Way of Wisdom

To fulfill the Law and the Prophets

A sermon for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 5, 2017

St. James Episcopal Church, Lincoln, California

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

sermon-on-the-mountLast week I said that Jesus’ entire life and teaching was commentary on the Old Testament. It was not just in our own day that people thought that Jesus was teaching something different from the scriptures of Israel. Some people liked Jesus for bringing what they thought of as novelty and new fashions, while other people hated him for upsetting the ways in which their understanding of the rules supported their habitual ways of life—and even made it easy for them to lord it over others and prosper at their expense.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is not an innovative set of rules to put a new group into power. Jesus calls us to account for how we live in the world in which we find ourselves.

“You are the salt of the earth.”  I have always had difficulty in understanding what this means. I won’t say that I’ve figured it out and it’s now crystal clear, but here is something I’ve discovered. Both times that Jesus says this in the Gospels it is followed by the phrase which our translation renders, “but if salt has lost its taste.”  The translators do their best, but they’re struggling with an idiom that doesn’t fit in our language.  But the word that’s translated, “lost its taste” actually means “becomes foolish.”

So what would it mean if Jesus stood up and said, “You are salt, but if the salt has become foolish, it’s no longer good for anything?” It’s a jarring figure of speech, you have to pay attention to it and try to figure it out.  One commentator on this observed that “salt is to food, as wisdom is to life.” A foolish chef, who didn’t season, would have tasteless food. While it is difficult to avoid salt nowadays, a diet with no salt leads to severe problems with muscle contraction, water balance in the body and neurological problems. Without salt, you die. Likewise, without wisdom, the life of people or a society becomes selfish, inconsiderate, unstable—even when the rules and structures are fundamentally sound. Approaching rules without wisdom yields a society with defective human bonds and imbalance that causes it to fall apart.

Jesus says, “if the salt has become foolish, how can its wisdom be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”  What Jesus is doing is not dismantling rules or traditions, he is bringing the blessing of the life of God to this world.

Living that life is not automatic. Someone mentioned the other day that one of the blessings of this parish is the wisdom of many people, who have gained that wisdom by living many years. She was right. As time goes by and we get experience, it becomes clearer what things will work and how they will work; what the consequences of anyone’s actions or non-actions might be—sometimes in subtle ways that aren’t so easily explained.  Of course, some people become skilled in stealing people’s money or abusing others—there’s a certain kind of wisdom in old criminals. That’s not the only sort of foolish wisdom that some pursue. But if we spend a life, seeking to be compassionate, or honest, merciful or courageous as we learn in following Jesus, then our wisdom will grow. We see the fruits of decisions and learn better how to shape what we do for best results. When Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” he is honoring the wisdom that is in each of us.

At the same time, we need to be humble about our wisdom: it’s just a little seasoning. No one is wise enough to control the whole planet. No one’s power does more than influence the flavor of life a bit. But if we abandon the way of God’s compassion, and our salt becomes foolish, all of our purported wisdom is nothing—just trodden underfoot.

“You are the light of the world,” is a parallel illustration. Jesus is encouraging us—that is, urging us to courage. Our life in his love is nothing to be ashamed of or hidden, our wisdom is to be shared. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” It’s not that we gain heaven by our good works—what Jesus is saying is that the fruits of our wisdom glorify God.  Scripture is the repository of wisdom over countless generations. And when our traditions and practices are faithful to the love of God in Christ they convey the distilled wisdom of the saints of the church throughout the ages. Yet the “law and the prophets” and the “teaching of the church” are not legal formulas to bludgeon your opponents and reward your cronies—they are wisdom to be seasoned by the salt of yourselves—not the foolish salt, but the flavorful salt of your knowledge of God’s compassion.

As St. Paul says in our epistle today:

“We do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak of God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heard conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

The teaching of Jesus which we are exploring in the Sermon on the Mount fulfills the law and the prophets, revealing the Spirit by guiding us to understand God’s will in the wisdom, mercy and compassion of God.

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Ivory Towers –Harry Nicholson on Liberal Education

I saw a Facebook post by Harry Nicholson which seemed so insightful about education, theology and the

Harry Nicholson

Harry Nicholson

church that I wanted more people to see it.  To me it has much in common with the concerns of the General Theological Seminary faculty, when we published our Declaration on The Way of Wisdom in February of 2014. In any case, we share a common Christian faith and an appreciation of the importance of depth and breadth in education, especially theological education.

With Harry’s permission, I am re-posting.

