Tag Archives: The Episcopal Church

Sermon: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The following is the sermon I preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer, on Sunday 21 August 2016.  The lessons can be found here (note: we used Track 2).  You can listen to the sermon below or you can head over to The Redeemer website and listen there.  

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on my experience working as a hospital chaplain as part of my Clinical Pastoral Education experience. As I think patience visits and our educational seminars there is one theme that stands out as more pervasive than any other. That theme is a question – a one word question at that – why? why-in-japaneseTime and time again in my clinical work a patient would ask, “why is this happening to me?” In our educational seminars my supervisor and peers would ask me, “why did you do that?” Each and every morning as I entered the hospital I would ask myself, “Why am I here?” Why questions, it seems to me are inherently messy, often with complicated answers, and can lead us to become defensive. And yet, why questions have the capacity to be invitations to understand a situation, to experience the world, in new ways.

For generations people have had to struggle with why questions, and the communities and people we encounter in Scripture are no exception. This morning, through the invitation unlocked in why questions, we have before us a reminder, a warning, and a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that can only be achieved through relationship with God.

Today’s lesson from Isaiah comes from the concluding chapters of Isaiah in a section biblical scholars refer to as Trito Isaiah or Third Isaiah. Scholars understand this section to have been written after the people of Israel have returned from the Babylonian exile. While they have returned home, things are not as they had hoped they would be. Even though they have returned from exile, they are still being oppressed. For centuries they have heard promises of God’s liberation, and yet they still long for it. They wonder, “why have God’s promises not yet been fulfilled.” As a way of trying to make sense of what is going on in their lives, they start relying on themselves for answers, they begin to blame other people, they turn away from God, and worship other gods and participate in pagan rituals.   What we hear this morning, is God calling out to the people of Israel and reminding them to turn back towards God. If the people of Israel refrain from blaming others, if they stop speaking evil, if they reach out and care for those in need, if they delight in God, then – and only then – will their suffering end. Then their light shall rise in the darkness and their gloom be like the noonday.   For it is only by living into the fullness of their covenanted relationship with God that they will experience the liberation and transformation they desire.

For the last couple of weeks the lectionary has taken us through the Letter to the Hebrews. This letter was a sermon sent off to some unknown community as a source of encouragement. It is written relatively late, and so the community the author is writing to is actually the second generation of the Church. This is a community that has been waiting for the second coming of the Messiah, something they thought was going to happen immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus. Not only were they still waiting for the second coming, but they were also beginning to feel isolated and separated from the society around them. They were beginning to be persecuted for their faith. I can imagine members of that community wondering in anguish, “why is this happening to us.” I can imagine them beginning to doubt, beginning to wonder if this was all worth it.

What we have heard in these last couple of weeks from Hebrews are words of encouragement in the example of great pillars of the faith. We heard that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We heard of the great faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We heard that by faith in things unseen the people passed through the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho came down. This week, that reminder has transitioned into a word of warning.

It seems that the writer to the Hebrews is saying to them, if all of these people, these generations, can stay faithful to God so can you. But, you have to make the decision to stay faithful. Here is where the warning comes in: “see that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!” Be warned what will happen if you reject this relationship with God that has been offered, be warned if you reject the message – the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus – for the same God that dwells in the heavenly Jerusalem, that offers love and mercy freely to all the faithful, is the same God that made the great prophet Moses quake with fear.

The why question in today’s Gospel from Luke, leads us to experience, to get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

7db92078caa776bd26e366c775ed71a9Following the healing of a woman on the Sabbath, Jesus is met by the leader of the synagogue who was absolutely outraged. The leader of the synagogue was outraged, not because Jesus healed this woman, but because he did it on the Sabbath. The synagogue leader was trying with great intention and sincerity to live his faith with integrity. The Sabbath, as we were reminded in this week’s parish record, is a gift from God – it is a day of hallowed rest on which no work is to be done. Keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments and is a sign of the covenant God made with the people of Israel. In other words, keeping the Sabbath is serious and important business. So when the synagogue leader sees Jesus breaking the Sabbath he cannot help but cry out, “Why are you doing this?” In responding to this question, Jesus rebukes the synagogue leader and invites him and all those around him to be witness to something new that God is doing amongst them. In healing this woman, Jesus gives a glimpse of the kingdom of God – a Kingdom where all people are set free of the things that hold them down, oppress them, and cause any sort of illness or suffering. In the Kingdom of God, the relief of the suffering, the liberation of the captive, is not held off until tomorrow, it is done immediately. This liberated Kingdom life is the ultimate end of our journey of faith. It is the pinnacle of our relationship and life with God. It is that which we long and hope for above all else.

We have before us this morning an invitation that serves as a reminder, a warning, and a foretaste of our relationship with God. And yet there’s more.

In this invitation, in these lessons, there is one more vitally important detail about our relationship with God. Each one of these lessons directs us to the worship of God. For it is through worship that we fully enter into this precious relationship.

As the people of Israel in Isaiah are reminded to once more draw near to God, to delight in God, to seek after God, they are reminded that the way they live into their relationship with God is through honoring God in worship and praise. God cries out to them, “if you refrain from trampling the Sabbath . . . if you honor it, not going your own ways . . . then you shall take delight in the Lord.” If you worship God, you will experience the liberation that you desire.   Worship is our way of returning to God when we have fallen short and not lived into the fullness of our relationship with God.

The warning given in the Letter to the Hebrews today concludes with the command to worship. The writer says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.” Relationship with God is not something to be entered into lightly, and the same is true of our worship. If we dare to be in relationship with this all powerful, all knowing, awesome God then we must take this relationship more seriously than any other. As worship is our entry into this relationship, we must enter worship with all seriousness, care, and intentionality.

In all of today’s lessons, there is one person who truly understands the magnitude of encountering God and how to appropriately respond. We hear very little about the unnamed woman in Luke, she does not say a word, and the narrator tells us she only does three things: she appears, she stands upright, and she praises God. She recognizes that without asking for it, she has entered into a profound relationship of liberation with God, and her only response is to shout for joy, her heart full, and offer praise.

Worship is our entry, renewal, restoration, and perfection of our relationship with God. It is through worship that our lives are broken open and healed, it is through worship that we are called to go out and care for all of God’s people in need, it is through worship that we are strengthen and prepared for kingdom life. The worship of God is the one thing that separates faithful people from the rest of the world. It is the very heart of who we are, and as faithful people of the Anglican variety the pinnacle of our worship is the celebration of the Eucharist. For in the Eucharist time stands still. The past, present, and future are all aligned as one participating in the praise and worship of God – perfecting our relationship with God. It is in these moments – however brief they may be – that the Kingdom breaks open the darkness of our world.

Saint Augustine once wrote of the Eucharist, “become what you see, and receive what you are.” He reminds us that it is our duty to gaze upon the gifts of bread and wine on the altar. For as we do that, as we behold the Body and Blood of Christ in our midst we are empowered to become the Body and Blood of Christ in the world. This is what worship and relationship with God is all about. To be transformed, to be liberated, to be Christ’s body in the world around us so that we may be part of the work of transforming the world and liberating others.

