Detail of St. Bartholomew by Pinturicchio (Bernardino Di Betto), c. 1497, via Wikimedia Commons.
August 24, 2017
He is on the list of twelve. Not much more can be said about Bartholomew. Three of the Gospels and the book of Acts mention him as one of the apostles, but beyond that we know almost nothing. Interesting conjecture poses the possibility that Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same person. There are other traditions that arose over the years that cannot be proven. Even the word “patronymic” comes up – do look it up. So what do we do with this known yet unknown figure?
Perhaps by not knowing details we are free to play. In contrast to similar stories in Mark and Matthew of friction amongst the disciples over authority and who will get the best seat, the context of Luke 22 is a time of transition from Jesus’ impending death and his expectations of faithful leadership in the continuation of the ministry he initiated. We can then apply to this day Luke’s perspective in his Gospel of the call of Jesus for the disciples and therefore the call of all who will follow through the millennia.
Too often in the Church we get hung up in institutional minutiae. The preservation of buildings and other infrastructure tend to become the main thing and have us focus on survival as we take our eye off of the reason we exist. Notice that Jesus is not preparing the way for institutional preservation. In this last will and testament, he is saying to the disciples, and therefore to us, that the kingdom for which he is preparing is one for which we must be preparing. We do so by living in a manner that creates the greatest possibility for it to break in and break through: “I assign to you, as my Father has assigned to me, a kingdom…” (Luke 22:29).
Jesus has shown in his life and death the very essence of whom God is. The only reason for the Church to exist, and I would add the only reason for a Christian faith community to exist, is so that through our worship of God we might find the reality of the reign of God taking shape in the lives of the people who gather, in the Church we love, and then in our mission whereby we seek to establish God’s reign of peace and justice in the world. A bishop friend says very clearly that the Church does not have a mission. God has a mission and a Church through which to carry out that mission. He does, I believe, have a point. Our purpose is God’s mission as presented by Jesus.
Today’s celebration of the person of Bartholomew, in his historical role and witness, calls us once again to ask the question of ourselves and of the faith communities of which we are a part – why do we exist? What is our purpose of being? Along the way, may we find that we, in the words of the collect for the day, ”…love what he believed and preach what he taught.”
In a letter dated August 21, The Right Reverend David Alvarado, Bishop of The Episcopal Anglican Church of El Salvador, writes to Bishop Skip Adams to express concern about policies of persecution of the migrant population in the United States.
Bishop Adams shares this letter with people in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, calling it "a generous and good response showing our common concern regarding racial and societal bigotries."
Read the letter in PDF form here. The text is below:
August 21, 2017
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”. Matthew 5:9
Beloved Brother in Christ our Lord, Bishop Adams,
Greetings in the name of the Episcopal Anglican Church of El Salvador, our best wishes in your Pastoral Ministry and in your family.
The reason for write to you and to your Diocese is to express our concern about the policies of persecution of the migrant population in the U.S.A. Which we qualify as an attitude is completely unjust and inhuman, since migrants are workers looking for decent living conditions for them and their families, with the exception of those who committed criminal acts. We very much regret that in the past few months this population is suffering persecution because of their irregular situation of migration and also by racial issues. An example of this is the closure of the program Conditional Admission to Salvadoran children who looking for enter to this program: Parole Processing for Minors in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala (Central American Minors – CAM).
Just a few days ago we have seen and heard terrible news about riots and violence by the resurgence of racist groups in Charlottesville Virginia, USA. which is making the situation worse, since these racist and criminal groups place greater risk on minority groups such as migrants, especially those who are in an irregular migration situation and, of course, the Afro-descendant population.
Therefore, we sympathize with people who are suffering violence and persecution, in addition, our condolences to people who have suffered from racially or ethnically conditions, as well as our Episcopal Church and the noble people of the United States. We call for ends the violence against people who looking for peace and justice.
As a Church, we are called to “bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives” Isaiah 61:1.
Considering our mission based on the biblical theological mandate, we believe it appropriate to exhort you and the Episcopal Church of the United States to speak out in favor of the weakest and against unjust policies of persecution and xenophobia against migrants. Also, against the emergence and action of racist groups that threaten the life, freedom of the people and against the national stability of the United States.
