Friday, January 29, 2010

Sermon on the ministry of Priesthood: The Rev. Dean Lawrence's Ordination

Many of you probably do not know that Dean sang and led music at JoAnne’s and my marriage. You also probably do not know that he and I are a song writing duo: Dean and Doyle or D2.

I remember Dean playing the guitar under the pine trees, I was writing down lyrics. It became a favorite that year. To this day we are apt to sing it in our car, as my family and I do, recalling the great Camp Allen oldies but goodies: Kumbaya, One Tin Soldier, and Pass it On, or the more serious songs like Hagalena Magalena, Father Abraham, A Boom Chic-a-Boom. The song goes like this:
Dean Dean Jelly Bean, Dean Dean Jelly Bean, Watermelon on my head, Watermelon on my head. Aooga! Aooga!

But we have not come here tonight to talk about our mutual music accomplishments; though Dean’s credentials in this particular area are lengthy.

Rather, we are here because today Dean is choosing to order his life in a new and profound way.

There are only four times when a bishop lays hands on a Christian, each time is to ask the Holy Spirit to give the gift of ministry: confirmation, ordination to the diaconate, ordination to the priesthood, and ordination to the episcopate.

Tonight we are here to make a priest in Christ’s one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

John Chrysostom wrote in his Six Books on the Priesthood, “The priest must be dignified, but not haughty; awe-inspiring, but kind; affable in his authority; impartial, but courteous; humble, but not servile, strong but gentle.”

Of course St. Chrysostom did not know of the demands on the modern clerics’ time. You are going to be overwhelmed with administrative duties, vying for attention and pressing you to make pastoring, celebrating, and preparing last on your to do list.

The life of clergy today has become disordered in what many might describe as a dizzying array of duties far from resembling priesthood and more akin to small business management.

Running a growing business, Dean, may be something you do under the category of other ministrations assigned, but it is neither the primary work of priesthood, nor should it be the ordering principle of your ministry.

You are about to commit yourself, through the calling of the Holy Spirit, to a trust and responsibility given to you when I lay my hands upon your head. This trust is given through me, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, directly from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire, enlighten with perpetual fire.”

You are ordering your life tonight, recognizing that the church is the dwelling place of the same Holy Spirit. It is not the buildings or the budget or the vestry or the dwelling place called your office. The church is that in which we believe and proclaim God’s Holy Spirit dwells and you will be forever yoked to its bridal veil as it awaits the coming of Christ.

The church you are choosing to serve and upon whose orders you will form your life is the very Body of Christ and the family of God. It is created through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and his first gifts of the spirit making it the living body of Christ in the world God loves.

Christ envisions a family of God where the unity of the Holy Spirit binds together the healthy with those in need of healing, the wealthy with those who hunger, and the powerful with those without voice.

Just as Christ’s primary work was the work of glorifying God, so too Christ’s very body on earth, the church, is given the life of the spirit that it may glorify God. Each Christian within it is given new life, through the Holy Spirit, at Baptism and then Confirmation, to glorify God by making Christ known chiefly through the renewing of God’s creation, serving as missionaries to restore the fallen, heal the broken, and feed the starving. We are to proclaim freedom from the things which bind us up and rest to the weary.

This church, the missionary Body of Christ the family of God, the bride of Christ, needs you to be a pastor, a priest, and teacher.

Today you are ordered as a pastor. You are to love and serve God’s people. Young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor, you are to be their pastor because they are all God’s sheep, they are all lambs of his flock, and they are all sinners of his redeeming.

You are God’s pastor, this is the promise you are making and the goal of your life and ministry. Jesus is the great shepherd of the flock, and these are his sheep. We are here and they are ours only for a little while. But, Dean, they are all ours. We are to love them all, pastor them all, call them all to repentance, and lead them all out into green pastures. We are to rescue them from rocky cliffs, and help them to look beyond their own lives to the lives of their neighbors.

The flock of Christ needs you to be a pastor with the all seeing eyes of Jesus and the loving embrace of its good Shepherd.

Today you are ordered as a priest.

