Bishop Rickel's Address at the 105th Convention

Bishop Greg RickelI am part of the Jesus movement because it is in Jesus where our nightmares can be transformed into the dream God has for us all. That would be my tweet, my Twitter message. It is just 6 characters shy of the 140 character limit on Twitter. I had to work at it for a while, to get it down to those words.

I will tell you they are words that I shamelessly stole from the installation sermon given by our 27th Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at his installation on All Saints Day, just a few weeks ago. If you have not watched that sermon, I hope you will. It is on YouTube, and I thought it was as close to perfect as he could have made it on that day. He inspired me and it was so good I almost said, let’s just show that, and then I will get up and say, “Yeah, Amen, that!”

This is where our theme came from too, The Jesus Movement. Our new Presiding Bishop challenged us right out of the box at General Convention this year, in his first sermon to us, to be about the Jesus movement. That is not new, we should have been, and in many ways have been about and part of the Jesus movement, but as with all things human sometimes we need to be reminded, re-centered, re-energized.

Now, I have to be honest. When I was asked what our theme was for this convention, I had some of you, kind of look back at me with a strange sort of look on your face. Most of the time, no one said anything, but it was that look. You know, I read it, as a quizzical look, a questioning look, as if to be asking me without words, “Bishop, you do know we are Episcopalians? Right?”

We say and act that out in lots of ways. I have had people actually tell me that they really love their new rector but he does talk about Jesus a lot. Pretty much saying, “not sure I can handle that.”

What! You do know that Jesus is not just God’s big idea. Jesus is much, much more. Without Jesus, no Christianity; without Jesus we would not be here today. We have just got to get more comfortable with that word Jesus, but much more with that person, what his life, ministry, witness, and resurrection means to us and calls us to. Jesus is the beginning, middle, and end of what this is all about.

Over this past eight years of being your bishop, and traveling the greater church, I have heard from bishop, clergy, and laity, an opposite request; you know, we just don’t hear the word Jesus very often. I just wish the Presiding Bishop, or my priest, or the church, or you would just mention him every now and then.

I have worried about that too, like we are pouring over every word in a sermon, or in a piece of writing, on a grammatical quest, missing the content along the way. Some people seem to be happy even if Jesus was just thrown in every once in a while, even it was totally out of context and made no sense.

And I get that, all the way around, and at the same time, we could get mired in both of those ends of the spectrum, talking about Jesus all the time, and trying to avoid Jesus because we are just not comfortable with it, and in both extremes we can lose the faith that this life and message and promise points to in the first place.

It is a long way of saying talk is cheap. How it changes us, what it compels in us, what it moves us to do and be, is everything.

That is why I like the Jesus movement. It asks for action, not just words. It calls us to something, a movement. It is not a place to stand, as much as it is call to act, to respond, to move.

Our new Presiding Bishop said this at St. John the Divine just this week; that the Jesus movement is about following. “Follow Jesus and love will show you how to become more than you ever dreamed you could be. Follow Jesus and he will help you change the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. Jesus came and started a movement and we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.”

At every address to you, I start out feeling like a four pound bird that has just laid an eight pound egg. And I also always hope you will not feel the same when I am finished. There is just so much; collecting a year of our life together in a few minutes. But, it is my task and I will do my best knowing I am going to leave a lot out and this could have gone a lot of different ways.

Let me start with General Convention this past summer. I have shared with enough of you my feelings about General Convention in general. As I responded to someone asking me, “What was my favorite part,” I replied, “Walking to the train on the last day.” I know that is cynical. I love the family reunion part, but I have to say I get tired quickly of the governing part, the parliamentary bantering, the resolutions that end up meaning little; all of that. But I will admit to you I am a bit over the top in this regard. I’ll make my confession. I know there is a need for it. My concern has always been that it not become our only reason for being, that it not become our God, or our salvation, because it is neither.

I felt this General Convention was so spirit filled and in a remarkable way truly did reveal what our experience often is in the church. It exceeded my expectations. It was filled with a mix of tremendous joy at so many things, and also sorrow.

