Dear Bishop Ackerman, Bishop Vicar of the Diocese of Quincy, priests, deacons, members of religious communities and brothers and sisters from around the Diocese of Quincy,
I welcome you all to the one hundred thirty-ninth (139th) Synod of the Diocese of Quincy and ask you all to join me in giving the most cordial, warm greeting and welcome to our Archbishop, the Most Reverend Foley Beach, Second Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, who is visiting us for the first time. Let us please stand and welcome him into our Diocese.
It is an honor to have you present here and we want Your Grace to know that our Diocese loves you, respects you, prays for you and supports you in the challenging work of transforming the lives of every human being into the likeness of Christ and in the arduous work of making present the kingdom of God in the world in which we live. Welcome!
The theme for this year’s Synod is commitment.
Nothing significant ever happens in life without commitment. Our commitments determine our future. We are becoming whatever we are committed to, so let us choose our commitments carefully. If we’re committed to the wrong thing, we’re going to become the wrong thing.
We can’t lose by being committed to God. The Bible tells us in 2 Chronicles 16:9 that God is looking for people whose hearts are fully committed to Him so that He can bless and use them. If we are not committed to God, He will not use us as instruments of His kingdom.
Until the fourth century A.D. the Christian Church was a persecuted church. Many Christians were fed to the wild beasts in the Roman arenas, or otherwise put to death for their faith, often in very painful ways. Such records as we have make it very likely that ten of the original twelve apostles were martyred for their faith. (Judas committed suicide and John is believed to have died a natural death.) The book of Revelation speaks of many who were beheaded or otherwise martyred.
Thanks to their commitment and willingness to suffer for the cause of Christ, we can say that we are here today.
Today, in some parts of the world, Christians are put to death for their faith. We are told that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all the previous history of the church.
Paul was flogged, beaten with rods, and stoned (2 Corinthians chapter 11). The early apostles were flogged (Acts 5:40-41). Both Paul and Peter were imprisoned. Many others have been flogged, tortured, imprisoned and killed for their faith (Hebrews 11:32-38). Many today, especially in Communist or Muslim countries, have been imprisoned, sent to labor camps, flogged, and tortured because of their faith. Many also have had to see their wives and children suffer because of their faith. In many parts of the world, Christianity is a “suffering church”.
As a Diocese, we need to take even more seriously our commitment with God, with the following of Christ, and with the Church.
Six years ago, our Diocese was made up of about 17 churches in Illinois. There was also a congregation in Largo, Florida, and a congregation in Montrose, Colorado, for a total of nineteen churches. Today, our Diocese has over forty congregations and we are present in Tennessee, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Texas, Missouri and we are planting congregations in Nebraska, Hawaii and Toluca, Mexico for a total of twelve states. The Diocese of Quincy continues to be a solid and viable option for our brothers and sisters searching for solid ground and we praise God for it.
As your bishop, I have always understood that we must preach by example. If I want you, members of the clergy and people of the Diocese, to come out of your comfort zones, then I must be willing to do so, too. If I want you to work for the kingdom of God, I must work for the kingdom of God. If I want you to sacrifice yourselves, then I must be willing to sacrifice myself. If I want you to be committed to Christ, then I must be committed to Christ. If we need to go to into the battlefield, I must be the first in line. As you all know, I am not a bishop who sits in the office and I will never be. My main work is to build up the kingdom of God in the Diocese and leave for the bishop that will come after me, a grown, stable and committed Diocese.
We have to prepare the people of God entrusted to us in the knowledge and love of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. We need to form committed Christians with the mission of Christ: committed Christians, not just church goers. God has entrusted to us a big responsibility and we need to be responsible in its fulfillment.
What is Christ’s mission? Christ’s mission is the establishment of God’s kingdom, a kingdom of peace and justice, a kingdom of life and truth. This kingdom is the one we are called to proclaim, to teach, and to build; and, in order to do that, we need to help our people to be committed to Christ.
What does it mean to be fully committed to God? • Giving our lives to Jesus Christ • Committing our lives to His family—the body of Christ, which is the Church
- Choosing to grow spiritually and become more and more like Jesus Christ every day in our character
- Using our time, talents and gifts to help others
- Sharing the good news with other people and fulfilling the mission and purpose for which God put us on this earth: to build up His kingdom
So, let us tell God we love Him by committing to Him, which is one way to express our love for Him, because this is what love is really all about: commitment. We don’t really love someone unless we are committed to their best, and the best for us is to love Him above all else and to find no excuses for not going out as committed Christians to bring people to God’s kingdom.
How can we do that?
In the process of organizing the Diocese, we are putting together a serious plan that will help us form committed Christians who will understand the responsibility we have as people of God. I am already in conversation with Canon Patrick Smith, our Canon Missioner and with my Canon to the Ordinary, Canon Jim Fosdick, putting together a program to re-evangelize our faithful in the Diocese of Quincy. It will be challenging, for some people, maybe painful. It will include serious decisions about where we are and where we should be. We trust that God will guide us, that Christ will walk this process with us and that the Holy Spirit will inspire us and that we will have the humility to put it together and realize it.
We will be communicating with all the priests, deacons and faithful of the Diocese to work with this process and, starting today, I ask all of you to pray that the Lord will unite us in this holy and challenging yet exciting endeavor.