As a priest you are to share in the administration of Holy Baptism. And, you are to celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s body and blood. You are to share. You are to share because there is only one great High Priest and that is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who is the chief celebrant at Baptism and Eucharist. I am Christ’s representative in this diocese and you as a priest stand in my place and in the place of Christ at his font and at his table. The water, the bread, and the wine are symbols of yours and my ministry in this place. These are symbols that we together share at table with Jesus Christ as he breaks open the doors of death and breaks bread and gives us wine.

You have been chosen by the church to stand in this holy place and offer our prayers and to make Holy Sacraments. The church does this because we believe your manner of life recommends you to the service of priesthood in this world. But you are also here because God has chosen and called you to eternal service.

You are to be a priest after the eternal order of Melchizedek as the first priest of the Most High God, mentioned in Genesis as the keeper of the bread and the wine. And, Dean, you are ordered, dressed, and made a priest forever -- serving Christ both night and day in this world and the next.

The sacraments of the church are the means of grace by which the people and family of God are fed food for their life’s journey and their life’s ministry. You must endeavor to prepare your self in heart and mind to pray the prayers faithfully, to be attentive and soulfully present in the leading of worship, to plan worship that is life giving and world changing, to offer the sacrifices of God which is holy work, and to make disciples baptizing them with the Holy Spirit of God, marking the flock as Christ’s own forever.

Temper your intentional liturgical leadership with humor and grace that God may be glorified in worship that you lead both through its perfection and its mistakes.

The worshipping and sacramental church needs you to be a priest so that the reconciling love of Christ may be known and received

Today you are ordered as a teacher.

As teacher you must first pedagogically model good Christian virtue. Love God and love neighbor. You will teach your people more by your actions than you will ever teach them by your words. So model your life as pastor and priest out of your understanding of Christ’s mission as given to us in the Holy Scripture – fashion your life with gospel principles and precepts. Live a life that is pleasing to God, because you glorify God by proclaiming the Gospel in deed and in word.

As a teacher you must model the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures. You cannot teach the bible if you don’t read it. You cannot teach the bible if you don’t pray it.

The scripture is the Word of God, and it is a witness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error in matters pertaining to salvation. It is a collection of books which show the diversity of life lived under the Lordship of God and in particular the paschal mystery of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

You must read, mark and inwardly digest these books. For as the Scripture transcends, as the Word of God, all cultures, it must be interpreted and expressed in cultural concepts in order to reach the ears and hearts of all human beings who are themselves culturally bound. The sacrament of scripture is present in this modern age, but it takes the holy teacher of God to bring its faithful precepts to life for those within and without the church.

Only, when you have done these things continue searching for the knowledge of such things that will make you a stronger and more able minister of Christ. After you understand who the person of Jesus is and who he embraces, then read a book on newcomer ministry. After you understand Jesus’ mission to the poor, then read a book on how to lead a good mission trip. After you understand the grace and bounty given to us by God in creation, then learn how to run a good stewardship campaign.

The world is hungry for good things and you are to nourish it and Christ’s people from the riches of His grace.

Today you are ordered as pastor, teacher, and priest. You are to be obedient to Christ and faithful in your work as you have promised to him before me, his bishop, and the people of his church.

Dean please stand for your charge.

To be able to fulfill what you promise you have got to pray. In a little while we will pray and call down the Holy Spirit. There will be a period of silence as the whole church of God calls the Holy Spirit to make you a priest in his church. It will take the prayers of all of us to make you a priest. It will take your prayers to become one.

1. Persevere in prayer, Dean, both in public and in private. Out of the richness of ministry and God’s grace begin daily with repentance, asking God to reform and form you for his work. Then pray the scriptures, the psalms and canticles of praise to God, then pray the creed that your unbelief may be transformed, and then pray for your people by name. Pray each day for the people entrusted to your care by name. Every week in my own daily prayer I will pray for you. You in turn must pray for those with whom you work and those to whom you are called to serve.

As we approach God on our behalf and on the behalf of others we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal love, and as we go to him who is eternal love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there. So take yourself, your family, and those you serve into the arms and saving embrace of the one who is love, Jesus Christ our Lord.

2. Always have imprinted on your heart and in your mind the great treasure that is committed to your care and your charge by Jesus Christ.

You are given the very sheep of Christ which he bought with his death and for whom he shed his blood. The church and congregation in which you are called to serve is the very Spouse of Christ and his body.