 

 

Ivory Towers

No doubt ivory towers, whether they are pillars of David or monoliths of Mammon, are constructs of the entitled. Nonetheless the popular idea that business is better suited to rule a university, seminary or parish is worse. A mature common sense, sometimes capriciously called wisdom, leads to the appreciation of best as less than ideal; Socrates tells us that Democracy is the second worst form of government (since it so resembles Tyranny in the majority’s reign over the minority) but is nonetheless the only option. Can scholarship in community produce the best priests? Only in a romantic fit of Anglophiliac longing for the good old days can we possibly believe that a residential seminary is bound to guarantee delivery of fit priests and even that lunacy would require, of course, a deliberate abjuration of English literature which plays, rather delightfully, on tropes of inept vicars and pompous bishops.

Those of us who have been subjected to or who embraced a liberal education, that is, an education whose primary goal is the production of women and men who are more skilled at asking questions than answering them, will understand that one goal of any community of learning that actually embraces question, dialogue, dialectic, and most curiously and absurdly, and necessary in the case of seminaries, prayer, is the trying of students in that fire of thinking. The idea is not to produce scholars. The idea is to produce citizens of the state or clerics of the kingdom.

I speak with the bias of one who actually did suffer a liberal education. My college was distinctly liberal which to outsiders often looked extreme, even fanatical. There were no majors. All students took what basically amounted to one class which took four years to complete and comprised among others inculcation in philosophy, music, math, and Greek. Every student was required to learn music theory in order to be able to have a reasonable discussion of the Bach Matthew Passion. Although my college had no religious affiliation and was adamantly non-Christian, we all read the Bible, Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Kierkegaard, Spinoza (just to mention a few of the “religious” authors). It did not make us all into scholars, certainly not me. But I don’t know anyone from my college who doesn’t have a worldview built from a lifetime of careful questioning. Our minds, and our souls, were forged in that liberal education. My experience of the priests from General is that their priesthoods were forged in a similar way by their education at the seminary. This became abundantly clear to me the first time my husband, Wayne, and I were discussing Matthew one night after Evening Prayer, and he offered an explanation for something I asked and I asked, “Yes, Wayne, but what does the text say?” and he responded, “Oh Lord, I’ve married my New Testament professor!” (My question was not pedagogical.)

I have had three parish priests formed at General. They were all completely different. One was a fiery activist. One is a renowned scholar. And my current rector (if you can count your husband as your parish priest, which you really can’t), is almost an eidetic pastor who is only peripherally scholarly. All three have had profound parts in the development of my Christian core. I think all three experienced General in completely different ways. I’ll speak about my husband only briefly, and in doing so, I am somewhat telling a tale out of school.

One of the things that, I think, made him a very good priest indeed was a personal crisis he had when trying to survive coursework, especially in Systematic Theology. Surrounded by younger students whom he stills considers to be far smarter, and feeling woefully incompetent, he sought both spiritual and psychological guidance, and both were necessary to the formation of his priesthood. He also learned a great deal, but to get there, he had to wrestle with an angel. While it may seem that Jacob is most alone when wrestling, Jacob’s struggle is both supported by communal history and about community in the future. And that certainly was the case with my husband. Two things come to mind: (1) the curriculum was challenging, and (2) he couldn’t escape the learning community, that is, the constant presence of the students who challenged him was confounded by the necessity of living with them, of some of them becoming bosom friends. He is a good priest today, a very good one, beloved by his congregation and at the same time actually effective by “business” standards. In the decade he’s pastored the only Episcopal church in our county, it has steadily grown, if at a glacial pace. Meanwhile, application of business standards has wreaked havoc and the probable end of General. You simply cannot serve God and Mammon. Five-year plans are not appropriate in the church or in liberal academia by which, of course, I mean the most conservative, and best, kind of intellectual and spiritual institutional schooling.

We can construct as many ideas for an “ideal” seminary as there are stars in the sky. We can base them on ideas of sound business principles, modern real-world training, huzza huzza missional fervor, or ease of access (among many possibilities), but to my mind two things are absolutely necessary: scholarship and spiritual practice, both of which depend on the good faith of a community in which trust (which is how I translate the Greek “pistis”–usually translated as “faith”) is paramount.

Ultimately, the ivory towers do turn out to be the places where truly liberal aspirations bear fruit. The struggle to embrace diversity is born in them, for instance, precisely because they provide the luxury of thought and debate.

Robert Cromey, from General, taught me how to fight for my rights as a human being. Bruce Chilton, from General, taught me that one could be scholarly and Christian, and he gave me many tools to do it even while agreeing to play Gabriel in my play, “Brave Christmas,” a Gabriel who spends most of the play trying to prevent God from incarnating. My husband, from General, a far better and kinder human being than I even strive to be, teaches me, even from the pulpit, that most of us are lucky enough to experience God’s kindness, something I did not even consider until late in life.

For the last 35 years, in other words, General has supported my life as a Christian, and more importantly, as a human being, in unfathomable ways. The demise of the seminary is, for me, who never attended anything there other than Evening Prayer, a bit like the destruction of the temple, a grief beyond measure.

