St. Johns is not closed.

By some peoples definition, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norristown was “closed” for a while. I never quite saw it that way. After all, if one hundred and thirty plus people gather four days per week, for a meal staffed by an additional dozen people, I would call that open. If on those days people sit down as a family to share a common meal and pray together, I would call that church.

Still, it is true that some folks had decided to discontinue regular worship for a while. These are good folks, doing what they believed to be right. Bishop Gutierrez, however, wanted worship to continue, in some manner. For the last year, I have had the honor of leading a weekly time of prayer. I have been changed by this, in small and large ways, all of them good.

I plan to write regularly here about the life of St. Johns but for now, I have just this simple message:

St. Johns is not closed.

Soon I will tell you of the big changes coming, and about the Vicar, Fr. Andy Kline. I hope to be telling you very soon about how St. Johns is living the Beatitudes and looking like Jesus.

For now, St. Johns is open. It is open to all and particularly to those who want to be in on the ground floor for a chance to make, and build, and be church.

As He said…come and see.

St. Johns is not closed.

By some peoples definition, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norristown was “closed” for a while. I never quite saw it that way. After all, if one hundred and thirty plus people gather four days per week, for a meal staffed by an additional dozen people, I would call that open. If on those days people sit down as a family to share a common meal and pray together, I would call that church.

Still, it is true that some folks had decided to discontinue regular worship for a while. These are good folks, doing what they believed to be right. Bishop Gutierrez, however, wanted worship to continue, in some manner. For the last year, I have had the honor of leading a weekly time of prayer. I have been changed by this, in small and large ways, all of them good.

I plan to write regularly here about the life of St. Johns but for now, I have just this simple message:

St. Johns is not closed.

Soon I will tell you of the big changes coming, and about the Vicar, Fr. Andy Kline. I hope to be telling you very soon about how St. Johns is living the Beatitudes and looking like Jesus.

For now, St. Johns is open. It is open to all and particularly to those who want to be in on the ground floor for a chance to make, and build, and be church.

As He said…come and see.

On being a radical

For some of us sixties folks being radical was a badge to wear. It meant being anti-establishment, which evolved into being anti anything from the previous generation. Mind you, there was some good to it, but it wasn’t all good.

For many, including myself, it meant opposing a war that we had no stake in. If if the outcome was of no interest to you, why would you risk your life for it? The radical movement also tried to shine a light on other things, which contributed to cleaner air and water. The radical movement also needs to take responsibility for helping to create the drug culture that is crippling families and killing children today. There you have a brief description of the good and bad of the radicalism born in the 1960’s.

Widening the topic from hippiedom, we can consider radicals throughout history. Martin Luther, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. Those are the famous ones, the radicals that encouraged us all to change, to do better and be better.

Mother Teresa is another radical worthy of our admiration. Alongside her sacrifice and hard work, she was wise. Wise enough to teach this to me.

We cannot do great things. We can only do little things with great love.”

I like that, it encourages me. As much as I would like to do great things, I can accept that little things offered with love are a meaningful sacrifice to my savior and to those in need. I can apply that. I can apply Jesus reminder that we serve him by serving others, and we serve the least of these by falling to our knees in service to those who the world says are beneath us.

The Good Samaritan Shelter allows me to serve in that way. It allows me, and many others, to let that old radical heart come out and believe that a difference can be made and I can be a tiny part of it. To give up a few bucks to share with others that I would have otherwise used to treat myself to a bauble. To tell my friends that I can’t golf on Saturday because I am fixing faucets at a shelter.

They are not great things, but they are loving things. Good Samaritan Shelter gets its life from these small things, given by many.

Just as Jesus was a radical for washing feet and hanging out with sinners, I dream of radicalizing the world with the loving act of giving ourselves away to others, without judgment or pretense. Just doing small things with love and from a place of gratitude. Poverty can only exist if we allow it; judgment is the wall, love is the door. Love shouldn’t seem so radical.

Never a Deacon…never a Deacon.

We often hear this statement from Priests. “Once a Deacon, always a Deacon.”

I suggest that it is time that we politely, or impolitely if necessary, call this what it is. Bunk. A mistake. A mistake that needs to be corrected. Why? Here are my views, and my questions for my Priestly friends.

  • Did you ever really consider yourself a Deacon? In all that time of discernment and process, did you actually say, “I want to be a Deacon for a while, maybe six months or so, and then be a Priest….but after that I want to remain a Deacon.” Did you ever even for a moment think in that way?
  • Do you work as a Deacon or work as a Priest? It’s a simple question.
  • Do you recognize Deacons as a full and equal order, or some sort of stop along the way to your true call to ordination as a Priest?

