For Where the Heart Is

Any attempt to speak about money in the church runs the risk of provoking a defensive response from the overly cynical. Sometimes, understandable as such cynicism might seem, this response misses the point that money is a primary metaphor for values reminding us of that wonderful insight in Matt 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When we make a commitment to financially support an organization – it tells others something about our values. It further identifies our desire to contribute value to – as well as derive a sense of value from- because investment is a two-way process providing a sense of purpose and essential meaning.

One of the many paradoxes at the heart of Christian life is that spiritual renewal is so much more than money yet, financial generosity is a key outcome of coming to know our need of God.

Money can make me anxious. I can trace my anxiety back to my early experience of how conversations about money were negotiated in my family.  Hence the question I posed in this week’s E-News: What is your first memory of money – is it a positive or an anxious one?

This early experience has left me with a default expectation of scarcity that is in direct conflict with my actual experience of a life of abundance. This discrepancy between expectation and experience is a paradox- one I am sure I am not alone in having.

God’s promise of abundance is a presumption invites us to trust – despite the countervailing voices of warning sounding in our heads. Because of the evolution of the human brain, fear is a more primary impulse than trust. The architecture of the brain reflects the primal instinct to survive, and fear is more useful than trust in this regard.

Remembering and reflecting on the difference between my fearful expectations and my actual experience in life leads me to recognize that God has been indisputably generous to me. Connecting the dots reminds me that a fear of scarcity, at least in my case, is simply a default state of mind stemming from early memories – fears that persist even in the face of an opposite experience in life.

Our fear of scarcity masks and hides from us our actual experience of abundance. In the grip of presuming scarcity to be the more accurate reflection of reality we fear that being generous will lead to loss of the resources and reserves we might need.

America is the most prosperous country on the globe, maybe the most prosperous society in human history and yet it experiences the highest levels of scarcity anxiety. As the land of plenty to overflowing, we condone unforgivable levels of poverty and deprivation.

There seems to be an inverse relationship between our national prosperity and our levels of societal anxiety.  There persists a belief that there is enough economic capacity for massive tax cuts to the already obscenely wealthy but not enough economic capacity to tackle endemic poverty and inequality. The presumption of abundance, fostering a practice of generosity IS the only effective protest in the face of societal inequality and injustice.

In setting the date for the launch of this year’s fall stewardship drive I should have paid closer attention to the lectionary because it is last Sunday’s gospel reading, I really want for today.

It’s Mark who gives us the most complete sequence of events occurring as Jesus and his disciples take to the road to Jerusalem. The road of course is both an actual road – Jesus and disciples are literally travelling to Jerusalem – and a metaphor for the journey of discipleship.

At Mark 10:17 Jesus is approached by a man who kneeling before him honors him as Good Teacher – then asks what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus – ever attuned to the voices of false flattery reminds the man that only God is good. He then in a roundabout way asks the man about following the commandments – presumably the conventionally understood path to eternal life. 

The man responds by telling Jesus he has assiduously kept the commandments since his youth. There then occurs one of those moments best described by the Sanskrit word darsana or darshan – meaning to look beyond the appearance of things into the heart of the matter.

In this moment of darsana – seeing into the heart – Jesus acutely discerns the nature of the man’s dilemma. Despite his sincere and disciplined practice of the religious life he’s been unable to really come to know his need of God – leaving him tortured by the sense of something still lacking. Mark reports that Jesus looking at the man, loved him, confirming that there is indeed onelacking.

The practice of the spiritual life is incomplete unless it propels us beyond mere duty or a desire to do the right thing into a compassionate and passionate engagement with the world around us. The man is shocked by what Jesus tells him – this certainly is not what he wanted to hear -and he goes away grieving in the knowledge that what he so desperately seeks will forever elude him.  

Jesus’ prescription for eternal life is simple. Yet, it’s simplicity reveals its degree of difficulty. For the quest for eternal life is to follow Jesus. Yet to follow Jesus requires an examination of his relationship between his fear of scarcity and his desire for an experience of spiritual abundance.

