General Convention Report #3

Dear Friends is Christ,

Yesterday the House of Deputies concurred with three separate actions of the House of Bishops: the approval of the continued use of the rite “The Blessing of a Covenant Relationship,” the authorization of two trial rites for Marriage, and a change to the  Marriage canons to allow for the marriage of two persons of the same sex. I voted in favor of the first two resolutions, and abstained on the third. 

As I was determining my vote on the canonical change, the words of Jesus, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” resonated within me. As I could not faithfully do either, I abstained. Those of you who know me know that while my heart is desirous to embrace this change, my mind is not yet there. Moreover, I felt the canonical change was both unnecessary to the trial use process and would cause further strains in the world-wide communion.

No doubt, most of you are wondering what this means for the Diocese of Milwaukee. While I have yet to work out the details, I anticipate I will authorize the use of the trial rites under guidelines similar to those set forth when I authorized clergy to bless civil marriages. As the new rites are marriage rites, clergy will be able to act as agents of the state should they so choose. 

Please remember that while some are celebrating this development, there are others for whom this decision has caused pain. All are valued and loved members of this diocese. 

Yours in Christ,


The Rt. Rev. Steven A. Miller

General Convention: The Power of a phone call.

Dear Friends in Christ,

After the shootings at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, I made a call to PresIding Bishop Katherine and said that we as bishops of the Episcopal Church were in a unique place to lead the Church and the world in addressing the issue of Gun Violence. She suggested I call Mark Beckwith, the Bishop of Newark, who was also interested in this issue. From this phone call Bishops United Against Gun Violence was born. On Sunday 60 bishops led over 1500 Episcopalians in a walk “Claiming Common ground Against Gun Violence.” We heard powerful witness from victims, former law enforcement officers, and our Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry. Together we are building a core of people committed to doing all we can to end this scourge through the passage of reasonable and sane gun laws that protect the rights of gun owners while restricting access to those who should not. 

Here is a link to the coverage of our walk

God wants to use each of us to build a better world. Is there a phone call you need to make?

General Convention: First Post

Dear Friends in Christ,

I write you from Salt Lake City, site of the 78th General Convention. Today is Registration Day for Bishops and Deputies and the initial meetings of Legislative Committees. As at last Convention, I am on the Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. 

In one sense, General Convention is like a big family reunion. I sat on the plane next to a priest from Vermont who had been my GOE reading partner years ago. Last night, I had a good visit with my friend Tony Pompa, Dean of the Cathedral in Bethlehem, PA. I am certain I will see many other friends in the Exhibit Hall today.

I want to remind you as I have before previous General Conventions that the media does not always accurately report the decisions of Convention. This is not by intent. We are a nuanced people in an unnuanced age and the black and white nature of reporting does not always grasp these subtleties. Your deputies and I will meet with you after Convention to share with you what has transpired. 

In closing, I ask your prayers for me, our Deputation, and most especially the Church. Pray that we may have grace to glorify Christ by our actions.

Yours in Jesus’ name

Marching and Praying

Dear Friends in Christ,

Early today it was announced that  the officer involved in the  shooting of Tony Robinson would not be charged. As I write clergy of this diocese and other faithful people are marching from the site of the shooting to Grace Episcopal Church on the Capitol Square where they will gather for prayer. This evening churches throughout Madison will be open for prayer and conversation. I am grateful for the witness of these sisters and brothers and pray for them. I pray for the City. I pray that the peace will prevail. I ask you to join me in this prayer.

What has become clear to me this past year is that those of us who claim Jesus as Lord must be at the forefront of working to address the systemic racism that is so much a part of our life in Wisconsin. The first step is to end the denial that it even exists. The second is to admit that those of us who are white have benefitted from its existence. As Jesus taught we need to remove the log from our own eye before removing the speck that is in the eye of another.

Yours in Christ Jesus,


Maundy Thursday 2015

By this shall the world know that you are my disciples that you have love for one another.

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

I need to tell you that I find myself particularly uneasy and uncomfortable this Maundy Thursday. I am also beginning to think that this is the way this night is supposed to make us feel. Maundy Thursday more than any other day is day in tension, a day on the edge at least for the first part of it. We spent the last few Thursdays looking at the passion narratives together and we reminded ourselves that the passion is a drama in four acts: ACT I, the agony in the Garden, Act II the trial before Jewish Authorities, Act III the trail before Pilate and Act IV the crucifixion and Burial. Maundy Thursday and its liturgy end firmly in the garden–the beginning of Act I but it begins with what modern day folk would call a prequel. An alternate theory, which appears to be position of the drafters of the Revised Common Lectionary, at least given this past Sunday’s passion, would have us think that Act I begins not in the Garden but in the Upper Room.
There is tension in the Upper Room as well. And I don’t just mean among the participants and the observers asking themselves, “Is it I who will betray Jesus” and saying to Jesus, “What are you doing trying to wash my feet?” There is tension I believe in the acts themselves. I am particularly convinced of this by the fact that the Synoptic authors Mark, Matthew and Luke, recount the breaking of the bread and the blessing of the cup, a Passover tradition that Jesus gives new significance while John mentions the meal only in passing and focuses on the foot washing. I have come to wonder if the community of the beloved disciple that John was writing for was at odds not only with their Jewish counterparts who had kicked them out of the synagogue but also with other Christians about what was the true means to commemorate this night on which Christ was betrayed.
This tension for me is exacerbated by the memories of many Maundy Thursdays and the piety and hymnody that accompanied those services.

