As we begin to consider who we are and to what we are called I’m reminded that however we proceed, the starting point is our understanding of the very nature of God. What made George Fox’s message stand out was that it was built upon the idea that in the person of the Holy Spirit Christ had come as he promised. … instead of conceiving creation, including human beings, as being materially corrupt and worthless, creation is seen as the handiwork of a loving and generous God of grace.
Last spring Pope Francis startled many by saying “who am I to judge” those in gay relationships”, and since then he has been trying to move the church to recognize the “gifts and qualities” that gay people bring to the church and to provide a more welcoming space for them of course with the clear caveat, “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.” More recently, the report of the Bishop’s “synod,” called to discuss the church’s response to the many cultural shifts in family life, said the church should appreciate “the positive values” gay people contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings. The report also called for ongoing theological reflection about the status quo of denying communion to those who divorce and remarry. It also said the church should recognize that gay relationships, though morally problematic, often include “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” and “constitute a precious support in the life of the partners.”
As you might expect, some influential bishops have expressed alarm at what they called a “near revolutionary” document. Cardinal Raymond Burke, the American who heads the Vatican’s highest court, said the Vatican had released “manipulated” information about the bishops’ debates, emphasizing the proponents of inclusiveness without reflecting the “consistent number of bishops” who oppose the dramatic calls for a shift in pastoral tone. The head of the Polish bishops’ conference said the document was unacceptable and deviated from traditional church doctrine. The cardinal also said unsanctioned partnerships are committing “self-mutilation of their love”. As you probably heard, the document failed to be adopted.
Sounds like Roman Catholics are wrestling with some of the same issues as are non-Catholics.
This week a person with whom I’ve come to appreciate through my dealings with Caritas who is a member of Assumption Parish put on my desk a copy of Spokane’s Diocesan Pastoral Plan for the next four years entitled Joy Made Complete. It is based on a pastoral letter from Pope Francis entitled The Joy of the Gospel which articulates a vision for the Church in our time. The booklet sets out four priorities drawn from Acts 2:42-47 saying “Those who believed in Christ devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles; to the communal life; to the breaking of bread and to the prayers and to sharing with those in need and adding to their numbers those who were being saved by sharing the Good News.
Although, in good Catholic fashion, it came down from those above within their hierarchy, it is a thought provoking, impressive and inspiring piece.
The four year Pastoral Plan calls for improving Faith Formation and Leadership Development. That includes a program named Called and Gifted and one entitled Theology On Tap. It suggests forming Bible study groups and re-establishing what we would call Sunday School in the local churches. It also calls for daily Bible reading and asking parishioners to consider taking a leadership position in the local church.
The second priority is about community building with a major piece being about becoming a more welcoming community, especially to inactive parishioners. It calls for holding parish pot lucks, a family camp and reviewing the history of the parish, work days to make the place look more inviting and a series on a faith-based approach to family life. Pope Francis’ words are quoted where he wrote of the parish saying “It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach.”
Priority Three focuses on worship, well, in their case liturgy, stewardship and discipleship. It calls for increase frequency at worship. It is suggested that different types of prayer and meditation should be experienced and the parish should establish a stewardship committee.
The fourth priority brings together Evangelization, as they say, Ecumenism and social outreach. It calls for scheduling an event dedicated to social justice, charity, Christian unity and intentional discipleship; a bible study series on social justice and an effort to identify the special needs of community members who suffer from poverty, loneliness and physical and emotional challenges and devise ways to reach out to them. It even suggests ecumenical services with pulpit exchanges.
I can tell you, this ain’t my grandmother’s Catholic Church.
One reason this may be important for us is that, as you will learn during the Elder’s report in Monthly Meeting, our Elders are calling us to revisit our calling as a meeting; asking, exploring what is our focus and mission and what does our Creator want us to be and do within our community.
This last week, a pastor in the Yearly Meeting emailed the pastor’s list to say that during Yearly Meeting Noah Merrill, the guest speaker, used a Quaker quotation that said something about “My job is nothing less than to bring people to the feet of the Cross (or feet of Jesus) and leave them there,” He said that “even Google can’t figure out what I’m talking about.” He wanted to know if anyone could help him find the source of the quote.
Johan Maurer, Howard Macy and I responded with what we’d found but the concluding phrase “and leave them there” has evaded us all. I have since emailed Brent Bill who used the line in a blog he posted last January thinking he might help with the citation. The best he could do was find where the phrase had been referred to in a 1905 edition of The Friend magazine. Wade Swartz found the line quoted by Steve Angell in a book he published in 2004 without citation. But it asks the question “what is our role, our ministry?”
The quotation in this mornings’ bulletin is from George Fox’s Journal. In this one paragraph he says “I was sent to turn people from darkness to light..”, “I was to direct people to the Spirit…” I was to turn them to grace…” It is a short synopsis of his sense of call. In each case he understood that his work was to create an environment, a relationship, a situation in and through which Christ, or the Spirit, and even grace could do its work. In London Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice thirty years ago we find this line: “The purpose of all our ministry is to lead us and other people into closer communion with God and to enable us to carry out those tasks which the Spirit lays on us.” Another Friend characterized our calling this way “As Christians we need to see ourselves as God’s plumbers, working on reservoirs and channels for the living water that can quicken the daily life of men, women and children…Jesus taught us about patterns of living that make for wholeness as we and our neighbors care for one another and build one another up.”
As we begin to consider who we are and to what we are called I’m reminded that however we proceed, the starting point is our understanding of the very nature of God. What made George Fox’s message stand out was that it was built upon the idea that in the person of the Holy Spirit Christ had come as he promised. Humanity need no longer wait for some end of time shoe to fall for the kingdom to come in power. And then, of course his message included the idea that ‘Christ has come to teach his people himself’ which points out that the inward teacher is already at work were we to only stop and listen. And thirdly, instead of conceiving creation, including human beings as being materially corrupt and worthless creation is seen as the handiwork of a loving and generous God of grace.
Yes, as we come into our relationship with God through the work of the Spirit of the living Christ, such light the cracks in our exterior, we see our brokenness but instead of running in fear of judgment we can know the loving embrace of grace itself and be made whole. Our challenge is to create such an environment for ourselves and one another.