Monday, May 15, 2006

Bishop Charleston's Witness

The following fine comments were written by Steven Charleston recently and are reprinted here with permission.

What Witness Will We Make?

By The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

President and Dean, Episcopal Divinity School

<>As the Episcopal Church, the most important question before us is not about schism or sexuality. It is about witness. What witness will we make?
Christian witness is the public affirmation of faith. It is how we let the world see that we practice what we preach. Today those of us in the Episcopal Church are being called on to make our witness. We have the opportunity to be what we say we are. The world is watching. What will we do?
The answer is a matter of faith. We witness to what we believe.
In the Episcopal Church, we believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Bible. We believe in the Good News. In fact, we believe so strongly in all of these essential parts of our shared faith that we are not afraid to disagree with one another about what they mean to us. <>
We welcome difference as the active presence of God’s Holy Spirit moving amongst us. Our witness is not to conformity but to community. As the Episcopal Church we are not concerned that everyone in the pews believes exactly the same thing, in the same way, at the same time. Instead, we are concerned that no one is left out of those pews because of what they believe, who they are, or where they come from.
Our witness is to the unconditional love of God through the grace of Christ Jesus. Therefore, we accept the risk of grace by not setting limits to love with our own judgment of others. There are no border guards at the doors of the Episcopal Church. We respect the dignity of every human being and are never ashamed of who sits next to us in worship. We are all the children of God just as we are all sinners in need of mercy.
There are no walls around the Episcopal Church. We believe that God is at work in the world. We are not concerned that this world sees us as perfect, pure, or powerful. Instead, we are concerned that people see us practicing justice, doing mercy, and walking humbly with the God we believe loves us all equally.
Our witness is to hope, not fear. We believe that men and women, no matter how separated they may think they are by religious conviction, cultural value, or social location are never truly apart unless they choose to be. We have nothing to fear from one another unless we allow fear to be our witness. While the distance between us may seem great and the path to reconciliation impossibly long, we have the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we never despair of one another or deny one another for to do so would be to despair and deny the power of that Spirit.
Our witness is to mission. While the Spirit leads us to truth, we carry on with the task God has given us. We do not place pride before discipleship. While we may have many disagreements between us, we have only one mission before us. We never question the faith of the person who seeks to do the work of God. We believe that it is not important to know if that person is “right” or politically correct. It is only important to know if she or he feels welcomed into the servant ministry of Christ. There are no loyalty oaths in the Episcopal Church, but there are many jobs for those who want to help heal a broken world.
Our witness is to the reconciliation of God in a time of fear. In the Episcopal Church, we stand together not even if we disagree, but precisely because we disagree. We practice the radical hope of God. We embody a faith that says there are many rooms in the house of God, but one home for us all if we choose to live together.
It is time to make our witness. In a century already marked by the terror of war, with zealots of all traditions inciting us into the patriotism of fear, what witness will we make? What alternative will we offer? What fresh vision will we share? Will we retreat into yet smaller factions of “true believers,” whether from the Right or the Left, smug in our self righteous assurance that we have the truth? Will we struggle over property and power as though these things had lasting importance for us? Will we vilify one another and become agents of suspicion among the very people we love? Will we worry more about what people think of us than what God expects of us?
It is time to make our witness. It is time to take off our halos, our mitres, and our martyr’s crown to stand up and be counted. What witness will each of us choose to make?
I can not answer for anyone in this Church but myself. I do not ask that you agree with my theology. I do not demand that you read your Bible exactly as I read mine. I know that you and I may disagree on many subjects and find it hard to live together. But I also know that you are as much in need of God’s forgiveness as I am.
You and I need one another now more than ever because there are so many others who need us both in this hurting world. That world, the poor and the hungry, the captives and the prisoners, are depending on us to do more than argue with one another. For them, our witness is not a matter of church politics. It is a matter of life and death. I am counting on the fact that you know that.

<>Now is the time for us to extend our hands to one another. We will not walk away from the Body of Christ.
ow is the time for us to use our hands. We will not place pride over mission.\Now is the time for us to raise our hands. We will not forget that to God alone goes the glory.

