Bishop Jones' Meditations

Meditation One – Friday morning

“Many Gifts”

It is a great joy for me to be invited by Bishop Shannon to be the Chaplain to this Council.  I am grateful for his generosity. Thank you.  

The theme of this council is “Many Gifts, One Spirit.”  God has given us abundant gifts, given for ministry.  Gifts are given for all people.  They are in fact, divine gifts – given for a purpose – a purpose so clearly described by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, "The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12).  Gifts are given that we might strengthen the ministry of the church.  

All of those gifts are present today as we gather in Council – they are given in abundance.  In fact, we may miss the magnitude of God’s gifts if we do not pay attention to those whose gifts are different from ours.    
God’s gifts are given in numerous ways:
  • “Some would be apostles.”  There are among us people with a passion for the frontier – who are drawn to the ministry of reaching those outside the church.  They want to start new churches and new ministries.  They are the blessed risk takers among us.  They remind us of the call of the Risen Christ to make disciples of all nations.  They go forth boldly and challenge us to engage in mission with them.
  • “Some prophets.”  There are people among us who continually advocate justice and peace.  It is part of their DNA.  Some are so passionate about causes that they may appear single minded.  They remind us of the prophets of old who risked personal rejection for a purpose.  Some may make us feel uncomfortable as they raise controversial issues in our society and call for immediate change.
  • “Some evangelists.”  At the same time, we have people whose hearts are set on bringing people to a saving knowledge of Jesus.  This is their passion and reason for living. They are filled with the joy of the Lord and love to speak of Jesus. The may not want to be bothered by controversy or extraneous business.  They remind us of our calling to spread the Good News.  
  • “Some pastors.”  Some pastors are ordained and some are not.  But all share the compassion and grace of the Lord Jesus.  They remind us to care for one another.  They are the peacemakers who display mercy and unconditional love.  They remind us of the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name. 
  • “Some teachers.”  We never forget our teachers.  They occupy a special place in our hearts.  They have encouraged and nurtured us as we have grown in the knowledge and love of the Lord. We follow our teachers consciously and unconsciously.  In fact, in some of our debates, I hear the voices of teachers who have already departed this life but whose words and wisdom live on. 

We are in the presence of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  And while many of us may not possess these particular gifts, I suspect that our interests or preferences lean toward one or another of these gifts. 

To what ministry might you lean?   Are you drawn to the frontier as an apostle or are you more drawn to the ministry of advocacy or evangelism or teaching?  Or are you, in your heart of hearts a pastor?  

There are, as St. Paul writes, a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit.  We have come here with a wide variety of experience and perspectives.  But we are united in one task.  We are the 216th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia.  

We need each other and we need all of the gifts that are present – especially gifts that are different from our own. So as we gather as the Council of this diocese, let us be glad that we are surrounded by the manifold gifts of God – diverse gifts – all of which are needed to build up and strengthen the church.  

We have present today all of the gifts we need to do the work God is calling us to do – all of them – every one.  

Our task, in Council and as Council, is discernment, prayerful discernment.  To do that effectively, we need every voice and every person.  And to fulfill our call, we will need every gift.  Amen.  

Let us pray.

We thank you, O God, for the manifold gifts you have bestowed upon your church.  Give us grace to employ them to fulfill your purposes and give to this Annual Council wisdom to discern your will and the grace to fulfill it, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

Meditation Two – Friday afternoon

“Vision”

Once in a while, leaders in the church get it right.  I mean really right.  When they do, they discover a vision that could only have come from God.  That vision may have come from extended periods of prayer or long conversations and passionate debates.  It may have come from one person who had been silent for hours.  But when a vision comes, it is radically transforming for all who stand in its wake.  

Might we see God’s vision as a gift – a gift given that we may catch a fleeting glimpse of the Kingdom in our own lifetime?

Might we feel and know that sense of call that leads to personal sacrifice, dedication and commitment?

When I think of congregations that have captured a vision for their ministry, I find that it is almost always expressed in terms of call - a profound determination to answer a genuine call from God.  

In fact, it is the power of a vision that gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  Think for a moment of the vision of the founders of our country. Their words are now enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of our Country, and in the Bill of Rights.  They give meaning and direction to our civil life.  

As Christians, our lives have been shaped by the vision of the Kingdom expressed by Jesus in his ministry. It is captured in the fourth Chapter of Luke, as Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  

A vision from God for ministry is an extraordinary gift – one to be cherished and guarded.  It is in fact the rallying point of effective ministry.  

That sense of vision and purpose is rarely if ever discovered by focusing on personal needs– what one may want.  A sense of God’s vision is greater.  It is to be found by focusing on what God wants.  The church that gets it right is not focused on its own needs, but is focused on mission – not mission in general, but a unique call from God to embrace a particular mission.

This is also true for us as individuals.  One person who has discovered a unique call is Larry Duffee, a member of St. George’s Church in Fredericksburg.  After selling his business, Larry wanted to do something meaningful with his life.  He spoke with Buck Blanchard about missionary opportunities.  He thought Buck would suggest that he go to Haiti.  But Buck suggested that Larry consider going to Sudan.  He had never before been out of the country, but he was ready to answer God’s call – the rest is history.  