God … is not a microwave

A Sermon Preached at the 193rd Commencement Eucharist of

The General Theological Seminary of The Episcopal Church
Chapel of the Good Shepherd – Chelsea Square
New York, New York

by Hershey Andrael Mallette

Wednesday, May 20th 2015

 

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.

—Matthew 28: 16-20

 

Hershey demonstrating thurible technique

Hershey demonstrating thurible technique

Today I stand before you with an incredible task. I am charged with bringing you all Good News when all I can think about is how I am angry, and sad.

But I am reminded of something that the beloved Professor Andrew Irving once said to me in the fall of Middler Year:

I remember coming in to class, frustrated and bewildered about any number of things that were happening in 2013 … the school had no money, my classmates were transferring or withdrawing, and there was a cookie shortage in the refectory!

I came to class and much like I did today, I announced my vexation and misery.

And Professor Irving said, “Hershey, Jesus did not promise you happiness.”

With that, let us return to the text:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.

After reading this again and again a little something stuck out.

And when I say a little something, I mean a very little something.

It’s that comma in the very last sentence of the book of Matthew that literally gives me pause. The comma or pause used in this last sentence sets off what is formally called a parenthetical element, but most of us would just call it extra information. But in this case, this added information adds focus to the original idea.

I am with you always, to the end of the age.

I once had a conversation with Mother Mitties about this comma, and she pointed out that in Greek there is no punctuation but since I don’t read Greek, I’ll trust the good Holy Ghost-filled people at the NRSV that they used a comma for a reason.

Either way, I offer you my own translation …

The Hershey Mallette Community Colloquial Version of Matthew 28:19-20:

Jesus says, “Go out into the streets, hit the blocks, every ghetto, every city, every sleepy suburban place; live with the people as you work to bring God’s Kingdom. Baptizing them, bring them into the familial bond of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Teach them about the freedom in God’s love. And know, I got your back, cause it just might take a while.”

I am with you always, to the end of the age.

***

If you leave here today, and remember nothing else that I have said, remember this!

God

Is Not A Microwave

But! Slow work does not mean you can say No to the work.

God is not a microwave. What I mean is, God seldom does anything instantaneously, rapidly or straightaway! I’m sure you know this, especially after spending any amount of time at General Theological Seminary.

God didn’t make the world in an instant.

God didn’t flood the earth, or recede the flood water the day after it rained.

God didn’t make Abraham a nation in prompt fashion

God is not a microwave

God didn’t deliver the people of Israel from Pharaoh instantaneously

God didn’t deliver Moses from the wilderness directly

God didn’t make Israel, Hear O immediately—how many times did the prophets say that to the same people? And Poor, poor Job … how long did the restoration of that one household take?

God is not a microwave

God didn’t restore Jerusalem over night

God didn’t make the dry bones live in an instant … it took time!

First they rattled,

Then the bones came together

Then the tendons and the sinews attached themselves

Then the flesh appeared

And the skin covered them

That’s four or five reconstructive steps and they still had no breath!

God is not in the business of rapidly, and carelessly creating or restoring things.

God didn’t bring any of us through our respective discernment processes quickly.

Emily Beekman and Kim Robey can testify that God has not inspired me to move speedily to submit any of my forms through out this entire three years!

And God must be taking a sweet time fashioning every heart and mind in this room to know what it means to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God.

I could go on and on and on about how slow our God is … but you get my point. God takes God’s time. So, knowing that we serve a God who will outwait us, and in our rush to smooth over, cover up and justify the pain of the past year, we cannot fall victim to the temptation of what theologian Dorothee Soelle calls Christian Sadomasochism. Christian Sadomasochism looks at any situation where God’s people are getting hurt, people are suffering, and say that it’s all for the best, because we’ll grow from the pain. We want to justify suffering so fast that we’ve almost already convinced ourselves that what that the events of this past year have actually made us a better General Seminary.

We’re almost convinced that the catastrophe that stunted the spiritual and material work of our community this year has been in our best interest. There are such things as growing pains. But there’s also unnecessary suffering that God did not intend for us. There is avoidable, worthless, man-made suffering. We’ve had our share of that this year. We cannot claim to be disciples of Christ and twist man-made pain into God-ordained suffering on a redemptive cross.

Friends, we now must make up for lost time!

Can you imagine a time in history when the world needed those of us who call ourselves disciples more than in this the past year? More than it does now? Social movements, resistance and revolution are erupting all across the nation and world. The people in the cities are crying out to God and to the church. And while cities and hearts were on fire, we have been stuck here in Chelsea Square wasting time trying to detangle ourselves from the webs of privilege and patriarchy that strangles the love of God.