And if it shall happen that the same church or any sheep of Christ’s fold are harmed or hindered in their walk with Jesus by reason of your negligence, you and I know the greatness of the fault, and the cost of such actions.

So look upon the sheep of his fold, and the lambs of his flock, look upon his spouse and never cease your labor, your care, and your diligence, until you have done all that is within you, all that is your bounden duty and service, to bring all that are committed to you to the faith and knowledge of God, and to the perfection and the maturity which is the life in Christ.
3. Do all these things for the pleasure of serving Christ and the glory of God. Do them for the healing and betterment of your own soul, indeed for your own salvation. Do these things that when you come to the last day when you meet your Lord wearing you priestly robes you may hear words of Jesus, “well done good and faithful servant, well done.”
Today you are ordered pastor, priest, and teacher in Christ’s one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. And, I count this an honor and privilege to know you as friend, to ordain you a priest, to be your bishop.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jesus is teaching in the temple. Are we listening?

Some thoughts about our Gospel for the 3rd Sunday After the Epiphany, Ordinary Time

Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The picture is a Korazim or teaching seat from an ancient synagogue.


On this day which is holy to you, O Lord our God, your people assemble to hear your words and delight in the feast you prepare. Let the Spirit that anointed Jesus send us forth to proclaim your freedom and favor. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some thoughts on the Gospel of Luke 4:14-21

In our liturgical reading we have moved from the Epiphany through the Baptism of our Lord, to his first miracle at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee. We arrive this week to settle into a reading of Luke’s Gospel as Luke intended it, sequentially. We land in this first reading (following the propers for Ordinary Time) on Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth. It is never easy to come home, and it certainly brings its own challenges when you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, as in Jesus’ case.

We certainly have the parallels for this section in Matthew 13:53-54 and Mark 6:1-2 if you wish to read through them. And, as in Acts 13:15 and the parallel passages we are given a view of the worship that dominated synagogue gatherings of Jesus’ time. (Haslam)

We are in transition mode in the Gospel once again, and here the words from verse 14: “filled with the power of the Spirit” remind us that in Luke’s Gospel we haven’t been at the wedding but rather at his baptism. So we are in the midst of Jesus’ inaugural preaching mission which begins, according to Luke, at home.

For Luke teaching and preaching flows out of the Holy spirit, as do all the activities of ministry. This is clear throughout the Lukan Gospel and certainly in the first chapter of Acts: 5:3, 5:17, 6:6, 13:10, 22, 19:47, 20:1, 21, 21:37, 23:5, Acts 1.1. The scholar Luke Timothy Johnson believes the Holy Spirit sent Jesus out on a preaching tour of the many towns and villages and that he is just now coming to Nazareth. Jesus has returned to “where he has been raised.” Interestingly, Luke uses the term “nourished” here. Jesus is returning to where he was nourished, and the word frequently means where he was nourished in his religious studies (see Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson, p78).

Some scholars believe that the words “as was his custom” were used to describe Jesus’ custom of teaching in synagogues. I believe this better belongs to the idea that as a pious Jew, Jesus knew that the custom of attending synagogue. He was nourished in a Jewish home and educated in their religious customs and it was his nature to follow what his family had given him and return to the synagogue to worship on the Sabbath. (The Sabbath is a theme in Luke’s Gospel and can be picked up in these passages: see also 4:31-37 (teaching and casting out a demon ); 6:1-5 (his disciples pluck some heads of grain), 6:6-11 (restores a man’s withered hand); 13:10-17 (heals a crippled woman); 14:1-6 (heals a man who had dropsy).

Third Isaiah, or later Isaiah, is so very essential in the early Christian understanding of who Jesus was and understanding his ministry. This is true for Luke that begins with several citations and now continues in this passage with a reading that helps the reader know who Jesus is. Just think about the prophetic words being read and how here in the midst of the people of Nazareth is Jesus the person who will fulfill in his ministry the very words of Isaiah. Jesus will cure, bind up the broken-hearted, and announce the day of the reign of God, comfort all who mourn, provide for those who mourn free the captives, and to proclaim a Jubilee year. You and I can think of moments throughout the Gospel narrative when Jesus does these things. Moreover, you and I can also tell stories of when Jesus Christ did these things in our own lives, along our journeys.

