CACS Event with The Rev. Dr. Titus Presler – October 29

On October 29, 2013, the Center for Anglican Communion Studies at Virginia Theological Seminary will host an event to benefit Christians in Peshawar, Pakistan. All are encouraged to attend, regardless of faith affiliation. The featured speaker will be the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler, president of Edwardes College, a church-related institution in Peshawar.

This event has been prompted by the recent attack on Christians there. On September 22, suicide bombers struck All Saints Church, Peshawar, as worshippers were leaving. More than one-hundred persons died, and nearly two-hundred were injured.

Many of those who died were the principal source of income for their families. Some held notable leadership roles in education, professional life, and the church. Amid their grief, whole families, and the Christian community generally, face uncertain futures. Already threatened by extremism, they confront economic and social loss as well.

“We at Virginia Theological Seminary and in the Center for Anglican Communion Studies are honored to host this event,” said the Rev. Robert Heaney, Ph.D., D.Phil., director of the Center for Anglican Communion Studies and assistant professor of Christian Mission. “We are convinced of its importance as a means to provide some practical help to those who have suffered and continue to suffer in the aftermath of September 22 and as a means to demonstrate our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Peshawar.”

Christians in Pakistan are a tiny minority of this Muslim-majority nation. Relations between Christians and Muslims have usually been good. But Pakistan, and Peshawar in particular, are the front lines of the war on terror. The violence of a few wreaks great damage.

The event on October 29 is a demonstration of the Seminary’s support for rebuilding lives in Peshawar and presents an opportunity for the wider community to be part of that. A $20 donation will be requested and further opportunity for donations will be made available at the event. The evening begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Lettie Pate Evans Room at the Seminary. Dr. Presler will make a presentation on the current situation in Peshawar and be available for questions and further discussion.

Dessert, coffee and tea will be served. Please note space is limited and those wishing to attend must contact the Center for Anglican Communion Studies at cacs@vts.edu.

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A Reversal of Status – Advent 4

As Mary proclaims the work and blessings of God, she herself becomes a foreshadowing of the work of Christ in the world. The Magnificat proclaims a reversal of status and fortunes that becomes a theme throughout the Gospel of Luke: the lowly shall be lifted while the powerful cast down, the hungry shall be fed and the rich left destitute. Just as it was unexpected that the Messiah and Son of God would be born to an impoverished young virgin in a stable among animals and filth, it is just as unlikely that the poor, lowly, and marginalized would be given a chance and be blessed in the midst of a culture marked by excess, power, and pursuit of personal desires.

So as the people of God, we too are invited to proclaim the good work of God in our lives. And the movement of God’s grace and mercy in our own redemption continues to prod us to partner with God in the reversal of status and circumstances of those who are poor, outcast, and marginalized. The good news of the coming arrival of the Word made Flesh is that redemption begins with a raising up by God of his creation through the introduction of the holy into that very creation. Further good news is that we, the people of God, have an opportunity to be the very agents

And so, along with Mary, we are invited to proclaim the good work of God in our lives, and we are further invited to consider how we might be unexpected agents of holiness and redemption in the world. Just as the story of Mary in Luke offers a foreshadowing of Christ’s work in the world, our lives can become a very real and present sign of the mission and work of Christ that continues in the world today.

So wrestle with this: what can I do that will be an unexpected blessing for someone who needs love or lifting up?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM1XusYVqNY

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God Loves Us Enough to Change Us – Advent 3