James Baldwin writes, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced.” If we try to write the history of the past year as something we went through together and have now emerged on the other side as a stronger community and school, then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

God is not a microwave.

I am not precluding personal growth out of adversity. Lord knows, I wouldn’t be standing here on the shoulders of my ancestor, if I didn’t believe in that. There are no limits to God’s redemptive powers. But that doesn’t let us off the hook.

To love this school, to love this church, to love ourselves, we have to tell the truth about ourselves. The only hope we have is in God, who promises to outwait us. In Jesus, who came on Earth in solidarity with the marginalized, to make the dream of God known, and in the lavish gift of the Holy Spirit that fortifies us to fight structures of power, principalities and the spiritual forces of evil.

But God is not a microwave…

I think that is why Jesus says at the commissioning, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Yet! God’s slow work does not mean no work. The fact that God is slow, does not absolve us from the mission Jesus has given us. In fact, it means that our work is all the more urgent! We have no time to waste. We must listen to Jesus:

Go!

Make disciples,

Baptize believers,

Teach people to love God, and each other,

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This commissioning, is hard work, it is challenging!

How do we make disciples? Making disciples is more about what we are doing, than about indoctrinating, selling or convincing others that we have a good thing that they needed or should wanted.

We make disciples when we discipline ourselves to honor the particularities in the lives of all people in which God has entrusted to the care of community and hold their stories with reverence.

We make disciples when we welcome LGBTQ folks in our churches as family members and siblings and firmly and in love challenge those among us who seek to put limits on a limitless God.

We make disciples when we work for the freedom of the oppressed. When we personally and as an institution attend to the ways that racism, sexism and homophobia have weaved their way in to the fabric of our Episcopal Church lives.

I know we all think we are way too learned and sophisticated to ever be racist, sexist or homophobic. But before you tune me out listing in your brain all the black folk, women, queer folk and poor folk in your churches, stay here with me. If it were true, if we were too evolved to be racist, sexist or homophobic, then we wouldn’t need to proclaim good news to the hearts broken by the misuse of power and irresponsible exercise of privilege in this room, in this Church and let alone in this world.

This is not political work. This is spiritual work. If you leave saying you heard a political sermon this morning, you’ve missed the point. This is a matter of the soul, yours, mine, all of us here today.

The truth is, when we engage in the beautiful chaos of community, people will want to be with us. We will baptize them to welcome them to this family, making its slow dirge through time and space toward the Kingdom of God. We baptize in the name of Love that created all things, in the name of the One who embodied Love and in the name of the One who is the presence of Love in our everyday life. The thing that is so important and so incredible about baptism is that it is an experience that bonds us forever in love to God, and we have absolutely no idea what that means!

That is when the hard work of this mission continues…

Teaching disciples to obey all that Jesus commanded. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. How do you teach this countercultural, non-instinctual, unpopular way of existence?

I have no clue. But here is what I have learned about love. I have learned, love is uncomfortable. And trying to make love comfortable is what makes it even more uncomfortable. Planning every outfit for dates with coordinating makeup and accessories. Trying to be on your best behavior and practicing your lines to make sure that what said is exactly the right thing in every situation. The desire for perfection, the desire for perpetual prettiness is what makes love unbearably uncomfortable. In fact it is a lie and there is no love in that.

I learned that meeting the uneasiness of connecting is love. That involves always knowing you could be wrong, lots of listening and knowing when you have said enough, and importantly, knowing when you need to take a break. Ultimately loving requires great amounts of self-awareness and honesty. It’s tedious, and it’s tense but it’s true.

I think teaching people about God’s love is all about the way we understand love in our closest relationships. Perhaps one way we embrace and teach Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor is through the super-slow work of creating trusting relationships in Church and community. This totally axes the top down shallow model of corporate church growth, where politics and proclivities are taboos. The love I think Jesus commands his disciples to live values mutuality, relationship and shared experience.

This love requires us to be in continual prayer to be delivered from the love of comfort; from pursuit of fortune and fame; from the fear of serving others; and from the fear of death or adversity. I believe, that is why at the end of the commissioning in Matthew, Jesus says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is hard, messy, slow work!

I am with you always, to the end of the age is the assurance that our marvelously, meticulous God is working through each and every one of us. With great care, and painstaking strategy, the God of providence is fulfilling the ultimate meaning of existence, within every eon, every era, and age.

The Good News is this—God has made provision for each of us, in the person of Jesus Christ. We approach this altar perhaps for the last time together, to present ourselves, our souls, and our bodies, to be made one body with Jesus in prayer so our habit becomes righteousness and our instinct kindness. So that with Jesus at the head our work may continue to bring the Kingdom

We disciples make our sacrifice of thanksgiving not just this graduation day, but daily. So, Let the spirit in you baptize all that you encounter in every ghetto, every city, and sleepy suburban place. Proclaim the freedom of our God in Jesus to every language, people and nation. And model the saving possibilities of following Jesus’ commandment to love in every situation.