Handing the scroll back to the minister or Hazzan – a person who is a synagogue leader, Jesus sits down.

We of course continue with the second half of the story next Sunday. What is very important here is that Luke has moved this event to the very first part of Jesus ministry – considering where both Mark and Matthew place it in the Gospel. Luke is illustrating, and highlighting, who this is, what his ministry is and what kind of messiah is he going to be. Luke’s Jesus is here for the disenfranchised and for the poor. Luke wants this message to get out right at the beginning as if to inaugurate Jesus ministry with clarity about his coming from God on God’s behalf to restore creation, making the wounded whole, and filling the hungry with good things.

Like so many stories in the Old Testament where God acts on behalf of his people because they are not being cared for, Luke gives us a vision of the incarnation where God is seeking to restore creation. The restoration of creation for Luke begins with the understanding of God’s special interest in the poor, powerless, and voiceless. Jesus’ work is a freedom and release from evil through exorcisms, healings, education, and economic transformation. Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “the radical character of this mission is specified above all by its being offered to and accepted by those who were the outcasts of the people.” (Luke, 81)

Some questions I am pondering: Are we as a church involved in this work? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus and not be directly involved in the work that Jesus was involved in? Who are God’s people today that we are not being attentive to?

Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy

In the Luke’s Gospel (13:1-21) Jesus refers to a recent disaster in which eighteen people were killed when part of an ancient tower wall fell near the pool of Siloam. Jesus asks the question, do you think they were more due for punishment than all the Galileans or all the people who live in Jerusalem?

While scholars say prophets in Jesus’ day used current disasters to encourage repentance before the end of time--or in this case, the coming of the reign of God, we know what Jesus is saying is that natural disasters happen and people are killed.

For those in the Lukan community who first heard this passage, and for us today, we know people are not killed through natural disasters because of their sin. We remember that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, which enables us to receive grace, eternal life and the ability to restore creation; all to the Glory of God. That is our task now.

In the wake of the events unfolding before our eyes in Haiti, some may be tempted to ask, why does one person survive while another does not? Were some spared because of righteous living? Did others perish because of some notorious sin? Jesus’ answer remains an unequivocal, “NO!”

A great disaster has occurred in one of the Episcopal Church’s largest and poorest dioceses. Reports put the death toll at 200,000. Many more will succumb to their wounds lacking proper medical care and nourishment despite heroic efforts from around the world.

Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin wrote to fellow bishops: “[The earthquake] was so strong that everything has been destroyed. All institutions of the Church have been destroyed. We have lost a lot of people including students of our schools and university.”

Bishop Duracin is unharmed but his wife suffered injury to her leg. The Episcopal Church in Haiti has lost its beautifully painted cathedral, nearby convent and school handicapped children, Holy Trinity Complex, College St. Pierre and a Jubilee Center, among many other schools and churches. The bishop remains among his people offering comfort and encouragement.

We know that our three missionaries are all accounted for - Mallory Holding, Jude Harmon, and Oge Beauvoir, who is the dean of the Theological Seminary, along with his wife Serette. We give thanks to God for their well being, and the well being of so many Haitians and relief workers, and we ask for a full measure of God’s grace to protect them as they continue their ministry in Haiti.

For those who perished, we ask God to recognize them as sheep of His own flock, lambs of His own fold, and sinners of His own redeeming. Give rest to them with the saints in light, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

What do we do in the face of this tragedy? Returning to the words of Luke’s Gospel, we first give thanks for the suffering of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that the knowledge that human suffering is known to God Himself. We give thanks for the redemption and grace that is given to us and the bounty of God’s love that is poured down upon us and the people of Haiti.

Out of a sense of that abundance and grace, our response is to confess and repent – just as Jesus taught those who listened to him so many years ago. And, we accept through our baptismal covenant and confirmation the invitation of God to act on behalf of those in Haiti.

The immediate need is donating funds for relief--to Episcopal Relief and Development (, or other relief agencies--to provide clean water, food, medical supplie, and support for the relief and recovery ministries in Haiti. We make real the reign of God by helping, through dollar donations, to build the kingdom of God in Haiti – to restore creation in Haiti.
When the time comes, and it will, we will be ready to respond to help physically rebuild Haiti, restoring the lives of our brothers and sisters in Haiti.
And, we pray. We pray for those who are not yet found, but whom God knows by name. We pray for those found and the healing hands of those who minister to them. We pray for those who are scared that they may have the courage of God. We pray for the weak that they may have the strength of God. And, we pray that we may witness to the Glory of God and the presence of God through the ministering angels who are now descending to aid the people of Haiti.

