It’s All in the Waiting!

How do we live, preparing for the future? A more problematic question is how do we live while waiting in the face of the unknown? For many of us our lives are lived in anticipation of the unknown. The readings for the First Sunday in Advent present in different ways the question, so how do we live in the present-time with expectations  that point us towards the a future, while our memories keep us prisoners of our past? Between the past and the future lies the uncertainties of the present-time.

For most of us, our attitude towards time is at best ambivalent. We behave as if past, present, and future are insulated from each other as if contained in water-tight compartments . We say, oh that’s in the past to imply it is something done and dusted and recognising that nothing now can be done about to change it, Likewise, we regard the future in much the same way as we regard the past. We might say of the future, oh the future hasn’t happened yet it’s not real, it’s only a dream.

These ways of treating the past and the future are our attempts to bring some order and clarity to our experience of the flow of events in the present. Yet, time remains an ambivalent experience for us. The definition of ambivalent is, to have mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone. Both mixed feelings and contradictory ideas describe our relationship to time.

T.S. Eliot, is a poet whose work is familiar to many of you. For some of you he may be only a name you have heard or not heard before. Eliot explores the ambivalence of time in much of his poetry. Note a moment ago i used the present tense, Eliot is a poet. Is he a poet or was he a poet? See how our ambivalence towards time expresses itself in such ordinary figures of speech. Anyway, Eliot explores our ambivalence towards time in passages like this one from his poem Little Gidding, the finale to his Four Quartets:

What we call the beginning is often the end and to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. … We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.

The past finds echo in our expectations of the future. In the yet-to-become-known we encounter the unresolved projections of that which is now only half remembered. That’s the way the human mind works. It pattern matches experience so that present experience and future expectations are often strongly conditioned by projections of the way the remembered, or half remembered, or apparently forgotten, still actively influences us. This is the process Freud identified so clearly as the operation of the unconscious. Through the content of the unconscious our past maintains its power over present and our future. The unconscious mind is like a computer hard drive. We think something is erased because we have tried to get rid of it and no longer see it. Yet, it is nevertheless still there awaiting  our unpleasant rediscovery when we least expect it.

The season of Advent is the start of a new Church year. Advent is for many of us our most favorite season. Advent evokes for me a memory of all those new beginnings. I especially recall when at the beginning of the new school year opening my new exercise book for the first time. I can see the pale green lines on the page and thin red line of the margin. This is a memory of expectation as I survey the virgin page lying before expectations are high for it has yet to be despoiled and defaced by my untidy handwriting with its inevitable multitudinous crossings out.  A memory long forgotten, coming to mind and coloring my expectations and experience of the season of Advent.

Advent is a season of expectation, preparation, and waiting. Expectations are often-times difficult. How can we know what we expect will really come to fruition? Preparation is somewhat easier. At least in preparation we have something to do. In contrast waiting is an experience that is the most difficult to tolerate. The Old Testament lessons for the next four weeks are from the prophet Isaiah. We might call this Isaiah’s futuristic dreaming of a messianic age, expected but yet to arrive. Isaiah’s dream of the future is set within a present context of high anxiety. The Assyrians are at the gates of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah is inevitable.

Advent is Expectation

In the midst of political and national turmoil, Isaiah dreams of a time when the improbable will happen as part of a new messianic age. Jerusalem, no longer beleaguered and awaiting destruction will be raised up for all the nations to stream towards. Even more improbable is his dream of warfare ending and the striking image of swords beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning-hooks. He ends this chapter with an invitation: come house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. Put another way I believe that through Isaiah’s prophecy God is saying to us: Come Trinity, let us plant in the present-time, the seeds of our audacious dreaming of our future. 

Isaiah’s dream is a dream of a future that has yet to become fully realized and yet, because he has the courage to dream it, becomes already known. It is a vision of a future that dares to break free of imagination limited by our memories of the past. Although on a chronological level, Isaiah speaks to us from our collective past, we hear his voice speaking directly to our own experience of the present. The context changes, yet the challenges remain the same. We live in a time when to have a positive dream for our collective future feels like a forlorn hope we can’t afford. Instead we feel we need to prepare for the worst as we survey a future where:

