Sunday, December 07, 2008
The turn of phrase comes from an English slapstick group “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. Using non sequitur, hyperbole, and just plain visual foolishness, reality is put to the test for the benefit of looking at things from an outrageously different point of view.
I’d like to add my voice to the “completely different” crowd as we think through the dilemma of our current economic bailout policy. I know that I am no economist, but I do like an idea that is only seldom mentioned in the current debate; namely the idea of the “Jubilee Year” to the Lord. It seems that in biblical tradition, every 50 years or so, things got so far out of hand that the land and the folks that lived on the land had to “give it a rest”. There’s some merit to the idea. If we don’t “give” it a rest from time to time, it will “take” one! I wonder if we need to “give it a rest” right about now.
It has not escaped the attention of many citizens of these United States that the ones receiving the benefit of the bailout seem to be those who have the most resources within their grasp. Those of us of more modest means wonder if this is not really at the root of much of the problematic we face just now. And moreover, we wonder if we don’t have things upside down.
Why then do we bail out the corporations and financial institutions that have gotten us into the problem in the first place? Why not rather forgive mortgage and credit card debt of those of us who have dug themselves too deeply into the hole? They sure could use a bailout right about now too! Would it not make some sense to put money into the pockets of those at the bottom of the economic ladder and thus satisfy debt from the bottom up rather than from the top down?
Just wondering! Perhaps I’m just a simple parish priest and cannot think clearly, or even worse I know just enough to be dangerous. Just once in my lifetime I’d like to see the money “trickle up” rather than “trickle down”. Now that would be something “completely different” indeed.
Many folks more conversant in economics than I will turn over these problems we face in their minds and hearts. And they will likely do so better than I in resolving them. In the meantime John the Baptist comes to us eating locusts and wild honey and looking quite the character…perhaps like something out of Monty Python. But the message he brings is completely different indeed. His message would have us level every mountain and raise every valley and make the rough places plain. John would have us prepare our hearts for the savior. And what he offers is of little quantifiable value in terms of the Gross Domestic Product, debt, bailout or the like.
What John has to offer is something “completely different” indeed. He offers forgiveness for our sins. He offers us a new way of life that leads to the forgiveness of our sins. He invites us to have our sins washed away and live a baptized life “on purpose” for God. He leads us to prepare our hearts to receive a savior. And right about now it is abundantly clear; we need a savior!
The Day of the Lord is Coming indeed….and now for something completely different!!! That applies to our life too as a congregation. In our case, what is different is that we need to rethink how we approach the matter of stewardship…and many others will have to rethink it as well. Our survival as a faith depends on it.
The Day of the Lord is Coming for us indeed…and now for something different, I thought it right to publish the names of those who have made financial commitments for 2009; so far…16 in all, I believe for a total of around $24,000. I’ve never done that before, but I’ve never faced a situation like this before either.
I’ve never had a congregation with an endowment before. Our portfolio was worth around half a million dollars at the beginning of the year…we had to take around $50,000 to pay for mandated building improvements according to city codes, and then we had a significant shortfall in weekly income. In addition, stock market reversals have taken yet another toll on the value of our investment…we don’t even know how much yet…but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve lost yet another $50,000 in market value from our endowment. That means our portfolio is now worth something in the $300,000 range
Week after week, we’ve deposited, anywhere from $800--$1300…and week after week we’ve been spending $1600-$1800…and you can see that we are hemorrhaging rather significantly from the life blood of our financial well being. I publish our vital signs often so that you can see in black and white what is going on.
What is going on is that we are depleting our resources at a rate that puts the continuing existence of St. Peter’s at risk. It is time to say so right out loud. At the rate we are going, we will not be able to continue at our present rate…we will have to cut the priest out of the budget within a year or two…and then perhaps at best have a supply priest. That is not what I would like to see happen.
When I came here to be your priest, I did so with the understanding that there were three matters at hand for us to work on:
1. The healing of our relationships especially in the wake of recent hurtful realities
2. The discernment of our mission as a congregation
3. The rekindling of a vigorous stewardship program that leads to this church’s self support within three to five years.
We have made significant strides in the first two areas of our life together. The morale of this church in the wake of our recent fair and throughout our 275th Anniversary Year has been outstanding. I believe that the cumulative effect of all these activities has left us in superb spirit.
