Things Jesus never said

Jesus covering faceAs we start our Lenten journey, I’ve been thinking about how easy it is for us to cheapen discipleship to the point it’s no longer recognizable. Certainly I often fail to follow Jesus when it involves risk or great cost, so I’m not pointing the finger at everyone else here. Rather I’m noticing how hard it is for all of us, especially for folks like, I suspect, many readers of 7WD who are likely to be pretty comfortable.

In our church — and in our liturgy — we often polish off the rough edges, the places that might push us. For example, instead of declaring things, clergy like to offer limp wishes. “May the peace of the Lord…” or “May God bless you…” Or rather than declare absolution, we express hope and refuse to use the priestly imperative. The prayer book gives us strong language in these places, and priests are meant to make strong declarations, not express weak hopes.

During Lent, it makes some folks uncomfortable to say, as the Book of Occasional Services requires, “Bow down before the Lord” before the Prayer Over the People (if you use that instead of a blessing). All this has gotten me thinking: maybe we need to remember, both in our lives and in our liturgy, that it’s hard, and often harsh, to be a Christian.

Personally, I like to leave the rough edges on, because they are reminders of what it means to follow Jesus. With that in mind, here’s the alternative: the anti-Gospel.

So here’s a list of things Jesus never said.

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NEWS FLASH! BREAKING EXCLUSIVE! The Blue Book’s color is revealed!

If there’s one thing that is the heart of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, it’s the Blue Book. Containing the official reports of various groups, including Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards of the Episcopal Church, the Blue Book is chock full of legislative bonbons and ecclesiastical gems. This year, for the first time, the Blue Book is really more of a Blue “Book,” because it will be published primarily online. This is a very good thing.

However, a few people — including this reporter — like to have a paper version, and today’s announcement about Blue Book online availability contained the tantalizing detail that a paper version “may” be printed and sold by Church Publishing. This got me wondering, what color will the potentially-printed Blue Book be this year? Immediately, I dispatched the 7WD Investigative News Team to ferret out (without the help of Tim Schenck’s ferret) the true color. This is a tradition. For the last two General Conventions, this blog had the first exclusive reports of the book’s color: crimson in 2009 and salmon in 2012.

Tiffany-blueLong-time readers of Seven whole days will know that I usually refer to this document as the so-called Blue Book or the “Blue” Book because the last few years, it’s been any color but blue. This year, I am pleased to report, exclusively, that the Blue Book will be…BLUE. Specifically, it will be very similar to Pantone PMS 1837. Let me repeat that. The Blue Book will be blue, praise God.

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Epiphany proclamation 2015

Usually, I post the Epiphany Proclamation on the feast day, but each year for the last few years, people said they wished they’d seen it earlier. So here’s an experiment. I’m posting this year’s version of the proclamation early. Perhaps you’ll use it in your Epiphany services or share it in your parish communication. If you want to use it in the liturgy, it could be included as part of the notices in any of the places these are permitted; you might also print it on the leaflet. You could even pass it out with blessed chalk. Happy (almost) Epiphany!

dropcap dear friends in Christ, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation. Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the second day of April and the evening of the fourth day of April.

Each Easter – as on each Sunday – the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death. From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the eighteenth day of February. The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the fourteenth day of May. Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the twenty-fourth day of May. And, this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the twenty-ninth day of November.

Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever. Amen.

7WD answers the internet’s best questions of 2014

questionsIn what has become a beloved (by me) tradition on New Year’s Eve, I like to answer actual questions people have typed into search engines to find their way to this blog during the previous year. This has been going on for several years, proving that the fun never ends (2013, 2011, 2010, 2009).

These are actual queries, edited only to add capitalization and punctuation. Until next year, enjoy!

Can you charge a fee to enter a church?
Yes, plenty of churches do this, so it’s clearly possible. If you meant to ask whether it’s a good idea, opinions differ. I think it’s fine, when circumstances warrant.

