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Bishops Call for 48-Hour Election Vigil


Episcopal Bishops Call for 48-Hour Election Vigil

As our nation approaches its Election Day on Nov. 8, we have a deep yearning for the Holy Spirit to be present in our national life.  Individually, we express this yearning in a variety of ways according to personal conscience.  Collectively, we are called to express this yearning through prayer.

We must pray that God be at work in our electoral process.  We must pray for a peaceful transition, no matter the outcome of our elections.  We must pray that the demonization of one another’s opponents which has characterized this election not be further stoked by its outcome.  We must pray that all those elected on that day be moved, strengthened and guided by the Spirit, to lead us through fractious and dangerous times.  We must pray in gratitude for those who, with sacrifice of self and noble intent, step up to lead our common life.

We the Episcopal bishops in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts call for a vigil period of intense prayer from noon on All Saints Sunday, Nov. 6 through noon on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8.  The particulars of such prayer in our congregations will vary according to local parish traditions and planning.  For some it may be as simple as concluding the Sunday prayers with an extended Litany for the Nation, or holding a special form of Morning Prayer on Nov. 8.  Others may wish to hold extended vigils, with prayer in shifts offering continuous intercession.

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges:  Guide the people of this land in the election of officials and representatives, that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. [Book of Common Prayer, p. 822]


The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts

God is looking for us and God will not fail.

Gary Roulette, "Parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep" (oil on canvas, 8 ft x 5 ft, May 2013)

Gary Roulette, “Parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep” (oil on canvas, 8 ft x 5 ft, May 2013)

The following is the sermon offered to the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Sunday September 11, 2016

Jesus was such a great preacher. In these parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin, he engages his listeners by saying “which one of you…” Which one of you has ever lost anything? Since turning 60 I lose my glasses at least once a day. Losing something is a universal human experience. In asking this question Jesus not only engages his audience but he connects his audience to each other. According to the text, his listeners that day include “tax collectors and sinners” and “scribes and Pharisees.” The unrighteous and the righteous. Scribes and Pharisees would never include themselves among sinners. But Jesus brings them together in the experience of loss.

Now that Jesus has us engaged, he asks “which one of you, having 100 sheep and losing one, would leave the 99 in the wilderness and search for the lost one?” Not put them safely away in a pen with a guard. Leave them in the wilderness where there is great danger. Think coyotes. Which one of you would do that? The honest answer is “none of us, Lord, no one would do that.” But, spoiler alert, God would.

Jesus continues “which one of you, having ten coins and losing one, would sweep the house all day long until it was found, and then call your friends for a party?”

How would you answer that question? Let’s consider a 21st century version of this question. Think of a time you lost your car keys. You search and search. You look under furniture, in between the cushions, back out to see if you left them in the car. If you are of the spirituality that does this sort of thing, you might promise money to St. Anthony. Finally you find the keys. Which one of you would throw a big party? For four years now I have been living just 20 miles from here. I know people sitting in front of me this morning have lost and found keys. Not one of you have any of you invited me to a “lost and found key” party. No one.

2000 years ago when Jesus asked this question, his listeners are thinking “no one would do that Jesus.” But God would.

Jesus gets us interested by telling stories of a universal human experience – loss. But after he gets us there Jesus uses the opportunity to tell stories about God. Let’s explore these stories and learn about God and how the Living God makes a difference in our lives.

Let’s look at the numbers: 100 sheep, 10 coins. Those numbers represent fullness or completion. A full set. When one is missing the set is incomplete. God strives for completion. Why does God search out the lost? Because God’s world can’t be complete without them. You have heard the expression that parents are only as happy as their least happy child. God is like a parent. God can’t be happy until all people are brought into the fullness of life.

Here is another truth about God. In God’s eyes we are all sinners God wants to save. Consider this. In the lost sheep story the shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness and goes to search for the one. The text is very specific. When he finds the one, he goes home and gathers friends for a celebration. He does not go back to the wilderness for the other 99. That is because all of humanity is represented by the one lost sheep. The 99 don’t really exist. We can only understand this by looking at the words that conclude the parable: “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who have no need of repentance.” Do you really think there are 99 people anywhere who have no need of repentance? The Pharisees might think they are in that crowd but Jesus is constantly pointing out their delusions. On many Sundays we have the “confession.” Do you ever exempt yourself from that? Do you think “nope, nothing happened this week that I am sorry for”? That never happens for me. And if it did, the “things left undone” would catch me every time. God knows who we are and yet still wants to save us.

