This Blog is part one of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video of the entire address, please visit our AC19 video archive webpage at ctcumc.org/AC19-videos. To view or download the slides used in the address, go to ctcumc.org/AC19-slides. - Bishop Mike Lowry
For years it was simply known as the Cape of Storms; a dire place of shipwreck that none could safely pass. This was based on the slight misconception that the Cape was the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans; the place where the two currents collide, and the water turns back upon itself in fury. But then finally, in 1488 a.d., the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias sailed beyond the Cape. Instead of the Cape of storms its was renamed the Cape of Good Hope.
Something like this serves as an analogy for a Christian understanding of death and resurrection. Long had the world known that death was the end. There was no more. And then, there was one three-day period of time when Jesus met death on Good Friday and conquered it “once for all” on Easter morning.
Such also is an analogy for the church. We have faced smashing storms in the past only to find that under the captaincy of Christ, the church has sailed beyond into a new day. Think of the great division between the Eastern and Western Christian church in the eleventh century, or the Protestant Reformation, or the Wesleyan revival in the 18th century, or the schisms caused by slavery and the accompanying Civil War in the United States.
Today, we are once again in a storm. The most obvious waves which toss us about are collectively focused on issues of human sexuality and LGBTQ+ questions of marriage and ordination. These are seen as issues of inclusivity by some and biblical fidelity by others. Many if not even most on both sides and all along the spectrum, insist that they alone are holding fast to both inclusion and biblical fidelity.
The theological waves that pound us are even higher than a debate over LGBTQ questions. The white foam of orthodoxy’s boundaries crash over the planking of the church challenging the core tenants of our faith. As C. S. Lewis put it to a group of Anglican Church youth leaders and young pastors in 1945, at the close of World War II: “I insist that wherever you draw the lines, boundary lines must exist, beyond which your doctrines will cease to be Anglican or to be Christian; and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specifically as Christians or as priests but honest men [and women].”
As the waves pound the ship of the church (for a ship on the high seas has been an image of the church since its inception) even stronger winds tear at our sails and superstructure. As numerous scholars have pointed out, we have gone from the Christian faith (or faith alone for that matter whether Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Hindu or Buddhist or even some other variety) as the default cultural option to an agnostic secularism as the leading preference of many. Amid the rampant individuality of our age and time, many more have adopted a privatized version of faith loosely labeled “spiritual but not religious.” [It is worth noting that none of the world’s major religions endorse such a position!]
As the pounding waves and lashing winds slam into us, pubic virtue is under assault from virtually every direction. A sense of social appropriateness and ethical congruence floats like flotsam in our public life. [It is worth remembering that the Ten Commandments are not the ten suggestions.]
Much of social civility is lost in the swirling seas of modern life. To borrow a phrase from the cartoon strip Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he (or she) is us.” And yet, more significantly, we are not the enemy at all. We are both together and individually beloved children of God.
It is here, in a Gospel truth, that we pause, remember and recommit ourselves to the Lordship, the reign and rule of Christ. As the storm rages, we who call ourselves Christian hold to a different narrative. Listen again to the Word of God and a story we all know well but forget easily.
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:23-27)
It is with this backdrop, the church as a storm-tossed ship sailing on the high seas, that I speak to you as your bishop. We sail with the Cape of Good Hope in our sight and not the Cape of Storms. We have been here before. Our Captain is Jesus Christ.
“God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Parts two and three of this blog series will appear Friday June 21 and Tuesday June 25.