Our discernment that we are a “House of Prayer for ALL People” and our recognition that when we say “ALL” we mean “ALL” without regard to race, ethnicity, economic class, gender, or orientation…we all come to the altar as Christ’s own citizens ALL infinitely precious before Jesus.
Now the matter of Stewardship comes before us.
Yes, I published the names in the Newsletter. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if some are somewhat sensitive about that. I’ve already heard a rumbling or two about it…but we cannot afford to be squeamish about church finance anymore. We certainly have to have our wits about us when we face the household budget, so too when we face the realities of the budget for the household of God.
I believe it is time for us to stand up and be counted.
It is time for us to pray the prayer of oblation: Yes, God you can count on me!
I will do whatever it takes to uphold your church, because I love it so.
It is where our children are baptized, where many were married, our loved ones in so many cases were buried here.
How can we do anything less than have you count on us.
When we needed you, you were there.
And now the church needs you.
Will you be there for your church?
Yes my friends it is time for us to stand up and be counted. It is time for us to give generously from the bounty God has given us, in generous proportion to what God has given us…so we return to God.
It is time for us all to do something "completely different!"
Sunday, October 19, 2008
There was a time when we tended to be a fairly exclusive church and we used to say that those who were welcome in their own communion were welcome at ours.
Then we opened things up to say that "all Baptized Christians were welcome at the Altar rail."
Things are so different now. We tend to say now that "Everyone is welcome to receive communion in this church."
Since it is our sense that Jesus did not check membership cards to any earthly organization at the Last Supper, likewise we shouldn't either.
Jesus tended to stay at the margins welcoming rich and poor alike, common fisherfolk, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers the lame and the halt and the blind.
These folks were often not welcome in the Temple. After all, their offerings were without blemish. For Jesus blemishes and imperfections were hardly a barrier to entry into the kingdom.
To Jesus there was a special place in God's heart for those who manifested all kinds of imperfections.
The Globe says something about "liberal" dioceses opening communion up to members and non members alike, Christians and non-Christians as well. True enough. But I would hardly call the "liberal". To me this policy is simply the next logical step in obedience to Jesus' command to "Love God and love one another!"
Godspeed to ALL
Who is worthy to receive? - The Boston Globe
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Sunday, October 05, 2008
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." Aaron said to them, "Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD." They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The LORD said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, `These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."
But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, `I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 Page 741, BCP
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, *
for his mercy endures for ever.
Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD *
or show forth all his praise?
Happy are those who act with justice *
and always do what is right!
Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people, *
and visit me with your saving help;
That I may see the prosperity of your elect
and be glad with the gladness of your people, *
that I may glory with your inheritance.
We have sinned as our forebears did; *
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.
Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb *
and worshiped a molten image;
And so they exchanged their Glory *
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.
They forgot God their Savior, *
who had done great things in Egypt,
Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, *
and fearful things at the Red Sea.
So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, *
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.
My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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.
Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, `Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
Optional parts of the readings are set off in square brackets.
The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission.
The Collects, Psalms and Canticles are from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979.
Return to The Lectionary Page.
The Lessons Appointed for Use on the
Sunday October 5, 2008
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin."
Psalm 19 Page 606, BCP
The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.
The statutes of the LORD are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the LORD is clear
and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean
and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.
By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of
Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Jesus said, "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, [PBB1] put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.[PBB2] Finally he sent his son to them, saying, `They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.'[PBB3] So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time."
Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures:
`The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone; [PBB4]
this was the Lord's doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes'?
Therefore I tell you, the
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
You shall love God and you shall love your neighbor as you do yourself. Sound simple enough? What if I told you that to love your neighbor that meant beginning with your mother and father? Simple enough for some but certainly not for all!
Some Christian Psychiatrists postulate that to love your neighbor, you must begin with mother and father. How can that be when there is so much abuse and so many wounds among so many? The reconciliation of brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons can be a daunting challenge for many of us. Jesus recognized this, did he when he spoke of the conflict that he would bring into this world between those within one’s most immediate family.