That is our mission!! And it ain’t for the faint of heart, or for the compulsively tidy. And frankly, some days you just won’t be feeling it!

We go back to the text for help, the commissioning begins, “When [the disciples] saw [Jesus], they worshiped him, even though some doubted …” The disciples worshiped Jesus, even though some doubted. Our call is to do the same, knowing that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus!

We worship Jesus, even though we doubt

We worship Jesus, even though our school is in turmoil

We worship Jesus, even though it seems no one will come to our rescue.

We worship Jesus, even though our friends, mentors and colleagues are moving on.

We worship Jesus, even though you may not have a first call or a job.

We worship Jesus, even though our debt to income ratio is nuts!

We worship Jesus, even though black women and black men are being slain in the streets by state violence.

We worship Jesus, even though women make 80 percent of what men make EVEN in our Church.

We worship Jesus, even though there are those among us in the Church who wish for the return of the “glory days of the 1950’s”

We worship Jesus, even though justice seems far off!

We worship Jesus, even though…

We worship Jesus, even though our mission is hard, painful and grueling.

We worship Jesus, even though we may be sad and angry.

We worship Jesus, even though we have seen the worst and the ugliness of Church institution.

We worship Jesus, even though we doubt, and we make disciples, we baptize, and we teach love.

We worship Jesus, as we participate in the slow, attentive and compounding work of Love

This is our mission!

And this mission should give us pause…

Only because stopping is not an option.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

A Sermon for All Saints Sunday, November 2, 2014 – Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, NY

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see god.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are YOU when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. So what do we mean by Saints? The word “saint” means “Holy” as in holy people. Popularly that’s sort of understood as meaning that saints are some kind of Christian super-heroes, totally divorced and apart from anything that ordinary people could be, or would want to be. I’ll talk more about that later. But in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, the saints are all of the holy people of God, and every one of them is made holy, not by being some sort of hero, but by the action of God who makes all of us holy through his Son Jesus Christ.
The Gospel lesson today is for and about those saints, ordinary people, living ordinary lives. It is the beginning of Jesus’ teaching called the Sermon on the Mount and this part of it is called the Beatitudes—the blessings, or the description of those who are blessed. Sometimes people take these Beatitudes one at a time, but really, taken together they are Jesus’ outline of the spirituality of the Christian life.
So why does it start ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit?’ Who are the poor? — They are those who have little or nothing left to lose. The more that people and organizations have that they might lose, the more afraid they become of risking those things for the sake of the kingdom of God. But it is the Kingdom of God that gives life, not the things that we might have lost or might lose.