If we can do this; if we can approach our worship with the utmost seriousness, integrity, and joy; if we can open ourselves to the healing touch of God that invites us into relationship, then we will be like the unnamed woman. Then we will be able to stand upright, to praise God with every fiber of our being. Then we will be able to gaze upon the very face of the life giving, liberating, and living God.

Amen.

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Sermon: Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

The following is the sermon I preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer, on Sunday 31 July 2016.  The lessons can be found here (note: we used Track 2).  You can listen to the sermon below or you can head over to The Redeemer website and listen there.  

I preached this sermon without a manuscript, but I did have an outline.  But, this was no ordinary outline.  During my CPE unit this summer I have gotten into something called Process Cartooning.  For whatever reason, a cartoon was the only way I could get my thoughts to come together.  So included below is a picture of my cartoon.  Enjoy! 

Sermon_Outline

Yup, this is my outline!

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Sermon: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

With CPE, I have gotten a little behind on posting here.  So today I’m doing a little catch up and posting my two most recent sermons.  

St. Mark

This sermon was preached at St. Mark’s Warwick on Saturday, July 2 and Sunday, July 3.  The lessons can be read here, and the manuscript is copied below the audio link.  

 

 

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how hard it is, how demanding it is, to be a follower947742 of Jesus. As I continue my summer hospital chaplaincy internship, as I prepare for my senior year of seminary, as I reach new milestones in the ordination process I cannot help but think, “What, in God’s name, have I gotten myself into?!” On good days I am energized by the challenge, and on not so good days I find the burden completely overwhelming.

As we have been reading our way through Luke this summer, particularly these past three weeks, I am uncertain if these passages are supposed to be comforting or troubling. Since I know some people have been on vacation these last couple of weeks, I want to take a step back and look at the narrative progression that is taking place.

Two weeks ago we heard proclaimed the story of the Gerasene Demoniac. We heard the story of a man plagued by so many demons that they go by the name legion. In an amazing, awesome act of power, Jesus casts the demons out of the man and into a heard of swine. In that instant this man – one who has be exiled to live in the tombs among the dead, to be alone, naked, vulnerable, and violent – is restored to health and is seen in his right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus. When the town’s people see this miracle that has taken place they are plagued with fear. They rush and gather the people in the city and in the countryside and they come back and demand Jesus to leave their community. They are unable to accept the radical, restorative, transforming love of God.

Last Sunday we witnessed Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem – Jesus setting his face towards the Cross. In the first half of the reading, we hear that the people of the village in Samaria do not accept Jesus – and while James and John want to call upon God to rain fire upon that village – Jesus rebukes them and instead he simply leaves the village without another word. He wastes no time and continues on his journey to that great and holy city.

The Gospel passage continues to describe the conversation that ensued along their journey: A conversation that includes incredibly harsh words from Jesus. We hear Jesus say, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” We hear Jesus say, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” We hear Jesus say, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” There is incredible urgency. There is no second chance. Jesus is clear, get on board or be left behind.

Building on this narrative of radical transformation, rejection, and urgency we come to today’s reading from Luke. What we hear from Luke today is incredibly important in Luke’s Christological and Eschatological narrative – in other words Luke’s story about Jesus and the coming of the Kingdom of God. We hear of transformation, hospitality, vulnerability, rejection, urgency, and judgment.

The first words of this passage make clear one of Luke’s most important points: “The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him.” The Lord did not appoint Peter, the Lord did not appoint the twelve, the Lord appointed seventy others. This number is incredibly important, and holds great significance not only for Luke, but other parts of Scripture as well. In the Book of Genesis – the 10th chapter to be more precise – all the nations of the world are listed. There are seventy in number. This is why Luke uses this number. Seventy is the number of the nations of the world, it is the number that represents all of humanity, and that is what is so important to Luke. For Luke, the message of Jesus is not for a small, specifically chosen group. The mission of Jesus is not just for those who wear fancy robes and have the best seats in worship. Salvation and the mission of God are for absolutely everyone – they are gifts freely given to all of humanity. Luke highlights this point over and over again in the Gospel and continues the motif in his second book the Acts of the Apostles where the followers of Jesus are sent out to “all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” So when the Lord appoints seventy, the Lord is appointing messengers to the whole world.

These messengers have a very particular charge and warning. Jesus says to them, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” Jesus is warning them that they will be rejected; that this road is hard, demanding, and dangerous. While in the Kingdom of God the sheep and the wolves will lie down together, the Kingdom of God is not yet.

Not only will this journey be dangerous, they are also required to rely solely on the generosity and hospitality of others. They cannot take anything with them; they cannot take anything with them that will allow them to accumulate support or possessions. They are to stay in one place and only eat what is set before them. They are completely and totally vulnerable and at the mercy of those whom they visit. Ultimately the way these seventy are treated has eschatological implications for their hosts. For those who accept the disciples and the message of Jesus that they bring – they will be rewarded for the Kingdom of God has come near. And for those who reject the loving message of God – beware because the Kingdom of God is at hand.

As the Kingdom comes near there is great urgency for “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are full.” God has provided for an amazingly abundant harvest – a harvest beyond our wildest dreams. And yet, there are not enough people to do the work of harvesting. There are not enough people to spread the Good News of God to all the ends of the earth. So we are to pray for more laborers. We are to welcome everyone into our midst – particularly the least and lost of our society. For it is only when we are all united together in our diversity – it is only when the seventy are appointed – that the Kingdom of God comes near.

As laborers sent out into the harvest, we often face the same dilemma that Paul writes of in his letter to the Galatians. We set up boundaries and divisions between “us” and “them,” between those who are in and those who are out. We create litmus tests as a way of determining who is worthy to be harvested – who is worthy of the radical, restorative, transforming love of God. What Paul makes clear, is that our litmus tests are total garbage. Paul preaches the same message that Luke does – all of humanity is worthy of the divine grace of God. It is easy for the Galatians to fall away from the gracious nature of the Gospel; just as it is easy for us to fall away.

When we fall away we must remember that everything is a new creation. All things have been made new through the power and light of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It is only when we accept that fact that we will experience true freedom: freedom from oppression, violence, and hatred. Freedom from putting ourselves first at the expense of others, freedom from the burden of a zero-sum society where the only way I win is by you losing; Freedom from the shackles of individual-selfishness so that we may truly be members of the Body of Christ. For true freedom only comes from complete and total vulnerability, trust, and obedience to God.

There is a daily meditation I subscribe to from the Society of St. John the Evangelist titled, “Brother, give us a word.” Each meditation is a few sentences in length and focuses on the meaning of a single word. Yesterday’s word was Body, and this is what Br. Mark Brown writes:

We pray as a body, on behalf of the body. The prayer Jesus taught us is an “our, us, we” prayer. “Our Father . . . give us today . . . forgive us as we forgive.” In our prayer we lift up the whole human condition, from one end of the spectrum to the other. We pray as a body – we are a body.”

Like today’s Gospel, Br. Mark reminds us, that Jesus calls us to be part of the Body. To come together, to pray, participate in the Sacrament of his Body, and to be sent out as part of the seventy. To proclaim his radical love to the world – to preach, teach, and heal; to bring comfort to the comfortless, to be beacons of hope in a dark and scary world.

