Friday, May 15, 2015

An Ascension Day Call to the Church

I spent most of yesterday on two items. First, I had the honor and privilege of preaching and presiding at two Eucharists celebrating the Feast of the Ascension. These services brought together people from a number of Episcopal and Lutheran congregations to mark an important event in the life of Jesus and the Church. Second, I am part of a group Episcopalians who published a Memorial to the church ("Memorial" being a fancy, official church word for an open letter) and nine accompanying resolutions in preparation for General Convention this summer at  The Memorial calls for the Episcopal Church to recommit itself to the spiritual disciplines at the core of our common life, to go into our neighborhoods boldly with church planters and church revitalizers, and to restructure our church for the mission God is laying before us today. Those of us involved sincerely hope for the renewal of our beloved church. 

There go Jesus' feet.
Ascension Day is an appropriate day to post this call to the church to refocus on evangelism and discipleship, to let go of structures that no longer serve it, and to be about the basic Christian disciplines of prayer and fasting and spreading the Good News wherever we go. The readings for Ascension Day talk about two temptations the disciples faced. The first was wanting to know when Jesus was restoring the kingdom to Israel. Today we also want to have some assurance of the Church looking like it did the good old days, whether those good old days were the 1950s, the 1850s, the 1550s, the the 050's, or even the 950s BC when King Solomon had everything in hand.  We'll be happy to have the old pews dusted on schedule if Jesus tells us when he will refill them.  The second temptation is to stand around looking at the sky where Jesus feet used to be, hoping and praying that he comes down quickly because we don't have a clue what else to do.

Of course, Jesus told the disciples not to worry about when the kingdom was being restored, and the angels told the disciples to go get to work. Jesus had already instructed them: you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  We as a church, and especially as the Episcopal Church, haven't always heeded these instructions of Jesus as well as we might.  Our Memorial is a call to recommit ourselves and our church to being Jesus' witnesses in our work at the upcoming General Convention and, more importantly, throughout the life of our Church.

I hope you will go to the website and read the Memorial. I hope you will join us and others throughout the church as we pray and fast for the restructuring and the health of the Episcopal Church and for the growth and spread of the Kingdom of God more generally. I hope that you will take up the gospel call to witness to Jesus' life, death and resurrection in whatever neighborhoods you walk into. We honestly believe that the church is at a crucial junction in its history that offers us a great opportunity to follow the Holy Spirit into new places that will bring new people into the church. I also hope that you will consider signing on to this memorial and adding your name to those re-imagining the church.

If you are interested in things like Church legislation in General Convention, please read our resolutionsSusan Brown SnookScott GunnTom FergusonFrank LogueBrendan O’Sullivan-Hale, Steve Pankey and I offer these as a gift to the church. We believe that these resolutions help structure our church in ways that will make it easier to live into the vision of the Memorial. Particularly important is a resolution that calls on the Episcopal Church to provide significant funding to develop a capacity to plant churches. Without planting new congregation we cannot continue to grow as a church or to do the work that Jesus has commissioned us to do it.

As we offer these resolutions, we also know that many people will disagree about various specific details we propose. We believe the conversations on these topics are important at this time, and hope between now and the end of General Convention others will add their wisdom and insight so that our church can go forward in the direction God is calling us.  In the coming days and weeks, we will be blogging about the specifics of our resolutions, and we invite others to do the same
I also want to thank those who gathered in Columbus and worked so hard to draft this Memorial and these resolutions. We had great debates along with times of prayer and fellowship and endless hours in front of computer screens writing and editing and wordsmithing. We were also blessed to be able to consult with a number of others in person and by phone who may not agree with everything we've come up with but who were willing to give us their time and honest feedback out of their love for our church. Their help made our work much better.

Jesus may have ascended, but he gave us some work to do.  Let's all do it.

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