Friday, July 29, 2011

The Bishop Visits This Sunday – but Why?

Sometimes it’s good to ask questions that seem to have obvious answers because the answers aren’t always as obvious as they seem.

This Sunday, July 31, Bishop Martin Field will make his first visitation to St. Andrew’s. For long-time Episcopalians, the annual visit from the bishop is a fact of church life. But if you’re newer to the Episcopal Church, you may be wondering –- why? Is it just a goodwill visit by the CEO to a regional office? No.

First, from a practical standpoint, the bishop visits congregations to administer the sacrament of confirmation, which is an opportunity for teens and adults to make a mature proclamation of their baptismal faith and to receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for their lives as members of the first order of ministry in the Church, the order of laypeople. (That means that as a member of the Church, you are a minister.) Confirming people in their faith is an act of ministry reserved to bishops, so the rite of confirmation can’t happen without one.

But the bishop’s visitation has meaning beyond making confirmation available. A bishop is one in a long line of people commissioned by their ordination to join in the ministry of the apostles, having been ordained by someone, who was ordained by someone, who was ordained by someone … who was ordained by one of the 12 listed in the Acts of the Apostles. That work to which a bishop is ordained is the ministry of sending and being sent on God’s mission in the world. The Greek word apostolos means one who is sent -– a messenger, a delegate, an ambassador of the one doing the sending, who is Jesus Christ himself. So each visitation a bishop makes is a stop along the way of his or her apostolic mission, an opportunity to bring the presence of the universal Church directly into our midst, remind us of God’s mission that we all share, and send each of us out as an apostolos, as well.

So if you're a St. Andrew's person, or (even better) if you're not, I urge you to come and join in this experience on Sunday. It will be a glorious day: Two infants will be baptized; eight young people and adults will be confirmed; you’ll have the opportunity to hear from the bishop about who he is and how he intends to lead our diocese. And you’ll get to hear from one of the apostles this surprising reality -– that you’re one of them, too.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

God's Love in Soap and Sheets

The news crews may have left Joplin, but the healing is only beginning. The destruction is unimaginable, and the scale of the work ahead remains enormous.

It may seem there’s little of value that any of us can do to be part of the healing process for the people of Joplin. Other than professionals with particular skills, individuals are being asked not to appear on the scene to help. Rebuilding is still a project for the future; recovery is still the order of the day.

In that environment, what can we do? What can you do?

First and foremost, you can pray. That’s always our best response in situations like this. No matter the scale of the need, prayer is always a right answer.

But you can also help Joplin heal in a more tangible way –- with the gift of a bottle of laundry soap, or a set of sheets, or a blender.

On Saturday, Aug. 6, at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Joplin, the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri will offer a “Free Garage Sale” for the people of Joplin -– with the items donated by you and me. It's a small but significant way to let the people of Joplin know God loves them by meeting immediate needs in a time of crisis.

What do they need? Examples include school supplies and backpacks; all kinds of kids’ clothing, new or gently used, labeled by age and sex; small appliances (toasters, toaster-ovens, mixers, blenders, etc.); bed and bath linens, cleaning and laundry supplies; and very light furniture, such as folding chairs and tables, lawn chairs, small tables, and shelves.

If you're in the Kansas City area, you can take your donations to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 40th and Main, between July 25 and July 29, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Or, if you want to get your hands dirty, come to St. Paul’s at 9 a.m. Saturday, July 30, to get items ready for transport to Joplin. Or you can come to St. Paul’s from 8 to 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2, to load up the delivery trucks. To sign up, please contact diocesan Archdeacon John McCann at

If you're in Springfield, the drop-off site is Christ Episcopal Church, 601 E. Walnut. Items should be delivered by by Monday, Aug. 1.

Please give generously. This is an opportunity for the Church to proclaim Good News in as concrete a way as it can be proclaimed. As my favorite collect in the Book of Common Prayer puts it, may God use us to “let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen!

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Sermon as a Two-Way Street

I've always felt a little awkward about the one-way nature of preaching. At least in most situations, I get up, say whatever I was going to say, and sit down again, shielded by the liturgy from whatever the people out there might have liked to say in response.

So this summer, we're trying to make the preaching process a little more interactive by offering "Sermon Sound-Off” between the services on Sunday mornings. It's an opportunity to reflect on what God might be trying to say to us though the readings, the sermon, and our life together, rather than me simply talking at everybody and then walking away.

The conversations are really interesting, and frankly I never know where they’ll go. Here’s a sampling of the ground we covered last Sunday, when we celebrated Independence Day:
• A quick overview of the sermon, for those coming to the second service;
• William White, the architect of the Episcopal Church’s governance, whose story I had told in the sermon;
• The Old Testament reading that day, from Deuteronomy, and God’s priority for the needs and concerns of the poor;
• Our political system and the way it often ignores the voices of those who aren’t powerful;
• Whether natural disasters are examples of God exercising judgment on nations that have turned away from a righteous path;
• From the Gospel reading that day, the seemingly impossible challenge of being “perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

What’s exciting about Sermon Sound-Off is that, although we never know what’s coming next, we never lack good conversation. And that’s a big part of the point: Our best formation as Christians comes not from simply listening to someone talk, no matter how interesting he or she may be. Our best formation as Christians comes when we enter into the conversation ourselves, making practical theology what I think God intends it to be: a dialogue, not a monologue.

So, if you're a St. Andrew's person, come to the undercroft at 9:15 a.m. on Sundays this summer and check it out. I think you’ll be amazed at what the Spirit can do among us.