Dear people of God, I stand before you and ask you the same question I repeatedly ask myself: “What, in God’s name, have we gotten ourselves into?”

We have gotten ourselves into the greatest journey we could ever be part of: A journey that will push us to the boundaries of our very limits, a journey that will be filled with transformation, urgency, rejection, and judgment. In God’s name we have gotten ourselves into proclaiming what the world cannot give: true peace and perfect freedom.

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

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Sermon: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

With CPE, I have gotten a little behind on posting here.  So today I’m doing a little catch up and posting my two most recent sermons.  

This sermon was preached on Sunday June 19, 2016 at St. Columba’s Middletown, RI.  This parish, by the way, was originally known as the Berkeley Memorial Chapel named for Bishop Berkeley (the same person for whom my beloved seminary is named).  You can read the lessons here.  This sermon was preached without a manuscript.  

 

 

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Altar and East Windows at St. Columba’s  

 

 

 

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Sermon: Pentecost Year C

My sponsoring rector has been abundantly generous in inviting me to preach at our parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  He has made sure I have had great lessons to work with and am preaching days I have not preached before.  Continuing this trend, he invited me to preach on Pentecost (May 15, 2016). 

Below is a copy of my manuscript, and you can find the lessons here (we used Acts and Romans).  You can listen to a recording for the 10am Liturgy through the media player below or over on The Redeemer’s website.  

 

 

One of the greatest challenges, and ultimately the great gift of seminary, are the moments when what you are learning confronts and conflicts with what you have always believed to be true. It is the encounters where the old and new can no longer coexist together. Over the last two years I have watched countless friends and classmates enter into these struggles – these crises of faith – and emerge on the other side; the old being cast down and replaced by a new and deeper understanding of God. In the last week, I 20120513144615!Icon-Pentecosthave realized that today, this great feast of Pentecost, is one of my crossroad moments. In struggling to craft this sermon, I have come to know that what I thought I knew about Pentecost can no longer stand with what I understand to be true about the Christian life.

Growing up, Pentecost was one of my favorite days in the life of the Church. This excitement had nothing to do with the fact that everyone wore red or any liturgical pageantry, but had everything to do with coffee hour. You see the parish I grew up in celebrated this principal feast day as the birthday of the church – so coffee hour was one big birthday party. There were balloons, we sang “Happy Birthday,” and blew out candles on not one but twelve birthday cakes. My foundational experiences of Pentecost were happy, joyous, sugar fueled, parties.

This foundation was further built upon when I had the opportunity to travel to Taizé, France at the end of my freshman year of college. As I journeyed to Taizé I was convinced that I would finally understand what the Pentecost moment was all about. Over the course of my weeklong pilgrimage, I gathered with hundreds even thousands of other people to worship in the Church of Reconciliation. Each day our number grew larger and the cacophony of voices increased. There we were, worshipping in the Spirit, each in our own native tongue. You could feel the Spirit at work in that place. It was a warm, embracing, joy-filled Spirit. Young people from around the world – separated by boundaries of geography and language – praising God with one voice. To add to this, the week I was there was mostly windy and rainy. I thought I had it all. I had experienced Pentecost – the wind, the multitude of voices, the Spirit descending on the people of God. So I entered seminary, believing Pentecost to be a fun, exciting, party of love and worship.

But as I read today’s lessons, as I listen to John’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, those are not the words that come to mind. Instead, I think of intense intimacy, unsettling peace, terrifying transformation, subversive behavior, and unceasing fire.

What we just heard from John’s Gospel is a testimony to the profound intimacy of God. Just as we heard last Sunday, we hear again today that Jesus and the Father are one. That God the Father sent Jesus – who is God the Son – into the world, that all people might come to believe and know God. With the incarnation came a promise that God would dwell with God’s people forever. Today we hear again of that promise, when Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” This Advocate is God the Holy Spirit. So when God the Son is no longer physically present among us, God the Holy Spirit comes to be present to us and to dwell in each and every one of us. It is this same abiding Spirit that is going to reveal to us everything that we need to know, because the Spirit of truth brings Jesus to mind, the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. Or succinctly as Gregory of Nazianzus profoundly wrote, “we receive the Son’s light from the Father’s light in the light of the Spirit.”

The concluding sentences of today’s Gospel reading jump ahead a few verses in John’s narrative, and, according to the lectionary, are completely optional. We hear these concluding words from Jesus, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

The peace proclaimed in this Gospel, is not the type of peace that the world proclaims: a peace championed by celebrities and imagined as children singing in harmony and unity. The peace of God, to quote Hymn 661, “it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.” It is the peace that changes everything we think we know. It is not some comforting imagine, but unsettles all that has become stagnant and transforms it to the way God intended in creation. It is this transformation, this marvelous peace of God that we are called to pray for. This transformation is at the heart of the Acts of the Apostles.

In Acts we hear of the flashy, intense, and action packed descent of the Holy Spirit on God’s people. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” These closest followers of Jesus were hiding, trying to stay safe. After witnessing what happened to Jesus, they were understandably terrified that the same would happen to them. And all of a sudden, there came the sound like the rush of a violent wind. How completely terrifying – that in this place they thought was safe, they would be overwhelmed by a deafening and violent sounds that seems to come out of nowhere. God the Holy Spirit did not descend upon them like some cute little bird, but rather came crashing in shattering the World as they knew it. All of a sudden they began speaking in every language imaginable – languages they never spoke before.

This transformation, this descent of God, was not something to be confined to those in the house, but quickly spread throughout Jerusalem. We hear that a bewildered, amazed, and astonished crowd came and gather to figure out what was going on. And as each person heard the mighty acts of God proclaimed in their native tongue those feelings only intensified. Some tried to figure out what had happened, while others mocked and scoffed – writing off this transformation as if the apostles were a bunch of drunken fools.

Then Peter steps up and begins to preach as a way to explain all that is happening. “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you supposed, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel” When I stop laughing at Peter’s insistence that the twelve could not be drunk because it is nine in the morning – because no one has ever been drunk at that hour – I can not help but wonder more seriously, “what would it take for the world to be so surprised, bewildered, astonished, and amazed by our actions that the only logical conclusion would be that we have had a little too much to drink a little too early in the day?

What would it look like, if we stepped outside our perceived houses of safety and proclaimed the righteousness of God in the world around us? What would it look like if we – as exemplified in Paul and Silas last week – praised and worshipped God in such a way that walls came crashing down? What would it look like if we actually believed that “a hundred men and women turned the known world upside down,” even more to the point, what if we believed that it could happen again?

This is why the Holy Spirit descends on that Pentecost day, and this Pentecost day, in such a terrifying and startling way. Because the Spirit of truth dwells in us so richly that if we truly believe we will do greater things than Jesus himself.