TrinityMorrisaniaAnd yet, many of those things that we might lose are good, are created by God and give us joy. It hurts to lose them. The second beatitude is “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Sometimes the things we give up or lose are things, or status or parts of relationships that we like. And adjusting to that is a type of mourning. Sometimes we have real mourning, for people who have meant much to us. This community lost someone very important just yesterday. Paula Roberts informed me that Fr. Allen Newman died yesterday morning. After seven years of faithful service and just a month of retirement Allen died of a severe illness for which he had been in treatment for a year. We mourn and we hurt. The comfort that God gives does not take that hurt away, or explain away our sorrow. God comforts us by traveling the road with us, healing our hurts and giving mercy.
When Jesus says Blessed are the meek, we need to know that that word “meek” has taken on a meaning in the past century that is misleading. We are inclined to think of meek as meaning primarily passive and submissive, but the word in this passage does not mean that—it means gentle, courteous and humble. One doesn’t inherit the earth by being timid or weak; rather it is by the strength of being humble, listening and giving credit to the dignity of others. The humble person neither trumpets their advanced status in the Kingdom, nor resents what they have given up for the sake of God’s kingdom. It’s only the meek and humble that can authentically hunger and thirst for justice (which is the same word as righteousness). Those who, in the core of their being, hunger and thirst for righteousness are fed, not by seeing it completed in this world, but by humbly receiving sustenance and life in God’s kingdom so that they may continue to look for, and find the possibility of a little more justice in this world.
And as we struggle to find just a little bit of justice or righteousness in the church or in the world, we would become embittered and lost, were it not for God’s mercy to us, guiding us into the path of being merciful human beings. For who can be just or righteous in this world? It is certainly not those who are always convinced of their own rightness. It is in dwelling in that mercy that we can approach pureness in our heart and mind, perhaps getting a glimpse of what God has in store.
Notice here, that we have gone through all of this before we get to peacemaking. Making peace is not something you just do, by splitting the difference, or agreeing to not talk about disagreeable things. Making peace where there has been real contention takes the most profound of risks, courage, humility and strength. The children of God who are the peacemakers must be living day by day in God’s kingdom for anything like peace to make sense.
Jesus is totally in the real world. Notice that the next step in the beatitudes, indeed the consequence of making peace, is being persecuted for righteousness sake. Don’t expect living as a Christian and as a peacemaker to make your life peaceful and easy. The peace and love of Jesus Christ can be profoundly disruptive, particularly for those who think they have this religion thing under control.
So that summarizes Jesus’ outline of the Christian spiritual life.
Jesus invites us all, not to some sort of heroic sainthood, but to a holiness of life that values his kingdom above all else. Many of the saints we remember were martyrs—St. Sebastian is one and, more recently Archbishop Oscar Romero, are a couple who come to mind. Not all saints, however, died for their faith, the word martyrs is a translation of the word “witness” or “confessor.” We often think of them as somehow having religious superpowers. But in reality they were not superheroes—they were Christian people. There are many that you run into each day that are just as good, just as faithful. The real characteristic of saints is that they continue to seek the kingdom with Jesus—even when, to put it in down-to-earth terms—they had a really bad day. And, because of the circumstances of their holding fast to their faith in a time of great trouble, or because they were such eloquent witnesses to the faith—or both—they have been enshrined through the ages.
But what does all this mean to us in our church here in our present-day world?
I often think about the small Episcopal Church I attended when I was a kid in Idaho. This church had no important programs, no fine choir, not much to brag about. But we did sing out of the hymnal, and it was that music, as poorly performed as it might have been, that sustained my spirit through the years. One of my favorite hymns in my childhood was the one we just sang for the gospel hymn. Perhaps the text may seem limited to early twentieth century England, but for me the images emphasize how ordinary people participate in that great cloud of witnesses that is the communion of saints: “for the saints of God are just folk like me and I mean to be one too.”
Among those saints is Allen Newman, our brother and faithful priest.

Let us pray.
Father of all, we pray to you for Allen, and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let Light perpetual shine upon them. May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of humanity; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. (BCP p. 499, Hymnal 355)

The Way of Wisdom and the Keller Library in the GTS News

I may have blogged this before, but General Theological Seminary published it on their website yesterday, so I guess that means it’s true.

http://news.gts.edu/2014/06/the-way-of-wisdom-faculty-voices-the-rev-andrew-g-kadel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-way-of-wisdom-faculty-voices-the-rev-andrew-g-kadel

Kadel13-161x225The Rev. Andrew G. Kadel
Director of the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library

The Way of Wisdom is, in fact, the calling of all Christian people to grow in understanding and deeper participation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who are called to attend seminary prepare to lead, teach, accompany, and assist others on this Way. Our goal at seminary is not to produce priests who have pre-made solutions to pre-determined problems. The faculty works along with the students to provide for the church wise, resourceful people who know how it feels to struggle to live on The Way of Wisdom and who know how to be companions to others following alongside.

The faculty introduces the students to voices they have never known existed—from the church of the second, third and fourth centuries, from the Middle Ages and the Reformation, and from more recent times. The community critically reflects on scripture—for instance, how it impacts women in the present and in the past, or how we might sort through the controversies of the present day and how the church has done so in many critical times in the past. Even philosophical, theological, and theoretical thinkers who might be more distant or abstract are engaged, so those voices are heard and understood, and their insights incorporated into the way of wisdom that is our life together. But none of this is just an academic or scholarly exercise, no matter how exciting that might be for some.

The Keller Library provides an opportunity to explore and listen to all manner of these voices—a cloud of witnesses far more diverse than any institution could have in person. The Library is a place of engagement with worlds of thought and spirit outside of one’s own head or feelings. We have designed the Library with places for quiet study and for lively conversation, so that those who use it can interact not only with texts, but with living people. The library staff is skilled at listening, understanding and explaining what the resources are and how to use them. We are a community that travels The Way of Wisdom together and the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library is a joyful part of it.

 

Study as a practice of spiritual development

This is the introduction I wrote for a forum at Trinity Church Wall Street. The forum was for parish reflection on its congregational library in preparation for transition into construction of a new building for parish offices and activities.

Trinity Parish Forum on Library

May 18, 2014

 

Introduction: Study as a practice of spiritual development

We use books and other reading materials as tools, ways to get something done, to understand something better, to figure out how to solve a problem.  But reading can also be, of itself, worship—attending to and praising God through listening to some voices besides the ones that are already in your head. This can happen, in fact it frequently happens in the process of reading for one of these utilitarian reasons—things are changed because in God’s presence we come into contact with God’s transforming word.

