To Set Our Hope on Christ study guide released — free!
The Windsor Report invited the Episcopal Church to continue discussion by sharing the theological groundwork that led to our General Convention's consent to the election of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay and partnered man, as Bishop of New Hampshire, and acknowledging the blessing of same-sex couples as taking place “within the bounds of our common life” (NOT authorizing rites, though some people find it hard to get the distinction). Part of the Episcopal Church's sharing groundwork in response to the Windsor Report included the release some time ago of To Set Our Hope on Christ, an excellent and relatively brief (hey, the authors are mostly academic theologians ... it could have been the weight of a volume like this!) overview of issues in theology, biblical studies, and ecclesiology involved in the Episcopal Church's decisions in these areas and the information that helped us decide as we did.
And perhaps the best thing about To Set Our Hope on Christ was that it was made available for download from the Internet for free. You can get it for free here, or purchase bound copies from here if you want them. And there was much rejoicing (picture cheering and jumping animated figures from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail here).
But To Set Our Hope on Christ didn't have any kind of a study guide, and so a lot of folks who otherwise might have read it, had they been encouraged to do so in small groups in their parish, didn't. And so a group of folks who thought this was a darn shame commissioned me to write one, and I did.
And that study guide is now available — for free — for anyone who wants to use it. You can download it here. I hope you find it useful, and I hope it encourages a lot more people to get together with others to learn from one another and explore open questions. To Set Our Hope on Christ provides fertile soil for that, and my hope is that the study guide makes it that much easier for congregations to benefit. And to answer two frequently asked questions right off the bat:
Yes, the study guide does make use of at least one U2 song.
And no, you don't have to use that part. :)
Day of Pentecost, Year A
[This is a contribution to the Pentecost Grid Blog, in which bloggers around the world are celebrating Pentecost in their entries on or related to May 15 and the season of Pentecost. Feel free to join in!]
In John 14, Jesus promises the Spirit that he breathes upon them in John 20, and which comes upon the believers gathered to observe Pentecost in Acts 2. As Christians, we celebrate at Pentecost the coming of this Holy Spirit.
That statement doesn't have a lot of content for a lot of people, though. Coming on the eve of release for Star Wars' Episode III, we might be tempted to think of the Spirit Jesus promises as being like “the Force” that Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars describes impersonally as “an energy field created by all living things” that “surrounds us and penetrates us,” a mysterious phenomenon that gives those very few who can perceive and channel it hidden powers, as well as the temptation to become rulers of the galaxy.
But in John, the Spirit is described in far more personal terms. In John 14:16, the Spirit is an “advocate,” a term for a person who defends others. And John particularly emphasizes that the Spirit Jesus sends is “the Truthful Spirit” (14:17, 15:26, and 16:13 -- I go with Malina and Rohrbaugh in that rendering of the phrase usually rendered as “Spirit of Truth”), a phrase that describes someone with nothing to hide, a person whose character is fully manifest. “Truth” (aletheia -- with the 'e' being an eta) can also mean “reality”; a truthful person is one who makes what's real manifest for any to see.
If we look at what the Spirit does, not only in John, but in Luke's (the NT author, not the Skywalker) and Paul's works, that seems an apt description. The Spirit manifests and makes visible in the community of Jesus' followers, the Body of Christ (to use one of Paul's favorite images) what is really the case, what God is doing in the world. If a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of God's grace, you might say that the Spirit is what makes sacramental living possible, who makes the Body of Christ an outward and visible sign to the world of what God's grace is accomplishing.
The Spirit is the person who binds Jesus' followers together in such a way that our life together and our ministry in the world make clear for all to see that God is at work in the world, proclaiming and manifesting Good News for the poor and release for the prisoners, bridging barriers between men and women, between nations and ethnicities, between rich and poor, healing and reconciling the whole world to one another and to God. The Spirit takes a dream, the dream God gives to the prophets:
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh;
your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit
-- Joel 2:28-30
... and makes the dream manifest, showing it to be reality for the world.
In short, the Spirit does everywhere and upon all flesh what Jesus does. That's why Jesus describes the Spirit in John 14:16 as another Advocate, and 1 John (2:1) presents Jesus as our Advocate as well. The Spirit is not an impersonal Force, but the Truthful person who leads us all into all aletheia, making God's grace manifest in the Body of Christ and therefore in the world.
In other words, the work of the Spirit is a lot like the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the world of Buffy, one person in each generation is chosen, infused with an ancient spirit and extraordinary gifts to fight evil. As the Chosen One, Buffy has spent the series with her friends saving the world. The final season of the series has Buffy gathering from around the world “the Potentials,” those who, if the Chosen One dies, might become the next to be chosen, given the lonely task of using her extraordinary gifts to save the world. And in the final episode, Buffy's cadre of friends do something more extraordinary: they change the rules, releasing the Chosen One's power so that every one of the Potentials is Chosen, every young girl around the world who might do what Buffy does is empowered to do what Buffy does, and more.