The world in which we live is torn apart by useless division and senseless violence. If the Pentecost event teaches us anything, it is that these divisions can and will be cast down. If one hundred people turned the known world upside down that Pentecost day – why can’t 50 turn Providence upside down this Pentecost day? If the prayer and praise of Paul and Silas casts down the prison wall, why can’t our prayer and praise break down the wall between the East Side and Camp Street? If God has created us to be at unity with God’s self, why can’t we get out of God’s way and be open to receiving the Spirit of God?

On that great and glorious Pentecost day divided tongues as of fire appeared among them. By the preaching of all, hearts were set a blaze. As long as fire gets the fuel it needs, it can continue to burn without end, but without fuel the fire starves and quickly extinguishes itself. Today, that fire has arrived at our door. The Holy Spirit has descended upon us and transformed us into fuel to keep that fire burning.

The life of discipleship is hard and it requires much. In fact it requires everything. This day we celebrate is not a glorified liturgical birthday party. It is God fulfilling God’s promise – that the Holy Spirit will be our advocate and guide here on earth as we strive to build the kingdom of God. On this day God equips us to do the impossible – to follow the God who took on our mortality so that we might take on God’s immortality.

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Renewal of Baptismal Vows. Photo by Dan Harvey

In a few moments we will recommit ourselves to this work as we renew our Baptismal Vows. With that renewal and with being nourished by Christ’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist we will go forth from this place as a living Pentecost moment: to share in the intense intimacy of God who is three in one and one in three, to be unsettled by the peace of God and shaken from our complacency, to stand unafraid of the awesome transformational power of God, to act in a way that is so subversive to the ways of this world people think we are drunken fools, and to share the light of Christ that burns so brightly in our hearts that it sets this world on fire.

 

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” It is time for us to prophecy, it is time for us to dream, it is time for us to get to work and do the impossible.

AMEN.

 

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Sermon: The Epiphany

The following sermon was preached on January 10, 2016 at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Cumberland RI.  As this parish does not yet (as the rector was clear to emphasize) keep the The Feast of the Epiphany, they transferred it to the following Sunday.  The lessons can be found here.  The text of the sermon is copied below and a recording can be found over on SoundCloud.  Head over to YouTube to watch the action unfold.   

When I was an undergraduate at Rhode Island College, I studied History Milk.pngand Political Science. In this time I discovered a person who has become one of my all time favorite characters from American Political History. In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected as a member of the board of supervisors for San Francisco, California. One of Milk’s most famous speeches is what has become known as the “Hope Speech.” In it he encourages those around him, to use their prophetic voice to stand up for those who are oppressed by hatred and violence: to be beacons of light in an otherwise dark world. At the end of the speech Milk says:

The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great . . . And you and you and you, you have to give people hope.

That is what today is all about. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany: the day that ends the season of the incarnation. It is a feast that has captivated our hearts and imaginations, and not only our hearts, but those of the world around us. Even the United States Postal Service has a stamp commemorating the journey of the wise men. This feast – one of the most important feasts in the life of the Church – is all about hope. It is about the light of the world becoming flesh and rooting out all places of violence, terror, fear, and oppression. It is about that message being delivered to the entire world.

In preparing for this sermon, I was struck that in almost every commentary I read, there was some scholar – some theologian – writing about the historical and scientific problems of this text. Some debate the scientific nature and historical fact of the star. Was it Halley’s Comet? Was it a star exploding and fading into the universe? Was it just a literary device used by Matthew? Other scholars debate the facts around the wise men themselves. Who are these people? Where do they come from? Why do we name them Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar? If you look at Matthew’s text, the answers to these questions are not revealed. We do not even know how many of them there were. Interpreters of the text have only assumed there are three of them because they bring three gifts – and no one wants to be that guy at the party who shows up empty handed.

With all due respect to those scholars and theologians, they are missing the point. It seems to me that the focus should not be on the historical and scientific fact, but on truth.

Here is the truth of this text: A group of men from a far off place embarked on a hard and difficult journey, they met with a terrified and horrifically violent ruler, and continued their journey until they came to the place that was revealed to them. And when they reached that place they were overjoyed, and they knelt down and worshipped the King of the Jews, the Messiah, the Christ Child – they bowed themselves in the most sincere and self-emptying way and prayed to Jesus.

epiphanyThree unknown men left everything behind in search of that which would not only change their lives, but would change the entire course of human history.

Instead of turning to the Star and to the Wise Men for historical and scientific fact we turn to them for truth. For in their truth something about God, and something about us is revealed.

The Star plays a prominent role in the text we have just heard. The star is what tips off the wise men that the king of the Jews has been born. It is by the star that Herod learns the exact time of Jesus’ birth (this is really important for the story that immediate follows today’s passage). It is the star that guides the wise men on their journey to Bethlehem, and it is only when the start stops that they know they have arrived at their destination. Whatever the scientific reality of the star is, what matters for us is that the star is a symbol of our need for divine revelation to see the Messiah and king. Without this divine revelation, without the star, we would miss the Messiah. We cannot find God on our own. God must be revealed to us. In order to find the real meaning of Christmas – in order to find the real meaning of the incarnation – we must follow the star. But the need for the star only goes so far.

Our passage from Matthew ends: “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” No star is mentioned. On the way to Bethlehem, on their way to discover the newborn Messiah, the wise men had no idea where they were going and so they needed to be led. But once they saw the light of the world made flesh they no longer needed that bright star in the sky. Once they saw the child, they had an enflamed heart because of this divine revelation and manifestation and their memory was illumined because they would never – they could never – forget what they saw.

This motif of light is a powerful and profound one throughout much of Scripture, and is particularly prominent through Christmastide and the Epiphany. One the first Sunday after Christmas Day we hear in the prologue of John Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” And today, we hear the great prophet Isaiah proclaim, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.”

The coming of this light into the world is an amazing and remarkable thing. This light is the only thing that can scatter the darkness from the world – it is the only thing that can scatter the darkness and shadows from our own lives. But we have to be willing to let that light in and we have to be willing to let that light shine through us. We have to, as Eugene Peterson in The Message writes for this morning’s Isaiah passage, “Get out bed, Jerusalem! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight.” The wise men understood this. They got up, left everything behind, and followed the star to Bethlehem.

If we read deeper into Matthew’s text, another layer is added that amplifies the importance and significance of the devotion of the wise men. When these men saw the star they knew to interpret it as a sign of the birth of Jesus, so they got up and went. What is remarkable about this, is that the wise men – those that find the king of the Jews – are not themselves Jewish. They did not have the Scriptures, the words of the Prophets to direct them, but still they saw something and were aware enough, awake enough, paying attention enough to see that something amazing had taken place. The Gospel passage tells us that when Herod calls all the chief priest and scribes, they use the words of the Prophets – they use the words of Scripture – and tell him where the Messiah has been born. All along they had the texts in front of them yet they were too blind to see. This is an important detail for Matthew. Not only does this foreshadow the rejection Jesus will face from his own people, it also points to the fact that the Messiah has come not just for one particular group – the Messiah has come for all people. The God we hear described throughout the Old Testament as untouchable and unknowable has taken on human flesh so that all people – so that you and me might be able to know, experience, and hold God in our very midst. The wise men, these foreigners, these unknown people are the ones that point us to the realities of this new relationship between God and humanity.