When Jesus spoke of loving our neighbor, he noted too that when the dying victim lie at the roadside, it was not the priest or the Levite that ministered to the unfortunate, but it was the Samaritan, the roundly detested Samaritan who became neighbor to the helpless and hapless one.
Still it is good to have standards for behavior as set forth by the Ten Commandments. After all, if Wall Street and investment bankers has known not to worship the graven image on the so called “Almighty dollar” we might not find ourselves in the midst of the financial crisis we’re mired in just now. It appears we have no choice but bail out the very bankers who indulged in those practices that delivered us into the economic crisis we’re in. You and I would not be rewarded with such a bail out would we?
At the same time that Sallie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG and a host of other financial institutions were being baled out of the financial implosion of their excesses one 90 year old woman in
Ah yes…the Ten Commandments stand firmly placed in the center of the human condition. It is still a good idea to set aside a day of rest, to respect the holy name of God, to honor our parents even when they don’t turn out all that well, not to steal, lie, kill or covet what belongs to another, and to keep the promises you made to the one you promised to love. The whole of the Law of God is not so hard when you think of it.
And whether we live on Wall Street, The Capitol or on
Those that wear the fancy robes such as I wear Sunday after Sunday had better watch out too. Jesus came into the world for many reasons. But chiefest among them was the cause of forgiveness of human sin. He wanted us to know what the Scribes and the Pharisees seemed to forget so easily…that the folks who had been expelled from the
They were common folk like fishermen. There were the notorious sinners like the prostitutes and the tax collectors, the poor the sick, the lame, the lepers of his time…and now there are outcast and the marginalized of our own time
Sometimes the Doctors of the Law of God wrote these folks out of the embrace of the love of Jesus.
But I’ve got news for you…wonderful news; for whether you are rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, liberal or conservative…you are among the beloved of God.
And beyond that whatever sin you have committed or can’t quite conquer…God love you too…for this I know. The sublime words of the Blessed Apostle Paul are true, “forgetting what lies behind, I press on toward the upward call of Jesus to make it my own”….For as I die to the old way of sin and death, and as I press on toward this upward call, I emerge into the risen life of Jesus Christ our Lord.
There was lots of lively conversation today at "Coffee Plus" about the Gospel passage. We wondered about the landpwner, who we ended up thinking of as God, the Watchtower, which we thought of as the Temple in Jerusalem...its hedge as the walls that surround the Temple and the grapes as the people of God and their righteous deeds, especially in the Christian context as love, forgiveness and reconciliation. The slaves of the landowner are the prophets who were shamefully treated in each generation. The tenants are the Chief Priests, the Pharisees, the Doctors of the Law and the elders, who study each word of the law and forget its spirit.
Particularly, we noted that when Jesus came, he sought out the common fisherfolk, and then the tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the lame, the maimed...all of those who had been systematically excluded from the Temple life...Jesus gave the inclusive and healing touch to. Ultimately the son was also killed by those tenants..and so was Jesus. Thus the stone which the bulders rejected became the head of the corner upon which Jesus would build the new community of faith. And THAT is truly amazing in our eyes. Thus we ALL become the beneficiaries of the Grace of God and the Goodness of God and the Love of God. And THAT is amazing in our eyes.
We have a grand time at "Coffee Plus", our adult forum after church. We meet from around 11:30 until a little after noon or so. It is time well spent. Come join us any Sunday.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In the case of thirst, God again provided for the people.
Last week at Coffee Plus we had some conversation about the nature of sanctification. As the people consecrated themselves, they found that God also provided for them in new and transformational ways.
We hunger now for leadership.
We hope for a president who will lead us out of our current hardships.
But if we ever hope to be led, we'll also have to find a way to follow.
That is a tricky dynamic...leadership and its relationship to discipleship.
It is on the fulcrum of this dynamic that the well being of the parish, the church, the community and the nation depends.
Will we rise to the occasion?
That's a question well worth considering.
Lets give that some thought as we prepare for next week's readings, sermon and "Coffee Plus".
The readings for next Sunday are printed below for your convenience.
September 28, 2008
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?" But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." The Lord said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 Page 694, BCP
Hear my teaching, O my people; *
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable; *
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.
