Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Reason for the Season (of Advent)

             During this season of Advent, my spiritual reading will be devoted to the work of The Rev. Fleming Rutledge who recently published a book entitled: Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. The publication is a compilation of Rutledge’s Advent sermons, writings, and teachings. For those who are unfamiliar with Rutledge, she is considered not only one of the best Episcopal preachers but also one of the best preachers in the United States.
            In her book Advent, it is clear that Rutledge is interested in recapturing the original meaning of the Advent season. Rutledge says, “For many years, I thought that, during Advent, one was supposed to pretend that Jesus hadn’t been born, so that we would be more excited when Christmas came…In Advent, we don’t pretend…we take a good hard look at the darkness we are in now…so that we will understand with utmost clarity that our great and only hope is in Jesus’s final victorious coming.”
            If you look at the lectionary readings for the season, you will notice that the first Sunday’s focus is on the second coming of Christ – not Christmas. In addition, the second and third Sundays focus on John the Baptist’s witness to the Jesus Christ who is already born and about to begin his public ministry. Only on the fourth Sunday of Advent do we get a prelude to Christmas when we hear about Mary, Joseph, and/or Elizabeth. 
In addition, there are only 2 hymns in the hymnal that portray Advent as the season when we wait for the birth of Jesus – the rest look toward Jesus’s final victorious coming. Another clue that helps us understand the original intent of Advent is discerned when we look at what the word Advent actually means. The word Advent is taken from the Latin word Adventus which can be translated into “Second Coming.” 
As the consumerism of Christmas has grown over the years, it is nearly impossible to observe the original intent of Advent. In secular culture, the season leading up to Christmas has grown into a three-month event beginning in October when decorations are put up at department stores! Between parties and pageants and plays and shopping lists, who has time to keep awake and watch for the Second Coming of Christ? During this season of darkness, we are flooded with lights and sounds that distract us from the true light – Jesus Christ.
Rutledge names the tension of this time for Christians saying, “Christianity is under attack from every quarter – not least from within its own ranks as we become more and more indistinguishable from everybody else – but the commanding voices of the prophets and apostles are still capable of lifting us out of the culture wars onto a plane that not even the most cynical Jesus-basher can successfully besiege.”  In other words, Advent is a season when Christians have the opportunity to remember how we have been set apart to point to the kingdom that is come.
John the Baptist calls us to repent. Quite simply, we are called to turn away from the promises of our earthly kingdoms and toward the promises of Christ whose kingdom is (being) established on earth as it is in heaven. Or as Rutledge says, “John the Baptist’s lonely, austere style of life bears witness to a reality that is coming, a reality that will expose all worldly realities, all earthly conditions, all human promises as fraudulent and transitory.” And by revealing our earthly kingdoms as counterfeit, Christ gives us the grace to turn toward the kingdom that has no end.    
During this season of Advent, may you grow more alive to the truth that the only One who can save you (and us) from the darkness is the One who is not of the world but the One who is coming into the world.

Advent Devotional Companion to use with an Advent Wreath.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Bishop's Election: What's our next move?

Feast Day for the Consecration of Samuel Seabury
First American Bishop
November 14th

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that “when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” During the colonial era of the church in the new world, there were no Anglican bishops. If the church needed more priests, they would ship candidates to England to ordain them. 
Once the war was over, it became clear that the Anglican Church in the new world needed to have its own bishops. Under the cover of darkness, a secret meeting of Connecticut clergy met in Woodbury on March 25, 1783 and chose Samuel Seabury to go to England to seek consecration as bishop. Thankfully, the church follows a different process of selecting bishops these days.
Predictably, Seabury had a difficult time convincing bishops in England to consecrate him bishop. In order to be consecrated bishop by an English bishop, one must swear allegiance to the crown. Obviously, Seabury would not do that because of the whole American Revolutionary war thing. 
After a year of failed attempts of trying to persuade English bishops, Seabury traveled to Scotland where the official church was Presbyterian. The Scottish Episcopal Church had broken ties with the monarch a century before. Therefore, there were non-juring (swearing) Anglican bishops who were willing to consecrate Seabury. The apostolic chain of succession connecting bishops all the way back to Peter would continue in the United States.
In Aberdeen, on November 14, 1784, Samuel Seabury was consecrated bishop. A part of the deal was for Seabury to convince the newly forming church in the United States to use the Scottish prayer of consecration (inherited from the Eastern Orthodox liturgy). In addition, the nine small crosses on the Episcopal Shield form a cross which represents St. Andrew – the patron of Scotland. Seabury was then chosen Bishop of Connecticut.
In his book, Welcome to the Episcopal Church, Christopher Webber says, “Americans had had a church without bishops for almost two centuries. Now that they had bishops, they would have to work out what they were for.” Were they Pastors? Administrators? Spiritual Directors? Liturgical Ornaments? Maybe a little bit of everything? These questions continue to be worked out in the life of the church to this day.
In a few weeks, the Bishop’s Search Committee will present a slate of candidates to the Standing Committee who will announce the slate to the diocese. Members of the committee are striving to present a slate of candidates that represents the diversity of the church. One member of the committee told me, “We want to give the diocese real choices.”
I hear the committee saying that they want to give the Diocese of Alabama the opportunity to choose a bishop who will best serve the diocese during this particular season of our life together. As Bishop Sloan suggested in his retirement announcement, God tends to call bishops to serve for a particular season in the life of the church. Bishop Sloan recognizes the rapidly changing culture and feels that a new bishop would be better suited to shepherd the church into the new era. 
While this is certainly a time to celebrate all the gifts that Bishop Sloan has offered the Episcopal Church in Alabama for this particular season, this is also a time to discern what gifts a new bishop might bring to the table for the next season. I am thankful for the Standing Committee and search committee for facilitating this process of discernment. As the diocese continues to discern what gifts a new bishop might need to bring to the table, I hope we are able to discern with the Holy Spirit what candidate is uniquely suited to respond to the opportunities and challenges that face the church today. 
What kind of leadership skills will be required to move us in the direction that the Holy Spirit is calling us toward? Do we need a pastor? An administrator? A visionary? A preacher? A liturgical ornament? Which gifts are most needed for the church in this particular season? What kind of shepherd do we need for this new season in our life together? In the end, it is my hope and prayer that we see how God is using this process to help the diocese become one flock under one shepherd – Jesus Christ our Lord.

1. Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts by Sam Portaro 
2. Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints