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September 10, 2008

I usually pride myself on at least having a fleeting acquaintance with the folks that we in the Episcopal Church remember in the common of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  These are folks ranging from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to C.S. Lewis and from Julian of Norwich to David Pendleton Oakerhater.

They are folks who have had an impact through their life and witness on the life of the Church and the Mission of God in the world.  Like I said, I thought I had a passing relationship with virtually all of them.

Until this morning…

The Rev'd Alexander Crummell

The Rev'd Alexander Crummell

Today we remembers Alexander Crummell who was a pioneer in the Episcopal Church advocating for the minority voice of African-Americans.  Here’s a link to his full story.

Crummell was an important figure in the best of the prophetic wing of the Church.  If you read his story you’ll soon notice that he was not one to take no as an answer.

He was run out of a prep school in New Hampshire, denied candidacy to Holy Orders on more than one occasion, was not allowed to enroll in the seminary of his choice, denied admittance to the diocesan convention where he was finally ordained, forced to leave Liberia when he ran afoul of the prevailing political elite and opposed by Southern Governors when he tried to establish a platform for the voice of Black Episcopalians in the American Church.  In the face of all this adversity, he never lost his prophetic edge.  He believed that God’s call upon his life was reason enough to challenge the conventions that limited participation by all of God’s people in the Mission of God through the church.  Having said that, what I find most laudable about his life and witness is that he remained commited to and engaged in a flawed institution despite its best efforts to push him to the margin.

This is due in large measure of a deep love for the institution and a firm belief that God was calling it to a more faithful witness and challenging it the wrestle with its angels as well as its demons.  Just as Jacob’s struggle results in his blessing, so to did Crummell’s wrestling with the powers that be in God’s name secure a blessing of our Episcopal Church as a voice crying in the wilderness of marginalization and misunderstanding.

As I remember Crummell and his legacy across three continents in his 50 years of ordained ministry, I thank God that he and people like him, maintain patience with the Church, ‘that wonderful and sacred mystery’ and continue to call us, who after all are the Church, to engage with and express faithfully our better nature as we seek to do the Mission of the Church, ‘reconciling the world to God in Christ’ (BCP p. 855).

Well done Brother Crummell, continue to inspire God’s people, the Church.  Thanks be to God!!!

I have to say that it’s taken me less than a week to become weary of the ‘conversation’ between the two major presidential party candidates.  What disheartens me is the shrill character of what passes for dialogue on the real and pressing problems of the world we live in today.  I don’t see a conversation, I feel like I’m witnessing a collective monologue where people and groups of people don’t talk to one another but rather at or past one another.

I’m enough of a pramatist to know that this isn’t likely to change soon.  What I will say is that the labels, whether they be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ take on a perjorative tone.  I find this remarkable since these are not nouns, but adjectives.  Maybe that’s for another time.

Today’s Boston Globe has an interesting interview with author Peter Korzen about how church moral teaching, in his case Catholic moral teaching, can inform dialogue in the public square in a meaningful and faithful way.  He has recently co-authored A Nation for All: How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division with Alexia Kelley and talks about the book and its premise in the interview.

For me the most interesting challenge in the arena of partisan politics today is how communities of faith, made up of people with differing views, can contribute in a meaningful way to the process.  I would hope that we are still willing to claim a voice in the public square that is not demeaning, shrill or condescending.  One of my mentors told his students often, “The highest compliment you can pay anyone is to take them seriously.”  What would happen if supporters of major political candidates would take the other side ‘seriously’ and allow that people of good will can disagree agreeably?  I’d love to see how that might play out.

I guess for small communities, like the one I serve, we can do that by asking honest questions of people that we disagree with and have a conversation of understanding before we try and ‘convert’ them to our particular worldview.  We can share the experiences that bring us to certain places, but we cannot expect others to treat them as if they were their own and ‘better’ experiences.  That doesn’t take ‘the other’ seriously and involves a certain arrogance and hubris unbecoming of the followers of Jesus who, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5

Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.(Philippians 2)

Korzen and Kelley appeal to a great ideal that might help us to shift the conversation to the center from the poles, namely that we seek the common good above being right (or left for that matter).  I may be a hopeless optimist, but it won’t ever happen if we don’t try by our life and example as people of faith to make it so.

I’m more hopeful about politics than I’ve been in a long time.  I pray that hope grow into fruitful dialogue.

My prayer is that this hope can be rewarded with a substantive discourse on ideas and not devolve into the politics of name-calling and fear.  I want to say up front that I mean that in both directions, both the left and the right.

Two snippets give me hope (maybe I’m just looking for a half-full glass).

  • Barack Obama’s description of John McCain as ‘a good man’ when talking about his impending nomination as the Republican Presidential Candidate
  • John McCain’s congratulatory message to the Illinois Senator the day following Obama’s nomination

I believe that regardless of our politics, we as people of faith should really pray for, to borrow from the Apostle Paul, “a more excellent way” to emerge as part of this important time in our country and for the life of the world as God’s creation.