We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD, *
and the wonderful works he has done.
He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, *
in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
He split open the sea and let them pass through; *
he made the waters stand up like walls.
He led them with a cloud by day, *
and all the night through with a glow of fire.
He split the hard rocks in the wilderness *
and gave them drink as from the great deep.
He brought streams out of the cliff, *
and the waters gushed out like rivers.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, `From heaven,' he will say to us, `Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, `Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
"What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, `I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."
Monday, September 15, 2008
With all the miracles of life, may I suggest that rather than complaint as the center and core of our life, perhaps gratitude and thanksgiving would redound more helpfully to the soul's health.
A few examples of what I mean follow.
Illustrations for September 21, 2008
We live in an age of anxiety. I remember as a child in the early 1950’s hiding under our school desks in case of nuclear attack. I also remember Joe McCarthy ranting and raving about the ubiquity of Communists, and how they had infiltrated every corner of American life. And now we life with the ever present threat of terror.
Getting stuck in anxiety is a recipe for disaster. Rather let it be an occasion for something new and hope filled; it was Jesus who repeatedly said “Fear not” and T. S. Elliot who wrote “Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity”
When the weather is cold, people complain.
When it is hot and humid, people complain.
When it rains day after day, people complain.
If God came down and divided the Red Sea for us so that we could walk on dry land while the waters stood up like walls on the left and on the right hand, sooner or later we’d complain.
Even when we eat the bread of angels we’d complain that there was no meat to eat.
And then when the birds of the air satisfied our hunger, even then we would find something to complain about.
It is the universal condition to complain, even when God acts so decisively in our lives.
We’re always looking for something else.
And if we are not careful the complaint will blind us to the miracle staring us in the face that God gives us every day.
Like the lavishly generous land owner, a good mother will listen to a child’s cry night after night, and still cradle the gentle creature in her tender and loving arms. And when there are long sleepless nights, with ear infections, colds, and sore gums from teething, still a loving mother will lavish her child with patience. She will change diapers, feed hundreds of meals, bind up scrapes and wounds and suffer scores of anxious moments for her child. And when those teen years come along, there will be baffling moments of trial, insult, and insensitivity, and still the mother is there with an uncommon love.
Who can explain such love and such generosity either of a mother or of the landowner in today’s Gospel unless such love is of God?
An Anxious or Generous Heart?
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days." So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?" And Moses said, "When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him-- what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD."
Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, `Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'" And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. The LORD spoke to Moses and said, "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, `At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat."
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 Page 738, BCP
Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Search for the LORD and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
He led out his people with silver and gold; *
in all their tribes there was not one that stumbled.
Egypt was glad of their going, *
because they were afraid of them.
He spread out a cloud for a covering *
and a fire to give light in the night season.
They asked, and quails appeared, *
and he satisfied them with bread from heaven.
He opened the rock, and water flowed, *
so the river ran in the dry places.
For God remembered his holy word *
and Abraham his servant.
So he led forth his people with gladness, *
his chosen with shouts of joy.
He gave his people the lands of the nations, *
and they took the fruit of others' toil,
That they might keep his statutes *
and observe his laws.
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well-- since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, `You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, `Why are you standing here idle all day?' They said to him, `Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, `You also go into the vineyard.' When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, `Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.' When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, `These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
Sunday, September 07, 2008
(Coffee Plus is our adult discussion forum at St. Peter's, Salem...we usually take some time after church to talk about the scripture readings, the sermon, or other subjects that seem to come up. This week should be interesting!)
The Lessons Appointed for Use on the
Sunday closest to September 14
O God, because without you we are not able to please you mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt."
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers." So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.
Psalm 114 Page 756, BCP
In exitu Israel
When Israel came out of Egypt, *
the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,
Judah became God's sanctuary *
and Israel his dominion.
The sea beheld it and fled; *
Jordan turned and went back.
The mountains skipped like rams, *
and the little hills like young sheep.
What ailed you, O sea, that you fled? *
O Jordan, that you turned back?
You mountains, that you skipped like rams? *
you little hills like young sheep?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, *
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
Who turned the hard rock into a pool of water *
and flint-stone into a flowing spring.