The sorrow came from the whole incident involving the former Suffragan Bishop of Maryland, Heather Cook, who hit and killed a young bicyclist, a young father, a young husband, while driving drunk and texting, and then, even worse, leaving the scene. As of last week she has been sentenced and is now serving her sentence. The incident opened our eyes to the addiction problem we have in our church, and we have it, not because we are the church and somehow different, but because we are a human organization, made up of imperfect humans and in this regard are exactly the same, but we have for a long, long time tried to avoid this truth.

Our diocese in just the last month hosted the Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church Annual Gathering here at St. Mark's Cathedral. I serve on the board of Recovery Ministries and have for several years. I am not an alcoholic, but I can assure you I am addicted to many things. I have learned that the 12 steps is a remarkable tool for everyone. And it quickly came to me that the church, as a whole, should probably be in a 12 step program because we are addicted to many things, one of them is appearance. I think we are addicted to appearance. I think it has gotten us in trouble many times, has left us on the wrong side of issues many times, and the addiction keeps us making many mistakes and not living authentically much of the time.

We live in denial quite often that such things are part of our world, and we move them out of sight, because of our addiction. The General Convention did some great work on this, under the leadership of the Dean of our Cathedral who chaired the committee tasked with bringing some coherent and meaty resolutions to the Houses. They succeeded in that and I commend them to you all; three specifically, that ask all congregations not to deny this or run from it, or try to hide it any longer. And to take action to make that happen. Our Standing Committee and governing bodies have already begun that work here.

Now, let me tell you I don’t suspect we are going to be able to compel this church to stop drinking. It is part of the fabric of this denomination, even the subject of many jokes about us. Some would say at least that is honest; I can agree with that. But, the mark of our life in the world and our effect on it has to be about more than that. I would say this sorrow has helped the church to move a bit more toward being more honest about what it is we support, and who it is we leave out – by the way we joke – and live out, that authentic part of who we are.

The Jesus MovementSo, I urge all of you to look at these resolutions carefully. [GC Resolutions] We have to change when it comes to this. We have to acknowledge, admit, and change. As in the 12 steps themselves, it is time to make amends, and do this differently from here on out.

So that, was all mixed in, at General Convention, with the joy of electing, on the first ballot, in the House of Bishops – which has never happened before – the first African-American Presiding Bishop. Regardless of his color, his ethnicity, regardless of the times we are living in (I have listed those because I have heard all of them as perhaps some of the reasons we elected him); NO, I am here to attest he is the most qualified and absolutely the right person to lead this church right now. And I believe out of the joy of that election and of his vision and leadership, our convention was bold enough to say, with words, and putting money to it, that this next era in our church should be about evangelism and reconciliation, beginning with racial reconciliation.

As our Presiding Bishop so well said: Evangelism and Episcopalian have not been two “e” words that have been often said in the same sentence, or associated in many ways. But there it is, and it is our call. Those are big things, evangelism and racial reconciliation, but we are called to big things, and we have a God that loves us enough to bring us to those.

I sense in all of this, that here in Olympia, and across this Church, we are coming to a place where the truth can be told, and if we have different truths, we can trust our relationship and our common love of Christ to move us through those differences without division or hate. We, the people of Jesus, simply must be about living out that possibility in this world we live in now. There is perhaps nothing that is so needed now, than for us to be about that, to model that, to live it. We, here, have trained a whole new group to teach and lead us through a whole new anti-racism and reconciliation model that all clergy and many laity will be compelled by me to take for certification, and for which I hope many of you will choose to be part. We are also moving into a model of civil discourse called fierce conversations, and you will hear more about that in the days to come.

All of this means, what we have said just about every time we have met, we are going to have to change. Maybe it is better said, to be transformed, to allow God to transform us, to take our nightmares, and turn them into God’s dream for us.

Yes, we are the middle way, and there is much to commend that. But I think we can get way too comfortable in the middle. I am just going to say it.

I worry we have gotten like Jim Hightower, the liberal populist Texan who said there is nothing in the middle of the road but yellow lines and dead armadillos. He also said, if God had wanted us to have elections, he would have given us candidates. I can relate to that one too.

The middle often keeps us silent. It has been said before that silence is not an option. In a way, we must always take sides. Silence usually helps the oppressor not the victim. Silence helps the torturer, not the tortured. We are going to have to learn to speak our truths – even when they are starkly different – and still center our collective lives on Jesus.

