Inhabiting our Story

On Friday of this last week, Canon Jeff Bullock, Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Arizona and our last Sunday’s preacher at Trinity Cathedral convened a small group of clergy for a book study. (Canon is Anglican-Episcopal speak for a priest or leading lay person appointed by the Bishop for the good order of the Church) The book chosen is Brad Kallenberg’s  Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age.

Kallenberg’s maps three phases in Western thought which he describes as precritical, modern, and postcritical. The Bible belongs to that period he identifies as precritical thinking. Precritical is a way of looking at the world akin to Charles Taylor’s term enchantment. Modern describes the way of thinking and looking at the world originating with the Enlightenment at the end of the 17th Century and reaching a peak in the mid to late 20th Century. A modern worldview is informed by the analytical method of scientific observation. In the precritical accounts of the Bible, the emphasis is on story and the picture of a world created by the details of the story. That many details in Biblical stories seem to us improbable does not worry the precritical reader. The details of a story take on a meaning by their context within the overarching theme of a story. Kallenberg uses the example of Jesus walking on the water. To the precritical mind this is not improbable. It is the kind of thing one would expect within the overarching context of Jesus as Son of God. Contrast this with the way a modern reader approaches the same Biblical story. Details are separated from overall contextual meaning and analyzed through asking questions like, could this really have happened or is there any historical proof for this claim? This is the world view Taylor calls disenchantment. 

We are now passing through a period when the modern worldview is breaking down in favor of what appears to be a return to a holistic, in contrast to an atomistic, approach to experiencing the world. The modern approach of constructing reality only from what can be externally observed and verified has left us in a universe that seems flat and drab and in which we feel deeply lonely. We are left with the question: is this all there is to life? Increasingly, our experience is that the modern worldview is inadequate and leaves us wanting more. Our current dissatisfaction with the limited world of factual certainties expresses itself in film and book through an increasing longing and appetite for mystery, and magical-realism. Consequently, the modern is giving way to an emerging world of thought Kallenberg sometimes calls postmodern, a somewhat confusing term because of its association with the deconstructionists, or postcritical, to my mind a better descriptive. In the modern world view stories are to be analyzed and verified. In the postcritical world view stories are to be inhabited and lived out.

The 27th January is the day when Trinity Cathedral holds its Annual General Meeting. In preparation for the meeting it has been customary for the Dean to offer a review of the past year. I suspect that previous Deans have tended to approach this task in a modern frame of mind. Cathedral Deans, like the rest of us, strongly influenced by our modern approach to thinking will have tended to break the past year down into events, facts and figures – the past year broken down into its atomistic parts and viewed from a perspective of achievement or failure, pride or disappointment.

A modern view of 2012

In this vein I can confirm that in 2012 Trinity Cathedral began the year with three full time priests, one nonstipendary priest missioner and three deacons. We ended the year with one full time priest, one nonstipendary priest missioner, and two deacons. Nevertheless, we have continued to flourish. We said goodbye to Canon Deborah Noonan at the end of July as she prepared to go off to become the Vicar of Dibley. With sad and somewhat anxious hearts we bade farewell to Dean Nicholas Knisely and his wife Karen at the end of August, wishing them well as Nicholas became the next Bishop of Rhode Island. This resulted in the Canon Pastor, at the Bishop’s invitation, stepping into the role of Dean in-between. At the end of December Bishop Kirk accepted Deacon John Mather’s request for a sabbatical year.

I can confirm that we experienced other personnel changes, in particular Sarah Gennett’s resignation as Youth Minister, Joan Howell’s stepping down as Children’s Education Director and Colin Gennett’s appointment as Children’s Education Co-ordinator. At the change-over of the year, Carol Lamont Walker, after many years of ministry in the Cathedral Shoppe has made a decision to step down as Shoppe Manager. For Carol and for the Trinity Community this is a decision that really does signify the passing of an era. For as the Cathedral grows in size it also is moving from a culture which rests heavily on the work of volunteers to a culture which needs a more centralized organization led by paid staff. To the paid staff, I express my deepest gratitude for the way they have accomplished more by using less.

I can confirm that our numbers have continued to swell as we have welcomed new spiritual seekers, along with Episcopalians from elsewhere together with others with established spiritual lives in other Christian Traditions. Our La Trinidad Community has continued to flourish in response to the welcome of the Episcopal Church, embodied by Canon Carmen Guerreo, priest missioner and Canon for Hispanic Ministry. The Trinity Community’s embrace of diversity welcomes members of the Latino Community excluded or discriminated against within an increasingly conservative Roman Catholic Church and wider Arizona Society. The growth of La Trinidad is reminiscent of Luke’s description of the first days of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles – as each day more and more were added to their number.