That evening in the daily review with his disciples of the events of the day – to emphasize the nature of the difficulty for the rich man in connecting up his fear of scarcity with his longing for spiritual abundance  – Jesus uses a metaphor for the seeming impossibility. He says to the disciples: Children, clearly emphasizing their spiritual immaturity – how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Now before we misinterpret Jesus as a preaching naked socialism – a misinterpretation that nicely exempts us – well most of us – from his warning about being rich as an impediment to eternal life. We need to pause and take a second look. Jesus is really talking here not about the enjoyment or perils of financial abundance but about the way financial abundance is seen as  th source of self-sufficient security. The problem is not possessing abundance, but the way our abundance is possessed -possessed defensively as a bulwark against the fear of scarcity. It’s all a matter of attitude.

The source of all our loves in life flow from God’s love for us. In acknowledging this  we come to know our need of God. Between now and November 14th – ingathering Sunday – I invite us all to consider the necessity of cultivating practices of generosity. I would also ask you to remember that the practice of generosity fundamentally is the strongest and most effective protest against inequality and injustice. As individuals, through our support of St Martin’s we can do so much more in furtherance of these aims than any one of us can do alone.

One of the many paradoxes at the heart of Christian life is that spiritual renewal is so much more than money yet, financial generosity is a key outcome of coming to know our need of God.

 For where your treasure is -there your heart lies also.

Matt 6:21

Liminal Times: Job a meditation

Image: Job and his family restored, William Blake. The Morgan Library & Museum

At St Martin’s, we find ourselves between the joyful celebration of the success of Opening Our Doors to the Future – the capital campaign and the launch of our Annual Stewardship Drive for 2022. The capital campaign – beyond dollar amounts raised – is an expression of confidence from our current members in the future of St Martin’s. Next week, we will officially launch the stewardship drive for 2022. Over the course of its five-week duration, we will be asking our membership to review and renew their estimate of giving so that we can effectively plan for 2022, our 125th year.

However, this review and renewal process asks us to reflect on the question: can we let our imaginations become tools through which God’s dreaming for the world can flow more freely into our world?

We find ourselves in what Susan Beaumont in her insightful book How to lead when you don’t know where you are going –described as a liminal season. A liminal season is a shoulder season – a time in-between. How do we proceed when between an ending and a new beginning—when the old way of doing things no longer works but a way forward is not yet clear?  It’s not only in the church but as a wider society we find ourselves in a liminal time when the continuity of tradition disintegrates and uncertainty about the future fuels doubt and chaos. In a liminal season it simply is not helpful to pretend we understand what needs to happen next. Prophetic words for us in this moment of history.

St Martin’s endeavors to occupy a place of tension weathering the uncertainty of the times through a commitment to traditional worship combined with a radical theological messaging that recognizes and attempts to speak into the uncertainty of the times. We are all watching the stalwart generation of faithful members pass on to the next great adventure and wonder who is coming up behind them to take their place? Our fear that we are on a trajectory of decline fills some of us with despair while provoking in others a manic attempt to delay what we all fear is inevitable.

In last week’s sermon I offered a sweeping overview of the essential themes found in the book of Job – a book that offers one of the most profound explorations of the nature of human suffering in the face of a God who often seems to us uninterested in our plight – a God who from our experience remains silent in the face of humanity’s age-old question concerning suffering – why?

In today’s Job portion we hear him exclaiming:  Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come to his dwelling. We might read this sentence as Oh what I wouldn’t give to know that God is really there. Words that remind us of the partial nature of our knowledge and the narrowness of our vision.

Our vision is clouded with self-preoccupation and protests of self-importance – cutting us off from the divine energy for renewal. So much of our vision – both individually and in community is hedged-in by our need for reassurance. We strain to hear a false note of security – a grasping for knowledge as a defense against the uncertainties of the future.

