12/07/2020

A BURNING PATIENCE...SERMON, 2 ADVENT 2020

A BURNING PATIENCE

 

Sermon 2 Advent, 2002, St. Peter’s Church, Lewes, Delaware. Mark Harris

 

Dear Ones: Consider this a letter to you, fellow travelers in this strange world. I’m reading this aloud, of course because we are together on internet streaming, but it’s a letter none the less.  I haven’t preached to and in an in person congregation for some months. 

 

I write knowing that many of you are doing so much to help in these times.  I sense sometimes that you must be exhausted.  I know that some close to me are really tired, tired from having to work in new ways, with new challenges, tired of having to wait for things to get better, tired of having to put up a good front in the face of prolonged anxiety. We are absolutely ready for something else, something that will quickly release us from pandemic and other social distress. But it seems it is not to be, not yet.  For now we cannot avert our gaze, our attention to the realities of the moment.

 

It seems to me this is a time to practice a kind of holy patience, but by holy I don’t mean detached, far from it!

 

Arthur Rimbaud, a quite challenging french poet, wrote, “Still, now with the coming of night, let us muster all the strength and true tenderness we can. And at dawn, armed with a burning patience, we will enter into the splendid cities.” That phrase, “a burning patience” was picked up by Pablo Neruda as a call to persevere at times of great calamity and anxiety.

 

It is a “burning patience” that I believe is needed just now. It is that patience that lives in the readings today. 

 

The prophet Isaiah cries out that the burning patience of the people will be met by the harold who cries, “Here is your God,” and he prophesied that God leads, comforts and restores the people at the last. 

 

Peter admonishes us to a patience like God’s, and  and to “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Burning patience for the Lord’s presence IS salvation. 

 

And then there is the thundering witness of John, who baptizes: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  John call us to have patience, with hearts burning for the one who is to come, who will wash us in the Holy Spirit. Be patient, he says,I am not the One, but the One is coming. He calls out “Hold On” the One is coming who will make us New.

 

None of these were called to be passively, listlessly, quietly patient- not Isaiah, not Peter, not John. Their burning patience is full of anticipation, full of expectation, and quite often full of noise, and sound and fury. All of theses are signs, of how burning the hope is.  And yet, patience is part of that hope. Patience is the willingness to wait upon God, upon the revealing of what is to come. Armed with a burning patience we prepare for the day that makes us whole.

 

I can only echo in these times the same: we ought to seek the splendid city, the reign of God, the new Jerusalem, with all our hearts, and seeking that we ought to look for the light to come. 

 

We ought have no peace with oppression, no patience for those who would bend away from justice and mercy. But because freedom from oppression and freedom from fear has not happened yet, it is tempting to lose heart, to become impatient to the point of giving up. In doing that we become instruments of our own oppression.  

 

The fact that the pandemic continues, that our country is not clearly on its way to being  a more perfect union… these are realities. But it is not the end of the matter. 

 

A different sort patience is needed, the patience of the faithful. For us, separated as we are by the pandemic, divided as we are by so many differences, it is hard to be patient. Still, that is what I believe we need to be: patient with that special burning patience that rests in our anticipation God’s new creation in us.

 

 

One read of John’s message is just that: Be patient, but be prepared. Now is the time for repentance. Now is a time for vigilance in matters of heath and governance.   All so that when the One who is coming is here you will be ready to be washed in the Holy Spirit and made fit for the splendid city of God. So we say, with that other John, the writer of the Revelation, “Come Lord Jesus!”and yet in confidence and hope we also wait for that Coming with patience.

 

The lighting of Advent candles is a little sign of that preparation.  As the winter gets darker we light more candles, and then when it is darkest, we light the light of Christ. It may be the winter of our souls, and yet, with burning patience we light the way to new life in Christ.  

 

So I write this to encourage you to a burning patience. And I send you this song, a gospel song was written by Rev. Cleophus Robinson Jr.in 1980. It’s titled “Hold On, Just a little while longer.”

