Today, from Palacios to Liberty and Orange, we are faced with continued rising water, flooding and chemical leaks; meanwhile, our neighbors in East Texas and Louisiana are being hammered by Harvey. Those in west Houston have their eyes on the levees, which are due to crest sometime Thursday at 56 feet. Additionally, there is another low in the Gulf of Mexico that may become Tropical Storm or Hurricane Jose by Sunday or Monday.
Our prayers are for those who wait and watch and weep today for loss of life, home and livelihood. We pray for those who are in the midst of the storm and who await rescue and relief. In the meantime those who are able are helping those who are dependent upon the kindness of others. One of the most heartening things about this horrific weather event is witnessing neighbors helping neighbors in both small and enormous ways.
Click here to read the entirety of the Bishop’s message where he talks about Stages of Disaster, How to Connect, Spiritual Care Teams and Resources.
Visit our hub for Hurricane Harvey relief and response efforts by clicking below.
The Diocese will send out a daily alert to try to consolidate information about ministries taking place. While some may feel like you are not enough, especially in these early stages, the ministry adds up. We hope to be able to show you how much impact the Episcopal Diocese is having in flooded areas because of your efforts. Look for that text message to arrive on your phone at 6 each day and if you can, please respond. We will send texts to heads of all congregations to capture work that is being done in areas farther from the flooded area as well.
We are most grateful for the initiative of our rectors who got together to offer immediate aid. Our Dean, the Very Rev. Barkley Thompson, has coordinated their efforts in Houston as a network for relief and restoration efforts. Beyond Houston, rectors and their congregations are invited to join these efforts. Christy Orman will organize offers of aid and assistance with needs and we will begin to connect these in the most efficient manner as soon as possible. Orman’s contact information is: firstname.lastname@example.org, 713.590.3313 (O) and or 832.915.0223 (M).
Our churches in need of help should contact the Rev. Canon Joann Saylors with specific needs so that we can put the appropriate team of diocesan staff together for you. She will coordinate with Orman and our disaster relief coordinator, the Ven. Russ Oechsel.
Let me begin by thanking all of our brothers and sisters around the world who are holding us up in prayer. We are grateful for the hope you lend us at this time of disaster and fear.
We have been in touch with many people and know that the disaster stretches across the whole southern part of our diocese. We expect the area to grow as the slow moving storm progresses across the state.
We are following the guidance of our officials and hunkering down in order to remain safe while they focus on those in the most immediate danger. Please pray for many clergy and laity who have water in their home. Pray also for those who need rescuing and are even now being rescued. We have a number of first responders and they also need our prayers as they are leaving loved ones to help with rescue operations.
We want to emphasize that we need to wait until the danger has passed to make our response so as not to complicated further the ongoing rescue operations.
Our plan for response includes the following:
1. We are in a standby mode until the storm passes.
2. We have had an effective test of our Alertmedia, our app for communicating with heads of congregations and staff in emergencies.
3. We have been in touch with many of our clergy families in the affected areas and heard from them about their situations. This afternoon we will use Alertmedia to gather more information.
4. Once the storm and danger has passed we will begin planning deployment of our Spiritual Care teams to affected areas.
5. We will are now and will continue to assess area damage as we get information from multiple sources and evaluate ways we can make an affective response.
6. An overall strategy will be developed and a coordinated response will be managed collaboratively working with our congregations. We will then implement a strategy and coordinate with resources.
As I write these words, I am very present to the sadness, fear, uncertainty, and grief that fill our minds and hearts in the wake of hurricane and tropical storm Harvey. Coastal towns along the Texas Gulf have been destroyed, and catastrophic flooding has left much of Houston underwater. Truly this storm has brought all of us to our knees, and our only recourse is to join King David in his plea for mercy: "Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck" (Psalm 69:1).
Two of the most powerful images in Scripture have Jesus Christ exercising authority over the sea. Jesus commands the stormy sea to be calm: "Who is this?" The disciples ask. "For even the winds and the sea obey him" (Matt 8:26). In a different passage, Jesus walks on the sea (Matt 14:26). The point being made by the Biblical author is clear: namely, that God's power to save, renew, heal, and restore is infinitely greater than the sea's power to destroy. The God we know in Jesus Christ forever sits "enthroned amidst the flood" (Psalm 29:10).