It seems to me that if we got a room full of reasonable Priests and Bishops together to ask if their really is a point to this double-ordination, two-steps to a Priest idea, that they would soon conclude something that sounds like…”It’s always been that way”, Actually, it hasn’t. Skim over Acts 6, and study Church history for the first three hundred years or so.

Here is a question…what is a Transitional Deacon? Here is my answer. It’s really not a Deacon of any kind. Following ordination to this shaky title, are you working as a Deacon, or as a soon to be Priest? Also, do you think of yourself as “only a deacon,” for those few months? Betcha don’t

Speaking of transition. When people are in transition, we are generally transitioning toward something, not from something. If you have to use the transitional title at all ( and I don’t see why you do) then call them Transitional Priests. Now here is an interesting point that I learned about very recently from Deacon Susanne WatsonEpting., From 1972 through 2003, this issue was raised at every General Convention. Obviously, it was not supported by the Bishops, and since then there has been only silence on the topic. Her further comment was that if this transition was important, then it should be lengthened from six months to five years! Perhaps such a proposal would shine a little light on the subject.

So then, how did this tradition begin? I’m guessing that there is a simple explanation. It’s a trial period. A time when somebody gets to see if this is someone that we want to set loose on the church. Perhaps that time is necessary, it is at least arguable. But if that is what it’s all about then get it out there. Call them Priests-In-Training, or J. V. Priests or Junior Priests or Maybe Priests; call them anything close to what they really are, and stop calling them what they are not and never intended themselves to be. And if God Almighty has set it on their hearts to be Priests, then they know it, and the Church should recognize it.

It’s not a matter of degrees. We never say, “Sorry, youre not Priest material, but you seem like a nice person so we’ll let you be a Deacon.” Anyone that would offer that doesn’t understand the Order of Deacons and anyone that would accept is….ummmm….unclear about their call.

Why is this important? To those called to the Diaconate, there is no such thing as a Transitional Deacon or a Vocational Deacon. It’s just Deacon. By adding this Transitional Deacon phase to the journey toward Priesthood adds to the confusion of just exactly what a Deacon does in the world.

As an order that has found itself too often validated by the whim of a Bishop, we find it critical and necessary to speak prophetically on this issue. A more full understanding herein can help to identify the differing roles of all four segments of ministry and ministers; Lay, Bishop, Priest and Deacon.

So, to those who say “Once a Deacon, always a Deacon,” we ask you to consider if you are truly living into Diaconal work, or carrying out the baptismal promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.”

If you are a Bishop or Priest or preparing for Priesthood, and think that this is just a trifling matter and not worthy of discussion, then I suggest you let us have our way, It is important to us, it is not a trifle. We are a full and equal order.

A Beautiful Guy

Just a few months ago, I met a beautiful guy. He showed up at church one Sunday and began asking around if there was some way that he could be of some help to the hungry or homeless.

What struck me immediately is that this fellow felt as though he had a duty to help those in need.

We talked for a bit, I will tell you that I liked him right away.

Within a few days he was helping out at The Good Samaritan Shelter, providing rides to various services for people that he had just met. Before long he was helping out at St. Peter’s Church, preparing lunch for folks in need.

This didn’t seem like enough for him.

So, he made a seemingly preposterous suggestion. After giving the background that he lived alone in a four bedroom house following the passing of his parents, he suggested that he give me a key to his house, and I could drop off people there that were in need of a place to stay.

The explanation was this. “It’s not my house, I gave it to Christ.”

I recoiled in surprise and a bit of terror. “You can’t just do that,” I explained.

His expression forced me to explain that people might take advantage of the situation and that furthermore, everyone has to pay something for housing.

He just shrugged.

My work at The Good Samaritan Shelter informs me that I know people that have just such a need, but I felt that a program laden with rules and precautions would have to be put into place.

I met with Nate Hoffer, the Executive Director, and later with Tim Barr, Resident Manager, both from Good Samaritan Shelter. I was a bit relieved when both of these guys had the same look of wonder that I had, and responded with something like my own…”You can’t just do that.”

It was Nate who finally said “Why not?”

 

Together we met with this kind gentleman, to explain all of the precautions and rules necessary. He discarded them all. When we suggested that, at the very least, a modest rent should be paid, and taking part in household chores should be required, he vetoed both.

We settled on this. Participants should go to church and Bible study weekly, at the place of their own choosing.

When he left we were all still shaking our heads, torn between “You can’t do that,” and “Why can’t you”?

