THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

In Norfolk, England, where I spent most of my teens, there’s a saying. “It’s the same but different.” I’ve never fathomed quite what it means but I find it delightful. We have stumbled into a world where difference is in style. Tomorrow the Scottish electorate may well decide that being different is the way to go, as they dream dreams of William Wallace defeating the English (the cinematic Wallace, of course, was played by an American-Australian of Irish ancestry).

I was contemplating just how different I am from my brilliant colleagues on Covenant. I’m much older than they are. I’m not an academic. I’m not a convert. I’m not an American. Unlike most Brits, my father was a West Indian. And he was unlike many West Indians because he was of French, African, and English ancestry. By the time I’ve considered all the elements in my make-up that are unlike yours, I’m unique, sui generis, one isolated being seated in my recliner pecking away with two fingers on my laptop.

I have favorite parts of my being unlike you. Except in Lent, when the missions I serve struggle through Rite 1, I usually reflect that the worship forms I use remain foreign to me, even after years of use. When people, be they ever so brilliant, present me with reasons for changing long-used, evocative rites and ceremonies on the grounds that the Early Church did something different, I reflect that Campbell used the same logic when he founded the Christian Church – now there’s an exclusive title – as did the Anabaptists and Presbyterians. No, I’m not getting into an argument with you. I’m just showing you how different I am.

The Episcopal Bishops are meeting in Taiwan as I write this. One of them wrote today that being there reminds him that TEC isn’t just a national church. It’s an international communion all on its own. It’s different. It’s not like other Anglican Provinces. It’s exceptional, prophetic, inclusive, and modern.

Many of my friends left the Episcopal Church over Prayer Book revision, the ordination of women, same-sex unions, and “heresy.” They now belong to a number of different ecclesial bodies. They can tell me why they left, why they belong where they are, and why they don’t belong in another similar group. They are different.

That great hope of the twentieth-century church, the Ecumenical Movement, has foundered on difference: different claims, different structures, and newly adopted different practices. The appalling element in all this is that we don’t really care enough about any of this difference to repent and change. We were told that globalization was the trend of the future, and, in response, we’ve opted for nationalism and regionalism. We were told that ecumenism was the only reputable response to Christ’s prayer that we may be one to reflect the unity of the Trinity, and, in response, we rejoice in our separation and even when we adopt ecumenical partners we do so on the basis that we will remain just as we are.

The Covenant blog began in support of the ideal of an Anglican Covenant, a binding agreement between the Provinces of the Anglican Communion to a common set of principles. The tragedy is that many Provinces that agreed with these basic principles refused to back it, and in its place created their own exclusive association of churches and advertise just how they are unlike other sinners.

Jesus wept. He came to restore unity between God and the world God created and the people he made. He came to enfold a newly chosen people and commissioned them to announce the victory of Calvary, the absolution and remission of sin, the breaking down of barriers, justice for all, and the promise of a newly restored heaven and earth.

All my reflections on how different I am pale in the light of my sameness. I am a child of God, as are you. I am saved through the Cross of which my baptism is the symbol. I am fed with heavenly food. I am strengthened for service. I am not unlike non-Christians. I belong to the priestly-servant community called to stand for every human to the Father and to stand for the Father to every human. To keep this in mind is to arm myself against exclusivity, judgmentalism, bigotry, and vainglory. For those sins are the sin of pride: the deadliest of sins and the cause of all division. God help me, I’m not different in any important aspect. God has made me the same.

RE-STRUCTURING THE CHURCH

The Task Force charged with reforming the structure of our church has just issued another of its reports.http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/09/04/trec-issues-a-letter-to-the-episcopal-church/.The framers assume that the only people to whom they need to speak are those with MBAs or JDs or those benighted souls who revel in topics surrounding structure. It is just this sort of elitism which marginalizes most Episcopalians, turns them off from bothering whether structure is the handmaid of the Gospel and the Catholic Faith or its boss and induces most of us to leave “important things” to our betters. Perhaps this committee might consider translating their turgidity into plain English in order to enlist the opinions and input of those who pray, worship, give and work in our congregations day by day?