I can confirm that we had a most successful Annual Renewal Program. So many of you have responded with gratitude to God and generosity in support of the ministry of Trinity Cathedral. As a community, as well as individually, we continue to deepen our response to Jesus’ call to accompany him on the road of discipleship. We began 2012 with 170 pledging units and a $50,000 deficit and we ended the year with a balanced budget, thanks in large part to the spending discipline of the staff. As all the statistics are harmonized we start 2013 with and net increase of 44 new pledging units. Our current total stands at 195 pledging units and as the phone calls go out to those yet to respond, we anticipate this number continuing to rise.

Passing from a modern to a postcritical view of 2012

All of these events, facts and figures are true. Yet, this modern worldview, in breaking down the past year into atomistic parts leaves out something crucial. A precritical reading of the last year would have emphasized the story of how the Holy Spirit is active within Trinity Cathedral’s Community. A modern reading analyses the past year, dividing it up into a series of events, achievements and failures seen primarily, as the results of human agency. Yet, I want to address 2012 through a postcritical lens which emphasizes our experience as participants within a story. The past year is a story about who we are as a community. Through inhabiting our story in 2012 we encounter our identity. Who are we? We are the Body of Christ in the world.

Ours is a story of being Church through our participation in the life of the cross-bearing and saving community at the intersection of Roosevelt and Central. Ours is a story of a Spirit filled community inwardly strengthening its identity as a community of love. Ours is a story of a missional community reaching out beyond itself through prayer and active service, bearing witness to the presence of God in the world. As we inhabit the story of being the Church we discover our identity, not as a society of individual Christians but as the mystical Body of Christ bearing witness to God’s generous and abundant love for the world.

The Gospel for this morning from Luke 4:14-21 articulates what it means to be the Church bearing witness to the abundant love of God for the world. In worship our postcritical community story encounters our precritical Biblical story, transmitted to us across 2000 years as part of the collective memory of the Church. As we inhabit the postcritical story of being Trinity Cathedral facing-up to the challenges posed by life in 21st century America, we we encounter with the precritical Biblical story of salvation history. As we seek to inhabit both stories we become more and more those whom God is dreaming us into becoming.

Within this process of becoming, we emerge to find that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us. God has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. God has sent us to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The postcritical invitation to inhabit our story

2012 has been but another year when through worship, prayer and action we have endeavored to rediscover over and over again our identity through inhabiting this story. As we enter into another year of change and challenge we don’t necessarily, need to know, let alone be able to agree among ourselves about what bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, challenging oppression and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor will, or even should, look like in 2013.

There are different possible interpretations ranging from a powerful focus on the fight for a just society to deepening our psychospiritual understanding in order to challenge our own spiritual and relational poverty.  While challenging the blindness to inequality in our society we also look more deeply into our own spiritual lives, challenging our own blindness, our sense of captivity and societal and self oppression. Some will be called more to engage in the external struggle, while others will be drawn more deeply into the internal exploration. Our identity as the Church means that we will be engaging across both outer world, and inner-world, fronts.

Luke 4:14-21 echoing the words of the Prophet Isaiah, goes to the heart of the story that is Jesus’s ministry. This precritical story takes us to the heart of our own postcritical story as the Christian Community in this place. We inhabit that story thereby encountering the source of our identity as those who can say the Spirit of the Lord is upon us. My invitation for all of us is to continue to live out the implications of this as we move into 2013.

What’s in a Baptism?


William Temple, perhaps the most influential  of the Archbishops of Canterbury in the 20th Century commented that the Church is the only society that exists for those who are not its members. Perhaps this helps explain the Anglican Tradition’s rather odd view of boundaries. For nothing seems easier than to become a member of the Episcopal Church. In fact, just showing up on a regular basis might easily result in your slipping seamlessly into membership.

Given the prevailing truth based, salvation, preoccupied culture of large swathes of American Christianity this might appear to be a very odd way to carry on. The open boundary practice of the Episcopal Church regarding everyone who shows up for worship expresses the point behind Archbishop Temple’s comment – the Church is the only society that exists for those who are not its members. Consequently, the Episcopal Church struggles to define the boundary between the Church and the World. Yet, that does not mean there is not a portal of entry into the Church. In worship all are welcome, yet the portal of entry into the practice of the Christian faith is still baptism.


Our Gospel this morning is Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus. Luke’s account has some interesting departures from the original account recorded in Mark.  John the Baptist is absent. In Luke’s chronology, at the time of Jesus’ baptism John languishes in Herod’s prison.  Luke does not give us the mechanics of who is doing the baptizing and the implication is that the Holy Spirit is the chief actor. Luke makes it clear that the Spirit takes bodily, physical form. The Holy Dove descends upon Jesus for everyone to see. The heavenly voice publicly proclaims Jesus’ identity as Son of God for everyone to hear.