In the words of Psalm 126: When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the anations, "The Lord has done great things for them."

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev.

Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Wedding at Cana and Haiti: Be A Witness of God's Glory and A Steward of God's Bounty

Scripture Passage John 2:1-11

2On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Art: Mattia Preti, 1655, Oil on Canvas

A Prayer:
O God of salvation, the people in whom you delight hasten with joy to the wedding feast. Forsaken no more, we bear a new name; desolate no longer, we taste your new wine. Make us your faithful stewards ready to do whatever Jesus tells us and eager to share with others the wine he provides. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some thoughts this week about our upcoming lesson from John's Gospel on the Wedding at Cana

As we move into ordinary time, also known as the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, we have in the Gospel of John Jesus' first miracle at the wedding at Cana. We are going to see great things through the Gospel of John and we know that we will see and come to believe in even greater things after his resurrection. Remember, in John 1:50 - Jesus words to Nathanael: "You will see greater things than these."

We begin our passage today with these words: "On the third day..." (v1) Theologically Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is the image through whom all creation flows, and comes to be. Jesus is the incarnation of God and inaugurates in all the Gospels a new creation time. Here it is very possible that John is tying this theme to the creation story and its seven days. The "third day" is the third day after the first followers were called: Philip and Nathanael. So we have the evolving creation story renewing the world with the calling of new disciples and now a recreation miracle is about to take place.

The setting is of course a “wedding." (It was most likely a Wednesday if you are curious in that the Mishnah (Kethuboth 1) says that the wedding of a virgin is to occur on that day. R. Brown, The Gospel of John, 98). What is perhaps more interesting is that in the prophetic tradition of Jesus' own time, one of the images of the fulfillment of God's work, the coming of God's reign, and the recreation, was a Wedding feast. ( Isaiah 54:4; 62:4-5, Matthew 22:2-14; 25:1ff; Mark 2:19).

So it is that Jesus' first miracle is to take place at a wedding feast in Cana, just about 15 km outside of Nazareth, and Mom is in charge. It is possible that Mary's concern regarding the shortage of wine comes from the relationship with the families being married. Some might say that Mary is persistent, maybe to the point of frustration, because Jesus uses a word not customarily appropriate for a son to his mother. I believe this is a common misunderstanding and stems from the English translation. Interestingly, it is the same word he uses when addressing the Samaritan Woman and Mary Magdalene. Scholars remind us that this was actually a polite way for a man to address a woman at the time of Jesus and that it is attested to in other Greek literature of the day.

This very much changes the English reading of the text and allows us to see that it is not Mary's involvement in Jesus' ministry that is important but rather the revelation of Jesus' mission. His response in verse 4 is: “My hour has not yet come" or "Has my hour not yet come?” Both readings are ok, and help us to understand that the work of Jesus in and throughout John's Gospel is seen as the work of Glorifying God most of all. All that he does is to glorify God. This helps me to understand that both in the seemingly trivial things of life and in the great episodes the Christian, walking the way of Jesus, has the opportunity to glorify God.

Mary of course is assuming that Jesus will do something to meet the situation (v. 5). See also 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1. So she says, "do what he tells you."

There have been and will continue to be tons of paper expended on the ideas around the numbers given: six stone jars, and fifteen to twenty gallons. While the material they are made of (stone) may refer to Lev 11:29-38, the meaning of the numbers seems to miss the idea: a lot of water was turned into wine. Some scholars further want to de-mystify the event by changing the amount or offering the idea that only the water drawn out was

turned into wine. Again, this misses the point that Jesus turns a huge amount of water into wine quite miraculously.

This lesson was Friday, January 15, 2010's morning prayer New Testament reading, and a number of people in the office were struck by who the first witness of the miracle is and who proclaims the meaning of the miracle: the steward. The steward is the first to draw the wine from the containers, the first to taste the bounty of God, the first to see and experience the miracle.