Having said that, it would perhaps have been a salutary exercise for the Task Force to consider a simple question, “Why the Church”? I don’t mean “Why the Episcopal Church,” at least not at first. Unless we have some clear understanding about how the Church fits in to God’s purpose, we won’t begin to understand how one fragment in the tragically divided state of Christ’s Church can reflect, albeit brokenly, that will and purpose which undergirds its nature and mission.

The Church exists in God’s will. That’s a beginning, one to which we should return when we get too caught up in the political and structural aspects of the organization. The Church is the aggregate of those, living and departed, who do God service in worship and in embracing God’s world. That purpose is true whether it is expressed in the daily work of a Primate, a Convention, a diocesan office, a parish office, whether in a General Convention at worship or in the offering made by a dozen people in a tiny mission. All is to the greater Glory of God as we serve the world in every age and generation.

If you will, the true nature of the Church may be found in some simple elements, material creations, natural and refined, in water, bread and wine, and oil. They are readily available and cost very little.Through water the Church reminds itself that it has come through water, has died and risen, expressed in its story of the parted water of the Red Sea, in the poured water of the River Jordan, to which we return every time a new child of God is baptized, every time a well is dug in a remote village, every time a drink is given to the thirsty in the name of Christ. Water is the element of redemption, restoration, a promise of the coming of the Kingdom, a sign of God’s love and care for the world in Jesus. The Church exists to make visible the Living Water of the totality of Christ’s mission. Every agency of the Episcopal Church from bottom to top exists to be an efficient Fountain.

Bread and Wine. These elements represent the basic elements of life. We need to eat and drink to live. Even the most elaborate meal is at base participation in life. For the Church Bread and Wine is a tasted and ingested vehicle whereby we participate in Christ’s essential being, his coming, his ministry, his death and passion, his resurrection and ascension, his eternal offering of himself in our place to the Father. Because God has “Spread a table in our sight” so the work of the Church is to spread the Table in plain sight, offering the meal in Christ to God for the world and offering the world God-Food on his behalf. This priestly work -for the Church is a Priesthood – is always the same although it is expressed in many ways and contexts. At the Table, the altar of Calvary, we offer the whole world to God in Trinity, its beauty, its marvels, its triumphs, its tragedy, its folly, its cruelty, its life and its death. At every level of organization, the Church and our church exists and proves its authenticity in that constant repetitive offering of that once offered. And in that sacrament, the Church and the church is fed, restored to life and vitality, enabled to offer food which is both spiritual and material to the world God created and wishes to restore to himself.At the Eucharist the called and vivified are then sent to feed a hungry world. Here in that priestly offering of God to the world the church demonstrates its authenticity. Both aspects of this priestly vocation are expressed through love by the Church’s use of these basic elements of human existence.

Then there is oil, olive oil, an element which stirs our memories of where we come from, wanderers brought through water to the oasis of God healing care. This is the oil of kingship, of priesthood, of baptism, of healing, of dying in order to live. As we touch foreheads and hands, we represent Christ’s rule, his Kingship, His priesthood, his healing life, his raising the dead. At every level of the Church’s life and of our church’s life, we anoint to reconcile, to forgive, to make disciples, to raise those who are dying, physically or mentally, to new life.

None of these elements are for us alone. They have been given as the tools by which the Church and our church demonstrates its loving, effective authenticity to the whole world, in every age and generation until he comes again. When the church lives for itself and hordes these elements for it own use, it ceases to be constructively authentic and loses its energy and effectiveness. It is by reflecting on just how our church employs these elements at each level that we can begin to assess our faithfulness and utility in fulfilling God’s will and mission. Structure is the handmaiden of the church’s authenticity and its use of the Gifts of God for the People of God.

HUH?

Dear Episcopalians. The Task Force charged with reforming the structure of our church has just issued another of its reports.http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/09/04/trec-issues-a-letter-to-the-episcopal-church/. I comment not on its contents but on its language. The framers assume that the only people to whom they need to speak are those with MBAs or JDs or those benighted souls who revel in topics surrounding structure. It is just this sort of elitism which marginalizes most Episcopalians, turns them off from bothering whether structure is the handmaid of the Gospel and the Catholic Faith or its boss and induces most of us to leave “important things” to our betters. Perhaps this committee might consider translating their turgidity into plain English in order to enlist the opinions and input of those who pray, worship, give and work in our congregations day by day?