Why? The lost coin parable reveals an answer. The story is about an inanimate object – a coin. The coin does not care if it is found or not. A coin can be a coin lying with the dust bunnies under the bed or when it is placed on a nice clean mantle or if it is being spent. The coin does not know it needs to be saved. And yet the woman (God) looks for it. It matters to God. God has an inbuilt desire to look for us. God is love and God will love whether we want to love back or not. As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “if it is not about love then it is not about God.”

We know this from the 23rd Psalm which offers us more shepherd imagery for God. Recall the last lines of that psalm which is the favorite of so many: “surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Here is a secret. Don’t tell the bishop. That is not an adequate translation. Really smart people who know Hebrew better than I do say that in the original Hebrew the word is not “follow”, which sounds so passive. It is closer to “your goodness and mercy shall pursue me, shall chase after me, shall hunt me down”.

The psalm and today’s parables reveal a God who is persistent, faithful. In those times in our lives when we feel lost, know that God is looking for us. Even if we don’t feel God’s presence or power or hope, something is going on. God is looking for us and God will not fail.

Now I know the Red Sox game is on at 1:00 pm so you are hoping I will end this sermon soon, but here is just one more dimension to these rich parables. Each of the “lost” stories in Luke’s Gospel ends with a party. The shepherd throws a party. The woman throws a party. The very next story in this chapter is about the prodigal son – the lost son. And that ends in a party, too.

The Saint John's Bible ~ Saint John's University (Collegeville Minnesota)

The Saint John’s Bible ~ Saint John’s University (Collegeville, Minnesota)

Remember the first lines in today’s gospel. The Pharisees “were grumbling.” The Pharisees were good people. They went to church. They prayed. They studied the Bible. They gave generously to the poor. But they were missing out on joy. They knew the laws of the church so very well but they were confining God to those laws. Jesus invited them to stop grumbling and celebrate a God of irrational, exuberant generosity. We are invited to join the same party.

Now I know we have a big job ahead of us. Michael Curry says we are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream that God has for it. What a big mission! And in just two more minutes (I promise) we will re-commit ourselves to that mission. We will recommit ourselves to changing the world into the dream God has for it. We need to act because faith without action is just an opinion. In an anxious time in our world and in our country, let’s be a people of hope. Let’s remember in our tradition that we have been claimed in baptism as Christ’s own forever. Forever. God will find us. And there will be a party like no other. Because that is what God does. Amen.

Racism: We have breathed it in.


EverydayHeroesPP - Version 3

CaptureThis post also appears in the summer issue of Abundant Times magazine in mailboxes September 1-2.

This fall our diocese will begin offering days of reflection called TOWARD THE BELOVED COMMUNITY: HOLY CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE. I am grateful for the team formed from the Social Justice Committee that created the framework and gathered the resources for these days. I look forward to participating and having my vision expanded and my soul engaged.

When I reflect on my own journey of race relations, I can see how my understanding has evolved. When the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was changing our country, I was too young to appreciate what was going on. It was later, in college and seminary, that I developed a passionate interest in the Movement, studied it in-depth, and spent several summers working with the southern poor.

My admiration for the great men and women that made history working for justice continued to grow through the years. With the cadets at West Point and the youth groups of Grace Millbrook, I placed great emphasis on the witness of Jonathan Daniels – the young Episcopal seminarian who gave his life in the struggle. Underlying this was a belief that if we could all just follow in their footsteps, racism would end.


The four little girls killed in the 16th Street church bombing in Birmingham, AL; The Edmund Pettus Bridge – site of “Bloody Sunday”; Seminarian Jonathan Myrick Daniels, d. 1965

While continuing my deep appreciation for all that has been done for racial equality by so many – the famous and those unnamed in the great cloud of witnesses- my understanding of racism has been expanded by a fable I heard a year ago. Here it is:

A long, long time ago there was a place where people were very poor. They were farmers and their tending of the land produced very little. Life was hard. But then someone discovered a fertilizer that made all the difference. The crops grew and grew. The society became prosperous and remained so for hundreds of years.

