The Bishop’s Blog

Set Free By Jesus

Woman at the Well, African Mafa

The following sermon was given on the 3rd Sunday of Lent at St. John’s, Wiiliamstown.

John’s gospel is filled with powerful one-liners.

  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
  • “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

The key line in today’s gospel is, “It was about noon.” There are a couple of reasons why. Let’s explore them.

In the summer of 2015, I had the great blessing to be among a group of bishops who brought college students to North Carolina to study the Civil Rights Movement and to visit places where liberating history was made – places like Greensboro and Selma. Bishop Michael Curry, now our Presiding Bishop, was the bishop of North Carolina at that time and he was our gracious host. The schedule was very full and one day I did not have time for my early morning run. The only free time was lunch – at noon. So, I ran in the 90 degree heat. At the end of my run I was drenched and breathing in gasps. Michael Curry saw me, gave me a quizzical look and said, “Brother, do you know you are in North Carolina…at noon…in July?”

Why was the Samaritan woman, carrying a large bucket, coming to draw water from a well at noon time in the Middle East? In the culture of that time, women would have the responsibility of getting water for the family, but they would have done it early in the morning to avoid the midday heat. This woman goes at noon to avoid the other women. She has been married five times and is now living with someone not her husband. Now we don’t know if her husbands died or abandoned her. We do know that in those times a woman was sure to live in poverty unless she was in relationship with a man. The Samaritan woman does not want to be with others because she is ashamed and/or marginalized. Hence, she goes at a time when no one will be at the well. But at the end of her encounter with Jesus, her life will be transformed. This woman who was avoiding others will go to the city and tell everyone she meets about Jesus. She will go from isolation to community. She will go from silence to proclamation. The Bible does not tell us her name, but the Eastern Orthodox gave her one. They revere her as an Apostle and call her Photini which means “Enlighted One.” The Eastern Orthodox point out that up until this moment in John’s Gospel, all the apostles were bringing in one person each to see Jesus. Andrew went and got Peter. Philip went and got Nathaniel. But Photini, she got a whole city to follow Jesus.

How did that happen? What changed her?

Clearly it was the encounter with Jesus but the very fact that it happened at all tells us something about Jesus. Jesus seeks out those who are feeling lost. Let me give you an example from Mark’s Gospel. Now in preaching you are not supposed to draw examples from different gospels than the one you are preaching on, so don’t tell the bishop. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is constantly traveling. At least 17 different cities are mentioned by name. This one day he goes “to the other side of the sea” to the country of the Gerasenes. A man possessed by an unclean spirit, living among the tombs, comes running out. He shouts out at Jesus. In a highly dramatic scene Jesus throws the unclean spirit out of him and heals him. Jesus sends him out of the tombs and tells him “Go home to your friends.” He restores the outcast to his community. Then Jesus gets back into the boat and goes back across the sea.

Now I have been reading these stories about Jesus for a very long time. And I never noticed until this year that Jesus went all the way across the Sea of Galilee and back for one suffering person. He did not stay there and launch a preaching mission to the people of the Gerasenes. The suffering man didn’t just happen to be on Jesus’ travel route to somewhere else. Jesus intentionally made the trip for one person in pain.

Before he goes to the well in the city of Sychar, he is in Judea at a river where people are getting baptized. Jesus had to walk about 30 miles from that river where he had “abundant water” according to our text, to a desert town where water was scarce. The Bible is clear. When Jesus got to the well, “about noon,” he was “tired out by his journey.” But he did it for one person in need. You see Jesus takes his own story to heart about the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to pursue the one who is lost. And on those days when we feel lost, Jesus will find us. Just as Psalm 23 says “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”…”goodness and mercy shall pursue me, shall chase after me, shall hunt me down.”

At the well, Jesus meets a woman defined by labels. “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” She is defined by her history of the five husbands and her present situation. Jesus breaks through all that. He essentially tells her his place of worship is not better than her place of worship. And he gives her the gift of acceptance. Jesus knows her story and accepts her for who she is. And this is what causes her to believe in him as the savior. Because he just became her savior. With no spectacular miracles. No water changed into wine. No feeding 5000 people with a few fish and loaves. Just acceptance of her as a person – that’s what salvation looks like. Maybe it could look like that for you and me.

