Showing items filed under “June 2016”

The World is Our Parish

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Editor's Note: This post was originally delivered June 11th during an evangelism conference with the noted evangelist, J. John. 

I want to second the welcome to all who are here, as well as our speakers Jay and later Kyle, and Kwesi with a gracias attached for those whose work made this day possible especially the irrepressible Carrie and our organizer Kathy Shackleford. Some years ago I had to speak after the dynamic Tony Campolo and after lunch to boot. Short and sweet if possible are the orders of the day. At least here its 9 in the morning!

John is in the rich tradition of John Wesley – Gospel-centered, loyally Anglican, committed to reaching those who are without God in the world, with the fire of holiness. One major difference is that Wesley was, as far as I can tell, totally devoid of a sense of humor!   Not so here!   But at his best, Wesley could be remarkable, as when he famously said ‘the world is my parish.’   Let that quotation serve as an introduction both to this morning, as well as to the calling we have as the Diocese of Dallas. First of all, Wesley can say this sentence because the Gospel is one throughout the whole world, all of which belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. We lead with the Gospel, true everywhere for all and at all times, we do so this morning and every day in our life together. It’s the only strategic plan we ever need, though we can’t claim any credit for it. Secondly Wesley’s sentence says we are part of something way bigger than whatever the particulars of our time and place are. J. John is not a Texan, though I think he would like Texas a lot! He comes on apostolic deputation to us, this morning, reminding us that the resurrected Jesus is Lord of the whole world. Thirdly, God has put this eternal commission, and his gifts, in a particular place, north Texas, your city or town and neighborhood. Put simply, bloom where God has planted you. Jay has encouragement and wisdom to help all of us, the people of God, do just that.

What you are going to hear and experience this morning fits so well with what we are called as a diocese to emphasize in the years to come. There is one ministry, namely being a family of Christians in the world. And that ministry always means being a witness to the Gospel, being servants for Jesus’s sake. The cliché in the Episcopal Church in recent years, was that baptisms and confirmations are all ordinations; well it’s right. We need J. John this morning because we Christians constantly need the reset button - all ministers, all priests, all our ministries outgrowths of the one Gospel. And to that end we all need formation. That’s why these talks fit well with strengthening the Stanton Center to be more accessible to all, it is consistent with commissioning evangelists this morning, so that they can remind us who we all are. We are going to be working on an order of catechists, lay readers, evangelists, in every parish, for the very reasons you are going to hear this morning. We are going to initiate an effort to help parishes develop a concise plan for parish evangelism as well as individual training. This special day makes it clear what every day, and a special speaker what every one of us, is here to be and so to do.

Christ being who he is, the Gospel is one and clear, life being what it is, things get more complicated fast. The first modern protestant missionaries to India were determined not to do any social outreach, it seemed a morass that would pull them away from proclamation. A generation later they had built an impressive array of hospitals and schools. The Gospel draws is close to people where it matters most, and that means to body and soul, to physical as well as spiritual need. We need to see sharing our faith, and outeach as one. That is why sharing your personal faith with your neighbor, and an outreach program to kids in your community, or Champions Camp combining gospel, study, and sports in south Dallas, and many other such efforts, cannot be separated. Nor can work close to home be separated from what your parish is doing in Honduras or North Dakota or wherever. It is all a seamless garment, ‘ the world is my parish.’ When we talk evangelism today be sure that it expands in concentric circles in the same way that the love of Jesus Christ does.

Those first missionaries didn’t really understand where they were going, they had to become students of the place where they landed as it changed.   We too have to be students, be open, J. John doesn’t have all the answers, but he does have THE answer. We have for example, to learn as we go how to preach to Millennials, how to reach out to the post-Christian world that is coming and this afternoon will be a down-payment on that. Maybe it’s enough to feel the excitement in the uncertainty of discipleship.

