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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome to a reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Throughout the Easter Season we get a passage from the Acts of the Apostles. And once again I think what happens in the Acts of the Apostles speaks to us in this pandemic.
One of my favorite theologians, Walter Brueggemann writes,
“The whole book of Acts is about power from God that the world cannot shut down. In scene after scene, there is a hard meeting between the church and worldly authorities, because worldly authorities are regularly baffled by this new power and resentful of it. At one point, in chapter 17, the followers of Jesus are accused of turning the world upside down.”
As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry says, “this new world is really right side up.” They proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus and therefore the old powers of death were no longer defining reality. The new reality was oh so present in the passage we read on the Fourth Sunday of Easter.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
Acts 2: 44-47a
Sounds good, right? They even renamed one of the new members “Barnabus” which means, “son of encouragement.” Wouldn’t you love to have a son or daughter of encouragement in your life right now? Someone saying, “You can do this. I believe in you.” And maybe you could be a son or daughter of encouragement for someone else.
“Distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”Throughout history there are always people in need. And this pandemic has expanded the list of those in need. It has torn back the curtain on societal and political and financial forces that create an enormous chasm between rich and poor.
I’m inspired by all of you who distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Many of you are distributing food, taking in family members, contributing to organizations that are in direct contact with those in need, sewing masks for under-equipped medical staff. Those are acts of the apostles for our day.
If you read all 28 chapters of Acts, you will see that everything was not as perfect as it was in today’s passage from chapter two. There were disagreements, mistakes, failures. But the Jesus Movement kept on going because it was immersed in prayer, and because it was humble enough to be a learning community. Let me give you one example.
In Chapter 12, Peter was arrested by King Herod. He was bound in chains and several guards watched over him. When the guards feel asleep, an angel came to Peter and set him free. Peter escaped the prison. The next day when Herod heard Peter got away, he ordered all the guards executed.
Go to Chapter 16. This time Paul and Silas are arrested. I told you the early Christians were always in trouble with the government. This time the guards took extra precautions. Paul and Silas were placed in the “innermost cell” with their feet fastened in stocks. There was no angel this time, but an earthquake that broke open the chains and made the doors fly open. Paul and Silas could have easily escaped. But they didn’t. They stayed right there. When the guard came the next morning and saw the doors open, he took his sword out to kill himself, knowing that his boss would have him executed for letting the prisoners escape. Then he heard Paul’s voice, “Do not harm yourself. We are all here.” The jailer ran in, saw Paul and Silas, and realized they stayed to save his life. He was so moved by this act of compassion he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And by that he meant REALLY saved. What would it take to turn away from a world of cynicism and hate and toward a new world of hope and love? To show he was not merely giving intellectual assent to this new way of living, the jailer “washed their wounds.” He joined their mission of mercy, compassion and hope.
You see, the church learned and grew in compassion from Chapter 12 to Chapter 16. From Peter’s arrest to that of Paul and Silas. And in our day, our time of a pandemic, can we choose to stay in place, at home, to slow down the spread of this disease and so save the lives of others? Do we still have a learning church – a church that grows in sacrificial love?
Remember the Easter message: Love is stronger than death, and to that love you are returned.” Amen.
Welcome to a reflection on the Gospel for the Third Sunday in Easter. Easter is not just one day. It really is a season. And throughout this season, I have been amazed at how much these stories of resurrection speak to our time in a pandemic.
This week’s Gospel is the Road to Emmaus. Cleopas and an unnamed disciple are walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Whenever someone is “unnamed” in a Gospel story, it is meant to represent the reader. You and I are the unnamed disciple.
As they walked along , “talking about all these things that had happened,” the Risen Jesus joins them but they don’t know it is Jesus. He asks them what they are discussing and they stand still, looking sad. Cleopas says, “Are you the only one who does not know what has happened in these days?” Then they tell him about the crucifixion, the death, the empty tomb and how confusing it all is.
If Jesus were to ask us that same question right now, we would tell him all about COVID-19. We would tell him about loved ones getting sick, some of them dying alone in hospitals, about the courage of doctors and nurses and hospital staff, about sheltering at home to keep the virus from spreading, about the millions of jobs lost, and the chaos at the top levels of our government.
After Cleopas and the unnamed disciple answers Jesus’ question, Jesus speaks. He reminds them of the Scripture passages about suffering and entering into Glory.
In our time and in our place, what Scripture verses do you think Jesus would interpret for us now? Maybe they would be these:
“Many are saying ‘oh, that we might see better times! Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.”
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me.”
“In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge…Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe…Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.”
“You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day. Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day…because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him, I will protect him because he knows my name.”
As they continue to walk, evening draws near. Cleopas and the other disciple convince the one they still don’t recognize to stay with them. They finally recognize Jesus when he takes bread, blesses it and breaks it. Gospel writer Luke describes what happens: “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.”
There are some scripture scholars, who really know their Koine Greek – the language the gospels are written in – who say this is not the best interpretation into English. They say the original is not “and he vanished from their sight.” They say the meaning in the original Greek is, “and he disappeared among them.”
“He disappeared among them.” The Risen Jesus was still there, still present, but unseen.
Cleopas and the other disciple say “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
At the core of our faith is the continued presence of the crucified and Risen Jesus disappeared among us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Every time we go back and read those psalms I quoted before, or the stories of Moses and David and the prophets and Jesus himself, may our hearts burn within us. May we know that the love of God is stronger than death, stronger than any virus and it reaches into our lives wherever we are. We will get through these days and months with our God who is ever present. Amen.