On Sunday, June 19, Bishop Stephen T. Lane confirmed (12!), received, and baptized at a regional service hosted by St. George’s in York Harbor.
In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:
“…there is no place God can not or will not go to meet us, to reach us, to save us. God, in Christ, crosses the Lake of Gennesaret in the middle of a storm, goes to any unclean land, confronts any evil, for us. God is with us in the midst of all that terrifies us, all that causes us despair, in the midst of the evil done to us, and the evil we do to others. God meets those lost to addiction, challenged by illness, twisted by hatred, and oppressed by wickedness. God lies down in bathroom stalls with the wounded and the dying in a nightclub in Orlando.”
As our country turns toward the election of a President this fall and attention focuses on the upcoming nominating conventions, I’d like to remind us of the rules guiding church participation in politics. These are set out in the IRS rules governing non-profit religious institutions and churches. www.irs.gov/uac/charities-churches-and-politics
Social Media and Elections
Our churches and in our roles as church leaders, we are not permitted, in church publications or from the pulpit, to advocate for or against a particular candidate for public office. With the advent of social media, the category of “church publication” is a bit vague but may well include blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts. If a personal account commingles personal opinion about a candidate and also shares church information, the page might be construed as a church publication. This is new territory for us and has the potential to introduce confusion as to whether the individual clergy person or the church is advocating for or against a particular candidate.
Advocacy on Legislation and Ballot Initiatives
Our churches and in our roles as church leaders, we are permitted to educate and advocate regarding public issues and legislation as well as teach about how faith, beliefs, and church doctrine intersect with public issues and legislation. (Please see the House of Bishops’ statement issued March 2016)
Our churches may hold educational forums, and we as clergy may participate in issue-based political action groups. We may testify before the legislature and speak at public events. We may not spend a “substantial” percentage of the church budget on advocacy efforts. (While the IRS does not define what a “substantial” amount is, the American Bar Association defines it as more than 20 percent of an organization’s operating income.) While it is highly unlikely that a church would expend such an amount, to do so would open the church to questions about its primary purpose.
We may hold candidates forums or debates about public issues. Such events, when opposing views are expressed, are meant to educate the public and should be presented in an unbiased manner, regardless of any point of view we may hold.
Holding Up Civil Discourse as the Standard
Beyond our obligation to adhere to the IRS rules, we have committed ourselves to civil discourse as a way to honor our Baptismal covenant. The Diocese of Maine is a signatory to the Maine Council of Churches Covenant for Civil Discourse. Civil discourse encourages vigorous debate about ideas and policies. Contrariwise, attacks on the character, intelligence, appearance, background, etc., of any candidate or spokesperson are a violation of our belief that every person is a child of God for whom Christ died.
The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations has just released a very comprehensive and helpful toolkit and resource, Policy for Action 2016, to assist individual Episcopalians and churches engage in public life.
Also the Maine Episcopal Network for Justice has many resources on several of the ballot initiatives that Maine citizens will consider this year. Learn more on its webpage or Facebook page and consider asking MENJ Director John Hennessy to visit your church to learn more about its work.
On April 10, Bishop Steve Lane visited with the people of St. John’s in Bangor. In his sermon he had this, in part, to say.
Jesus says to Peter, if you love me, come as you are, and feed my people; share my love with the world, bring my good news to everyone. This is not about making converts, although some may be converted. It’s about lighting fires, and making a meal, and sharing breakfast on the beach. It is about reaching out to people in their ordinary lives – as fisherman or lobstermen or bankers or lawyers or shopkeepers – and helping them find abundant life.
Bishop Steve Lane’s address at Spring Training 2016
St. Paul’s, Brunswick
April 9, 2016
[More than 135 Maine Episcopalians gathered on April 9 for day of learning and sharing in workshops on church leadership, spiritual growth, ministry and advocacy. At mid-day Bishop Lane called everyone together to worship and consider his remarks on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who called Jesus a man for people, and how we will meet up with God’s mission in the world.]
Today we mark the Feast of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer, the brilliant theologian, pastor and seminary professor, was a member of the so-called Confessing Church in Germany during WWII and also a participant in the plot to kill Adolph Hitler. He was executed at Flossenburg Prison just before it was liberated by the Allies.