We raise our prayers for your ministry and for the Welfare of the migrant and homeless population and ask to God to cease racial persecution in the United States and the world. We sympathize with TEC, with the noble people of the USA and with all those who continue to use non-violent means to work against racism and extremism.
Fraternity in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. David Alvarado
Episcopal Anglican Church of El Salvador
August 18, 2017
William Porcher DuBose
Dear People of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
Patient waiting is one of the hardest things to do. It has a bit of the feel of Advent. Now that we have received a decision from the State Supreme Court of South Carolina, we find ourselves once again in an in-between time with many unknowns and decisions yet to be made. The temptation is to speculate and fill in the gaps to help alleviate a sense of anxiety, especially as rumors swirl about us and we hear misrepresentations of our positions and decisions.
Our call, however, is not merely to wait patiently, but faithfully. What that means to me is to remember our call as disciples of Jesus, to be bearers of his Good News, and to live a life in active mission to bring God’s vision to reality in our life and in the lives of the people around us. It is the work of loving God and your neighbor as yourself, on which Jesus clearly stated depends all the law and the prophets.
The horrific events in Charlottesville clearly indicate that our Gospel work is far from finished. The best thing we can do now in order to be about faithful waiting is to be a people of reconciliation and peace. Not only do we need to definitively and unequivocally condemn the actions of white supremacists, we must find ways in our own life to stand up peacefully to hatred, name racism and bigotry as evil, and all with the hope of the reconciling love of Christ sustaining us along the way.
I write this to you on the feast day of William Porcher DuBose, a giant in The Episcopal Church, a South Carolinian, who is seen as one of the greatest theologians ever produced by The Episcopal Church. Interestingly, he is a graduate of the University of Virginia. He ministered in a time of uncertainty just as we do. Of the many things he said I point you to these words: “The one great lesson that must…make ready the Christian unity of the future is this: that contraries do not necessarily contradict, nor need opposites always oppose. What we want is not to surrender or abolish our differences, but to unite them.”
Our desire and path remains one of reconciliation, one of love, for that is the way of Jesus.
In Christ our hope,
Detail of a tapestry of the Life of the Virgin Mary (in red) with the words of the Magnificat,
created by a nun in Switzerland c.1450-75, now in the Glasgow Museums.
August 15, 2017
“O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, lead their praises, Alleluia!” Many do not realize that these words beginning the second verse of hymn 618 in The Hymnal 1982 refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The verse continues, “Thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious, magnify the Lord…” This magnificent hymn names all the company of heaven joined in praise to God as we are invited to join the chorus. Mary is the choir director.
Jim was the choir director in my home parish when I was in high school. It was he who invited me to consider the possibility of a life lived in Christ at a time when I was searching and not sure about anything related to the entire God conversation. I became willing to consider the possibility because I saw in him an authenticity reflected in pure joy as he led the youth and adult choirs of the parish. He was real. His life was an act of praise to God. Each choir practice was an adventure of praise and thanksgiving as Jim gave voice to our song and we were invited to consider the God-possibility in each of us. Life for me was never the same again.
I often say that one of the purposes of liturgy is to create a space in which we can fall in love with God. In Mary’s great hymn of response to God’s invitation that we know as the “Magnificat,” we are drawn into a vision for God’s people that is radical and transformative: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” I remember my liturgics professor saying of this Song of Mary that of course she sang it, as there is no renewal without music. As we hear in Mary the echoes of Hannah’s prayer from I Samuel, we learn that the renewed heart’s first responsibility is the worship of God which bears the fruit of a life lived in gratefulness.
Then comes a more radical turn as we find that a grateful heart leads to radical living. Mary sings a vision of God that turns everything upside down. Perhaps as she came to realize her own life was being turned topsy-turvy, she was able to align her own voice with a God who scatters the proud, puts down the mighty, exalts the lowly and sends the rich away empty. And we wonder where Jesus got some of his ideas? Just look at Mom.
