Communications from the Bishop
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March 6, 2013
COME TO JESUS
I imagine you have from time to time experienced them, perhaps infrequently or irregularly, but definitively. Come-to-Jesus moments: those times when we face a truth we have been avoiding, usually about ourselves; those occasions that challenge us to make a change. Perhaps one was the result of a little "come-to-Jesus talk" with your parent or boss or spouse or colleague, the principal consequences of which were, first, that the truth was exposed, and second, that something in you needed to change – your perspective, your behavior, your tune.
The Epiphany story describes a quite literal come-to-Jesus moment for the Magi. They came to Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem and presented him with gifts, making a witness to new life – the new life before them in the hay manger and the new life they would surely face as a result of their come-to-Jesus moment. In that moment much truth was exposed, particularly the truth about God's incarnation and the truth about Herod's murderous intentions. And in that moment something changed. They saw things differently. They recognized the violence of Herod and that they could not and would not let themselves be co-opted by it. And so, the Gospel reports, "they left for their own country by another road." Or as James Taylor sings in his song that takes its name from this line, "...they went home by another way." They changed direction, not only in their travel itinerary, but in their lives.
There is no mention of a star to lead them home like the one that led them to the stable, so we cannot assume this was an easy adjustment. And given that Herod was expecting them to pay him a return visit and deliver the goods on this new "king," neither can we assume their trip was leisurely or without anxiety. The Magi's come-to-Jesus moment cost them a lot. We can only imagine how profoundly it changed them.
In spite of the power of these encounters with the divine, it is not always easy to surrender to the new life they offer. It is not always easy when we begin to see things differently and realize what that new perspective might cost us. Such change is difficult; giving up the familiar is hard work. Going home by another way is no small challenge. In a very real sense there are no such things as little epiphanies; these come-to-Jesus moments rock our worlds.
There is a particular grace in the liturgical calendar that Epiphany is followed by Lent. The great come-to-Jesus moment we share with the Magi is met with the concrete opportunity to travel with Him back to God, home by another road. The Lenten road to the Cross and Resurrection is a journey back to God by a new and different way. It demands of us an increase in self-awareness, self-surrender, and self-sacrifice. In so doing, it models for us the response to all of our come-to-Jesus moments, those great and small, dramatic and subtle, of clanging symbols and still, small voices. And it models as well for us the life-long discipline of coming to Jesus, owning his truth about us, surrendering to the new life he offers, and journeying home to God. That, after all, is the ultimate purpose and end to this earthly pilgrimage.
This past year, tragically, we have witnessed a number of events that have resulted in come-to-Jesus experiences. Perhaps none has been so stark and difficult to bear as the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. That horrifying event exposed again the tragic truth about our capacity for violence as individuals and as a nation. And if we met Jesus anywhere in that tragedy, alongside the comfort of his healing presence was surely the challenge to go home by another road. Whatever is that new way, whether it entails increased mental health services, stricter gun registration requirements, greater restrictions on the size of ammunition clips and the automation of firing, addressing violence in and as entertainment, or some combination of these and other changes, we must be willing to take it, to change, even to let go of some things we may justifiably feel entitled to, in order that we might protect the innocents and secure the common good.
Every time we meet Jesus, he requires us to give up part of our lives that we might receive new life, both for ourselves and for others. It is a costly charge, to be certain, one that no doubt will require of us greater self-awareness, deeper self-surrender, and more complete self-sacrifice. My prayer is that this Lent may be for each of us a journey with Jesus back to God, home by another way, that results in the spiritual sacrifice he modeled with his own death, and which leads always to new, godly, and resurrected life.
Let us come to Jesus, and by the new road he offers, together become more fully the body of Christ.
Wishing you every Lenten blessing,
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
November 21, 2012
Sisters and brothers in Christ:
I welcome you to this 196th Convention of the Diocese of Ohio and thank each of you for the leadership you provide to your parish, the Diocese, and The Episcopal Church. The leadership gift you offer is a generous one, and I don’t take that generosity for granted. I know what it costs you in time and energy, as well as what it can bring you in terms of spiritual challenge and growth. I know that it can be stressful and hard, as well as energizing and renewing. And I know that God inspires us to leadership and offers us the opportunity to serve as parish and diocesan leaders, not in order that we might save the church, as good and lofty a goal as that might be, but that we might be saved ourselves, drawn deeper into relationship with Jesus, deeper into God’s relentless love, deeper into the complex dialogue of faith with one another that changes us and makes us each more godly. As much as we might think of leadership as something we offer to the church, lay and ordained leadership in the church is something that God offers to us. It is given to us as a vehicle for the one thing God most wants, to be more and more intimately connected with each of us.
