A time to listen. A time to go deeper. December 6, 2017
It’s been a while.
Almost six months since my last Moments of Grace.
Much has been happening in my life and I decided to take some time away from writing. Over the summer, I visited with friends and family and returned to places that have been important to me. In September, I marked the 30th anniversary of my ordination. In October I said good-bye to a beloved friend who died after a short and courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. November found me in Europe and December finds me home again as we begin Advent, the season of starting over.
I haven’t written much this past while but I have been busy. I have been listening very deeply:
To my church.
To my heart.
I needed to spend this time in listening for I had much to ponder. And I had some important work to do within. So much of our world is pretty noisy these days with many people trying to get their point across without really listening. The same is true for our church. It takes a lot of discipline to be quiet and listen. Especially to God.
Pretty much everything is broken in some way these days. The news is so ominous. I’m not sure we’ve learned a lot from the past for it seems that “might makes right” in the world. It’s true here too. Power struggles rage in our own province – politically, economically and socially – and everyone has a point to make. I find it hard to tell what is news and what is opinion.
Great big parts of the Anglican Church are also broken. The Anglican Communion can also be a noisy place with all of its competing voices. Anglicans may be on this journey together but Identity Politics in all of its forms plays a big role in our religious life these days. And yet St Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I still believe in the BIG CHURCH where there is room for everyone who wants to belong, even if we don’t all believe the same things, even if some of us might not be sure what we believe about some things. In my church, there is room at the family table for everyone. Sooner or later, pray God, we will learn to celebrate faith wherever we find it. The Beatles may have sung, “All you need is love ...” but in the church a little faith along with love will go a long way.
I will shortly complete my fourth year as Bishop of the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador. For four years now I have asked my church to open its doors a little more and to reach more deeply into the world around. Incredible things have happened. We have held a synod called, The Church has left the Building, and convened an inter-faith symposium called, Faith in the Public Square. Many of us have gone beyond our comfort zones to welcome the stranger and embrace the brokenness of our world. And we have done it all quietly and with dignity, not drawing any more attention to ourselves than necessary. Our reward has been in knowing that we are serving God through serving those in need. We should continue these good works. They are too many for me to mention here.
But it is now time to do something new. I have asked the Anglican Church to reach out and I think the church has responded well. But my invitation as we move forward is not just to “go out” but to “go deeper.” It is time to go deeper into our relationship with Christ to know him more fully. It will make little sense for us to give our life to the world if we forget that it is Christ we really serve. Pretty much everything is broken these days, including many within our church, and only Christ can heal that brokenness. My invitation today to “go deeper” is one that calls all of us to engage more fully with the study of Holy Scripture, to nurture a daily prayer life, and to foster a richer relationship with our Lord in whose name we serve. If we truly take care of our primary relationship with Christ, other relationships will naturally follow. I frequently encounter adults whose last time of regular prayer and Christian study took place in Confirmation class. Isn’t that a little bit like graduating from school at age 11 with no serious study or learning after then?
The Church as the Body of Christ has to look like Jesus. That resemblance is not always apparent. Sometimes the Church can look most un-Christ-like. Only when we realize that we too are broken and in need of healing can Christ truly enter into our hearts and lives. Religious people who fail to accept their own brokenness often become toxic. For without constant self-examination of thought, word and deed their religion easily becomes a vehicle for their own prejudices and imaginings. I believe the church of the future around here will be smaller than it is today. It will be less sure of itself and far more vulnerable because church will be less about believing all the right things from the start and more about discovering that truth on the journey with others.
I have taken the past while to “go deeper” in my own life of faith. In that journey, as I let go of some things, I came to know Jesus just a little bit more fully than before. I invite you to do the same.
On my wall at Synod Office is a painting I retrieved from our Cathedral. I asked to have it hung on my wall after I became bishop so I could see it almost every day. It’s very old, dating to the late 1800s, and shows Bishop Feild on what we believe to be the coast of Labrador, possibly near Battle Harbour. He is celebrating the Holy Eucharist on a fishing stage. The altar is a simple table against the wall. Most likely, the people have just stopped their daily work and are kneeling reverently, as Bishop Feild teaches and blesses. He may even be Confirming the young persons at the front. It is a fishing stage in coastal Labrador and he is dressed as he would at our Cathedral of St John the Baptist in St John’s. There is dignity and respect and holiness in the scene irrespective of the setting. It never fails to move me.
We are called to be a holy people.
We are called to be a holy church.
We cannot do that on our own.
Let us go deeper to discover once more our true life in Christ.