This certainly happens with scripture, and there is even a well worked out practice of reading scripture in this way called Lectio Divina. But study as worship does not only have to be from reading scripture, anything you read can bring you out of yourself—and listening to something new—and perhaps falling into the abyss of the loving arms of God.

Let us pray.Rare Book Reading Room

Blessed are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the way of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scoffers.

 

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,

and they meditate on his law day and night.

 

They are like trees planted by streams of water,

bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;

everything they do shall prosper.

 

The first three verses of the Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible.

The Way of Wisdom

The Way of Wisdom

A Challenge to Theology and the Life of the Church

A Declaration by the Faculty of
The General Theological Seminary of The Episcopal Church

The faculty of The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church met on retreat during the week of January 20-25, 2014 for prayer, reflection and discussion. The consensus that emerged was that the most serious problems in theological education, congregations, the structural organization of the church, especially The Episcopal Church, and the relationship of Christianity to the society at large emerge from a common root. This is the separation of theological reflection from the life of prayer and spiritual transformation, from Christian action and outreach.

“God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
–Micah 6:8
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
–John 17:17-18

Way of Wisdom

I. The Problem: The Decline of Theological Education and the Health of the Church

The stewards of the Church have impaired its health. Our neglect and confusion, evident around the world in various denominations, has led to grave problems of decline in the number of faithful disciples among all mainline churches—not least in The Episcopal Church in the United States. As theological educators, we are acutely aware of the role we have played in this decline.

We have shaped and worked to reproduce a system of theological education that is estranged from the living ministry of the whole Church and its wisdom of spiritual transformation and mission to the world. We have been complacent, serving as a mere facsimile of secular education, validating our vocation in the church’s teaching office only with reference to academic specialization. Having lost our intimate connection to the Church’s ministry and mission, our work within the seminaries also has become fragmented. We find that we can no longer articulate how our disparate disciplines and specialties hang together or offer to our students or supporters a cogent vision of theological education as a vital and essential aspect of the Church.

Theological students do not have an holistic experience of theology. They are discouraged and unsatisfied with the increased separation of learning from formation and ministry. They are unsatisfied with their inability to integrate learning with spiritual practice and the work of ministry. All are looking for alternative solutions. Many believe that our congregations today most need priests with the so-called “practical” skills of liturgical, pastoral, and managerial know-how. Others, with the intent of addressing the diocesan needs of the church economically, have attempted to form spontaneous and self-governing bodies that can equip ordinands locally with basic skills for ministry. Yet, these have not overcome the fragmentation that fuels our decline. They have merely swapped the disciplinary fragmentation of our seminaries with the treacherous triviality of business management theory and the inertia of bureaucratic administration, or they have further divided the church from the resources it needs to carry out its ministry with wisdom and understanding.

These are illusions. They are more destructive to the health of the Church’s ministry and mission than the system we now have. Instead of unifying theological education and the church, they set out to redefine the meaning of ordained ministry entirely in terms of its functions, tasks, and public acts. They abandon any reference to the theology of Church’s ministry and mission. As a result, the fragmentation we now witness in the seminaries is perpetuated in our parishes and dioceses. As Edward Farley wrote prophetically thirty years ago, “The more the external tasks of ministry themselves are focused on as the only telos of theological education, the less the minister becomes qualified to carry them out.”

As a challenge to ourselves, our fellow seminaries of The Episcopal Church and those responsible for theological education in the Church at large, we declare:

Because of the confusion and neglect perpetuated by our disconnection from the Church’s ministry and mission and by our internal fragmentation, the only solution to the decline of the Church is a renewed commitment at all levels to affirm the necessity of theological education to Christian discipleship and for formation in a way of life that desires “the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33) for all things.

II. The Solution: The Way of Wisdom

Our present system of theological education, the only one any one of us has known, is a novelty in Christian history. For the majority of its life, “theology” was not an academic specialty. It was the path walked by all Christians in their desire to bring the whole of their life into unity with God’s; it meant the participation in the ever-deepening practice of Christian discipleship that we all share. The idea that education in this way of life could be separated from the ministry and mission of the Church or that the study of scripture, theology, salvation history, ethics, pastoral care could be isolated from spiritual practice was inconceivable. The Fathers and Mothers of the Church, whom we call “theologians,” were at once biblical scholars, pastors, and critical thinkers of great spiritual wisdom who drew deeply from sophisticated philosophical reasoning as they guided the course of the Church in their time. Preaching the Gospel was integral to the transformation of the lives of all Christians. Responsible preaching required study and study was also worship.

We are not calling for a return to the past. We are troubled by the present. Where study has been separated from the goal of discipleship, theological education has been sequestered from the whole Church, reserved for those preparing for ordained ministry. The unintentional result has been unchecked clericalism and widespread biblical, liturgical, and theological ignorance in the church.