To that end I am going to commit myself to praying for God to sustain all of the candidates and not just ‘my’ candidate.  Will you join me in a commitment to such a prayer discipline?

In closing I offer this from the Book of Common Prayer as template for such a discipline.

Almighty God, giver of all good things:
We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land.
They restore us, though we often destroy them.
Heal us.
We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They
make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.
We thank you for the men and women who have made this
country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall
short of them.
Inspire us.
We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in
this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we
have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.
We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich
variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless
again and again.
Renew us.
Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun.
Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice,
and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when
all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will
glorify your holy Name. Amen.

 

Just a note with this video. I was stunned by the disconnect between my expectations and the reality I witnessed. Another lesson in humility and standing back from judgement (and the Lord knows I really need all the reminders I can get).

Have a grand day and dream big dreams.

–Warren

Archbishop Rowan Williams talking about at the core, what the Church is. The Church exists in response to the often surprising touch of Jesus into our lives.

Where’s the Church? Not just under the steeple!!!

‘Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ (Philippians 4:8-13)

The Apostle Paul writes these words near the end of his letter to a fledgling church in Philippi struggling along with Paul in the challenges he faced as he was imprisoned and uncertain about his future. It seems to me that we might do well to put a bookmark at this passage as we face the uncertain future of a challenging world. I particularly draw your attention to verses 12 & 13:

‘I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’

Given the current state of affairs in the economy (especially at the grocery store, the gas station and when the oil delivery comes), it might be wise to pray that we can become as Paul in knowing the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry. What Paul is calling the Philippians (and be extension us) to is being mindful of the ground of our being (as theologian Paul Tillich would put it), which is God alone. At the very core of our being as humans created in the image and likeness of God is an insatiable yearning to connection, relationship, even union with God. We were created to reflect the confidence, glory, compassion and love of the God of all that was, is and is to come.

I guess I’d summarize one of our challenges like this: It has been said that tough times don’t last but tough people do. I would like to make an appeal to a different understanding. One that comes from a place of deep faith and confidence in God’s good wishes for us and for the whole world. I want to suggest that Paul’s appeal to the Philippians might be best summarized that tough times don’t last simply because God is. So then I see the challenge as not giving into the temptation to despair by remembering, to the core of our beings, that whatever tough times we endure, we do so with the God of all the universe at our side and in our corner. Maybe Julian of Norwich said it best, “All will be well and in all manner of things, all will be well.” She recognizes that it is not at present well in the eyes of God but that the promise is that the completion and perfection of the creation is a promise, not merely a dream. I believe that is what leads Paul to boldly proclaim is ability to ‘do all things through him who strengthens me’ (v. 13).

Here’s to strength for your journey, my journey and our journey. I trust that sooner or later, we’ll all learn to deal .

Our Prayer Book boldly states that:

“The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in this Church.” (BCP p. 13)

This fact makes the active life of the community very important especially when we view ‘Eucharist’ by the literal meaning of the word in Greek, which is ‘thanksgiving’. Each and every week as we gather around the table and expect our Trinitarian God to transform our gifts of bread and wine into the ‘Real Presence’ of Jesus at our table we should be profoundly thankful. That thankfulness should not be limited to a ‘feeling’ of gratitude but should extend in to lives which display, in tangible ways, how thankful we are to be fed at the Communion Table.

One of the ways we have done this over the years at St. Luke’s is to gather non-perishable goods on the first Sunday of the Month to send off to Jeremiah’s Inn to help with their work with those seeking to break the grip of substance abuse. I don’t have to tell you that times are tough. I don’t have to tell you that it costs more to fill our grocery bags with our accustomed fare. I don’t have to tell you that just getting to the store is more expensive than it’s ever been. You all know all of that.

The really important question, given all of these realities, is; “What’s a Church to do about it?” I think that, among other things, we need to be more public about our support for those who feel this pressure most acutely and we need to do it publicly within the context of our regular corporate worship. A number of you have suggested over the course of the past months that we need to be more public about our monthly ingathering and have suggested that it become a weekly practice. I could not agree more and you all will be happy to see (I hope) that I’m getting around sharing your suggestion with the community.

Beginning this weekend, I invite you all to bring whatever non-perishables you have, whether it be macaroni and cheese, canned goods, dry cereal or the like. It doesn’t have to be much, but I believe it is a Holy Habit to cultivate, tend, nurture and watch blossom. Just as the flowers at the church or at our homes give us pleasure through our care and cultivation, so to does our Heavenly Father take pleasure in the gratitude that we cultivate in the giving of what we have to those who have so much less. I would also like for these offerings, whatever they may be, to be a part of the offering of our treasure and the gifts of bread and wine in the service. I conclude with this Offertory Sentence from the Book of Common Prayer (p. 376):

Through Christ let us continually offer to God the sacrifice of
praise, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name.
But do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:15, 16

Peace and Good,
The Rev. Warren Earl Hicks, Rector
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
921 Pleasant St.
Worcester, MA 01602

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