They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that He has done. The Bishop’s Easter sermon

“They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.”

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Amen

 

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” 64Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ 65Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard* of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’*66So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. Matthew 27:62-66

So begins Matthew’s version of the account of Jesus’s resurrection. Our lectionary does us a bit of a disservice because it has the reading appointed for this Easter Day begin where the other author’s begin their telling of the Easter story with the dawn of the first day of the week. But as Raymond Brown, a renowned biblical scholar eloquently and clearly demonstrates in his book of essays on the Easter Gospels, “A Risen Christ in Eastertime,” Matthew’s telling of the story begins not with the first day of the week but with the seventh. Saturday not Sunday. He does so by showing how the structure of the story of the resurrection of Jesus displays the same five- fold structure found in the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew in the telling of the story of Jesus birth.

I must confess that every time I read this Gospel, I am drawn to this story about the guards. This could be because as a boy I was always fond of stories about people in uniform, policeman, firefighters, and most especially soldiers of every era. But I suspect the deeper reason is that Matthew wants us to pay attention to them as he is the only gospel writer to include this part of the story.

As I wrote to you and the rest of the diocese in my Easter letter. Whenever I read this story one place I always go is to the he opening cut on Pat Matheny’s album First Circle, a dissonant and farcical march entitled simply, “Forward March.” I don’t know what inspired him to write the piece but every time I hear it I picture the guards placed by Pilate and the authorities at the tomb of Jesus. I picture them parading around the tomb filled with self-importance and certainty of purpose looking as silly as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion do when the don the uniforms of the guards at the castle of the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz while fulfilling their mission to make the tomb of Jesus as secure as they could.

Our faith helps us to see the humor in that command from Pilate, “Go, make it as secure as you can.”  We know that nothing can hold God’s love in. God’s love and power burst forth from the tomb and the stone is rolled away to reveal that it is so. God’s love is so great that nothing can hold it in. That is what make’s Pilate’s command comical.

Why does Matthew include this part of the story? It could be that it is simply a rebuttal of the assertion of those who did not believe the good news of the resurrection, an assertion that Matthew believes was planted by those who opposed Jesus from the start. “His disciples stole the body.” A falsehood that persists among some to this day. It could be that Matthew is writing to a community that is experiencing the first throes of separation between church and synagogue ( a separation it is our duty in this age to mend) and he is asserting the primacy of the first day over the seventh. But perhaps there is more.

Could it be that Matthew mentions the guards because he wants his first hearers and us to consider the guards that we place around the tomb of Jesus, guards that keep us from truly knowing and living the power and truth of his resurrection?

What are some of the guards that you have placed there?

An unwillingness to truly accept God’s love and forgiveness. The desire to persist in thinking that God’s love is dependent and conditioned by your actions rather than on God’s grace and Being. Do they have names like Anger, Resentment, Fear, Selfishness, Fatalism, Defeat, Prejudice, Obsession, and Disbelief? I know both as a pastor and fellow traveler on the way that at times our human frailty and failings—pride, fear, prejudice, lack of charity toward ourselves and others, unwillingness  and inability to accept that we are loved—can keep that power from working fully in us.

Today, the angel of the Lord descends. He makes those guards fall dead. The stone is rolled away and the power of God’s love is shown to be stronger than any guard, stronger than any principality or power. He proclaims to the women at the tomb and to us that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And all that would keep us from knowing and living that truth loses its power once and for all.

The resurrection of Jesus is God the Father’s action to show us God’s faithfulness. On the cross Jesus commends himself to the Father. In the resurrection we see the result of that commendation. God is faithful to those we are faithful to him. Nothing can holds God’s love in.

Nothing can hold God’s love in.

But there is more. We know that when a child is ready to be born it is ready. Could it be that Matthew by structuring his telling of the Resurrection story with the same five-fold structure of the birth of Jesus wants us to see that the Resurrection is more than just a victory over death? It is a new birth.

This struck me as I prayed the 22nd psalm these last few days. Psalm 22 is the psalm of Holy Week. We all know how it begins. Jesus utters its first verse from the cross. My God, My God why have you forsaken me?

But do you know how it ends. I’ll give you a hint. I began this sermon with it. They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that God has done. My brothers and sisters today this verse is fulfilled in your hearing. In the resurrection of Christ, a new people is born. People who know that death is not the last word, people who know that nothing can separate us. People who are more than conquerors through the deathless love of Christ.