Though we are troubled, we are hopeful for the future. We are acting creatively now. We call the whole Church at every level, to live in this hope, to focus its energy on integrating the depths of the Way of Jesus Christ into every aspect of its life, and to work with us to imagine ways to revitalize theological education as pursuit of and formation in the depth of the riches of the Wisdom and knowledge of God. We cannot do this work alone.

Many theologians and teachers have recognized the need for this transformation of theological education. We have learned from them and many work beside us now. Up to now, however, their wisdom and efforts for reform have been frustrated by both the academy and the Church, neither of which has been able successfully to reorder the content, structures, and institutions of theological education toward the goal of spiritual transformation. They have instead retained the models and goals of secular corporations and bureaucracies.

The faculty of the General Theological Seminary now commits to reordering the content, structures, and institutions of its ministry to this goal according to what we call “The Way of Wisdom.” All Christian disciples walk in the Way of Wisdom, all encourage one another in the Gospel and share the wisdom found in their own unique life circumstances and gifts. Some become leaders, encouraging and helping others to grow in the depth of the Christian life. Some are commissioned to the special ministries of presiding over the assembly of disciples, overseeing their spiritual health, and instructing them in the knowledge of God. Theological education is vital to these ministries of the Church because it guides and forms leaders in critical reflection on the Gospel, enables these leaders responsibly to care for the community of disciples, and preserves the truth of the Church’s witness to the gospel in our time and place.

The Church can and does fall into error, and yet we have been promised that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. Thus, theological education is an awesome and humbling service. As a theological faculty we are called to listen—to listen to that Spirit and to the needs of God’s people. We must not only approach our work with academic expertise, but as theologians, we must be accountable to one another and our students: to teach in ways that enhance development in the practice of the Christian life in the living ministry of the Church for the benefit of the world. The teaching office of the Church is particularly invested in its bishops, and we invite the bishops to join with us in this ministry of listening and mutual accountability.

The Way of Wisdom begins with the practice of attentive listening. It cannot be a narrow set of prescriptions. In a seminary, students are exposed to new and challenging voices. Sometimes those voices are the traditions and history of the church, or the beginning of serious study of the scriptures. Sometimes the voices are from the margins: the poor, the differently-abled, those suffering from discrimination and oppression. Sometimes the real surprise is to discover that the mainstream of scripture and tradition are those on the margins. We commit to teach so as to cultivate practiced spiritual attention in tandem with critical theological reflection and in this way to reshape theological education as integral to our shared life in the Body of Christ. Intellectual problems, disagreements and problems of privilege and oppression will not be wiped away or resolved by directing our work to this goal. They will, however, be illuminated by our common commitment to the Way of Wisdom. In the light of our common goal, we will be drawn closer together rather than further fragmented.

III. A Way Forward

The Gospel amplifies the prophet’s call to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” This summons is addressed to the whole church, all its members. It is of the essence of the Way of Wisdom. It is a ministry for those who are in need, those who suffer, those who seek the wellbeing of their neighbor. It is not a way to serve ourselves or preserve any institution.

The Way of Wisdom is the way of those who love justice and kindness, the Way of those who walk with God together with their fellow Christians.

• We call on all Christians to renew their commitment to the Way of Wisdom and their appreciation of the depths of Christian tradition, especially learning from those who are least among them.
• We call on seminaries and the wider Church to commit to supporting sustainable levels of high-quality theological education for all levels of the church (laity, priests, deacons, and bishops) and for all levels of study, from Catechesis through doctoral study.
• We call for greater cooperation between the seminaries in realizing this goal of theological education for the whole Church.
• We invite the bishops of the church to recommit themselves to their teaching role as listening theologians to work to revive and reform the catechumenate for our time, and for church-wide support of the formation of catechists and other church teachers.
• We call on all members of the Episcopal Church to more deeply appropriate the vision of the Church as a community of all the baptized, as found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
• We call on all clergy to more deeply appreciate the Wisdom found in the people in their congregations.
• We call on theologians and theological educators to make Wisdom their paramount priority and to seek to integrate all aspects of theological inquiry as a coherent whole.
• We as the faculty of the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church pledge to follow the Way of Wisdom more deeply in our own lives and to change our courses and our curricula to better enable our students to encourage and help others on the Way of Wisdom.

Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Book of Common Prayer)

The original draft concluded with the following version of this collect, in which the petition is much clearer:

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who declarest thy glory and showest forth thy handiwork in the heavens and in the earth; Deliver us, we beseech thee, in our several callings, from the service of mammon, that we may do the work which thou givest us to do, in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with singleness of heart as thy servants, and to the benefit of our fellow men; for the sake of him who came among us as one that serveth, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1928 Book of Common Prayer, p. 44