Within a few days we had tracked down a former resident of the shelter and made the offer to him. He never said “What’s the catch?” but you could measure it’s presence.

It’s early in this ministry, but I can report that… so far/so good.

I think about the words of my Bishop, Bishop Daniels and his call for us all of us to be about “crazy ministry.”

Now I wonder who the crazy people really are. Is it the man that offers heat and warmth and safety and friendship within his own home to strangers, or is it the rest of us that rationalize all of the reasons why this is unsafe, or not helpful, or enabling or…just plain crazy.

I think about the guest rooms, in houses like my own, with the perfectly made bed and the pretty pillows, and how they goes unused for very long stretches.

Empty warm comfortable rooms, while others have no place to rest their head.

Yep, it’s crazy alright. Crazy in a Jesus sort of way.

A Lectionary Homily, John 8:47

I find that I read the Bible in two distinct ways. They are different in intent, and in result..

The way that I read the Bible most often, is the way that I prepare for weekly Bible studies. In these cases, I read all three readings, each one in it’s entirety. After that, I begin to read it line-by-line, thinking about what I already know about the selected reading.

I think about the people mentioned, and their backgrounds. The towns mentioned and where they are, relative to Jerusalem. I reflect on the social, and economic, and cultural backgrounds of that place and time. I wonder about correct translations, and do the words fit right as they go from Aramaic or Greek or Hebrew to English. In all of this effort, I am thinking about what I already know, what I believe, and have learned, so that I can explain it.

As I consider all of this now, it occurs to me that one can be a reasonable philosopher, a wise theologian, or a pretty good Bible teacher by holding forth on all that they know, while leaving out any hope for continued learning, inspiration, or illumination.

The other way that I read the Bible is quite different. It is the way I read when I am preparing a brief homily, or a sermon.  In those times, I am not thinking about what I know, I am hoping for revelation. Some new and enlightened thought, some clarity.

As I begin to review the reading from John for today. I am reading it in “Bible study” form. The reading begins with:

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

It continues with:

The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

And so I think…what a bunch of knuckleheads those Jews and Pharisees are. There they are, sitting a few feet away from The King of Kings, the true Son of God, and because they don’t like what He says, they call him a half-breed and a mad man. Because what Jesus is trying to teach them doesn’t match up to what they already know, they reject it, and Him. What arrogance! What fools!

That’s the way I see it, in Bible study mode. I can identify the Jews, and their words, and Jesus, and his words.

But when I look at the same scripture, hoping for revelation, there is a far different effect. Now I read the words of Jesus, and when he says “the reason you do not hear is that you don’t belong to God.”  When Jesus says “you”, he means me. Jesus speaks to everyone when he says “you” and that includes me. What? Me?  I don’t belong to God?

In an effort to be unlike those Jews that reject Jesus words of indictment, I begin to ponder…When is it that I don’t belong to God? When? After a while I can see it. There it is…I can see it, right in the same sentence..”the reason you don’t hear…”

The reason I don’t hear is because I think I already know, just like the Jews that insulted Him. By not being open to truly hear Him, I have chosen to listen to myself, and therefore I belong to me, not to Him.

I don’t think this way intentionally, or foolishly. Still as I consider the potential for deeper meaning, I must keep in mind that Jesus words are timeless and all-encompassing. His words begin where time begins.

What do I do about this? First, I know that I must think and pray deeper. I have to be sure that what I am doing and planning is what He wants, not me.

Where do I begin? Well it seems to me that if I want to be open to learning new things, I have to admit that in my own way, I can miss hearing the words of the Saviour, even in the moments when I try my best to be in His presence.

It finally occurs to me that it is entirely me and my best intentions that are in the way. Just like those devout Jews that were unable to accept His message, because it didn’t fit what they already knew. Regardless of how pure my intentions are, how sincerely I seek to serve Him, I cannot be bound by what I know “up to this point”. I cannot only seek to continue things that I have started.

To “belong to Him,” isn’t it just a bit obvious that I need to empty myself out? To put away, at least for a while, my own agenda, my own grand plans, my own hopes for meaningful achievement.

To empty myself by seeking to stay there in His presence. To empty myself until all of me that I can subdue melts behind His presence in my mind and being. To empty myself until it is Him thinking, not me. I am trying to become so empty of myself that my own tired thoughts and plans make way for something new to be revealed.

How else can I be open and accepting of whatever other wild ideas He might have for me?

Crazy stuff like…

“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

 

Does Jesus Know The Ten Commandments?

So the man came up to Jesus and asked “Teacher. what is the greatest commandment?