  • The post WW II stability of the Pax Americana is fraying. New and ominous forces, both terrorist and nationalist, rise to threaten our world order. The world order of Pax Americana, has for 70 years ensured stability and security. However a stability and security dictated on our own terms.
  • In the face of apocalyptic visions of the future the cohesion of our nation fractures. We argue over the best way to address our problems. More serious still, we disagree about the nature of the problems facing us. Some argue for  budget reduction while others advocate the urgent need to renew our vital infrastructures.
  • We hotly contest among ourselves about the reality of global warming and the degradation of the world environment as natural disasters of epic proportion ravage the planet. We argue even though its plain to all that we are not insulated from the frightening power of nature as parts of the country are ravaged by flood, wind, fire, and drought.While some lobby for  policies that might avert what they see as a coming environmental catastrophe, others argue that continued degradation of the environment is a price worth paying to maintain our competitive economic edge.
  • We are witnessing a resurgence of institutional racism many of us thought long dead and buried; our forgotten past rising to haunt our present.
  • Economic disparities increase to alarming proportions. The prosperity of the many is sacrificed to the profits of the few.  A recent survey reported by PBS News reveals that 65% of Americans, both Republicans as well as Democrats, favor an increase of the minimum wage to $10 an hour, with only 28% opposing this measure.
  • Our own middle class dreams of financial security evaporate before our eyes. We are not only fearful for our children’s futures, we are baffled and disquieted by the cynical indifference of our society as a whole to the future of our children as commitments to education and jobs for the young are abandoned in the face of economic expediencies.
  • Our political system becomes even more corrupted by unfettered restraint on the financial influence of vested interests. As the conservative New York Times journalist and commentator David Brooks noted recently, the problem for the political system is not the amount of money pouring in, but the lack of transparency, so that we can’t know who it is that is wielding undue influence over our politicians. 

Advent is Preparation

So what is the point of Advent’s message of preparation in the face of our tendency to be so fearful in the face of the yet-to-become-known? The Lectionary readings for Advent all echo the common theme of the need to let our dreams of a future time inform the way we live in the present. 

The present is where we live sandwiched between our past and our future . We get on with living as well and as creatively as we can in the present-time. The Apostle Paul reminds his readers that: You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. Jesus advocates that as in Noah’s day his disciples should go-on eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, images of getting-on with normal life. The seeds of future hopes are planted in the ordinariness of the present. The present is also the place where we struggle with the past is played out.  Our half remembered and forgotten memories project their power to dictate our future. To dream new dreams we must first become aware of and break the shackles of memory. Isaiah’s vision speaks to us down the ages because it is an invitation to walk in the light, not hide in the dark. It is an invitation to not fear to dream the seeming impossible.

Advent is a time for expectation of things to come. Advent is a time for preparation, which means having the audacity in the present time to plant the seeds that will one day mature into our future hope. Advent means consciously rejecting the self-protective foreboding that results when we can only see into our future through the prism of our past.

Advent is Waiting

However, most of all Advent is a time for patient waiting. In my experience waiting is the hardest thing to tolerate. Yet, the ability to courageously wait is the hallmark of our task in this present-time. The Theologian Paul Tillich put it beautifully when he wrote:

Although waiting is not having, it is also having. The fact that we wait for something shows that in some way we already possess it. Waiting, says Tillich, anticipates that which is not yet real. That is, if we wait in hope and patience, the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us. Those who wait, Tillich says, in an ultimate sense are not that far from that for which they wait. Theology of Culture as compiled at

In another of his poems from the Four Quartets, titled East Coker, T.S. Eliot writes that to hope is often going to be to hope for the wrong thing. To love will inevitably be at some level a love of the wrong thing. Eliot understands the power of memory to dictate that the mind and heart recognize only what they already know. So is loving and hoping and believing a fruitless task?  No, he answers for: the faith and the love and the hope are realized only in the waiting!

Kingship or Kingdom?

I. An historical perspective

In 1925 Pius XI proclaimed the feast of Christ the King as an assertion of the Catholic Church’s protest against the rise of fascism and the growing power of communism. There is an interesting background to this development. In 313, the Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, forever changing the developmental course of Christianity. The Church now became a great institution of state adopting the images and attributes of political and economic power.

Under Constantine and his Byzantine successors, in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire centered at Constantinople, the Church becomes incorporated as the spiritual aspect of imperial power. In the Western part of the Empire, at Rome now increasingly subject to barbarian invasion, the political center of imperial power collapses and comes to be replaced by the Church as the only center for both political and spiritual power. In Rome, over time the Pope replaces the Emperor. The Pope as the Bishop of Rome, also becomes a king directly ruling a swathe of territory straddling the central part of the Italian Peninsula known as the Papal States. The Papal States existed as an independent state, with the Pope as its kingly ruler, until as late as 1861.

