Sunday, August 10, 2008
Our parish now has a group on Facebook. To join the group, go to http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=28599381225. If you don't already have a personal Facebook account, you will need to create one before you can join the group.
What is a Facebook? It's a social networking site popular with many young people.
If you are a veteran Facebook user and are interested in maintaining the parish group, let me know!
Friday, August 8, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
Living in the kingdom of God means we have many choices to make. Most of these choices have to do with the attitudes we have toward life, our philosophy of life, our worldview. These shape our actions.
When Jesus called people to repent because the kingdom was near, and when he asked people to follow him, what he was asking them to do was to change their minds, to look at the world in a different way. He asks us to do the same. In doing so he was and is echoing his ancestor Isaiah.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
The prophet Isaiah says a very non-sensical thing at the beginning of this morning’s first reading. He says
You that are without money, come, buy and eat!
Now that doesn’t make any sense at all. How can you buy and eat when you have no money?! The answer is God’s desire for a day when life’s necessities will be without price, when there will be an abundance for all.
But we live in the real world, don’t we? The necessities of life do cost money. But people of faith are called to live with their eyes on the prize—to have an attitude of abundance even in the midst of scarcity.
The Gospel story is clearly about this same desire of God’s.
We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.
The real world in which the disciples lived was a world of scarcity. There was not enough to feed the crowd. They wanted Jesus to do the realistic thing and send the crowd away. But Jesus says, “Bring what you have to me.” And scarcity becomes abundance.
One of those attitudes God wants us to have if we are to live in the kingdom of God is abundance. And we have to choose that attitude over having an outlook of scarcity. Yes, this is something like the old “seeing the glass half empty or half full.” We are called to be “half full” people.
This is not an easy thing to do. It takes a conscious effort to see the world through the eyes of abundance rather than the eyes of scarcity. We are taught that we should pay more attention to what we don’t have than what we do have. Almost all the messages we get—particularly from the advertising world—reinforce this outlook.
Among other things, this means that we are not thankful. We are the opposite; we are anxious. One of the great challenges of faith is to be a thankful person, no matter what your circumstances. And this often means letting go, or at least holding very, very lightly, what you do not have. Don’t let scarcity control your life.
Three ways this can make a difference in our lives right now.
Our city. We have problems. We have to be honest about that. Violence among our young people is epidemic; poverty reinforces that awful reality. Kids don’t have much respect for life because it doesn’t seem to be worth much.
We need to find ways to combat poverty and violence, concrete ways. Something beyond the concrete needs to happen as well, however—something internal, something spiritual. It’s an attitude of gratitude that our people need, being thankful for the life we have been given and trusting in God’s abundance.
We liberal/progressive folk tend to talk about the concrete things that need to happen to end violence and alleviate poverty. We think it should be a priority of government to do these things. And we are right.
But we also must pay attention to the spiritual need that is out there and the conversion from an outlook of scarcity to an outlook of abundance that needs to happen. We ought to be not only in the advocacy and service business, but in the conversion business as well.
But you may protest, how can someone living in poverty be grateful, how can they see life as being abundant rather than scarce? Sometimes I think such a person can do it more easily than middle class folks because middle class folks are so obsessed with what they don’t have. There’s always something more and better to own. Remember Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is what he was talking about.
We need to spread the good news of God’s abundant creation, of life-transforming gratitude. Then, of course, we need to back that up with the willingness to share.
A second way we need to move from scarcity to abundance—in our own parish.
Most of you will have gotten the letter by now that came with your mid-year giving report. It was not a good news letter. It was honest about how financially we are struggling, depleting our endowment fund at an alarming rate.
Your vestry and I hesitated to send such a letter because, although we wanted to be realistic, we didn’t want to cause a “parish funk.” Another way of putting it is that we didn’t want to trigger an attitude of scarcity.
In the situation we are in it would be right to be honest about where we are and to take seriously our stewardship, but it would be wrong to wring our hands, say, “Woe is us,” and begin to operate as if our resources were scarce.
In spite of where we are we need to maintain a positive attitude of gratitude. We have been given so much, all of us as individuals and us as a parish. Now is the time to be realistic, but it is not the time for anxiety. We will see this through? Why? Because we serve a good God who has given us great gifts. We are saved by God’s abundant generosity and we are called to live out of that abundant generosity, not anxious scarcity. Generosity will save us, not scarcity.
Third, personally. Jesus says in John’s Gospel
I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
It’s another way of talking about living in the kingdom of God—living in the kingdom of God is abundant living.
Abundant living does not start with acquiring anything. It starts with an attitude—the attitude of gratitude, the belief that God has given us abundant gifts, beginning with his generous love.
