Friday, May 31, 2019

Is Boomer Religion At An End?

If you're inclined to say yes, it may not be for the reason one would naturally think - demographics.

In this article for Commonweal  magazine (not overly familiar with it until now, but it appears to be a progressive Catholic publication), Wesley Hill argues that the future of liberal Protestantism will be politically progressive but theologically traditional and creedal.

Writing primarily about the US Episcopal (Anglican) church, Hill sees clear signs of a "generational shift", where it is unremarkable to see clergy and laity who are progressive on a host of issues such as LGBT writes, but who have no patience for the boomer clergy and theologians, such as John Spong, who once defined liberal theology in terms of metaphor, ambiguity, and a vague spirituality.

Hill writes:  "the new face of mainline Protestantism may well be someone in a clerical collar who marches for gun control and says “I believe in the resurrection of the body” without crossing her fingers."

From my own limited vantage point, I think Hill's claim has merit.    My own Twitter feed (you can find me at @madpadre1) has been expanding to take in a number of people who - clergy and laity) who call themselves Weird Anglican Twitter.   Some of their content seems campy and slightly precious - a delight in vestments, for example - but there is a deep desire in them to explore the full history of the Anglican tradition - pietism, Anglo-Catholic devotion, creedal belief, the church fathers.    Some of the people I follow on Twitter are also signatories of this document.

As I find myself sliding inexorably towards retirement as a late boomer myself, I find great comfort and hope in the emergence of post-boomer religion.  I doubt that I will ever share their fascination with, say, the Solemn High Mass, but I will be cheering them on from the sidelines.


Saturday, May 25, 2019

An End and A Beginning: A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter:  Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10-14,22-23; John 14:23-29.  Preached at St. Margaret of Scotland Anglican Church, Diocese of Toronto, Barrie, Ontario, 26 May, 2019


“Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ "  (Jn 14:26)


Recently, during this month’s session of Faith On Tap.  we talked about what Easter means to us.  We also talked about why it is, in the life of the church, that Easter is a season, like Advent or Lent, rather than just one day.  Now if you can’t come to church that often, Easter Sunday is a pretty good day to come, it’s true.   But if you come to church even semi-regularly, you’ll notice that we do things a little differently in the seven weeks between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday.  


During these seven Sundays after Easter we do certain things in church that we don’t otherwise do.   We say “Alleluia” (a lot!), we dress the church in white, we light the paschal or Easter candle, we hear the stories of the earliest Christians from the Book of Acts in the place where we normally hear the Hebrew Scriptures read.   During our Faith On Tap conversation, we talked about what these actions are designed to teach us and we agreed that they all point us towards the resurrection of Jesus as an ongoing fact rather than a one-time event.   By repeatedly visiting his followers in the days and weeks after his resurrection, Jesus is showing them a new reality, a new creation, a new way of life that we are invited into as his disciples.  In this new reality, joy replaces sadness, forgiveness replaces guilt, life conquers death.


So while the Easter season is a special time in the life of the church, we don’t stay here forever.  Like every season, Easter has a beginning, middle, and end, and I think this was true of the first Easter.  I suspect that if we could talk to any of the disciples about their time with him after the resurrection, they would have said that they knew that risen Christ had to go.  I think all the disciples knew that in their hearts.  There was just something about his mysterious comings and goings - passing through locked doors, suddenly appearing to them on the road, or standing by the side of the lake while they were fishing - that suggested that Jesus had changed in some profound way, that he was no longer part of the physical world as they knew it, and so he could not stay with them forever.  


Certainly Mary Magdalene knew that.   In John’s gospel, in his first appearance after his resurrection, Jesus says to her, “Go to my brothers and say to them, “I am am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17).    While John thus mentions it, the Ascension itself, Jesus’ return to heaven, is only described in one gospel (Luke 24:50-53).   The church remembers this event on May 30, the Feast of the Ascension, though we don’t often think about it because this feast is not normally celebrated on a Sunday and is not often preached on.   


So the Easter season begins with church remembering the resurrection, and as the Easter season begins to wind down, the story changes to Jesus returning the Father.  We can ask, what are we supposed to think about as the Easter season ends?  What would be helpful for us to reflect on?  If Easter was a time when the Kingdom of God has never seemed closer and more real in the risen Christ, the man who stands before us having broken the chains of death, where does the Kingdom of God go when Jesus leaves the disciples for the last time?     


In today’s gospel we see Jesus beginning to prepare the disciples for the time when he would leave them.   John 14 is the start of the longest goodbye in the Bible.   Now you might hate long goodbyes at the airport, but if you read all of John’s gospel, this is an epically long goodbye, what scholars call the Farewell Discourse.   In John 14 Jesus begins three chapters of last instructions and teachings to his disciples before he is arrested in John 17.    In these chapters Jesus tries to tell his friends why he must leave them, and tries to reassure them by saying that his death is necessary because it will lead to better things.


The language in today’s gospel is complicated (aka Johanine) but it in essence it is a promise that the disciples will never be abandoned and need never fear.   Jesus will return to the Father after his death and resurrection, but in his place the Father will send the Holy Spirit:  “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will tech you everything, and remind you of all that I have” (Jn 14:26).    The disciples won’t begin to understand this until the miracle of Pentecost, as we’ll hear in a few Sundays, when the Holy Spirit comes and allows them to take the message of Jesus into all the world.


So here are the key messages from today’s gospel for us, the descendants of the first disciples.

  1. We are not alone, and we never have been.   The Holy Spirit is the final gift of God’s presence to us in Jesus.   
  2. In returning to the Father, Jesus opens a ways for us to be with God in all God’s fullness:  “we will come to them and make our home with them” (14:23)
  3. The Holy Spirit gives us peace and joy, by freeing us from the worldly pressures and worries that pull us away from God “(I do not give to you as the world gives”).
  4. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and our memory - it will “teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”, and so the Holy Spirit allows us to live as God wants us to live (“those who love me will keep my word”).


In short, the Holy Spirit allows us to be the church.  It allows us to be a people who live in the knowledge that the resurrection is the start of a new creation, the first glimpse of that New Jerusalem in Revelation, where there is only life, only love, only light, only God.  The church is thus called to be the promise of something better, something yet to come, for we are situated somewhere between the Ascension and the New Jerusalem, somewhere between the return of Jesus to the Father and his return in glory at the end of time.   


As we stand between these two times, we at St. Margaret’s are not that different from the little community that we heard of in our first lesson  from Acts,  the believers who welcome Paul and the apostles at Philippi.     Lydia and her small group of believers are prayerful, open and attentive to what God may be calling them to do, ready to minister to the world but subtly apart from the world (at the gates), ready to be hospitable and ready to share the work with others (the apostles) to show Christ to the world.  


Two thousand years later, our reality, our life as a community, and our strength as a parish comes from our faith in Christ and in the reality of his resurrection. and our belief that Jesus is one with God the Father.   The Spirit that works in us - our humour, our prayerfulness, our care for one another, our hope, our hospitality and our willingness to share our belief with others - comes from the Holy Spirit working within us.  As we think to the years ahead, and to what we can offer to the community around us, our greatest strength and advantage is precisely this same Spirit, the presence of God in Trinity who will never abandon his people, our greatest hope, and our greatest joy.


My prayer for us at St. Margaret’s, as we discern our future and our mission to those around us, is that we may always build on our greatest strength, namely the Spirit that is the very presence of God among us, the God who will never abandon us, and who empowers us to show God’s life to the world.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


Blog Archive