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God."
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, `Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
Who Do You Trust?
The Democratic and Republican conventions are now over…you may cheer if you wish. So now the question comes to us; “Who do you trust with your vote.” That is certainly a question of consequence. It is a question of importance. The nation is at war and our economy is in a down turn, the credit markets and especially the mortgage markets are in nothing short of crisis mode. It appears that the Federal Government is poised to rescue both Freddie Mac and Fannie those quasi governmental agencies that were supposed to guarantee affordability of housing to the average American. Now it appears that some questionable mortgage writing practices have put millions into a foreclosure mode. Thus how we vote will matter significantly. Mind you, just as a cautionary note; even the candidate of your choice may not be able to keep all the promises he or she makes. Surprise!
So that brings us back to the question; “Who do you trust?” Today’s collect begins with these words; “Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts” When we think of the question of trust, we quite naturally think of loved ones, but not always politicians and used car salesmen. There are so called “Trust” companies, but that’s a different kind of trust. There are clergy, some of those can be trusted, but we’ve seen examples where our trust can be put to the test even there. There are teachers, members of the extended family, there’s the boss, there’s co-workers, and then there’s my best friend. It is good to be back here at the altar and in this pulpit after a nice vacation period. I feel a kinship and a friendship growing between us. I feel that the very trust of friendship growing between us.
We are now half way through our contract dates…some of us are beginning to ask what of that period…and what happens then? In all cases, there are a variety of ways in which we can gauge our trust levels. It takes a while for instance for a priest and a congregation to build up trust levels to the point where we can really move ahead together and get serious about setting forth the praise of Almighty God through our service to our community and those in need. It takes time. And it doesn’t take much for that trust to be broken or to be put to the test.
Before we get to that question though, we continue on task to do what God formulated in our early conversations
1. First to continue the work of healing among our people and to recruit into this fellowship those committed to the mission of this church.
2. Secondly to live into our mission statement; to be “A house of prayer for all people”,
3. And thirdly to find a way to make ourselves good stewards of all that God has given this church; and that before the end of our three year contract to make significant progress to become a self supportive congregation, joyfully generous to the point that our budget is balanced and focused not on survival but on mission.
God has called us into relationship. God has built a goodly level of trust between us and thus we now enter into this new season and we continue to celebrate this congregation’s 275th Anniversary.
Our history as a people of God goes back much further than just the history of this church. Think of the faith of our ancestors and how that was put to the test. They fled the Egyptian army in haste and Moses stretched out his arms and the Red Sea parted and the children of Israel walked on dry land as the waters stood up like two tempestuous walls one to the right and the other to the left. The children of Israel were free. And Pharaoh’s chariots sank into the depths like a stone. So far; so good! Ah but then the reality of wandering aimlessly in the desert for 40 years began to set in. And the faith of the people in God and in Moses was put to the test. The people murmured and complained in the hearing of God and in the presence of Moses. And the patience of both was put to the test. And yet out of the fullness of that life together God’s law grew in the people’s hearts…the concept of justice grew and the trust of God and God’s people for one another also grew. It is in the crucible of that history that we became the people of God. And so the first lesson teaches us to remember what God has done in our lives. The Passover of the Lord is that memorial and this Eucharist is the Passover over of Chist who was sacrificed for us.
So as we learn the message of trust we learn likewise to honor God’s law and in doing so, to owe nothing to one another but to love one another. This is the fulfillment of all God’s law. First to love God and likewise to love one another. Those two commandments are not just like one another they are congruent with each other. It is in the reality of that love that we thus form a deep and abiding trust of one another and God.
So what then do we do when that trust is broken? Folks that are very close to us can break our trust, so can those in more formal relationships. Jesus gave us clear directions on that one. If somebody causes an offense against you, you then must bring that offense to the attention of the one who committed it. Ninety percent of the time a direct and forthright conversation will win over the offender. With a bit of patience, inner self control and prayerful wisdom, this stratagem will most often effect the reconciliation and restoration of trust so necessary in a world so beset with alienation.
