Jesus Is Calling Us Out of the Boat

Photo by Ankit Sinha on Unsplash

Often times when I gather with acolytes, lay readers, Eucharistic ministers, clergy and choir before a liturgy, I’m asked to say a prayer. (We will have those gatherings again, when we can do that safely.) Part of that prayer is this: “Lord, in this hour together, may you comfort us as we need to be comforted and challenge us as we need to be challenged.”

I believe that today’s story of the storm at sea, together with another story of a storm at sea, reveals the comfort and the challenge we receive from Jesus. Today’s story of a storm comes in the 14th chapter of Matthew. Matthew tells another story of a storm at sea in chapter 8. Let’s look at that one first.

In chapter 8, Jesus and the disciples are on a boat at sea. After a long day of preaching, teaching, forgiving and healing, Jesus is asleep in the boat. “A windstorm arose in the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves.” The apostles were terrified and they woke up the sleeping Jesus. Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.”

Psychologists like Carl Jung and many theologians encourage us to pray stories such as these as our stories. Imagine the boat and what happens in it as the story of our lives. Have you ever experienced your life as one caught in a great storm? Other Gospel writers use the words “the boat was being battered by the winds and waves.” Or the gospel of Mark says “they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind.” I love that line. Have you ever felt you were “straining at the oars against an adverse wind?” Have you ever felt like that during this pandemic? I know I wake up some mornings feeling that way.

The apostles wake up the sleeping Jesus. Taking this story as our story, we have the possibility of doing that same thing. It is our Christian belief that “the kingdom is within.” Christ is present in us. In baptism we have been “claimed as Christ’s own forever.” When the adverse wind hits us, when our lives are being battered by the winds and waves, when we are afraid, it is time to “wake up the Christ within us.” It is time to go to that place in our souls where we are loved by God. Remembering what our Michael Curry says over and over again: “If it is not about love, it is not about God.”

Wake up the Christ within who had the power to calm the winds and the waves. Wake up the Christ within who said so many times in his earthly ministry and says to us now, “do not be afraid. I am with you.” Wake up the Christ who offers us “a peace which passes all understanding.”

In this story we experience the Christ who comforts us as we need to be comforted.

Now for the second storm at sea. In this one Jesus is not in the boat with the apostles. Jesus has been praying on a mountain while the apostles are in the boat far from land and the wind was against them. Early in the morning they see Jesus walking on the sea. And they are terrified – not because of the winds but because of Jesus. They think it is a ghost.

How can they find out if it is a ghost or it is Jesus? Peter knows how. He says “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He says this because if the answer comes back: “oh no, Peter. Stay in the boat. Stay there in your fear. Keep things exactly as they are.” That would not be the Jesus they knew. That would be a ghost. When Jesus says “come, get out of the boat and follow me”, that is the Jesus they knew. The Jesus who had come to them months earlier when they were tending their nets and invited them on a journey that would change the world. That’s the Jesus who challenged them to become part of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is do so many into the dream God has for it.

Brothers and sisters, we are being challenged right now in many ways but one that might finally be getting our attention is that of racial justice. We are being challenged to acknowledge our history of white privilege and our oppression of people of color. Jesus is not a ghost saying “stay in the boat. Keep doing what you have been doing.” Jesus is being Jesus and he is saying, “Get out of the boat. Yes it will be difficult. But now is the time.”

Recently I read a Fourth of July sermon by The Rev. Deborah Lee at St. Bart’s Church in Manhattan. She refers to “the land of the free and the home of the brave” and says this:

“Rather for people of color, it has often been the land of the followed and the home of the fearful. The land of the harassed and the home of the intimidated. The land of the suspected and the home of the disenfranchised.”

The Reverend Deborah Lee

Lee goes on to quote activist Ginna Green. “The United States is breaking – painfully, visibly – but not irreparably. The cracks have always been there for us to study. Perhaps now we can create a place that holds us all.”

May Christ comfort us as we need to be comforted AND may Christ challenge us as we need to be challenged. Jesus is calling us out of the boat to follow him on an adventure that will change the world.

Amen.

A Good Prayer for This Marathon

Photo by Mārtiņš Zemlickis on Unsplash

There is a story about a young woman who was a dedicated daily jogger. She signed up for a five mile race in a nearby town. When the day of the race came, she checked in and went to the starting line. The opening gun went off and the race began. Our runner passed the one mile mark and the two, three and four. By this distance the runners should have made the turn back to the place they started. That prompted her to ask another runner. “We have already gone four miles. There is only one to go. When do we head back?” The other runner looked at her with surprise and said, “This is not the five mile race. That had a different starting line. This is the marathon!” The marathon – 26 miles!

Our runner was in a race she did not train for. She was totally unprepared. She did not sign up for this. But it was the race she was in. So she kept going. Mile after mile. Our runner was one of the last to finish, but finish she did.