In Mark, Jesus’ baptism seems intensely personal. His identity seems to be a secret that only he and John the Baptist really know about. In Luke, Jesus’ baptism has become everyone’s baptism. This last week, while wondering about the difference in emphasis between Luke and Mark I noticed that the difference in emphasis reflects something of the continual dispute among Christians as to whether we are saved through baptism or whether baptism is the sign that we are already saved.

Evangelical Christians tend to believe that we become individually saved through baptism. Baptism first requires a personal sign of faith, and so Evangelicals emphasize baptism as the conscious decision of the individual believer, i.e. a believer’s baptism. Baptism is the individual believer’s purchase of a ticket to salvation.

Anglicans tend to believe that baptism is a sign that we are already saved by God. For us, baptism is not like purchasing a ticket to individual salvation. Baptism is entry into the faith of the community that is already saved. We are saved through our participation in the life of the Church. God has already saved the world through the birth, death and Resurrection of Christ.

Through entry into and participation in the life of the Church we actively witness to this truth.


I began with noting Archbishop Temple’s statement – the Church is the only society that exists for those who are not its members. We are all painfully aware that the sad truth is that the Church often behaves as if it exists only for the sole benefit of its members.

Different Christian traditions all use the same word Church for the gathering of Christians. Yet, Protestants, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics have differing understandings of Church. Generally speaking, for Protestants the Church is simply the voluntary gathering of Christians who are all individually saved through their personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord. For Anglicans and Roman Catholics the Church has a collective identity greater than the sum total of its individual members. Salvation comes from our participation in the life of the saving community.

Current Roman Catholic emphasis tends not to agree with Archbishop Temple’s statement. For Roman Catholics, salvation is confined within the boundaries of the Church itself, which is why those boundaries have to be so rigorously policed. Using an analogy form baking bread for a moment, Roman Catholicism sees the Church as the loaf. Anglican Tradition understands the Church as the leaven in the loaf. For Episcopalians, the purpose of the Church as the saving community is to bear witness that God’s saving action extends to the whole world.


Does any of this matter? For me it does. In a society dominated by a  Calvinist reoccupation with whether each and every person is saved or dammed, I reject the notion that as an individual, through my choice of Jesus as Lord, I can be saved while the person next to me is dammed. My salvation has nothing to do with my self-assertion of belief. I am saved, and you are saved, because God loves us both without distinction. In a society where Christians easily become preoccupied by a notion of the Church as the Ark of Salvation, I accept that salvation comes to me through my participation in the saving community of the Church. Yet, the point of Temple’s statement is that God’s gift of salvation is not limited only to those within the Church.

The Baptismal Covenant of the Book of Common Prayer

Baptism is not a once upon a time event. It’s a daily process of living out our commitment to God’s world. We articulate our common purpose as the baptized in what’s known as the Baptismal Covenant. Every time a person is baptized we all participate in the Holy Spirit’s action by affirming five promises that commit us to action.

  1. We promise to be faithful in our participation in the life of the Church. In other words we not only show up on Sunday morning but we try to practice being Christians seven days a week.
  2. We promise to fight evil and when we fail, to return to the struggle through the path of repentance.
  3. We promise to share with everyone the good news that in Christ, God has already saved the whole world.
  4. We promise to serve Christ, by having a regard for our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
  5. Finally, we promise to strive for justice and peace in the world and to respect the dignity of all human being. In every generation that last promise is a real challenge. For it requires us to go beyond our easy accommodation to the values of culture that glosses over patterns of privilege and discrimination.

As Episcopalians, our apparent fuzziness about the boundaries, is by design. We trust the truth behind Archbishop Temple’s statement that the Church is the only society that exists for those who are not its members. Our boundaries may be fuzzy, but our identity is clear!

Through baptism we participate in the life of the saving community. This community commonly called the Church is a witness to the fact that in Christ salvation is God’s freely offered gift to all, with no strings attached. Because of our baptism, our lives are lived in a tension. On the one hand we can be tempted to live with an uncritical accommodation to the values of our culture. Or we can view the events of our daily lives, and life of the communities around us, through the lens of those five promises in our Baptismal Covenant.

So to live, is to live as a Christian in the world.

Significance Glimpsed

The Church’s Calendar mark’s two kinds of celebrations. It marks celebrations that always occur on the same date each year, and celebrations that always occur on the same day each year.   Each year we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January. This is an example of a fixed date celebration. Each year we also celebrate the Baptism of Jesus on the second Sunday in the Christmas Season. This is an example of a fixed day celebration. Today is both the 6th of January as well as being the second Sunday after Christmas and so both the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus occur on the same day. According to the complex formula used for rating celebrations, the Epiphany takes precedence.

