Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Episcopal Church and the 'Anglican Covenant'

TEC and a Covenant
As we of TEC press on in post-Lambeth Conference processes that will give much attention to the proposal of our formal adoption of an Anglican Covenant, it may be wise for us to remember our history more accurately than romantically. Specifically, let us remember that the Church of England (not "the Anglican Church;" there is not such thing) was an accompaniment to the colonizing efforts of England around the world of the 17th and 18th centuries. There was no original intent to create a Communion of autonomous and autocephalous Churches. As a phenomenon the Anglican Communion is an accident of history; it is an adaptation of the former colonies of England.

When the United States won its independence from England, there was no Anglican Communion in existence. The Church in the United States decidedly did not seek to sustain communion with the See of Canterbury. Instead, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America sought only to maintain apostolic succession. Most of us know that England was unwilling to cooperate, and so our Church's first bishop was consecrated not by the Church of England, but by the Episcopal Church in Scotland. Afterward, in reaction to our initiative, it was the Church of England who sought a cooperative relationship with the ECUSA, not vice-versa. Inasmuch as England had hopes of reclaiming her former North American colonies (war of 1812), preserving a British connection to them in the Church no doubt seemed prudent. The point being that the history of the inception of our Church fails to demonstrate any deep and abiding affection between ECUSA (now TEC) and the Church of England. It seems again rather an accident of subsequent history, especially through WW2, that our two Churches have been perceived, and perhaps have perceived themselves, as somehow especially allied.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day B - 25 December 2008

The Feast of the Nativity B - Christmas Day - 25 December 2008
Isaiah 62:6-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20
James V. Stockton

“The claim that Christianity makes for Christmas,” says author Frederick Buechner, “is that at a particular time and place, God came to be with us Himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born, who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless.” It is this singular birth, I think, the birth of God made not just human, God made not just man, but God made baby, that continues for most of us to reach through and touch us where we most fondly and preciously live. And it is here that we most innately understand not just the ‘what happened’ of Christmas, but the ‘why.’

I once received in the mail a complimentary copy of the December Reader’s Digest. It included a collection of short stories of Christmases Past, from a variety of folks, widely and not-so-widely known. Of the thirteen stories in the collection, most tell of the authors’ own childhood experiences of Christmas, of formative episodes in their early lives, episodes of remarkable kindness and charity, of optimism and good cheer. Almost as many of the stories tell of the Christmas time experiences of a child whom the author knows, usually the author’s own. Perhaps what we can observe from this, and from our own favorite memories of Christmases gone by, is that whatever magic there is about Christmas, it is that the story of the Christ child, renews the child within each of us.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve B - 24 December 2008

The Feast of the Nativity B - Christmas Eve - 24 December 2008
Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
James V. Stockton
People have waited, watched for it, and, knowing in their minds that it would, yet aching for it in their hearts, they have wondered if it would ever come. Christmas is here at last, and people of faith in God are gathering tonight, as we are, to celebrate its arrival. Along with us, I pray here with us, people of hope, that sister of faith, are turning also to this night. They all are turning to this story of that baby born in Bethlehem; to that story laid down in history that yet refuses to be defined as such.

“One must have the heart of a child and the soul of a poet if [one] would read the story of Jesus…” So declared the Rev. John Fort Newton, whose ministry in the early decades of the 20th century took him from his native Texas to St. Louis, Missouri, Dixon, Illinois, London, England, then Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and from a ministry as Southern Baptist pastor to ministry as an Episcopal priest. Newton’s comments go on to describe Jesus’ story: “[It is] the Biography of Pity, the Memoirs of Love, the Sovereign Beauty of this world.” “It is,” writes Newton, “the poet who knows,…telling in rhythmic numbers, in tales and golden histories, of the birth of God in [humankind] assuring [humanity] of [our] destiny in God.” You and I hear it tonight, in the plain language of the gospel, as we have now just heard it read. And isn’t it true that even in its simplicity, the narrative very nearly sings? Some will lament, even tonight, that the story we recall has, over time, become almost lost in sentimental prose and lilting poetry, and the scenes depicted there romanticized in painting and picture that carefully cast soft light and place halos on the heads of a beatific family resting in a happy stable.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

4 Advent B - 21 December 2008

4 Advent B - 21 December 2008
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
James V. Stockton
Christmas Day is almost here. After three more days, people will be right here or somewhere else similar celebrating the birth of Jesus in song and worship and prayer. Shortly thereafter, they will awake to that morning that has that special hush, perhaps to that nostalgic sweetness of childhood memories, perhaps to that bittersweet recollection of loved ones now no longer here to celebrate Christmas with them, but whose memories and love still ring true on that most special day. In most every case, Christmas Day will be just that: it will be special and precious and touched with the Love of God for all.

But before people arrive at this annual taste of the intoxicating Love of God, whose intoxication, by the way, they could not experience apart from the Love of God come near enough for them to hold - before Christmas Day arrives, the Church’s season of Advent invites people to pause one moment more, long enough to consider the preparations long ago that led to what would be the first day ever to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

2 Advent B - 7 December 2008

2 Advent B - 7 December 2008
Isaiah 40:1-11; 2Peter 3:8-15a, 18; Mark 1:1-8
James V. Stockton

The hard times are over. I know it’s difficult to believe. The daily news cycle reminds us that the jobless rate in our nation is the highest it’s been in over thirty years. The stock markets nationally and globally continue to cost millions of people millions of dollars. Major industries, major state governments, scores of large city governments, and hundred of banks and financial institutions are forming a line to the Capital Building in Washington D.C. to plead for government bail out money.

Some people will suggest that we all relax because the economy is correcting itself in ways that have been foreseeable and are unavoidable due to the effects or the failures of certain government policies. Others will suggest that this is exactly the time to bring the panic and some accountability to those who indulged regulations and loopholes for quick profit and gain with little regard for the longer-range consequences to the people of this nation and this world as a whole. Some will say that both are true. Few, though, if any, are saying that the time of hardship is coming to a close. I would like the Church to take the lead in declaring that the Good News that the hard times are ending, that amazing and wonderful things lie ahead for us all.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rector's Study December 2008

From the Rector's Study ~

Though custom in times past has restrained the ‘Alleluia!’ at the season of Advent, nevertheless, Advent is properly bathed in the Alleluia every bit as much as the season of Easter. As a priest of the Church I follow her liturgical guidelines and include it in our worship during Advent. And more personally, I appreciate the use of this expression of the joy of God’s people and of our praise and thankfulness toward God during this time of eager anticipation. It is Christ who comes, and so great a blessing is this that all our other reasons for ever feeling joy and gratitude are enveloped in this most glorious one.

The saints of the Church, and indeed of every theistic religion, hold that within every sentient woman, man, or child there exists innately an intuition of the existence of God. Augustine described it as a ‘God-shaped whole in the soul’ that only God could satisfy. The sense of this sense of something, someone, some consciousness and will, who holds dominion over all that is, naturally gives rise to a mix of awe and dread when one goes to considering that this very One is about to arrive here fully present. No buffers, no filters, no mediator, God’s own self is coming in person. You and I can understand how it is that people in ancient times, and people in our own time too, might feel less than compelled to shout the ‘Alleluia’ and more likely want to yell, “Look out!” then run and hide.