And because we know this to be true we can go forth from this place clear that our call is to participate in God’s mission making known the saving deeds that God has done in Christ with our lips and in our lives confident in the words of that great Easter hymn.

 

Easter triumph, Easter joy these alone do sin destroy,

From sins power do thou set free souls newborn O Lord in thee.

 

In Christ we are born anew.

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (I Peter 1:3).

 

Bishop’s Easter Message 2014

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard* of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’* So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. (Matthew 27:62-66 NRSV)

Dear Friends in Christ,

The opening cut on Pat Matheny’s album First Circle is a dissonant and farcical march entitled simply, “Forward March.” I don’t know what inspired him to write the piece but every time I hear it I picture the guards placed by Pilate and the authorities at the tomb of Jesus. I picture them parading around the tomb filled with self-importance and certainty of purpose looking as silly as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion do when the don the uniforms of the guards at the castle of the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz while fulfilling their mission to make the tomb of Jesus as secure as they could.
Our faith helps us to see the humor in that command from Pilate, “Go, make it as secure as you can.” We know that nothing can hold God’s love in. God’s love and power burst forth from the tomb and the stone is rolled away to reveal that it is so. God’s love is so great that nothing can hold it in.
The resurrection of Jesus is God the Father’s action to show us God’s faithfulness. On the cross Jesus commends himself to the Father. In the resurrection we see the result of that commendation. God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.
While nothing can hold God’s love in, I know both as a pastor and fellow traveler on the way that at times our human failings—pride, fear, prejudice, lack of charity toward ourselves and others, unwillingness and inability to accept that we are loved—can keep that power from working fully in us. These things are what the poet Michael Hare Duke means when he writes in his Easter poem/prayer, “the grave clothes hold us, they are all we know, grant us the courage to be loosed and live.”
Grant us the courage to be loosed and lived. That is my prayer for all of us this Easter. May God grant us the courage to be loosed from the grave clothes of doubt, fear, self-righteousness, and pride that we might live a life that shows the power of resurrection by and through our complete trust of the Father through our imitation of Christ.

Yours in the Risen and living Lord Jesus.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller
Bishop

Invitation to a Holy Lent 2014

“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful….”
Joel 2:12-13a NRSV

Dear Friends in Christ,
On Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we begin the holy season of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and self-denial in preparation for Easter. Over my years in ordained ministry I have written a number of articles for parish and diocesan publications inviting those in my pastoral care to observe a holy Lent. These articles have urged the faithful to take on a spiritual discipline rather than see Lent as a season of giving up or invited folks to participate in Lenten programming. While these are good things, I want to invite us this year to go deeper.
We hear the prophet Joel invite us to rend our hearts and not our garments on Ash Wednesday. When we do that what do we see? I suspect that if we are honest with ourselves we see that even before this tearing there was much brokenness within. We see the scars left by our own failings, the brokenness of others, and the culture in which we live. If you are at all like me I suspect you see your own selfishness, your participation in unjust structures of society, and your denial of the truth not only about yourself and your relationship with those you love but the world in which we live. But as we rend our hearts, we see also the possibility of healing. A heart must be broken before it can be healed, just as a surgeon must open the body before it can be repaired.
Of late, I have become increasingly aware that if Lent is to mean anything it must mean surrender to grace as the operative in our life rather than our will — Letting go and inviting God in Christ through the Spirit to enter deeply and receive the grace to be formed and molded by God, and God alone, rather than our images of God that are often less than God and frequently are idols. (I have often said the entire library which is the Bible, is a conversation and call to reject idolatry in all of its forms.)
What idols is God inviting you to set aside this Lent? What might you be worshipping that is less than God? Are we so busy trying to save ourselves that there is no room for the Savior?
These are the questions I am asking this Lent. Will you join me?

