the straight and narrow’. We all slip from this path from time to time, but all is not lost. Repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness gets us back through that narrow door. As many times as we sin, are we forgiven more than that.

Jesus says that there are many who expect to be in Heaven, who will not make it and there will be some you would not expect to be there.

The reference in the Gospel of east and west, north and south suggests that no one will be excluded who believes in God.

A common interpretation of this piece of scripture by renowned theologians suggests that even those who do not know Jesus, or have acknowledged him as a great rabbi but rejected him as the Messiah will still be saved. The people of the New Jerusalem will be the true people of Israel – those who are the people of God.

One of the most often quoted Scriptures is the last of this reading: ‘the last will be first and the first will be last’.

There are going to be surprises in God’s kingdom. People who are despised on earth will be greatly honored;

• might we find that smelly, homeless man
• the person with a mental illness that makes us so uncomfortable that
we cross the street to avoid them?

Some individuals highly-respected on earth will be left standing outside the door. Those with wealth, influence and materials means may find themselves outside looking in;

• how about the pastor of a large megachurch who embezzled funds because
he felt he deserved it?

Only a person’s commitment to Christ gets you through the door. And only God knows what is really in our hearts.

So, the narrow door does not bar those who are too fat to fit through, but those who are not focusing their lives on following Jesus. By narrowing our eyes to Jesus, we are given the wideness of God’s mercy as we are reminded in the old hymn, There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy:

There's a wideness in God's mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

How strong is your commitment to following Jesus?

Will you be standing outside the gate wailing or inside eating in the kingdom of God?

Each one of us needs to search our hearts and figure out where we will be standing. We never know when the time will come. . . it may be today or tomorrow.

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, please give us the strength to admit our faults and the forgiveness of thy loving mercy to enter into thy holy kingdom.


15 July 2007

What Kind of Samaritan Are You?

This was my first sermon at The Church of the Good Shepherd. Bill Carroll was on vacation and we couldn't get a supply priest so I officiated at a Rite II Morning Prayer.

The Gospel According to Luke (10:25-37)

Before I start, let me do a little introduction of the role of the Deacon in preaching.

For those of you who were here least Sunday, Rev David McCoy did a good job of embarrassing me, and setting some expectations that I hope I can meet. At the Anglican Academy, we preach as part of the diaconal training, but only to other diaconal students. I really would like your feedback on my sermons. This diocese has established a thing called a ‘deacon sermon’ which we are to preach. It differs from the priest’s sermon – we are supposed to make you feel a little (or lot) uncomfortable and challenge you to take action to make a difference in the world.

So, here we go!

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Today’s Gospel of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known of all Jesus’ parables. There probably isn’t anyone who ever attended Sunday School who can’t repeat this parable.

On the surface, this parable seems to address Jesus’ teachings that we are our brother’s keeper; we are to take care of others whenever they need help.

But there is much more in this little story than appears at first glance.

Let’s look at each of the characters:

The lawyer asks Jesus how he could have eternal life. Being a lawyer, he wanted a concrete list of "do's" that would guarantee he gets to Heaven. Jesus asks what the Jewish law says. Being a lawyer and a learned man, he recites the law:

• love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind;

• love your neighbor as yourself.

This fundamental law can be recited by most Christians and exists in similar form in almost all religions. It is the primary requirement for our relationship with God.

But, is being able to recite the law enough to get to Heaven?

The thieves saw an easy mark in the man on the road. They beat him, stripped him of his belongings and left him for dead. Maybe they were loving their neighbor as themselves, but I don’t think that is exactly what the law meant. Do you?

Along came a priest, someone who should be have been a living example of the law. Did he help the poor man? NO!! - he crossed the road so he would not have to see him. Whether he didn’t want to get his hands dirty or perceived he had something more important to do, he crossed to the other side of the road so he wouldn’t have to "see" him.

Enter the Levite – a member of one of the original tribes of Israel – the tribe who was responsible for religious functions. Now, wouldn’t you think that he would come to the aid of the man? After all, a Levite’s primary purpose in the community was to judge actions against the Jewish law and remind people of their obligations to God.

So, did he? NO!! – he crossed to the other side of the road so he would not have to deal with him. (Like being out of sight was out of mind – and therefore he had no responsibility).

The innkeeper saw the injured man, not as his neighbor, but as a source of revenue. Had the man appeared at this door without the Samaritan, he would have been turned away. The innkeeper had better things to do than care for a battered, bloody man who obviously had no money or means of payment. And this poor mangled man hanging around the inn would give his inn a bad name! This kind of trouble he did not need.

