Below is the text of Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin’s keynote address to the National Workshop on Christian Unity banquet, May 3, 2017.

 

 

National Workshop on Christian Unity

May 3, 2017

Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, D.D.

(copyright)

REFORM, REPENT, RECONCILE

Thank you, Bishop Delzer. Thank you, distinguished leaders, many of you colleagues for many years. I’m very honored to be with you.

Bishop Delzer was in my office a few weeks ago and I said that I’d gotten this invitation to do the keynote address. I showed him the material with the theme on it – Reform Repent Reconcile and I said the inviting Committee had suggested that part of what I talk about is how the ecumenical movement has been successful in Minnesota. Then I asked him, “What do you think, Bishop, why has the Council of Churches here been strong?” He looked at me and he looked at the brochure and he looked at me and said, “Because we do each of these.”  Brilliant – that was the answer right there. Reform. Repent. Reconcile.  Done. Mic drop. But, of course, there is a bit more.

In fact, preparing this address was like living inside an accordion, it would contract to this simple and profound statement –  reform, repent, reconcile – and then the message would immediately expand to a semester’s worth of stuff.

That is, of course, because our work so broad. In Christ God is reconciling the world, the whole world. Like John 3:16, it is the whole world that God so loved….Amen?

What a political statement! They must have been shocked – this isn’t just about those of us who share this one identity?  It’s all the world’s citizens? In Christ God was reconciling the whole world to God’s own self, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

We struggle at the Minnesota Council of Churches with the expansive nature of this work.  “All of what it means to be a Christian is immersed in the biblical idea of reconciliation.” writes Curtiss DeYoung.

All … of what it means…. to be a Christian… for the whole world.

Wait, wait, any good non-profit leader will tell you that a nonprofit needs focus; a focused mission statement. But when MCC went to write our mission statement we came up with this: “To manifest the unity of the Body of Christ and through Christ to build the Common Good in the world.”  One board member was heard to say “Well, that’ll keep us busy for a few months”.

But we could not turn away from the magnitude of the call.

God’s purpose was to create in Christ one new humanity; we are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s household. We could not turn away from the magnitude of the call.

God, who reconciled all through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation and we could not turn away from the magnitude of the call.

Reform, Repent, and, by the way, Reconcile the whole world, would you please?

Let me offer a glimpse of my thoughts on the call to Reform, Repent and Reconcile with a few examples from MCC’s life.

Reform the ecumenical movement for the sake of Christ’s mission. I offer four particular tasks in the category of reform: 1) we must reckon with ecumenical – interfaith dialectic, 2) we must continue to move from dialogue to relationship, 3) we must translate ecumenism from being an individualized specialty of the few to the daily practice for all, 4) and we must look with new eyes for the relevancy of our work.

The St. Paul Area Council of Churches has become Interfaith Action. The Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches wrestles with the question about identity as ecumenical or interfaith.

 

At the MCC that same question came up a number of years ago.  And so we entered into a process of discernment. Our brothers and sisters of other faith groups told us they needed us to stay a Christian group. They needed a place to which they could go as a focal point for relating to Christian leaders. They also said that they were concerned that in any interfaith group, the mere size of the Christian community means that other faith groups will be absorbed.

 

We concluded that ecumenical vs interfaith are separate disciplines and tasks. We also concluded that the question isn’t an either/or question: we would do our interfaith work out of the conciliar Christian context. So we offer the Blessed Ramadan lawn signs as resistance to the targeting of those of another faith.  But as a witness to what the Christian faith calls us to do. Last year a Muslim woman wrote me and said, that sometimes her children ask her, “Why do they hate us?” She said when I saw the Blessed Ramadan sign I could tell them, “Not everyone does.”

 

We, at MCC, understand the ecumenical movement to be based on the oneness of the body of Christ and the interfaith movement to be based on the oneness of creation.

 

The reformation of the ecumenical movement is also enhanced when we move from a strictly dialogic approach to working at relationships that include empathy, trust and respect even in the midst of disagreement. Relationships are both the means and the end of the work.