+Steven

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, thou hast brought forth perfect praise. Christmas Sermon 2013

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise”
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Out of the mouths of babes thou hast brought forth perfect praise. These words from the psalmist, words our Lord quotes on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, came to my mind as I read in preparation to preach this Christmas Eve.
We gather again this night to hear the story we know so well, “and it came to pass that a decree went forth from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.” We gather to sing the hymns of praise that touch deeply our sacred memory and at times we can hear the voices of our loved ones miles away or now on a more distant shore singing with us. These hymns transport us from chronos to kairos, temporal existence to God’s time, and place us at Bethlehem looking at the manger cradling the newborn surrounded by his parents, the shepherds, the ox and ass. We have heard the call of these carols to come and see, “come and adore him, born the king of angels,” “come to Bethlehem and see the one whose birth the angels sing,” to follow the shepherds bending our joyful footsteps thither and kneel before the feeding trough that is now a throne.
But what is it exactly that we come to see? This is more than a visit to a maternity to see a child behind glass as we would a new grandchild or niece or nephew. To gaze at the newborn king is certainly more than a visit to see a newborn, to come to the Christmas crèche is to come and see scripture fulfilled, history rightly understood, Israel restored, and our purpose, call, and reason for being revealed. And if that sounds like the outline of a sermon, it is.
To gaze at the Nativity, is to see Scripture fulfilled. The Evangelists, Luke whose nativity story we read tonight, and his fellow evangelist Matthew, whose favorite phrase is “this was to fulfill” and whom we hear on the 12th day proclaim to their first hearers and to us that the birth of Jesus the Christ is the fulfillment of what is foretold in scripture, “a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,” “You of Bethlehem Ephrata are not least of the clans of Judah for from you a child shall be born in Bethlehem,” “Kings of Arabia and Saba shall offer gifts,” God’s son shall be called out of Egypt. Even the hymn sung at his birth echoes the vision of the prophet Isaiah in the Temple scholars tell us.

To gaze on the nativity is also to gaze on history correctly understood. Remember that the Emperor Augustus was seen as the bringer of peace ending years of civil strife throughout the empire. His reign and the peace which ensued, known as the Pax Augustana, allowed that the doors of the shrine of Janus, the Roman god of war, to be closed. For this reasons, in parts of the Empire the birth of Augustus was celebrated as the beginning of the year and his birthday was described as the birthday of a god which brought peace. Luke wants us to know that real bringer of peace was not Augustus but Jesus the Christ at whose birth the heavens and earth shook and the angelic chorus of glory to God and peace to his people on earth, the first noel heard by shepherds.
And the peace Christ’s birth brings is more than temporal, it is eternal. But there is more. By showing that Mary and Joseph were willing to participate in the census unlike the revolutionary party that came into being in Israel at the time of the census, the Zealots, Luke is also telling his Gentile hearers and their Roman persecutors that there was no need for the government to fear the growing number of Christians.
To gaze on the nativity is also to see God’s relationship with his chosen people Israel restored. Perhaps it is because of Christmas pageants that we have made more out of the lodging than the crib. Despite its place as a part in Christmas plays and its richness as a homiletical device, “Would you give them a room?” there is no mention of any innkeeper or keepers turning away the holy couple. The inn in which there was no place was a common covered place set apart for travelers in every town. What is important is the crib, the manger. Luke wants us to know that in the birth of the Messiah, here is reversed the condemnation of the prophet Isaiah of faithless Israel, “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its Lord; but Israel has not known me and my people have not understood me.” Now God’s people know their Lord and the manger in which he lies.
But most importantly, to gaze on the nativity is to see our purpose, call and reason for being revealed. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast brought forth perfect praise. In that search all preachers know who have any age on them, (this is my 29th in Holy Orders,) a mere babe to some in this room, and asking myself the eternal question all preachers ask themselves as they prepare for their Christmas sermon, “What am I going to say to them this year.” I turned to a book that has had a profound influence on my spiritual journey from the time I first read it over 30 years ago and now as then has taken me to a new and deeper place. I would say perhaps it has shaped me more than any other. The book is entitled God the Father: Meditations by Emile Guerry. Thankfully, it is now available in reprint and I commend it to you.
He writes, “At his entry into the world His first look was directed not on the men whom He came to save but on his Father. He came to do the Father’s will. By this oblation of His whole self to the Father He indicated where His sacred Humanity really belongs…… From the moment of Jesus’ conception, and for the first time in the history of the world, the worship due in all justice to God was given him. That homage of adoration, of love, and of reparation, which the Father had so long awaited, now at last arose from His creation through this little infant, apparently inert in His manger— under a miserable rood—in the silence of the night—unknown to the world.
A homage of adoration, ….. a homage of love, in the absolute conformity of His Human will to the will of the Father. For true love lies in the union of wills.” (Guerry, pp. 3-4).
True love lies in the union of wills. In the Incarnation we see the divine will and the human will truly joined, dwelling in the infant Christ, and from the beginning He does the Father’s will and shows us what it is and how it is to be lived out. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast brought forth perfect praise. Perhaps that is why Jesus in his ministry invites us to receive the kingdom of God like a child. As a newborn is completely dependent on its mother, and a mother seeing her newborn knows that unconditional love and attachment in her child’s eyes, so we see in the nativity, in the child in the manger see God’s design for our relationship with Him.
He wants our will, our hearts, to be joined to his, God wants our actions to show his actions; God wants our giving to be like his giving; generous, full and complete.
And so we kneel before the Christmas crèche, and see what has come to pass. Gazing on the nativity, seeing God’s purpose for our life and his call to us revealed what is to be our reponse?
My prayer is that it will be to imitate Jesus so that we too may know and do the Father’s will. It begins with giving our hearts anew as we knell to receive the one who comes, as babe, as king, as bread, as wine, as Savior and Lord. “ Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.” Amen.