COMMON PRAYER AND CONFLICT

We probably haven’t had common prayer in Anglicanism for over one hundred years. For all their contributions to our spiritual and theological life, the Tractarians—or, to be precise, their first disciples—put paid to all that when they began to enrich the Prayer Book text and certainly its form by adding bits and pieces of the Roman Rite or even adopting it more or less verbatim.

I suppose, to be fair, one notes that their predecessors, the Evangelicals, introduced Gospel songs, and, to the consternation of the bishops, non-liturgical services, but these were add-ons, rather than replacements for the set round of Mattins, Litany and Ante-Communion, and Holy Communion perhaps four times a year.

However, the liturgical chaos of those days looks strangely uniform in comparison to modern times in the Church of England, where even the alternative services, entitled Common Worship, seem hardly common at all. American Episcopalians may well pride themselves that, on the whole, they have resisted the confusion of liturgical practices, at least since the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, a manual of worship in part designed to bring back order and conformity. For the most part, one may still visit an Episcopal church and expect to find oneself at home and comfortable with the shape and form of the service and the words employed.

Given that reality—all right the liturgical boffins have showered us with alternative versions of the Greater Thanksgiving and unisex texts, or manuals of rumperty tumperty songs and music—the latest post by Bishop Dan Edwards of Nevada may seem rather odd. The Bishop puts in an impassioned plea for Common Prayer and gives as one of his reasons the following:

But here’s where the situation goes from troubling to deeply disturbing. It is highly unlikely in our era of Romantic Individualism that we can come to a common theological opinion. People today, even in doctrinally defined churches, do not personally identify with their theological beliefs. They identify instead with their political ideologies. In fact, we live in a society that is increasingly unable to address the issues that confront us—environmental issues; immigration policy; income inequality; the influence of money in elections and the consequences for government, etc.—because we are so identified with our political opinions that we cannot reason with each other or reach compromises without fear of losing our souls, which we have come to think of as fused with our politics.

The case made here is simple. Since the 60s, American culture has become progressively more individualistic and this embrace of individualism has been aided by consumerism and accompanied by the fragmentation of our social life into factions, united by personal choices about almost every subject one may imagine, factions contained in the encompassing folds of the two main political parties.

There’s an irony here. At the beginning of this century it was assumed that globalization would erode nationalism and create global harmony and homogenization. Fourteen years in, the opposite seems to be happening. Nationalism thrives, whether in Scotland, the Ukraine, the Middle East, or the US. Indeed nationalism seems to be a rather wide concept when compared with the regional and social groupings encountered daily, and our identifying groups within groups as our choice of “home,” a home to be lauded and defended passionately.

How then does the church resist the temptation to express itself as belonging to groupings of people who find they have enough in common to make common cause? Has common cause replaced common prayer?

In a sense this is all something American Christianity has tackled since the foundation if the nation. Not for nothing was the Episcopal Church once dubbed “The Conservative Party at Prayer.” Underneath the doctrinal conflicts of the moment, the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church one hundred and sixty years ago was a class and social dysfunction. However it did seem possible for the Episcopal Church to encompass people of different classes and political attachments. It is also true that General Convention, until the 60s, sought to avoid addressing contentious political and social issues, with some notable exceptions.

Faced with dwindling numbers and finances, some Episcopalians are seeking to find a way to bring the church out of years of contention, enabling it to comprehend a national rather than a factional constituency. Few Episcopalians are prepared to jettison the causes the church has embraced over the last fifty years. However such causes more often than not have an expiration date written into them, if not about their core principals, at least as reflected in the intensity of passion in their espousal. Times change perceptions.

The question remains, is it possible for a people used now to the heady experience of individualistic choice, to fragmentation and self-identification with this or that faction, to find it possible to worship together in a more or less uniform manner and to allow the words framed in the shape and form of liturgy to create space for the Gospel to shape, amend and unite the passions and choruses of factional causes into the unity that the church seeks to provide by its very nature? Can Babel be reversed?

