10 predictions about the future Church and shifting attendance patterns – ChristianWeek

Every generation experiences change. But sometimes you sense you’re in the midst of truly radical change, the kind that happens only every few centuries. Increasingly, I think we’re in such a moment now. Those of us in in Western culture…Read More→

Source: 10 predictions about the future Church and shifting attendance patterns – ChristianWeek

Epiphany III

JANUARY 24, 2016


Jesus reads from Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth – James Tissot 1894 (detail)

On this third Sunday after the Epiphany again we look at what God has given us in Christ. The word for Epiphany is “manifest.” What is revealed or manifested to the world by God in Christ Jesus? Jesus is God’s Word was made flesh. Jesus is the self-expression of God in a human life, God expressed in human terms. God, who is ultimately beyond our comprehension, becomes comprehensible in the life and work of Jesus. In other words,

God is like Jesus!
Which came first: • Let us remind ourselves that the Word that is Manifest is not the Book we call the Bible! The word of God is Jesus, the Christ.

• In addition, FedEx did not deliver a box of Bibles to a prayer group and the folks there sat down to put together a church, sort of like tinker toys. The sacred text grow out of the Church and the experiences of her body not the other way round.

• The Bible was written assuming that it would be heard read aloud, not silently.

• Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, came to be with Child through the hearing of the promise.

• We continue that practice today in this Eucharist.

Now, to the reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus went home to Nazareth and the people were excited to see the hometown boy who by all the rumors was doing some pretty impressive things. So they asked him to read at the Sabbath liturgy in the Synagogue. He stood and read from the book of the prophet Isaiah,

LUKE 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Afterwards, he likely paused, as our lectors do,before saying, “Here ends the reading or the Word of the Lord.”

Every eye was fixed on him.  No one moved expect the peripheral glance, checking the reaction of the leaders.  Then he “began to say: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today this scripture has been filled full! Filled Full because Jesus filled it full of truth, not abstract philosophy; but experience. The reading pointed toward Jesus and Jesus became the reading. They saw Spirit upon Jesus, right then, right there, and they knew it was so.

Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue James Tissot 1894

Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue James Tissot 1894

That was them there and then. What about us here and now?

Now turning to  I Corinthians 12:12 -13
Paul writes: One Body with Many Members 12 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. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free— and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Jesus became the reading he read,
we must become the reading we hear.

Whatever grace need is already in potential in our Baptism! We think that we have it and we do but a better question is, does it have us? As a Fr. Bronson Bryant, my mentor, often said, “We are always prepared to go to church and have nothing happen.” Are we afraid something will happen? If something happened then we would have to change.

There were five components in the early Church’s life through the graceful energy at tables like this one, thus becoming the Body of Christ in order to go into the world doing the work of Jesus.

Becoming the Gospel

Paul advocated a witness to the gospel that is both embodied and narrated, one that simultaneously practices, in an integrated way, what we today might call virtue, evangelism, reconciliation, and justice, all as aspects of transformative participation in the glory of God revealed in the crucified and resurrected Jesus by the Spirit.

1. Church of the Spirit: at the core of the primitive church was a “transforming, communicable experience of the Living Christ.’

2. Formed by the common experience of the risen Christ vitality to go and do what needed doing.

Ritual Actions are postures, positions and movements that affirm outwardly our inner beliefs and commitments.  In and of themselves, they are not in any way essential. They can be helpful.

Back in the heyday of North Carolina basketball, a friend told me a story. Her sons and the neighborhood boys were playing basketball in the back yard. She happened to look at the window, only to see one boy shoot a free throw. Just before he got into position to shoot, he crossed himself. That was odd, given that the boy’s dad was the pastor at First Baptist Church in town. What had happened, was that the best free throw shooter on the University team was Roman Catholic and he always signed the cross before he threw the ball.

Fran Alexander

For the boys playing basketball, It was magic. I’m not talking magic.

I’m talking outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual commitment.