Job continues:

I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments, I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

Eventually, God will respond to Job in rhetorical metaphors that expose the human dilemma; we cannot know what we feel we need to know. We fill the vacuum in our knowledge with simplistic answers such as leading a charmed life is a sign of God’s favor and suffering means God’s punishment or abandonment. Feeling alone and abandoned in an indifferent universe – we cast ourselves even further adrift when concluding that because our suffering is not instantly alleviated – we are not given the miracle we demand, we cease to matter to God.

In the end, God responds to Job by effectively sidestepping his complaint. God will not meet Job’s complaint by justifying divine action or inaction. Instead, we will hear God reminding Job of the paradox of his quest for omniscience -to know the entirety of things:

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world? Tell me if you have understanding who determined its measurements – surely you know! Who laid the cornerstone when the morning stars sang together, and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

We cannot know the entirety of things. We cannot know the future except in outline – glimpsed through a glass darkly. Yet, journeying into the future has never required us to know where we’re going. Oh, I know we like to pretend that we often do, but, we have never known the future before it arrives. In this lies grounds for hope. Instead of being preoccupied with our own construction of a future of either doom and gloom or of false and brittle certainties – can we let our imaginations become tools through which God’s dreaming for the world can flow  with greater freedom?  Our future lies in the mind of God and always has done!

If we learn anything from the serious practice of a spiritual life, God’s surprises are so much more exciting and fulfilling than anything – when left to the impoverishment of our own imaginations -we could predict or plan for ourselves.

Between the Job of the prologue and the Job of the epilogue lies the experience of his suffering. Job’s is not an experience of senseless suffering although through protest he demands for God to show him its meaning.

God never gives Job an answer to his insistent question why. Many see in this refusal to satisfy Job’s demand a suspicion that maybe God can’t give Job a satisfactory answer. Nevertheless, between beginning and ending lies the experience of change and being changed – albeit by something pretty awful. Maybe this is the purpose of Job’s suffering – a catalyst for change.

In the beginning, before Job has everything he cherishes taken from him, he believes that his prosperity reflects his own greatness. In this he is a great icon for many of today’s obscenely wealthy 1%-ters. The book ends with God’s restitution to Job not simply of the original wealth taken from him but of a magnification of that wealth tenfold. But Job is not the same man he was before. Suffering has changed him, and he now understands his wealth as a sign not of his greatness, but of God’s. His wealth is no longer his, but a sign of God’s generosity.

Job’s response to God’s generosity is gratitude. How might any of us express our gratitude? By a dedication and commitment to live in turn, with greater generosity.

Job now does something unheard of – as a sign of his gratitude for all he has he rewrites his will – settling portions of his estate on his three daughters as well as his male heirs. In the time in which this story is set, this action would have been unthinkable -beyond the capacity of the ancient imagination.

Can anything be a clearer demonstration of job as a changed man?

Living amidst the uncertainties, the fear, doubts, and violence of a liminal time, we might pay greater attention to our part in the unfolding of God’s dream for the world. The flow of God’s dreaming for the world requires only two things from us. The first is a capacity to be endlessly curious in the face of doubt and fear. And the second is a willingness to be changed in the direction of becoming more fit for God’s purpose!

Can you love what you cannot control?

The Wisdom genre of writing in the O.T comprises the book of Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, and the book of Job. On the whole, the book of Wisdom presents a conventional view of: do good and you will be rewarded, do bad and you will be punished. Ecclesiastes has a more complex and nuanced view which challenges the book of Wisdom’s more simplistic conclusions. Ecclesiastes views the universe as unpredictable. Bad things happen to good people just as good things happen to bad people, and there is no clear explanation for why this is so. This more nuanced perspective raises a core conundrum: can we rely on God to be both wise, and just? It’s this conundrum that the book of Job addresses.

The author of Job is an Israelite writing at a date that is difficult to determine. However, the point here is that he is drawing on a much older non-Israelite story about a man called Job who lived in Ur –  city of the Chaldeans, which in today’s topography is located somewhere between Damascus and the Euphrates. The book’s prologue and epilogue seem to hang together, both written in Hebrew prose and at first sight offer a simplistic morality more in keeping with the Book of Wisdom. The core of the book between prologue and epilogue is written in the most exquisite Hebrew poetry; the complexity and obscurity of which has posed a serious challenge for any translator.