My friend Rob Hirschfeld, for many years the rector of Grace, Amherst and now the bishop of New Hampshire, has a new book out called, Beyond Fear and Shame: From Adam to Christ. I highly recommend it. Reflecting on the book recently Rob said: “I find that the growing edge of our evangelism is to help people with their sense of shame, which I think is an almost universal experience. It can be debilitating and can really shackle us. I don’t think that is what God wants for us.” And “I define shame as that experience of not only having done something wrong, or that is perceived as wrong, but actually being something wrong. It is an existential emotion. It really gets to the core of our being.” And “I think Jesus is on a mission to get us beyond fear and shame.”

The Samaritan woman (or Photini, the enlightened one) leaves her water jar and goes back to the city, restored to the community. One commentator says in leaving the water jar behind, she is leaving her life of abandonment, rejection, marginalization and shame. She is set free by Jesus.

Now I promised you a few minutes ago, at the start of this sermon, there were a couple of reasons why “at about noon” was the key line in this gospel passage.  Here is another. There is only one other place in John’s Gospel where something happens “at about noon.” John’s Gospel is 21 chapters long so you can read the whole gospel and find it. Or you can google it and you will find it in chapter 19 verse 14.At this point in the story Jesus has been arrested, interrogated by the High Priests and handed over to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate has Jesus flogged and mocked by the soldiers. “It was about noon” when Pilate condemns Jesus to death by crucifixion.

The Gospel writer John wants us to get the contrast. At about noon, condemnation of the Son of God by a human being. At the well, about noon, acceptance of a human being by God.

Not only is John, drawing the stark contrast, he is pointing us to the cross. As he does throughout his Gospel. So let’s reflect about what happens at the Cross. You might be thinking “if he does that, this sermon will end about noon.” No, I’m bringing it home. I promise.

You might have heard of the “Seven Last Words” that Jesus says from the Cross. They are scattered among the four gospels. John’s account has three of those “last words.” The very last one is “It is finished.” But before “it is finished” Jesus has two incredibly important things to tell us. He is pushing off death to get these messages to us.

He looks at his beloved disciple and at Mary, his mother. Jesus says to the disciple “Here is your mother.” And to his mother “woman, here is your son.” In doing that Jesus fulfills his promise that he will never leave us orphans. He has given us to each other to care for as family. We are brothers and sisters to each other. And to immigrants and to the 23 million refugees around the world. And to the poor who are already suffering from climate change. And to the factory workers who have lost their jobs to automation. And to women who are harassed and abused. And to Democrats and Republicans. Before Jesus says “it is finished”, he hands over his great mission of mercy, compassion and hope to us. He left us that mission as his last will and testament.

Before “it is finished” Jesus has one more “word.” It is “I thirst.” That seems ironic after the gospel passage we just heard “those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty again.” As all things in John’s gospel, this is intentional. Remember Jesus has already given away his mission to us. And maybe the mission is the water.

But there might be one more reason. Scripture has so many layers of meaning. There is only one other place in the whole Bible, where we hear “I thirst.” The whole Bible. The Bible contains 73 books, according to our tradition. We really need Google to find that other “I thirst.” It is in Psalm 69. It is cried out by a person who is suffering but who goes on to say “I will praise the name of God…you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy.” You see, Jesus fulfills Scripture. He dies alone so none of us will ever die alone. We will have God with us. In death and in life. God will be true to the Covenant. God will never desert us no matter what. Jesus needed to tell us that before “it is finished.”

Jesus is finished. But his God and our God is not. The mission of mercy and compassion and hope has been handed on to us. And just as God raised Jesus from the dead, God will keep raising us up. After death and before. Just as Photino was raised up in the midst of her life. We have a hymn with these words: “Let the servant church arise. A caring church that longs to be a partner in Christ’s sacrifice, and clothed in Christ’s humanity. “May we go with God. It is finished. It is beginning. Amen.

