Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A few random thoughts on the occasion of the announcement of the retirement of a bishop

The very first hymn I ever memorized (all five verses!) was "The Church's One Foundation." I could still sing them all for you this very minute (since I can evidently remember things I memorized in 3rd grade but can't remember where I put my car keys) but here's the "bottom line" ... which is also the first line:
The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord ...
There's a lot more after that but that's the point. Of the hymn and of the church. Founded on Jesus Christ our Lord to FOLLOW Jesus Christ our Lord ... to be the Body of Christ in the World. To make the Year of the Lord's Favor a reality. To bring that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

And to make all that happen we've been given an abundance of historic tools that include doctrines and disciplines; prayer books and prie dieus; bibles and bishops.

If one of the most formative hymns in my journey was "The Church's One Foundation" then one of the most formative teachers was Jim Sanders ... who was my OT professor in seminary. He was the one who taught me -- over and over -- that what gets us in trouble over and over and OVER again is "worshipping the gift rather than the giver."

It got the Israelites in trouble in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land when they decided to drag the golden calf out. It got the people of Israel in trouble once they BECAME the people of Israel when they kept forgetting that the point of the Temple was to worship God ... not to worship their Temple worship. And it's gotten the Church in trouble over and over and OVER again because instead of remembering that JESUS is the church's one foundation it gets all caught up in the other bits and pieces.

Like bishops.

I love bishops. Some of my best friends are bishops. I'm pleased, proud and thankful to be part of the church that has bishops ... a whole order of ministry specifically called and chosen to "guard the faith, unity and discipline of the church." And I'm particularly grateful to be part of the church that elects our bishops.

And here's the breaking news: bishops come and bishops go. We elect them. They serve. They retire. Some of them retire to some Dick Cheneyesque "undisclosed location" -- never to be heard from again -- and others retire to exercise vibrant ministries for years and years beyond their tenure as Diocesan. Or Suffragan. +Paul Moore comes to mind. So does +Barbara Harris. And (love him or hate him!) +Jack Spong.

So with all the hoopla around last Saturday's announcement of the impending retirement of the Bishop of New Hampshire, let's keep a few things in mind:

When +Gene retires in January 2013 he:
[a] will be 65 years old
[b] will have been Diocesan Bishop for 9 years and
[c] will have been ordained for 40 years ... and if that's not a nice biblical number, I don't know what is!
He's not being "run off." He's not going to disappear. And as fabulous a bishop as he has been for the great Diocese of New Hampshire I do not have a shadow of a doubt that the Holy Spirit has somebody else fabulous in mind to be the 10th Bishop of New Hampshire.

So let's review. Don't worship the gift, worship the giver. Remember that the church's ONE foundation is Jesus. And everybody sing:
Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.
So here's to bishops -- who come and go. And to Jesus -- who is with us always. And most of all to the Giver -- who is NOT to be confused with any of the abundant gifts we have been given by the one who loved us enough to become one of us in order to teach us how to walk in love with each other.


Rich Angelo said...

Beautifully said!! Amen and Alleluia!

Muthah+ said...

great tribute to a great man. And from one who is now retired, jump in +Gene, the water's fine!

Ann said...

Excellent. Awaiting consummation!! LOL - not my favorite hymn but love your commentary.

Jim Kline said...

Although I am Lutheran, this post really resonated with me. I recently left my former church after it left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It was a difficult and painful decision for me, but I also knew I did NOT want a "one-issue church." Thankfully, I soon found a nearby ELCA congregation and have become an active participant in it.