While, the Constantinian Settlement set the Church on a course to become a center of political power rivaling the other great center of power, the Imperial Court, it also resulted in the attributes of earthly kingship being projected onto the image of Christ. In many Churches of the Byzantine style, Christ is depicted in the image of Christ Pantocrator as Emperor of the Universe. Even today we see in some Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches the central image not of the dying Christ on the Cross, but of the Christus Rex, Christ as King, reigning in glory from the Cross. 

Pius XI’s 1925 proclamation of the feast of Christ the King seems to me to stand in this tradition. In the face of the growing power of fascism and communism, Pius XI asserts the old Constantinian power of the Church as the only center of allegiance for Roman Catholics.  Here is an old story of one authoritarian system asserting itself against competing authoritarian rivals. 

Pius’ proclamation also needs to be understood within the Italian context. In 1861, the newly unified Kingdom of Italy proclaimed Rome as its capital. This was greeted by the Vatican as a hostile act amounting to the annexation of Rome by the Kingdom of Italy, leaving only a small enclave surrounding the Vatican itself as the remnant of the once mighty Papal States. Between 1861 and 1929 the Popes considered themselves prisoners of the Italian State and thus refused to leave the Vatican City. The Vatican and the Italian Government signed the Lateran Agreements in 1929 bringing the papal self-confinement to an end inaugurating the situation we know today.

II. A contemporary perspective

In 1994 with the publication of the Common Revised Lectionary most mainline Christian Churches including those of the Anglican Communion adopted Christ the King as the last Sunday of the Christian Year. We are among those first generations of Christians who are acutely conscious of living in a post-Constantinian era. In Pope Francis I many of us hope we are witnessing a beginning of the reversal of the Roman Church’s retreat back into a Constantinian world-view, a marked trend since Vatican II. Therefore, the question for us is, in what sense has the Episcopal Church  adopted the celebration of Christ the King?

III. The struggle between Culture and Gospel

Luke’s Gospel draws our attention to Jesus in the travail of dying on the Cross.  In the Gospels the so-called kingship of Jesus is a way for the Roman authorities to draw attention to the irony of his situation. The Romans are saying: look Jews, here is your King just like your nation, defeated and humiliated. Jesus on the cross is no serious contender with the power of Caesar. Herein lies a difficulty! Christians have often wanted to transform the image of Christ on the cross into a subtle exercise of power as understood within the contexts of their own political landscapes.

I am grateful to Brian Stoffregen in his sermon blog on Text Week for his reference to Robert Capon, who in Hunting the Divine Fox confronts us with our typical American Messiah which bears little resemblance to Luke’s image of Jesus on the cross:

. . . almost nobody resists the temptation to jazz up the humanity of Christ. The true paradigm of the ordinary American view of Jesus is Superman: “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s Superman! Strange visitor from another planet, who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American Way.” If that isn’t popular christology, I’ll eat my hat. Jesus gentle, meek, and mild, but with secret, souped-up, more-than‑human insides bumbles around for thirty-three years, nearly gets himself done in for good by the Kryptonite Kross, but at the last minute, struggles into the phone booth of the Empty Tomb, changes into his Easter suit and, with a single bound, leaps back up to the planet Heaven. It’s got it all — including, just so you shouldn’t miss the lesson, kiddies: He never once touches Lois Lane. 

Capon notes that the human race has always been deeply unwilling to accept a human messiah. He notes that we don’t want to be saved in our humanity; we want to be fished out of it. We crucified Jesus, because:

… he claimed to be God and then failed to come up to our standards for assessing the claim. It’s not that we weren’t looking for the Messiah; it’s just that he wasn’t what we were looking for. Our kind of Messiah would come down from a cross. He would carry a folding phone booth in his back pocket. He wouldn’t do a stupid thing like rising from the dead. He would do a smart thing like never dying.” [pp. 90-91; this book has been reprinted, along with two other books under the title The Romance of the Word: One Man’s Love Affair with Theology] 

Superman Jesus is one way out of our having to take the suffering servant ministry of Jesus revealed through the cross, seriously.  It is our American cultural equivalent to the earlier images of Christ Pantocrator and of Christus Rex, both reigning in triumph and glory, both avoiding the shame and humiliation that Luke and the other Gospel writers show us as the essential elements of Jesus dying on the cross. The challenge for us today is to realize that the celebration of Christ the King is not a celebration of Jesus Superman. Neither is it a celebration of Jesus as secret King (my kingdom is not of this world) who rejects the pain and mess of the real world in preference to some other world that is accessible only in the inner world of the believer.

