This is the time of year when many of the church’s Synods meet for their annual meeting at Synod Assembly. I’ve talked with some clergy friends and colleagues and noticed others posting pictures and updates on Facebook these past few weeks. Some excited about things happening in the church, and others not so much. Feelings of frustration and concern about the state of the church. Questioning where we seem to be going, and in some cases what we’re not doing that we should be. This past weekend our own New Jersey Synod met in Princeton for our Annual gathering of clergy and church leaders. Financial Reports and the Bishop’s message painted a somewhat fraught picture of the state of the church. A world in which far too many of us compromise our beliefs for our own selfish needs.
It was 26 years ago that my dear friend, Bishop Herluf Jensen announced that he would not stand for re-election as our Bishop. He was weary and he said it was time for new blood. And so for the first time in a good little bit our Synod was faced with a transition in the Bishop’s Office and our Synod Council sought ways to mark this time of new beginnings. They asked Pastor Frank Fry of St. John’s in Summit and me to work on plans for the installation of our soon to be elected new Bishop. And among the other things Frank and I did, was to commission a wood worker to prepare a new pectoral cross that would be passed from Bishop to Bishop in the coming years, as it has been. And we designed a Bishop’s Crook that matched the pectoral cross, as a symbol and sign of the Bishop’s office. And those of you who have been here when Bishop Riley or Bishop Bartholomew have visited, will probably remember that large staff with the curved top that they carry. The crook has long been a symbol of the Bishop’s Office, of the Pastoral office, in fact, of the baptismal ministry in which we each share, and which Wesley joins today.
Many of the people who first heard the words of our lessons this morning were living as outsiders, alienated from society. Still others were locals, had grown up in the area, and were familiar with the local culture, but had left the faith that they were raised in to become Christians. Regardless, they were seen as ‘strangers’, as the ‘other’ or simply ‘different.’ The writer of 1 Peter calls them to embrace their differences and to live lives of commitment, to see their lives as a gift of Christ. Through Jesus’ resurrection, 1 Peter says that God has given Christians a new birth and a new family. From their vantage point, their old lives – the traditions set forth by their ancestors – are seen as empty and pointless. And they’re to look ahead to this new life with Christ. New life that begins with baptism.