+Doug

When Pilate was governor and Herod was king…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog called “Desiring a Christ-Centered Life, Not a Trump-Centered Life.” Apparently it struck a nerve, as I received more responses (mostly positive) than any other blog I have written. I wrote “In a troubled time, the Church is made to call people to be our best selves, to live from God-filled souls, to imagine God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This blog will attempt to explore further what that means.

One of the best theology teachers I ever had is Michael Himes. He taught me at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, NY, and now teaches at Boston College. Michael once said, “This is the most important line in the entire Bible.”

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness (Luke 3:1-2).

Why is this the most important verse in the Bible? Michael said it shows that our faith is based in reality. Our faith is not based on “Once upon a time…” This is not a fairy tale. It is not an abstraction. Luke goes out of his way to tell us in this time and in this place, “when Tiberius Caesar was in the 15th year of his reign, Pilate was governor, Herod was king… the word of God came to John in the wilderness.”

We, too, have an incarnational faith. We live our transcendent faith in this time and in this place. We listen for the Word of God that comes to us in the wilderness of confusion, in the midst of anxiety and fear.

I have said that our mission is the same as it was before Donald Trump was elected president. It is to follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope. Or, in the words of our Presiding Bishop,

“We are 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.”

That has not changed, but because this is not an abstract faith, context matters. What does it look like now to be the Jesus Movement when Donald Trump is President, Charlie Baker is governor and Warren and Markey are senators?

Here is what it has looked like so far. Interfaith gatherings abound. When the nation seems to be coming apart, people of faith are coming together.

When the ERA failed to be ratified, the struggle against gender bias in the workplace and in government continued on the grass-roots level. Now, women are claiming their power and equality in our city streets.

Even as we seem to have forgotten that we are a nation of immigrants, voices cry out for compassion, herald the blessing of diversity and name the Church as sacred space for those who live in fear.

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the hands of one who doubts that human activities impact climate change. The institution established to protect “this fragile earth, our island home,” has been compromised. Yet…

LGBTQ persons continue to experience discrimination in spite of momentous gains. Transgender youth and adults are facing the most invasive assault on their privacy and dignity. But…

In March, 2016, meeting at a time of great political uncertainty, the House of Bishops said “the church is made for times like these.” We need to build on this activity, but do so from a place of deep prayer. The “political” activity of John the Baptist and Jesus is well-documented. Mark 6:17-20 tells the story of John’s arrest after protesting Herod’s marriage. In Luke 13:31-32, Jesus speaks out against Herod – “that fox” who will not stop him from healing and casting out demons. Like John and Jesus, we must walk in the wilderness with God. We are still listening for the Word of God to come to us in this time and in this place.

Long after the reigns of Emperor Tiberius, and Pontius Pilate and Herod and Annas and Caiaphas, Jesus mission of mercy and compassion and hope continued throughout history – beyond good times and bad – and we know it will until God’s Dream for the world is fulfilled.

+Doug

Christ’s Own Forever: The Truth That Can Sustain Us

The following sermon was offered yesterday at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Springfield.

The Temptation in the Desert by Michael O’Brien

Today’s Gospel about the wilderness temptation of Jesus is a powerful story that readers are fascinated by but often find hard to identify with. We think of it as something that happened to Jesus but not as something that can happen to us. That could be because we have an image of the devil standing next to Jesus. Maybe our image of the devil is the traditional rendition of someone with horns and a pitchfork. But the Bible does not describe the devil. The only thing we know about the devil is that he has a voice. Maybe he is just a voice. All of us, no matter how sane we are, have voices in our heads – voices of parents, teachers, coaches, friends and enemies. Heck, in the time it takes me for one golf swing, there are ten voices going off in my head: “Keep your head down, turn your shoulders, follow through, and don’t swing hard…”

So maybe, once again, this is not just a story about Jesus. It is our story too. Let’s look at it.