Job’s story begins in mythical time in the realms of the heavenly conference involving God and the more important angels. In this conference, God boasts about his servant Job, praising him for his faithfulness. The angel known as the Satan which means  accuser, questions God’s assessment of Job.  Satan basically says let me test Job and you will find out that he’s not as faithful as he pretends because once his prosperity is challenged he will curse God. God gives the Satan his wish. He can visit any disaster upon Job so long as he stops short of taking his life.

The prologue presents Job as an ancient embodiment of today’s 1%. He is rich beyond imagining.  He’s a successful market trader – having made prudent investments including making regular propitious sacrifices to God. Suddenly, his whole livelihood is devastated by a huge earthquake which not only destroys all his property but kills livestock, servants and his children. Only Job and his wife are spared. This calamity is followed by a series of physical afflictions, reducing Job to a whimpering heap of festering sores.

At first, Job continues to praise God, and even though eventually he laments the day of his birth, he refuses to believe that God has abandoned him.

From left stage there now enter a couple of Job’s good friends. They tell Job that God is just, and the world is ordered by divine justice, ergo Job must have done something wrong to be so punished by God. His friends faithfully visit Job and try to comfort him in his afflictions.

We can get a sense of how Job’s friends felt when we consider our own experience of supporting a close friend through a period of suffering. After a while, the burden of witnessing pain we are powerless to alleviate plays on our own fears. We find ourselves subtly distancing ourselves from our friend’s suffering by finding an causal explanation for their suffering. This way we can  convince ourselves that because our situation is different then their plight won’t befall us. We may even resort to: after all so-and-so has only themselves to blame, they should have exercised more, drank less and eaten more healthily.

Despite continuing to feel sympathy, it’s comforting if we can assign agency for suffering to something our friend may or may not have done. We might also need to distance ourselves from their experience for the opposite reason – that we fear that this is indeed something that could easily befall us. The reminder of this can be so frightening that we may sever all contact with a once dear friend.

Job’s friends need to find an explanation for Job’s life falling apart. The most obvious one for them is provided by their conventional morality of divine justice – God does not punish the innocent, only the guilty They work hard to get Job to admit his sin. Job vehemently protests his innocence, not only to his friends but also to the Almighty.

As the first two friends are about to give up on Job as a lost cause a new friend arrives. He’s a younger man, full of the untested confidence of youth. He advances a new and novel idea. God is not punishing Job for sin but testing his faithfulness by purging him of ego – God does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit[1].

He continues to persuade Job for the next several chapters and finally, not only has Job had enough, but it seems, God has as well. Dismissing the arguments of the young friend God demands: Who is this who darkens counsel without words of knowledge?[2]

Now, God finally addresses Job directly. Job’s complaint all along has been -how can a just God act so unjustly towards him? God counters with shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty[3], pushing Job back on the defensive.

God now addresses Job from within a whirlwind saying: gird up your loins like a man for I now wish to question you[4].

God takes Job on a virtual tour of the universe asking him: were you present at the birth of creation? Did you bring order to the universe, have you seen this, been there, done that, and do you know how it all works? Do you claim to understand the complexity of the universe as if you are able to keep it all in good working order?

It’s curious that God does not defend the idea of divine justice but asserts divine sovereignty in the face of Job’s accusations.

The upshot of God’s response to Job is that Job cannot claim to understand anything God does, including the inexplicability of suffering. What may look like an injustice to Job, is from God’s wider perspective simply part of a larger and richer whole encompassed within divine wisdom, something beyond Job’s capacity to understand. And thus, we arrive at the final chapter of the book with Job acknowledging the foolishness of his demands to know all that God knows.