It is with this hope that we wait for healing together and, in concert with our Baptismal vows, we pledge to be conduits through whom God brings healing and renewal to others. We also commit to allowing other human beings to be vessels through whom God brings healing and renewal to us, for receiving is always its own kind of courage.
We do not know the future of Harvey or the city of Houston. But as Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matt 24:35). "I will never leave you," says our Lord standing on the waves. "Never will I forsake you" (Heb 13:5).
My prayers, the prayers of your diocesan staff, and or global family are with you. Jesus is with you. Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that holy City where the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Sustain those displaced by the storm with food, drink, and all other bodily necessities of life. We especially remember before you all poor and neglected persons it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them; that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, we may ever be defended by your gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
A missional church is forever pondering how we engage with,
reject, immerse, or flee from the cultural context in which we find ourselves. We
believe that God is reconciling the world to God’s Self and that we are active
participants in God’s mission. This realization forces us to wrestle with how
we most appropriately envision and engage the world around us.
Certainly, the Episcopal Church, like the worldwide Anglican
Communion, has varied opinions on the matter. Perhaps no theologian, historian,
or cultural exegete has influenced Episcopal clergy more than H. Richard
Niebuhr is his seminal work, Christ and
Culture (Harper & Row, 1975). The book has long been considered a
historical, literary, and religious masterpiece as it surveys over one-and-a-half
millennia of Christian history in an attempt to understand the different ways
that Christians have pondered God’s mission and it’s relation to culture. Any student
of history or literature would love the book.
Niebuhr begins with, “Belief in [Christ Jesus] and loyalty
to his cause involves men in the double movement from world to God and from God
to world” (29). He defines culture as a combination of “language, habits,
ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical
processes, and values” (32).Niebuhr
then offers different ways in which Christians have gone about engaging the
culture around them in an effort to be faithful to God’s mission.
The first he calls Christ
Against Culture. In this model, an immovable wall separates the Christian
community and the surrounding culture. Historical figures who exemplified this
position include Tertullian, Leo Tolstoy, the Mennonites, and many of the
earliest monastic traditions. Niebuhr is quick to critique this perspective
because of its failure to honestly face the impact and fluidity that culture
plays in the life of Christian community. It is also prone to legalism,
scapegoats culture, and misses out on God’s interventions within human history,
and thus within culture.
The second model he offers is Christ of Culture. In this view, Jesus is immersed in culture as a great
wisdom teacher. The vocation of the Christian community is to take Jesus’ place
as such within the wider culture. Jesus is seen as “the great enlightener, the
great teacher, the one who directs all men in culture to the attainment of
wisdom, moral perfection, and peace” (92). This view lends itself to a
civic-oriented God who is identified with the goals and objectives of the
state. Niebuhr cites the ancient Gnostics, Abelard, Albrecht Ritschl, and much
of Protestant liberalism as falling in this typology. However, there is a
problem with this perspective in Niebuhr’s view. Namely, Jesus is quickly
coopted by the culture and the church quickly succumbs to idolatry (110).
We then arrive at Christ Above Culture.
Niebuhr delineates between two postures within this one perspective. Some
thinkers, like Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and Thomas Aquinas, focused
on reason, redemption, and nature. Others, such as Martin Luther and Sören
Kierkegaard, emphasized revelation, redemption, and grace. Niebuhr rightly saw
the manner in which this model easily fell into unnecessary dualisms, not to
mention a passive acceptance of the culture, which Christ was seen as being
somewhat removed from.
Niebuhr’s last foray into the subject is Christ
the Transformer of Culture. Here God is clearly seen as being above
culture: judging, acting, and moving to transform people, culture, and the
world. Theologians like John Calvin and F. D. Maurice represent this position. Creation
is broken, but God is moving within culture to redeem and make all things new.
My brief synopsis does not do Niebuhr’s text justice. My
hope is simply to bring to light the different lenses by which we are prone to
see and thus engage the culture around us. With respect to the question of
which model is most faithful to God’s mission, Niebuhr rejects the idea of a
“Christian answer.” He even says that all of our missionary efforts are in the
end “fragmentary.” (236) I suspect that Niebuhr is right, and I wonder about
how different contexts influenced the different ways people saw and engaged the
world. It is with this thought in mind that I wish to ponder the context in
which we find ourselves right now.
