Monday, June 28, 2010

Loving Each Other as if the Gospel Depends Upon It -- Because it Does

How glorious are these apostles, who in life loved one another, and in death rejoice together for evermore.
- Antiphon on the Magnificat for the First Evensong of the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul

The Acts of the Apostles attests that Peter and Paul didn’t always find it easy to get along. They represented, at times, different “polarities” of the early Christian Church; Peter, with his simple and rough faith rooted in Jewish observance, and well-educated and skilled Paul, the recipient of a special revelation of Christ on the Road to Damascus, with his mission to the Gentiles. Yet, it was Peter who first baptized a Gentile (the Centurion Cornelius, whom we remember on February 4th), and it was Paul who was apparently very quick to teach the Old Testament to his Gentile converts in order to give them a context in which to understand Jesus’ teaching and ministry (see the Letter to the Galatians!). They certainly had their differences in manner, comfort-zone, and approach; they had no ultimate difference in their faith. It is this fundamental unity the above antiphon speaks of when it says that “in life they loved one another, and in death rejoice together for evermore.”

The glory of the early Church was not only its message of Christ Crucified, Risen, and Ascended; it was the unity of people who had every reason to be divided. This unifying power of the Gospel – drawing together people of different backgrounds, castes, classes, mind-sets, &c. -- was perhaps the first thing that struck people encountering the Christian community.  While we talk about having an imagined “inclusivity,” many of our churches are still essentially “gated spiritual communities.” The power of the Gospel to bridge differences in people has faltered in many modern churches precisely because something other than the Gospel – social, political, class, or ideological agendas – has been put in the Gospel’s place. The Church of the future will have no time for such “red-lined” congregations. A much more authentic Christian catholicity (a Greek word meaning, in this case, wholeness) will be expected.

Peter and Paul were martyred, according to tradition, at about the same time in Rome. Their witness, though different in character and manner, was the same in essentials. This could happen because they each loved their Lord. Perhaps they loved Christ a bit differently; perhaps they used different words or different forms of prayer. It didn’t matter. What mattered was their loving service to their Lord and His sheep. Peter and Paul both knew that being part of Jesus’ flock makes the things we tend to see as most important in our world – social position, gender, sexuality, race, party membership, &c. – irrelevant. What matters is a loving obedience, a desire to be like Jesus.

When Christians once again are humbled enough to realize this, they will finally put an end to their divisions and show forth to the world that unity of purpose and allegiance which was found in these two Great Apostles we remember today – a unity that perhaps more than anything else tells the World that in Christ Jesus, a miracle of love has really happened.

Collect for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified
you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by
their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your
Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which
is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the
unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Missio Dei: Part 1

Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’" (Matthew 28: 18-20)

Part 1: Whose Mission Is It, Anyway?

As Christianity enters its Third Millennium, it appears to be undergoing another great season of change. Of course, one can say that change is the constant in life, but there are eras when that change seems much more pronounced, foundational. Such is our day.

As many have prophesied for decades, the Church as institution is declining. Those who have lived a long time will recognize the myriad ways “Church” has ceased to be at the center of things. Increasingly, it is either marginalized by a secularizing culture, or has marginalized itself through scandal, malfeasance, distortion of the Gospel, or outright betrayal of its Lord. Our society no longer sees the Church as necessary; rather, it tends to see it as either an archaic holdover or a pathological block to human self-realization.

The Third Millennium of the Gospel is hardly all about decline. Indeed, this is perhaps the most explosive era of growth Christianity has ever known. Between events in Africa and Asia, we are witnessing an extraordinary time of evangelism. The Good News of Christ is reaching places and peoples not previously reached. To a great degree, “where the action” is in the Christian world has shifted – a new and difficult place for us in North America! What was once the “New World” is becoming old, and now needs refreshment from those it once evangelized.

What Christians in these newly-evangelized cultures are telling us is that our mistake was not in sharing the Gospel with them. Rather, it has been to equate the Church (and along with it our cultural assumptions, biases, preferences, &c.) with God’s Mission in Christ. The result of this equation has been that we unintentionally “take over” the mission that rightfully belongs to God alone. When we do this, terrible things happen – the dark side of “missionary” activities. Setting this right and re-ordering our life as Church in North America may end up being the major task ahead for years to come.

Christ’s “Great Commission,” as recorded in Matthew 28, gives us very clear insight into whose mission this is: it is God’s. Jesus Christ is the “Mission of God” (Missio Dei, in Latin). It is His unique work of Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension to the Father, and giving of the Holy Spirit that the Church carries out as its mission. That mission is, in short, to glorify God the Holy Trinity by “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ,” as the Prayer Book Catechism puts it so simply.

Understanding the Mission of God in this way moves us from human doings to human beings. We are called to be “in Christ,” (Col. 3:3), not to do Christ’s work for him. We respond to Christ’s call; we do not initiate it. Being in Christ allows us great freedom: the freedom to listen, the freedom to follow, the freedom to learn. It saves us from the perils of jumping into the driver’s seat of a vehicle we cannot possibly pilot safely. The secular world is focused only on what we do; God, who is pure Being, seeks to share that being in love with us. That is His Mission in Christ, and God’s mission must be ours, as well.