Are you a witness? Will you join me in this affirmation of faith?
In my life I have known many seasons in the Episcopal Church. This is the season for our witness. This is the time for us to do something totally unexpected and wonderful, to confound those who say we have lost our vision. This is our moment to show the world that we can practice what we preach and be who we say we are. Our finest hour will not be when we think we have won something from one another, but when we know we have nothing to lose by loving one another.
I am a witness. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in God’s gospel of justice, compassion, and reconciliation. I believe in the community of God and I will work faithfully with every person to bring peace and healing to the world. I open my hands. I open my heart. I want the world to see that I am not afraid. I step gratefully into the unconditional love of God. I stand up to be counted not for what I think is right, but for what I believe to be possible. How about you? Will you stand with me?
Are you a witness?
The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bishop Charleston is a member of the Choctaw Nation, has served as the Episcopal Bishop of Alaska, and as the executive director of the National Committee on Indian Work at the Episcopal Church Center. Over his career, Bishop Charleston has been deeply involved in exploring different models of theological training to meet the needs of a changing church. He is an advocate for theological education that is culturally sensitive and meets the needs and concerns of local faith communities.

"Reprinted, by permission, Episcopal Divinity School, (c) May 2006.")

©Episcopal Divinity School, May 2006

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Introducing Alcibiades,
Our brand new puppy. What a face!
His mom is a Yellow Lab and dad is of unknown origin.
He's making a fine adjustment to our home.
Alcibiades, by the way, was a General, Philosopher, and Stateman in the rivalry days between Sparta and Athens during the Peloponesian Wars.
He does have a noble face, doesn't he?
Fr. Paul.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Inclulsion and Exclusion Games

We play lots of inclusion and exclusion games on a regular basis in Church. The Episcopal Church is paying a high price for inclusion of all sorts and conditions of folks these days. There are those who would specifically exclude gay folks from leadership roles in the faith community. I stumbled across this passage the other day and thought perhaps it might be worth reading again. Note please verse 13. It is a dangerour thing, I'd say to "lock out" folks from the kingdom of heaven. What do you think?

Matthew, Chapter 23

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, F164 and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. F165 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. F166 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

13 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. F167 14 F225 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell F168 as yourselves. 16 "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, "Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.' 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, "Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.' 19 How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21 and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; 22 and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it. 23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, F169 so that the outside also may become clean. 27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, 30 and you say, "If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' 31 Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. 33 You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? F170

34 Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35 so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation. 37 "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you, desolate. F171 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Good Shepherd Sunday

Last Sunday's sermon received lots of comment. Here it is for your review.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd


“Fr. Paul” B. Bresnahan

May 7,2006

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd.”

There are two images that come to mind when I think of “The Good Shepherd”. Both are helpful when we think of our relationship with Jesus but for different reasons. One image is of the relationship between a mother, a father and a child. Typically, when we bring forth newborn children, we love them, nurture them and bring them through their childhood to adulthood when we watch them leave the nest and fly off on their own. During that time, we stand by them, we love them, and there is often much to be forgiven. When we correct them we do so usually with a firmness that is tempered with compassion. Throughout it all there is an abiding love that is the very ground of our being in relationship which has been brought forth from our love.

This is not always the case. We do know of instances when a father would abandon a child. To me that seems unthinkable, but we know it happens. Even worse is the case of abuse, when children and women are victims of violent outbursts. We know too that there are even mothers who will abandon their children and even abuse or neglect them in some cases.

But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He loves us, forgives us and embraces us with the compassion of a mother and a father that absolutely delights in a child. A child is the flesh and blood image of his or her parentage. So too are we, in a certain sense, the flesh and blood image of God. Insofar as Jesus is the incarnate love of God, so too by his Grace, we become the incarnate children of God. Since we are incarnate into the Body of Jesus by adoption and Grace, so then we become incarnate in the Grace of God. John says as much in today’s second lesson; “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” If we believe that Jesus is the incarnate love of God, then it stands to reason that we are God’s flesh and blood now by virtue of his Grace and his Love.

Imagine the Love he bears toward us that he would adopt us as his very own. Each one of us now bears the image of God on our faces in a sense as we reflect the Glory of God. That means that as we look into one another’s eyes we are looking into the soul of God. As I think about it, the kingdom of heaven is within, deep within the human heart. That is the throne room of God. The human heart is the touchstone of our humanity to the Heart of God. Thus it is in the human heart where we meet our own humanity in the very same place as we meet God’s divinity. It is in the human heart where we become truly known for who we are without any possibility of cloaking or concealing anything from our God.