Then one day it was discovered that the fertilizer was, and always had been, toxic. The food people were eating, the air they were breathing, was poisonous. It was actually killing them slowly.

Here is the insight. For hundreds of years we took human beings from Africa and enslaved them. They worked on our farms and America became prosperous. Slavery and the racism that comes with it is a big part of our story. Slavery has ended but the racism that comes with it remains. It is not just past history. It is part of us. We have breathed it in.

The struggle with racism is not about “helping black people.” It is about understanding and addressing the toxic atmosphere that makes all of our lives less than what God intends.

Professor Ryan Williams Virden explores this further in writing about racial justice.

“The first step to creating this justice is to understand how it was sidelined in the first place. We must understand the way that whiteness — fitting into the Anglo-Saxon archetype –has been valued historically via formal avenues such as legislation and school curriculum as well as informal ones such as social customs, traditions and practices. Because much of this is passed down through generations, or happens away from public scrutiny, or is largely implicit it is necessary to learn and then unlearn this sordid history and way of being. Once we can come to grips with the ways whiteness keeps us from our own humanity and strangles our souls there is no other choice then to struggle for this justice. We won’t struggle because we are trying to help anyone else, or feel bad for them; we will struggle because our own freedom, our own humanity, is tied up with everyone else’s.”

I’m going to reflect more on this statement and I invite you attend TOWARDs THE BELOVED COMMUNITY: HOLY COINVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE – because “our own humanity…is tied up with everyone else’s.”


Click here for more information about “Toward the Beloved Community: Holy Conversations About Race.

There is no “us” and “them”. There is only “us.”

Sermon offered today at Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield. 


The story of the Good Samaritan – how many have heard this story ten times? 20 times? 30 times? We can be tempted to write this off and say “thanks, I got it.” But I believe in light of the recent violent events in our country – Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas – this parable offers us a way to New Life. After the murders in Dallas, reporters and commentators often referred to the United States as a country “on the edge.” The lesson taught by Jesus 2000 years ago might move us away from the edge and into abundant life.

I’m going to set the stage for my sermon by referring to another sermon on this same parable by the outstanding theologian, Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann says the lawyer began with a question about Eternal Life. He gets an answer that is about mercy.

“The question and the answer do not fit together. Eternal life smacks of transcendentalism… future… untroubled…secure. Mercy is by contrast freighted with risk and hurt and involvement.”

By telling the story that he does, about a man beaten, robbed and left to die in a ditch, Jesus changes our question about Eternal Life by “plugging us into a world of violence.” Following Jesus will not mean escaping violence – it will mean engaging it. Sound like 2016 yet?

Now that Brueggemann has set the stage, let’s do 800 years of the history of Israel in two minutes and 500 years of American history in two more minutes and then look at Jesus’ plan for creating a different future. I promise not to talk too fast.

Before 800 B.C. Israel was one nation. But it was split among Solomon’s sons and became the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. The Southern Kingdom was often called Judah and the Northern Kingdom was sometimes called Samaria. Although they all practiced the religion of Israel and relied on the Torah, there was one big difference. The Temple in Jerusalem belonged to the territory of Judah. The Samaritans had to worship at a different Temple and each nation claimed to have the “true” Temple. Other economic and social tensions led to real hatred between the two groups.

To make matters worse, geography made it necessary for some people living in Judah to go through a section of Samaria to get to their Temple. Sometimes when people of Judah on pilgrimage to the Temple crossed through Samaritan territory, they were attacked, robbed and sometimes killed. This went on for hundreds of years. One time shortly before the time of Jesus, a large group from Judah were ambushed and massacred on this trip. In retaliation people from Jerusalem went out and killed Samaritans. Now at this time both sides were ruled by Rome, so Rome sent troops to slaughter people on both sides. Do you get a sense of the tension between the Jews of Judah and the Samaritans after 800 years of history?