Setting aside other issues, the divisions within Anglicanism in North America do seem to be reflections of what the Bishop of Nevada terms souls fused with politics. Read the Facebook posts created by traditionalist and progressive Episcopalians/Anglicans and one swiftly encounters raw social and political opinions proclaimed as truth, truth driven by the rhetoric one hears on the news channels rather than from the Propers for that week contained in the Book of Common Prayer. A stranger might be forgiven by concluding that we choose our religious affiliation on the basis of how well a church conforms to our pre-formed and espoused social beliefs and identities. If this is indeed true the process of the American ecclesiastical journey from a large number of entities formed by historical doctrinal conflicts into groups identifying with popular social and political causes will only continue. If this is the trend, then the Bishop of Nevada’s plea for a common rite will merely be a reframing of our old conceit that people join the Episcopal Church primarily because of its worship forms and ceremonies.

Is boutique religion a lasting trend? Shall each congregation seek to fashion itself to cater to the delights of a significant number of local people to keep the doors open? Certainly our claim to be a national Christian church—even an international one—requires not only common prayer, but common faith, a faith capable of countering individualism and judging our social and political opinions. I’m not yet convinced that we don’t possess a common doctrinal core dramatized in our liturgical rites and ceremonies. If church leaders and teachers were as fervent in proposing the core of Christian belief as they often are in echoing the political opinions of those in the pew, we might have a chance to rediscover a unity deeper than agreeing to use Rite 2 next Sunday. Given its head, Christian faith has a propensity for challenging our most cherished opinions whatever their origins. If indeed the Episcopal Church is a church that allows people to think, it is high time we allowed them to think about the Gospel and the Catholic faith.

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=3207

MARY

While among Christians Jesus has escaped his detractors, his mother still carries the weight of human detraction, or perhaps worse still types of adoration which rob her of her humanity.

After a sermon on her Feast Day, the bishop was assailed by an angry parishioner who scolded him for preaching about Mary. The bishop replied, “Sir it seems that when you speak of Mary you are remembering a deceased Roman Catholic lay woman. When I speak of her I speak of the Mother of God”

There’s another adage which is perhaps more to the point. “If you are not a Marian, you are probably an Arian.” The Arians denied that Jesus was, in the womb, truly God and truly Human. More of that in a moment.

While many Anglicans flinch at what they conceive to be the extravagance of devotion given to St. Mary, a more modern objection has its adherents. These people believe that Mary’s meek submission to the will of God demeans all women. Mary describes herself as the handmaiden of the Lord and submits to God’s will. To some this seems to reenforce the stereotype of male domination and female submission. So poor Mary continues to be ignored, chided for the extravagance of devotion offered to her, or decried as being an anti-feminist.

The Prayer Book of 1662 described August 15 as the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the Episcopal Church compiled its own Prayer Book at the end of the 18th Century the Feast disappeared. It returns in our present Prayer Book as “The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin”. The collect refers to her being taken into heaven. This reflects the pious belief of Christians through the ages who acknowledge the crucial role Mary plays in God’s action in our redemption. Mary’s reply to the Angel was probably the most important Yes in the history of the human race. However her “yes”, the yes of a woman to bear God’s Son, isn’t merely a female assent. Every human, male or female, young or old, who agrees to do the will of God, submits. At the heart of vocation is our response to dedicate our life to God and to seek to do his will. We are all called to bear Jesus.

Mary is therefore, as are all men and women we regard as saints, ordinary people who respond to God’s will in extraordinary ways, an example for us to follow. Mary bears Jesus in an extraordinary way as we are called, through baptism, to bear Jesus in our perhaps ordinary way. We are encouraged by her example. That which is unique, one of a kind, draws near to us and helps us to respond with our own “Yes.”

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that it is as we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses that we are able to look to Jesus, in and through whom or faith is begun and finished. From the earliest times the church has identified this cloud or company of witnesses (witness means life-giver) as the saints. They encourage our walk with Jesus. Such encouragement has been described as prayer. Unfortunately a very narrow definition of prayer creates misunderstanding and reaction to the whole idea of the communion of saints, an article of the Creed. If prayer is always a request, and more narrowly a request for salvation, then obviously such requests are appropriately offered to God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.

However prayer is much wider than a plea for salvation. Prayer is conversation. Every time we worship together we share our prayers and praises, our confession and adoration with each other and with the whole church. Even our private, lonely prayers echo through the heavens and are taken up through the Spirit in the Eternal offering of Jesus and those who surround him in glory.

