I have come to set fire to the World

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Flower in a field of weedsWe imagine, viewed through the news of this moment in World History, that all conflict is destructive and regrettable. We imagine that heaven is a place where a great angelic choir sings together in a great harmonious sound, where there is no dissonance, no conflict, but only pure music.

But what if sometimes conflict is necessary for transformation. What if conflict, pain and strife aren’t destruction, but birth? What if fire comes not to burn and destroy, but to cleanse and purify?

Jesus in the Gospel today speaks of fire and conflict, and I think given our present circumstances, particularly in the USA, we hear it as an ominous warning. But it could also be heard as a promise that a transforming moment is about to happen. Certainly, the conflict of our moment does seem frightening and ominous, but if God is in the midst of this storm too, then maybe there is something historic happening.

In the sermon on this week’s’s Gospel, I speak about conflict and transformation. I speak about what living into sustained conflict might be like, and how new communities have been and are being created that understand the conflict as being a creative force rather than simply a destructive one.

The direct link to the video is found here

Some thoughts on the Lambeth Call on Human Dignity

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Web ready lc2022 horizontal reversed pngThe bishops and bishop-elect of the Diocese of Connecticut posted a letter to their diocese about the just concluded Lambeth Conference. (I haven’t yet done so, I want a bit more time to reflect on what happened before I do.)

In their letter they do a fine job of reporting on the experience we had in the afternoon on August 2 as the gathered bishops took up the question of the proposed Lambeth Conference Call on Human Dignity:

Message from our bishops: Letter from the Lambeth Conference | Episcopal Church in Connecticut:

In remarks by the Archbishop of Canterbury before the bishops engaged the Call on Human Dignity around their Bible study tables, Archbishop Welby stated an important ecclesiological and theological truth for the Anglican Communion regarding human sexuality. It is worth quoting his remarks at length here. Archbishop Welby said:

“For the large majority of the Anglican Communion the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, not only by Bishops but their entire Church, and the societies in which they live. For them, to question this teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries would make the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For many churches to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.

For a minority, we can say almost the same. They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature. For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries is making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For these churches not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.

So let us not treat each other lightly or carelessly. We are deeply divided. That will not end soon. We are called by Christ himself both to truth and unity.”

This was the first time that the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken publicly and forcefully that there are different perspectives on human sexuality across the Communion and both are acceptable in Christ’s call to unity. Archbishop Welby’s remarks set the stage for the remainder of the Lambeth Conference where unity in diversity was embraced and celebrated. We give thanks for Archbishop Welby’s leadership here and believe that with the Lambeth 2022 Call on Human Dignity, the Anglican Communion is in a more united and healthier place.

I started to tear up as the Archbishop of Canterbury gave his remarks prior to our table discussions. I was thinking about the holiness and weightiness of the vote at General Convention in 2003 when I and others voted to consent to Bishop Gene Robinson’s election in New Hampshire. It’s been nearly twenty years. This is the first time, as the letter above says, that the care and prayerfulness of that decision (and subsequent decisions) has been acknowledged in a formal way by the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. And to be clear, the Archbishop is also acknowledging that many people who have opposed that decision are doing so with equal care and thoughtful engagement with Holy Scripture.

Many of the bishops present last week in Canterbury spoke about the holiness and the heavy presence of the the Spirit in the room when the Archbishop spoke. For what it’s worth, I felt that presence too – and I felt it in June of 2003. God is present in the midst of our journey and keeps showing up in moments like this that I didn’t expect. I was present when Bishop Bob Duncan was elected in Pittsburgh back in the ’90’s. The Spirit was present then too and I’ve wondered about that and what was happening for years. We don’t always understand what God is up to in the moment, or how God is guiding us into all truth. But I believe that is happening now in the Anglican Communion and has been happening for decades if not centuries.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen or read to Abp. Justin’s final keynote, do make time. He lays out, for the first time in my memory, a coherent ecclesiology for a Church that is both Catholic and Reformed, not a single entity but a Communion of independent, autonomous Churches. To me it represents a turning from the effort to build the Anglican Communion into a mirror or recognized partner to the Roman Catholic Church – something that was pursued by the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. If we’re not trying to be a Church as defined by Roman Catholic teaching, then there might well be space for us to find a chance to walk together while differing with each other substantially. And if we can do that, perhaps other traditions and communions might be added to our number in the years to come. We might even yet be managed to be reconciled with those who have resisted reconciliation with us.