The Celebrant continues  And we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you, O Lord of all; presenting to you, from your creation, this bread and this wine. We pray you, gracious God, (the celebrant traces the sign of the cross in the air above the bread and wine) to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant. (People cross themselves) Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Book of Common Prayer page 369

The bread and wine are blessed becoming the bread of heaven and cup of salvation. We are  blessed, becoming the same graceful gift in the world as communion bread and wine is for us.

3. A Passionate People: a burning desire. What do you long for? What do you let nothing get in way of?

Interesting questions. We have to choose. The state and the culture will not only not prop us up. They will compete directly with us. We have to choose. Sports games on Sunday morning. We have to choose.

4. The Unbreakable Fellowship: there were no parties allowed. We simply cannot allow factions here in our body. We are in this together and we shall remain that way to the limits of my influence.

5. Risking Unconditional Love: a love for others which was not dependent on being loved, or liked or flattered. Serenity not based on Achievement or Performance  It was life-changing (and very helpful) when I learned that I didn’t have to like someone in order to love them. However, I don’t ever recall choosing to love someone without positive emotions following afterward.


The company of Jesus and apostles gather at Pentecost.

Beloved, as we take this sacrament at this table. Come expecting (if you will) that being fed with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation – we will become the Good News for somebody we encounter.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord. THANKS BE TO GOD.  Amen.

© John W. Sewell

Saint John’s Theotokos



In the Thirteenth Century, the Blessed Virgin Mary began to be  portrayed sitting in majesty, serving as a seat for the Christ Child.  This posture is called Sedes Sapientiae or Seat of Wisdom.  Mary, here is the Theotokos, Mother of God as she was proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

This is the Henry De Rosen mural over the altar of the Lady Chapel at Saint John’s.  Living with this world class art collection is, without doubt, one of the greatest privileges of my life.


The Radical Living Middle

 A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.

Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.

I became an Anglican almost four decades ago because of the tradition’s high tolerance for ambiguity.  To my dismay, even Anglicans, when confronted with the paralyzing anxiety of our time, have polarized.


The left has become political ideology.  The siren of our present time,  whispers that all boundaries are evil.  Openness is the cry of our time.  What my progressive relatives fail to see is the distinction between barrier and boundary.  It is the difference between a castle wall and the membrane of a single cell.  The cell wall, if I remember from ancient junior high science,  is a semi-permeable membrane.  Substance flow in and out as may be.  The cell wall is there not to keep “stuff” out so much as to promote the integrity of the organism!

The family on the right have descended into mindless fundamentalism.  Now mind you,  it is more sophisticated  than your garden variety, but it is mindless nevertheless. Rabbi Friedman used to warn us not mistake mental activity for thinking. There is a longing for the golden age of purity (a time that likely never existed).  In this Episcopal Church my right wing brethren have withdrawn into sanctuaries of purity in the geography of certainty.   The castle wall around the body ecclesiastical is a barrier to further contamination and thinking.

Both extremes have something to say. Both extremes say it.  Nobody hears the useful ideas because the noise is too great. Closing our eyes, while sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “our old familiar fight song” may take us to our happy place; there is, unfortunately, no joy in the morning when we awaken from our hang over after a night drinking from the fire hose of pernicious rhetoric

I refuse to give up tolerance for ambiguity.  The truth is discovered by pulling the extremes toward the middle and living in the tension of the competing forces.  Fr. Hubbell, Chaplain at University of Kentucky in the 1970s said,

Linda S. Fitz Gibbon_Turn the Other Cheek

Turn the Other Cheek – Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

Trying to stand in the middle of the road is a good place to be run over.

I admit looking in the mirror at the tire prints on my soul from time to time.  But in all truth,  I do not know where else to stand.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

©John W. Sewell

Second Sunday of Christmas

Jan 3, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee

©John W. Sewell

At the end of the day they discovered Jesus missing

Today, we read the only story  in the canonical Gospels of Jesus between Christmas Eve and His baptism.Jesus stayed behind. Discovered he was not with Uncle Cleopas & Aunt Mary. (It takes a Village). Mary & Joseph turned in haste to find their son.