Reflection on the Boston Marathon Bombing

Dear Friends in Christ,
Life can change in an instant. I was reminded of that again yesterday (Monday, April 15, 2013) when I heard the news of the explosions at the Boston Marathon that killed three and at least 174 more. We grieve those who died and pray for healing for those who were injured and those whose lives have been forever changed through the tragic loss of a loved one. We ask God to give them solace, comfort, healing and strength. I ask you to join me in adding them to your daily intercessions.
My first thoughts went to a friend who runs that Marathon each year. I was grateful to learn today that he and his family were safe. Then I found myself asking what causes people to do such heinous acts as these? What motivates their actions? What level of powerlessness must they feel? I began to think about the Oklahoma City bombing and its perpetrators. I was reminded of the terror I experienced during the days of the DC Beltway Sniper in 2002.
Life can change in an instant. This reminder causes me to do two things. First to give thanks for those I love, family and friends, and ask God to keep them in his loving care. Second to ask God how I might be a change agent for those who believe themselves powerless and oppressed. Could it be that God is calling us to be life changers?
We are called to be people of peace in a violent world. We are called to be messengers of hope in the midst of despair. Christ is counting on us to be faithful to our call.

Yours in Christ,

+Steven

God Lives in a Timeless Now

Aside

Sermon:           Advent I 2012, St. Paul’s, K Street, Washington, DC

 

Thank you for the honor of being with you today on this day of beginning— this day when we begin the season of Advent and thus a new liturgical year and also the day when the Rev. Kyle Oliver celebrates his first Mass. It is rare for a bishop to get to be a part of such an occasion, after an ordination we bishops are usually on to the next thing, and I would like to thank Fr. Sloane for his kind invitation to be with you today. Your rector and I were in the same colleague group for seminary supervisors at Virginia Seminary and I have always been grateful for his friendship. I understand that he will be retiring in January after your patronal feast.  Please know that I will hold you all in my prayers as you walk the journey of saying goodbye and looking to the future. I also want you to know how thankful I am for the help you have given in forming seminarians from the Diocese of Milwaukee, not only Fr. Oliver, but also the Rev. Seth Dietrich, now rector of one of the largest churches in my diocese. He asked me to give you all his best wishes and regards. Thank you so much for your role in raising up faithful priests for the service of Christ and his Church.

One of the realities of my life is that I am on a lot of mailing lists. Because I lived in a swing state this past election as I suspect did some of you, I received throughout the months of October and early November daily mailings from presidential candidates and political action committees. these were of course preferable to the incessant robocalls, still I am certain that entire forests are breathing easier now that the election is over.  Since I am a member of the clergy I am on another series of mailing lists.  This means I received regular mailings from vestment manufacturers, purveyors of Sunday School curricula, tour companies inviting me to lead pilgrimages, and advertisements for religious magazines and sermon writing guides.  As a bishop I also receive numerous parish and seminary newsletters, as well as a number of diocesan publications and theological journals.

It is not uncommon to read in the latter this time of year meditations on the season of Advent that proclaim Advent as the authors favorite season of the Church year. I must confess that I have written such meditations myself. Year after year I am struck by this. What is it that makes this season so? Why does the season of Advent speak to us so deeply? Why do it themes resonate within us.