I’ve been thinking about that story as we enter the fifth month of this pandemic. Most scientists are telling us this may go on for a long time. I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t prepare for this. I didn’t train for this. But this is the race I am running.

That led me to go to all the “running the race” references in the letters of St. Paul. One is in his Second Letter to Timothy. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

There are running images in First Corinthians and two more in Philippians, and another in Hebrews – a letter which Paul did not write. The inspired writers of The Book of Common Prayer created a prayer out of that one:

“In the multitude of your saints you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses, that we might rejoice in their fellowship, and run with endurance the race that is set before us; and together with them, receive the crown of glory that never fades away.”

Preface for All Saints Day, BCP, 380.

This is one of my favorite prayers. It is for use in the Holy Eucharist on All Saints Day. I admit that I use it on a lot of other days as well. (Don’t tell the bishop!) I believe it is a good prayer for this marathon of a pandemic.

“Run with endurance the race that is set before us.” We did not choose this race, but it has been set before us. And from where does our endurance come? It comes from the “multitude of saints” that “surround us with a great cloud of witnesses.”

This pandemic is a new race for us, one we have never experienced before. But the world has been through many other times of suffering. And people have kept the faith. As St. Paul writes to the Romans: “Who will separate us from the love of God? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Recently I read a letter that Tom Synan, rector of Grace Church in Amherst, sent to his church:  “The current circumstances do not define or control us. We are the Body of Christ. We are descendants of the saints and mystics, holy women, holy men, holy young people, holy children. We are God’s servants, God’s agents, a community of faith gladly doing its part for the common good.”

Let us run this race with endurance. And at the end of it we’ll be able to say, “we kept the faith.”

+Doug

When should we pray with our feet?

The Rev. Dave Woessner, St. Michael’s-on-the-Heights, Worcester at center of June 1, 2020 peaceful action. Photo: [T&G Staff/Rick Cinclair]

In 1859 The General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in Richmond, Virginia and said nothing about slavery. Now we have another pivotal moment in the work of anti-racism in our country. We cannot sit this one out. There are many ways to engage this work and our Beloved Community ministry has offered us resources. One way to take part in this moment is through public witness.

I have participated in a number of public witnesses through the years. In the early 1980’s I marched with Pax Christi in opposition to the nuclear arms race. I was arrested twice (but not detained) with Daniel and Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAllister for planned and peaceful symbolic actions.

As a bishop I have marched in public prayer processions with other bishops in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Salt Lake City, Alaska and Austin, Texas to bring attention to the public health crisis of gun violence. And have led public prayer witnesses at Smith and Wesson headquarters in Springfield. Caring for God’s creation led me to take part in public witness in Minneapolis and several towns within our own diocese.

How do we, as people of faith, discern when to take part in public witness? I find these questions helpful in my own life and ministry. 

  • Does the event align with the values of the Gospel?
  • Is it meaningful and timely?
  • Is it intended and likely to be non-violent?
  • What do I know about the planners/leaders of this witness?
  • Will this public witness bear witness to the Risen Christ and to the presence and power of a loving God?
The Rev. Tanya R. Wallace, rector of All Saints’, South Hadley (right) with Lutheran Pastor Anna Tew. Photo: submitted

Ours is a unique moment in history and a time for each one of us to consider how to lend our voices to the work of justice. I have been deeply moved by peaceful protestors who willingly risked exposure to the virus to stand up and stand together for the dignity of black lives. There is always a risk when we put our values out there on a sign for all to see. In these days deciding to be part of a public witness can have real consequences, so please wear a mask. How deeply we are feeling the grief of our biases, our blindness and our white privilege.

Screenshot of video of The Rev. Meredyth Ward, Urban Missioner, at June 1 protest and before the #sayhername rally on June 7. Both events were in the City of Worcester.

We pray for justice. We work for justice. And, sometimes, we walk for justice. May God be with all who pray with their feet in these days and may God’s justice roll.

+Doug

We must confront racism within and without.

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

Tomorrow we gather to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost. I hope you all plan to be part of this diocesan service at 10:00 AM tomorrow morning. My sermon was prerecorded several days ago, so I want to say something to you about the events in Minneapolis – what I would say to you as part of my Pentecost reflection.
 
The killing of George Floyd points to the racism that is part of our society, embedded in our history, systems and institutions – including the Church. People of faith cannot ignore the unconscious racism that dwells in our own hearts and minds. We must confront it within and without. Mr. Floyd’s murder is yet another in a centuries-long line. Not decades, but centuries. Our Presiding Bishop, in a joint statement with the Bishop-elect of Minnesota, reminded us that we are not powerless in the face of racism. “We are not, however, slaves to our fate … unless we choose to do nothing.”
 
