I have accepted a call to become Interim Rector of Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Gay and I will be moving there during the week of October 15 and our first experiences of worship with the parish will be during the weekend of October 20 and 21. Take a look at the video to get an idea of Christ Church Cranbrook.
The opening for intentional interim ministry at Christ Church Cranbrook follows the departure of The Reverend Canon Gary Hall, who has been called to be Dean of the Washington National Cathedral. Gary has had a wonderful ministry at Christ Church Cranbrook and we uphold him and Kathy in our prayers as they begin a new adventure at the “flagship” Cathedral of the Episcopal Church. Here is an article Gary recently wrote for the Washington Post.
As you can see from the website and video, Christ Church Cranbrook is a vibrant parish with a rich liturgical and musical life, a heart for outreach in the region, and a strong Christian formation ministry for all ages. Located in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, it is the largest Episcopal Church in the state. Bishop Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr. and Canon Lisa Gray have been very helpful to the vestry and to us in the process leading to this new interim relationship.
The vestry estimates that it will take approximately one year to call a new Rector. During this time of transition, Gay and I are confident we will come to love the people there as we have those in Texas, Kansas, and Kentucky. For us, meeting new people, exploring new territories, and experiencing new cultural distinctions is a fringe benefit of intentional interim ministry.
Calvary Church in Ashland, Kentucky has called a wonderful new Rector, The Reverend Antoinette “TJ” Azar. She will arrive in Ashland to begin her ministry with them in early November. I am quite proud of the devoted work of the nominating committee and vestry in calling her as the new leader of this parish. I predict that their ministry together in Ashland and the surrounding region will be fruitful in many ways - new ways, powerful ways, transforming ways! We are very grateful for our time at Calvary and for the new friends we have found there.
Prior to our time in Ashland, our experience with The Church of the Good Shepherd was filled with good things and good people. We are also grateful for the opportunity to work with Bishop Stacy Sauls and Bishop Chilton Knudsen, Dr. Kay Collier-McLaughlin, diocesan staff, clergy, and people of the Diocese of Lexington. What a wonderful two years this has been here in the Bluegrass and Eastern Kentucky.
Antoinette "TJ" Azar, Bloomfield Hills, Calvary Church Ashland, Chilton Knudsen, Christ Church Cranbrook, Diocese of Lexington, Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Gary Hall, Good Shepherd Church Lexington, Lisa Gray, Ronald D. Pogue, Stacy Sauls, Wendell N. Gibbs
In Year B of our Eucharistic Lectionary, the semi continuous reading of the Gospel of Mark is interrupted by a sequence of five excerpts from the sixth chapter of John on the Bread of Life. This happens once every three years and when it does, people in the pews ask why we spend so many Sundays hearing about Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life. It’s a great question and I hope my attempt at an answer will be almost as great, or at least helpful.
Each one of the three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – has its own year in the three-year Revised Common Lectionary. John is sprinkled around during Lent, Christmas, and a couple of other times. Because of this, there is no really suitable niche for the important teaching on the Bread of Life. Since our lectionary is a Eucharistic lectionary, it would be inconceivable for those who developed the lectionary to omit this important discourse in the three-year cycle. They decided to interrupt the semi continuous reading of the Gospel of Mark at the point when Mark is about to recount the story of the feeding of the multitude in order to give us John’s more elaborate account.
We are a Eucharist-centered Church and we need the instruction provided by the Bread of Life Discourse of John’s Gospel in our Eucharistic lectionary. It is so important and so powerful that we have devoted five Sundays in a row to explore the depth of its message.
Last Sunday, we read the account of Jesus’ feeding of the multitude at the beginning of the sixth chapter. As we continue to read from this chapter for the next four Sundays, we will examine John’s indirect account of the Eucharist. Bear in mind that in John’s report of the Last Supper there is no mention of the bread and wine.
The crowds that both witnessed and participated in the miracle of the loaves and fishes didn’t really understand that Jesus came to give more than the bread that satisfies physical hunger. In this discourse, he refers to himself again and again as “The Bread of Life.”
Jesus is inviting everyone to eat this living bread. The bread our Hebrew ancestors in the faith ate in the wilderness sustained them in their journey. The Living Bread, Jesus Christ, is food that sustains the cosmos - not just our tribe, or race, or nation, but the cosmos!
That means that if we feast at the table with The Bread of Life, we are not the only invitees. There are others, many of whom are not like us, some of whom we don’t like, and plenty with whom we will disagree.