Larry is now the finance officer of the Episcopal Province of Sudan.  In less that a year, he has made a huge difference.  And he is one of the happiest people I know.  He has found joy in answering a call from God.  

While his living conditions are rather primitive in Juba, Larry is having the time of his life.  His gifts are being employed.  The embrace of God’s purpose gives meaning to life.  

What is most joyful about the connection of call and gifts is the satisfaction one experiences when he or she is in the right place at the right time fulfilling God’s purposes.  

The real satisfaction in life is to be found in fulfilling God’s vision.  

Let us pray,

We pray, O God, for a clear vision for our mission and ministry that we might faithfully fulfill the work you have given us to do through the power of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

Meditation 3 – Saturday morning

“Miraculous Expectations!”

Claude Payne, while serving as the Bishop of Texas, cast a bold vision for his diocese and the Church, He wrote, “Imagine your congregation transformed.  Imagine it as a place of profound community, of spiritual growth, of miraculous expectation and of personal transformation.”  

Bishop Payne suggested that the Church is called to be a community of miraculous expectations. 

In such a community, one would assume God’s gifts to be abundant.  One would not be surprised by radical generosity.  One would expect a focus on mission and a willingness to sacrifice for God’s purposes and will.  One would expect people to exercise their gifts in ministry.  

Might St. Paul have had such a vision in mind as he wrote to the congregation at Corinth?  He wrote, “I give thanks to my God always because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him … so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”

We, the clergy and laity in the Diocese of Virginia, have been enriched and we are not lacking.

Might we stop for a moment to contemplate how we have been enriched by Christ?  

We are heirs of salvation.  We have come here as representatives of various communities of faith.  In every one of them, there are people of faith and teachers of our children.  In every one of them, we gather for worship and the gospel of Christ is proclaimed.  And in every one of them, people are enriched in faith.  In fact, while our congregations are different, all are sufficient.  All of God’s gifts are already given, in abundance.  We have reason to have miraculous expectations!  We are an Easter people!

Might we then expect God’s blessing when we seek to do His will?  I do and I have witnessed God’s blessing again and again as I have visited your congregations.  

On numerous occasions, I have arrived to find so many people involved in ministry that parish life appeared chaotic.    
  • Where budgets were stretched to capacity!
  • Where there was no more space!
  • Where people young and old were responding to God’s call to service!
  • And where it was expensive to be a Christian!

When I have experienced such an environment, I have found one common foundation - a theology of gifts and call.  It is an assumption that God provides for the work God calls us to do – that God blesses God’s work.

It is an atmosphere
  • where the uniqueness of each person’s gifts is honored; 
  • where people are encouraged to discern God’s call;
  • where spiritual gifts are honored and exercised;
  • where people are encouraged to grow in faith and be what God is calling them to be; and
  • where people are not too comfortable.

In such a setting, there is a pervasive permission giving environment where the Holy Spirit is at work.  

Permission giving begins with the individual.  I must give myself, for example, permission to approach my ministry in a way that is harmonious with my own gifts.  While my responsibilities may not change, it means embracing them in a way that allows me to exercise the gifts God has given me.  

Then, permission giving extends to those with whom we work or live.  To be faithful to a theology of gifts and call, I must honor the gifts of others and encourage them to exercise their gifts in response to God’s call.  

The promise of such an approach to ministry is the possibility of a lively community of faith.  

St. Paul envisioned such a community when he wrote, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.  To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  

The challenge we face is to employ those gifts so that the mission of God may be fully embraced.  The gifts have already been given.  The mission is before us – a community of miraculous expectations!  

Let us pray,

Give us grace, O Lord, to be an expectant community of love, peace, and joy.  Open our hearts to be willing and ready to embrace your call knowing that you provide abundantly for the work you call us to do through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

Meditation Four  - Saturday at noon

“Winners and losers”

We have come to end of Council and are ready to depart.  We have a budget.  We have adopted resolutions.  But we have not satisfied everyone.  Regardless of how we have voted or what we have done, we cannot satisfy everyone or solve every problem.  

But we can leave here knowing that the Church is in God’s hands.  Ultimately, for this Council to have meaning, we need now to commit it to God – to trust that God’s Spirit has been with us to enable, correct, complete and fulfill our work.  

Our marching orders remain the same.  We are the church.  As the Church, we are called to make disciples of all nations and we are called to minister in the name of Christ.  

The church is sufficient to fulfill that call.  We are reminded of the words of the Risen Jesus, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Did we get it right?  Time will tell.  

Ultimately, are there winners and losers? Probably not.  

We have faithfully tried to discern God’s will for today knowing that ground will shift – that today’s minority may very well be tomorrow’s majority and visa versa.  So let us give thanks for one another – everyone as we return to our homes, thanking God for the privilege of being the 216th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia.  

Let us pray,

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, “Peace I giveto you; my own peace I leave with you:” Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church, and give to us the peace and unity of that heavenly City, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, now and for ever.  Amen.