 

 

Hold on just a little while longer (3x)
Everything will be all right

 

Fight on just a little while longer (3x)
Everything will be all right

 

Walk on just a little while longer (3x)
Everything will be all right (2 x)

 


Dear Ones: 

May the peace of God which is no peace, but a burning patience, guide you in these days. 

Hold on just a little while longer.  

Do not become instruments of your own oppression. 

Keep the Faith.

 

With love and admiration, Mark.

 

11/24/2020

Can there Be Union after this Wreck of a Year? article first published in Delaware State News.

how we go forward and work through the wreckage and become mo

CAN THERE BE UNION AFTER THIS WRECK OF A YEAR? 


By all accounts 2020 has been a wreck of a year. It has been a year of extended battles in the body politic with very little to show for it, save cuts and bruises. The Pandemic, the economic crisis, social injustices responded to by the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, the constant barrage of voices shouting about greatness, the gaining or loss thereof, and a campaign season that heightened vitriol, all have flooded through this year like a tsunami. There has been the sense that a kind of national madness has possessed us in which we are so divided by death and destruction that a sense of wreckage pervades and a national gloom has settled in.


Now we hear a lot about our need to become more united. I too long for the end of division, if only to end the sense of despair.  Still, I wonder, does being united require that we end our divisions first, or is there another path forward? I think there is.  


America is hard work, because the idea of forming a unity from the rag-tag mix of peoples, and from the communities and states that formed the United States, is an ongoing and not yet completed task.  We hammer out ways to deal with our differences, not necessarily to erase them. There is no agreement that our divisions should cease, but we keep trying to either dissolve or live with those differences. America is a work in progress.  We work to keep the wide range of differences in enough union to be The United States of America.


It is said these days that our divisions are now too deep for there to be a sense of being an United States.   The lines of division are many and while we may think of the Republican and Democratic parties as representing these division, that is only the surface of the problem. Disunion and division grows from many sources, and are expressed in a variety of organizations.  


Most political parties and organizations have proclaimed that their opponents are going to destroy their freedoms, their rights, or their livelihood. Opposition is viewed as an existential threat, and at the same time is a rallying cry for group cohesion. As a result we have a politics of opposition in which our identity is justified and grounded in fear.

Opposition politics uses fear as a motivation. The key to change to a more perfect union is to move beyond the motivation of fear. Fear has to be deflected, turned aside, by some greater force, some larger motivation. 

Sages and prophets through the ages have said that what deflects, casts out, or overcomes fear is love.  They are right. But love is not easy. The problem is that we find it almost impossible to love those who we see as a threat. Our opponents, those who hold to social, economic or justice principals different from our own, are viewed as the enemy. While loving our enemies may be the goal, in the moment that seems impossible. So how do we begin?

Where we might better begin is to deflect fear, and therefore begin the process of  overcoming division, by falling in love with the world. If at first we cannot love our enemies, perhaps we can begin by loving the world in which we all live. By falling in love with the world, I mean experiencing a love for the overarching, expansive canopy of experiences that are available to all of us and are a source of thanksgiving.  They are mostly simple, or certainly simpler than the complexities of our fears. 

The love that is found the experience of a crisp fall day, a quiet moment by the bay or a lake, food shared with friends, a moment of intimacy with one we love, all these and many thousand more, are all experiences of that love that deflects fear.  And, unlike the fears that divide, these experiences are common across the widest of divides. 

If we want to heal the nation, the place we need to begin is to replace being afraid to being in love with the world. And having fallen in love with the world I think we will find avenues to unity that will surprise us. Across the red and blue divide, across the divide of those who demand justice and those who want freedom from control, across the divides of faith and political position, it turns out there is common ground in the ground itself, common cause in being in love with the world. 

Perhaps if we turn from what we fear the most about our current condition to what we love the most about living there can be avenues to greater unity.  Conversation and engagement about our being in love with the world is the beginning of acting not out fear, but out of thanksgiving, not being reactive but being active in our love of life.  If our politicians want to stress coming together and unity, the place to begin is with a new sense of thanksgiving for the simple blessings of daily life. 

This coming Thanksgiving is an opportune moment to begin. 