The choir director is telling us that those we marginalize, God glorifies. Think of the 22 million refugees of the world fleeing the violence of their homelands. See the homeless in our cities and beach communities, many of whom are teenagers and a large number are mentally ill. Ponder those who are disabled in any way. Consider those oppressed and ostracized for no other reason than for being who God created them to be. Walk into a prison. We could do no better than each day taking Mary’s lead and joining in the song she leads. Sing that song each day and see what happens. Perhaps by joining her choir we will find our lives renewed and conformed more closely to the One she bore and raised. Here lies a hope that even our generation will call her blessed.
Detail of The Transfiguration of Christ by Lorenzo Lotto, c. 1511, via Wikimedia Common
Note that the event of Jesus’ transfiguration begins with him in prayer. How could it be any other way? The whole experience in Luke’s account is bracketed by Jesus pointing toward the way of the cross and his eventual death. He enters into prayer as he offers himself to a centered conversation with God whereby he might gain clarity about his mission on earth. Jesus’ “departure,” or even better, “exodus,” which he is to accomplish at Jerusalem, signifies his unique role in salvation history. The way of Jesus, the way of giving oneself away as an offering of love and in thanksgiving for the gift of life, is the way for all.
The Transfiguration gives us a window through which we are able to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ identity continuing in the fullness of the Law and the Prophets as known through Moses and Elijah. We are also given a view, as the veil is pulled back a bit, of the purpose of all humanity. There are gifted moments in life when we are able to see most clearly, unitive experiences if you will, when we know to the very depths of our being why we are here, for what we were created, and that in our human experience we know ourselves held by a love that knows no bounds.
I had such an experience in a systematic theology class when my professor shared with us a particularly sacred and tender moment in his life. While out to dinner with his wife, he got a phone call to return home immediately where a baby sitter had been caring for his young child. They learned that in a horrific accident in the home and through no fault of the baby sitter, their beloved child had died. These words from my professor were indelibly marked on my soul that day when he said, “I have been to the bottom and the bottom is firm.” It is firm because of the One who holds us and just as with Jesus, calls us beloved.
It is something of the quality of that awareness that Jesus knew on the holy mount. He was completely and transparently in that moment so drawn by grace into the fullness of his humanity that his divinity could not help but become evident as well. This is why in the end, in Christian understanding, there is really only one sacrament, who is Jesus the Christ. He is the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of God. Any other sacramental expression is only so to the degree that it manifests Christ himself and as it draws us to the place where we know our own Christ-likeness.
One of my spiritual practices is to look for how a person has been a sacrament in his or her life, a window through which we catch a glimpse of the beauty of God and that to which Jesus points. This often plays out when I am reflecting on a life in preparation to preach at a funeral. A dear friend died recently. When pondering his gift to me, I realized that in his presence and his own broken humanity, I always knew I was loved. In this way he portrayed Christ to me – no question. This is God’s gift to Jesus in his transfiguration. It is God’s gift to us in Christ. It is to be our gift to the world.
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” I Corinthians 12:12
Dear Friends in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
Please join me in giving thanks to God for the gift of grace given to us through the August 2 ruling of the State Supreme Court that was generally in our favor. I acknowledge the difficult work of the court justices in coming to this decision.
Many of you have worked faithfully and diligently in preparation for this day and have remained steadfast as disciples of Jesus through your many sacrifices. For every one of you I give thanks, as well as to many throughout the wider Episcopal Church who have remained in solidarity with us.
We will continue to study the decision as we prepare for the journey awaiting us, and we enter it knowing that God’s Spirit is with us and in us as the Body of Christ. I am aware that coming to this day has been painful for many, and some you of lost much along the way. In that same vein, please be aware that this decision is painful in a different way for others. I ask that you be measured in your response without undue celebration in the midst of your own gratefulness.
I call upon all of you to be in prayer for all the people of this diocese, including those in congregations who chose to align with the breakaway group. Many conversations will need to occur for which we have not yet had the opportunity, yet our God is a God of reconciliation and hope as shown forth in the living Christ. Healing is our desire, and we renew our commitment to the hard work of reconciliation in whatever form it can come. May we focus on the healing of division and the seeking of common ground for the good of all Episcopalians, but even more importantly, for the sake of the Good News of Jesus.
In the hope of the Risen One,
The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III
Bishop Provisional, South Carolina
Most Holy God, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.