Some of you will remember when the other Clinton was running for president and the campaign headquarters had a sign that said, “It’s the economy stupid?”  We have sign at the MCC that says, “It’s the relationship, stupid.” No, we don’t really, but I tell that story to every one of my direct reports. Relationships, that is what our calling demands — that each of us become a means of reconciliation.

And this is everyone’s work: bishop, pastor, priest, ecumenical office, and laity. The reformation of the ecumenical movement, for the sake of Christ’s mission, must move from being a highly academic pursuit by a few individual specialists to the daily practice of the all. And so our job sometimes is to be a holy nag to everybody about that – reminding each other that we believe in universal reconciliation and so we all need to figure out how that works into our annual workplan.

The last point of the Reform section is this: The Reformation of the ecumenical movement requires that we become more relevant to the needs of the world. That requires us to ask the question “Who are we most likely to demonize today?”

At the Minneapolis Institute of Art there is an El Greco painting of Christ driving the money changers from the temple. Art historians have posited that it was a post-Reformation favorite in the Catholic Church and represented the condemnation of heresy. I am sure that there were those Protestants who would have interpreted it in the reverse.

It is with great joy that we come to this moment in time in which we can say that we are no longer enemies, nor even strangers, but brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t always agree.

In every generation we demonize one another, pointing fingers at the ones we perceive as the enemy.

Paul had the Jew/Gentile – the circumcised and the uncircumcised divide – it seems like such a small divide to us now. In Minnesota Catholic girls now marry Protestant boys and vice versa without it being the town scandal anymore. There are issues that need attention, like how shall we have joint wedding services. But if we put our energies there and do not ask ourselves, “Where is the demonization of our day?” – we will have missed the relevancy of the gospel for our time.

Perhaps we look at the pain inside the United Methodist Church in this moment. Sexuality is certainly one of the great dividing issues of our day. A few years back the Minnesota legislature was looking at a bill that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. We knew we would not have a shared agreement on this issue among the folks at the MCC table. The Historic Black Church was more likely to agree with the Greek Orthodox than they were with the United Church of Christ and the ELCA congregations were going to be pulled apart in the middle. In fact, in most of our congregations, division was going to rise up and show itself. Polarization was blowing in like a spring tornado. We asked how we could be present to each other in the midst of this highly charged moment.

At MCC we designed a program called the Respectful Conversation Project.  RCP is designed not to change minds, but to open hearts.

More than 2,500 Minnesotans have participated in almost 90 Respectful Conversations. And those conversations have gone beyond the marriage amendment:

  • Guns in Minnesota
  • Differences between urban and rural government leaders
  • Racial implications of religious art
  • Muslims and Christians on global security
  • Jews and Protestants on Israel/Palestine
  • The Presidential election.

70% of participants report a stronger sense of empathy for those whose viewpoint is different from their own. Months later, people report a greater awareness of their own listening attitudes and more curiosity about those, they would previously have considered opponents.

Divisions which can’t be reconciled without an openness to one another nor without repentance. Of what do we repent? I have some working notions that show up a lot at the MCC table. Let me offer four key issues for the church and the world: 1) let us repent of narrative of individualism, 2) let us repent of our isolating siloes of identity, 3) let us repent of the hubris of our limited worldview and 4) let us repent the narrative of consumerism and commodification of relationship.

 

It may be one of the most important tasks of the ecumenical ministry to call for the repentance of these. I don’t think much needs to be said about these; you all are wrestling with them in ways that are beyond me. Let me just offer this.

 

The Narrative of Individualism The reformation opened up a regard for the individual in his /her personal faith journey, decried the pitfalls of the religious state, and supported the move toward democracy. I believe in a democracy that guarantees the freedom of the individual but I also believe that inside of that freedom of religions we have a gospel to proclaim that reminds us that the goal is never just about the individual. It is always about the community and Christ tells us our community is the globe.

Isolated Identity Silos. Our community — that is our cities, our state, our country, our world– our community is shattered into special interest shards, shards which can’t carry a commitment to a common good. The isolated shards can’t envision, much less build, a commitment to the common good which is part of the systemic reconciliation.

Repenting of our tendency towards silo-ed identities, the MCC board understands that it has an ecclesiological role, the leaders of the regional judicatories – bishops and executives -are the MCC leaders, and their first job is to know each other, be vulnerable with each other, pray for each other, trust each other and discern together what action needs to be taken.