The word “devil” in Greek is diabolos. Remember that the New Testament is written in Greek. Diabolos means “one who throws things around,” “one who stirs things up.” That is what the devil does. He changes the true order of things. Recall the devil’s appearance in the Garden of Eden. All is good. All is peaceful and wonderful. But the devil in the form of a serpent goes to Eve and stirs things up. He tells her “don’t just settle for being loved by God. Eat from the tree and you will be God. It is not enough to be God’s creature. Go ahead and be God.” She listens to that voice and reality becomes distorted.

Scott Peck, author and philosopher, describes the difference between a person with a “secular mentality” and one with a “sacred mentality.” The person with the secular mentality feels himself to be the center of the universe. But that will lead to despair because eventually he will know he is one person among six billion others – all feeling themselves to be at the center of things – scratching out an existence on the surface of a medium-sized planet circling a small star among countless stars in a galaxy lost among countless galaxies. The person with a sacred mentality considers the Center of existence to be beyond her. Yet she is unlikely to feel lost or insignificant precisely because she draws her significance and meaning from her relationship, her connection, with that Center, that Other.

Jesus is Tempted, African Mafa

The devil is going to “throw things around” once again by trying to distort the relationship Jesus has as God’s Son. And he will do it through a series of “if” statements.

  • If you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
  • If you are the Son of God, throw yourself off the top of this temple and angels will bear you up.”
  • “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world if you fall down and worship me.”

Evil always speaks in conditional terms. Evil always manipulates.

In contrast, God is a straight-talker and never puts conditions on love. Remember the voice from the cloud at the baptism of Jesus. It was God’s voice and God did not say “if you follow through on the mission, if you do everything I command, then you are my beloved Son.” No, God says right out “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And that is before Jesus ever performed a miracle or preached great sermons or healed the sick. “This is my beloved Son” and he puts no conditions on it.

Baptism of the Lord

Throughout the life of Jesus, people will speak more like the devil than like God:

  • “If you are the son of God, show us…”
  • “If you have the power to forgive sins.”
  • “If you are the Son of God, climb down from that cross.”

God loves unconditionally. No “ifs.”

Jesus did not manipulate. He did not bargain. Jesus did not come to make a deal with us. Listen to the words on the last night of his life – the words you will hear when we go to the altar. Jesus did not say “This is my Body…and you may receive it if you are in a state of grace. This is my Blood; drink it if you are following all the rules.” Jesus speaks straight and unconditionally. “This is my Body – for you. My Blood – for you.”

This story goes right to the heart of what it means to be a human being. The devil tells Jesus, a hungry man at the end of a forty day fast, “If you are the son of God, turn this stone into bread.” What he is saying is if you are truly loved by God, then God won’t let you be hungry. Jesus, the human one, holds together being hungry and being loved by God. The devil is saying “you deserve better than this. If God loves you, you would never be hungry. Come with me and you can be full and fulfilled.” Jesus has to deal with this lack of fulfillment throughout his life.

Have you noticed how many times in the Gospels Jesus is frustrated – and knows he is loved.

  • Jesus is opposed by the Temple leadership – and knows he is loved.
  • Jesus is betrayed by Peter – and knows he is loved.
  • Jesus is tortured to death by the Romans – and knows he is loved.

Jesus does not need everything to break his way to know God’s love, because the relationship to the Center of all that is, endures.

It works the same way for us.

  • Can we have our hearts-broken and still know we belong to God?
  • Can we have cancer and know God’s presence?
  • Can we be unemployed and be loved by God?

The devil’s voice will always be in our heads, saying “no child of God would ever suffer like this. You deserve better. Come with me.” Oh, to respond like Jesus and say,  “I would rather be hungry and on God’s team than a self-satisfied member of yours.”

How did Jesus know this? He knew it because he had an initial and everlasting experience of the unconditional love of God in his baptism. The baptism and the voice from above precede the temptations. This truth will sustain him. This truth can sustain us.

Different cultures express the originating love of God in a variety of ways.

  • The Japanese hold new-born babies for the first year of life. The baby is never to be alone. This is because the baby has come from the divine world and is now in a foreign place and needs to be made to feel at home.
  • Norwegians believe that when the soul enters the body of the baby, God kisses the baby. And throughout life the soul holds the memory of that kiss.
  • The Jewish people believe an angel places the soul in the body and then seals it by placing a finger over the mouth of the child. That is why we have that little indentation over our lips and under our nose. It is where the angel’s finger was when she sealed in the spirit. That’s why when we try to remember something we instinctively place our index fingers into that little crevice. We are trying to remember and we are trying to remember more than where we left the car keys. We are trying to remember our divine origins.