1368752672Now let’s look at our history. Honestly. The first African slaves were brought to Virginia in 1619 – the beginning of a long wave of human bondage and oppression. New England was a big part of the slave trade. America became prosperous and we built our economy on slave labor. When we had a chance to do something about that after the American Revolution, we did not. Slavery continues until 1865. And that is followed by the Jim Crow laws that oppressed African Americans for another 100 years. Between 1868 and 1968, over four thousand African Americans were lynched. Now we have what many call the New Jim Crow laws leading to over one million black men in our jails – right now. And there are many other political and cultural realities that continue the oppression of our history. This did not get all resolved by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Racism is a huge part of our history and it obviously impacts us to this day. Let’s see how Jesus gave the Jews and the Samaritans a path to a new life and how that could be true for us now.

Jesus is telling this story to Jews and it could be a nice story about compassion. And it is about compassion but it is also about something more than compassion. If Jesus wanted to tell a story about compassion, he could have said a Samaritan was lying beaten in a ditch and a person from Judah came along and took care of him. That would work. His listeners would say “Yes, we have to stop hating the Samaritans so much. We should be compassionate.” But Jesus did not tell the story in this way. Jesus made the Samaritan the hero of the story. And that changes everything. Remember some people of Judah thought they had the only true religion. Salvation was meant for them. By making the Samaritan the hero of the story, Jesus is saying “You are not saved by belonging to a particular tribe or race or religion. You are saved by joining my mission of mercy, compassion and hope. The Kingdom of God is not a religion. The Kingdom of God is a mission and the Samaritan is part of that mission.” This would have stunned the people of Jesus’ time. There is no “us” and “them”. There is only “us.” We are all needed, equally, to move towards the Beloved Community that Jesus intends.


State Rep. Byron Rushing

Byron Rushing has served for many years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He is an Episcopalian and he is black. Recently he reflected on The Book of Common Prayer collect for July 4th. It reads in part “Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us.” Rushing writes,

“This phrase is only possible because slavery was forgotten – or the ‘us’ was not meant to include me.”

Jesus took the history of the Jews and the Samaritans seriously and he offered another way. Americans need to take our history seriously and find another way. I will leave you with one last “new idea” from Jesus that helped in finding that way 2000 years ago and can help us find it today.

The lawyer asks “who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the story and then he reframes the question to the lawyer. In the original Greek wording Jesus says “Who became a neighbor to that man?”

To become a neighbor to another doesn’t just happen. It demands a new way of thinking. It demands imagination, creativity, effort. The rushing priest and the hurried Levite in the story will not let their lives be interrupted. The Samaritan does let his life be interrupted. He does not run from the brutality. He engages it and the outcome is a new identity. He is now really a neighbor.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians we are told that in Jesus Christ “all things hold together.” In Jesus, there is no “us” and “them.” There is only us. Amen.

Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas


In Christ all things hold together.

Colossians 1:17

During his lifetime, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw terrible violence and lost his life for speaking the truth to our nation. I find myself wondering what he would say to us today. His way of nonviolence – Jesus’ way – meant that we had to watch Selma and Birmingham on the evening news as police and guardsmen beat and bloodied young protesters. Fifty years later, people we look to for protection – motivated by fear – become judge, jury and executioner in viral video. The more this happens, the less their lives seem to matter. We stand against racism.

Violence will never end violence. Hate only feeds hate. The news from Baton Rouge and St. Paul – captured by cell phones – must force us to speak to one another about race in America. We must admit the ugly truth that Black lives are in danger. We must look long and hard at the way we hire and train our Law Enforcement Officers. Something is broken and we must have the courage to fix it.

Dallas – the city that still bears the weight of another killing more than fifty years ago – today, her streets are marked with the blood of heroes. When hatred fuels the heart of a man with an assault-style weapon, innocent people are gunned down in the streets – people who put their lives at risk for us every day.  We stand with those who keep the peace. Those sworn to protect our lives and property are grieving. We must carry the families of the dead in our hearts. We weep with those who weep.

Make no mistake that hatred plus an automatic weapon equals death. Gun violence in America is now, God help us, part of the fabric of our lives. We cannot let fear take hold – though fear is the right feeling. Whether we “sit in” or stand up or speak truth until we have no words left, we must DO something to end the carnage. We cry out for an end to the violence – for Baton Rouge, for St. Paul, and for Dallas. In Christ all things hold together. In his name I pray.