I recall writing as a young priest that I suspected the answer to this question was that advent rings true to our experience of the Christian life. Advent mirrors our experience of the life of faith and invites us to live into the tension between the already and not yet of the Christian journey— Salvation is present and yet in the future, the kingdom of God is in our midst but we wait for its consummation. This reality coupled with this sense of urgency speaks deeply to our hearts and minds.

That urgency is reflected in our collect for today, this much, if not most loved collect of our Anglican tradition.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light now in the time of the this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility that when he shall come in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead we may rise to the life immortal.

In the midst of that marvelous imagery of light and darkness, majesty and judgment the word that leapt at me this year is the simple word now:  Now.

What I have come to believe is that this urgency, this now is not only true for us, it is true to the very nature of God the know in Jesus, the God who was and is and is to come.

As I prepared for this sermon among the things I read was an Advent Meditation by my friend and teacher, DOM Benedict Reid, first Abbott of St. Gregory’s Abbey of Three Rivers, Michigan. In the midst of his meditation I read this simple yet powerful reminder, “God lives in a timeless now.” God lives in a timeless now. The call for us in all of our Christian life but most especially in this Advent season is to meet God in the now. If we are to live in God we must live in God’s now.

As I think about it that is the call of Jesus throughout the Gospels, the call to the now. That is the point of Jesus’ word to his disciples recorded by the evangelists Matthew and Luke to consider the ravens that God feeds or the lilies of the field which God clothes. It is the call of the parable of the rich fool who built large barns and stored up large amounts only to learn that that very night his life was required of him.

And yet to live out that call is easier said than done. Scripture records numerous stories about those who look back. Lot’s wife who looked back at the smoldering Sodom and Gomorrah and was turned to a pillar of salt. The people of Israel who after being led through the waters of the Red Sea and being fed with bread from heaven complained that they did not have meat, melon, leeks or garlic like they had in Egypt. For this and the rest of their murmuring God required them to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Our  Lord Jesus himself tells us that no one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

We know that nostalgia and longing for the good old days is a common occurrence. Gathering with old friends most always includes a discussion of the good old days.  I am always struck that styles repeat themselves in 20 and 40 year cycles as witnessed by the popularity of the program Madmen and the return of some of the colors for clothing from the 1980’s. Our past is what has shaped our identity, who we are but it does not shape our destiny and whose we are.

To be on the watch for this is particularly important for us who hold dear the faith once delivered to the saints. Many of  the people of Jesus’s day could not see that He was God’s Messiah, the Christ because their images of the Messiah were so tied to a certain image of kingship in the past that they were unable to see how Jesus embodied all that had been foretold.

We do well to remember the distinction between tradition and traditionalism. I am certain that many of you have heard this adage, Tradition is the living faith of the dead, and traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. I would add that Tradition is the timeless faith of the communion of saints living and dead as in the Eucharist we are made one with our Lord and all the members of his body. In the Mass, past, present and future become one Now.

The call to live and be in God’s now is also a call to reject prognostication and anxious anticipation. In this past year we have seen another round of predictions of the end of the world ranging from the current buzz about the Mayan Calendar which ends on December 21, 2012, which some have posted on Facebook as the reason they are not shopping this season and the New York Times has reported that this is caused such a stir in parts of the Russia that the government called upon bishops to speak out against the notion, to the group that earlier this spring like many Christian sects before them declared the precise date of the second coming.

But an over focus on the future is not just the purview of the religious. Investors wonder what the next big thing will be, websites invite us to watch trends, and we are all told to plan for our future. This problem is exacerbated by the media streaming machines at our fingertips equipped with bells and whistles to let us know a new message has arrived and someone has just posted what they had for breakfast or tweeted out another random thought.  We all know those who are too concerned about the future to live in the present, those who are always on to the next thing.  For some it is so easy to be consumed with these things as well that wondering what will happen next fills our minds and renders us virtually immobile.

Allow me to give you an example from my own life. I am a recovering worry wart. How do you know if you are one? Have you every worried when you’re not worried? Cause that’s when you know something is really going to happen. Join the club. What I have come to see in my own life is that worry is simply another way not to surrender control of my life to God. If I can’t control anything else at least I can worry. Yet what is Jesus’ word to us? Jesus tells us do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. (Mt. 6:34)

Here again the words of Jesus from our Gospel lesson: “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place..… and to stand before the Son of Man.

