The Baton

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It is Olympic time, fraught with the usual pre-games angst.  In honor of the competition, I want to think about relays, and in particular the act of handing on.  It is a second fraught in its own way, for it can undo the team.

I have recently reread the joint statement of Anglicans and Roman Catholics on the Church, called "the gift of authority.' It undoes a number of assumptions we usually make: that church is an accumulation of individuals with faith, that authority is power to allow or stop what we want, and that passing on is an occasional interruption.

'Gift...' understands the Gospel as God's 'Yes' to us in Jesus Christ and our own 'Amen' in response (II Cor. 1). The dialogue begins with God, involves the people as a whole, and expresses itself in the Eucharist. Most pertinently, it puts handing on, literally 'tradition', at the heart of the Church's life. The people across time need to recognize and hear the 'Yes' and respond, until Christ returns. What we call 'evangelism,' 'catechism,' and 'liturgy' are seamlessly merged in this process across generations.

We have spent a good deal of time this spring thinking about 'strategic planning' but this always needs a theological underpinning. For us it is the act of 'traditioning,' call and response like fire signals across time. Creating teaching materials - planting - forming priests: ministering to the young: what are these but the Church being itself in the 'traditioning':  'what I received I hand over to you, the night he was betrayed Jesus took bread...' (I Cor.8)




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.

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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.