Do dioceses have to follow resolutions of General Convention?
A timely question, since the Big Event is coming right up this summer! No, dioceses do not have to follow resolutions from General Convention for the most part. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the digital archives and read all the things dioceses have been required to do which are left undone. This is because we like to pass aspirational resolutions whilst avoiding most anything that might look like it has consequences.

Is it difficult to evangelise these days?
Obviously the spelling gives away this interlocutor as a Brit. I’m not sure about the situation in England, but in the US, I don’t think it’s particularly hard, though it’s desperately needed. My experience is that people are hungry for meaning and purpose, and that they aren’t in church because church is too concerned with institutional survival. So we should talk about Jesus more, inside and especially outside our churches. You know, share the Good News? For some reason, most Episcopalians seem to believe this is a terrible thing to do, even though Jesus was pretty clear we’re supposed to do this.

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The means of life

Wednesday in the fourth week of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-16; Psalm 89:1-4,19-29; Luke 1:67-79

Luke 1:78-79
By the tender mercy of our God,
  the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
  to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Mary mosaic from NazarethFrom Adversus Haereses of Irenaeus of Lyons (IV.XX.5)
For as those who see the light are within the light, and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God are in God, and receive of his splendor. But [his] splendour vivifies them; those, therefore, who see God, do receive life. And for this reason, he, [although] beyond comprehension, and boundless and invisible, rendered himself visible, and comprehensible, and within the capacity of those who believe, that he might vivify those who receive and behold him through faith. For as his greatness is past finding out, so also his goodness is beyond expression; by which having been seen, he bestows life upon those who see him. It is not possible to live apart from life, and the means of life is found in fellowship with God; but fellowship with God is to know God, and to enjoy his goodness.

This brings us to our final Advent reflection for the year. I’ve enjoyed writing these meditations — and searching through the ancient writers to find the right excerpts. I hope they’ve been helpful to you in some small way.

Everything we need to know about God is revealed for us in Jesus Christ. When we can see that, we partake of the brilliancy of God’s light. A lovely image, yes? And that is exactly what Christmas is about. God could have been enfleshed in any way, but God chose to be born in the most humble way possible. God was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. Truly human. In a remote town in the middle of nowhere in the Roman Empire, earth was joined to heaven, and heaven was joined to earth. The angels sang, and lowly shepherds were the first to hear the Good News. It’s remarkable, isn’t it? Astounding, even.

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Who can stand when he appears?

Tuesday in the fourth week of Advent
Malachi 3:1-5; Psalm 25:1-4; Luke 1:57-66

Malachi 3:1-2
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

Christ at Santa al Miniato al Monte, FlorenceFrom On the Advantage of Patience of Cyprian of Carthage (Treatise IX)
How great is the Lord Jesus, and how great is his patience, that he who is adored in heaven is not yet avenged on earth! Let us, beloved brethren, consider his patience in our persecutions and sufferings; let us give an obedience full of expectation to his advent; and let us not hasten, servants as we are, to be defended before our Lord with irreligious and immodest eagerness. Let us rather press onward and labour, and, watching with our whole heart, and steadfast to all endurance, let us keep the Lord’s precepts; so that when that day of anger and vengeance shall come, we may not be punished with the impious and sinners, but may be honoured with the righteous and those that fear God.

As I’ve been writing these daily Advent reflections, it strikes me that the ancient writers were more interested in judgement than most of the Christians I know — or than I usually am. That’s a great topic for another blog post, and perhaps I’ll write it one day. What I want to commend here is the idea of preparing ourselves, with some urgency, to meet Jesus. Our meeting with Jesus may be at the Last Day, or it may be in the sacraments tomorrow, or it may be in the prisoner or the hungry tonight. But meet him we shall.