I believe that we are still coming out of a great age of
Christianity called “Christendom.” Modernity is giving way to postmodernity,
where the institutional church is no longer the center of the culture. We are
in an environment that the institution has not faced in recent memory. Our current
systems, forms, knowledge, and tools are inadequate for our context.
Furthermore, choosing just one of Niebuhr’s models will not help us be faithful
to Christ’s mission in this new and foreign environment.
We live in a world where Christianity is seen as simply
another brand in a long line of religions and political perspectives where both
“truth” and “alternative facts” are produced. Indeed, in our context “anything
goes” because all macro-narratives that seek to capture the fullness of reality
are rejected the moment they make such a claim. Many experience our world as
fragmented, and I fear that we may need to fall deeper into volatility and
uncertainty before hitting the metaphorical bottom.
Yet, we know that God calls us to engage the world. Like
fisher folk standing at the Sea of Galilee with the risen Lord urging us back
into the mission field, we are not sure where the journey and walk with Jesus
will take us. We are unclear what sacrifices will be asked of us. It is from
this place of genuine puzzlement that we stand and survey the world around us. We
know that God in Christ Jesus has invited us to partner with Him in mission, and
so we take our first brave and courageous steps from this unknown place where
the future is uncertain.
As we engage the world around us we can be certain that we will
find all kinds of hate, fear, brokenness, depravity, greed, and every manner of
sin. But we will find joy, too. We will find love. We will find people to share
our hope with and people who will give us hope. We will find that our God is
with us and we will see mighty and miraculous deeds done by God and in God’s
At the end of the day, faithfulness to God’s mission is not
about choosing the right model for engaging the culture. It is about being the
right sort of missionary, people willing to risk getting it wrong time and time
again because we love the messy journey of partnering with God in mission as we
engage the world that Christ is critiquing, immersed in, above, transforming,
and above all else saving all at the same time.
The June Issue of the Diolog is available to read here.
The Good Shepherd and His Gate
May 7, 2017
Good Shepherd, Austin
St. James’, Austin
Heavenly Father, I humbly beseech you as I offer these words this morning, to
see before you a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock and a sinner
of your own redeeming. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The day in which in all of Christendom,
Episcopal and denominational churches everywhere set aside the lessons and the
readings in our Scripture to dwell on the image of the Good Shepherd. And so
for me, at the beginning of the week, as I started to think about my words this
morning, it immediately conjured up the image of the first church that I
remember, certainly not my first church, but the first church that I remember
as a child. My father was an Episcopal priest and so I grew up in the Episcopal
Church and the church was The Good Shepherd Church in The Heights, this is
where my father served. And I think part of that is that on Saturdays, when my
dad would go up to get the church ready for services the next day, and I have a
sneaking suspicion he was probably working on his sermon at the last minute,
but I would have free rein of the church. And so my dad would go into his study
and begin to do his work, whatever that work was, and I could walk around and
go wherever I wanted. But I remember many times as a six-year-old making out my
way into the nave, into the center of the church in the center aisle, and
looking at the back wall which had this massive stained glass window of the
Good Shepherd in it, and just the beauty, just the beauty of the light coming
through that into a dark nave, a dark church. And so, when I think about these
lessons, it is a very warm childhood memory that is evoked. That touches my
heart. That reminds me of a loving and caring shepherd, a savior who embraces
around his shoulders the sweet lost lamb, that one that he went after. And what
I recognize, of course, is that like any childhood memory I am of course taking,
collapsing all of the gospel images of the Good Shepherd into my memory of the
Good Shepherd. That they don't all exactly exist there in that same space, but
in my memory, they do and what I want to say is that then I grew up. And I grew
up and certainly didn't imagine that I would become a minister, but that
happened and I went to seminary in order to learn very important things.
Specifically, things about this parable stand out, the first being that
shepherds were smelly people. That you have to understand the context in the
life of a shepherd in order to break open this image of the Good Shepherd and
that they were smelly people because sheep are smelly and that they live
outside. And that certainly stuck in my mind, but also that in some way,
shepherds were a common reference in the scriptures for religious leaders. And
that bad shepherds, especially in the New Testament because there are a number
of bad shepherds, were poor examples of faith and statesmanship, and that those
are woven into the conversation that is happening in today's scripture. I also
learned of the ecclesiastical or institutional church layer of apostleship, of
the episcopacy of the bishop as a shepherd, with the shepherd's crook, the
shepherd's staff, that the bishop carries.