“The world is your parish.’ Let me offer one last way to hear that sentence. You and I live in a remarkable place and time in God’s economy of salvation. North Texas is the fastest growing metro area in North America. We have been a leader in the Episcopal Church in planting churches. God is summoning us to take up this mantle again, not only for the communities of these new congregations, but also as an encouragement to the diocese as a whole. We are a dynamic multi-cultural reality. There is a struggle and interest around the Episcopal tradition, including young people thinking about ordained ministry. There is an opening for the Church to teach a new generation. This moment needs us to to join hands in the Gospel across racial and denominational lines. We need the fellowship in Christ of our brother and sister Christians in south Dallas, a fellowship bearing fruit in shared ministries of outreach. At such a crossroads and such a moment of kairos, of spiritual opportunity, you and I are living. All the concerns and openings of the world converge on our parishes. What a perfect place and time for an apostolic ambassador to come and get us back to the one thing needful from whom we move and to whom we return.

Let me add one final note. Sometimes Episcopalians worry about the word ‘evangelical’, that it may carry some unintended baggage in our country. It is a fair worry. But there is a rich tradition of being Episcopally evangelical and we need to reclaim that tradition. It means Gospel people, after all. That is what J. John is about, and what we are after, I reckon. And all that is not in contrast to being a catholic Episcopalian at all. The world is my parish - catholic means ‘ of the whole, of the entire world.’ And so we are. The Eucharist speaks and then displays the Gospel. It ends with the word ‘go.’ Gospel encouragement is as catholic as it is apostolic.

‘The world is my parish’ that must resonate for J. John in his global ministry of encouragement. ‘My parish the world’ is a phrase for us who are put by God here and now for a reason. In that spirit, wide, focused, evangelical, catholic, strategic, unchangingly true, let us welcome most warmly all our speakers today.

One Church

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This blog post is from a previous sermon.

We are a couple of weeks away from the 4th of July, but let me start at some distance from the reading I want to speak of, namely with the Grand Old Flag, with Old Glory. Why does a flag matter? What is it really? It is a symbol that conveys simply who we all are. It says our whole history, glorious, hard. It belongs to us all as Americans. It goes with our anthem, symbol plus song, just like Church.  It is something we inherit and pass on. It reaches from shore to shore, from the Arctic to the tropical breeze of Diego Garcia or Guam. In says that we are part of something bigger than we usually think, something deep and wide, to borrow from a famous hymn. That is why we have emotion about how it is handled- you might say that it approaches being a kind of sacrament of national identity, of we-ness.

Most days we go about our business. The great politician Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts said that all politics is local. There is something like that in Church too- in one way it comes down to the struggles, gifts, and memory of a congregation. Each has its own culture, and I spend a good deal of time traveling around and learning something of those local histories. The larger church is a reality that only lands occasionally- when a bill comes due, or a confirmation is to be done, or there is a vacancy.   What I am describing is only increased by the decline in the sense of identification with denomination that newcomers have nowadays.   They visit and look for a good sermon or music or childcare, and when they find it they invest in that church, which is how we do most things in the modern world.

But that isn’t the whole story is it? We assume that the readings have to come from the Bible, and if they don’t, you’ll hear from me! We assume that a priest has to preside at the Eucharist, and he or she had better use bread and wine. And if in the sermon he or she says you don’t really need to worry about honoring your mother or father or bearing false witness, the bishop’s office is probably on the way again, if they catch wind of it. There are parts of our life that aren’t local, nor would we want them to be. But how much, and with what importance, are these dimensions of our life to local Christians, in say, Garland?

Let me offer you a few reasons why you should care. First of all, it encourages us. When it seems that nothing is working, and the boat is taking on water, we recall that we are carried along by a great wave, buoyed up by a force larger than we imagined. I am reminded of the time when Elisha told discouraged companions to look around, and God removed the blinkers from their eyes so they could see the hosts of angels reinforcing them on every side. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, whatever should happen to this or that smaller instance of it. Second it has to do with legitimacy. I am not saying that smaller independent churches do not have the saving gospel, but to be part of a tradition that traces its lineage to the beginning and to the ends of the earth says that the church can speak of itself as a real part of the larger church, which is catholic and apostolic. To be sure, the division of the Church is a problem, but we can hope to contribute to its redress. Thirdly, the larger purview reminds us that the Gospel has to do with truth, which is the same everywhere, which is not different in Garland from Dallas or Singapore. The church is not just therapy, a kind of spiritual massage, defined by our own preferences. We claim that it is about how things really are, for everyone whether they care about religion or not. That is a very bold claim nowadays if you think about it.  


