Friday, September 21, 2007

A New Chapter in the Episcopal Mess

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is there. Quite a few bishops from the larger Anglican Communion are there. Also present is the largest number of bishops of the Episcopal Church to attend a House of Bishops Fall Conference in a good many years. They have gathered in New Orleans (Sept. 20-25), not just to visit a place in the US that continues to be in pain, but to talk together honestly and with charity about the Perfect Storm unfolding in the Anglican Communion at this moment. It is definitely not business as usual.
The crisis was precipitated by the General Convention confirmation of a partnered gay man as a Bishop in the Episcopal Church and by the apparent permission given by the same convention to dioceses to exercise a local option for the blessing of same-sex unions. BUT, and this is really important to understand, this is not a fight about sexuality. As Mouneer Adis says, “It is not just about sexuality, but about your views of Christ, the Gospel, and the authority of the Bible. Please forgive me when I relay that some say you are a different church, others even think that you are a different religion.” (Please read the rest of his address below).
So, our bishops have some big decisions to make. Will we be a part of the Anglican Communion or not? Is the Episcopal Church willing to live in genuine interdependence with the rest of our church or are we so convinced of the rightness of our cause that we are willing to fracture the third largest denomination in the world?
There will be a number of resolutions before the bishops. May Jesus Christ, who is our peace, be in their midst as they chart our course.

To see ourselves as others see us...... such a difficult thing. One of the visiting bishops at the HOB meeting is The Rt. Rev. Mouneer Anis - Archbishop and Primate of the Epsicopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. This is what he had to say to our bishops about the challenge at hand. Please understand, the position he represents is strongly felt by many of the international leaders of our church.

Address of Archbishop Mouneer Anis to the House of Bishops at New Orleans. September 21, 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Thank you so much for inviting me here to come and listen to you and for giving me the opportunity to share my heart with you. I am very aware of my own shortcomings and weaknesses, but every word I want to say is out of love and concern for the unity of the Church of Christ.I do not come with great authority, nor am I the primate of a province with a great number of Anglicans; I do however, come from a region where Christ walked and where the Church was born. I come representing the Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

The Church in this region has faced many challenges since the first century. Our brothers and sisters in the early centuries were ready to sacrifice their very lives to stay true to the Faith they received from the Lord and his Apostles. Their blood was not in vain; rather it became the seed of the Church across our entire region. Many disputes and heresies took place in our region. In face of all the challenges, persecutions, and heresies our ancestors—people like St. Athanasius, St. Clement, Origen, and Cyril from Alexandria, along with Tertullian, Cyprian, and St. Augustine from North Africa—kept the faith of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
We are constantly learning from our ancient martyrs and forbearers how to serve the Kingdom of God faithfully.

Today our Anglican Church in the Middle East still lives within a very exciting and challenging context. We live among the Oriental Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Catholics, the Jews and the Muslims. We greatly value our ecumenical relations and continue to work for unity. We also deeply respect and appreciate our Muslim friends and value our interfaith relations while in no way compromise our faith. I have to tell you that many of these relations were severely strained after your decision to consecrate Gene Robinson as bishop in 2003. We are seen as the new heretics and this has hindered our ecumenical and interfaith relations as well as our mission in the region.

My friends, like you, we want to be relevant to the culture in which we live. More importantly, we want to be salt and light to our societies. That is not an easy calling but it means we must remain distinct and humble at the same time. Without being distinct we cannot be salt and light; without humility we will not represent the one who said, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” We are also continuously challenged whether we should allow the culture to transform the Apostolic Faith we once received, or if we should allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ to transform our culture as it has in the past.

As we struggle to answer this question we must never divorce ourselves from the faith that countless men, women and children died to protect. I believer that if we faithfully serve the Church of Christ, He will continue to fulfill his promise that the gates of Hades will not prevail against her.

Rupertus Meldenius said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity”. Our hope is to be united on the essentials of faith which are defined only by the whole church.