We don’t always to this. It is often easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to that very person. This can be someone we love very much. Something in our own insecurity causes us to feel very vulnerable to direct and honest conversation. And so rather than be reconciled to our loved one we allow the distance between us grow even further apart. Alienation takes hold and grows by the hour.
In a community of the people of faith this is not how we act toward one another. Instead the husband says to the wife; you know we have to talk. The friend says to his or her best friend, want a cup of coffee…or maybe I’ll buy you a drink. Maybe you can even begin with an apology and take the high road…how often that wins the soul.
The winning of the soul also wins the practice of the presence of God. For in that truth, in that moment of coming together and reconciliation, in that time where forgiveness once again overcomes guilt and unity overcomes estrangement, it will always be in a moment like that when God becomes palpably real. For when two or three are gathered together in God’s name…there Jesus is too.
So who do you trust? I know who I trust in the current political campaign. But I’m not saying who right here and right now. You’ll have to drag that out of me…kicking and screaming. There are any number of people I trust, because we have forged strong relationships over the years based on an honest sharing of our deepest experiences. The more we practice this kind of life, the more we come to know that God is indeed in our midst.
So who do you trust today?
Monday, September 01, 2008
As we prepare for the new season lets also discipline ourselves to remember that we are all students of Jesus, The Teacher and of the record we have of his life among us.
As we enter the new season we do so, of course, with the sacred writings of the ancients as our guide.
They too are our companions along the way.
As they looked into their experiences and their lives, they saw God's life living and breathing within their hearts.
We shall do nothing less.
Here then are the readings for next Sunday.
Have a look, and then next week we'll see where all this takes us.
In Sunday's lessons we'll hear about the significance of marking a memorial of God's Passover in the run up to the liberation of Israel from slavery. That permanent memorial will in history mark the liberation of all peoples from every form of slavery. It will factor significantly in American history. It was at the center of Christ's redeeming work in freeing us from the bonds of sin and death.
The Psalm sings a new song to God. We'll be singing a new creed on Sunday. It is a wonderful melody. As we learn our new songs, we also learn how to sing of our love for God and one another in our hearts on a daily basis.
Paul continues the theme by inviting us to owe nothing to one another except the love we are bound to bear to one another. We discover this kind of love as we put off the works of darkness and take on the deeds of the light. Thus we put on Christ as we would any fine garment, and our lives become adorned with something beautiful for God.
The Gospel is an interesting redactor. Still the authority of Jesus is clear, however you want to date the passage...if someone sins against you, first talk to that person. Let's face it, it is easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to them directly. When we do, we almost always win their hearts. But not always. Conflict occasionally runs deep. In cases where that is so Jesus would have us take our case to "arbitration", and if that fails to the whole church. If that doesn't work even then...well...treat them like you would a sinner or a tax collector.
And so how does Jesus treat sinners and tax collectors?
Ah, you get the point!
See you all Sunday.
The Lessons Appointed for Use on the
The 17th Sunday After Pentecost
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Psalm 149 Page 807, BCP
Sing to the LORD a new song; *
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD takes pleasure in his people *
and adorns the poor with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *
let them be joyful on their beds.
Let the praises of God be in their throat *
and a two-edged sword in their hand;
To wreak vengeance on the nations *
and punishment on the peoples;
To bind their kings in chains *
and their nobles with links of iron;
To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
this is glory for all his faithful people.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Jesus said, "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Please keep the folks in the Gulf Coast in your prayers. Another dangerous storm is aiming for the Gulf Coast and by all indications will be very powerful, and looks to make a direct hit on New Orleans. The storm is currently located near Havana, Cuba. Our brothers and sisters of that island nation also need our prayers. The Bishop of Louisiana has mobilized the Office of Disaster Response into a state of full readiness and is preparing to close churches and order an evacuation. The Diocese has made this plea to all government officials: "In all of these efforts, we are mindful of the poor, the homeless, those in temporary lodging, and those without the capacity to care for themselves. We urge our leaders and officials to honor the dignity of each person, especially in the event of a disaster. We remind all that we are not disposable people. The faith communities will hold ourselves and our officials to a high degree of accountability and transparency in this time of uncertainty."
I ask your prayers in particular for Walter Baer and the folks of Grace Church, Canal Street in New Orleans.