Christ the King is the celebration of Jesus as Messiah. The theology of Jesus’ kingship is the Jewish theology of the Messiah as God’s promised one, who, in his coming confronts the business-as-usual mentality of human political, social, and economic structures. However, the Jewish theology of the Messiah undergoes a development in the hands of Jesus. Jesus as Messiah does not conform to the Jewish (and we might equally read here American) nationalist expectation of a mighty king coming to fight fire with fire. Jesus as Messiah is God announcing the in-breaking of the Kingdom. Christ as King is not a celebration of kingship as we understand it to be, the projection of earthly images of power residing in a single person. It is the announcement of Kingdom. The Kingdom is made real in those attributes Jesus reveals on the cross; courage, servant-hood, forgiveness, generosity, and inclusion.

Kingdom is a realm of being that makes us very uneasy. The Kingdom of God challenges our easy accommodation with the status quo. The status quo draws on the privileging of power, which is always unequally distributed. From the unequal distribution of power, flow all the forms of oppression that characterizes our contemporary society.

I want to single-out two aspects of the way living in the Kingdom challenges our accommodation with the cultural values around us.  Christ the King is Trinity Cathedral’s in-gathering Sunday. An expectation of the Kingdom of God lies in no longer praying that God’s kingdom will come while we continue to manage our wealth as if it actually belonged, rather than was entrusted, to us. The health and vitality of the common good requires that prosperity is shared and spread around. As a society Americans discover this truth, then forget it, only to have to rediscover it once more as the fabric of society frays under the weight of unrestrained greed. As a culture we currently seem to be in the forgetting part of the cycle.

Therefore it is important that I share with you that in 2013 your generosity benefited good causes at home and abroad to the tune of $33,500. There is not a month that goes by when I am not able to offer financial assistance to those in a tight spot as a result of your continued generosity in support of the Dean’s Discretionary Account. I do want to thank the community for this powerful expression of support for our common good!

Christ the King this year coincides with Speak-out Sunday. Speak-out Sunday is a fitting protest for Christ the King against the shocking prevalence in our society of violence against women. In our society one in four women experience some form of violence against the person. Violence against women is an expression of the injustice of our society. It is an expression of the continued distortions of power between men and women. It is an expression of the economic stress that disproportionately affects the poor. It is an expression of our cultural, victimization of women typified in much of the popular police and crime drama we see on TV and in the cinema. Violence against women results from our society’s distorted images of masculinity. Patriarchal- competitive attitudes pitch men against one another in unjust hierarchies of power. It is often the men who lose-out in this hierarchical struggle for power that are most likely to turn their anger and pain against woman. Women become for many men a symbol of the vulnerability and helplessness they most fear.

Living in the Kingdom means one thing above all others. No-longer can we keep our faith a private affair and ignore the need of our neighbor. Jesus on the cross announces the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. We struggle to accept this because if we do then who knows what God will expect from us? 

Next Sunday is Advent Sunday, heralding a new Church Year. Christ the King announces to us that we are already living in the Kingdom of God. We live this out when we follow Jesus in refusing to conform to the expectations of this world by an easy accommodation with its limited vision of worth and its truncated understanding of justice. In the Kingdom, Christ as King is not content to rule from afar, but rather comes to meet us in the humiliation of our powerlessness. In the Kingdom redemption is the gift offered to all as an expression of God’s deepest and truest nature.

As we celebrate the ending of a wonderful year and prepare with anticipation and excitement for the changes that 2014 promises, my prayer for us is that this Trinity community will become more and more a place where we recognize and make more manifest that Kingdom of God, already within and around us.

Approaching the End of the Interval

I have had the privilege of journeying with this community since 2009. During the last 16 months this has been in the capacity as your Dean, interim. Today, Allen Kimbrough, the chair of the Nominations Committee will joyfully announce the call of the next Dean, elect, who will take up his responsibilities as Dean on January 1st 2014.

This is a moment of excitement. It has been a long haul for the members of our dedicated Nominations Committee, all of whom never imagined they would have to carry their responsibilities over such an extended period of time. I am excited because I believe they have discerned the prompting of the Holy Spirit faithfully and chosen well. And so, we move with expectation into the future. Because the future is still largely the yet-to-become-known, excitement and expectation are tinged with natural uncertainty.

This community is not the same community as the one, as Canon Pastor, I came to serve in 2009. This is a rather unremarkable statement because like the human body, human communities are always in the process of renewing themselves. Because this is literally a moment-to-moment process, we don’t normally notice the changes.