Then a Samaritan came along. Samaritans were the lowliest of all people to the Jews – they evolved from the intermarriage of the Jews with idol worshippers when they were exiled in the north. They were a reminder the Jews would prefer not to remember. They were so hated by the Jews that most would not even say their name.

(Did you notice that the lawyer could not bring himself to say ‘the Samaritan’ when asked by Jesus who was a neighbor)?

Samaritans were considered unclean and were to be avoided at all cost. Think about the story of Jesus and the woman at the well; remember the kind of grief he took from the disciples because he took water from her? We may not call them Samaritans today, but there are plenty of people who are outcast and marginalized that most people would cross the road to avoid. (Think about the homeless, mentally ill, non-Christians).

But are they not our neighbors?

The Samaritan, not caring that the man under any other circumstances would recoil from his touch, bandaged his wounds. Then he put him on his animal and took him to a nearby inn. . . a place where the Samaritan would probably not have been welcome, or would have had to enter through the back door (doesn't that sound familiar?) He tended the man until he had to leave; he gave the innkeeper money to see to his needs. He trusted that the innkeeper would do the right thing while he was gone; he promised to pay any additional expenses when he returned.

He was his brother’s keeper!

Where do we see ourselves in this parable?

Are we the priest or the Levite – so assured in our holiness . . . or too absorbed in our own lives?

Are we the lawyer – wanting a cookie cutter guide to Heaven, not willing to give up our own prejudices?

Or are we the Samaritan – someone who goes out on a limb, inconveniencing ourselves so that someone who has greater needs is ministered to?

Do we consider that all people are our neighbors?

Not just those who live in Athens or Columbus as I do. . . or Athens county and surrounds?

Or those who are Episcopalian . . . or Christian?

Jesus told us "the greatest of these is love" and showed us that love by his death on the cross . . . for his neighbors . . for all mankind.

There is no secret answer (even though the lawyer really wanted one). To the Samaritan, the man on the road was worth being cared for and loved.

Just as Jesus let us know by his death that all of us are worthy of dying for.


12 July 2007

A Message to the Church

Edited version of a speech first given at the Claiming the Blessing
Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, November 8, 2002

We are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the Continuance of as broad a diversity—including theological—as is possible for us to maintain together. This commitment is, in part, a commitment to continued messiness and frustration … Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which for us to live. But learning to live together must mean “mutual deference” not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being “moderates.”

My second message to the church at large is that we are not going anywhere. Gay and lesbian Christians make up a significant portion of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. We will continue to do so after General Convention 2003 no matter what happens. We will not attempt to get our way by threatening to leave. I ask those on all sides of this debate to make this commitment as well.

Now three comments especially for our conservative brothers and sisters.

First, we do not desire for you to go away. Yes, some sympathizers with our movement have said from time to time that it would be just as well if you did. Of course, some of yours have said the same about us. Let us together commit ourselves to finding every way possible to move forward with our debate without threatening either schism or purge. It is simply not necessary for us to do so.

Second, we do not desire to force same-sex blessings on you or anyone. We do desire to enable them in those places where the church is ready to receive them as a blessing but is not able to because of an understandable desire for some level of national recognition. Of course we will continue to work towards local communities desiring to bless same-sex unions. Of course you will work to keep them from doing so. We ought to be able to live with each other’s efforts on that level. Third, we do challenge you to stop scapegoating lesbian and gay Christians for every contemporary ill in the Church, particularly for our current state of disunity or the potential for the unraveling of the Anglican Communion.

You know as well as we do that the issues are far deeper than human sexuality. They are issues of scriptural interpretation and authority, including the very different polities that exist in different provinces of the Communion and whether or not local autonomy is a defining characteristic of Anglicanism. Issues of human sexuality are just one tip of that very large iceberg and if sexuality went completely away tomorrow, the iceberg would still be there.

This movement is not about getting our way or else. This movement is a means to further the healthy debate within the Church, to deepen it on a theological level, to begin to articulate how we see the blessing of same-sex unions as a part of the Church’s moving forward in mission rather than hindering mission. We believe that it is time for the church to claim the blessing found in the lives of its faithful lesbian and gay members and to further empower them for the mission of the Church. We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavor that holds as much of this church we love together as possible. We ask all our fellow-Episcopalians to join us even if they disagree with us.

The Reverend Michael Hopkins
Past-president of Integrity USA
Rector of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene, Rochester NY

* Thanks to Rev Susan Russell for making this available.