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God poured compassion upon us

Monday in the fourth week of Advent
1 Samuel 1:19-28; Canticle 9 or Psalm 113 or 122; Luke 1:46-56

theotokos in chora churchLuke 1:46-49
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

From Adversus Haereses of Irenaeus of Lyons.
For who else is there who can reign uninterruptedly over the house of Jacob for ever, except Jesus Christ our Lord, the Son of the Most High God, who promised by the law and the prophets that he would make his salvation visible to all flesh; so that he would become the Son of man for this purpose, that man also might become the son of God? And Mary, exulting because of this, cried out, prophesying on behalf of the Church, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath taken up his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spake to our fathers, Abraham, and his seed for ever.” By these and such like [passages] the Gospel points out that it was God who spake to the fathers; that it was he who, by Moses, instituted the legal dispensation, by which giving of the law we know that he spake to the fathers. This same God, after his great goodness, poured his compassion upon us…

Reading the most ancient sources of Christian teaching on the Incarnation, one is quickly cured of our modern desire to domesticate Christmas. I’m not talking about commerce, which is hardly Christian. I’m speaking of the more pernicious tendency of the church to reduce the significance of Christ’s incarnation to our feelings. We make Christmas an emotional celebration laden with beloved tradition. But that’s not what it’s about, as this timely reminder shows us.

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Let us prepare a dwelling place

This is the last in a series of meditations on three Advent collects. Here are the meditations on the collects for Advent I and Advent III. These meditations were given as part of an Advent quiet day at St. Stephen’s, Providence, RI.

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by thy daily visitation, that when thy Son our Lord cometh he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Perhaps it is because the Fourth Sunday of Advent is focused on St. Mary and the Annunciation, but the word “visitation” in this collect calls to my mind the joyful visitation of St. Mary to St. Elizabeth, when St. John the Baptist leaped for joy. Not all visitations are as joyful as that one, and perhaps there is not so much exuberance in the kind of visitation we are praying about here.

pilgrim meditatesIt is worth pondering how God might purify our consciences by daily visitation. Surely, God can come into our minds and form our consciences whenever God wishes to do this. I wonder though if something more earthy isn’t being spoken of here.

I find my conscience is often purified by visitation, and not just by God. If I see a friend or even a stranger whom I have wronged, their very presence calls to mind what I have done wrong, and it provokes in me a desire to make amends. Sometimes the push for purification is even more subtle.

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Let your light shine

Friday in the third week of Advent
Isaiah 56:1-8; Psalm 67; John 5:33-36

John 5:33-35
You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.

candlesFrom St. Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospel of John (Tractate XXIII)
And lest thou shouldst say, How was he not the light, of whom Christ says that “he was a lamp”? — I answer, in comparison of the other light, he was not light. For “that was the true light that enlighteneth every man coming into this world.” Accordingly, when he said also to the disciples, “Ye are the light of the world,” lest they should imagine that anything was attributed to them which was to be understood of Christ alone, and thus the lamps should be extinguished by the wind of pride, when he had said, “Ye are the light of the world,” he immediately subjoined, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid; neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but an a candlestick, that it may shine on all that are in the house.” But what if he did not call the apostles the candle, but the lighters of the candle, which they were to put on a candlestick? Hear that he called themselves the candle. “So let your light shine,” saith he, “before men, that they, seeing your good works, may glorify,” not you, but “your Father who is in heaven.”

We Episcopalians don’t say much about our faith. This is true not just when it comes to strangers, but within congregations. By and large, we simply don’t share our spiritual journeys with one another in conversation. That’s too bad. Our refusal to share the light of Christ means that darkness persists where the gloom could be dissolved by God’s radiant love.

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Satiate yourselves with the sacred words

Thursday in the third week of Advent
Isaiah 54:1-10; Psalm 30; Luke 7:24-30

Luke 7:24-26
When the messengers of John had gone, he began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

deacon and gospelFrom Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke (Sermon XXXVIII)
Ye who thirst for the knowledge of the divine doctrines, open once again the treasure-house of your minds: satiate yourselves with the sacred words: or rather, give way to no feeling of satiety herein: for gluttony in things that tend to edification is a quality worth the gaining. Let us approach, then, the Savior’s words, not carelessly, and without due preparation, but with that attentiveness and vigilance which befits those who would learn. For so alone can those subjects for contemplation, which are difficult of comprehension, be rightly understood. Let us, therefore, ask of Christ that light, which he sends down upon the mind and heart, that thus being enabled correctly to understand the force of what is said.