Several years ago when I was a Canon at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, Texas, I was giving a tour to a confirmation class from one of the parishes in the Diocese of Texas. We were exploring the Chancel and the Sanctuary when some of the youth spotted the needlepoint cushions on the Altar rail. I asked if they could figure out the meaning of the symbols on those cushions. One boy said, “That cross and crown in the middle is probably Jesus and the other twelve symbols represent his disciples gathered around the table with him.” That seemed like a pretty satisfactory answer, until a girl pointed out that one of the symbols looked for all the world like the symbol for Judas Iscariot. “He doesn’t belong here?” she said. “He betrayed Jesus.”
I pointed out to the class that a number of ladies from the Cathedral had painstakingly and lovingly applied every single stitch by hand on those cushions and that I would be very cautious about telling them that one of the symbols didn’t belong there. “If that’s Judas and they went to so much trouble to include him, I wonder what that might mean for us?”
After some conversation, one young man said, “Maybe it means that God’s love big enough to include Judas along with the rest of us.”
My response was to suggest that there will be times when we come to the Altar to dine with Jesus, the Bread of Life, and notice someone we can’t abide kneeling beside us or across from us. “When that happens,” I said, “remember this moment and remember that the same divine Love that welcomes you to this feast welcomes others who need it just as much.” After all, as someone has said, the bread that Jesus gives for the life of the universe (John 6:51) is multigrain.
John 6:51 says that those who eat of this bread will “live forever.” That is the consistent translation in almost all the versions of the Bible. However, some scholars point out that the literal translation of the Greek text says we will “live into the age.” The “age” – eternal life, abundant life, kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven - is a state of being where we live with God who is both in and beyond time and space. When we feast upon the Bread of Life, we are living into this divine cosmic reality. It nourishes us for the ways we touch and change that reality.
So, in this banquet, we all become one body not because we all agree or because we all are alike. We become one body because we share in one bread – the Living Bread, Jesus, who is present for us in a wonderful and mysterious way in this banquet that is happening in the here and now and at the same moment in the age into which we are living, with faith, hope, and love. This Bread of Life is our true sustenance. As we are fed, so we are sent to feed others.
It really is going to be good to spend a month of Sundays on this topic!
May 1, 2012, marked the second anniversary of the founding of the Unapologetically Episcopalianfacebook page. In these two years, we’ve gathered an online community totaling over 20,000 friends.
I founded the page to provide a gathering place for people who have good things to say about The Episcopal Church and who have positive stories to share about its life, worship, and spirituality. We describe this community as “a gathering place to celebrate the many positive ways Episcopalians in 16 nations are unapologetically spreading the gospel of Christ.”
It seemed to me then, and still seems to me, that critical voices often drown out the voices of those who are basically proud to be members of this Church and happily engaged in its ministries. Conversation about the issues that often divide us is necessary, but there are numerous other places for those conversations. We hope that the way we speak and listen to one another in our conversations on our facebook page will influence the tone of other conversations in our congregations and in other online forums.
St. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians expresses the heart of how we seek to relate to our Church and to one another, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). In thinking about a way to express gratitude for what this page has meant in the lives of so many, I sought out The Rev. Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. Together, we have identified several initiatives that are consistent with the spirit and purpose of Unapologetically Episcopalian, will benefit the entire Episcopal Church, and can be launched by Forward Movement within weeks. HERE is a link to the page that provides all the details.
The objectives of both Unapologetically Episcopalian and Forward Movement are about spreading the Gospel and transforming lives. Both are devoted to building up The Episcopal Church. Both came into existence out of a desire to move us in a positive direction. So, Forward Movement seemed like a logical place to turn when the time came to celebrate the second anniversary of our online community.
The total estimated cost of all these projects is $200,000. We'd like to raise that much or more during the month of May. That’s only $10 for each of our 20,000 friends. In addition to our Unapologetically Episcopalian community, we are hoping that others who are grateful for Forward Movement will see this as an opportunity to demonstrate their gratitude with a thank offering for these initiatives. The linkwill give information about each of the initiatives and about how to contribute. Or, you can use the button below to make your thank offering to Forward Movement online, by credit card, debit card, or PayPal.
(You do not need a PayPal account to use this feature!)
Gay and I have made the first gift of $1,000 in thanksgiving for what this Unapologetically Episcopalian community has meant to us. From the very beginning, we have been inspired daily by the comments, responses, photographs, and faith journeys shared in this community. One of our friends who has a position that takes him into some of the more difficult challenges of this Church recently said, “I visit Unapologetically Episcopalian at least once a day to remind myself what The Episcopal Church is supposed to be like.” That about says it all.
The impact we can make through a small thank offering is enormous. The projects are innovative and compelling. This collaboration between Unapologetically Episcopalian and Forward Movement gives us a unique opportunity to offer a measure of this glad spirit for the transformation of lives. I hope you will consider participating!