As I said, there’s more reflection to be done, but this might be an important turning moment in Ecumenism and Ecclesiology going forward. At least I hope and pray so.

A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13C) – Luke 12.13-21 1 by The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns

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Thanks to the kindness of Canon Gerns, I have this fine sermon to share with you this morning. As I’ve mentioned, I’m in Canterbury attending the Lambeth Conference this week. I send you greetings from the mother church of the Anglican Communion and prayers for all of you this week. Thank you Andrew for this gift.

 

May only God’s word be spoken.
May only God’s word be heard and believed.
Amen.

It has been said that dogs have masters but cats have staff. I learn this every time I visit my daughter’s house and her cat pretty well decides whether I am worthy of attention or not. Since I am not on the feeding staff of that household, my utility is quite limited. My grand-doggy on the other hand definitely has a master, and she pretty well listens to whatever my son tells her, but whenever I visit, my main purpose is give scritches until she says to stop (which is never!). In both cases, the animals pretty well have my number.

If I am a member of my grand-kitty’s staff and if my grand-doggie has psyched me out, I kind of suspect that they have done the same to their resident humans. I wonder… who owns whom?

I don’t think this question is limited to dogs and cats. Given the time and attention my stuff demands from me, I wonder if in fact my possessions don’t own me. If they don’t, in fact, own us all?

Think about it. What happens when your car breaks down on a very busy workday or if your roof springs a leaks or what if your computer crashes in the middle of a project? Having a reliable computer, an operable car and a water-tight roof is a good thing—a worthwhile investment to be sure—as my dad used to say, if you you’re your tools to care for you then you’d better take care of them!

It works that way spiritually, too. Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel to be aware of all kinds of greed—for life consists of much more than the abundance of possessions. Another way to say this is: if we want our things to do their job, then we’d better care for what’s inside us first. First the heart…then the stuff.

Jesus said that to a man who came asked him to sort out a question of a shared inheritance. Now going to a rabbi to sort out a dispute was a fairly common in the first century. In still happens in Judaism. The late Jewish theologian and sociologist Martin Buber recorded the teaching of the Rabbis of 17th and 18th century Russia in a book called “Tales of the Hasidim” recording the stories of Rabbi Baal Shem Tov., today, especially in Hasidic and some Orthodox communities, stories are still a main way that faith is taught.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is doing what Jesus does, he tells a parable—in this case a story typical of the rabbinic tradition. It went like this: a rich man had some fields and one year he had a bumper crop. So he says to himself “Self, why not store up all this extra grain in new and bigger barns and live off of the proceeds?” So that’s exactly what he does. He ate, he drank, he was very merry until, whoops, the next day he died.

Jesus asks: What good did all that preparation and investment do in the long run? Not much.

Jesus tells the crowd, the man with the inheritance (and us), “Beware of storing up treasure outside but being poor inside.”

The man in Jesus’ story is a kind of a “Functional Atheist.” You know, a person whose everyday practice and behavior happens without reference to God or to faith. Notice that when the man discovers he has way more grain that he can either use or sell, he takes his own council. He does not bring his situation to God and he does not take it to his community. He says to himself “build bigger barns!” The rich fool may protest that he has always believed in God, but when it comes to managing his life, dealing with possessions and planning for the future, he lives as though there were no God.

He also forgets the purpose of his abundance which is to share it with others; to use it for the good of all. By hoarding his abundance, he squanders the opportunity his good fortune brought him to share that good fortune with others. He revels in his stuff, but does not feel blessed, and so he has no blessing to share!

Contrast this with another story in the Bible about a person who managed a bumper crop—Joseph. A person that everyone in Jesus’ hearing would know about. Remember from the Book of Genesis and the musicial: “Joseph, he was Jacob’s favorite son of all the family Joseph was the special one?” Joseph was a man given to dreams and their interpretation. It was a gift from God that gets him in a heap of trouble. Through a series of misadventures he lands in jail, where he hears that Pharaoh had a dream of abundance and scarcity. Joseph rightly interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and was then tasked to manage Egypt’s abundance in advance of the famine. Joseph, in contrast to the foolish rich man in Jesus’ story, was doing God’s work for the benefit of many.