That move does two things in the story world of Buffy. First, it puts evil on the run in a big way. The Chosen One was powerful, but now the Chosen in countless numbers reach around the world, across every nation, class, and race. What evil could stand against that? And second, it changes the experience of being Chosen. The Chosen One had a small band of friends who tried their best to be loyal to her though they could never fully understand her, but the Chosen in every nation are surrounded by others who share their vocation and have been given gifts to make it happen, not just in one town, one state, one country, but everywhere.
But the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is fantasy and fiction, and the powers we're facing off against make the monsters of Buffy look tame. We live in a world where racism, sexism, and economic injustice are entrenched, not only in individual lives, but also in systems that both perpetuate it and amplify its effects. We live in a world where even Jesus' name and the scriptures have become tools used to justify schism, persecution, violence, and furthering the privilege of the rich at the expense of the world's poor. We live in a world where the barriers to the justice, healing, and reconciliation of God's kingdom are immense and powerful.
But those barriers are not the final word. God so loved us that in every generation, God chose prophets to speak truth to power and point us toward God's kingdom. God so loved us that in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus to teach and heal, love and forgive, and to gather to himself a community in which God's love rules. And now, God has breathed the Spirit that came upon Jesus at his baptism upon each and every one of us. We celebrate at Pentecost that as Jesus gathers us in community, we are empowered by the Spirit to do the works that Jesus does, and even greater (John 14:12). In Christ, God's chosen and anointed, all of us “Potentials” are Chosen, and we who were not a people have become God's people, one Body of Christ living into the truth that all of the old divisions between men and women, between the nations, between the haves and the have-nots have been overcome and will be overcome throughout the world.
That's not fiction: that's Gospel. That's the Good News we've received and are called to spread throughout the nations. And that Good News means that the dreams of the prophets, the dream of God that some might dismiss as fantasy, fiction, or wishful thinking, is being made manifest among us and in the world with a power that no dark power can overcome.
Thanks be to God!
Is it too early to think about aids for preaching in Christmas 2005?
Richard Horsley's The Liberation of Christmas, which was, as luck would have it, out of print around the time I suggested it for help preaching through the season, is back in print, and can once more be purchased cheaply from Amazon.com. I do recommend it highly to provoke fresh looks at the infancy narratives we preach on every year. It might be worth ordering it now, while it's sure to be available!
To donate to relief for tsunami victims ...
... just click here. Episcopal Relief and Development has been on the ground there, is already disbursing aid to victims, and is a truly responsible and effective agent for long-term solutions for those needing relief.
Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
— BCP, p. 827
I asked my partner to pick up a book for me today from the library. It's one that I've got SOMEWHERE in my own library -- unless it's one of those books I've lent to someone and didn't get back -- but I couldn't find it yesterday, and I knew I wanted to look through it yet another time to get ready to preach (and blog, of course) on the readings for January 2nd. And as I was explaining why I so wanted this particular book because "it should be required reading for anyone who has to preach at all during the Christmas season," my partner wisely pointed out that such a thing might be worth mentioning in blogland. So here it is:
Richard Horsley's The Liberation of Christmas. It might be too late to order it, have it delivered, and thumb through it for this Christmas season (although if you can pick it up from a local theological library, do it! You'll be glad you have it on January 2nd). You'll be glad to have it next year, though.
January 1, 2005 edit: The book is out of print. Drats! Try to get a used copy, or read a library copy. It's good!
February 11, 2005 edit: The book has been reprinted, and is available once more from Amazon.com at a reasonable price.
Also, I know that many of you are preaching for both Christmas Eve/Day services and on December 26th, so I thought it might be worth mentioning an angle on the reading from John 1 that's on the lectionary for December 26th. Were I preaching on both days, on December 26th I would probably go for this angle: what are the implications of "the Word became flesh and lived among us" as we seek to interpret scripture? What does it mean that when seek God's Word, we are seeking a person rather than a book, let alone an idea about a book? And if we are Christ's Body in the world, how are we called to enflesh the Word for the world, as Jesus the Christ did for us?
Top Five from 2004
Bob Carlton has asked bloggers to supply lists of their top five posts from 2004, so as a toast to the theological and emerging-church blogging communities, here's my list:
- Good Friday, Year C: "Christ Our Passover: Our Exodus from the Narrow Places"
- Proper 19, Year C: "The Parable of the Ninety-Nine, Or Why It's Probably a Good Thing that Sheep Don't Talk"
- Proper 21, Year C: "Bridging the Chasm"
- Fifth Sunday in Easter, Year C: "The Anglican Altar Call"
- Proper 20, Year C: "Unjustly Forgiven"
I've valued the dialogue on this site and others in the community a great deal over the last year. Thanks, all!
for panicking children's homilists (Proper 20, Year C) ...