We tend too often to think of leadership principally as an exercise in decision-making. Indeed, we often think of the Diocesan Convention in terms of motions and votes, making decisions for the larger church according to the canons that govern us and the rules of order by which we engage as a legislative body. But in fact, only a part of leadership is decision-making. As a diocese, for instance, we meet once a year in convention, and depending on the year, may make only a few legislative decisions. The largest part of leadership, whether at the parish level, the diocesan level, or in any other sphere of our society, I believe, is modeling, modeling to others how we are called to live, as individuals and as a body, modeling it in a way that others can identify and thereby choose to participate.
In our churches, when the vestry members and clergy of a parish model Christian values in the way they work together and, just as importantly, in their individual disciplines of prayer and outreach and stewardship giving and study and worship and inviting others to come with them to church, they provide leadership that gives to the communicants they serve something far more beneficial and transformative that good decisions alone. And this is true of all parish leaders, not just vestry and clergy, but acolytes, teachers, choir members, lay readers, Eucharistic visitors, stewardship callers, Episcopal Church Women, outreach participants, altar guild members, confirmation sponsors, ushers and greeters, chalice bearers, and convention delegates.
One common attribute of congregations that are vital and growing in God’s mission is that they work to develop leaders in every area of ministry who model the joy of their relationship to God, the hope they have for a world reconciled by love, the confidence they place in Jesus’ companionship, and the commitment to reach out as Christ’s body to all those who need the joy, hope, and confidence we have to share. In short, they lead by modeling and manifesting their faith to others. In the “new commandment” to love one another, Jesus spoke directly of leadership by model: “By this everyone will know you are my disciples.” (John 13:35) As we approach the end of the Season after Pentecost, I am aware of how important the Pentecost gift of God’s own and holy spirit is to our leadership as Christians. We continually need to access it as an integral part of our spiritual discipline, that we might quite literally be spirited in our lives and faith. We need to kindle anew the holy fire within us, to explore and reflect regularly with one another just what God is doing with us and with the church, and thereby to learn the words by which we can share that with others.
David Lose, the Lutheran theologian and preaching professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote a poem that well describes how in each of us the Pentecost fire meets the challenges of life. Some of you will remember this YouTube video of it, created by his colleague Ben Cieslik:
For Christians, every day is a day of Pentecost, filled with the potential that all we do may be fueled by the Holy Spirit. My prayer is that this 196th Diocesan Convention will be just that, for each one of us a time of emerging leadership, increasing intimacy with God, and exploring with one another the fire God is lighting in us, individually and collectively. Our ability to do this is essential to fulfilling the great commission that we “go and make disciples of all nations.” There is no better place to begin that exploration than with one another, in our congregations and in our diocesan gatherings, like right here.
I hope that in these two days we will feel encouraged to think in a fresh way about familiar challenges, and to draw upon the companionship God has given us as sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus to provide mutual encouragement in entertaining adventurous and even sacrificial possibilities. To get us started, I want to use this address to help us name and accept some aspects of the context in which we are called to lead, and then prompt some exploration and discussion of how we might do so.
September 6, 2011
September 5, 2011Sisters and brothers in Christ:
It has been observed repeatedly and accurately that September 11, 2001, changed America and Americans forever. Whether it has changed us for the better or for the worse is a good question. No doubt, over the last decade it has done both, and it continues to do so. While our openness to other cultures and others’ perception of us and our actions as a nation has surely increased, likewise has our suspicion of others and the isolation that comes with self-protection. Some people of faith have been challenged to learn more about the religious beliefs and practices of others, while others have used their own to qualify and judge those who believe differently.
At the same time, of course, God’s spirit of holiness continues to change us, challenging our capacity to be reconciled to such acts of violence and terror and our ability to make room in our hearts and lives for those whose differences most threaten us. In that ongoing spiritual maturation, it is important that we understand that forgiving is not the same thing as condoning, and reconciliation does not mean the abandonment of accountability. Reconciliation and forgiveness require both accountability and acceptance, and, for people of faith, the spiritual discipline of putting God’s perspective above our own.
One of the most useful vehicles we are given to aid us in that endeavor is prayer. To that end, I share with you the attached litany for your daily personal prayer or congregational worship next Sunday, September 11, adapted by the Rev. Paul Gaston for Christ Church, Hudson, from the World Council of Churches’ “prayer for the people of Norway and for all victims of violence and terror.” (A link to the original source is listed at the end of the document.)
As we mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the White House, I give thanks for all that you do, day in and day out, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
Gratefully,The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
- Message from Bishop Hollingsworth - April 2011
- An Easter Message from Bishop Hollingsworth
- A Lenten Suggestion from the Bishop
- A Message from the Ohio Bishops
- A Christmas Message from Bishop Hollingsworth 2010
- Address to the 194th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Ohio
- Letter from Bishop Hollingsworth - July 2010
- Message from Bishop Hollingsworth, March 1, 2010
- Bishop Hollingsworth's Christmas Eve Sermon 2009
- A Christmas Message From Bishop Hollingsworth 2009