Now Jesus knew that when he told his story to the man who came to him, that people would think of Joseph. They knew their Bible, that’s for sure! They’d understand that the Rich Man in Jesus’ story forgot that his abundance was a gift from God. The man in the story is the opposite of Joseph because he was out of tune with God and who hoards his gifts instead of sharing them.

Jesus is telling us that things are not the problem. Money is not the problem. The root of all evil is not money— the saying is actually “the love of money is the root of all evil.” It is our attitude towards money and our attitude towards our things, our time, and our talent that can either create heartache or generate blessing. Our stuff and our money can be our power for good… or our main distraction.

As Jesus said—beware that we don’t get so busy with the having things, that we forget whose and for whom they are.

Heartache or blessing. Scarcity or abundance. No matter how much we have, we have a choice and chance to be in control. The solution is here—in our hearts and our attitude and our mindset.

Allow me to share a story of my own. It comes from Florence Ferrier about a social worker somewhere in poverty-stricken Appalachia. It’s called “We Ain’t Poor!”

The Sheldons were a large family in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes. The help they received was not adequate, yet they managed their meager income with ingenuity — and without complaint.

One fall day Ferrier visited the Sheldons in the ramshackle rented house they lived in at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear which strayed into their yard once too often. The meat had been processed into all the big canning jars they could find or swap for. There would be meat in their diet even during the worst of the winter when their fuel costs were high.

Mr. Sheldon offered their visitor a jar of bear meat. She hesitated to accept it, but the giver met the unspoken resistance firmly. “Now you just have to take this. We want you to have it. We don’t have much, that’s a fact; but we ain’t poor!”

Well, what’s the difference between not having much and being poor? Mr. Sheldon’s answer “was that when you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, then (as he would say) you ain’t poor. When you don’t feel easy giving something away, when you hang on to it, even if you’ve got more than you need, then you’re poor, whether you know it or not.”

When we know that everything we have is provided by God, and that everything we have can be used for God’s purpose then we will be rich when we use tap into the gift of God’s generosity, it seems ungracious to doubt that our needs will be met without our clinging to every single morsel.

Jesus and Mr. Sheldon both teach us something about where real wealth is found: wealth is found in an abundant and generous heart.

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

Teach us to pray. And then, by your grace, let us change the world by our prayers.

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Two hands are in prayer while resting on the bible SBI 301081068Prayer changes things. I’m not certain how. I know it changes me. I know it changes other people as they pray. I’ve seen it. I believe it changes the world, though I don’t know by what mechanism it does this. I’ve fashioned my life around this belief.

The lessons this week talk about prayer, and particularly about how the presence of righteous people can turn aside wrath. We hear Jesus’ disciples asking him to teach them to pray, and Jesus gives them the language that we call the “Lord’s Prayer”. In the sermon below, I talk about what the sentences of the Lord’s Prayer point us toward, and how important communal prayer is to the World (and to us).

Direct link to the sermon video can be found here.

Why the sudden shift to the Lambeth Conference program?

Climate Change / Reconciliation / Religion / Science

The unexpected release of a series of Lambeth Conference Call statements on assorted subjects, and the equally unexpected news that bishops attending the Lambeth Conference next week would be voting on them, has knocked a bunch of Anglicans around the world back on their heels. Some in the Communion are delighted with this sudden turn – but most of the voices I hear are dismayed. And here in the Episcopal Church, many people in our Province and in our diocese are apprehensive or even frightened. It’s hard enough to be out as a LGBTQIA+ Christian (in both the church and the wider LGBTQIA+ community) and this sudden return to the conflict that wracked the life of the wider church for the past decades isn’t going to make it any easier.

Ever since the beginning of the year, almost simultaneously with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it seems like all the old divisions of the culture war are running hot again, fueled by extremist voices on social media. Here in the states we’re suddenly in a new moment when, post the repeal of Roe v Wade, women’s lives are being threatened and their movement around the country questioned. Supreme Court Justices and elected officials are talking about overturning the decisions that allowed for Equal Marriage, and some loud voices among religious leaders are talking about arrest and punishment of GLBTQ+ American citizens. Mixed race marriages and access to contraception are suddenly in the conversation again, for the first time since the 1960s.