How shall we do this? We begin by getting dressed. The call to live in God’s now begins with repentance and casting off everything that hinders us “the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light, God’s grace of clothing our shameful nakedness in the waters of baptism, and giving us the gift of his indwelling spirit Christ living in us. It is this vesting that the Anglican Divine George Herbert refers to in his poem, Aaron, a poem especially appropriate for this occasion the convergence of I Advent and a first Mass.

AARON.

HOLINESS on the head,
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.*

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest :
Poor priest ! thus am I drest.

Only another head
I have another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest :
In Him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e’en dead ;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.

So holy in my Head,
Perfect and light in my dear Breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come, people ; Aaron’s drest.

For the Christian to live in God’s now is to put on Christ as Paul writes in the letter to the Romans that inspired today’s collect. It is to know in the words of the Apostle that I no longer live but Christ now lives in me. “Christ is my only head, My alone only heart and breast, My only music, striking me e’en dead ; That to the old man I may rest, And be in Him new drest.”

Because Christ is God’s, Christ is God incarnate, God present, God immanent. And God lives in a timeless now.

May God accomplish that in us through the grace of his Son and the power of his indwelling Spirit: Amen

Convention Adddress 2013

From his fullness have we all received grace upon grace.
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace upon Grace. That is the theme for this the 165th convention of the Diocese of Milwaukee. As I begin this my tenth address to you as your bishop, please allow me to begin by acknowledging before you the grace I receive daily by working with such a dedicated group of people who serve you with me as the staff of Nicholson House.
I am privileged to work with gifted colleagues in ministry—the Nicholson House staff who serve with me in serving you the people who are the Diocese of Milwaukee —David Pfaff, Canon to the Ordinary, Peggy Bean, Assistant for Congregational Development, Carla McCook, Assistant for Christian Formation, Diane Blank, Finance Officer, Patty Jaffke and Barbara Klauber.
That grace is magnified by my loving family who support me in my work and ministry, my wife Cindy, and our daughters, Lauren and Haley.
I also wish to take a moment to thank Margaret Schumacher, who completes her term as Treasure of the Diocese at the conclusion of this Convention. Margaret’s ministry as treasurer has been a true gift of grace helping this diocese for the past four years as we sought to navigate through challenging economic times while continuing to keep assessment percentages from increasing. Margaret’s manner and presence when presenting the budget and finances of the diocese evoke confidence and trust, confidence and trust earned by the outstanding job she has done in service of us all. A resolution honoring her time as treasurer will be before us as part of the report of the Committee on Resolutions of Courtesy. I ask you now to stand and join me in giving her a well-deserved round of applause as a sign of our gratitude for her gracious gift of her talents.
Last night at the banquet, I introduced you to this year’s Bishop’s Shield recipients; Marshall Williams of St. Peter’s, West Allis and the Rev. Michelle Mooney a deacon of this diocese currently assigned to St. Mark’s, Milwaukee. Both of these persons are further examples of grace in action. Through their work of advocacy and mentoring lives are being changed and God is being glorified.
Two agents of God’s grace who meant so much to this diocese entered into the nearer presence of God this year. The Venerable Thomas Frank Winslow, the inaugural recipient of the bishop’s shield award, whose acts of service to this diocese and its bishops as deacon, archdeacon and priest, as well as his service to the law enforcement and recovery communities, are too many to number died on August 23rd. For me, and I suspect for many of you Tom’s absence is palpable. It seems strange not to have him seated with me at the head table for this convention. I suspect that something appears to missing from the dias for many of you veteran convention delegates as well. I am so thankful for the gift of grace Tom Winslow was to me as I began and served my ministry as your bishop. To say that I miss him is an understatement.
Four days later on August 27th, the Rt. Rev. Roger White, tenth bishop of this diocese died due to complications following a brain aneurysm. Roger touched the lives of many in this room and across the Church during his nineteen years of service to this diocese. Roger was the first Episcopal Bishop in Wisconsin to ordain women to the priesthood. He continued and strengthened our diocese’s long tradition of ecumenical leadership not only here in the state through his leadership in the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Council of Churches but also by helping to establish relations between the Episcopal Church and the Church in Russia at the end of the Soviet era. His book with Richard Kew “New Millenium, New Church” raised significant issues that the Church as a whole is just now beginning to address.
Both of these men were signs and agents of God’s grace. We give thanks for their ministry among us and pray that they and all those of our diocesan family who have died this past year, may go from strength to strength in God’s perfect kingdom.