In this God is glorified. The greater glory of resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit following the crucifixion is foretold and we see a theme that will serve as a road map through this gospel. Perhaps a foretaste even of the Eucharistic feast.

This story of Jesus' first miracle is dense and filled with theological themes and ideas about Jesus and his ministry. As I reflect on the passage I am reminded of the theological work of Clement of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Cyprian. Each one of them sees in this miracle a tie between water and wine in this story and other symbols in the Johanine Gospel like water, light and food for God's providence in Jesus -- the gift of salvation.

Having said all of this the themes that ultimately stand out for me are:

1.  The charge as followers of Jesus to glorify God in the least and greatest of occasions along life's journey.

2.  To embrace the call of others, the invitation to minister on behalf of Christ.

3.  The expectation of the miraculous.

4.  To be witnesses, like the steward who tastes and sees, and proclaims the goodness and bounty and providence of God.

This week as our eyes move from immigration reform at the beginning of the week to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, we are tempted to ask where is God in all of this? And what are we supposed to do?

We have an opportunity as Christians, and particularly as Episcopalians, to see both in the eyes and faces of the least our brothers and sisters the opportunity to glorify God through service in his name. We are being invited and asked to participate in the lives of Christ's little ones and we have the even greater responsibility, as Mary did, to invite others to join us in ministry doing the miraculous work of the Gospel.

Instead of asking "how can we possibly make a difference?" the Christian response is to expect the miraculous and to make a difference. Like the steward we must taste the bounty we are given and proclaim the providence of God by sharing with the hosts of God. Haiti does not look much like a wedding feast in Cana. However, we have the opportunity to take our feast and share it with those in need. "What can we do?" you ask. We can give money for food, clean water, and medical supplies. We can pray for those in need. We can wait for the call to rebuild and answer it with even greater funds and, more importantly our time. And, for those who can make a difference now, we can act. Let us not only see the miraculous work of Jesus in the wedding feast today but let us act out for the glory of God and out of our abundance to change the lives of our neighbor.

Last thoughts this week: I can't get this video and these words out of my head. This video was made as a response to the Pat Robertson remarks earlier this week on Haiti:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Statement on Ethical Immigration Reform by Houston Leaders

As our diverse faith traditions teach us to welcome our brothers and sisters with love and compassion—regardless of their place of birth—we call on the new Administration and 111th Congress to enact humane and equitable immigration reform in 2010.

While we hear the voices of our brothers and sisters for a more just way, we also hear the voices that fear the migrant. We understand the fears, but we believe that the treatment of the immigrant is a core religious value and to welcome the stranger is to welcome a child of God. Our prayer is to transform these dissonant voices into a symphony of concern for the strangers in our midst.

The Hebrew Bible tells us: "The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). In the New Testament, Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger, for "what you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40). The Qur'an tells us that we should “do good to…those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet” (4:36). The Hindu Taitiriya Upanishad tells us “the guest is a representative of God” (1.11.2). In our learnings and discoveries of all holy writings we are called to love the sojourner out of our own shared experiences.

Each day in our congregations, service programs, health-care facilities, and schools we witness the human consequences of a broken and outdated system. We see the plight of separated families, and children afraid of returning home to a parentless house. We see the exploitation of undocumented workers as well as the escalation of community fear due to indiscriminate raids and local police acting as federal immigration agents.

Our broken immigration system benefits no one. It offends the dignity of all human beings. As people of faith, we pray to end this unjust condition by enacting humane immigration reform.

Therefore, we call on the Obama Administration and 111th Congress to commit to:

Recognizing the importance of families to the creation of healthy individuals and strong communities, we call on the new Administration and Congress to 1) expeditiously reunite immigrant families separated due to lengthy visa backlogs; 2) revise family preference categories and per country caps to prioritize family unity; and 3) remove bars to reentry and adjustment of status for individuals seeking to reunite with their family members. Attempts to devalue the family, such as denying birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants or placing family-based and employment-based visa applicants in competition with each other on a point-based or other system, must be rejected in order to maintain and promote family unity.