When we are faced with something beyond our understanding, we have alternative choices to make. we can pull back, stay safe, and simply resign ourselves to the inexplicability of God’s will. Or we can reject such a God who would do this thing abandoning ourselves to the meaninglessness of the universe. Or we can treat that which is presently beyond our understanding as an invitation to arouse our curiosity and allow ourselves to be subtly changed not by the answers we receive but by the questions we ask.

Something has shifted for Job and he now embraces that which seems beyond his understanding with curiosity. A new perspective opens for Job from which to view his experience of suffering. Throughout this whole terrible experience, Job has been so fixated on protesting his innocence and calling God to account, he has failed to notice that the experience of suffering has been slowly changing him. Having his whole world blown to smithereens transforms Job so that faced with God’s sovereignty he is able to now confess:

I had heard of you by hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you: therefore, I recant – give up my demand – for I am only a creature that lives among dust and ashes.

Job’s experience is now reframed by his knowing that he is both at the center of God’s concern, yet, at the same time, only one speck of dust within the enormous complexity of God’s perspective. He may be no wiser as to why he has had to suffer but he knows that God has never abandoned him.

The lethal development for any of us is to conclude that because we don’t get an instant alleviation of our suffering – we are not given the miracle we demand, we cease to matter to God.

For Job, and for us also, this is both a thrilling and terrifying discovery. Like Job, it’s hard for us to sit in the tension between knowing that God loves us, utterly, and the recognition that we are powerless to control so much that happens in our lives and our world. The book of Job raises many theological and existential questions to which God in the end gives no where near an adequate account. In the Tanakh – the Jewish canon of scripture equivalent to the Christian Old Testament, God’s address to Job is the last time God speaks. In the books that follow Job, God is forever silent. The rabbis conclude that it is not God who has silenced Job, but after eliciting God’s blazing self-defense it is Job who has finally silenced God.

We now come to what appears to be a happy-ever-after ending as God restores all Job’s losses tenfold. This is a jarring conclusion to what otherwise is the most profound exploration of the relationship between human suffering and God’s justice. It’s seeming simplistic message and the return to the prose style of the prologue has led commentators to see this as an ending tacked on to the original story because, after all, don’t we all like happy endings?

Literary analysis shows that the prose style of the opening and closing scenes in the book of Job belong to a separate more simplistic story. The core of the book – written not in prose style but complex Hebrew poetry is a later insertion – an attempt to deal in a more complex way with the meaning of suffering.

That being so, what appears to be a happy ending gloss-over nevertheless raises some profound questions. It strikes me rather like a reboot of the story. Using the analogy of downloads on our computers, the more significant downloads, the ones that reconfigure aspects of the operating system require a complete machine reboot to take effect.

This traumatic destruction of Job’s whole life and all he thought he could take for granted has changed him and now requires a reboot to take effect. Job is newly restored to even more good fortune. But Job in the epilogue is not the same as Job in the prologue. He is a man who now understands the nature of abundance as a the generosity of God and not simply his reward for good behavior and the offering of propitious sacrifices.

It’s a common human experience that only after we lose something do we come to understand its true value. In short, for the first time Job now understands that God’s generosity is given not earned. If we apply this insight to our own lives we can appreciate the significant shift in self-understanding involved.

This takeaway has a particular meaning for us on the day we are also gathering to give thanks for the success of our recent capital campaign. It’s also a reminder as we look ahead to the launch of our annual stewardship drive in two week’s time. God’s renewal of Job’s prosperity is an unearned gift, for which Job feels a new intensity of gratitude towards God. In response, Job commits to live with greater generosity in the way he uses his wealth. So also must we.

In his reboot, Job now comes to mirror God’s expression of generosity.  He gives his three new daughters evocative names which translate roughly as Dove, Cinnamon, and Rouge-Pot. He settles on them the same inheritance as he settles on his sons; something completely unheard of in ancient Israel.

The central question that arises for us today from the book of Job is this: Can you love what you do not control and still risk living with a spirit of generosity? It is a question worth pondering. Perhaps you have only to think about your children to know what your answer is.