For Catherine Hancock, and her family
and the Priest and People of St. Mark's in Gulfport, MI,
All of whom some of us have developed strong bonds of affection since Katrina.
To stay abreast of developments use www.nola.com (News of New Orleans) and www.edola.org (News of the Diocese of Louisiana)
Thank you for your love and prayers. Those of you wishing to respond to the unfolding disaster may use the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund as a vehicle for sharing your love and generosity. The website is http://www.er-d.org/
Thank you all.
Friday, August 08, 2008
Homophobia - No Compromise Possible
I recently listened to a series of insightful lectures on the American Civil War given by Dr. Gary Gallagher, a professor of History at the University of Virginia. Early on, Dr. Gallagher analyzed the failure of America's political leadership to find a compromise on slavery in the days and years leading up to secession and the catastrophic and bloody war. There was the careful attempt to admit to the Union, in tandem, one slave state and one free state to insure the balance of power in the Senate. Henry Clay of Kentucky, the "great compromiser" helped to work out the division of Western territory so that this balance was to be preserved "in perpetuity." Slavery, however, was not a political battle that could ultimately be negotiated; it was rather a moral battle that did not lend itself to compromise. It pitted a new consciousness against a dying definition. Slavery could not be partially moral or moral under some circumstances. It was either moral or immoral. There was no middle ground.
In the slavery debate, those who shared the new consciousness were quite clear. Human beings cannot be held in bondage. This new consciousness challenged those definitions, which suggested that some people did not qualify as human beings; that some people were primitive, childlike, created to be subservient, and were, therefore, fit for nothing other than manual labor. Within that definition, slavery was deemed to be morally acceptable and those who held this position actually believed that slavery was virtuous, since the slaves were assumed to be receiving the benefits of better health, longer life and wonderful new opportunities in "a civilized and Christian land." These arguments sound strange, even hostile, to us today but ideas of racial superiority were still a powerful force in the Western world as late as the 20th century, fueling World War II, that cost the lives of over one hundred million people.
I thought about this period of history as I read of my own church, the Anglican Communion, seeking a way, "for the sake of unity," to accommodate divergent opinions on the issue of homosexuality. The Church's leadership is acting as if negotiation is possible in this conflict, yet the obvious fact is that homosexuality, like slavery, is a moral issue and thus not amenable to compromise. Once again today's debate pits an emerging consciousness against a dying definition. The old definition asserts that homosexuality is a choice that evil, perverted or subhuman people make. It cannot, therefore, be tolerated. People whose depravity causes them to choose "this lifestyle" must be converted or removed lest they destroy the social order; if they are homosexual because of a mental illness, they must be cured or isolated lest they infect the health of all our citizens. That is the definition, stated honestly but more baldly than its proponents will appreciate, that is held by those who call themselves conservative or traditional Christians. I suspect, based on the results of our recent election, that they are a majority in the body politic of America at this moment. They are, however, a frightened majority because every statistical study indicates that this point of view is declining. To defend this position by claiming that the refusal to accept this perspective will destroy "the unity of the Church," is a breathtakingly bankrupt idea. Trapped inside dying definitions, these Christians assume that not to agree with them places their critics on the side of immorality and moral anarchy.
The emerging new consciousness, on the other hand, rejects every part of that definition. It asserts that homosexual people are neither morally depraved nor mentally sick, since one's sexual orientation is not a choice; but something to which one awakens. It is like the dawning realization that one is male or female, part of a particular race or nation or even right or left-handed. A just and moral society cannot be erected on a premise that some human beings are subhuman or perverted, not on the basis of their doing but on the basis of their being. It matters not what any source of ancient wisdom has previously declared. The Bible, for example, was once quoted to support slavery, to oppose science and to prevent women from achieving equality. On every one of those issues the Bible was quite simply wrong. To quote it now to uphold the evil of homophobia is no less wrong. These efforts will fail as they always do. The ultimate tragedy is, however, that some church leaders, ever on the wrong side of great moral questions of history, never seem to learn history's lesson that any prejudice once publicly challenged by a new consciousness is doomed.