Over the past few years, I was told that the Lambeth Conference would be laser focused on Climate Change and the threat it posed, particularly in the developing world. As the bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Ocean State, with our particular exposure to the consequence of Climate Change, I was ready to fully engage and looking forward to working with others post conference. But then this week’s news dropped and suddenly that critical conversation, well, it’s on the back burner again.

One of my fellow bishops pointed out that the fact that these Call statements were produced quietly, without broad consultation, and announced at the last minute (with a conference format change) wasn’t an accident and didn’t happen without planning. Why the delay in sharing the information? I’m wondering who benefits by a choice to stir up old conflicts instead of concentrating on the existential threat. I don’t have answers – and perhaps never will, but as an old friend said to me once, when something seems illogical on the surface, trying following the money and see if that will make things clearer.

For the moment, I ask for your prayers for those of us gathering beginning next week. We are now going to a different meeting that we expected. And people who are members of the Anglican Communion are once again having their presence and personhood debated as if they weren’t beloved of God and precious to the Church.

Right now, we need to be like Mary.

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Funny dog is listening music from vintage gramophone SBI 304892104We live in a world that talks and proclaims with increasing intensity. But is anyone listening to anyone else? Sure, we hear what is being said, but rather than hearing the other person, we are formulating a rebuttal while the words are still ringing in our ears.

In the Gospel reading this week, Mary chooses to sit and listen to Jesus. And Jesus commends her for it. In this week’s sermon, I speak about the power of listening to each other to dial back the temperature of the conflict that increasingly pervades our everyday life. I give a particular set of examples of how this changed the community and hopefully the Episcopal Church that I saw happen at our 80th General Convention this past weekend.

Direct link to the sermon video is found here.

General Convention #80, Dispatch 2

General Convention

GC+logo 2022 color 300ppiI’ve learned that you often don’t understand the import of events while they’re happening. You need to take time for some reflection and wait to see the larger context in which the events happen before you can get a sense of what is important and what isn’t. So, while I write this with a few days of reflection, it’s not a “hot take” like they say on Twitter, but it’s not a fully baked reflection either.

My experience of this most recent General Convention is probably colored by the way I attended it. I was in the House of Bishops for just about the entire Convention. We had one pseudo joint session where the bishops sat in the back of the House of Deputies for a bit. But apart from that, we were in a room way off in the back basement of the Convention Center all by ourselves. There were no visitors, and there wasn’t a chance to mingle as there wasn’t an Exhibition Hall. There were no seminary class dinners or events sponsored by Church connected institutions. We got there, got registered and got to work.

I was in the House of Deputies for 12 years (4 conventions). I learned in those years how it works and the rhythms of its conversations. I’ve now been in the House of Bishops for the same length of time. And I’ve learned that it works differently. Deputies are only assured that they have one convention (the one they’re elected for) to serve. Maybe they’ll be back for the next, perhaps they won’t. Bishops, once ordained as such, serve for the rest of their life. And bishops see each other a few times a year. Over the years of ministry, we bishops get to know each other, and trust each other. If someone says that a resolution is good and proper, then generally there’s no further discussion needed. We tend to trust the committee work in the House of Bishops – in a way that was less common in the House of Deputies. That gives us the ability to work more quickly through the legislative calendar and means that we have more time to take a break… or when it’s needed, to dig in and talk details when there’s disagreement.

Which gets me to my big observation from this recently ended 80th General Convention. The House of Bishops this year was willing to have difficult conversations and to find unity to a degree I’ve not witnessed before. We’ve always been careful (in the years I’ve served) to protect our common life together and to avoid anger and quarrels with each other. But that laudable behavior has often kept us from dealing with important disagreements – and has had us paper over divides that need to be explored rather than covered up.

This convention had a number of instances where honest disagreement emerged as part of the floor debate. Yet this year, rather than move away from it, we spontaneously leaned into the disagreement. Generally, the bishops who disagreed agreed to speak with each other that evening to see if some compromise position could be found. That’s what happened with the conversation about Prayer Book revision, and it happened as part of our discussions about a statement of concern about Climate Change. (And it happened about conversations about where the Church needs to act in the present polarization of society.) In all these instances, people met separately and brought back much better resolutions that were ultimately passed unanimously and then (in the case of the Prayer Book resolution) sent on to the other house for action. (Where it was lightly amended and easily passed.)