Bonhoeffer’s writings are of great interest today, not only for his acute Biblical and theological insights, but also for the way in which his writings seem to anticipate and predict the world of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Bonhoeffer spoke of a world come of age, a world which had no need of religion – particularly in his view, the denominational religion that had failed completely to stand up to the Nazis. What the world needed now, he said, was “religionless Christianity,” that is, a devotion to Jesus Christ, whom Bonhoeffer called “the man for others.”
As a devout Christian, a Biblical scholar, a Lutheran pastor, Bonhoeffer did not advocate doing away with the Bible or the sacraments, but he saw no point in the church unless it pointed to Jesus and encouraged its members to follow Jesus.
We live now in an age when most people no longer participate in a religious community. The United States is among the most religious countries in the Western World, with more than 80% declaring belief in God. Despite that confession, however, fewer than 20% are in church or synagogue on any given weekend. More than ⅔’s of adults 30 and under have no contemporary religious experience, and people declaring no religious affiliation are now the largest single group of young adults. Although many Americans see themselves as connected to a religious tradition, increasing numbers simple describe themselves as “spiritual, not religious.” Maine is one of the four least-religious states in America, along with Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Moreover, many people no longer see the church as the place to go for spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment. That’s frustrating for all of us who love our churches, but the fact is that many folks experience the church as being more interested in its own needs and in people’s wallets than in them.
Some of this reaction is the unintended consequence of the Reformation, each denomination competing with others over worship and doctrine. (We Episcopalians sometimes pride ourselves on having the best stuff, the best worship. We don’t do guilt – that’s our poke at the RCs. We aren’t fundamentalists – that’s our poke at the Baptists. Every other denomination thinks about itself in similar fashion – as superior to the rest.) As a result, every church is a destination church, drawing people out of the community into more homogeneous groups on Sundays. Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week, the church being far less diverse than business, education or the military.
And some of this reaction is related to the vast cultural changes we are all experiencing: the declining income of the middle class, the cynicism of many about large institutions, including the church, the distrust of the intentions of leaders of all stripes, the patriarchal culture of the church, etc., etc. The church is in decline, and the bottom is nowhere yet in sight.
So… what to do? What kind of response can we make to all this which is not simply defensive, not simply a matter of self-preservation?
Well, this day, Spring Training, is a partial response, growing from my conviction that if we are to serve God’s mission, then we must find our personal stories in the Biblical story, must be deeply grounded in the traditions of our faith, and must learn the skills needed to follow Jesus into the world.
More of a response can be found in reshaping our common life not around our survival as institutions, but around our faithfulness to the man for others. In preparing for this day, invited each of the workshop leaders to consider three principles in shaping their workshops: Follow Jesus… into the neighborhood… travel light.
Our fundamental conviction as Christians is that God is present and active in the world God has made and that Jesus is the key to understanding God. We discover God by following Jesus. Jesus shows us who God is and where God is.
Jesus leads us into the world. God may be found in the church, to be sure, but not exclusively so. God is in all the places where people live, and it is to these places that Jesus leads us. We go into our communities not because potential members live there. We go to meet our neighbors because that’s where Jesus is.
And as we follow Jesus, we need to travel light, to leave as much baggage behind as we can. Our task is not to make Episcopalians, but share the good news that God is present. We’re not in search of clients or missionary targets, but friends – friends who, through us, might discover that they are also friends of Jesus.
This movement – following Jesus into the neighborhood traveling lightly – is what Bonhoeffer called religionless Christianity and what some of us are calling Going Local – moving beyond our doors into the places where Jesus is.
God is not finished with us yet. I believe that God is intent on completing the work of reconciliation. God is inviting us into the work of reconciliation. “Do you not know, says Paul, that you were baptized with Christ in his death…”
Dying and rising is what this is all about. Our work is Easter work. Death to ourselves and perhaps to our way of doing things, so that God’s reconciliation might take place among us. As long as it is necessary for people to be like us in order to be saved – in our minds or theirs – there is no reconciliation. Only in moving toward one another, in serving Christ together, across all our difference and diversity, will reconciliation take place.