We are not in any way trying to impose rigid views on you. Like you we celebrate diversity, but we believe that such diversity should not be unlimited and should not contradict the essentials of our faith. We are not schismatic, but we are diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. We want unity but not unity at any expense.

Anglicans are aware with humility that we are not “the” church but we are one member of the body of Christ, the one Holy Catholic Church. We proclaim this every week in our churches. This places upon us the responsibility to listen to and respect our ecumenical partners.

My friends, you may believe you have discovered a very different truth from that of the majority in the Anglican Communion. It is not just about sexuality, but about your views of Christ, the Gospel, and the authority of the Bible. Please forgive me when I relay that some say you are a different church, others even think that you are a different religion.

I understand that it is difficult for you in your context to accept the standard teaching of the Anglican Communion. That is why you refused to accept Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10. You also ignored all the warnings of the Primates in 2003, 2004, and 2005. Your response to the Windsor Report is seen by the Primates as not clear. You cannot say you value being a member of the Anglican Communion while you ignore the interdependence if the member churches. The interdependence is what differentiates us from other congregational churches.

I would like to remind you and myself with the famous resolution number 49 of the Lambeth Conference of 1930 which declares “the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of churches that…are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.” With respect, I have to say that those who would prefer to speak of laws and procedures, constitutions and canons, committees and process: you are missing the point! It is our mutual loyalty and fellowship, submitting to one another in the common cause of Jesus Christ that makes us of one Church one faith and one Lord.

It is clear that your actions have resulted in one the most difficult disputes in the Communion in our generation. You may see them as not core doctrinal issues. Many like me see the opposite but the thing that we all cannot ignore is that these issues are divisive and have created a lot of undesired consequences and reactions. For the first time in centuries, the fabric of our Communion is torn. Our energies have been drained and our resources are lost and it is difficult for both of us to continue like this.

My friends, if you really believe that the truth revealed to you is different from that shown to the rest of the Communion, then you need to uphold that claim with boldness even at the risk of losing unity. If you think it is right and necessary to ordain and consecrate practicing homosexuals and that you should bless same sex partnerships or even marriages, you should be true to what you believe is right and accept the consequences. However, if you appreciate being members of the global Anglican family, then you have to walk along side the members of your family.

Those who say it is important to stay together around the table, to listen to each other and to continue our dialogue over the difficult issues that are facing us are wise. We wholeheartedly agree with this, but staying around the table requires that you should not take actions that are contrary to the standard position (Lambeth 1.10) of the rest of the Communion. Sitting around one table requires humility from all of us. One church cannot say to the rest of churches “I know the whole truth, you don’t”.

Archbishop Rowan reminded us in his paper “Challenge and Hope” that “the whole truth is revealed to the whole church”. Sitting around one table requires that each one should have a clear stance before the discussion starts. It also requires that true openness and willingness to accept the mind of the whole. We do not have to be in the communion to sit around the one table. We do so when we dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox and with other faiths. It would be extremely difficult to sit around one table when you have already decided the outcome if the discussion and when you ignore the many voices, warnings and appeals from around the communion.

Today I appeal to you to respond with great clarity to the requests that were made in Dar Es Salaam. If you accepted the Primates’ recommendations, would you be able to give assurances to the Executive Committee of the General Convention of TEC would ratify your response? It is the responsibility of the bishop to guard the faith as we promise during our consecration.

In many of not most parts of the Communion and the historic churches, present and ancient, matters of faith and order, is the responsibility and therefore the authority of the Bishops to safeguard and teach.If you don’t commit yourself to the Dar Es Salaam recommendations would you be willing to walk apart at least for a period during which we continue our discussions and dialogue until we reach a common understanding, especially about the essentials of our faith?

Forgive me when I say that for many of us in the Communion, we feel that you have already walked apart at least theologically from the standard teaching of the Communion. I know that you value personal freedom and independence. The whole world learns this from you. You need to demonstrate this by securing freedom for the American orthodox Anglicans who do not share your theological direction. Show your spirit of inclusiveness when you deal with them. I am afraid to say that without this more and more interventions from other provinces is going to happen. No one wants this.