We are a Biblical, sacramental, liturgical, and of course, missionary Catholic Diocese who wants to proclaim the values of the kingdom.
In order to be successful, we need not only to train those who are already members of our Diocese, but also to be very responsible with those who are approaching us to become new Christians.
I would like to share with you how we can use the Rites of Christian Initiation in order to produce committed Christians. The Sacraments of Christian initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist, pre-suppose the mission, imply the mission and lead to the mission. We cannot speak of Christian initiation if it is not preceded, accompanied and followed by a commitment to the missionary and evangelizing mission of the Diocese; that is, we need to be responsible in the training of those who approach us to receive the sacraments of Christian initiation before they are administered. It needs to be a solid formation that will lead to a serious commitment to the life and mission of the Church in our Diocesan community.
The Sacraments of Christian initiation commit us to the mission from the specific theology of each of these three Sacraments.
If we say that Baptism is the door of life and of the kingdom, this means that the door behind Baptism is not open for me only, but for everybody. This means that although Baptism is administered to one person, the baptized is committed to bringing others to the same Baptismal waters.
If, in Baptism, we participate in the Paschal mystery, it means that this participation transforms us and associates us with the dynamic of Paschal liberation, which we desire ourselves and commit to transmit to everyone.
If, through Baptism, we participate in new life, we must commit ourselves to make others participants of this gift.
If, through Baptism, we become priests, prophets and kings, it signifies in exercising this mission that we commit to help all to discover and recognize the true Priest, Prophet and King, Christ the Lord.
If in Baptism we receive the forgiveness of all our sins and are justified from original sin, it means that after Baptism, we are committed to a struggle against personal sin and against the sin of the world.
If Confirmation is a sacrament of and for initiation, this means that it forms a part of the missionary action of the Church. Therefore the individual, integrated into this process, assumes and commits to the task that corresponds to that community.
If Confirmation is the gift of the Spirit and participation in the Pentecostal event, it means that the confirmed is consecrated and called to the commitment of participating in this Pentecostal mission, given to all of us on Pentecost Day.
If Confirmation is the perfection of life, it means that through it, we are committed to assume responsibly the tasks that mission entails.
If Confirmation perfectly unites us to the Church, the confirmed person participates in a special way in the mission of the Church and is committed to its edification and extension.
If Confirmation gives special strength for witness, this requires that the confirmed commits to be a brave witness of Christ’s Gospel.
The content itself and mystery of the Eucharist implies and expresses the totality of the mystery and mission of Christ and the Church.
If the Eucharist is the center of the present history of the salvation brought by God, if the Church lives off the Eucharist and in it renews its mission, it is logical that those who participate in the Eucharist will feel committed to what it is and what it celebrates.
The Eucharist is at the same time word and sacrament, signifying not only the center of the same Eucharistic action, but also the mission and vocation of all Christians, committed to live and become proclaimers of the Word.
The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s Paschal mystery; the celebration associates us with the mission, giving our life its proper dynamism, which commits us to continue His work in the world.
The Eucharist is witness and praise; therefore, to participate in the Eucharist is to renew and commit with this mission, which affects us all.
The Eucharistic celebration is not just something that happens in the four walls of a church building. It continues as we take our every day, ordinary life—our sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering (Romans 12:1b).
Christian initiation presupposes the evangelical mission (in the right meaning of the word “evangelical”). It implies our unreserved commitment and makes each Christian a true missionary. There is no Christian initiation without evangelical mission, nor evangelical mission without catechesis, nor catechesis without Sacraments, nor Sacraments that do not lead back to mission, nor mission without commitment.
I hope this explanation of the Sacraments of Christian initiation will help us understand that we are a people in training and a people in mission and that our evangelical commitment is not an option, it is an obligation. Christ was sent by the Father and just as He was sent by the Father and committed Himself until the end, we also, sent by Christ, need to commit to the cause of the Gospel and of the kingdom.
It is not enough to say that we love God. It is not enough to say that we follow Jesus. It is not enough to believe that the Holy Spirit is among us. It is not enough to worship. It is not enough to receive Holy Communion. It is not enough to have beautiful potlucks, as delicious as they may be. It is not enough to be in love with our church buildings. It is not enough to do our personal devotions and it is not enough, it is not enough, it is not enough…if we do not realize that we have a commitment to Christ to build up His kingdom.
What does all this tell us? God wants us to commit ourselves totally to him, holding nothing back, giving Him all our agendas, hopes, plans, achievements, desires, thoughts, habits, personality traits. Everything. He wants us to acknowledge that we are created and He is the Creator, that everything in the universe is His, and that without Him we can do nothing of value. He wants us to acknowledge that whatever we give Him is His already. He wants us to present ourselves totally to Him and allow Him to do His work in us. He wants us to give all of ourselves with no strings attached.
The wonderful thing about this is that when we lose ourselves in Him, then we truly find our life (Matthew 10:39). It is then that He is able to give us His more abundant life (John 10:10). He is “able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
God wants a life that is totally yielded to Him. Then He may, or may not, give part of it back to us in a transformed version. But what He does with it is up to Him. How He uses us, and how much He uses us, is up to Him. We give all of ourselves with no strings attached.
May God bless all of us in this endeavor of recommitting ourselves to Him and to His kingdom. Amen.