[1] V37:24

[2] V38:2

[3] V40:1-2

[4] V40:6

On the Installation of Canon Tim Watt

I want to speak this evening about the joys and sorrows of serial monogamy.  Ahh! Now I see I have your attention. So, hold that thought and follow along with me while I digress for a moment.

Tonight, in the lections chosen we commemorate Francis – a most remarkable man of God. The legends surrounding him make him the most popular culture saint of our time. Casting my eye over the age range here tonight I am quite confident that many of us became enamored with Francis after experiencing Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun Sister Moon – a depiction of Francis’ story steeped in 1970’s warm romantic hue.

Each generation it seems finds in Francis new inspiration – including the present Pope, of all people. So, I do not intend to say more about Francis other than to note the genius of his ego-uncluttered openness to God made manifest in the grandeur and beauty of the creation. His creation-centered spirituality certainly makes him the saint of this moment as we struggle to embrace the implications of looming ecological disaster.

We have also heard this evening some powerful and disturbing words from the book of Job. Words that remind us of the partial nature of our knowledge and the narrowness of our vision. Unlike Francis – our vision is clouded with self-preoccupation and protests of self-importance – cutting us off from the divine energy for renewal. So much of our vision – both individually and in community is hedged-in by our need for reassurance. We strain to hear a false note of security – a grasping for knowledge as a defense against the uncertainties of the future – always in the process of becoming known.

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?

Do you observe the calving of the deer?

Can you number the months that they fulfil,

and do you know the time when they give birth,

when they crouch to give birth to their offspring,

and are delivered of their young?

God’s responds to Job in rhetorical metaphors that expose the human dilemma. We cannot know what we feel we need to know – and so we take cover behind a protective wall of hubris.

Last year, Bishop Nicholas encouraged the clergy to read Susan Beaumont’s inciteful book How to lead when you don’t know where you are going. I was so captivated by the title I kept ordering the book before discovering I already had 2 copies on my shelf. Sometimes it pays to read the books that adorn one’s shelves.

Beaumont’s thesis is how do you lead an organization stuck between an ending and a new beginning—when the old way of doing things no longer works but a way forward is not yet clear? She calls such in-between times liminal seasons—threshold times when the continuity of tradition disintegrates and uncertainty about the future fuels doubt and chaos. In a liminal season it simply is not helpful to pretend we understand what needs to happen next. Prophetic words for us in this moment of history.

I’m certain that every priest sitting in this church tonight, every member of a RI congregation – while not necessarily agreeing with me that the combination of traditional worship combined with a radical  – socially-relevant – theological messaging is the way to go – at least will recognize the dilemma we face. As clergy, we are all watching the stalwart generation of faithful members pass on to the next great adventure and wonder who is coming up behind them – to take their place? Our fear that we are on a trajectory of decline fills some of us with despair while provokes in others manic attempts to delay what we all fear is inevitable. We cast our minds into the future to imagine a destination few of us ever want to reach. Employing the metaphor of the ostrich, God reminds Job of the paradox of his quest for omniscience -to know the entirety of things:

‘The ostrich’s wings flap wildly,

   though its pinions lack plumage. *

For it leaves its eggs to the earth,

   and lets them be warmed on the ground,

forgetting that a foot may crush them,

   and that a wild animal may trample them.

 It deals cruelly with its young, as if they were not its own;

   though its labor should be in vain, yet it has no fear;

because God has made it forget wisdom,

   and given it no share in understanding.

When it spreads its plumes aloft, *

   it laughs at the horse and its rider.

These words lead me to pose a question to us tonight. Can we become more Francis-like in the use of our imaginations? We cannot know the entirety of things. We cannot know the future except in outline – glimpsed through a glass darkly. Instead of being preoccupied with our own construction of a future of either doom and gloom or of false and brittle certainties – can we let our imaginations become tools through which God’s dreaming for the world can flow freely?  Our future lies in the mind of God and always has done. If we learn anything from the serious practice of a spiritual life, God’s surprises are so much more exciting and fulfilling than anything – when left to the impoverishment of our own imaginations -we could predict or plan for ourselves.