Mary can’t save us – that has happened in our baptism. The saints can’t save us, for that has been given to us when we were adopted by God in Christ. But Mary and the saints can express that love which never fails in encouraging our devotion and echoing our prayers as they are taken up by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

Mary is also God-bearer, Theotokos, because the child within her womb, the child she bore, is God from God, Light from Light, True God of True God, and through Mary truly flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. Her relationship to Jesus her son, her naming in the Creeds, presence in the Gospels, noted fellowship with the Apostles in the Upper Room as Jesus makes himself known, demands our collective admiration and devotion. When cousin Elizabeth met the pregnant Mary, the child leaped in her womb. “Blessed art thou among women” and yes Blessed art thou among all humans.

On this her Feast Day we hail Mary, bless Mary, enjoy her presence in the communion of saints and seek to follow her “Yes” as God calls us to his work and witness.

THE ANGLICAN WAY

I shall seek to write down that which I believe to be the essence of Anglicanism. None of the elements I note are in themselves the exclusive property of our tradition, but taken together they express what our church -with a small c – has sought be be at its best. As such these elements are always aspirational rather than accomplished ideals. Perhaps the third element noted below incorporates the first two.

1. Anglicanism is a church of sanctified time. It embraces the rhythm of life of the community expressed in the annual calendar, and seeks to sanctify days, weeks, months and the year as it notes and observes times and seasons, festivals and fasts. It’s rhythm of worship is tied to this calendar, and expressed in the lectionary, daily offices, rites and ceremonies involved in births, comings of age, marriages and deaths. Time sanctified, as in the sounding of Herbert’s bell, as the ploughman stops work for a moment to acknowledge that his being is blessed by prayer and praise: church bells sounding, filling the very air breathed with God’s sound, heard by the community as men, women and children go about their lives: time sanctified in silence broken by the voice of prayer which never ceases.

2. Anglicanism is a church of sanctified space. It embraces the land, dividing it into dioceses with mother, cathedral churches, and parishes also with mother parochial buildings, solemnly set aside and blessed, made holy by the prayers of the faithful, by Word and Sacrament and sacramental rite. It aspires to embrace the lives, occupations, joys and tragedies of the people who live within its bounds and calls, sets apart and authorizes ministers in what ever Order, to pastoral care and involvement in that context. Those who actively participate in the worship of the church, whose names are noted in lists and forms, constitute that pastoral ministry to the community, led by bishops, priests and deacons, the indelibility of whose apostolic callings symbolizes the indelibility of the baptismal vocation.

3. Anglicanism is a church of sanctified worship. It seeks in common prayer, to unite the voices, spoken and imagined, of those in sacred time and space, in disciplined and thus liturgical forms, in praise of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in adoration, supplication and confession, supremely in the Eucharist and then in various forms of common prayer. To that end it seeks the beauty of holiness, corporate lives made holy by use of beauty in word and song, ceremony and rite, art and architecture, vesture and adornment whether simple or elaborate. It dedicates buildings and parts of buildings to God the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit, or to the Trinity, or to holy men and women whose lives have been cause for veneration and emulation in their several ages and generations. These dedicated spaces symbolize and effectuate the vocation of the creature to adore the Creator, as the church on earth participates in and is aided by the worship of heaven.

In each of these ways the church lives into its vocation to tell the whole world of the Coming of Jesus, and is obedient to his commandment to preach, baptize, celebrate the Eucharist and to be his instrument of peace, justice and mercy, in simple obedience until he comes again. It is a vocation suitable to all places in all times, and depends not on what the world terms success or failure, but simply on obedience.

Please note that my description is aspirational. It is a brief essay into pastoral theology noting how who we are is deeply rooted in where we are and in the time we occupy. How this all works out in practice is framed by local context, urban or rural, set in Kenya or Singapore, Canada or Egypt, the US or Japan. It is tinged with echoes from the past, the forms, political and social society is shaped by at a given moment. Church bells may today be Facebook pages! But my concluding sentence is vital. In a consumerist age, when success, efficiency, box office are exalted, it is good to remind ourselves that it is in obedience that our ministry is rooted and not in how successful we seem to be at a given moment in time.

GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY SERMON

I wrote this for Sermons that Work to be used tomorrow.