In fact, the entirety of the incarnation narrative is revealed by the unexpected. Elizabeth, old and barren, conceives a child; the forerunner, the one who will prepare the way. Mary, a young, teenage, unwed woman was greeted by an Angel, “Hail Favored One” and by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man. The Shepherds – those living both literally and figuratively on the outskirts of society – were the first of hear the news of great joy. The wise men traveled from a foreign land to offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It was not Herod, it was not the chief priests and scribes who first heard the Good News – it was the women, the shepherds, and the foreigners.

This is something really important to pay attention to, it is crucial not only for the Gospel narrative, but for our relationship with God as well. Because, when Elizabeth conceives; when the Shepherds are filled with joy; when the wise men bow down in adoration; when Mary says “yes;” we loose our ability to say “no,” we loose our ability to deny the light that has come into the world to come into our lives. If we dare to be as crazy as the wise men we too can be beacons of light and hope in the seeming unending darkness of the world around us.

That is what’s next. That is what happens now that the wise men have gone home, now that the Christmas trees have been undecorated, now that we have finished our annual celebration of Christmas. What we do now, our work, is clear.

Howard Thurman, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader captures exactly what our work is:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart.

The wise men left, they journeyed home, forever changed by what they saw and experienced in Bethlehem. We too have been to the manager, we have seen the Christ Child, we have beheld the very glory of God in our midst. Now it is our turn to return home, to return to work, to return school and show that the brightness of the star, the brightness of the light of Christ, dwells in us richly. It is our work to be beacons of light and hope in the world that the power of Christ may continue to root out darkness, fear, pain, and anxiety: That the light and hope of Christ may prevail.

We must be brave enough and crazy enough to take on and continue this journey. There are no more excuses. We can only say yes. Because the only thing this world has to look forward to is hope. And we have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come when the pressures of the world are too great. Christ is the only hope for the world. And you, and you, and us – we have to give them this hope.

AMEN.

 

 

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Prayers for Advent

The following are the set of Advent Prayers of the People that I wrote from Trinity Church, Hartford.  The parish is focusing on the O Antiphons for the season and thus each petition is based on a different antiphon.

O Antiphons.png

Each petition will conclude with a period of silent reflection followed by a chime.

O God, our hope and our desire, in joyful expectation of your coming, we pray for your Church and for the World.

O Wisdom from on high: we long for your coming as a woman longs for the birth of her child, as the refugee longs for home, as the humble poor longs for justice. Be present in and among us in this season of expectation and waiting. [Reflection] Lord Jesus, Come Soon.

O Lord of might: we lift before you all who have answered the call to serve the world through your Church. For Michael our Presiding Bishop, for Ian and Laura our own Bishops, for all bishops and other ministers, and for all the holy people of God that through our actions people may see and know the Kingdom of God that is already and not yet. [Reflection] Lord Jesus, Come Soon.

O Root of Jesse: Spring forth in this world your branches of truth, mercy, compassion, and joy. Ground all those who proclaim your name in your unending and never failing love, that amidst pain and fear all people may find rest and protection in your branches. [Reflection] Lord Jesus, Come Soon.

O Key of David: you open and none can shut, you shut and none can open. Welcome into your wide embrace all those who have died, remembering especially [YOUR PETITIONS ARE INVITED EITHER SILENTLY OR ALOUD] and all those who will die this week that they may enter that place of eternal rest where sorrow and pain are no more. [Reflection] Lord Jesus, Come Soon.

O Morning Star: shine your light upon those who live in darkness and the shadow of death. Illumine with your celestial brightness those who mourn, that through their tears they may see the promise of your eternal and everlasting hope and joy. [Reflection] Lord Jesus, Come Soon.

O King of the Nations: inspire all the leaders of this world, especially Barack our President, Dannel our Governor, Pedro our Mayor, Luke our Mayor-elect, and all those who live and work in our communities that we may seek justice, and promote the dignity of every human being. [Reflection] Lord Jesus, Come Soon.

O Emmanuel: Come among us and be present to us. Let our lives be transformed by your grace that when we are weak we may have strength, when we are broken we may be healed, and when we are distressed we may be comforted, that we may be set free from all that holds us in bondage. We pray especially for those things we hold in our hearts [YOUR PETITIONS ARE INVITED EITHER SILENTLY OR ALOUD]. [Reflection] Lord Jesus, Come Soon.

Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to your people, who trust in your love. By your coming break forth in us, as you break into the world, that we may prepare in our lives a place for your indwelling spirit, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, now and forever. AMEN.

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Thanksgiving Eve – Year B

12248115_1078771845500371_4782581546990762542_oThis evening (25 November 2015) I had the opportunity to preach at the Thanksgiving Eve liturgy at my sponsoring parish The Church of the Redeemer, Providence RI.  The lessons for the sermon can be found here.     Finally, this sermon was preached without a manuscript, but you can listen to the recording over on SoundCloud.

I wish all of you and your families  a very happy, healthy,  and blessed Thanksgiving.

Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.  (Collect for Thanksgiving)

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Which Comes First Baptism or Eucharist?

The following is a copy of a paper submitted for my Book of Common Prayer Class at Yale Divinity School during the Fall Semester 2015.  The paper was submitted to Dean Andrew McGowan on 23 October 2015.  

Which Comes First, Baptism or Eucharist?: The Episcopal Church’s Contemporary Chicken-or-Egg Debate

eucharistThe Episcopal Church is no stranger to controversy. Of the plethora of current theological, liturgical, social, and ethical debates there is one that seems to attract a significant amount of attention: should we offer communion to people before they are baptized? Commonly referred to as “open table” or “communion regardless of Baptism,” this heated and passionate debate has put The Episcopal Church in a sacramental/theological chicken-or-egg discussion: which comes first. Baptism or Eucharist? Scholars, clergy, and lay people on both sides of this debate often argue from the point of view of Scripture, theology, hospitality, and evangelism, but it seems that few are looking at this question, of the relationship between Baptism and Eucharist, from the perspective of the theology of The Episcopal Church as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer. In order to have a fuller understanding of this conversation, it is important to look not only at the current rites of Baptism and Eucharist, but the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as a whole. With this frame, it is possible to come to a liturgically and theologically sound answer to the question: should we offer communion to people before they are baptized?

To consider this debate regarding initiation and order of the sacraments, it is crucial to look first at the characteristics that frame the character and nature of the Book of Common Prayer. With the general nature of the 1979 Book in place, shifting to the specific liturgical rites of Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist allows for the theological understandings – as understood by The Episcopal Church – to emerge. These contextual frames provided a clearer interpretation and answer for the question: should we offer communion to people before they are baptized?

In many ways, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer continues to uphold the venerable tradition of the various Books of Common Prayer that date back to the first books – the Books of Edward VI (1549, 1552). The preface of these two books outlines three fundamental criteria on which all subsequent Books of Common Prayer are judged, “So here you have an order for prayer (as touching the reading of the holy Scripture), much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old fathers, and a great deal more profitable and commodious, that that which of late was used.”[1] In other words, for a prayer book to live up to the standard set forth by Thomas Cranmer and his contemporaries it must be rooted in Holy Scripture, follow the practices of the early church, and enrich those who use it. These “have hovered like seraphim over the deliberators who have produced every succeeding revision of the Prayer Book.”[2] The most recent American prayer book also embraces these angelic criterions.

