"I want to put forward, based upon the introduction in my opening remarks, the first assertion. To be in Christ, calling upon the words of St. Paul, my ordination text, is to be a new creature. And that newness has vast implications spiritually, relationally, certainly ethically and morally. The newness that is in the Gospel of our lord Jesus Christ has a built-in contract between the proclamation of the Gospel and the evidence of the ways in which the transforming power of God changes our lives, literally changes our behavior.
"This operating assumption is not new. If you remember the story of St. Paul – 'wretched man that I am, who can deliver me?' – who remembers that great soliloquy of the apostle? 'Wretched man that I am' – here is the greatest of the emerging leaders of the Hebrew movement acknowledging his wretchedness. That is, his obedience to the law that became for him a form not just of righteousness, but his disobedience emerged as he confessed how he had transgressed the very thing that he loved the most.
"St. Paul's soliloquy about ethics and morality are an important part of my own spiritual journey. It has been my inner tension all of these years. Tempted like everybody else, but finding in the power of the Gospel, the capacity to withstand those temptations, by and large, over many years. Over the course of my five years with you, I've given evidence of this tension as Joan has had to hold me accountable for the way in which we love one another and have cared for each another over 50 years.
"Neither one of us transgressed our vows – that's good news. Neither one of us have been caught up in any schemes that abused or victimized children – that should make you happy too. But the question of temptation doesn't go away. Let me ask you in all sincerity – in all sincerity – have you been tempted to cross over a boundary from righteousness to unrighteousness? Have you ever? All the time, you see!
"The ethical implications of our faith are so real and so profound and so much of a challenge to leadership and the life of the church, that every pastor who is ordained, every lay person who is consecrated to leadership in the church or in the world, comes face to face with the implications of what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus. Not in the rhetoric, not that alone. But in the way in which we choose to behave. What our community is facing and what our congregation is facing, different than – listen to this – different than any other congregation in the United States right now. This is the single most scrutinized parish in the United States.
"Millions of people have had their eyes on Bellefonte, on one single family and the ways in which one congregation lives out its life in faith. Millions of people know your name. And among those millions of people, many are still watching as was evident in my emails since Friday and the conversations I've had and those I've avoided with the media. What is it like to be at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, the nation, literally, the nation has asked. All eyes are on you. And on me. And it's true.
"The question of faith in the assertion that there is faith and an ethical implication of that faith is not a new enterprise. But it must be addressed if we are to give witness, especially public witness, to what it means to be in the Gospel. My own personal working out of my salvation comes with a price. It comes with the price of angst of over 'Is my next move going to be disruptive?' It comes with the angst of whether or not I should hold to the high propositions of leadership in the United Methodist Church. It comes with the angst about the way in which we live together as the Christian community, because it's so easy to get caught up in stuff that comprises the way in which we live and move and have our being. We are meant by the power of God in this assertion to lead lives that reflect the Gospel, lead a life worthy of the Gospel by giving evidence not just with your lip but with the way in which we live together, what it means to be truly priestly and pastoral and prophetic in the world.
"These three roles are often contradictory. Sometimes the clash of values is so severe sometimes it's hard to make a decision. Sometimes the value proposition of the church, the Body of Christ, must take precedent over anyone's self-interest or behavior. We are ordained, I am ordained, to lead the church in its life in such a way that I am believable to you. But the rest of the contract is what? You know what it is: you must be believable to me.
"Over the course of 45 years, I've made every effort to wrestle with the implications of what it means to love God, to love my family and to love the people entrusted to my care. I never realized that millions of people would be watching. It was always a thought that the contract was limited, I think, to the implications of my most intimate relationships, my colleagues, my friends, my sojourners. That day, for St. Paul's, in light of the circumstances around us and in light of our life together, that day is over. A new day has come.
"This is a turning-point time in our own community, when the evidence is everywhere about how leaders in our own communities have forfeited the high and holy principles of the things and the ways in which they lead. The university is in trouble. It's in trouble for the same question: what is the nature of our rhetoric and what is the practice of our life and our institutions?
"I love the way in which my loyalties to Penn State and to each of our families, to you, to the victims and the victimizers is playing itself out. I will not, I cannot, I never will be able to lay down this first assertion -- to be in Christ is to engage in a quest led by the Holy Spirit for that which is sacred, and when I am able to stand up and say I am doing my best and yet you see me flawed, please forgive me. When you are at your best and I can celebrate that, please rejoice in it. I am not the morality police. But we are to be moral people together, in the way in which we live and lead and love.
"My first assertion is the operating assumption is that if we are in Christ, our ethical foundations change. The basis for our decision-making changes. And our morality reflects that new creation, which is in Jesus Christ alone.
"This is my second assertion that reveals, I hope my way of life and the peace of Christ – I assert, and I affirm and I celebrate that Jesus Christ is both my savior and my lord. How about you? My savior – yes? And, my lord! There is a great distinction between celebrating the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and what it means for Jesus to be lord of our lives. This question gets more complicated in the ways in which people place the emphasis on the syllables.
"When I was a youngster in the EUB Church and questing for ministry, I was given an evangelical task that I've announced once before. I was asked to go to the small city of Effort of Pennsylvania and go door to door in that city. I was young, I had some credentials, I was so frightened. I knocked on door after door. People would come to the door and I would ask – after I said 'Hello, I'm Ed Zeiders – are you saved?' Now you can imagine the looks on the eyes of those people."
"Is it a wrong question to ask, 'Brother, sister are you saved?' Over the course of the years since the merger between the United Methodist Church and EUB Church, that question for 30 years was dismissed as frivolous. The social gospel was to replace the evangelical inquiry. Sadly, it is only recently, within the last five years or so, that we added the word 'witness' back into our membership vows. That all of us to are uphold the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. To recover that which is the fundamental mandate of the church, to give witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Which I think means these four things. You may write them down on your new notepad if you'd like, if not, see them as an indention to this second assertion.
"By saving, this is what I think about my own life. To be saved is to be in Christ, to receive the gift of God's grace, which is always and always will be a healing, forgiving and reconciling act on God's part appropriated by faith. I can say I am a new creature and you can say you are a new creature because God's forgiving, healing and reconciling love has been at work in your life. Yes or no? Yes or no? You're going to have to say it – I'm not going to play with you here – but you're going to have to say that real loud in a culture and a community that is confused about its future. There is no driving moral principle in the village of State College. There is nothing around which we coalesce. There is no standard operating procedure. There is nothing that guides our community forward, except an occasional law passed by the borough council or the county government or the commonwealth.