The arcane workings of the Calendar may seem tedious information, better suited to an Episcopal 101 class than a Sunday Sermon.  Actually, I never discuss anything as tedious as the  organization of the Church’s Calendar in EP 101. My point in raising it in the context of a Sunday Sermon is because the clash of Epiphany and Baptism of Christ, occurring on the same day, offers an opportunity to explore the inner and outer dimensions of our experience of God.

Epiphany is a Greek word that translates into English as showing.  In everyday speech we sometimes report: “I have had an epiphany” to communicate that we have had something of an ah-hah moment.

I prefer the word glimpsing as a better expression of the meaning of epiphany. When we catch a glimpse of something we suddenly see through, or see behind, or see around, the usual way our experience of the world appears to us. In the event that Matthew records as the Epiphany, for only Matthew’s Gospel records this detail in the narrative of the birth of Jesus, God is giving us a glimpse of the bigger picture within which a fuller understanding of the identity of this infant is revealed. 

In the Birth Narrative both Matthew and Luke report the details that set the birth of Jesus in its first century Palestinian context. Matthew’s addition of the arrival of the Magi, variously referred to as wise men or three kings, moves us beyond the everyday details of Jesus’ birth which is firmly located in a time and a place, into the bigger picture. In the bigger picture the muling and sucking infant we know as Jesus is none other than God’s anointed Christ. The arrival of the Magi bearing their gifts of gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for a death, offers us a glimpse into the larger world – a world that reveals to us the significance of the infant Jesus’s birth.

So the Epiphany is a point of intersection between the outer and inner dimensions of experience. Our burden as 21st century Christians is to struggle with a rationalist inheritance that since the Enlightenment has convinced us that what we see is all there is. This leaves most of us with feelings that echo the words memorialized by the singer Peggy Lee:  

Is that all there is? Is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball – if that’s all there is?

Our experience of living in a world where the appearance of things is all we think there is, is profoundly unsatisfying! We need to know that what we see is not all there is. What we often fail to notice is the way our lives unfold within a frame that encompasses more than the appearance of the external dimension of our day-to-day experience. This more than – we catch a glimpse of from time to time, when we connect with a sense of significance in our living. From time to time we catch a glimpse of a significance that lies beyond the mere appearance of events that unfold around us in the world. We catch it – and then the glimpse fades. 

What can be done about this? In attempting to answer this question I turn to the Baptism of Christ. It’s interesting, that Mark who tells us nothing of the birth of Jesus begins his gospel with the account of his baptism. It too, is an epiphany experience. As John performs the act of baptizing Jesus the heavens open and the voice of God confirms that Jesus is the Christ.

To escape the burden of the way 300 years of scientific rationalism has reduced our ability to see the bigger picture by confining our vision only to that which is externally observable, we have to seek help. That help comes to us through our spiritual development. Spiritual formation opens us to those repeated glimpses of significance, of our lives unfolding within the frame of a bigger picture. Our spiritual formation chiefly results from our participation in the life of religious community.

Human beings are not meant to live alone. We need to gather and organize into communities. Communities provide the resources necessary for our individual flourishing. Tertullian, one of the Early Church Fathers said, one Christian is no Christian. Being Christian is the result of belonging to the community of Christ’s Followers. The Christian Community is much greater than the sum total of its individual parts because it is expanded by the inflowing of the Grace of God. In this moment of time we are more than a gathering of individuals, we are the very Body of Christ in the world at the corner of Central and Roosevelt, in down-town Phoenix, Arizona. 

This morning we are welcoming seven persons into membership of the Body of Christ. We will promise before God to be the community within which they will be formed and sustained on their spiritual journey. Baptism is entry into participation in the community of faith. Participation shapes us so that we become more and more open to those moments of glimpsing the greater significance to our lives. For these six children and one adult, their baptism is their entry into the spiritual journey that we as the Body of Christ in the world are making together.

As individuals we catch glimpses from time to time of the divine significance that underpins our existence. These moments of epiphany offer snap shots of lives unfolding within a larger picture. These snap shots, these glimpsings, redirect and re-enliven us as we travel along the way. However, these are only glimpses. Epiphany is not for individuals, a continuous experience. 

Through baptism we come to participate in the life of Christ’s earthly body – the Church. Here we join others and together become greater than the sum total of our individual selves. It is only from within the experience of being part of the Body of Christ that we become more open to the profound glimpses of the significance of our lives within the continual action of God’s dreaming us all into becoming. 

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