Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fishing in a Divisive Climate

A few years ago I was speaking with a Canadian friend about the "climate" in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. We hadn't seen one another in a couple of years and in that time the climate in both churches had become more contentious. Disagreements, which had always been there, were becoming acrimonious. We were being infected, I concluded, as North American politics had, with the virus of a dismissive and demonizing rhetoric. Those with whom we disagree were no longer friends or sisters and brothers in Christ, but the enemy and not worthy of our respect.

Paul, in the Epistle lesson for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (1 Corinthians 1:10-18), seemed to be dealing with this same problem in the First Church of Christ in Corinth. Divisions were threatening the life of the congregation, with members breaking up into factions on the basis of which person had baptized them. I suspect that Paul saw nothing wrong with folks having some affection for those who had brought them into the Church, but Paul knew that one person who really mattered was Christ and he could not be divided.

Whether our divisions now are based upon personal history, e.g., who was rector when we joined the parish, or upon our deeply held convictions, we put the ministry of the parish in peril when we let those divisions become a roadblock to our working together. Like the not at all solitary work of fishing in the Sea of Galilee, our work in ministry is a communal affair. Even when one of us appears to be working alone, e.g., at a hospital bedside, that work is supported by the prayers of the community and flows out of our sharing in the life and worship of the community.

I believe that God is calling us to "fish" together in this divisive climate, to refuse to allow disagreements to divide us, and to persevere in working together to proclaim, in words and in action, the Good News of God's love incarnate in Jesus.

My Friend, and Not a Stranger

My friend Otey died last week and yesterday we had a grand celebration of his life. I am not sure how tall Otey was, probably about 6'7", so no matter where he was in Church on Sundays, you knew he was there. One Friday last year Otey noticed that our Office Administrator had to stand on a pew to change the numbers on the hymn boards and he volunteered to do that each week, something he could do standing on the floor.

What was important about Otey wasn't so much the things he did, although we appreciated them, but that he was our friend. He understood that Jesus, who calls us friends, has called us to be friends with one another. Being a friend doesn't mean that we always agree with one another or that we always approve of what a friend does. It means, as it meant for Otey, that we are committed to one another for the long haul, that we are there for one another, as my mother used to say, come hell or high water.

I will miss Otey. He was my friend, and, if I'm not wrong about friendship in Christ, he is still my friend and will be my friend forever.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Light to the Nations

Matthew begins his account of the Good News with these words: "An account of the genealogy (or birth) of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham." The first chapter ends with Joseph naming the child Jesus, as he had been told to by the angel who appeared to him in a dream. By naming the child, Joseph, a descendant of David, claimed for Jesus that same lineage.

But son of Abraham is another matter. John the Baptist would later challenge those who heard his preaching but did not take it to heart: "Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." To be a child of Abraham is to be the inheritor of a promise: "I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice." All the nations of the earth are to be blessed by the offspring of faithful Abraham.

To make that point perfectly clear, Matthew goes on in chapter two to tell the story of the Magi, who are not descendants of Abraham, but are foreigners, gentiles, and who come to Bethlehem to worship and to be blessed. In this holy Child will God's promise to Abraham. In this Child will all the peoples of the earth find blessing. Sadly, the Church has far too often claimed the blessing only for itself. Far too often we have hid the Light, not under a bushel basket, but behind walls of prejudice and arrogance and triumphalism. Far too often we act as if the Church was in business to serve us, rather in the business of serving others, of proclaiming and spreading the reign of God, of being a blessing to all the nations of the earth. The promise to Abraham means that the nations have a claim on us, have a right to expect that through us they will receive God's blessing.

When Jesus began his ministry, Matthew tells us that his first sermon was simple: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." The reign of God has begun and we are called to repent and become a blessing.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


My wife and I went to see the movie on New Year's Day. Near the end of the movie, as the Mujhadin were beginning to shoot down Soviet helicopters, I suddenly thought of the young men who were flying in those helicopters. They had not chosen to go to Afghanistan, they had been sent there to kill and to die, like young men - and now young women - in countless wars. As we were leaving the theater my wife said that she would have liked the movie more if it had been fiction.

But the story isn't fiction. And because it isn't fiction, we are called to work and pray for peace.


(An excerpt of a sermon by Karl Rahner set these thoughts in motion.)

We are the beginning a new year, the year of Grace 2008. Of course for the Church the new year began four weeks ago with the first Sunday in Advent and this is the beginning of the secular year. As much as we might like to live in the Church or in the cloister, we ae called to live out our discipleship in the world, just as Jesus was called to live out his Passion in the world. We only have to look at the beginning of the 2nd chapter of the Gospel according to Luke or the beginning of the 3rd chapter to see that the story of Jesus’ birth is set in the world. We find mention of Emperor Augustus and Quirinius and Emperor Tiberius and Pontius Pilate and Herod and Philip, secular rulers, before we even find mention of two religious leaders, Annas and Caiaphas. It was in the world that Jesus shared the Good News with fishermen and tax collectors and lepers and prostitutes and even, when pressed, with a Syrophoenician woman and her daughter.

In the Church Year this day is the Feast of the Holy Name. In the history of salvation, names are important. The Divine Name, which we out of respect for our ancestors in the faith will rarely say, means something like, I am who I am or I will become what I will become. Perhaps another way to understand it is as God’s way of saying, “You can never really know who I am, so stop worrying about it.” The Name of Jesus, however, tells us something important about this One whose Name we can never really know. It tells us that this One is One who saves. We know that we can’t save ourselves. We’ve tried and we’ve failed. But here in Jesus we meet the One who saves. In Jesus we can confidently claim the name of sinner. We can, in a phrase from Roman Catholic priest and theologian James Alison, embrace the joy of being wrong.

We are called to live this year of Grace under the sign of the Holy Name of Jesus, to live in faithful trust in the One who saves.