In regards to Scriptural authority, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer has a renewed emphasis on the biblical text. It has significantly expanded the amount of Scripture that worshippers are exposed to by expanding the one-year Eucharistic lectionary and one-year Daily Office lectionary of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer [3] to a three-year Eucharistic lectionary and a two-year Daily Office lectionary.[4] This lectionary expansion also includes the reintroduction of the lesson from the Hebrew Bible and the Psalms. In addition to the amount of Scripture worshippers were exposed to, the Biblical theology expressed in worship has also been expanded: almost all of the Eucharistic prayers, with the exception of the Canon taken from the 1928 Book, proclaim the Biblical narrative of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection; there are increased biblical references in the Thanksgiving over the Water and other parts of the Baptismal liturgy; there are more scriptural options for Easter than any other American or English prayer book; and there is also a renewed emphasis on the Holy Spirit, the Church, and the nature of Sunday that fills the entire 1979 Book.[5] The emphasis on grounding the prayer book in Scripture does not end with the inclusion of more scripture passages and references in the various liturgies of the church. There is now an expectation – or at the very least a provision – that a sermon is preached at every service. In comparison to the 1979 revision, all other American Books of Common Prayer seemingly failed being grounded in Scripture to the extent put forth by Cranmer.

One of the great gifts of the twentieth century ecumenical and liturgical movements is the focus on recovering the ancient liturgical practices of the Church. In the years between the 1928 Book and the 1979 Book, understandings of worship in the Early Church changed drastically. One monumental recovery of this movement is the proper liturgies for Holy Week. No other English or American prayer book has liturgies appointed for this holiest of weeks most likely because the practices of the early church “fell on hard times, dropping almost completely from the early English rites.”[6] With the recovery of, what is now known as Egeria’s Travels, other similar works, and the liturgical movement of the Roman Catholic Church[7], these elegant and elaborate liturgical practices of at least the fourth century were recovered and included in the 1979 Book.

Beyond the proper liturgies for Holy Week, there is agreement amongst scholars that we now know far more about the Early Church then the authors of any previous prayer book could have known. These discoveries have been incorporated into a variety of other areas of the liturgical tradition in The Episcopal Church including: understandings and purposes – generally relating to Baptism – of the Easter Vigil and Eastertide; and understandings of the various roles and functions of the different orders of ministry.[8] This understanding of ministerial role is among the first things stated and sets the tone for the entirety of the 1979 Book. “In all services, the entire Christian assembly participates in such a way that the members of each order within the Church, lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons, fulfill the functions proper to their respective orders, as set forth in the rubrical directions for each service.”[9]

The edification of the people is the third criteria on which a prayer book is judged. William Syndor articulates clearly and concisely the ways in which this edification occurs in the 1979 Book:

The occasions on which the Proposed Book teaches those who use it are numerous. Here are some of them: the Proper Liturgies for Special Days, the provision for a homily or sermon at every service, the Baptismal Service which involves the worshipping congregation, the learning which accompanies lay participation in the conduct of services, the amount of Holy Scripture which is heard by congregations in the enlightening context of the season or service, such as Marriage or Burial, and the more broadly based Catechism. These are among the ways in which edifying the people takes on new significance.[10]

As with both other areas of critique, it seems that the current American Book of Common Prayer out shines its predecessors in fulfilling the Cranmerian requirements on which Books of Common Prayer rest.

With this understanding of the general character and principles of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in mind, an answer to the question – should we offer communion to people before they are baptized – begins to emerge. This answer extends from the overall character of the 1979 Book in terms of Scripture, Early Church practice, and the edification of the people.

Having framed the general liturgical and theological character of the 1979 Book, it is possible to look at the specific liturgies for Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist.

Baptism, as laid out in the Book of Common Prayer, is the “full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”[11] Put in other terms, “Baptism is the sacrament in which we accept salvation from sin and reconciliation with God by participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[12] This is the heart of the Baptismal ecclesiology of the Church. Baptism, and its theological underpinnings, is rooted in five major themes: participation in Christ’s death and resurrection; conversion, pardoning, and cleansing; the gift of the Spirit; Incorporation into the body of Christ’ and the sign of the kingdom.[13] Baptism is not some ritualistic barrier simply to keep “the other” out of the Church – it is a cleansing, incorporation, and affirmation that those who receive the sacrament are members of the body of Christ. It is admittance into something larger than any one individual – it is an invitation to share in the work of building the kingdom of God. This invitation is freely offered, as all are sinners in need of redemption. This is clearly expressed in the welcome the congregation shares with the newly baptized, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”[14]

The Baptismal rite itself is significantly different in the 1979 Book compared to the rite in the 1928 Book, including its physical placement in the Book itself. Before the Baptismal liturgy begins, a theological statement is made as a result of the placement of the liturgy in the Book. The section on Holy Baptism comes immediately before the section on The Holy Eucharist – putting these two liturgical offerings together in the Book highlights the connectedness of these two foundational sacraments. The setting of Baptism also marks one of the shifts in the 1979 version of the rite compared to the 1928 version. In the 1928 Book, Baptism happened in the context of Morning Prayer. But, in the 1979 version Baptism occurs within the context of the Holy Eucharist. This restores the “ancient three-fold initiatory unity [of] – Baptism, the Sealing with the Spirit, and First Communion.”[15] This is in line with the focus on the practices of the ancient Church that guides the overall character of the 1979 Book. The Baptismal shift in the 1979 Book also highlight the renewal of the ministry of the various orders of the Church as previously stated.

Beyond the liturgical aspects of Baptism, the 1979 Book in general has a far greater emphasis on Baptism than previous Books of Common Prayer, which represent the recovery of the “significance of baptism in the lives of all Christians.”[16] This significant theological development highlights the differences between a life in Christ and life in this world,[17] and is expressed both in the importance of the Easter Vigil and the various dates for Baptism with the renewal of Baptismal vows. The connection between Baptism and the Easter Vigil is strengthened by the fact that the proper liturgy for the Easter Vigil precedes the section on Holy Baptism. Every time a person is baptized, the whole of the community has the opportunity to renew – to recommit – to the life and work of being the Body of Christ. By focusing on our baptismal ecclesiology, there is a renewed focus on what is means to be a participant in the Body of Christ, the Church.

This focus on Baptism is also expressed in the ministry of the priesthood of all believers – the ministry of the laity. This ministry is “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.”[18] In order to have the renewed focus on the participation of the laity, this ministry must be defined in light of Baptism.

Baptism alone does not equip the laity for this important and powerful ministry it must be paired with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. “Baptism and eucharist in particular function together to encode the “both-and” of the Christian experience of salvation: the radical gift of grace and the radical call to discipleship, inextricably connected.”[19] It is the participation in the celebration of the Eucharist that transforms us each and every time we receive the bread and wine. In line with this soteriology, the catechism outlines the benefits that are received through participation in the Eucharist: “The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, an the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.”[20] This important connection is reinforced and exists because of one of the major shifts in the 1979 Book compared with other Books of Common Prayer – the recovery of the Eucharist as the normative liturgy of the Church. Reclaiming the proper place of the Eucharist in the life of the Church puts the theology set forth in the Eucharistic liturgy at the heart of the expressed theology of The Episcopal Church.