We are not calling for amnesty. Instead we urge the Administration and Congress to enact immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants and their families to earn lawful permanent residency upon the satisfaction of reasonable criteria, with a pathway to citizenship. The workability of such a program should not be hindered by overly punitive criteria, such as mandating that immigrants leave the country or pay exorbitant fees, or by making the process conditional upon the implementation of enforcement measures. Communities and congregations around the country are prepared to provide legal services to those eligible, as people of faith are committed to an effective and humane system that keeps families together and values the dignity of our friends and neighbors.

We call for an expansion of legal avenues for workers who seek to migrate to the United States to work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner. Their rights must be fully protected, including the ability to bring their families with them, travel as needed, change their place of employment, and apply for lawful permanent residency and eventually citizenship. As currently structured, electronic employment verification programs have proven detrimental to both employers and employees due to increased discrimination and unfair hiring and firing practices. All workers benefit, however, from the enforcement of health, safety, wage, and hour laws, as well as the right to peacefully organize. As people of faith we cannot support the exploitation of the migrant’s labor and economic contributions to the United States. We believe the immigrant worker should have access to livable wages and a safe working environment.

Many immigrants desire to naturalize but lack the necessary tools. Citizenship should be made more affordable by reducing naturalization fees and making fee waivers more easily accessible. Moreover, the processing of application backlogs and security checks should be streamlined to reduce waiting times. Counterproductive laws prohibiting immigrants from accessing social services and mandating that local police act as immigration officials should be revoked. These barriers to integration decrease community safety and discourage immigrants from pursuing education and community involvement. Faith based organizations and congregations around the country will continue to assist in integration efforts by providing social services and helping immigrants learn English, find jobs, and thrive in the United States.

Immigration policies should respect human rights and ensure due process for all persons. We have witnessed how indiscriminate immigration raids have caused trauma, fear and hardship for thousands of individuals. Such raids separate families, destroy communities, and threaten the basic rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. The suffering caused by the increase and severity of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in homes and workplaces underscores the problems with current U.S. immigration policies and the urgent need for reform. Many faith organizations administer services to those impacted by raids, as well as to immigrants in detention facilities.

Witnessing the toll of incarceration on detainees, their families and our communities, we urge the new Administration and Congress to reduce the use of detention for immigrants and improve detention conditions by enacting clear, enforceable reforms that include rigorous medical treatment standards and increased access to pastoral care, legal counsel and legal orientation programs. Furthermore, the government should expedite the release of individuals who pose no risk to the community and expand the use of community-based alternatives to detention, which are more humane and cost effective.

Border policies must be consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the United States to implement its immigration laws and identify and prevent the entry of persons who commit dangerous crimes. All immigration laws must respect the dignity of all persons, prioritize the cohesiveness of families and communities, recognize the economic contributions of immigrants, and uphold our moral obligations to provide refuge and welcome the stranger.

For the past twenty years, the federal government has dramatically increased fence construction, border patrol presence, and the deportation of immigrants, which have proven ineffective.

During this time, we have witnessed the desecration of sacred sites and the violation of environmental and religious freedom laws, as well as the unnecessary suffering of community members whose loved ones have suffered or died seeking entry into the United States. Currently, vast resources are being used for fence construction and the mass arrests, detention, and deportation of immigrants who contribute to the U.S. economy and culture. To truly decrease undocumented immigration, the United States should improve access to the legal immigration system by increasing the number of ports of entry, expanding visa availability, and eliminating application backlogs to increase processing efficiency.

As people of faith, we call attention to the moral dimensions of public policy and recommend reforms that uphold the God-given dignity and rights of every person, each of whom are made in the image of God. We believe fundamental human rights such as the right to migrate and the right to support a family are critical. We are dedicated to immigration reform because we value family unity, justice, equity, compassion, love, and the humane treatment of all persons. It is our collective prayer that the Obama Administration and 111th Congress enact just immigration reform based on these tenets.

Revised Version of The Interfaith Platform on Human Immigration Reform authored on September 2009 and signed by all major denominational groups.

Authored By:

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Archbishop of Galveston-Houston

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie

Bishop, Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church

The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle

Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Texas

Bishop Michael Rinehart

Bishop, Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA

Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez

Pastor, St. John Fisher Catholic Church

TMO Co-Chair

Rabbi David Rosen

Senior Rabbi Congregation Beth Yeshurun

Bishop Rufus Kyles

Southeast Jurisdictional Bishop of the Church of God in Christ

Rev. Mike Cole

Pastor, Presbytery of New Covenant

Rev. Harvey Clemons, Jr.