When I became your bishop more than eight years ago, I felt it was very important for us to look inside ourselves. If you track how this convention has evolved I think it is very easy to see how we have moved from a very inward look, to one that is more outward looking. If you take the agendas of the past eight conventions of this body, I think you will see it.

I believe this convention will be an astounding testimony to that because so much of what we are going to see, hear about and talk about is focused on not what we need to do for ourselves, but rather what we now feel called to do as followers of Jesus. This convention is going to reveal more of the outward and visible signs, the reflection of what it means to be followers in the Jesus movement.

Of course we will do some in-house things; that is what this convention is really for. We will pass assessment rates, lower by the way, yet again, leaving more at the local level. We will consider a COLA and elect people to serve in various capacities, you will hear about a very important capital campaign, which I totally support and which you will hear more from me in the future, directed at building up your Cathedral, St. Mark’s.

I, on your behalf, will give Bishops Crosses and Ky Chen awards, and this group we will award, this year are some most remarkable people, some of the people we see the least, but who do the most. It is a larger group than usual because thanks to you we had the largest nomination pool ever. For what I have come to know very well, is that we cannot judge what people do in this movement as more important. I have come to know that the work done by an altar guild who folds and cleans the linen and makes sure the wine and bread are there for our Eucharist, and the sexton who cleans the room and mops the floor, the accountant who balances our books and gives a true accounting, those acts are every bit as important to our mission, every bit as important to the Jesus movement as anything, anything I do on a daily basis.

The inside, foundational work is good and needed. But it is good to see us moving away from a main focus on that, to a more balanced outward focus.

The first part of that are the very sponsors of this convention, the leaders if you will. This convention is sponsored and led by our Campus Ministries; they are going to lead us, proclaim the Gospel to us, challenge us about what it is to be part of the Jesus movement. If I don’t get to say it again I want to celebrate one now, Nina Boe, of St. John the Baptist, west Seattle who just came back from her missionary work in Brazil, and has been named one of 20 young adults who will attend as delegates from the Episcopal Church to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 2016.

In the process of this convention we are going to spend less time on the in-house things, and more time on why we tend to those things, what we are called to do with this belief in Jesus. We are going to hear from so many people who have taken the faith that is in them, and looked out, traveled out, to the world. And I would say they have done it not with the arrogance of an evangelism that says we have all the answers, but rather an evangelism that says, we are called to learn, and listen, and respond; an evangelism that compels its followers to be a reflection of the love that is Jesus, and that Jesus calls us to.

At this convention we are going to get first-hand accounts from Africa, Iraq, the Syrian refugee crisis, El Salvador and the forced immigration crisis, our work in Israel/Palestine, and our continued work and companionship with the Southern Philippines. We will have and consider resolutions on continuing the Millennium Development Goals; we will consider resolutions on civil discourse and the issue of forced immigration.

All of them, our collective efforts at following Jesus so that our nightmares might be transformed into the dream God has for all of us. Our new Presiding Bishop finished his sermon at St. John the Divine this past week with these words:

Near the end of Matthew’s Gospel story of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Mary Magdalene and some of the women go to the tomb to anoint his body. When they get there they find that the tomb is empty, the stone has been rolled away and there is no body there. Then they see and hear an angel who says to them, “This Jesus of Nazareth whom you seek, he is not here, he has been raised as he said he would be and he has now gone ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him. It is in Galilee that the Risen Lord will be found and seen for he has gone ahead of us.”

Which is a way of talking about the world.
In the streets of the city.
In our rural communities.
Galilee in our hospitals.
Galilee in our office places.
Galilee where God’s children live and dwell there.
In Galilee you will meet the living Christ for He has already gone ahead of you.
It is there we must go.

I am part of the Jesus Movement because it is in Jesus, where our nightmares, can be transformed into the dream God has for us all. My sisters and brothers I have said these words to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Discussion Questions:

1. What do you think the Church is addicted to? How can we enter into Recovery?
2. When you hear The Jesus Movement what does that conjure up in you?
3. What will you personally commit to in the area of racial reconciliation in this next year?
4. If Evangelism and Episcopalian can truly coexist, what will it look like in our church?
5. What are the nightmares that we should pray and work to change into the dream God has for us?

Convention Address – The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel November 12, 2015 – Lynnwood, Washington