    







After the Pandemic: article from Delaware Communion.

 After the Pandemic 

The Church is open, even when the church is closed.” We in the Episcopal Church in Delaware have found that nothing, not even a pandemic, can keep the love of God in Jesus Christ from being present and real.  That’s a powerful learning!

 

Plans for how we re-emerge from stay-at-home rules are already in place. We will come back with new skills, new appreciation of how we are “body”, and new challenges.  What will our return as church look like?  What challenges will it bring? What even newer skills will be needed?

 

Our experiences during this time of pandemic, with all its anxieties, pain, sadness, and death, are the source material for new witness, new stories of faithfulness. Perhaps out of this wehere in the Episcopal Church of Delaware will find new ways to practice resurrection.

 

Here are some notes on possibilities, hopes and predictions for the future of the Episcopal Church in Delaware, “The new Episcopal Church”They may apply also to the whole church.

 

1. The new Episcopal Church will see cyberspace as a place of mission engagementThere will be much wider use of various conferencing and meet-up portals on the internet, and wider use of mail services, and that in turn will help us see cyberspace as a place were we can be as present as we are in “normal” spaceThere will be growing conversation about whether or not cyberspace can be incarnate space, space where God’s presence can be experienced and known.

 

“Following,” and that interesting new verb, “friending” aresecular ideas  close to the ideas. guiding the “Invite, welcome, connect” evangelism program that was under way all those months ago before the pandemic. What might “invite, welcome, connect” look like as we engage“friending” and “following”?  And what will happen when we see cyberspace as yet a another place to which we are called to proclaim new life?

 

2. The new Episcopal Church will be more nimble. The laboratories for new ways of being church in the post pandemic world will primarily be our parishes. There has been amazingly creative work done by Delaware parishes during the shut-down of public gatherings, both in providing alternative worship and continued social and pastoral care. There are many online servicesonline meetings and new food cupboards. More will come.

 

Because we are an episcopal church, with bishops who connect us to the apostolic traditions, those laboratories (the parishes) will need to work with supervision so that we keep the core of our faith on a steady footing. At the same time those laboratory experiments will be vital to our becoming newThe trick is to be nimble without breaking the china. We will need to nurture nimbleness in our clergy and lay leaders, and in our bishops in particular.

 

3. The new Episcopal Church will be a church of small groups. The whole parish may less often gather as a wholefor worship, ministry, study, or even for annual meetings. Sporadic need for social distancing and aversion to large groups will make large gatherings less attractive or even possible.The Episcopal Church must promote small groups as a more intimate and more focused way to connect

 

They are also most like the communities that first gathered who devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”.  (Acts2:42) Eucharist in small group settings will present many theological and pastoral challenges, but such eucharistic gatherings will be essential, for these small contained communities are the core of our own “virus” whose spread continues the Christian witness in the world.

 

4. The new Episcopal Church will have less baggage, it will be leaner. Financially the post pandemic world will be very difficult for smaller and even some larger churches. Some buildings and a programs will close and endBut just as we now know that closing a building does not mean the church is closed, maybe we can also know that selling a building does not necessarily mean the end of community life. How then do we keep community alive even as church structures close?

 

Smaller churches already know a lot about how to be a faith community without large services, multi-person staff, full music programs, and the like.  Clergy and lay leaders in these churches in Delaware have found ways to bring the gifts of The Episcopal Church to their communities.  Their experience can help us be present in ways that don’t require edifices, large staffs, and extensive programming.

 

We will have to raise up a new clergy, who will help small communities be the place of incarnation of Word and Sacrament, and who will understand ministry to be the work of all the people, and themselves as servants of that work. To a much greater extent than now the ordainedministers of the Gospel will be itinerant and have other means of livelihood. 

 

If the church becomes leaner it will be possible for the closing of church buildings to be separate from and unrelated to the health of a local eucharistic community.  Instead of our “roster”of churches becoming smaller as church buildings are closed and sold, we will count our presence as Eucharistic communities, many of which will consist of small “cell” communities joined as possible by occasional larger gatherings. That roster might grow! The bishop and clergy will be essential “glue” that keeps these communities together as part of the greater body of Christ.