That last night as supper lying mid the twelve his chosen band
Jesus with the Law complying keeps the feast its rites demand
then more precious food supplying gives himself with his on hand.

Or this
Thou who at thy first Eucharist didst pray that all the Church might be forever one
(truly a conflation of the passion Narratives)

One could almost have the impression that the whole purpose of the Word becoming flesh was that so the world and the Church could have a Eucharistic liturgy. There is a temptation to focus so much on the Eucharist that we forget this is a movement into passion. Perhaps that is why there has developed in parts of the Christian tradition a separate series of liturgical observances outside of Passiontide and the Easter season which focus on the Blessed Sacrament, Corpus Christi and the feast of the Precious Blood.
As I think of all this, I am reminded that of the words of Ignatius of Antioch the early Church father whose writings where a large part of my conversion to catholic Christianity. Writing to fellow Christians on his way to martyrdom Ignatius exhorted his brothers and sister to pray that he might be ground by the lion’s teeth as finest wheat that he might become bread for the Eucharist. Ignatius’ words remind me that the purpose of this night is not that we might have Eucharist but that we might be Eucharist – broken, blessed and given for the world. In one of our Eucharistic prayers we recall this truth in these words … “that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose for us.
The question before is, “Are we consumer Christians or servant Christians?”
I am sure you know that word Eucharist comes from the Greek charin Eko meaning to give thanks.
In my teaching across the diocese lately I have been asking the question, “Are we communion people or are we Eucharistic people?”, contrasting the piety that implies that purpose of worship is to come and receive a little bit of Jesus, what one poet described as $5 worth of God not enough to change me but enough to get me through until next week, a thought embodied in the statement I come to church to make my communion, versus a Eucharistic people, a people for whom every act of worship is rooted in Thanksgiving, the act of glorifying and praising God “for all his goodness and loving kindness,… our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life but above all for the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.” (BCP; The General Thanksgiving). This thanksgiving is rooted in oblation, the offering of our self to God, and adoration, simply delighting in God’s presence, and from it flows the acknowledgement of our sins and the certainty of God’s forgiveness and our prayers for others and for ourselves.
To be Eucharist is to be a person of Thanksgiving. But this night reminds us that Thanksgiving is more than an attitude of gratitude, although that is necessary, thanksgiving is an embodied act. Jesus takes the bread and blesses the cup and gives. Jesus kneels at the feet of his friends washes their feet and takes the form of a slave. He gives, he serves.
This is Christ’s call this night. This is the vocation of his followers. As the hymns put in best, Strengthen for service Lord that hands that holy things have taken or better still– Come labor on spend and be spent your joy to do the Father’s will. This is the way the master went should not the servant tread it still.

He gives, he serves. He is the model for our life. That’s what I means to call him Lord.

Give us such an awareness of your mercies that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise not only with our lips but in our lives by giving up ourselves to your service and walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days (BCP: General Thanksgiving)

Christmas Sermon 2014

For thus says the Lord of hosts: once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying. Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, goodwill toward men.

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

For thus says the Lord of hosts: once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land

This verse from the prophet Haggai came to me as I prepared my sermon for this Christmas Eve, it is not a text we normally hear on this day but those familiar with Handel’s Messiah will know it from the Bass recitative in the Nativity portion of the work. It is a text that sticks with me even though my choral years are long past.

Shaking seems like an appropriate image for Christmas this year. It is a year in which I, at least, have been shaken. I suspect many of you have been as well. Just this morning I awakened to the news that another young black man was shot by a police officer in Missouri. We are shaken by an increase of senseless violence, not only here in this nation, but around the world as police officers are assassinated in New York, journalists and aid workers are executed in Syria, school children are murdered in Pakistan, and young African girls are taken into captivity as pawns of war. We are shaken by a renewed awareness of the reality of and sin of racism, the increasing disparity between rich and poor. We see the shaking of fists in anger and outrage. Some of us have been moved to join them. And seeing all these events, we as people of faith shake our heads and say how can this be? We are shaken and we ask what is this world coming to?

For thus says the Lord of hosts: once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.

