Speaking about fiddling as the city burns, today at ECOOS we had a report from the Finance Committee on the state of the budget. Facing a shortfall in pledge payments and plate offerings as we start the dry months of summer, the vestry is faced with the option of dipping into reserves or taking out a line of credit to cover expenses, and this is after withholding our diocesan pledge. As the largest church in our convocation, will that kind of report get bishop Andy to lay down his fiddle, or will he just blame the fires on the Christians.
Is there a spirit of fear and anxiety in ECOOS over the budget deficit? I think not, after all, summertime deficits are nothing new. A few years back during another crisis, one parishioner told me that he was not going to increase his pledge because it was good for the church to be hungry.
Today's sermon began with an self admitted diversion into 60's psychology. In the words of our rector, we are suffering from the "four demons of the apocalypse, fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame." He was flashing too far back into the sixties for me when he tried to explain away shame and guilt, but I could think back to several Bible verses to understand that there is no need to have fear or anxiety.
"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." Isaiah 41:10
"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea."
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Tim 1:7
"Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." 1 Peter 5:7
The rector did not quote any of these verses, but instead gave us a general message that the Holy Spirit was "all about peace," and I guess from that we are supposed to take comfort. When he focused on the peace of the Holy Spirit, my mind flashed back to the reading from Acts 2:1-2 with its images of tongues of flaming fire, and portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire, and smoky mist, the sun turned to darkness and the moon turned to blood. As the rector went on and on about the peace that the Holy Spirit brings, I could not help but think of Matthew 10:19-28,
"But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!
So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
Yes, the Holy Spirit fills us with peace, but doesn't it also fill us with a burning fire as well? The fiery passion to spread His word, to evangelise, come heck or high water? The Episcopal church is not good at spreading the Good News, (the Episcopal church's statistics prove the point) because of that, we should be ashamed and feel guilty for our failures to spread the Holy Spirit.
How do we turn it around? It is not going to be through expensive fancy pomp and circumstance. I have a suggestion for Bishop Andy, get back to fundamentals, and as the new sheriff in town, get your whacked out ex-hippy priests to remember their foundation, their strength, and where they find His Word. Then they can sing with you about not having fear,
And I would be negligent if I did not point out the missing verses from the RCL's choice for the Gospel reading which was John 14:8-17, 25-27. I present to you verses 18-24 in part because it is the right thing to do and in part because it contains important portents of the Pentecost, and how we should keep that flame alive,
"‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 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. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.'"