My service as Rector in the Interim at the Church of the Good Shepherd is drawing to a close. I will begin a new interim assignment at Calvary Church in Ashland, Kentucky on Shrove Tuesday. You are preparing to welcome your new spiritual leader, The Rev. Brian Cole. The community to which I am going has just said farewell to The Rev. Jeffrey Queen, who served as their interim for two years. In the midst of all this change, I am reflecting on the wisdom St. Paul shared with the Corinthian Church regarding transitions in leadership.
The Corinthian Christians were having difficulty adjusting to new leadership. In his first letter to them, St. Paul describes how transitions are a normal aspect of the life of Christians in community. His focus is upon the common purpose of building up the Church in its mission.
For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. – I Cor. 3:4-9
I might have written it this way:
It is human nature for one to say, ‘I liked Fr. So and So’, and another, ‘I didn’t like Fr. Such and Such’. Both are Pastors who tried to help you in your journey of faith using the gifts the Lord gave to each of them. One planted seeds, another watered them, but the resulting growth came from God. So, it’s really not about the Pastor, it’s about God! Each of us Pastors has a common purpose and that is to help you have enough faith to do the work God has prepared for you to walk in. – I Ron 3:4-9
I am not the Pastors who came before me. Nor am I the Pastors who come after me. God has gifted each of us in different ways according to the leadership God desires the Church to have in a particular place and time. Each of us brings something different to the communities we serve. Each one builds upon the work of those who came before, so the changes each one brings are not intended to dismantle things. Instead, the changes are related to the common purpose we share and are to be understood as additions or enhancements to what has been. Our common purpose is to help you be the Church in mission. It’s not about Fr. So and So or Fr. Such and Such. It’s not about me. It’s about God and God’s mission of reconciliation in the mission field at your doorstep.
You have been very open to changes during the last eighteen months. However, change is difficult for many people. We don't like it when something upsets the equilibrium and pushes us out of our comfort zone. So we resist and complain. Resistance to change, while human, can undermine the true spiritual discernment that has led to this union of Pastor and People, thwarting God's purpose. Most complaining about change when a new Pastor arrives constitutes avoidance of the real work to which God is calling the faithful. Valuable spiritual energy is wasted in an activity that is useless to the cause of Christ! So, I urge you to embrace the changes that are coming your way as new ways for God to work through you and your community of faith.
This time of transition is a unique opportunity for God to work wonders through divine interaction with the new relationships that are being formed. That is why departing clergy must step away. God is creating a new context in which to bring about growth. Trust God enough to invite your new Pastor and encourage one another to fully express the gifts God has given to help you be the Church. You will grow, the Church will grow, and the Kingdom of God will grow.
So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. – I Cor. 3:21-22
Gay and I will continue to hold you and your new Rector and his family in our prayers. We will miss you, but we will rejoice as we watch from a distance as a new era of fruitful ministry unfolds. May God continue the good work God has begun in you!
Mark uses miracle stories in his gospel to illustrate a point the way Matthew and Luke use parables for that purpose in theirs. Jesus’ cleansing of a leper as recorded in Mark 1:40-45 is an example.
A man who was afflicted with leprosy confronted Jesus. The leper broke the code of ceremonial cleanliness just by speaking to Jesus. It was a very bold thing to do. Here is one who is considered unclean and wretched by his people because he has contracted a hideous disease. Leprosy represented sin to the people of Jesus’ day and, like sin, it was considered contagious, more to be cleansed than healed.
A leper was banished from the community and had to dwell alone or with other lepers outside the community. This man had to go about with torn clothes, bared head, and a covering upon his upper lip. As he went, he was required to give warning of his polluted presence with the cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” The leper had not only to bear the physical pain of his disease, he had to bear the mental anguish and heartbreak of being completely banished from human society and totally shunned. So, it is incredible that he would approach Jesus at all, let alone dare to speak to him.
Even more remarkable than that is the fact that Jesus responded to him as he did. He could have run away. He could have had the leper killed. He could have reacted with horror. But he didn’t. Instead, we are told in the story that his response was one of compassion and understanding. Jesus was “moved with pity.” He broke the code and defiled himself when he reached out and touched the leper. In so doing, his power over evil was demonstrated by a miraculous cure. He broke the law and, at the same time, he fulfilled it.
Then he sent the man to the priest and in so doing placed before the religious establishment a difficult problem. Only the priest could certify the cure. To reject it would be to break the code. To accept it would be to acknowledge Jesus’ power and authority. To make matters even worse, this cleansed leper couldn’t keep all of this to himself, even though Jesus had asked him to. Is it any surprise?