I pray for wisdom and grace, for myself as well as for you, and I pray that God will lead us both in the right direction. Remember the illustrious history of God’s church and remember future generations who will sit in judgment on us. Remember also that the whole world is waiting and watching what you do.Please forgive me if I have said anything that offends you. May the Lord bless you. +Mouneer Egypt

An anniversary of sorts

Today is September 21st . Most of us have dates we will never forget – a wedding, the birth of a child, or the death of a someone who is beloved. Sometimes, we remember dates because they have been significant in the life of our country – July 4th, Pearl Harbour Day and others. For many folks who live in Coastal South Carolina, September 21st , 1989 is such a day for, it was on this evening, eighteen years ago that Hurricane Hugo visited.
Is eighteen years too far removed to mark an anniversary like this? I don’t think so. We were living in Summerville at the time – 25 miles inland – and ended up with two ninety foot long leaf pines trees down in our house - with us in it! This was definitely one of the most frightening experiences of my life. Further to the north, McClellanville and its environs experienced a nineteen foot plus storm surge – the water tumbling boats, houses, and trees like dice. The church took somewhere between seven and nine feet of water – one of the water line marks is still visible if you look closely. Other marks, the ones people carry internally, are still there too if you look closely.
The folks in New Orleans will be recovering from Katrina for quite a while as will be so many others around the world who are struggling at this very moment with natural disasters of their own. So many came to help us. May God give us the wisdom and will to do the same.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in affliction – and, with the same comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God.” (II Cor 1:3-4)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Don't Forget.... check out the Monthly happenings in the calendar section of the blog. (Look at the right column)

Mists with Big Plans

We've been reading through the Epistle of James in the daily lectionary and the following phrase grabbed me this morning "....What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (Jas. 14:4b-c).
James goes on to chide his readers for being mists with big plans. As I prayed about this, I realized that I love to make BIG plans and hope to accomplish BIG things...and why? If I am utterly honest, I would have to admit that it is glory seeking for myself -- to get the accolades of my fellow human beings. I prayed, "Lord, I want to accomplish big things for you." What I heard brought me to tears, "Be faithful in the little things and this will be sufficient." JTCO

Thank you, Father. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Holy Spirit for the freedom we have in you. Amen

The photo is "Wanstead Heights" by Flash Wilson

The Sword of Wood - On True Humility

From last Sunday's sermon....

There was once a king who loved nothing better than to go out alone in the clothes of a commoner. He wanted to meet the ordinary people of his kingdom--to learn their way of life, and especially their way of thinking about the world. One night, this king found himself walking in the poorest, narrowest street of the city. This was the street of the Jews. He heard a song in the distance. The king thought, "A song sung in this place of poverty must be a lament!" But as he got closer, he could hear the true character of the song: it was a song of pride! "Bai-yum-dum, bai-yum-bai, yum-bai, bai...."

The king was drawn to the source of the song: the smallest, humblest shack on that street. He knocked on the door. "Is a stranger welcome here?"

The voice from within said, "A stranger is G-d's gift. Come in!"

In the dim light inside, the king saw a man sitting on the only piece of furniture, a wooden box. When the king came in, the man stood up and sat on the floor, offering the king the crate for a seat.

"Well, my friend," the king asked, "what do you do to earn a living?"

"Oh, I am a cobbler."

"You have a shop where you make shoes?"

"Oh, no, I could not afford a shop. I take my box of tools--you are sitting on it--to the side of the road. There I repair shoes for people as they need them."

"You cobble shoes by the side of the road? Can you make enough money that way?"

The cobbler spoke with both humility and pride. "Every day, I make just enough money to buy food for that day."

"Just enough for one day? Aren't you afraid that one day you won't make enough, and then you'll go hungry?"