Understanding the Missio Dei this way helps us get our priorities clear. The Church is not an “institution” set up to do its own (or its culture’s) mission; it is much more like a mid-wife, helping to bring forth the mission of its Lord. When we listen to God in humility this way, we come to see Christ as the sacrament of God, the One who saves. This, in turn, frees the Church to become what it is: the sacrament of Christ, serving humbly and responsively by the promptings of the Spirit as the Mission of God is revealed and moves towards the consummation of all things in Christ.

When we learn to live the Missio Dei, the Eucharist’s meaning is likewise deepened and enriched. No more do we look at the liturgy through the lens of consumerism (“what is there in this for me?” or “how can I fit this in to my busy day?”); now we see it as the sacrament of the Church, wherein the Church is “actualized,” made present in its fullness of purpose and meaning – the foretaste of that Kingdom of God where all people live in harmony with God and each other in Christ. The Eucharist is the supreme realization of the Church’s worship life; in it the Holy Trinity is glorified by diverse people, united by the Love of God in Christ.

Nourished in our true being, we are then sent out to live that being in our families, communities, work, and ministries. But that leads us to next month’s topic: How do live the Missio Dei out through the local church.

Remembering the Saints

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, an event recorded with some detail and considerable significance in the Gospel according to Luke. John, the great Forerunner, is born – setting the stage for the Nativity of Our Lord. John is a truly pivotal figure in the Gospel. In him is summed up the prophetic lineage of the Old Testament, for he is the final prophet, “Elijah’s return,” and the herald of the Messiah to which the Old Testament points. So important is this day that it is ranked as a Feast of Our Lord.

But, there is more to it than that, of course. For he is also the “truth teller” who confronts the corrupt and immoral King Herod Antipas. In so doing, John falls afoul of the power politics of the sadistic and doomed court. It is for this witness to the truth that he ultimately dies. Yet, God’s power was revealed in his human weakness; the Divine Judgment was made known even as unjust judges wielded their arrogant and passing scepters. Through it all, John was clear about who was the message, and who was the messenger: “God must increase while I must decrease.” Would that the Church’s current leadership had such clarity when it speaks glibly about having a “prophetic” ministry without understanding the cost of such witness.

From the beginning, the Church has held St. John the Baptist in high regard. He is a significant figure in all four canonical Gospels, and is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament and Josephus. His ministry left a profound mark on his era.

He has come to mean many things to different eras: prophet, herald of the Gospel, preacher, ascetic, righteous critic of injustice, patron of the “angelic” life of monasticism – and more. Under all of this, however, our remembrance of St. John is really about the fact that in him the Gospel was manifested; in his life, the power of God was revealed and lived. People were confronted with the Truth of God. This forerunner of Christ burned brightly with the reflected glory of the Messiah.

And so it is with all the saints of God: in them, Christ is present and active. This sense of "presence" is essential. The saints are not "demigods." They are participants in the Life of Christ -- something open to all Christians. At each Eucharist we recall Christ's words to the Church, eternally new: "Do this in remembrance of me." That Greek word for "remembrance" -- anamnesis -- carries with it the understanding that to remember is to make present

The saints show forth the living presence of Christ in every time and nation. Each feast day in the Church Year is a reconnection with the One Great Feast of Victory in Christ, feast begun at the first Easter, ongoing in each celebration of the Holy  Eucharist, in the lives of God's people, and to be consummated at "the Last Great Day" at the end of the ages. Their calling is our calling, as well. Their glory is a foretaste of ours with them in the presence of the Holy Trinity forever and ever.

The Collect for the Feast of St. John the Baptist

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Through the Week in Faith

Over the centuries, Christians throughout the world have come to associate the seven days of the week with various things. Some, recalling the story of Creation from Genesis, have thought of each day in terms of some part of the Creation. Others have taken various events in the New Testament, especially having to do with Christ, as a basis for a weekly journey through the key elements of the Faith. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, one set of such commemorations were developed. In the Western Christian Church, from which the Anglican Church descends, another set gradually evolved; they are still to be found in the Daily Office (in the collects after the Lord’s Prayer and suffrages) and in some of the other parts of the Book of Common Prayer.
Below are the traditional commemorations associated with each day of the week, together with an appropriate prayer. You might want to try using these as part of your morning or evening prayers, or as a special devotion at noon. Most of these commemorations also have an associated litany, and I hope to post these litanies as time permits.
Pray without ceasing, my brothers and sisters!
Sunday: The Resurrection
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Monday: The Holy Trinity
Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace to continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen
Tuesday: The Holy Angels
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
St. Joseph
O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Holy Apostles
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Holy Spirit
Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Holy Eucharist

God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday: The Holy Cross
Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption: Give us courage to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Saturday: The Blessed Virgin Mary
Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.