So with many other exhortations he proclaimed the good news to the people.” This ending to the passage in Luke recalling the ministry of John the Baptist is likely foreign to modern ears. How often do we associate exhortations with the good news of God’s redeeming love, especially, exhortations that involve a Messiah whose winnowing fork is in his hand? Yet the church, in any age, shares much in common with John, we both point to another. For him it was Jesus who would come after, for us it is the same Jesus who has come before. Exhortations encourage the hearers of the gospel to change and be changed. John’s audience and all of us are encouraged to prepare a place for the one who is coming and has come and will come again. Exhortations are good news because they mean God loves us enough to change us. To use a metaphor from the housing industry, the ministry of John the Baptist, and the mission of the church for that matter, are renovation projects and not demolition projects. The condition of an old house can look pretty hopeless at first glance but more often than not there is a lot about that house worth saving. There is a lot of work to do in renovation; a lot more work than tearing an old house down. But no matter how bad it looks at the start, the project reveals the underlying value and dignity that was there the whole time. Similarly, exhortations tell the world God is willing to put in the work to recover its dignity.
– Connor Newlun

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Why I’m Doing Any of this at All – Advent 2

I don’t think the church calendar was consulted when our modern scholastic schedule was set. I hear about this thing called Advent, but this week most of my waking thoughts linger on papers due, final exams, holiday festivities, and tying up the loose ends of the semester. And like most good Americans, this busy-ness begets self-righteousness and I can end up thinking only of myself.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” Perhaps my inward focus is self-destructing on its own.

When I’m lucky, I’m saved by my Google Reader and the missionary blogs I follow on there. You can see a list of some of those here: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/young-adult-service-corps-blogs I catch up on people who are doing amazing work in amazing parts of the world in churches that we’re lucky to share the Anglican Communion with. Constantly praying with joy. There are stories and pictures of people who look and talk nothing like me, but love Jesus deeply like me. Constantly praying with joy.

None of this helps my to-do list. Due dates are still so close I can smell them. Exams still need to be prepared for. Traffic is even lousier than usual. But those prayers of joy do remind me of why I’m doing any of this at all.

- Cortney Dale

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“Do” While We Wait – Advent 1

I’ve never been a stickler for English grammar, and rarely has it intrigued my ponderings on Christian Theology. This Advent, however, as I meditate on mission, I am struck by the reality that mission is not actually a verb. And yet, it is always connected to something we “do”.

The word wait, however, which is what we “do” in Advent, certainly is a verb. And yet, waiting implies a delay from “doing” until the time is right.

In Advent, we wait for the coming of Christ, but how are we to “wait”? What are we to “do” in our waiting? The lectionary readings from this first Sunday in Advent may provide some clues for us. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians urges us to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” The Gospel, according to Luke says, “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near…” And “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…”

This Advent, we are asked to “do” while we wait. We are asked to love, to stand upright, and not to let our hearts be weighed down with all of the worries of this life. We are asked to be missionaries. We are asked to do the work of the Gospel. Advent may be a time of waiting, but waiting is a verb, so go do.

- Melanie Slane

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Palm Sunday – The Journey

If you attended church this Sunday, you probably took part in a Palm Sunday procession.  You might have moved from outside of your church building to inside in the nave.   The intent is to join with Jesus as he makes his journey to Jerusalem as we all are called to shout “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Yet as Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan point out in their book, The Last Week, there is another procession that takes place in the events of Holy Week.  There is a procession made by Pontius Pilate, who makes his journey to Jerusalem from Caesarea Maritima.  Pilate’s journey is a journey of power and ego that has brought him to the position where he now stands.   His journey lies in stark contrast to the journey of Jesus.  While both lead to Jerusalem, Jesus’ ends this Good Friday with His death on the cross.   Pilate’s power and ego are still there at the base of the cross with those who choose to mock Jesus.

It is truly telling how quickly we move from praising Jesus, to shouting “crucify him!”   Even the disciples turn against him.  And this is the framework for the life we live.  We are stuck somewhere between choosing the journey that Pilate takes and choosing the path of Jesus.  We struggle where we emulate Pilate attempting to acquire more, be more elevated in our social statuses, and to attain all what is considered good by societal standards for our own egos’ sake.

At the core of mission is a journey.  It is about a journey that attempts to move with Jesus into Jerusalem, but is often motivated by the same ego of Pilate.  As we reflect this Holy week about the journey that we are all on, let us remember that our call to mission is really about what happens after the trip to Jerusalem by Pilate and Jesus.  It is what takes place on that next Sunday that changes the world.  And let us strive to let the resurrection that happens three days later be that motivating source for all of our work in this world.