Each Dean brings to this community the timely gifts of that which is needed. Some of you will have long memories stretching over the tenure of a number of Deans. With the vantage of hindsight, it becomes possible to see how each brought timely gifts which, at the time, were the gifts the Cathedral needed. With time what is needed changes as the Cathedral Community develops and responds to the gifts each Dean has brought. Inevitably a community also chafes against the reality that one person cannot be all things to all people. In this way change occurs, emerging out of the tensions between strengths and limitations.

Periods of steady growth, inevitably lead to points of transition where a new consciousness beckons the community towards a different phase of growth. As a community we have been hovering at such a transition point. The ways we have done things in the past have needed to evolve in order for us to realize our potential as a community.

Over the last 16 months I have seen my task as Interim Dean as one of signaling the importance of possessing both courage and hope as we move forward together.  As when the stage lights dim and we sit in darkness hearing the scenery props repositioning, awaiting the lights to go up signalling the next scene in the play, my task has been to introduce changes, which while not attempting to change too much prepare for the coming of a new scene in the pageant of our community life. I would like to share with you my three priorities over this period of interregnum.

My first priority has been to strengthen the staff team by the introduction of a new style of collaborative working that I call freedom within a framework. I have encouraged the members of the paid staff to see the fuller integrity of their professional authority. In their areas of responsibility, I have encouraged them to employ their gifts of initiative and skill freed from the concern of micromanagement from above, and undue interference from members of the congregation from below. That’s the freedom part. The framework part of freedom within a framework is that of collegiality. Collaboration rests upon collegiality and communication providing the framework, as the rim of a wheel holds each of the spokes in place. One of the significant changes I have signaled to the community is that the paid staff are the people who carry the day-to-day responsibility for the good order of the organization. This emphasis is one of the necessary steps enabling our transitioning from a smaller to a larger organization.

My second priority has been to address the challenges in the area of financial stability. Last Fall, I introduced us to a structured and intentional conversation about money. This conversation resulted in 30% more of you committing to becoming pledging members. This Fall, our structured and intentional conversation about money focuses on an invitation to raise the level of our personal financial commitment to this community by a minimum of 1% of net income.

On Sunday November 17th at the end of each service, the Treasurer, Keith Cook, will update us on progress to date in our current financial quarter. Then the Chair of the Stewardship Ministry Team, Tim Watt, will introduce us to a proposed expenditure budget for 2014. We are taking time at the end of worship to communicate to members of the Cathedral Community the import of the heavy lifting to be done if we are to close the gap between 2013 and 2014 budgets. As the British Chancellor of the Exchequer says each year on introducing the government’s budget in Parliament, this will be a budget for growth! 

Following the 10 am Eucharist, there will be a forum opportunity for questions and answers concerning our current financial position and our spending proposals for 2014. 

My third priority has been to call our attention to the centrality of our discipleship as followers of Christ. Dean Knisely used to tell the story that at his appointment some members commented on his too much talk about God. One member reassured the others that there was nothing to worry about because, he would soon get over that! He didn’t get over that and as a consequence we deepened and grew as a community.

Why else are we here if it is not to realize our inarticulate longing to fall more deeply in love with God. I am aware that to some this may sound almost like intemperate and embarrassingly evangelical language. However, I do not apologize for it. Our only future as a Church is to be faithful to our calling. I define that calling to be the ark of witness to the presence of God in the world all around us. We cannot do that unless we are a community where courageous hope and love challenge us to move beyond the limitations of our socially constructed imagination of God.

Each of us takes our own time as we grow into richer and fuller ways of being disciples. I have no wish to force, push, or hurry individuals on this journey. However, I refuse to pretend that there is any other journey for Christians to take, other than the journey of opening to an ever-deepening love of God and one another.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that on the road of Christian discipleship there will always be a temptation to misread and follow the signs of the times. We will encounter periods of intense difficulty, even at times dire danger, as the passions of division wreck havoc around us. The challenges of living a Christian life in our time and place continually threaten to divert us from our purpose and destination. In the warning there is also Jesus’ characteristic assurance that we will not come to harm nor lose our souls for the way to persevere in our Christian calling is to live motivated by faithful, loving, and courageous patience.

God in Context


Last Thursday in our Episcopal 101 class we began to look at the Bible. In everyday speech we often refer to the Bible as a book. One of the things that people are often surprised to learn is that name Bible comes from a Greek word that does not mean book, but library. The Bible is more properly a library of books in a single binding.

All the books of the Bible address the core themes of our human experience of God. I am fond of the comment that everything in the Bible is true, and some of it actually happened. The Bible expresses truth, not because it is the product of divine dictation, but because its truth speaks directly to our difficult and painful human struggle of being in relationship with God.