The Eucharistic canon of the 1979 Book rehearses the salvation narrative and sets in context the lives of the faithful with the long arc of the Christian experience as understood through the great cloud of witnesses. There is not only a renewed creation narrative – particularly in Eucharist Prayers B and C – but there is a strong Christological focus that invites the transformation those who receive to, paraphrasing Augustine, become what is received. One example of this narrative importance comes from Eucharistic Prayer A:

In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of All. He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.[21]

The Eucharistic rite of the 1979 prayer book also differs from its predecessor in that it is far more ecumenical. Other churches of the Anglican Communion, as well as, Lutheran and Roman Catholic communities of faith have, also adopted the order expressed in the current Book of Common Prayer.[22] This reality embodies the ecumenical nature of the revision process that resulted in the 1979 Book. No long is liturgical revision in The Episcopal Church done in isolation, but instead done holding in mind what other Christian communities are practicing. Other changes exhibited in the 1979 Book have to do with clarification of rubrics and increased flexibility for local expression and variations in the liturgical year.

By framing these two sacraments, and their respective liturgical expressions, in the context of the three criteria on which prayer book revision rests, it is clear that they both include exposure to a wide breath of Scriptural texts, the practices of the Early Church (normative practice of Baptism before Eucharist and the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church), and that the edification of the people (the catechetical process in Baptism and by rehearsing the salvation narrative in the Eucharist).

Liturgically, theologically, and soteriologically these two sacraments are inextricably linked to one another. To separate them and break the progression of these two sacraments is to change the very nature of them. As the normative and canonical theology and practice of the Church stands, we see the importance of the connection between Baptism and Eucharist as portrayed in these words by James Farwell: “In baptism, our individual existence disappears as we are reborn in Christ. In eucharist, we gather at the center of the world where our own individual stories are written within the primal Christological narrative of all creation and its destiny. In liturgy, the social body rather than the individual is the basic unit of practice and reflection.”[23]

If the canonical restrictions of Baptism as a prerequisite for the Eucharist were to be removed, what would that do to the both-and soteriology of Baptism and Eucharist? How can a person be written into the primal Christological narrative if they are not part of the Body of Christ?

The theologies of Baptism and Eucharist embodied in the liturgies of the 1979 Book become confused and inconsistent if we answer the question – should we offer communion to people before they are baptized – with a yes. It is clear that in Baptism we are grafted into the living Body of Christ, the mystical Body known as the Church. Likewise, the Eucharist is not just a meal to make those who partake feel good it is a radical offering and foretaste of the kingdom of God that comes with great risk and great reward. It is this reality that believers are grafted into at Baptism.

In light of the specific liturgical rites of Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist and their respective theological underpinnings, as well as the three categorical lenses from which the general character of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is viewed, the answer becomes clear; and the answer to this question begins with the scriptural lens in which worship in The Episcopal Church is grounded.

There are many who argue the practice of open communion from the perspective of the scriptural warrant. Citing stories where Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners[24] so we too should eat with the “outcasts” the “other” the non-Baptized. As the altar at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco is inscribed, “Did not the Lord share the table of tax collectors and harlots? So then – do not distinguish between the worthy and unworthy. All must be equal in your eyes to love and to serve.”[25] But what do the stories with explicit Eucharistic connection say?

The Last Supper – the meal we remember at each and every Eucharistic celebration (“On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread”[26]) – was a close intimate gathering with Jesus’ disciples. As James Farwell points out, this exclusive meal does not narrow the inclusive and expansive ministry of Jesus:

Not only does the eucharistic meal not limit the wider meal ministry of the church –fellowship meals, public meals, banquets for the homeless and poor – but the eucharist provides the foundation for those wider meals and the reason for their practice among those who have adopted Jesus’ kingdom vision. So, if the last supper with Jesus encoded with the disciples the whole thrust of his mission, setting his own impending sacrifice in the context of a life poured out for the kingdom to which they eventually understood themselves to be committed, then it is reasonable for us today to think about who participates in that meal and whether they have committed themselves to the vision that animated Jesus.[27]

He goes on to write:

The eucharistic meal is the place where the disciples continue to gather in intimate communion with Jesus Christ and from which they are empowered to move out into wider ministries of evangelism and service, including a ministry of eating and drinking in contexts beyond the bounds of this ritual practice.[28]

As Farwell demonstrates, there is something different happening here in the meal than what happens in the public feeding ministry of Jesus, making the use of the Last Supper as justification for open communion problematic. Farwell also expounds on the implications of Paul’s Eucharistic writing in 1 Corinthians leading to the conclusion that “if the baptismal restriction is not explicitly mentioned, there is a logic of participation consistent with it, involving an adoption of the commitment to the reign of God and the hope for redemption as Jesus preached and embodied it.”[29]

Delving deeper into the feeding ministry of Jesus, there is clearly a division between the ministry of feeding the hungry and ritual meals. In regards to the ritual meals it seems that the New Testament evidence – primarily Matthew 26, Luke 22, John 13, 1 Corinthians 11 – leads to the model of the Eucharist as the completion of initiation into the Body of Christ – into the “pattern of life suitable to the kingdom, to which he or she has joined himself or herself in baptism.”[30]

Moving beyond the Biblical narrative, the practices of the Early Church seem to support the pattern of Baptism then Eucharist. It is not coincidental that many in opposition to the open table movement proclaim that it violates 2000 years of Church practice. Justin Martyr explicitly states that the Eucharist is only for the baptized, “We call this food the Eucharist, of which only he can partake who has acknowledged the truth of our teachings, who has been cleansed by baptism for the remission of his sins and for his regenerations, and who regulates his life upon the principles laid down by Christ.”[31] In addition to Cyril of Jerusalem, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and others, Augustine rather famously preaches about the necessity of being a member of the Body of Christ in order to receive the Body of Christ:

So what you see, then, is bread and a cup; that’s what even your eyes tell you; but as for what your faith asks to be instructed about, the bread is the body of Christ, the cup the blood of Christ . . . So if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the apostle telling the faithful, You, though, are the body of Christ and its members (1 Cor 12:27). So if it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members, it’s the mystery meaning you that has been placed on the Lord’s table; what you receive is the mystery that means you. It is to what you are that you reply Amen, and by so replying you express your assent. What you hear, you see, is The body of Christ, and you answer, Amen. So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make that Amen true . . . Be what you can see, and receive what you are.[32]

In all of these cases, it is clear that in order to participate in the transformative meal of Christ’s body and blood one must be a member of that body by virtue of the sacrament of Baptism.