Our part in the unfolding of God’s dream for the world requires only two things from us. The first is a capacity to be curious, and the second, a willingness to be changed!

Now I know you’ve been waiting with growing impatience for me to get back to my serial monogamy teaser.

This evening we are here to formally acknowledge the arrival of a new rector in this historic church where Anglican Christians have been worshipping since 1698. This present building dates from 1726 and is a testament to a New England vision of a church as community meeting house  before the ravages of the Oxford movement so changed our conception of what a church should look like. Over these centuries – how many serial monogamies has this church either enjoyed or suffered through? As you are beginning to guess by serial monogamy, I am referring to the marriage between parish and rector.

I first knew Tim and later Tania when one Sunday looking out over the congregation of Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, – it too has a very high pulpit – I wondered to myself – who is that imposing young man I’ve not seen before? Over succeeding months, I came to know Tim and then Tania – both as curious and eager young people – well young to me – yearning to hear the burning questions of their lives reset within the context of an ancient – time tested faith that did not do violence to the reality of the values underpinning the lives they were actually living.

Tim was like a man parched – finding in the Episcopal church a Balm in Gilead to soothe his world-sick soul. Together, Tim and Tania threw themselves into our community life and before long it became clear to me that Tim wanted to share with me something he thought only he knew.

Tim, your call to priesthood came as no secret to me and I was delighted to have the privilege of accompanying you through the tortures of discernment. Watching from afar, I was even more delighted when during your time at VTS you had the opportunity to spend a season at Ripon College, my very own theological alma mater situated in the medieval village of Cuddesdon just outside Oxford. It’s a very particular privilege to have been invited to speak on this the occasion of your installation and induction as rector of Trinity Church.

Members of Trinity, you’ve chosen well in your new marriage partner. Tim is a man of stature and intellect. I believe him to be honest and true – but also gentle in his proclamation and considerate in his conversation. A man in love with the beauty of Anglican tradition and the long experience of English Christianity that gave it birth. Yet, he’s someone who also understands that the tectonic plates of culture and religion are shifting beneath us even as we sit here tonight in pews – gazing up into a pulpit – both better designed for an age long ago passed.  

Tim is a priest who fully understands that the only way our tradition of Christianity can survive is to do what it has always had the genius to do – adapt and change. He understands that it’s not change for change’s sake – but change – contemplated and carefully measured and tested against the biblical witness and the wisdom of the Tradition – both scrutinized by the higher values of reason.

Trinity folk – you are the product of a long line of serial monogamies. Some marriages have been wonderful, some not so – but as in life for those of us who have been married more than once – the real question remains how are we contemplating the new marriage? Do we enter the new relationship mindful of the experience of what has been learned through the successes – but maybe more importantly, the failures of passed relationships?

The genius of our Episcopal tradition is a form of governance that brings priest and people together in the mutuality of a marriage of equals. You are the community in this hallowed church. You were here before Tim arrived and will remain long after he has gone. However, with Tim, you have now contracted another in a your long series of monogamies – each a relationship in which you’ve partnered with a spiritual leader whom you have called to lead you together into the challenges and opportunities of God’s dream for Trinity Church.

For the moment and for foreseeable moments Tim is your rector. Know your responsibility to love and nurture him in his ministry by remaining vigilant over your power to harm and hurt him.

From my own 36 years of experience in priestly leadership I’ve discovered a two-fold litmus test for a successful rector-parish monogamy. The first part of the test I address to the community. Are you able to be intuitively curious about – rather than instinctively resistant to the changes catalyzed by Tim’s spiritual leadership among you? Let this question be the word on your lips as you rise in the morning and the last thought at night before the repose of sleep.

The second part of the test is for you Tim. Are you able to allow yourself to be molded and changed by the demands of your spiritual leadership within the unique dynamics of this community? May this question remain always at the heart of your prayer before God and in your daily encounters with those given over to your care.

God bless you my friend and God bless this parish community as you continue to stumble your way forward into the realization of God’s dream of your becoming more fit for the purpose God has for you.

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