Not everything in the Bible agrees with everything else in the Bible. This confuses modern people shaped by a scientific approach to the use of language. How can we know what to believe?  Amidst competing claims, how can we decide what is true and what is not?  Some Christians solve this dilemma by casting doubt aside and insisting that everything agrees with everything else under the cover of it being God’s divinely dictated word. Other Christians explain the Bible away as a series of interesting myths, the product of past pre-scientific cultures, having as much value as Greek mythology as a practical guide for living life in the 21st Century.

As Episcopalians our approach to the Bible has been strongly influenced by our understanding that the relationship we have with God never takes place within a timeless vacuum. Christianity, like Judaism is a historical religion, meaning that the relationship with God is shaped by events in time and space. God communicates with us through becoming involved in the events not only of our history, but the events of our present-day lives. The reason for the huge variance between scriptural writings is that each book is the product of an exploration of human relationship with God as seen from within a particular social, political, and economic context. Rather than timeless, scripture is contextual, and herein lies its truth value!

The problem with context is that it is always relative. This is one of the laws of the universe with which we just have to live. Context allows for both a discovery, and a concealing, of God. Our context allows us to discover important elements in our relationship with God while at the same time hiding from us other perspectives on God. That is why we need the Biblical record. It communicates tradition to us. As the living past, Tradition is the Church’s interpretation of the record of Scripture.

Tradition works to keep our experience and perspective on God wider than our own context might otherwise allow. Yet, the task in each generation is to sit in the tension of having to interpret the Tradition of the living past in a way that equips us to meet the challenges we face living in our context of 21st Century America.

Each Sunday, through the Lectionary of readings given for the particular day, God speaks to us as we gather as the people of God in worship. Through hearing how context has shaped the different ways the people of God, Hebrew as well as Christian, have grappled with their experience of relationship with God, we are invited to do likewise; to grapple with the demands of being in relationship with God within our own time and place.

Application I

In the Old Testament Reading from Job,  Job in the strongest possible terms, challenges God. Who is this God whom Job challenges? This is the God of Job’s culture and context. This is the God of easy answers and trite explanations for complex matters. Job is undergoing a devastating experience of loss and persecution and the wisdom of his friends rests on a conventional view of God, who says to Job: if disaster befalls you it must be your fault so suck it-up!

Job is the example of a human being able to breakout of the straightjacket of his religious and social conditioning. In confronting God, Job uses an element of his context to expand, through direct challenge, his understanding of God. Job expects his redeemer to vindicate him.

The term redeemer is so familiar to Christians that we automatically assume that although Job would not have been aware of doing so, he was implicitly referring to Christ, the redeeming second person of the Trinity. However, in Job’s time a redeemer was usually a human guardian whose role was to offer protection for an individual against the harsh impact of economic misfortune. Using his contextual understanding of redeemer Job pits his culture’s limited view of God against an expanded expectation of how God should be in relationship with him.

I am attracted by the idea that Job is breaking free of his world’s social construction of God – a God who amuses himself by giving and taking with equal capriciousness. Job expands  his expectation of God challenging God to give an account of their relationship. That is the audacity of Job’s demand. Job breaks new ground and moves well beyond the limitations of his culture’s social imagination of God.

Application II

Luke gives us another story about Jesus in argument with the Jewish authorities. Usually, Luke presents Jesus in argument with the Pharisees. Here, Jesus is accosted by another group known as the Sadducees. For once the Pharisees are his supporters.

The Sadducees were the aristocratic, priestly class whose political power centered in the Temple and its rituals. There were significant political and religious differences between Sadducees and Pharisees. Politically, the Sadducees collaborated with the Roman Occupation in order to protect their privileged status and power. The Pharisees were stridently nationalistic. Religiously, the Sadducees and the Pharisees differed on the belief in resurrection.

Both the Pharisees and the followers of Jesus shared a belief in resurrection, which at the time of Jesus was a theologically progressive doctrine. It emerges out of the Pharisees acceptance of the oral tradition of Prophets augmenting the Torah. Both Pharisees and Jesus’ followers saw resurrection as a sign of the in-breaking of God’s reign through the coming of the Messiah. What they disagreed on was the identity of the Messiah. The Sadducees, being religiously conservative held firmly to an interpretation of the Torah that did not allow any theological development.

Using the inheritance practices prescribed by the Law of Moses where a widow became an inherited item of property, passing like other pieces of property to her husband’s brother, the Sadducees sought to entrap Jesus in a scenario that made the concept of resurrection seem ridiculous. Jesus does not argue with them he simply replies that the laws of this world do not apply in the world to come.