Then there is Psalm 23, which most Christians might remember some portion of.
And how Psalm 23 is really about God's deliverance of Israel being led into the
Promised Land out of the Valley of Death and slavery, and how Christians have
now interpolated that to speak to us of Heaven. And that's why this is so often
used at our funerals services and our memorial services. And, of course,
the Great I Am, the Good Shepherd, is the fourth in the seven different "I
Am" statements. And lastly, that the Christians didn't invent the Good
Shepherd, but, rather, it is a Greek notion of Kriophoros, the ram-bearer. The
one who bears the lamb to the sacrifice. And what I can tell by looking at you
is you are about as bored as that is boring, to go through that long list, and
that we should name it. But then I come to this point. Right? Where the reality
is that my childhood fascination with that good shepherd window and all of
the jumbled gospel narrative gets mixed up in that deep theology,
which does a good job of bearing all the very best stuff from the
scripture, and as I was pondering all of this, I came upon this quote by an
Episcopal priest and scholar, Robert Farrar Capon, and I felt as though he was
talking about me and all of that theology when he says, "I don't like it."
He says, "It is as if you have recently discovered two wonderful
stimulants namely theology and white wine, and they have-- and that you have
gone slightly ga-ga over both of them. True enough," he writes, "both
thinking and drinking are delightful projects, with which to grace afternoon
and enliven an evening, but as one who has kept a wine cellar since 1953, and a
theology addict since well before that, I assure you," Capon says,
"that neither of these repositories of my hopes ever quite delivered what I
expected of them in my first enthusiasms." So, let us set aside for a
moment everything that I and you have brought in this morning to our Good
Shepherd story. And let us come to it again as Marcus Borg once said, let us
take a look at it again as if for the first time. I think when we do that, what
we find then is that there is great truth in these parables, in these sayings
of Jesus that are closer to, if not nestled deep within the actual childhood
understanding of the Good Shepherd but in a deep and powerful and terrible way.
God and Christ Jesus stands as shepherd in our lives in a single solitary space
as the gate, says John's Gospel. Upon the cross the Good Shepherd stands in our
lives unmovable in good times and in bad. Its shadow no matter where we go
always touches the hems of our garments no matter what we are undertaking.
God's cross on Calvary, is the gate that opens to us in our green pastures and
still waters and in our darkest valleys amidst of our enemies, heaven and God’s
God, as the Good Shepherd, Christ upon his cross is our rod and our
staff. It is that which bridges Heaven and earth, God, and humanity. As Capon
says, the content of theology is this fact of the cross and resurrection. I say
the content of faith is this trust.
What I have learned in the many years is that the world is filled with
many other gates, many other sheepfolds and other shepherds and other ways, all
of them promising deliverance in exchange for doing things. Jesus though, as
gate and shepherd in his act of crucifixion and God's act of resurrection has put an
end to all forms of religious exchange that promise you God's love if you will
but behave. If you believe that doing the right things, thinking the right
things, acting the right way, voting the right way, being the right person, all
of that does not get you God's love and God's embrace. That is the truth
of the God who stands as Shepherd at the gate. Being good and God will love you
is a phrase that does not work on the Christian who holds the cross at the
heart of their faith. No correct actions, speech, code of conduct is required
at the foot of the cross on Calvary. No lightly bouqueted, religion chilled to
our liking. It is free and it cannot be earned by you or by me. It is a single
offering of God's love for us. The Good Shepherd, the God Shepherd on his cross
has signaled the end to earning God's love and has opened for all creation a
way to the other side where death has no victory, politics have no victory, and
religion has no victory. The gate has been flung wide open, and it is held
there by the foot of the cross. And you and I are free to enter. No matter by
way of going the frequently-traveled or less-traveled road, no matter how we
arrive, the high road or the low road. Regardless of arriving in good form and
bad, we arrive, all of us. When the day is done and the last breath breathed,
all of us arrive at the gate. And there, to quote Capon once more, is the
"terrible goodness of it all" for everybody. And we will find
ourselves safe in the power of God's resurrection. For He is the Good Shepherd,
and He beckons us with His voice to come in, for all who come to Him shall be
led and shall cross over into God's green pastures.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
"Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
"Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
"One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
"When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
"Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
"It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball