A New Bishop

gregory-parkesAt 6:02 am this past Monday morning, I received an email from the bishop’s office announcing, “With great joy we announce that His Holiness, Pope Francis, has appointed Most Reverend Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida! Bishop Parkes succeeds the retiring Bishop Robert N. Lynch, who has served as Bishop of St. Petersburg since his installation in 1996.”

Already on that same day people have called and asked, “What is the new Bishop like?” Answer: I don’t know, I have never had the privilege of meeting him. I can tell you that he is 6’8” tall – the tallest bishop in the United States! A former banker, a pastor in the Orlando Diocese, FSU graduate, canon lawyer… and did I mention he is very tall? I believe he is 54 years old (I can’t believe I am older than my bishop! Yikes!).

People have also asked, “What will this mean for the Diocese?” Specifically, I have no idea, but know this – he is not new to the episcopal leadership of a diocese or even a Florida diocese at that. I think that bodes very well for the Diocese. I am sure there will be a period when, like any new leader, he scouts out the landscape of the Diocese, meets his pastoral center staff, comes up to speed on the projects and issues, begins to meet his priests, and the parish council leaders. New Presidents are measured by the first 100 days in office, and I suspect bishops are measured on a scale of years of pastoral leadership. So, what will this mean for the Diocese? Ask me a year from now – I may not have a better answer, but I suspect we will begin to see his style of pastoral leadership emerge.

Here is what I can tell you about these changes – I am a hopeful and optimistic person about such things. Last century, I was a member in the pews of a wonderful little parish in the foothills of the eastern ridges of the Blue Ridge mountains. About a year after I began to worship there, the pastor Fr. Guy was leaving. People were not happy – “How could they do this? What will happen to us?” What happened was Fr. Scott arrived. And you know what – he was just the thing our parish needed.

The area was beginning to change as we became less a country county and more a far suburb of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. As the area dynamically grew, Fr. Scott led the charge. He got the new church built after 40 years of fund raising and with our new facilities, new ministries flourished and grew. It was a fun time to be in the parish. And, of course, one day – too soon for most – Fr. Scott announced he was being transferred. People were not happy – “How could they do this? What will happen to us?” What happened was Fr. John arrived and led a busy parish into an era of spiritual growth. Fr. Martin followed him – he was the last Franciscan pastor. Msgr. Cassidy came next, and then Fr. Steve…And every time God provided that once-little parish with the pastor they needed for the times they faced.

As I said, I am an optimist about such things. Bishop Lynch has done a great job; he did what was his to do – it is now time for him to enjoy a slower pace. Bishop Parkes will do what is his to do for the greater glory of God. Please keep them both in our prayers. And may God bless them in their new ministries.

 

The kingdom at hand: who comes

john-the-baptist11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.While vv. 8–10 may be understood at least in part as continuing the address to the Pharisees and Sadducees, now John’s address is specifically to those whom he is actually baptizing.

The superiority of the “stronger one” is explained in terms of two baptisms. John’s water-baptism is a preliminary ritual with a view to repentance, clearing the way for the real thing, the “stronger one’s” baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire. Water is an outward sign, but the work of the Holy Spirit will be inward. Since fire occurs in both v. 10 and v. 12 (and probably also by implication in v. 7 in the imagery of the snakes escaping the fire) as a metaphor for God’s judgment, it should probably be taken in the same sense here. The coming of the Holy Spirit will burn away what is bad and so purify the repentant people of God. (France, 113) Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: response

john-the-baptist1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Our Response:  What should be our response to the coming of heaven? Should it be worship, praise and giving thanks? Ironically, those are good responses, but in Matthew’s gospel, not the ideal ones. Jesus never reprimands people for failing to worship or give thanks in this gospel (compare Luke 17:17-18), but he does rebuke those who have witnessed his mighty works and not repented (11:20-24). For Matthew, the ideal response seems to be repentance. We know from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew that people can worship God with their lips even when their deeds demonstrate that their hearts are far from God (15:3-9). Thus, the responsive worship of the crowds in 9:8 and 15:31 is commendable but will be in vain if performed with unrepentant hearts.  It is Matthew’s warning to the overtly religious of his day, the Pharisees and Sadducees – and perhaps to us in this season of Advent – it is good to want to celebrate and praise, but make your priority repentance.  Let the coming one change our lives. Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: repent

john-the-baptistLuke introduces the ministry of John the Baptist with a careful historical introduction listing the year, the emperor, the rulers of the surrounding territories, and the high priest who was in office. Matthew introduces John’s ministry with a very general, “in those days.” The point is not that Matthew was unaware of the interval of about thirty years that he is passing over. Rather, his purpose was to show that the birth of Christ and the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry are part of the same flow of God’s activity in salvation history. There are two major sections within this passage. Verses 1-6 introduce the ministry of John the Baptist while verses 7-12 summarize the message of John. Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: herald

john-the-baptist1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:“A voice of one crying out in the desert,‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”  4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him 6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: context

john-the-baptist1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert,‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”  4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him 6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. Continue reading

Waking Up

sleep2To sleep, perchance to dream” such are the words of the great William Shakespeare written for his character Hamlet. It is only in such dreams can we mark the passage of sleep. Short of dreams, we really do not know we are asleep until we wake. We can be aware of the long glide path to sleep – the yawns, the stretching, the telling ourselves “just one more chapter in this book….” Or perchance, our afternoons when we think “I am just resting my eyes.” The thought gives away to the sweet rapture of the most awesome afternoon ever. Perhaps the reverie of our daydreams leave unperturbed the here and now. One short sleep past and we awake and the here-and-now is like our pet dog at the end of the bed or couch waiting for us to get up and fetch them a doggie treat. Continue reading

So it will be: Advent

advent_1stSo far we have looked at this gospel in its Matthean context. But what about it use on the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the Liturgical Year?  If last Sunday (Christ the King Sunday) represents a culmination of things – when Christ reigns above all – then what are we to make of the First Sunday in Advent?  Do we go back to the beginning and again work our way through the year until Christ is again King? Continue reading

Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-pastor-colThere have been lots of reports in the news about the choices people are making this Thanksgiving – and I am not referring to the turkey or the ham. Sadly, emotions are running so high regarding the recent elections, some families are choosing not to come together, not to invite certain family members. Others are a little more proactive, announcing there will be no political discussions allowed – and I hope that works, but I think it will still be there hanging in the air. Such is life. It is always about the choices we make. Continue reading