The excerpt from Cyril of Alexandria is really just the opening to his sermon, before he gets to the bits about John and Jesus. But I think Cyril gives us an important reminder: the scriptures demand more than a casual reading. We do well to prepare ourselves to hear and to engage the Word.

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Step away from the disintegration booth!

As Episcopal church geeks will have noted, the report from the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church has released its report for General Convention. Go read the whole thing. If you don’t want to make the time to read all 73 pages, Nurya Love Parish has published a summary. The usual suspects in Blogospheria Anglicana have been busy. Crusty Old Dean has no use for the report. The Black Giraffe says there’s some good stuff. There are other reactions, and you can look for a round-up on the Acts 8 Moment site in the next day or so.

At the moment, I don’t want to say too much about the substance of the report. I’d rather talk about our reaction to it and where we go from here. But first, I’d like to go on a Crusty-sized digression.

There’s a episode on Star Trek (the real one, not one of the poser sequels) in which the Enterprise crew find themselves on a planet engaged in a long war. Entitled “A Taste of Armageddon,” the episode tells a compelling story about war and captivity to imagined reality. It turns out that two planets have been at war so long they don’t know any other way of life. Because actual war is messy (and might do enough damage to cause war-making to become impossible), they’ve decided to turn over the computation of casualties to computers. A bank of computers is constantly declaring where imaginary bombs have landed, and then the people in that area have to enter disintegration booths to be euthanized. So people die, but precious infrastructure is preserved.

disintegration boothThe Captain and his mates are rightly shocked by the site of people calmly queueing to end their own lives in disintegration booths. But the people on the planet can’t imagine any other way. In the end of the episode, the Enterprise crew destroy the war-game simulation computers. Now, if the people want war, they’ll have to deal with the costs of real bombs and the site of real blood. We viewers don’t know what happened, but it seems likely the people will choose the hard work of peace now that the painful but familiar endless war as they’ve known it must come to an end.

You’re wondering what any of this has to do with TEC or TREC, right? It’s a reasonable question.

While we haven’t installed disintegration booths at General Convention (yet), we are living in a painful reality in which no one seems to be able to imagine an alternative. Not just at General Convention, but across the church, we blithely do the same things over and over again, even while the vast majority of our congregations wither. It’s costly, but how else could we possibly do things? The pain of the present is tolerable, because it’s familiar.

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Partakers of his divine nature

Wednesday in the third week of Advent
Isaiah 45:5-8(9-17)18-25; Psalm 85:8-13; Luke 7:19-23

Luke 7:22-23
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”

mosaic at san clemente romaFrom Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke (Sermon XXXVII)
…And in what way we are benefitted by attaining to faith in him, every one knows: nothing however forbids our enumerating a few particulars. For first indeed we obtain the light of the true knowledge of God: and next, when by the aid of holy baptism we have washed away the stains of sin, being purified that we may serve him purely, we are also made partakers of his divine nature, and gain him to dwell within us by having the communion of the Holy Ghost. And we are made also [children] of God, and win for ourselves [kinship] with him who by nature and verily is the Son. Moreover, in addition to those things, we are exalted to the inheritance of the saints, and dwell in bliss in the enjoyment of those blessings which are bestowed on those who love him…

As I visit congregations across the Episcopal Church, I love asking people questions. One of my favorite questions goes along these lines: “Why would someone new come to this church?” The answer says a lot about the vitality of the congregation and its likely future. Too often people say, “We are a family, and it’s such a warm place.” In reality, these are often the least welcoming, least friendly places. Often, this answer declares, “We are a club, and the members are very happy here.”

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