 

5. The new Episcopal Church will foster the beloved community, now more than ever. The notion of the beloved community, the church seen the gathering of people and groups set on showing the love of God in Jesus Christis a vision whose time has come 

 

Small a groups of all sorts already exist in our churches -bible study group, ECWsinging groups (a choir), contemplative prayer groupspastoral care committees, etc. If they are also nurtured as beloved communities, in which there is “the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers they each are a manifestation of church. Together with small gatherings of people in the cities and towns concerned with basic human rights and needs the church small groups will make alliances for the social good and thus the beloved community will always be larger than the church itself, broader in reach than The Episcopal Church, and more resilient than any of the groups by themselves might be.

 

We will know Church is not a product of the powers of this world alone, where size, wealth, territory and possessions matter mostThe Church is the manifestation of the beloved community, for which there are no limits, save Love. And that is our future.

 

 

9/06/2020

Ministry in Higher Education in Pandemic times

 Every year come Labor Day I hear the school bells ringing and like the fabled horse in the fire station, I get all excited. I suppose ten years in campus ministry and five as Coordinator of Ministry in Higher Education at the Church Center is there to haunt or taunt me forever. 

 

Those years were an exercise in being Church without church. In those years, about a third of my ministry, I had no established altar, no sanctuary, no parish family. More importantly my work was with people who were not a congregation.  Ministry in higher education requires attention to institutions and people who are organized around agendas that are decidedly not like those of the institution we call church. 

 

Ministry in higher education is distinctly missionary, in that it involves being stranger in a strange land. Even church related colleges and universities know this missionary tension, for the language of intellectual and faith discourse are as different as the languages of different nations.  I loved being present as a translator, a practitioner of the art of being present with and for people of another nation.  And I believe campus ministry is to the whole of the institution, not only to students. So over the years I practiced and encouraged engagement with all sorts of groups on campus as they tried to do justice and practice loving kindness and walking humbly in their faith. I loved it.

 

This year when I hear the school bells ring, I think of those doing ministry in higher education and wonder what that work will look like now.

 

All across the United States colleges and universities are beginning a new academic year. Of course this year, in the midst of an out of control pandemic, renewed confrontation with systemic racism, sexism, privilege, and with the crisis in government,  it’s hard to know what that will entail, except to say that most of the trappings of higher education that make up campus life will be missing. 

 

With many classes being held on-line, with social distancing, health monitoring, strange mixes of virtual and in-person classes, staggered realtime presence on campus, and no large gatherings, the campus experience will be radically reconfigured, as will any semblance to “brand loyalty” among students. With renewed critique of institutional blindness to racial prejudice, privileged access, patriarchy, and even internal economic and social justice, colleges and universities are under attack even as the need for intellectually competent people is greater than ever.

 

In past years campus ministers came to their work in very incarnational ways – by being present with the people affiliated with institutions of higher education.  As students were checking in to campus, the chaplain could be seen checking in with returning students, with teachers, administrators and staff, inviting them to join in the campus ministry activities – religious services, study groups, activities in service to others. Some also would be checking in with administrators about policy issues, or with employees about economic concerns. All of this grew easily from being a person-about-campus. In my years on campus the daily “walk about” was a central part of my work life.

 

But how will that be done when the campus is virtual as much as visceral?  

 

I don’t know the answer to that one, and given that I am no longer a practicing campus minister I suppose I have very little to say that is helpful concerning practice.

 

But I am very concerned for the future of ministry in higher education.  The same forces that make the pandemic and social dis-ease so deadly to common life make it easier to practice a kind of economic triage, dropping ministries that seem external to the primarily task of keeping parishes alive.  When dioceses have to cut budgets because parishes are not thriving it becomes easy to discontinue missionary activities like campus ministry.  And that is all the more the case when pandemic hits and criticism of privileged institutions rises.  