The man was a Pharisee and a lawyer. Scripture tell us that he asked this to test Jesus.

I wonder why. Was it because he wanted to know the facts? Certainly Pharisees and lawyers love the “facts.” Perhaps it was to check the facts.

Or perhaps he wanted to know what the greatest commandment was for another reason. Perhaps he wanted to know what  the one thing was that he should really focus on because he felt like he will have trouble keeping all of the commandments, so he should just focus on the greatest one.

Or perhaps it was like a situation that I once found myself in, in a group of like-minded people.I was talking to a fella and we heard a woman in the group next to us say that in her church they had communion the “right way”. They used grape juice.I commented to the man that I was talking to that to make wine you need a barrel or a sheepskin or a goatskin. Making wine is a fairly organic process. But to make grape juice, you need a factory. There just weren’t that many factories in Palestine at that time. And so when she came to me and asked “How do they have communion in your church?” I knew it was a test.

Or perhaps the Pharisee wanted to know how we could use Jesus. Certainly he was aware of when the Sadducee asked Jesus that silly riddle about the woman with seven dead husbands, and which one would she be married to in heaven. He would have been aware of how Jesus  kind of mowed down the Sadducees in debate,  until they “dared not ask any more questions”.

With the Pharisees and Sadducees being in opposition in the Jewish ruling party, perhaps he wondered if Jesus might be of some use to him politically. If He was against the Sadducees, perhaps he was for the Pharisees.

Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?

Jesus answer seems to go directly to the mans heart.

Jesus answers that the first and great commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.”  Actually, Jesus is quoting the Shema, which begins, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

At this point, the Pharisee might have unrolled a scroll to say to Jesus, “Actually Jesus, it says here that the first commandment is ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.’”

But he didn’t…

Jesus continues, “And the second is like unto it. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Actually, this is the commandment that Jesus left behind for us, when he basically said…until I get back, love each other.

The Pharisee might have rolled his eyes and said, “Actually Jesus, that is incorrect. It says here that the second commandment tell us not to worship any graven images.”

But he didn’t…

Does Jesus even know the Ten Commandments? Is He changing them?

He continues with, “On these two commandments, hang all the law and The Prophets.”

Suspended from these two “greatest” commandments are all of the laws on one side, and The Prophets on the other.

All the laws. all six-hundred some of them and I’ll bet the Pharisee knew them all. The laws, static and timeless, hang from these two commandments. And on the other side, the words of The Prophets. Jesus knew that he was speaking to a Pharisee. The Sadducees, you see, believe only in The Torah, the first five books. But the Pharisees also accept the wisdom books and the books of The Prophets. And who are The Prophets? They are men, chosen vessels of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, to speak with Gods own words about what is happening now. It is The Prophets that cry over Jerusalem and warn us that if we continue down the road we’re on, that danger looms. It is The Prophets that tell us how we are doing right now in keeping His static and timeless laws.

I don’t want to be too hard on the Pharisees. My hunch is that they devoted themselves to the law because that believed that it was righteous to do so. But I don’t have to worry about being too hard on them, because Jesus sure was.

It was Jesus parable about the Pharisee that kind of sounds like. “Did you hear the one about the Pharisee and the tax collector?”

Recall how the Pharisee was standing outside the temple, praying in a loud voice about how great he was at keeping laws and over-fasting and over-tithing. How he thanked God that he wasn’t like some other groups of crummy people, and how he even got personal and pointed a finger at the tax collector, giving thanks that he wasn’t like that guy. By elevating himself above others, he had actually broken both of Jesus two great commandments.

By loving only the law, we are able to walk past a bleeding, half-naked man in a ditch on the Jericho road.

Certainly Paul understood Jesus greatest commandments. Consider this, from Romans 13:8

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Jesus told us that he didn’t come to change the law, but to fulfill it.

How do we fulfill it? We show our love for God by loving each other. All of us and always.

I will leave it to you to work out who your neighbor is. but it seems to me that my neighbor is everyone that I will in some way be connected to today. That’s who I am to love.

In the Catechism that we learned as children, when we learned the ten commandments, the word love is absent. We are taught that the first four are about our relationship with God, and the last six are about our relationship with each other. But for the most part, the word love does not appear.Even if love is inferred, or imbued, or implied, we are too stubborn, or self-absorbed, or foolish, or perhaps just too dense to see it.

How did Jesus fulfill the law? He added what we couldn’t see in our quest to keep the rules.

Love. Jesus added love.

So, Mr. Pharisee. you want to know what the greatest commandment is?

Love.