As followers of Jesus we believe that starting point makes all the difference in life. It enables us to continue to be grateful even when our circumstances are difficult. To use St. Paul’s words from last week, there is “nothing that can separate us from the love of God,” and so there is nothing that can separate us from gratitude.
Abundant living is how I look at life, not how life looks at me.
Again I have to emphasize that this is a deliberate, conscious choice, one we have to make over and over again, pretty much on a daily basis. We all live with enormous temptation to give into anxiety and an outlook of scarcity. We must fight that with all our might. It is the great spiritual struggle—abundance or scarcity, anxiety or gratitude.
In all these things we can keep coming back to this Altar. We are a Eucharistic people in order that we might be a thankful people, a “glass half full people.” Each week we come here to say “thank you,” no matter what has happened to us, and we enact God’s abundance in lifting up the food that is enough for all.
Let us keep our eyes on the prize—the abundance of God. Let us be a “glass half full” people.
For two Sundays in a row now, some terrific parables from Jesus about the kingdom of heaven have ended with a pretty ominous threat. The evil will be separated from the righteous and “thrown into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It is a favorite phrase of Matthew’s (and it only occurs in his Gospel). Matthew and his community had a taste, if you will, for judgment.
One should note that it is judgment “at the end of the age.” It is God’s judgment not ours, and the parables it follows are very clear that we are not to be judging in the present. Leave the weeds in the field. Gather fish of every kind in the net.
But that still leaves the threat intact, just delayed. There remains that option of a furnace of fire and eternal torment—hell, we have come to call it.
There’s no getting around the fact that the Bible does imagine something like hell—eternity lived apart from God which we are promised is eternity in anguish. But it is easy for the threat to get blown way out of proportion. Two things are important for us to keep perspective.
First of all, despite the sound of Matthew’s separation of the righteous from evil doers, the overall biblical witness is that hell—separation from God—is something we choose. It is a state created by the use of our own freedom and the one thing God will never, ever take away from us is our freedom.
I imagine judgment something like this. My life will be passed before me and I will have to acknowledge all the ways I have fallen short—to use the words of the confession we are now using, “the evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf.”
But that doesn’t change what Jesus did for us on the cross. We are forgiven sinners; our acceptance by God is sealed. That will be the amazing good news brought home one last time as we face our Maker. Yet even at the end we can choose to say no, refuse, for whatever reason, to either deny or to say an outright “no” to our acceptance.
Personally I can’t imagine anyone actually doing that, but as I said, I believe we are utterly free for eternity.
You see (and this is my “second of all”), we can allow the thought of judgment and hell to scare us or we can hear and believe the words of St. Paul this morning. It is Jesus who is our judge, the same Jesus who died for us, who totally united his life to ours in an act of love so total that nothing can separate us from it.
Hell is not a place where anybody has actually to be. No one has to be eternally separated from God.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way I can say something about these five little parables we have in the Gospel reading this morning.
You may recall that we’ve been hearing a lot about the kingdom these past few weeks, ever since we heard back in chapter 10 that Jesus was going about spreading the good news of the kingdom, and the disciples were told to proclaim the message that “the kingdom of heaven has come near to you.”
Since then we’ve had the parable of the sower and the parable of the weeds among the wheat, and this morning we have this kingdom avalanche. What do they tell us about the kingdom of which Jesus speaks?
Not surprisingly, they tell us pretty much the same thing that those two previous parables told us, but with new imagery.
The first two we have this morning are the mustard seed and the yeast. Both emphasize the mystery of the kingdom, its hiddenness. Jesus calls the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds (whether it actually is doesn’t really matter). It literally disappears into the earth. So does yeast in flour. It literally disappears in the dough.
But in both cases what the mystery produces is not hidden. What it produces is at least thousands of times its size. This is to say that kingdom often begins in hidden and mysterious places and ways, but its fruit is large.
One small act of kindness, for example, can produce far more than we can ever imagine. Just saying “hello” can turn a person’s day around. Acknowledging someone’s presence is an acknowledgement of their dignity and is, therefore, a little act of justice.
So the kingdom of heaven starts in small and mysterious ways, but works like a mustard seed or yeast to produce a great effect.
The second two parables this morning are the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. They emphasize our response to the kingdom. It is to be highly valued; it is worth holding onto whatever cost it takes.
Paul’s beautiful words in this morning’s reading from Romans are an expression of this value. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Is not that worth everything? Isn’t it true that believing in this astounding good news can make all the difference in our life?