I was reminded of this verse while reflecting on the much loved hymn by Charles Wesley which we will sing at the conclusion of this service, Hark the Herald angels sing.” Those of you who know me and have listened to my Christmas sermons these last 11 years know how much my entry into scripture is facilitated by hymns. This year is no exception.

We know the hymn and its first line as “Hark the Herald Angels sing” But did you know that “Hark the Herald Angels sing” was not the original text? Those words were substituted by the evangelist George Whitfield some years later. The original text was “Hark how all the Welkin Rings, Glory to the King of Kings” Welkin is an old English word for the whole created order. The image which Wesley sought to convey, , the same message that the Evangelist Luke sought to convey in his telling of the birth of the Messiah is that at the Angelic announcement at the birth of Christ the whole created order shook in fulfillment of this prophetic word.

We all know the words of the song, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth. And you many of you have heard me say that Luke records these words to make the point that the real source of life and peace was not the emperor Caesar Augustus, the supposed author of the pax Augustana, a ruler who Luke’s first hearers looked backed to with the same sort of nostalgia that many of us look back to the years before 9-11, or the Clinton or Reagan era depending on one’s political persuasion or the 1950’s depending on one’s age. But I am there is more.
As Christians, followers of Jesus, we are called to see this birth as something more than an historical fact. There are some who try to challenge even this, as evidenced by the bill board which appeared in Milwaukee at the beginning of Advent depicting a child writing Santa asking not to have to go to church this year because they were too old for fairy tales. The evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is well attested outside the Christian Scriptures. And I am too old for fairy tales, too. The incarnation is no fairy tale. We believe, we know that God has done something amazing in this birth and that the whole creation shakes at the news.

What the Gospel writer and the hymnist want us to know is that the birth of the Messiah, the incarnation of Jesus as the Messiah is God’s wake up call to the world. In the birth of Jesus God has shaken and will shake a sleeping world awake to the possibilities before us. What are those possibilities? The wolf will lie down with the lamb and the child shall play over the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, the prophet Isaiah tells us. Swords shall be turned to plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. A day of peace that dimly shines.

The evangelist John reminds us that this light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The incarnation is the beginning of new creation. The word which was spoken at the beginning is now the word made flesh.

All this is possible because of the self-emptying of God. The God who in the incarnation becomes God with us. Mild he lays his glory by, born that we, humanity, no more may die. It is this theological reality known as kenosis the Greek word for self -emptying which is the way to the possibilities before us.

Hark the Herald Angels sing Glory to the new born King.

What is to be our response? It may surprise you to know that Wesley’s original poem spells that response out for us. It contains 4 more stanzas or two verses. The first used to appear in earlier editions. Maybe we need to restore them in the future. They read

Come, Desire of Nations, come
Fix in us thy humble home
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed
Bruise in us the serpents head

Now display thy saving power
Ruined nature now restore
Now in mystic union jojn
thine to our and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord efface
Stamp thy image in its place
Second Adam from above
Reinstate us in thy love

Let us thee, though lost, regain
Thee, the life, the inner man
O, to all thyself impart
Formed in each believing heart.

Dream with me what might our world be like if this were the response of all to the news of this night that a child is born to us, a son is given us and the government will be upon his shoulder.

Think a minute.

I am certain it would be a world which is kinder, a world which demonstrates liberty and justice for all. A world where no child is hungry, none who are sick are in want of care. A world based more on the dignity of being created in God’s image then on one’s place as part of the market share. A world where all lives matter.

God comes tonight to wake us up as individuals and as the Church. He shakes ever so gently and says to us arise, shine your light has come and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. He does so in the birth of child in a backwater town named literally House of Bread.

As we come to the Lord’s table tonight may this Eucharist, this Christ Mass, awaken in us a new resolve to be formed and shaped by the one we receive that we might awaken others to God’s will and way.

Ferguson and Advent

O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear.

Dear Friends in Christ,

The words of this advent hymn entered my mind as I watched the morning news and saw the scenes from Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation depicting anger and outrage over the Grand Jury findings in the case of the shooting of a young man of color Michael Brown by a white police officer. I suspect that underneath the anger is a deep mourning that justice has not been served, that white privilege continues, and there is a profound difference between the experience of the legal system and law enforcement depending on the color of one’s skin and the size of one’s bank account. The name of Michael Brown is now added to a long litany of others that includes Trayvon Martin and Rodney King. We join in the mourning and cry out in longing for God to come and heal, save, and comfort.

It is the call for God’s intervention that is at the heart of Advent, the season we begin this Sunday. I have often sad that Advent is the truest season of the liturgical year because it is the season that most reflects the already but not yet of Christian faith. By and through faith we know that God has restored and redeemed creation. In life we see that restoration and redemption rarely and only glimpses.

As people of faith we now that our hope will be fulfilled. Emmanuel will come to us and God’s reign will be established, the wolf and lamb will lie down together, people will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, and that judgment will be by a loving, forgiving, just, and gracious God. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.