Pastor, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church

Rev. John Bowie

Pastor, True Light Missionary Baptist Church

TMO Co-Chair

Friday, January 8, 2010

Baptism of our Lord

Luke 3:15-22
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Link here for Oremus:

Link here for Textweek resources:

Link here for Textweek resources on all the lessons:

Link here for Christ Haslam's reading of the text:

We begin our lesson with the Advent theme of expectation. The people were filled with expectation. This expectation and hope for the Messiah is pricked with the emergence of the prophet and Baptist John.

In Luke's Gospel John clearly points forward to the coming of Jesus and the baptism of fire promised and fulfilled in Luke's second book Acts. We cannot get away from the Gospels in this moment defining Jesus' ministry from John's. We may guess that both had followers and that the question may very well have remained alive well after John's death and Jesus' resurrection. We might also remember here that Luke's Gospel tells us that John the Baptist will send two of his disciples to inquire of Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" (Luke 7. This of course correlates with Paul's later proclamation that indeed he is the promised one in the Book of Acts in the synagogue in Antioch. Acts 13:25) It is quite the switch from Mark's Gospel where John the Baptist makes the proclamation and from John's Gospel where- in the people ask the question of John the Baptist.

The themes of power and might are apocalyptic themes and again highlight the transformative power of Jesus and the transformative power of baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is a transforming fire. Fire of course is prominent throughout the Old Testament proclaiming the presence of God and returns again in the fire of Pentecost.

Leaning on Isaiah 21:10, 41:16, and Jeremiah 4:11, 15:7, 51:2 John the Baptist reminds those gathered around him that God is sending this great and powerful prophet with a winnowing fork to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat, burning the chaff in an unquenchable fire. This always reminds me of how John the Baptist's message is a corporate one. He is not the one deciding who is wheat and who is chaff. Rather, he is reminding the nation and all the people that this is God's work and each will be judged and that the whole nation shall be judged. There a mutuality in this judgment and a reminder of whose judgment it is that is often lost in our modern day discussions on matters of the church.

Now something interesting happens here in the text. Herod imprisons John. Some scholars argue that Luke's text does not say that Jesus was baptized by John. I find this a difficult proposition. It is true that this particular Gospel says Jesus was baptized sequentially after John's imprisonment. But is certainly not clear and in the different texts that I have looked at I am more apt to read that simply Luke has removed John from the baptismal event to highlight the actions between the Father an the Son, rather than to imply that John did not baptize Jesus. It is an interesting thought and may simply have been a literary way of ensuring that Jesus' baptism is a Spirit baptism depending upon no one else. I categorize this as things in the bible that make you go, "Hmmmmm?"

What is important though, and highlighted by Luke, is that the baptism has happened. It is over. And, Jesus is praying. This seems integral to an understanding of Lukan spirituality. It is only when Jesus is praying that the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the bodily form of a Dove, and God's voice speaks. Heavens are opened in prayer, and you can hear God's voice in prayer.

The image of the opening of the heavens is an image of new time. This is a new moment in Luke's Gospel, a new moment in the life of the people Israel, a new moment in judgment, a new moment in the unraveling and gathering of "all the people" including the gentiles (as we will see in Acts). So this is a new moment, enabled by baptism, but triggered by prayer and the descending of the Holy Spirit.

You can read more about the imagery and details of the words used by Luke here:

The last thing that stands out for me in the Gospel reading this week is the "Beloved" proclamation in verse 22. Beloved is an act and not a feeling, it is a charge if you will to Jesus as Son and servant to take the power given to him and to begin to use it to restore creation and transform the people of God.

So I have been thinking and praying about this text and I am wondering from myself and for us. As we, you and I, look forward into the year, as we look forward into our lives we must be ready to do the work God has given us to do? We are baptized. Are we praying and are we receiving the Holy Spirit given to us in the grace of that prayer conversation with Jesus and with God? We have been expecting, now we are ready, will we take up our charge as Jesus did, to restore creation and transform the world even as we are transformed? And, most of all are we ready to do this in partnership with all of our brothers and sisters and most of all with Jesus?


  • "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