The kingdom is that thing for which Jesus asks us to give our lives. It is the amazing news that God is so near to us that we can never be separated. God is with you is the message. Not God will be with you if you behave yourself, but God is with you. Jesus asks us to risk our lives for anything that delivers that message, indeed he wants our lives themselves to deliver that message.
Last of all we have the parable of the net, very similar to last week’s parable of the weeds among the wheat. The emphasis is on the “catholicity” of the kingdom, which means it is for everyone, everywhere, every time. Yes, there may be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for some in the end, but I hope I’ve taken care of putting that in its proper perspective in the first part of the sermon.
We don’t have to be afraid. The God who is with us, the God who is for us, is the same God who will judge us. On judgment day we don’t find out that it has all been a “bait and switch,” and God really is against us in the end.
I hope over the last few weeks you’ve gotten some idea of just what the kingdom of heaven is and why Jesus thought it was good news. How do we recognize it? How do we know it has come near to us?
We know the kingdom of God has come near when small, hidden, seemingly insignificant or mysterious things happen that are not entirely within our control. And it has come near when we give ourselves to doing these small, seemingly insignificant things, trusting that they will make a large difference when God puts them to work.
We know the kingdom of God has come near when something beyond ourselves moves us to risk our lives in some form of generosity, hospitality, or act of justice.
We know the kingdom of God has come near when all sorts and conditions of people are included and there is a suspension of judgment.
And most of all, we know the kingdom of God has come near when we can believe with Paul that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us hear this good news this morning and believe it to be true and commit ourselves to proclaiming it with our lives in word and deed to everyone, everywhere, every time.
Friday, August 1, 2008
The Lambeth Conference is drawing to a close and I am REALLY looking forward to coming home.
On Monday the bishops were presented with a document containing observations and recommendations for continuing the Windsor Process. On the minus side, it reiterated a call for moratoria on public rites for same-gender blessings and LGBT bishops. On the plus side, a separate page [that for some reason is missing from the online version] reiterated a call for a pastoral and sensitive response to gay and lesbian Anglicans and condemned homophobia and victimization of gay and lesbian people. We stayed up into the wee hours [again!] preparing a response.
On Tuesday afternoon the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a "presidential address" in which he urged both conservatives and progressives to be be generous with each other on issues of homosexuality. That evening we previewed Voices of Witness: Africa a second time. The Bishop of California hosted the event. The room was filled to overflowing with bishops and their spouses.
On Wednesday afternoon LGBT Africans shared their stories. That evening the cast and crew of Seven Passages gave an amazing performance. The play consists entirely of words from the Bible and the real-life stories of over 100 gay and lesbian Christians living in Michigan. It explores 7 "clobber passages" of scripture that are used to condemn same-gender relationships and 7 "life passages" common to gay and lesbian Christians.
On Thursday, the bishops began discussing homosexuality in their indaba groups. The Rev. Canon Phil Groves also issued a report on the Anglican Communion Listening Process. Canon Groves is especially encouraging the Don't Throw Stones initiative to end violence and discrimination against LGBT people.
On Friday, the bishops discussed a draft summary of their indaba group discussions on homosexuality. Several LGBT-supportive bishops objected that the draft did not fully reflect what they had shared in their indaba groups. The bishops also began discussing the Anglican Covenant.
Looking for petrol, I "got lost" and found myself in the nearby town of Whitstable where I enjoyed a quite luncheon overlooking the English Channel.
Representatives of 7 LGBT Anglican organization--including yours truly--met Friday afternoon to consider our witness in a post-Lambeth Anglican Communion. We agreed to form a new umbrella group--Inclusive Communion--to coordinate our ministries.On Saturday the bishops were presented with a draft of "Reflections upon the Lambeth Conference 2008"--which will summarize all the indaba group discussions. We are concerned that the final document will codify moratoria on same-gender blessings and LGBT bishops--making it difficult for the Episcopal Church to move forward on these issues at the next General Convention.
We also began the process of winding down our presence in Canterbury. After a noon Eucharist, most of our volunteers left town. Most of my team relocated back to Ebury Hotel for a couple of days. We dismantled our Communications Centre. The Integrity USA team also enjoyed a final meal together.
Today (Sunday) I was up early to distribute the final issue of our newsletter and to disposed of our rubbish. As I write we are waiting for the bishops to conclude their deliberations. Integrity USA has a response prepared regardless of the outcome.fast forward
Well, the final indaba group report is a little better on sexuality than the last draft. Sadly, +Rowan spoke very strongly in favor of moratoria during his final presidential address and at the press conference that followed. Integrity USA released its final press statement.
It's midnight here. Time for bed. Up at 5 am to drive to Heathrow with the remnant of our team.
John Clinton Bradley