I've gotten a record number of hits this week, a record number of comments, and a record number of emails. Many of the emails have been last-minute inquiries from people giving children's homilies tomorrow. I definitely understand -- other than the "anyone who does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, cannot be my disciple" text a little while ago, I can hardly imagine a text further from what we usually want to use to exemplify piety for children than what we've got this week.
It's Saturday night, and I've got a sermon and an adult ed presentation of my own to finish preparing, so I can only afford to give a brief answer to people who have written over the last few hours asking for help with a children's homily. But here's a very brief recap of the children's chapel I did with this text:
I told the story using puppets, with one difference (not original to me). I said at the beginning that I meant to do a puppet show, but I'd forgotten the puppets, so I'd need some extra help. I think I chose about five or six volunteers -- one steward, and one landowner, and a couple or a few farmers. I explained to them that they are the puppets; when I press their back, they should drop their jaws, and when I release their back, they should close their mouths again. We practiced this a couple of times, which the kids in the pews seemed to enjoy. Then I told the story, with the same basic outline as what I gave in the blog, only inserting much more dialogue (giving me an opportunity to do a lot more back-pressing, which the kids loved):
There was a very, very rich man who had a huge farm, but he didn't like to work, so he got lots of other people to do all of the planting and growing and picking crops and such. He hardly let the farmers who did this work keep any of what they grew, though, so the farmers were hungry and angry. He hired a manager to make sure the farmers did their work, and to collect most of what they grew, and the farmers were very angry at the manager too.
But the manager wasn't very good at his job, and he wasted a lot of the landowner's money. The owner called the manager in, and told him he was fired (LOTS of opportunity to insert dialogue here!). And then the master went away to the city, where he liked to lie around and visit with his friends. So the manager did something very clever.
He called each of the farmers in, and he said, "how much did you owe my master?" One said, "a million dollars." Another said, "ten thousand dollars." Another said, "a thousand dollars." And the manager took out his eraser, and he erased a bunch of the zeroes on those bills. "Wow!" said the first farmer, "I only owe ten thousand dollars now." "I only owe a hundred now," said the second. "I only owe one dollar now," said the third. And the manager said, "See how generous the landowner is? Make sure to tell him how you feel when he comes back."
So a few weeks later, when the farmers heard that the landowner was coming back, they were prepared. They and all of their families were lined up all along the road to the farm, and they were waving balloons and signs and throwing confetti and cheering (lots of opportunity to run around pressing kids' backs here): "Hooray for the landowner! Hooray for the landowner! Hooray for the landowner!"
Well the landowner didn't quite know why they were all cheering, but he liked it a little too much to say anything right away. He didn't find out until he got back to his farmhouse, where he saw the manager. "What are YOU doing here?" he said, "I fired you!" But the manager told the landowner exactly what he'd done.
Did the manager want to go back out and tell all of those cheering farmers that they really owed him millions of dollars? No way! The landowner liked all of the farmers cheering for him. So the landowner gave the manager his job, and forgave the debts of those farmers.
So, if the landowner could forgive because he wanted everyone to think he was as cool as they said he was, and if the steward could forgive because he wanted to keep his job, don't we have much more reason to forgive. since we know how much God loves us and forgives us?
I hope that helps. It worked really well when I did it -- not only did I get the job (yes, I chose to do a children's chapel on this text as part of my audition for my current position), but I was told that kids were actually talking with their parents about it, and about that gospel passage, at least a week after the chapel service, which felt pretty good.
God's blessings upon all preachers and teachers for all age groups, and upon those who listen for God's voice in this story!
clarification on Pentecost entry
Thanks for the comments!
I think my last blog entry was a good example of why one doesn't, in other media, publish something written in one draft at 11:30 p.m.! I'm embarrassed that some have thought that I was trying to argue for English-only Eucharists in multicultural community -- something I find appalling.
I just want to clarify: I'm totally in favor of readings in multiple languages in services, especially when they're read in languages that are spoken regularly by people in the congregation. I miss more than I can say the bilingual Eucharists I participated in while I lived in L.A. I think that language and culture go together, and we lose a great deal as a society when we discourage people from speaking (and reading) in their first languages. I'd like to see MORE readings throughout the liturgical year in first languages of parishioners, not less.