As I survey the debate on this issue in all parts of the Christian tradition, a tragic failure of leadership is once again depressingly obvious. The Roman Catholic hierarchy simply takes the old definition and labors first to defang it and then to perfume it. They call homosexuality "unnatural," or "a deviation," urging that it be suppressed wherever possible and controlled where not possible. Homosexuality, however, has now been incontrovertibly identified as present in the world of higher mammals. It also appears to be a stable and unchanging percentage of the human race at all times and in all places. These data suggest that homosexuality is not unnatural at all but is a minority aspect of the created order that appears quite normally in all higher forms of life. Furthermore, this negativity in the Roman Catholic tradition is without character since it is both known and privately acknowledged that a major percentage of Roman Catholic clergy throughout history, including today, have been and are gay males. To watch the leaders of this church condemn that which is a fact in the lives of its cardinals, bishops and priests is either dishonest or an act of unconscious psychological denial.
The evangelical and fundamentalist churches proclaim that these definitions of antiquity embody the eternal truth of God and any attempt to change them is either the work of Satan or a godless secular spirit that is challenging the word of God in the name of immorality. Yet the new consciousness is dawning there too. As long ago as 1988, the Southern Baptist Convention voted by over a 90% majority to "reaffirm" its condemnation of homosexuality as "behavior repugnant to God" and "condemned by scripture." They seemed not to recognize that any definition that has to be reaffirmed is no longer holding. The only questions are how protracted will the debate be and how many people will be hurt before that prejudice dies. When anyone seeks to protect a dying definition, failure is inevitable.
The leaders of the mainline churches, aware of the new consciousness, pretend that some compromise is possible. They seek to protect unity by attempting to civilize the debate until a new consensus arrives. They count "the unity of the church" as a worthy goal even as that forced unity violates that Institution's integrity. Can you imagine that part of the Church that said no to slavery being asked to apologize for upsetting the consciences of the slaveholders? Can you imagine Church leaders saying to slaveholders, "we will not challenge the morality of your decisions about slaves because we would rather keep our faith community united?" Can you imagine coddling slaveholders so that they will not separate themselves in schism from the Church? Can anyone imagine any slave-holding church claiming to be the body of Christ?
Yet if you substitute the word homosexuality for the word slavery, that is what is present today in the main line churches. If homosexuality is a given not a chosen way of life, the continued violation of gay and lesbian people, in order to preserve unity with the Church's homophobic constituency, is simply immoral. Not to bear corporate witness to those who still languish in the dying definitions of the past is to turn one's back on the very meaning of the Christ. Do we imagine that Jesus' invitation was, "Come unto me, some of ye." instead of "Come unto me, all ye?" Can any Church discriminate against any child of God and still sing, "Just as I am, without one plea, O Lamb of God, I come"?
Slavery could not be compromised in the 19th century because slavery was finally understood as a moral issue. Homosexuality cannot be compromised in the 21st century because it too is a moral issue. To the threats of parts of the Christian Church to leave if homosexual people are welcomed fully without any distinction, the body of Christ must be prepared to say, "That is your choice but we do not compromise truth to comfort you in your prejudice. The Church's doors will be open when your consciousness is finally formed and you decide to return, but we will not reject homosexuals now to avoid offending you. If the essence of our Christ is summed up in words that John's Gospel attributes to him, "I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly," then the choice is clear. Homophobia diminishes life; it does not make it more abundant. It must be ended; it cannot be tolerated even by making it kinder and gentler.
To the leaders of the Churches today I say: "Stop playing ecclesiastical games. Compromising truth never serves the cause of unity. The call of Christ is not to be all things to all people. The time for negotiating and compromising is over. It matters not if you are the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury or one of the heads of the various national and international bodies of Christians around the world, both the moral integrity of the Christ you claim to serve and your ability to speak for Christ on any other issue are at stake. There is no room for waffling on this moral imperative. The idea that you will allow politicians to advocate placing discrimination against homosexual persons into the Constitution of this country, while your voices are either in agreement or remain deafeningly silent, is an embarrassment. If it takes a split in the body of Christ to make this generation understand that homosexuality, like slavery, is a non-debatable, moral issue, then for God's sake, for Christ's sake, you must be willing to pay that price."