Episcopal Church tries to follow Jesus' model


POSTED: Saturday, April 11, 2009

As a rabbi, Jesus talked a lot. He did not merely parrot “;the law and the prophets,”; but, in the finest rabbinical traditions, he would quote Holy Writ and comment upon, enlarge upon, rephrase and sometimes posit something new. “;The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,”; and, “;On these two hang all the law and the prophets”; are examples of new thinking on Jesus' part.

In these early years of the 21st century, there are plenty of religious talkers. Some people hurl verbal scriptural bombs at many issues and, sadly, at various persons, groups and indeed whole faith communities. In my adopted Episcopal Church, there is a small group decreeing that the “;church is apostate”; and has departed the true ways of the Anglican tradition, though there is no agreement on just constitutes “;Anglican tradition”;!

Part of what lured me from fundamentalist evangelical upbringings toward the Episcopal Church is what seems to be the target of a small but noisy minority: the notion that thinking for oneself is more important than parroting dogma learned presumably at the time of confirmation. Some in the Episcopal Church insist that “;The 39 Articles”; (found in our Prayerbook 1979) are indeed binding statements of the “;true faith and order of the Episcopal Church.”; Few have read these 39 articles, and most ignore them as being “;historic documents of the church for another time and circumstance.”;

It is the notion that Jesus was a “;walker”; that has fascinated me. Instead of remaining in his mother's newly bought home in Capernaum, Jesus literally walked all over Roman Palestine and the neighboring political entities. His walking was not only to talk, which he did frequently, nor was it only for prayer and meditation, which he frequently was described as doing. Jesus healed the sick, welcomed the outcasts, debated the Pharisees, fed the hungry, healed the lepers, talked to women, visited Samaria (where people considered “;half-Jews”; lived and worshipped) and generally kicked the slats of rigid Pharisaic Jewish thinking.

My rigidity began to crumble as an undergraduate a half-century ago. I read Elton Trueblood's “;The Humor of Christ,”; in which he describes Jesus as a very human individual with a sense of humor, a remarkable reformulation of the premise of some that Jesus was holy, sinless, God and came to die for us sinners, period.

Jesus' teaching ministry was not an exhortation to toe the line, follow the letter of the law and not stray. Jesus urged expanded views of “;who is my neighbor?”; and of forgiveness, as in the prodigal son. He offered a broader sense of just who deserves God's love, namely that the whole world is loved by God (John 3:16-17). Jesus did not speak of sinners in the hands of an angry God, but rather of a community living in God's love by loving each other and the world.

Many in the Episcopal Church, and our brothers and sisters in other denominations, are too busy “;walking the walk”; of Jesus to spend time and energy arguing with self-appointed keepers of orthodoxy regarding directions of the church. Fifty U.S. Episcopalians went to El Salvador to join with several hundred other faith-based volunteers in monitoring the presidential elections on March 15. Thousands of Episcopalians have journeyed to New Orleans—I have gone thrice—to work with the Louisiana diocese's Office of Disaster Relief in gutting more than 500 homes and rebuilding nearly 75 homes for needy folks.

Episcopal churches are not only worship centers, but frequently house a food pantry and a thrift shop and offer free meeting space for 12-Step groups and other organizations and groups seeking to minister in the community. In Honolulu, Hale Kipa Runaway Shelter, the Institute for Human Services and the Gateway Immigrant Center all had their origins with, leadership from and early support from the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church insists I need not hang my brain on a hook at the entry when coming for worship, study, meditation and fellowship.

We are a messy community of seekers, believers, doubters and debaters. But the Episcopal Church does continue to try to follow Jesus' example of both talking to and walking in and with the world of the 21st century.

Those who can no longer walk in these ways should “;go in peace to love and serve the Lord”; as they define their calling.


Willis Moore teaches history at Chaminade University and is a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.