All this brings us to today’s reading on which I want to focus. The people of God are in exile and discouraged. They are very focused on their own considerable troubles. They can’t see how they will be able to carry on. Maybe God has simply forgotten about them. Maybe his arm doesn’t stretch all the way from Jerusalem to Babylon. The God of Israel declares through the prophet that he is more than in command. His arm stretches over all the earth. Far from being cast off, the people of God are called to something grander than they could imagine. They are to be lights to all the peoples of the world. They are the beginning of God’s recreation of his whole world. Andin the preceding verses we read that all this is to happen through his suffering servant, through the chosen whose authority is consistent with worldly weakness. They are part of something much bigger because they are called by God himself, and yet the particular challenges of their immediate situation are not lost sight of.   This act of God, which turns out to be Jesus Christ, whose proclamation they are to be agents, it is the bedrock of all ministry. On it and nothing else we build all our efforts. We may be distracted by the details of our local situation, but it is the action of God, his grace, his victory, which we need to be called back to time and time again, and the Gospel.

We are hearing this morning the great and overarching truths of the faith, as well as the struggles we have in our local place, in spite of which they remain true. This means that we all have a lot in common. Christian faith is quite democratic, you might say: we are all equally creatures of God, all equally broken versions of what God intended, all offered this new life, all bound to stand before God on the last day. We realize that there is such a thing as Humanity, and we are part of it, what the Bible calls Adam. All church life may be local, but what this church of Garland has to say is true for everyone everywhere and through all time.  

So what is a bishop then? And why does it matter that he visit, other than a great excuse for a party? Think of the bishop in the same way that you think about the American flag. He is a symbol of the togetherness and oneness we have.   He is meant to be an embodied reminder of the whole history, of which the local church is a part. He is meant to make visual what we say in the Creed, that we are a body, a people, a nation, we Christians. This is all about what we mean when we say we are a church apostolic, saying the same thing as the apostles themselves, and catholic, part of one body throughout the whole world. These are hard claims really- don’t Christians continually fight with one another? And wasn’t the world a very different place 2000 years ago, when Peter and Paul walked the earth? What has Garland got to do really with Jakarta or Nairobi? But that is what we believe, and that is what the bishop is a living breathing flag of.

Well I have been bishop for the grand total of seven months, but let me finish with three of the greatest challenges I see, which are also in their own ways challenges for St. Barnabas as well, or any other parish for that matter. First of all, it is hard for parishes to see themselves as part of something greater. So much good energy and devotion is committed to seeing that the parish of which I am a member survives that it is hard to raise up our heads and see ourselves as part of something greater. How many dioceses put on their website that they have one church, of which all the parishes are mission stations, and yet how many actually believe this to be so? Really to see ourselves as part of the larger church widens our vision of the Christian life. Secondly, we are challenged to hear the Gospel even when it bumps up against the assumptions our culture makes about what is important. Who cannot think about some way in which what TV or web tells us, what our own wishes tell us, don’t collide with the Gospel? The long view helps us to overcome the grip that the latest trend has on us. Thirdly we all are dominated by what the tyranny of what we can see and feel today. Everything here is under the tyranny of death and decay, but in the eyes of God the communion of the saints is a reality. Faith gives us this wider view. Our eyes are opened to all the living and the dead standing in the presence of God, whether in celebration or regret. We are placed on this higher mountain to see this wider vista by faith, though it is only on the last day that we will see as if face-to-face.

What really matters, what is true everywhere and for everyone all times, is the gospel….but the bishop your humble servant is meant to be but a sign, a flag, of these truly important and encouraging things, and to this purpose I am very happy to be with you this morning, and in that spirit, the party is quite fitting, amen.