The spontaneous decision to stop the process until better common ground could be found is what was so striking to me this year. There have been instances of such in previous conventions, but not in important and critical areas where there was serious disagreement. To me, this response signals something about the deeper Christian community that is emerging in the Episcopal Church today. We are finding our unity with one another because we are working from a common ground of mutual respect. This wasn’t always true in the past. It’s new, and I hope it’s a sign of a new future that will spread. Because it’s only by loving your neighbor that we have a chance to properly responding to deepening division happening in the World today.

So, we’ll see if this lasts. But if it does, I’ve very excited about what comes next for us Episcopalians as missionary witnesses to the Gospel. We seem to have found our unity in mutual self-giving love. Hooray for that!

General Convention #80, Dispatch 1

General Convention

General Convention 2022 logoI’m grabbing a few minutes between sessions on this second day of our meeting to post some quick impressions of what it’s like here at this unusual General Convention. We’re a year late, and unexpectedly shortened in our meeting, and rather than the leisurely pace of the first week of Convention typically, we’re hammering our way through the work we have before us.

There’s a focus here that usually only emerges about halfway through in my experience. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been able to do so much of the preliminary legislative work remotely in the months before our actual in-person sessions, or perhaps it’s because, having managed through this pandemic and the social upheavals of the past few years, no one has as much appetite for work that doesn’t have a clear necessity.

We’re already holding all day sessions (and night sessions). People in the House of Bishops (where I serve now) are thoughtful and engaged, and it seems to me on the whole, less interested in posturing and more interested in thinking though what comes next for the church. I’ve still gotten a chance to wave hello to old friends from previous places I’ve served or who I’ve met in other General Conventions, but it’s just a wave. No time for a meal or a cup of coffee. (Next time, we all promise, next time.)

I had thought about trying to post a sermon this weekend, but given the workload, I’m giving up that thought. Next week I’ll be back.

I will say, broadly speaking, that there are many new bishops joining our work at this Convention, and there’s a different energy in the room as a result. People have always been bright and focused, but new voices are speaking to matters before us and new perspectives being shared. I don’t know yet that I can point to one thing and say “that’s different” other than the seeing so many new and younger leaders in prominent roles. (I’m hearing that the same thing is true in the other half of General Convention, the House of Deputies.)

I’m hoping that by the end of this Convention, or by the middle of next week, I’ll have a better handle on what’s changing – because I think what we’re feeling here is happening much more broadly in the Episcopal Church, and likely in the broader religious landscape in the US too.

I saw Satan fall like lightning

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Night sky with lightning thunderstorm at night SBI 300870177In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus sends the disciples as heralds into the countryside to proclaim the Peace to people and the Kingdom of God. When they return, they joyfully report that they have witnessed the forces arrayed against God routed and fleeing before them.

Jesus responds to their joy and triumph by telling them, prophetically, that he saw the Satan fall like lightning. The Ruler of this World’s time of dominion is coming to an end. While we have yet to see the vision Jesus spoke of, we have seen the signs of the rout with our eyes and seen the impact in the lives of the Saints.

In moments such as we are experiencing in our common life today, it’s crucial to remember Jesus’ words. We can easily lose hope or lose our belief in the triumph of God’s Love over the forces of division running free in the World.

In this week’s sermon, I speak a bit about how to live in time when we have hope, but have not seen the fulfillment. I speak about the root cause of the breakdown of social norms today and what we can do to overcome the trauma that is tearing each of us, and the whole of us, apart.

Direct link to the sermon video found here.

Love can overcome division

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Little girls on meadow at sunset large copy space SBI 300996190Paul writes to the Galatians and strongly affirms their freedom in the Gospel. But he warns that their freedom can become a base of operations for earthly passions and emotions to create division and pain. The reading from Luke’s Gospel this week, where the disciples want Jesus to smite the Samaritans because they don’t agree with Jesus’ behavior, is an example of what Paul is talking about.

So too is this long month of the past week. It has been filled with hot takes and quick reactions that have inflamed passions and led to violence, tear-gassed demonstrators and fear. Paul says there’s an antidote to this pain; loving your enemies and serving them. But that’s not a message anyone seems to be sharing at the moment.

For the Church in this moment, divided as we are, living into Paul’s prescription for our fear and pain is what we should do, but I’m not optimistic we will do. But some will try to do what Paul suggests, and perhaps that will be enough. We can be among those who try. It would be a profound witness to the World if we did.

Direct link here.