Meanwhile, Jesus was drawn to his home place, the Temple of the Living God, he learned to call Abba, Father. There he found the Elders of Israel debating like a meeting of the Supreme Court.

Jesus in Temple

James Tissot

Suppose this kid finds his way into the inner sanctum of the Court and asked the Justices a question that went to the very root of the question they were debating. They would begin to ask him questions, the matter at hand forgotten, as they marveled and whisper among themselves, “Chief Justice matter,” there. Jesus asked questions, endless penetrating, perceptive and prescient, such that the scholars of Israel may have never asked.

Three days his parents looked.  Note three prophetic days here at the beginning in Jerusalem. In twenty-one years falls three days, mysterious days of resurrection will occur. But not yet.

Meanwhile Mary and Joseph have looked high and low for Jesus and just when his mother was afraid she would see his picture on a milk carton, there he was in the Temple carrying on with the fathers of Israel and holding own, mind you.


Jesus in the Temple – William Holman Hunt

How could you scare us like this? “I had to be about my father’s business,” Joe! What can you say to that? They went on home.

About this story, Saint Jerome wrote, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and grace, as his humanity was taught by his divinity.” Even Jesus had to learn the language of his Soul!

That being so, how can we not do the same? Morton Kelsey, in his book, Encounter With God, gives us some hints. He says:


Is there a supernatural that exists beyond our four senses? Most Christians in the country live functionally denying that such exists.

Question; “How many of you had a supernatural experience since Christmas?

Not sure? Afraid to say? Not sure you would know one if you had it? All over town in every church, if I asked that question, people would look at me like I’m crazy, even though the scripture readings for these Twelve Days of Christmas assume the spiritual realm exists!

Studies show that people outside the Church desperately want to experience God. They don’t come looking in the Church because they’ll not meet God there. People are leaving because they have not experienced God.


At least we can cease from the interminable sermonizing … and tell the people in human speech as distinct from theological algebra, that the Church is where one comes to find union with God. [63] Behold the Spirit – Alan Watts


A parish suddenly found itself with an infestation of mice. They were everywhere. One day the altar guild opened the drawer in the sacristy where the fair (translated: beautiful and very expensive) linen was stored finding that not only had mice invaded the holy place, but they had eaten holes all over the formerly fair linen, contaminated the drawer by their very presence.

The last violation was that about a half-dozen were still in the drawer finishing the job, because “muridae mus musculus” is nothing if not through. The startled mice leapt from the drawer scattering handmaidens of the Lord in every direction.

What had been annoying was now war! They looked for anything short of the nuclear option to get rid of them? After many suggestions, they asked the rector. He was then 40 years in service, “Oh that’s easy enough.

We’ll confirm them and we’ll never see them again.”

You got to show up, and keep on showing up.


We must be honest before we are able to face and grow through many things. Honesty in our affairs is hard enough, but honesty to ourselves in ourselves is rare as well as hard as we prefer to trust ourselves and suspect others. We must be right.


a. Keep a journal – 3 pages before we get honest.
b. Keep records of dreams. God still speaks to us from our unconscious.
c. Read and study the spiritual life.
d. Pray, experiment with prayer. Impression – speak to that one. Go another way.
e. Find a spiritual mentor.


“A spiritual mentor wants to know our inmost self, our real self. He wants to know us not as we are in the eyes 0f men, or even as we are in our own eyes, but as we are in the eyes of God. He wants to know the inmost truth of our vocation, the action of grace in our souls. His mentorship is nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey our real mentor – the Holy Spirit that is hidden in the depths of our soul.” Thomas Merton – Spiritual Direction & Meditation


It is important to become as open to God as we know how and then expect him to meet us. As Scripture states if we draw near to God, will draw near to us!!”


The Youth of Our Lord – John Herbert

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Luke 2 : 5 2

2016 is our year to grow up and calm down in the power of the Spirit. We too must increase in wisdom and in years: in Divine and human favor. God by the Holy Spirit will make it so. Amen.