"Blessed be G-d, day by day."

The next day, the king determined to put this man's philosophy to the test. He issued a proclamation that anyone wishing to cobble shoes by the side of the road must purchase a license for fifty pieces of gold.

That night, the king returned to the street of the Jews. Again he heard a song in the distance, and thought, "This time, the cobbler will be singing a different tune." But when the king neared the house he heard the cobbler sing the same song. Worse, it was even longer, with a new phrase that soared joyfully: "Ah, ha-ah-ah, ah-hah, ah-hah, ah-yai."

The king knocked on the door. "Oh, my friend, I heard about that wicked king and his proclamation. I was so worried about you. Were you able to eat today?"

"Oh, I was angry when I heard I could not make my living in the way I always have. But I knew: I am entitled to make a living and I will find a way. As I stood there saying those very words to myself, a group of people passed me by. When I asked them where they were going, they told me: into the forest to gather fire wood. Every day, they bring back wood to sell as kindling. When I asked if I could join them, they said, 'There is a whole forest out there. Come along!'

"And so I gathered fire wood. At the end of the day, I was able to sell it for just enough money to buy food for today."

The king sputtered. "Just enough for one day? What about tomorrow? What about next week?"

"Blessed be G-d, day by day."

The next day, the king again returned to his throne, and issued a new proclamation: anyone caught gathering firewood in the royal forest would be inducted into the royal guard. For good measure, he issued another: no new members of the royal guard would be paid for forty days.

That night, the king returned to the street of the Jews. Amazed, he heard the same song! But now, it had a third part that was militant and determined: "Dee, dee, dee, dee-dee, dee-dee, dah...."

The king knocked on the door. "Cobbler, what happened to you today?"

"They made me stand at attention all day in the royal guard! They issued me a sword and a scabbard. But then they told me I wouldn't be paid for forty days!"

"Oh, my friend, I bet you wish now that you had saved some money."

"Well, let me tell you what I did. At the end of the day, I looked at that metal sword blade. I thought to myself, that must be valuable! So I removed the blade from the handle, and fashioned another blade of wood. When the sword is in the scabbard, no one can tell the difference. I took the metal blade to a pawnbroker, and I pawned it for just enough money to buy food for one day."

The king was stunned. "What if there's a sword inspection tomorrow?"

"Blessed be G-d, day by day."

The next day, the cobbler was pulled out of line in the king's guard. He was presented with a prisoner in chains.

"Cobbler, this man has committed a horrible crime. You are to take him to the square. Using your sword, you are to behead him."

"Behead him? I'm an observant Jew. I couldn't take another human life."

"If you do not, we'll kill both of you."

The cobbler led this poor, trembling man into the square, where a crowd had gathered to watch the execution. The cobbler put the prisoner's head on the chopping block. He stood tall, his hand on the handle of his sword. Facing the crowd, he spoke.

"Let G-d be my witness: I am no murderer! If this man is guilty as charged, let my sword be as always. But if he is innocent, let my sword turn to wood!"

He pulled his sword. The people gasped when they saw the wooden blade. They bowed down at the great miracle that had happened there.

The king, who had been watching all of this, came over to the cobbler. He took him by both his hands, and looked him deep in the eyes. "I am the king. And I am your friend who has visited you these last nights. I want you to come live with me in the palace and be my advisor. Please teach me how to live like that--one day at a time."

Then, in front of everyone, the two of them danced and sang: "Bai-yum-dum, bai-yum-bai, yum-bai, bai...."

This is a retelling of a well known Jewish folk tale by Doug Lipman. It appears in Dov Noy's Folktales of Israel, University of Chicago Press, 1963. Another, essentially similar, Jewish version from Afghanistan is in Howard Schwartz's Elijah's Violin, Harper and Row, 1983. This story is sometimes attributed to Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, who retold and interpreted it. The basic plot is also known in Turkey and Uzbekistan, as well as in Finland, Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Greece.