 

So now is the time to signal the importance of ministry in higher education, aka campus ministry. Here are some beginning thoughts:

 

(i)              Campus ministry concerns community, and universities and colleges in a time of pandemic are suffering a disconnect between campus community and classroom experience. Hopefully campus ministries can assist in reforming what it means to be community.

(ii)            Campus ministry can, and often does, encourage the search for meaning, justice, and loving kindness. When teachers, administrators and staff are faced with massive changes in how they make education work, chaplains can contribute prophetic and pastoral concern for the life of the institution and the lives of all within it.

(iii)           Campus ministry is already a practice of “virtual” church, in which networking replaces settled congregational life.  In a time when internet networking has replaced face-to-face connections some of the networking skills of the campus minister can be useful not only to new campus life, but also to new parish life. Having a vocation that is not bound to physical space can be helpful when physical space is not available or practical. 

(iv)           Campus ministry concerns finding values in a world where knowledge is power, and in which what the powerful know prevails.  Privilege, white male  power, racism, and social injustice are being confronted by people in higher education institutions all the time. Those in campus ministry know it is not enough to be intellectually brilliant, it is important to bend that intelligence towards the common good, towards justice, towards the celebration of beauty and a life of self-giving.  Campus ministry can be an ally to those addressing social injustice in all its forms.

(v)            Campus ministry in a time when there is no campus but rather a virtual campus is about finding a body where there is no body. It is very much a practice of resurrection, as if the old has died and the new has come. Campus ministry of all sorts, not just Christian, are filled with experiences of the rebirth of wonder. Most congregations lose and gain members over time and over an extended period the whole congregation will be new, but the congregation as institution continues.  There is wonder in that, that there is a continuing witness to faith, even as there is turnover of membership. In campus ministry we are fortunate if even half our network lasts more than a year. Campus ministry is practiced at the art of death and resurrection. Something of the arts and skills of continuing presence, even as the old dies away, may be of great value to the institutions of Church and Higher Education as they face into the end of campus and sanctuary and the emergence of more tenuous, but perhaps more supple network based communities.

 

Well, at least there are some thoughts.  But this I am quite sure of: We need to support campus ministry in this time because Universities and Colleges are undergoing a transformation to a more network based community, and campus ministers can be allies and contributors to a network that encourages value as well as knowledge, justice as well as power, love for others as well as love of self.  Not to be there is a huge missionary mistake, for the Gospel has its greatest presence where death gives way to new creation.

 

8/08/2020

Make the Destination Clear: “The Episcopal Branch.of the Jesus Movement”, what does it mean?

   Make the Destination Clear: “The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement” – what does that mean?

 

The promo on the Episcopal Church web page for the Beloved Community” begins, “As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we dream and work to foster Beloved Communities..”  

 

I’ve written about the notion of the Jesus Movement here” http://anglicanfuture.blogspot.com/2017/06/why-jesus-movement-movement-does-not.html

 

My concerns about the phrase “Jesus Movement” was that it has been used in very sloppy ways by a variety of people and groups that would have found The Episcopal Church to have been decidedly NOT part of its work. Any movement must be defined not just by what it moves away from (say stagnation and cooption) but by what it moves towards. That something towards which it moves is not spelled out, except by reference to fostering Beloved Communities. 

 

Beloved Communities are communities loved by someone, in this case one assumes by God. And the assumption is that by being communities of love ourselves we are reflecting God’s love and are in turn loved by God.  Beloved is a community activity, engaging both God’s actions and ours. 

 

This stuff of doing what the Lord requires - It’s a fine notion, one that I readily affirm. Micah got it, Jesus got it, the Apostles and Prophets got it, and even I’ve got it.  If that is what the Jesus Movement is – a movement fostering beloved communities – great.

 

But about the Episcopal Church being a “branch” of the Jesus Movement, I am unclear and unmoved.

 

The phrase “The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement” is an amazing conflation of two very different images of life in Christ – one quite institutional and the other quite individual.

 

Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  It is a stretch to say “branches” had anything to do with churches.  And yet there are amazing numbers of charts that show the church branches that have grown out from the tree of life (i.e. Jesus).  