This is not easy when our denominational leaders are offered little support for time spent in an ecumenical way. Increasingly our congregants see themselves as consumers of church not producers of church and increasingly our congregations see themselves as consumers of denominations not producers of denominations. Pastors, priests, bishops are perceived as personal chaplains not community leaders.

How do leaders lead for the whole in such a time? And yet our wonderful leaders know this calling and offer one another the space and time which leads to opportunities to lead for the whole. What an extraordinary witness. In these times when our communities feel the social earthquakes of deep seeded mistrust, vitriolic slander, and broad apprehension about any common GROUND from which to seek the common good.  We share a common witness as we did at a press conference in late January in response to President Trump’s executive order. The leadership of 90% of the faith community were there that day: Catholic Mainline Protestant, Evangelical, Muslim, Jewish leaders – all with the same condemnation of the order.

But be of good cheer for repentance does indeed lead us to reconciliation. That interaction is laid out so wonderfully Pope John Paul The 2nd’s Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance

So Reconcile. Reconcile what?

My answer: The whole darn thing. This is where we started.  Our work is the work of the whole thing. We cannot turn away from the magnitude of the call.

Two things I want to offer about reconciliation: that reconciliation is the result of God’s Jubilee already begun in Jesus Christ and that reconciliation requires engagement with the world in some difficult ways.

Reconciliation among the denominations plays less of a role in the MCC council life. But reconciliation of the whole darn thing is the driving principle. We talk about love, justice, compassion — it is around that world view of connectedness that drives us to make things right everywhere.

Reconciliation is the central issue of the gospel and the key issue of the ecumenical movement. Reconciliation: To make right the relationships.

Jesus lived into the ‘righting’ of all things, the Jubilee, the reset button on relationships, setting things right. Reconciliation is a reflection of the ongoing-ness of the Jubilee year.

Jesus sets this all up when he reads the Isaiah 61 scripture in his home congregation.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor….
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

That’s the ecumenical message!!! “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” That’s the good news, reconciliation is upon us…join in… invite others.

The fullness of time is here, God’s will is being done on earth. Get on board, roll your sleeves up, let’s bring it to fullness. Hallelujah?

Every day I pray this prayer because I know that every day we will be called to resist a whole list of barriers to reconciliation.

John Paul’s Reconciliation and Penance names them well and they become our liturgy. He exhorts us to resist the:

  • The trampling upon human rights – and I pray, Christ, make me an instrument of your reconciliation
  • Resist hidden attacks and pressures against the freedom – Christ, make me an instrument of your reconciliation
  • Resist discrimination: racial, cultural, religious, etc.
  • Resist Violence and terrorism. – Christ, make me an instrument of your reconciliation
  • Resist the use of torture and unjust and unlawful methods of repression.
  • Resist the stockpiling of conventional or atomic weapons – resist the spending- on military purposes – of sums which could be used to alleviate the undeserved misery of peoples that are socially and economically depressed – Christ, make me an instrument of your reconciliation
  • Resist the unfair distribution of the world’s resources – Christ, make me an instrument of your reconciliation

Reconciliation is a political act. We shouldn’t be surprised. What I am surprised about is the denial in our own constituency of the church’s role as moral voice.

Pope Francis has been very articulate about these issues as have many of our leaders. But our people think they can dismiss what these leaders say because it is ‘political’ – as if the gospel is not political. And we are partially responsible for that understanding. We have been hesitant to see the political issues as part of the ecumenical calling.

We must encourage each other to speak to these barriers to reconciliation, as central to the ecumenical calling of reconciliation on a personal and on a global level. Reconciliation is a globalized Jubilee.

Am I optimistic, not really, but I am hopeful. The reconciliation goes before us. While we were still enemies (Rom 5:10) we were reconciled to God. In the power of the Holy Spirit reconciliation is happening as we speak.

We meet one another finally, not in our agreements, but in the fire of Pentecost– where God is faithful, where Christ is present, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ and through Christ part of Christ’s reconciling mission in the world.

Amen

 

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