At our last convention, I reported to you that “One decision I hope we will need to make in the year ahead is the future of St. Edmund’s property.” After a ruling made in December in favor of our request for Summary Judgment, the remaining issues in the case were settled and the Church and rectory have been returned to us. I have asked our Chancellor Stuart Parsons to give a summary of the matter later today. The final ruling from the judge appointed for mediation arrived Thursday. I am hopeful that this matter will come to a conclusion before the end of the year.
I also need to report to you that the congregation of St. Timothy’s, Milwaukee made the decision to close this year. With the assistance of the Commission on Mission and Development, the people of St. Timothy’s discerned that it was time for that ministry to end and new life to begin. Members of the parish, the majority of whom no longer live in near proximity to the church, have found new church homes. At the end of last month, we sold the property to our neighbors at Krause Funeral home who had been using some of the space prior to the parishes closing. A tithe of the sale is being used as seed money for an Episcopal Service Corps site, a program for young adults ages 21 to 30 giving them the experience of living in Christian community while serving others. The experience of many dioceses is that these programs have become an incubator for future leaders of the church, lay and ordained. This is Grace upon Grace. Resurection; God bringing new life.
This past year was also a General Convention year. The most publicized resolution was number A049 entitled Trial Rites for Blessings. At the end of the day what convention adopted was a provisional rite for use subject to the permission of the bishop. What does that mean for the diocese of Milwaukee? Those of you have read my paper “yes to bless or Christian Marriage for all:” available at my blog site, milwaukeebishop@wordpress.com, know my thinking on this matter. I continue to believe the rite endorsed by General Convention is flawed on a number of levels and I would add falls significantly short of our call as Christians. I am also aware of a number of other things. I know that my position is a minority position at least among the members of both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies and I would suspect throughout the Church. I have not used this issue as a litmus test for clergy we recruit to come to the Diocese of Milwaukee and I know through our clergy gatherings after convention that the majority of the priests in this diocese are willing to offer blessings if episcopal permission is given. I am also aware that the election of my two immediate predecessors was in many ways a referendum on the hot topic of that day the ordination of women. I do not want the election of the 12th bishop of Milwaukee although it is a number of years away to bear the same burden. My position is further complicated by the fact that I have been named to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of The Episcopal Church the body which will evaluate these provisional rites and report to the next General Convention. So where are we? We are a diocese were both positions are respected with a bishop who is opposed to the rites as adopted, who has written a cogent and well received theological case for same gender marriage which these rites say they explicitly are not by intention although closely resembling the same and the enabling resolution for these rites adopted by General Convention allows for local adaptation in dioceses where same sex marriage is legal, situated in a state where same gender marriage is banned by the constitution, in a diocese with a stated desire to remain in the highest degree of communion possible with our sisters and brothers across the Anglican Communion the overwhelming majority of whom have a different view on this subject than that of the Episcopal Church as expressed by General Convention and which has covenanted with our ecumenical partners not to do anything that would create a further stumbling block to unity while being ourselves a community of believers which seeks to welcome and honor all members of our diocese in fulfillment of our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being. As you can see there is much to consider as a way forward is discerned. I am still discerning.
Another issue that came before General Convention was the issue of Communion of the unbaptized, a resolution which sought to overturn the ancient, dare we say, seminal practice that the reception of the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ is for those who are the body and blood of Christ, the baptized members of the Church. Why, because in the Eucharist we receive what we are the Body and Blood of Christ. The doctrine of baptism before communion is enshrined in our Church’s constitution. I would add that in our the Book of Common Prayer, this churches most important theological document, baptism, chrismation, and first communion even of infants is the intended trajectory of our rites of initiation and incorporation. I am grateful that General Convention affirmed “that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples.” What does this mean? It means that we have affirmed that teaching of the Church but we are not going to card people at the rail. It also means that we need to be clear in our bulletins and teaching that in this Church it is all persons baptized in the name of the Trinity, who believe Christ to be present in this sacrament and are communicants in their own traditions unless forbidden by their own faith community who are welcome to receive Holy Communion in this Church.