 

4 Easter (A) – 2014
Baptism into the fold

May 11, 2014
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

In her retirement, some years ago, a woman lived in the English countryside. And from her living-room window, she could see a large hill, at the top of which was the ancient parish church. One of the bell-ringers who helped summon people to worship was a shepherd. In lambing season, his flashlight could be seen at all times of the night, seeking out newborn lambs, making sure they were safely delivered and that the mothers were safe and fine. The young lambs were suitable prey for the foxes that lived in the surrounding woods.
The shepherd’s job was to feed, guard and care for all the sheep who lived within the enclosure of the field. In the gospel today we see a similar imagery. The Jewish shepherd brought his lambs into a enclosure, surrounded by a wall of stones, into which there was a single entrance. Because the flock constituted the wealth of the owner, his available property, the job of the shepherd was so guard the flock, if necessary, with his life.

 

Jesus takes this familiar imagery and applies it to teach about his relationship with his church. This section of John’s gospel is chosen during the Easter season because it points to the Easter themes. In the early church, converts were brought to baptism on Easter eve. Eastertide was, for them, a time when they began to enjoy a new life, a new identity and a new purpose. The new converts had spent up to three years leaning about the Faith. During that period they were not permitted to join the Christian community around the altar. They couldn’t receive communion. They were at the gate to the fold, but not yet inside it.

 

One may imagine their thrill and joy once they were brought through the gate, as they were baptized into and through Jesus and assumed the name “Christian.” or “the Savior’s People.” Of course, the step they had taken involved danger. Many lost the support of family and friends, lost their jobs, and in times of persecution, faced danger and death.

 

It’s important for us to grasp the fact that these new Christians had been led by the Risen Lord into a fellowship. Today we have become used to what might be termed “personal religion”: “Jesus saved me,” and “I’m going to go to Heaven when I die.” At first glance, that is what Jesus seems to be saying: “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

 

The people who first heard John’s gospel would have heard something quite different. They did not come from our culture of individualism. We need to listen with their ears. The words “enters by me” meant to the first Christians – and should mean to us – baptism. We don’t baptize ourselves. We are baptized in church, on a Sunday, surrounded by Christians. From that moment on, we have pasture, we may be fed at the Lord’s Table, by the Lord’s bounty. We become part of those who have been “enclosed” in the communion of the church.

 

To the first Christians, “coming in and going out” happened in the context of the church’s growth and the church’s danger. The people doing the growing were those who had been “saved,” rescued, taken out of a hostile world. As they shared their new faith and brought others to the door to the fold, the church grew by leaps and bounds. Someone said of them, “See these are they who turn the world upside down.” Because of their success, they threatened the power of the Roman Empire, whose “thieves” sought to invade and destroy the fold, the church.

 

Yes, this new community, the church looked forward eagerly to the final result of salvation, when God would rescue the world, the universe he made and loves and restores his people to the Garden from which they were expelled in the Genesis story. Do note that when we talk about the Genesis story, we aren’t talking about history, but we are talking about truth. When we seek to envision the New Heaven and Earth, we struggle for adequate words, as did the John who wrote the last mysterious book in the Bible, Revelation. Yet what is expressed is the truth-in-hope the Christians of St. John’s time had embraced.
We, too, have entered into the fold through our baptism. We share a common essential identity as Christians. We gather in the fold of the local church to have fellowship, to be taught, to be fed. We go out to make disciples, to work for the Kingdom, to love justice and mercy, to care for the poor and the outcast.

 

Such a corporate calling is exciting and demanding and continues to cost. Today, somewhere in the world, Christians are losing their lives simply because they are Christians. They may live in distant land, but in the fold of the church, they are our sisters and brothers. The words Peter wrote, that we heard this morning, hit hard with our persecuted friends:
“It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”

 

We are safe from such suffering. However, we are called to sacrifice much if we are to gain more. Grasping these truths challenges us to live a much more extraordinary life than merely believing that somehow by attending church we are validating a ticket to Heaven.
Our Lord offers us “abundant life” now. We are called to build Christ’s church and to suffer for those who are the victims in our society, the poor, the sick and the lonely. We embraced this calling in baptism.

 

This morning, as we gather around the Table to be “strengthened for service,” we commit ourselves afresh to living out our faith, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “not only with our lips, but in our lives by giving ourselves in Your service.”

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