We say as much every week in that exquisite prayer at the beginning of the Eucharist;

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The heart is where we treasure God, and where God treasures us as well.

There is another image I have to speak of the Good Shepherd. Yesterday we brought home a new puppy. His name is Alcibiades. He is named after a Greek general, statesman and philosopher. He is a delightful animal. And of course we love him very much. I sent his photo out on our parish mailing list yesterday. Even looking at the photo of a puppy we cannot help but be melted with affection as we look into the face of a little dog. Isn’t it interesting that even by looking into the innocent little face of a young pup, we cannot help but see something of glory…as we look into the glory of God’s creation, are we not moved to profound depths of love and compassion. And that’s just for a puppy.

And so there we were, moving about through two shelters, reviewing the many abandoned animals looking for a home. Al was in cage A-27. He had no name. He was sick. Like all the others he was abandoned. There was a lot of barking. There was disease and there were many fleas. You could say it was a condition before Grace.

Think of it. What it was like for each of us before we were adopted by God, and given Grace upon Grace. It was like we were in cages or cubicles; nameless numbers. Our puppy was A-27. He is now “AL”. But he is so much more. He has his medicine. He is fed generously. He has boundless energy and affection. He has a relationship with someone who will shower him with an abundant love.

So too are we with Jesus. We are not just a number anymore in an economic system that grinds on toward its mindless motive for greed and profit. In its initial enthusiasm for the Gospel of Jesus the first Christians held everything in common and saw to it that no one went without. “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them,” The new band of Christians was so taken with the obvious implications of the Gospel that they lived it out in community. It is a shame that didn’t make it very far into history before succeeding economic systems deemed it impractical.

So now the puppy has a home and not a cage. He lives in a whole new palace. He can run and bound up on the furniture and leap into the papa’s lap and lick his face, or fall asleep as a reassuring hand pats a glowing coat of radiant fur.

Don’t you see how different life is now? Now that you have been adopted by God as one of his children, do you not see the difference? Or do we take it all too much for granted. Now we can bask in God’s boundless love for us. His forgiveness is such that he would even give his son for us as payment for our sins. Now our sins are not counted against us. Instead we are now transformed from Glory to Glory through his abundant Grace.

So now sin and disobedience are not our calling, but Grace and Joy are the condition we are called into. John again today puts it this way; “Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” So lets put all that aside, as we live now into the joy of our Father’s home.

We have found a home in him because he is our Good Shepherd. And there are still more sheep that must be drawn into to his house and his great mansion. In ever widening circles of inclusion we see the savior’s embrace reaching out from the hard wood of the Cross so that everyone may come within the reach of His embrace. If we believe that Jesus really is the Good Shepherd, then we will live out the implications of that in our Gospel life. I hope that as impractical as that may sometimes seem, we will at least make the attempt to live the Gospel life.

The reason for living out our lives that way is very simple; Jesus is the Good Shepherd.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

New Orleans

It is a scandal to see with our own eyes how little we have done as a government in New Orleans. Our initial response was bungled tragically at all levels of government. The inability and it would seem the unwillingness of those in authority to act decisively is now even more tragically obvious than before. After a recent visit, while driving into the city, my son could not help but note that, if this is how we treat the soul of our country, then it stands to reason that we are looking into our future. This while we drove past mile after mile of abandoned businesses and destroyed homes. He spoke, I think prophetically. And so I penned these words to tell out my soul this lament for a city that I love.


We came to New Orleans and
We saw the impotence of our government
Its inability and its unwillingness
To save the least of her own.
We saw the devastation and
We saw our future.

We the government saw our
Impotence our
Incompetence and our
Rapacious greed;
We saw our slavery;

To the Domination System we created of
Corporate Power and Greed.
Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay
Are on trial and
They are blind to what they have done,
And You are expecting me to forgive them?

Heal me of my blindness I pray Thee
To turn the tables of these money changers
And dealers in pigeons
And take up my cross to follow wherever you may lead.

Paul Bresnahan, April 2006