The following remarks were given by the Bishop at Winter Clergy Day.
It is always good to be with you. You inspire me. And it is my sincere hope we will be together in person for Holy Week’s Renewal of Vows and our clergy conference in May at the Bishop Harris Center. The Omicron numbers are going down dramatically and I am hopeful.
And I also know how unpredictable this virus can be. Back in July 2021 I wrote a column for our Abundant Times magazine which was published in the fall. Things were looking so good in July. I remember writing about resurrection and joyfully welcoming our people back to the church building. By the time it was published, Delta was on the rise and I sounded so tone deaf.
Two things can be true at the same time. We are suffering from the trauma of the last two years. There have been real losses in lives and in emotional, psychological distress. And we are so much better now than we were at this time last year.
There is a prayer we say at baptisms that seems perfect for this time of “both and”.
“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”BCP p. 308
I think this prayer list holds the secret to our time. I’ll begin with the last one. “Give then the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” Ever since most of our churches went back to in-person hybrid services, visitations have given me great joy. Yes, there are fewer people in church, but there is a depth and vitality to our worship – even while singing with masks on. It is so good to see each other and unite in common prayer. I’ve come to appreciate the little things like greeting people at the back of church. I was at Sts. James and Andrew in Greenfield this past Sunday. I was grateful that people patiently waited in line to talk with me about faith and Springsteen and baseball. I will never take those conversations for granted ever again.
Where do you find joy now? I invite you to be intentional about finding joy and acknowledging it.
“Sustain them in your Holy Spirit.” In the past year I have read a number of books by the Jesuit priest, Greg Boyle. He has spent 40 years working with gangs in Los Angeles. I highly recommend Tattoos on the Heart, Barking at the Choir and The Whole Language. They are filled with powerful stories and great theology. A line that has become part of my prayer is this: “Christ protects me from nothing and sustains me in everything.”
Christ protects me from nothing. Stuff happens. Jesus himself was not protected from a brutal death. Many of us pray Compline on line. We pray in Psalm 91: “Because you have made the Lord your refuge…There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.”
But the plague did come near our dwelling. We were not protected but we are sustained. We are invited to go deeper into our faith and be sustained by the Living God who is always near.
Last week Betsy and I were in Virginia, serving as Faculty for the gathering of New Bishops and Spouses – 9 bishops who were elected in 2021 and their spouses. Betsy was the chaplain and one day she offered this KOAN. “What do I do when nothing I do will do?” Have you ever felt that way in this time? And yet we are sustained by Christ even when “nothing I do will do.”
Our Baptism prayer asks God to give us “the courage to will and persevere.” Very recently I read a NY Times article about acknowledging the trauma of this time. The writer says some deal with that by taking a well-deserved vacation or rest. They take a break. I hope all of you have done that. For some, they came back renewed and refreshed. But for others, after that time away, that time out, they still feel the heaviness of our times. The author prescribes “behavior modification.” When I read it, I was reminded of the wisdom of the 14th Century mystic – Meister Eckhardt. He was asked “what do you do when you are depressed or grieving?” He answered “do the next thing.” Whatever that is, however small, just do it. And then the next thing after that. His wisdom looks like “the courage to will and persevere.”
And finally, we prayed for “an inquiring heart.” In other words, be curious. Many are asking what the Church and the mission of Jesus will look like coming through this pandemic. I’m not sure. I do know that our society, despite the heroism and generous selflessness of so many, has become meaner and crueler. Gun violence is up dramatically. A recent report says that fatalities from car accidents are way up as people are driving more aggressively. Look at the behavior in airplanes and at school board meetings. Could it be that our faith communities can be places of kindness sending kind people out into the world? That is a simple thing we can do.
The prayer also asks to “know and love Jesus.” It used to be that church people longed for the glory days of the 1950’s (which were not glorious for many of God’s people) and now we long to bring back 2019. But Jesus says over and over that he is doing a new thing. He speaks of a New Creation. And “I will make all things new.” The Jesus we know is still acting, still bringing about a New Creation. Even now. A pandemic can’t stop Jesus.
So many of us are worried as fewer people are returning to follow Jesus. Jesus knows all about this. He has been there before. Our Epiphany Season lectionary tells us often about the great crowds following Jesus. Remember a couple of weeks ago? Jesus was preaching on a beach and the crowd was so enormous and pushing in on him that he had to ask Peter to take him in his boat so he could preach from off shore. And yet just a couple of years later, when Jesus went to the cross, there were only a handful of followers left. Jesus knows our fears in this time. And then came a movement born of Resurrection – the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.