What doesn't work for me is the practice of having people do readings in languages other than English ONLY on Pentecost, and then doing the readings in languages that aren't the native tongue of anyone present, aren't regularly spoken even by the reader, and aren't understood by anyone other than the reader. The effect is worse for me when people read in multiple languages at once, making it difficult to hear any one version of the reading. I suppose one could use such a practice as a teaching moment by pointing out in the sermon that having everything in the majority language the rest of the time makes those whose native language is different feel just as excluded as speakers of the majority language do now; I would hope that such a teaching moment would be a way of announcing that readings would be in multiple or alternating languages from then on.
It bothers me to have speakers of other languages treated as some kind of "exotic ethnic other" on Pentecost, which is to me a celebration of what just might be the first-ever (and, if we were to take the book of Acts' report as straightforward reporting, probably the most successful) example of intentional multicultural community. On the Day of Pentecost, nobody gave up their native language, and everybody understood. It strikes me as ironic to try to observe that with a liturgy in which nobody speaks their native language and nobody understands the readings.
I hope that clarifies my views -- thanks for pointing out to me the ways in which my last entry was unclear!
grid blog :: Christmas :: Union
This is my final entry for the Advent grid blog, though this one comes in the Christmas season. The theme is Union.
The catechism in the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer describes the mission of the church as "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ" (BCP, p. 855). Union is our mission. Our time of preparation in Advent has called on us to look forward to the time when God answers our prayer that "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," to the time when that union with one another and with God in Christ is fully realized. We are called in Advent to experience the tension between our broken and divided world in the present and full consummation of the redemption for which we long.
And now it is Christmas. The world is still wounded, as any cursory glance at this morning's newspaper would tell us. But the mystery that we celebrate is that the tide of history turned with the birth of a peasant child. The Christ has come, and from his first sending forth of his followers to do his work of healing the sick, bringing the outcast back into community, and confronting the powers of injustice, evil fell. It won't get back up, though it'll be thrashing around and doing some damage in these prolonged last gasps. Like Jesus' birth, the defeat of evil isn't the kind of special effects moment we've become accustomed to in this age of Jerry Bruckheimer. It's a seed growing secretly, as inevitable as it is mysterious. But in Advent, we've seen how big this tree is going to grow. This Christmas, my prayer is that I might know the awe of seeing the small things, the mustard seeds, the early shoots, in the knowledge of what mighty work God is accomplishing in our world.
I wish you all a Christmas season of joy, wonder, and nourished seeds of peace.
grid blog :: Advent 3 :: Source
This is my third entry for the Advent grid blog; the theme is 'Source.'
You are God's viceroy, God's representative.
You are God's stand-in, a God carrier.
You are precious; God depends on you.
God believes in you and has no one but you
to do the things that only you can do for God.
Become what you are.
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu
I've been fortunate to know and count as mentors a number of people who have been deeply involved in civil rights movements since the late sixties. A few of them are among the most cynical and world-weary people I know; decades of confronting hate have left them exhausted, with little faith in humanity. But these are the exceptions. For the most part, these are the most joyful, serene, and hopeful people I know. Rather than seeking the places where their lives would be easiest, they've gone to the hardest places to look into the eyes of those who hate them and to return love for the hatred. The more they've been hated, the more deeply they love; the more they've been rejected and excluded, the more open they've become; the more they've been told, “this is the way it's always been, and it's the way it's always going to be,” the more hopeful they've been as they've planted mustard seeds.
What's the difference between the disillusioned cynic and the hopeful and loving among them? I think it's about the source of their strength and their direction, and about how deeply and consistently they are in touch with it. If you've ever seem Desmond Tutu in person, you know that he radiates joy; his laughter is as infectious as his hope. I think it's because for him, his work for justice is part of becoming in the world who he truly is, and his call to others to stop oppressing God's beloved is a call for them to become who they truly are. He doesn't see his work as swimming upstream so much as catching the wave. His source, to which and to Whom he keeps returning, is Love. He's not fighting other people, but inviting them to go back to the same Source, to their Source.
It's a lesson to me. I want my life to confess what I believe; that the universe arcs toward justice, and justice is where the joy is. That's what I know most deeply when I'm listening most deeply to God. That's who I am when I'm finding my identity in who I am in Christ, rather than being distracted into letting someone else define who I'm going to be in that relationship. I've got U2 on the brain lately, with the recent release of Get Up Off Your Knees, so lyrics from the U2 song “God Part II” keep running through my head. I don't believe in lies, or violence, or quick fixes, or injustice, or that it's always going to be the case that “the rich stay healthy, and the sick stay poor.” I believe in Love.
I feel like I'm falling
Like I'm spinning on a wheel
It always stops beside a name
A presence I can feel
I believe in Love
Love is the Source that sustains.