Some of you may wonder why I am going on about this. That the issue of communion of the unbaptized has even come up points to a painful reality in our church that while we have worship centered on the Holy Eucharist, we have done little to teach eucharisitc theology and piety to the members of our congregations and perhaps even the students in our seminaries. To that end, in the coming year, together with Carla McCook and the task force for Christian Formation I will be preparing an instructed Eucharist that I am asking each congregation to use as a means to deepen understanding and devotion in this the central act of our worship.

Secondly, it points to the disturbing trend that many in the church place all the responsibility for hospitality and welcome on the liturgy. All the “All are welcome” statements in bulletins, newsletters, and announcements don’t mean a thing unless it is match by a spirit of welcome and hospitality in the hearts and actions of the congregation as manifested by intentional acts to welcome and incorporate those who come through the doors of the church coupled with and undergirded by an intentional evangelism program to invite others to follow Jesus. I have visited enough congregations across this church to know that words are easy and real welcome takes intentionality and practice.

But finally, I think it points to a cheapening of the Gospel as evidenced by disturbing trend in the church exacerbated by a narcissistic culture that seems to reduce the Gospel to being principally about welcome and acceptance rather than the reign of God in our lives and in allthe world.

The Gospel is not only about acceptance. It is about healing, redemption, salvation, and sanctification. Yes, God accepts everyone, embraces everyone but there is more. God loves us so much that he does not leave us there. Grace upon grace.. in the words of that much loved hymn there is welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good there is mercy with the Savior. There is healing in his blood.

Our Anglican Tradition is a tradition that emphasis sanctification. At confirmation, we pray that those being confirmed may increase in grace more and more. Even when we commend the departed to God our prayer is that they will continue to grow in grace. Perhaps a prayer chant I have learned recently says it best. Take, O take me as I am. Summon out what I shall be. Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.

Our call is to preach the whole Gospel of Jesus’s love, acceptance, redemption, and sanctification.

We live in a time that I believe is more like the first days of the Church than it is like the era of Christendom that preceded it, the gasp of which breathed its last just a few years ago.

In my address to you last year I said, “A part of our reality is that we have 19th and 20th century structures in 19th and 20th century locations seeking to do ministry in the 21st century. We need to look at all this seriously. What is the shape of parish ministry in the years to come? Will churches and synagogues continue to be exempt from property taxes as local governments in a climate of scarcity seek new revenue streams? Will a culture increasingly hostile to faith forget the importance of religious presence and witness in society and change its place in the public sphere? And if so what will that future look like? How can we be best prepared to meet the challenges of the years to come? What contingencies might we wish to have in place?”
And I called for our diocese to enter a new season of strategic planning. The question before us is how do we do mission and ministry most effectively in the 21st century? What is required of us to give God our best which is his due? We are not alone in seeking to address this new and ever-changing context. A Strategic planning task force has been established and begun its work. You will hear more concerning this work in the months ahead in the E-news and other communications from me and the task force.

Which relates to perhaps the most important action of General Convention was Resolution C095 which called this Church to reimagine itself through the lens of the Five Marks of Mission. It reads in part:

Resolved, … That this General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully:
• Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
• Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
• Respond to human need by loving service
• Seek to transform unjust structures of society
• Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of
the earth; nd be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention establish a Task Force under the Joint
Rules of Order, whose purpose shall be to present the 78th General Convention
with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and
administration

Our diocesan strategic planning initiative and this action of General Convention bear witness that many within our Church realize that business as usual is no longer acceptable. The task before is to discern how God is calling us to be the Church in this time. To discern that which is holding us back from embracing God’s mission and ask for grace upon grace to let those things go. To behold the new life God places in our midst and ask for grace upon grace to receive that new life, accept it and embrace it.

I believe we can do that because God is faithful and the God who gives grace upon grace will continue to pour that grace upon us the Episcopal Church in this place.

Being displayed on the screen are a few questions that I would like you to discuss in table groups, inviting your input into this discernment process. This will not be your only opportunity but it is an initial opportunity. Please take 30 minutes to discuss them and then ask one person from your table to right down your responses. The tellers will collect them after the break.

The questions are these.

How is your congregation experiencing new life?
How do we, continually ourselves and others to see the new life God is calling forth and deepen our relationship with God?
How can diocesan structures and ministries help you in these efforts?

In conclusion, Thank you for the privilege of serving God by in, among, and through you the people of this great Diocese. May God bless us all as we go forward receiving grace upon grace.