The edification of the people is a lens that is a bit harder to characterize. For every story that displays the edification of the people by maintaining the pattern of Baptism proceeding reception of the Eucharist, there are stories that reflect edification when the Eucharist precedes Baptism. However, the 2003 Book of Occasional Services gives an example of how the ancient and normative practice of Baptism as a requirement for Eucharistic participation facilitates the edification of the people. Simply put, this is the process known as the Catechumenate: “The catechumenate is a period of training an instruction in Christian understandings about God, human relationship, and the meaning of life, which culminates in the reception of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation.”[33]

These Scriptural, Early Church, and edification arguments are not exhaustive but provide a sample of the ways that the same critical theological reflection that goes into the liturgical theology of The Episcopal Church is employed in the contemporary debate regarding practices of open communion.

Taking the specific liturgies together with the three critical groundings areas it is clear that the practice of offering communion to people before they are baptized is not consistent with the theological, liturgical, and soteriological understandings of The Episcopal Church. This raises the question: why are some in The Episcopal Church demanding that this normative practice of Baptism before Eucharist be changed? That is ultimately not a question that can be answered in this paper. However, what can be said is that, while a relatively recent edition of the Book of Common Prayer, the 1979 Book is a liturgical and theological expression of Anglican thought and practice that is scriptural, anciently rooted, and provides for the transformation of those who allow themselves to be immersed in its rich, dynamic, and beautiful offerings.

[1] The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 866.

[2] William Sydnor, The REAL Prayer Book: 1549 to the Present (Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1978), 107.

[3] Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr., The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), x-xlv, 90-269.

[4] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, 889-1001.

[5] Sydnor, The REAL Prayer Book, 108.

[6] James W. Farwell, This Is the Night: Suffering, Salvation, and The Liturgies of Holy Week (New York: T & T Clark, 2005), 43.

[7] Thaddaeus A. Schnitker, The Church’s Worship: The 1979 American Book of Common Prayer in a Historical Perspective (Frankfurt Am Main: Peter Lang, 1989), 122.

[8] Syndor, The REAL Prayer Book, 108.

[9] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, 13.

[10] Syndor, The REAL Prayer Book, 109.

[11] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, 298.

[12] Holy Baptism with the Laying-On-Of-Hands, vol. 18, Prayer Book Studies (New York: Church Pension Fund, 1970), 13.

[13] Holy Baptism: A Liturgical and Pastoral Commentary (New Jersey: Associated Parishes, 1987), 3.

[14] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, 308.

[15] William Sydnor, The Prayer Book Through the Ages (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1997), 120.

[16] Louis Weil, A Theology of Worship, vol. 12, The New Church’s Teaching Series (Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications Book, 2002), 12.

[17] Farwell, Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus, 228.

[18] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, 855.

[19] Farwell, Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus, 225.

[20] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, 860.

[21] Ibid., 362.

[22] Syndor, The Prayer Book Through the Ages, 120.

[23] Farwell, Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus, 236.

[24] Richard Fabian, “The Scandalous Table,” in Water, Bread and Wine: Should We Offer Communion to People before They Are Baptized? (Leeds, MA: LeaderResources, LLC, 2012), 27.

[25] Ibid., 27.

[26] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, 362.

[27] James Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of “Open Communion”” Anglican Theological Review 86, no. 2 (2004): 221-222, accessed October 15, 2015, http://www.anglicantheologicalreview.org/static/pdf/articles/86.2_farwell.pdf.

[28] Ibid., 222.

[29] Ibid., 223.

[30] Ibid., 223.

[31] Thomas B. Falls, Writings of Saint Justin Martyr, The Fathers of The Church (New York: Christian Heritage, 1948), 105.

[32] Augustine, Sermons (230-272B) on the Liturgical Seasons, trans. Edmund Hill, ed. John E. Rotelle, vol. III/7, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1993), 300-301.

[33] The Book of Occasional Services, 2003: Conforming to General Convention 2003 (New York: Church Publishing, 2004), 114.

Bibliography

Augustine. Sermons (230-272B) on the Liturgical Seasons. Translated by Edmund Hill. Edited by John E. Rotelle. Vol. III/7. The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century. New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1993.

The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church According to the Use of The Episcopal Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

The Book of Occasional Services, 2003: Conforming to General Convention 2003. New York: Church Publishing, 2004.

Fabian, Richard. “The Scandalous Table.” In Water, Bread and Wine: Should We Offer Communion to People before They Are Baptized?, 27-38. Leeds, MA: LeaderResources, LLC, 2012.

Falls, Thomas B. Writings of Saint Justin Martyr. The Fathers of The Church. New York: Christian Heritage, 1948.

Farwell, James. “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of “Open Communion”” Anglican Theological Review 86, no. 2 (2004): 215-38. Accessed October 15, 2015. http://www.anglicantheologicalreview.org/static/pdf/articles/86.2_farwell.pdf.

Farwell, James W. This Is the Night: Suffering, Salvation, and The Liturgies of Holy Week. New York: T & T Clark, 2005.

Holy Baptism: A Liturgical and Pastoral Commentary. New Jersey: Associated Parishes, 1987.

Holy Baptism with the Laying-On-Of-Hands. Vol. 18. Prayer Book Studies. New York: Church Pension Fund, 1970.

Schnitker, Thaddaeus A. The Church’s Worship: The 1979 American Book of Common Prayer in a Historical Perspective. Frankfurt Am Main: Peter Lang, 1989.

Shepherd, Massey Hamilton, Jr. The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Sydnor, William. The Prayer Book Through the Ages. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1997.

Sydnor, William. The REAL Prayer Book: 1549 to the Present. Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1978.

Weil, Louis. A Theology of Worship. Vol. 12. The New Church’s Teaching Series. Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications Book, 2002.

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It’s a Wrap!

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The Diocese of Rhode Island guarded by the anchor in the House of Deputies.

That’s all she wrote folks.  The 78th General Convention has come to a close.  In some ways it went by quickly and in others it feels that we’ve been in Salt Lake City for a month.

This marks the end of my fourth General Convention, third as a Deputy.  In many ways it has been like every other convention and in some ways it has been unlike any other experience.  This triennial gathering, for me, has been marked by historic decisions of my beloved Church, serving on a legislative committee for the first time, continuing to find my voice and passions within the corporate life of The Episcopal Church, and even getting a few job offers (which my Bishop’s wife promptly turned down for me).  Exhaustion has set in so I am having a hard time capturing the day.  I am sure over the days and weeks ahead, as I process and reflect on these last 12 days, more will come to mind, but at the moment there are only two things that come to mind.

First, I am filled with deep and profound gratitude for the people of The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island for electing me to this amazing ministry opportunity, and I am thankful to my Bishop for allowing me to continue to serve after I became a postulant.  It is a real honor to serve in the House of Deputies, one I do not take lightly.  Thank you to all those who have mentored and supported me over the years so that I may serve faithfully in this way.

Second, I am confident in saying that the highlight of the day was the sermon at the closing Eucharist this morning.  This Eucharist served as the “welcoming” Eucharist for the Presiding Bishop-Elect.  As such Michael Curry preached.  If you’ve ever heard him preach you know the power of this man’s voice.  It’s a great sermon and I think was just right for the day.  I invite you all to watch Bishop Curry’s sermon – particularly if you’ve never heard him preach before.

Friends it is time to go!

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