 

As a teenager in New Orleans, a strongly Catholic town at the time, my priest showed me this chart with Anglican churches clearly labeled as being in continuity with the main trunk of faithful people. With some pride he talked about how we Anglicans were the third largest branch of the Church. So in spite of what those Roman Catholics would say, we are a branch of the true church.  And, just as icing on the cake, he then would reference the “I am the vine, you are the branches” statement, as if that settled the matter.  But of course it didn’t. 


It was a useful image for me as a teenager, in love (as much as I could expresse it) at that time with Roman Catholic young woman. It gave me talking points in conversations about our religious beliefs.  IT kind of gave me a pedigree.

 

The reference, “The Episcopal branch” is a hint back to the assurance that what we are about is both part of the core activity of being followers of Jesus, and being part of the “true” church.  May it be so.

 

But the problem is that the Jesus Movement, which is not apparently an edifice or tree or vine or any other definable organized entity, is that it is not something that has branches.  It is not an organization (like say a bank) that has branch offices. It is not a tree or vine organized as a living organism that has tendrils or new growth extensions.

 

I believe the Jesus Movement is an aspirational and spiritual declaration, and as a result, it is part of the personal side of the baptismal covenant.  The individual (I) joins this movement towards belonging to and engaging with the beloved community. But the beloved community is itself “not of this world.”  It is not an organized entity of any sort. Rather beloved community is found as we gather in a whole variety of ways to live out what Moses, Micah, other prophets, and  Jesus (and a whole host of others) point us towards. 

 

The notion that The Episcopal Church is a “branch” of some ongoing historical organization called “the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” is an institutional claim.  But what is it to say we are a branch of the Jesus Movement? I think it means almost nothing.

 

Fostering beloved communities is not the same as establishing new communities that will somehow BE beloved communities. We can foster beloved communities in every parish in the church, but the funds for such efforts tend to go to “new” work, not to support of already existing parishes so that they become agents of new community. The new work being funded looks increasingly parallel to, but not included in, the ongoing effort to foster beloved community IN parishes.  Giles Fraser in an article posted this week https://unherd.com/2020/08/the-neoliberal-revolution-within-the-church/

points to a similar dynamic in the Church of England.

 

Episcopalians can be, and I hope are, part of the Jesus Movement. I hope I am. I hope we take our baptismal vows seriously. And I believe I am not the vine, but a really small tendril from that vine, one of the followers of Jesus.

 

But the Episcopal Church is not such a branch. People are.

 

So when there is this rush to do “new work” we in the church may be told that this is all about being the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, but don’t believe it.  It may indeed be about doing or supporting very important and good work “fostering beloved community.” Those ongoing communities of faithful people gathered in congregations across the land will be mostly left out of the conversation.

 

Existing parishes will mostly be left to their own devices, the bigger and better off will make it. The smaller and less financially capable will mostly die off.  And new work will be mostly unrelated to the institutional Church at all.  The branch of the tree may whither even as new shoots are planted. 

 

All of this may be part of moving on, and if so let it be. But don’t mutter about the Episcopal part of the Jesus Movement. I am not at all sure that there will be any need for bishops in the Jesus Movement at all, much less The Episcopal Church. 

 

Time to clean up the language, or else, to use Fr. Fraser’s insight)  face into the new-liberal deconstruction of the church as we now know it.

 

I believe we need to make the destination clear.  If the call to be the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement is a post-denominational claim or an extra-institutional claim, then be clear that what we are asked to join and support is not new work of The Episcopal Church but rather the work of Jesus people moving on towards the realization of the beloved community. This is the new wine, new wine skin crowd. . If we are The Episcopal Church AS an organization fostering Beloved Community in our own corporate life, perhaps we might better start by helping existing communities to be more like the communities we are called to be. This is the crowd that seeks to be born again, even when old. 

 

Me, I’d like to see the church that perpetually seeks a rebirth of wonder. (To cop a phrase from Lawrence Ferlinghetti).  But if it must be, get a new wine skin for new wine.

 

Either way: Make the path clear.