In this miracle story, we see that it was Jesus’ nature to be moved by the sight of human need. But sympathy isn’t worth a dime unless it leads to action. Jesus was first moved to pity, then to action. He continues to be moved to compassion and he still reaches out and touches those in need of help. People who have experienced this compassionate power find themselves moved. They become enthusiastic about life and they glorify God in whatever they do.
I recently streamed the movie Bad News Bears. It had been years since the last time I watched it. There is a character in the movie named Lupus. Lupus is a little boy who had a runny nose all the time and was smaller than the others. He had learned to stay in the background because that’s where everyone else told him he belonged. One day, some boys on another team put ketchup in his hat and slapped it back on his head. One of his teammates took both of them on in defense of Lupus. He lost the fight, but afterwards, Lupus said to him, “You’re the first person who ever took up for me.” A short time later, the coach sent Lupus in to play during the championship game and he actually caught a fly ball. Nothing could ever stop Lupus again because someone finally believed in him. That gave him the courage to get out of the background and take his God-given place as a full-fledged member of the team.
Like the story of the cleansing of the leper, the story of Lupus is a miracle story. It tells us what can happen on an infinitely greater plane when Jesus Christ touches a human life. His touch tells us that he believes in us and when we know that touch, we’ll never be the same. We’ll have a new perspective on life, a new confidence in ourselves, and a new ability to reach out to others, especially those who have been pushed into the background, marginalized, and condemned.
Today is a good day to keep my eyes open to watch for a miracle. Today is a good day to experience a miracle for myself. Today is a good day to help a miracle happen for someone else. God, let me live today in miraculous expectation!
P.S. That leper could have written this hymn! Maybe the fact that the tune is not as familiar to American ears will help you listen to the words a little more carefully.
My wife, Gay, has become a quilter. Shortly after arriving in Kentucky, she became involved with a group of women in a ministry of the Church called “Cross Quilts.” They gather weekly in the home of a member and make quilts to give to veterans, homeless persons, and children who are Baptized at the Church of the Good Shepherd. Working together adds something to their mission.
She told me about an experience she had recently while shopping for fabric for one of her quilts. As she was walking through the fabric store, a young woman stopped her and asked for help in selecting some ribbon for a project she was working on. Gay was intrigued that this complete stranger would ask for her opinion and curious to see where this encounter might lead. The young woman explained the project to Gay and they discussed the ways in which the ribbon would be used with different fabrics. At some point, she made her decision, thanked Gay, and took the ribbon to the cashier.
What fascinated me about this story is the openness to collaboration between these two women, who had never met before and will probably never meet again. I’ve seen a lot of that since coming to Kentucky, such as the man I wrote about last week who helped me with my shopping cart. I’ve seen a spirit of collaboration in the churches, in the communities, in circles of friends, and among complete strangers.
I don’t know if it is primarily a cultural phenomenon or if it’s in the water or the air we breathe here in the Bluegrass, but people here seem to value each other’s opinions and appreciate opportunities to work together toward some purpose. Perhaps that is why economists point out “entrepreneurial support” as an attractive economic feature of the Lexington area. Entrepreneurs know the wonder of collaboration in bringing together assets in new ways to develop new things.
There are parallels with the Christian mission. From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he worked collaboratively with his disciples and others to open hearts and minds to the new thing God was bringing about. He was critical of those who were locked into one way of doing things and who resistant to the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit. But to those who were willing to enter into a trusting relationship with him and each other the way to abundant life.
In her sermon today, during a celebration of The Holy Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral here in Lexington, Dean Carol Wade told us that she has established commissions to explore various aspects of the Cathedral’s life and witness. I was fascinated to hear her say that one of those commissions is “The Entrepreneurs Commission.” She described their role as “discovering resources for the increase of ministries.” What a great concept! What an expression of a theology of abundance!
God has provided all the resources we need to do what God is calling us to do. Our job is to open our eyes to see God’s hand at work around us to discover those resources and employ them in new ways in the service of the Gospel.
At the top of the list of resources is people who share a love of Jesus Christ. Christianity has been a collaborative and entrepreneurial enterprise from the beginning. Despite tendencies of the culture to cast Christianity in terms of a private relationship between the believer and Jesus, authentic Christianity is always corporate and collaborative at the core.
A good example is Matthew 18:19-20 where Jesus says, “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The Greek word for agree in this passage of scripture is συμφωνία, meaning "agreement or concord of sound", "concert of vocal or instrumental music", from σύμφωνος, "harmonious" (Oxford English Dictionary). It is also the origin of the word symphony.
Is it any wonder that Christians sing when we gather? When we live and work collaboratively in Christ’s mission, we make beautiful music that expresses our life in Christ.
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