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Dying to Bear Fruit – Lent 5

“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

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In the United States, we live in a culture that promotes the self and the pursuit of things for the self.  Marketing, advertising, movies, television, music, and so much more call us and seek to convince us to buy and consume for ourselves.  Our iphones, ipods, Nintendo DSs, ipads, tablets, and laptops seek to consume our time with Angry Birds, Draw Something, and purchases on Amazon or iTunes.  Author Don Miller sums it up nicely, “It occurs to me it is not so much the aim of the devil to lure me with evil as it is to preoccupy me with the meaningless.”  Along with the focus of the self comes competition to acquire things or to become the superior.  Elevation of the self is admired and promoted in our culture.  With that said, I don’t mean to be completely anti-culture because many of these things are not inherently evil or bad, but it can be very easy to get settled into a mindset that focuses on our own needs and desires. Unfortunately, this mindset easily seeps into the church and our spiritual lives.

However, Jesus calls us to live counter to many aspects of culture; specifically here, Jesus calls us to live counter to the notion that the self should be elevated and promoted above others.  We are called by the Gospel to live sacrificially to the benefit of others. In order to live missionally and to bear fruit in our lives and ministries, Jesus says that we have to be a grain that dies. To be a follower of Jesus, we must hate and give up our worldly lives.  Those are some strong words!

When I traveled with a group to Ecuador a few years ago to work alongside my good friend, Cameron Graham Vivanco, she taught us about the importance of bearing fruit in our ministry and in mission.  In discussing how to prepare ourselves to be successful in mission and create an atmosphere to bear fruit, Cameron introduced us to 4 challenges that we must overcome (adapted from Roberto Guerrero, Dominican Republic):

1) We must die to our Intellectual Prejudice.  It can be easy for us to believe that we are intellectually superior because of our educational resources and experiences.  However, we must resist the temptation that says we are smarter or know more than the next person, no matter their education or socioeconomic status.  We must adopt a servant mentality and give respect to the wisdom, experiences, and intellect offered by each individual.

2) We must die to our Cultural Prejudice.  It is somewhat natural for an individual to view their own culture as superior to another culture.  It is what we know, after all.  However, we must let go of our own cultural biases to fully engage the culture of another person.  And it is not enough to simply say, “It is not right or wrong, just different.” Go the extra mile, take a humble posture, and seek to immerse yourself, embrace the new culture, and learn.

3) We must be willing to die to our Spiritual Prejudice.  We often get caught up in how we like our liturgy or worship.  We have our preferences and the ways we like to do things.  But in the mission field, we have an opportunity to experience worship and spirituality in a variety of ways.  We must let go of our preferences and allow ourselves to experience worship as a guest learning

4) We must be willing to set aside our Self-seeking Ambitions.  Mission trips can be marketed like vacations.  Many times we approach mission with our own goals and desires.  We want certain things to happen, or we desire to have certain experiences.  But mission is about following and orienting ourselves towards Jesus.  Mission is about partnering with the Kingdom of God.  We must set aside our own desires, and seek the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Following these practices and facing these challenges will not only help us bear fruit while on a mission experience, but they are completely applicable in our daily faith lives.  We live in a country that is awash with different cultures, nationalities, and ways to express their faith.  To meet our neighbor face to face as a true equal and a true child of God, we must die to ourselves and adopt a missional attitude based on the servitude of Christ.

And Lent offers us the perfect opportunity to humble ourselves before God and recommit ourselves to a life of service to Christ and his people.  As a time of prayer, repentance, alms-giving, and self-denial, Lent is the perfect vehicle through which we can die to our worldly lives and take on practices that help us become better servants of Christ.  Lent is an opportunity to die as the grain so that we can bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.  And then, as followers of Jesus seeking to serve Christ in all that we do, we will honor God and his Kingdom.

- Dorian Del Priore

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