In any society there are religious groups who are very happy with the status quo and see God as supporting the maintenance of the status quo. There are other religious groups whose hope is for God to reverse the injustices of this world in the world to come.

The content of Luke’s story is particular to 1st Century occupied Palestine. But the context is the universal struggle between those whose religious perspective imprisons God in the limitations of the status quo, and those like Job, whose religious perspective challenges the status quo leading to an understanding of God that breaks free of social and religious constraints.

How does our context shapes our perspective of relationship with God? The authority of the Scriptures is honored, not when the solutions of past are imposed upon our experience, but when we struggle to expand our picture of God as appropriate for our own context, just as previous generations did in theirs.

In this period of stewardship renewal we are called upon to question our social assumptions that the fruits of our labor are attributable to our own efforts and are therefore, ours to control. When gratitude replaces pride of accomplishment as the source of our reflection on the best use of our resources in support of our Trinity community we are directly challenging the social assumptions of our materialist society.

Job expected God to give an account for God’s actions. This is a two way street. From the relative security and privilege of our own social location God likewise asks that we also give account for our willingness to see, or to remain blind, to the expectations of the Kingdom of God in our own time and place.

Saints; and I mean to be one too!


In the Piers Paul Read’s novel The Death of a Pope a conversation is taking place over dinner in Kampala, Uganda between a young English reporter named Kate and a Catholic aid worker named Uriarte. Uriarte in explaining to Kate Uganda’s tribal and political complexity mentions the forty-five Bagandan Christian martyrs slain by the 19th century King of Baganda, now modern-day Uganda. Of the forty-five martyrs twenty-two were Roman Catholics, and the rest Anglicans. Uriarte says: the Church flourished on the blood of the martyrs …. it was like the early days of the Church. The Twenty-two Catholics were canonized by Pope Paul VI. Kate asks: Aren’t the Anglican martyrs in Heaven? Uriarte smiles: I dare say, but the Church of England doesn’t make saints. They don’t have a pope.

Of Saints and saints

On the pecking order of sainthood the martyrs are the crowning glory. However, as Uriarte hints at, it remains a thorny question as to what we mean when we talk about the saints? Because the word saint has two distinct meanings depending on whether you are using a capital or a lowercase s. Uriarte is correct, Saints can only be made by the Pope, which after the Reformation severely limits Sainthood to members of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a nice question: what is the post-death status of the Anglican martyrs, are they non-official Saints or merely saints?

The primary qualification for becoming a Saint is quite simple. You must be dead! The second qualification is you need to have been an elite Christian, or more specifically, an elite Christian who has the good fortune of being in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The great medieval vision of a three-tiered universe has the Saints, triumphantly entering into the presence of God through the portal of death. In the Book of Revelation, John the Divine pictures them robed in white, singing praises before the Throne of God, 24/7. Traditionally, we commemorate the Saints on November 1st with the feast of All Saints. Even for Episcopalians, who as Anglicans can’t really make Saints anymore, the feast of All Saints is so important a feast that it is one of only four feasts that the Prayer Book allows to be transferred to take precedence over the Sunday following the 1st November.

Yet, what about the saints, the ordinary Christians who have died without any record of having lived lives of extraordinary holiness, or died the death of a martyr? Traditionally, these we commemorate in more mournful tones on November 2nd with the feast of All Souls.

The Three-Tiered Universemichelangelo-buonarroti-the-last-judgement-1534-41_i-G-66-6636-GRUE100Z

The division between All Saints and All Souls represents the Medieval conception of the three-tiered universe. This vision drew extensively from the Apocalyptic literature of Old Testament in writings like book of Daniel, Enoch, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, and carried over in full voice into the New Testament in the book of Revelation. An apocalyptic theme concerns the fate of the souls of the righteous. These were they who had suffered gruesome martyrdom for the sake of the Nation of Israel. By the time of Second Temple Judaism, the religion of Jesus’ day, the souls of the righteous were understood to rest in the hand of God awaiting a full bodily resurrection when the Messiah arrives to restore the fortunes of Zion.

Drawing upon this apocalyptic theme, Medieval Christianity pictured the Saints occupying the top-tier of the three-tiered universe. They were called the Church Triumphant. The souls of the ordinary dead, those non-elite Christians in life, occupied the second tier as the Church Expectant. Their souls did not dwell with God but following death waited in either in a state of suspended rest or writhing in pains of Purgatory, depending on your theology. Here, like the righteous heroes of Israel awaiting the coming of the Messiah, expectant souls must await the Parousia, i.e. the Second Coming of Christ.