We have all been traumatized by the footage of one man’s death. We have also seen people of every color take to the streets to give voice to their anger and frustration. This moment asks something of all of us. More than ever, we need God to breathe on us. We need the courage of the Holy Spirit to stand up against the brutalization of black lives. I bid your prayers for Mr. Floyd’s family, for the safety of all those giving witness to his murder, and for those police officers doing their jobs to keep the peace. As we prepare to celebrate the gift of the Spirit in this troubled time, I ask us to recommit ourselves to the work of justice and peace.

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

 
It is good that we will be together on Pentecost morning as a diocese to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. That afternoon at 4:00 PM, the Union of Black Episcopalians will host an online prayer vigil for racial justice and the healing of the nation. I plan to attend that event and pray that many of you will be able to join me. It will be an outward sign of the work to which the Holy Spirit calls us – work for which the Spirit empowers us. We must all find ways to express our sorrow for our complicity in the sin of racism. The Gospel calls us to the work of racial healing and to the hard inner work of personal transformation. That work begins with prayer that speaks the truth. I offer this prayer written by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the summer of 1953.
 
Let us pray:
 

Most Gracious and all wise God; Before whose face the generations rise and fall; Thou in whom we live, and move, and have our being. We thank thee for all of thy good and gracious gifts, for life and for health; for food and for raiment; for the beauties of nature and the love of human nature. We come before thee painfully aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. We realize that we stand surrounded with the mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie; We are forever offered the high road and yet we choose to travel the low road. For these sins O God forgive. Break the spell of that which blinds our minds. Purify our hearts that we may see thee. O God in these turbulent days when fear and doubt are mounting high give us broad visions, penetrating eyes, and power of endurance. Help us to work with rewed vigor for a warless world, for a better distribution of wealth, and for a brotherhood that transcends race or color. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray.

 
Amen.
 
+Doug

A Way That We Will Not Always Understand

Photo by Jeremy McKnight on Unsplash

Welcome to a reflection on the 5th Sunday of Easter. Today’s Gospel begins with words we long to hear in this time of a pandemic. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” says Jesus. Let’s spend a few minutes seeing how that might be true for us – even now.

The apostle Philip interrupts Jesus. Now Philip is a saint but this was not one of his finer moments. He says, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” In other words, “show us the Creator of it all. Show us the one who gives us all the answers. Why do we suffer? Why do we die? Why is there evil in the world? Give us those answers and we will be satisfied.” Throughout history we have asked those questions. Maybe we are asking them in this pandemic.

Four hundred years after Philip, St. Augustine will become one of the greatest theological minds of all time. He is in the theologian Hall of Fame. He was obsessed with the big questions and the big answers. He wrote seven books about the Holy Trinity. One time , when he was writing still another book on the Trinity, he was walking along the beach on the Mediterranean and saw a child running back and forth from the sea to a hole he had dug in the sand. The child carried a bucket, filled the bucket with seawater, dumped it into the hole he had made and did this over and over again. Augustine asked him why he was doing that. The child replied, “I’m trying to put the sea into this hole.” Augustine responded, “You can’t do that. It won’t fit.” The child, who was an angel in disguise, said “Neither can you put the Mystery of God into your mind. It won’t fit.”

Philip was like Augustine before that encounter with the angel disguised as a child. Show us the Father, show us all the answers, and we will be satisfied. There is another apostle in today’s gospel. It is Thomas. Unlike Philip, he asks a humble question: “How can we know the way?” Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” The way of sacrificial love – compassion, mercy and hope – is the way. A way that we will not always understand, a way that is greater than anything we can fit into our heads, it is a peace that passes all understanding. And that way will emerge everywhere and forever because love is stronger than death.

I was blessed to come across a poem recently that says this truth far more powerfully than I can articulate it. It is called, “A Coming Alleluia” by The Rev. Erika Takacs. One should never explain a poem before it is read, so don’t tell the bishop, but here is something to keep in mind. The poet will refer to the “old mother hen.” This comes from Luke 13:34 when Jesus uses this maternal image of himself and says this: “How often have I desired to gather you together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

Here’s the poem written for our Easter Season, written for our season of a pandemic.

“They say there will be no Easter this year.
No hats.
No hunting.
No hymning.
No lilies to fill a bright room
with a fanfare of pollen.
No garden, no angel,
No victory.

They say that our journey
Born in sackcloth and ashes
will lead us at last to nowhere.

And so we sit worried
that the tomb, this year,
will be found, for once,
still full.

That Mary and the others
will leave with their spices
and come back home with nothing.
That this year the women will finally end their work- anoint and then leave empty.

Ssh. Be still.
Do you not hear her?
Clucking close by like an old mother hen, brooding and sighing and stretching her wings?

Fear not, she says,
for I did it before
In the silence
in the dark
in a closed and locked room
In a world that had known
only death.

Did I not prove
once for all
that there is nothing you can do,
no decision you can make
(for good or for ill)
that can stop
me rising?”

The Rev. Erika Takacs

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus is rising. Even now. Especially now.

Amen.

+Doug