Bonhoeffer was involved in the plot to kill Hitler, and he has been roundly criticized for that involvement. Bonhoeffer, for himself, never tried to justify his action. He knew he would face God for his part. Yet he believed that in the face of evil, Christians have to act. Christian faith is not simply a matter of piety or intellectual assent. It is rather a matter of action on behalf of others. The task of reconciliation is the lifestyle of Christians. We are called not to save the institution, but to be Christ’s body – to bring our gifts and skills to bear on the work of making friends for Jesus. Bonhoeffer put it this way: “This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us. We do not abandon it; we do not repudiate, despise or condemn it. Instead we call it back to God, we give it hope, we lay our hand on it and say: may God’s blessing come upon you, may God renew you; be blessed, world created by God, you who belong to your Creator and Redeemer.”
May the work we do this day help to center and steady us in the work of reconciliation. May we find inspiration and hope to follow Jesus… into the neighborhood… traveling light. Amen.
Bishop Steve Lane made his way downeast during Holy Week. He celebrated Easter Day with the people of St. Francis by the Sea in Blue Hill. In his sermon he had this, in part, to say:
And the deepest truth about ourselves is the relationship we have with God: the truth that we were created in the image of our loving God, who called us out the depths by name and loves us with a love greater than death, and who gives into our hands the work of sharing the Good News of God’s love. The great good news of Easter is that God’s love cannot be broken – ever – and that, from beyond death, God calls us to share what we know with the world around us.
On Sunday, Bishop Steve Lane visited St. Ann’s in Windham. He preached on the Gospel reading of the Prodigal Son, God’s grace, and God’s crazy irrational love for us. He had this, in part to say:
Let me suggest to you that today’s Gospel is not about lostness — we’re all lost more or less. It’s rather about grace, and our responses to receiving grace. And the fact is, we have trouble with grace. Because grace isn’t fair. Grace isn’t just. Grace doesn’t give people what they deserve but, rather, what God wants to give them.
On Sunday, February 28, Bishop Stephen Lane visited the people at Church@209 in Augusta. Since late 2014, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church have worshipped together, engaged in local ministries together, and shared a pastor, the Rev. Erik Karas. Last fall St. Matthew’s, Hallowell, and St. Barnabas, Augusta, joined the Church@209 experiment, but a few weeks ago that arrangement was suspended for now.
In his sermon last Sunday, Bishop Lane has wise words for the people of Church@209. He had this, in part, to say:
What gives us hope – in Lent, on this journey, in our lives – is not that we might somehow escape suffering, but that God loves us. God loves us enough to give us some more time, to loosen our soil, to fertilize our roots, to let us grow. The realities of today are not the final realities. The possibilities for turning around, of bearing fruit, still lie before us.
Bishop Steve Lane presided at the mid-day Ash Wednesday service at St. Luke’s Cathedral, this afternoon. In his sermon he offered these words:
Today is the right time to begin. Right now. And we begin the process of divinization by throwing ourselves into the paradoxical hurly-burly of life – by being servants of one another and of the world. As servants of the Crucified One we will experience what he experienced: great endurance, afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. And we will live as he lived: by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.
What we do in this Lent is not about drawing inward, about drawing apart to perfect our spiritual life. It is rather a movement to engage, to engage with God and God’s world so that we become instruments of God’s reconciling love. May we in this Lent see that Christ has joined us in our sinfulness that we might join Christ in his righteous love.
Bishop Steve Lane spend the last Sunday of Epiphany with the people of St. Patrick’s, Brewer. In his sermon on Luke’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus he had this, in part, to say:
But worship is not sufficient. What’s required is that we listen to Jesus and, by implication, that we do what he teaches. In the oral tradition that predates literacy, the verb, “to hear,” actually meant to act on what one heard. The proof of the listening was the action that followed. If one did not respond, then, clearly, one had not heard. Listening wasn’t a passive activity, but rather an action going forward. God says listen to Jesus: follow him, act like him.
He also said this:
It’s been said that we must rescue Jesus from the church, the fatal flaw of the church has been that we have worshiped Jesus instead of following him. We have been content to build booths in which to stay a little while with Jesus, but have not been willing to follow him down the mountain to share in the work of healing and reconciliation. We have been content to bask in the reflected light of Jesus while all around us God’s sons and daughters die of poverty, disease and war. We have been happy that Jesus was transfigured, but we have not looked for our own transfiguration.