At the Second Coming of Christ all the dead, both the souls of the Saints in triumph and the souls of the saints in expectation were to be raised to bodily form again. Resurrection, the return to embodied life, as demonstrated by Jesus was not merely a spiritual life after death, which state the Saints in triumph already enjoyed. Resurrection both in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity meant embodied life or as N.T. Wright calls it: not life after death, but life, after life, after death.

Which brings me to the third or bottom tier of the three-tiered universe. Here the still living remained in the Church Militant, here in earth. The living, are those who in the words of the great hymn For all the saints: still vainly struggle in the hope that maybe at the end of time, they too, will in glory shine.

The Communion of Saints

Today, the echo of the three-tiered universe still permeates our imaginations. Yet, it no longer dominates our rational minds. Consequently the division between All Saints and All Souls is falling away. Today, we tend to run the two together in one great celebration of All Saints, replacing the Medieval tiered universe with the image of the more egalitarian Communion of the Saints. This is an image of that great cloud of witnesses, envisioned by the writer to the Letter to the Hebrews, surrounding us with perpetual prayer and love. We experience their presence in our lives because as relationship ties people together in this life, relationship continues to unite us with our dead loved ones and all those whose witness in life provides us with hope and courage for our living. This is why in our Anglican Tradition, though we can’t make new Saints, we continue to remember exemplary Christians in our calendar of Lesser Feats and Fasts. The Saints, those canonized by a pope, and the saints, those of our own we continue to remember, are now seen as one, united together with the living within the one Communion of Saints.

For me the division between All Saints and All Souls, no longer resting on a hierarchical distinction between Saints and saints continues to have some meaning, but only in a psychological and not an eschatological sense. Psychologically, the experience of death carries both the hope life with God and the sadness occasioned by the loss of loved ones. Human Beings need both to celebrate and mourn in the face of death. The different notes struck by All Saints and All Souls do at least honor this dichotomy of need.

Going Back to the New Testament

The reference to our having such a great inheritance in the Letter to the Ephesians and Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, both set as readings for All Saints this year, strike a different note concerning the identity of saints. St Paul uses the word saint (hagios) some 44 times. The term appears 62 times in the New Testament as a whole. In the New Testament saint does not refer to the elite Christians whose souls now enjoy immortal life with God. It refers to ordinary Christians engaged in the daily tasks of discipleship on this side of the grave. The hymn I sing a song of the saints of God picks up this usage,


when, allowing for the quaintness of such an English vision it says: …the world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or on trains, or in shops, or at tea. 

In the New Testament to be a saint you don’t have to be dead. Luke tells us that Jesus turning to his disciples began to speak:

How blest are you who are in need; the Kingdom of God is yours.How blest are you who now go hungry; your hunger shall be satisfied.How blest are you who weep now; you shall laugh.How blest you are when people hate you, when they outlaw you and insult you, and ban your very name as infamous, because of the Son of Man. On that day be glad and dance for joy; for assuredly you have a rich reward in heaven; in just the same way did their fathers treat the prophets. (Luke 5:20 NEB) 

In the New Testament it is through baptism not death that we become saints. Through our baptism we come into relationship together within the community of Christ’s Church. Here we participate in the miraculous at the level of everyday living. The act of listening brings the miracle of healing to a brother or sister in pain. Sometimes, offering ourselves to stand in the place of fear with another and so signal that together we can survive being afraid contributes to the miracle of courage which is an expectation of the Kingdom in the here and now. The smile of acceptance of another’s difference, the pledge of solidarity with another’s struggle, the generosity and grace in providing material support of money or food to another in need; all are the miracles of everyday life. I call them miracles because through them we participate in God’s regeneration of the world through acts of love and self-sacrifice.


I continue to remind all of us at Trinity Cathedral concerning these two months of our annual renewal program. This is a reflection on our exercise of tender competence for one another and our world.  At the heart of this process is an invitation. As we begin to plan for the ways each of us will support the life of this community in 2014, God is inviting each one of us to connect with the sources of gratitude in our lives and to become accountable to our calling as God’s saints.  God invites you and me to live up to the nobility of our saintly calling by never missing an opportunity to embrace a generous action. Gratitude, generosity, and service, these are the building blocks in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, like being a saint, is not something for the life hereafter. It is living and active, cutting like a two-edged sword in the here-and-now of our lives together.

We have a role to play: be it high and lofty, or down and dirty, for the saints of God are folk like me, and I mean to be one too! (Steve Pankey November 5th 2012 sermon All Saints Feebly Struggle – a sermon)

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