We are made by God. We are made holy.

A long time ago, or maybe recently, someone poured water on your head and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And then oil was placed on your head with the words, “I claim you as Christ’s own forever.” Forever we belong to Jesus. No “ifs.” Hungry we are his. Sick we are his. Sad we are his. In everything good and holy and joyful we are his. In life and in death we are his. We have unconditional belonging in the very life of God.

This seems like a good place to end the sermon but I need us to look at one more thing in this awesome story of eleven verses – the ending. “The devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”

We are tempted to say, “Great timing, angels. You arrive after all the hard work has been done. You couldn’t have come sooner, when Jesus needed you?”

But, wait. Remember what the angels do in the Bible. They arrive with news of a new era beginning.

  • In Matthew’s gospel they visit Joseph in dreams to tell him “don’t be afraid to take the pregnant Mary for your wife. She will bear a son and he will save the people from their sins.”
  • In another dream angels appear to say Herod wants to kill the baby. Go to Egypt and live as refugees.
  • In Luke’s gospel angels appear three times, always announcing something new.

Of course then the angels appear after Jesus has resisted the devil. They come so Jesus can set off on his mission – a  mission that will change the world, a mission of mercy, compassion and hope, a mission so important it did not end with his death, a mission that continues in his Resurrection and the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit, a mission that continues in you and me.

We are Christ’s own forever. And we are part of his Movement – the Jesus Movement – to change this world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.

Amen.

+Doug

Forty Days of Curiosity and Courage

We have several seasons in the Christian calendar year – Advent, Christmas Season, Epiphany Season, Lent, and the “Season after Pentecost.” But only one comes with an instruction manual in the Book of Common Prayer – Lent. I’ll be reading that instruction manual when this sermon is over in eleven minutes and fifteen seconds. (Actually, I offered a video instruction for the Easter Season – you can find it on YouTube, but it is not in the Book of Common Prayer – yet.)

The instruction manual includes the reason Lent was created. Lent is not in the Bible. It was developed by the early church and we are not sure exactly when. “Lenten practices” started in various contexts from the earliest days but Lent as a season probably started somewhere near 300 A.D. Lent was for two categories of people.

“This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.”

So if your sins rise to the level of notorious, Lent is definitely made for you. For the rest of us sinners who have fallen in numerous but more modest ways, Lent can still be a vital time if we enter into it like those people being prepared for baptism. Lent can be for us a time of re-commitment to our baptism, a “return to purpose” – our diocesan theme this year.

A few years ago I started a baptism renewal “call” at my visitations. After the confirmations and receptions at each church, I would say, “anyone else?” Anyone who wished could come forward, and I would place my hands on their shoulders and say this blessing “God has begun a good work in you. May Jesus continue to be your hope and inspiration.” The response has been amazing – about 80% of each congregation comes forward. Some come with tears in their eyes. That means the need to renew our commitment to baptism must be connecting to some desire deep in our souls.

This call  is spontaneous. “Anyone else?” I’m suggesting we make Lent a time of intentional, planned out, re-commitment to baptism. There is a wonderful prayer we say immediately after the pouring of water in baptism.

“Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love you, the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”

“Inquiring and discerning” means to me “curiosity” – a curiosity about our faith and about God’s imagination. And courage means…courage. In the spirit of Lent and in the spirit of renewing our baptisms, I invite us to forty days of curiosity and courage. Let’s explore what that might look like.

Curiosity about God’s imagination

Consider 40 days of more bible study and more prayer – in groups and individually. When was the last time you read one Gospel all the way through? Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you are pressed for time, read Mark. It is the shortest one. The life of Jesus is one remarkable life, and with a spirit of curiosity, see if there is something there that you never noticed before. We know some of those stories so well; we just presume we know them. But the Holy Spirit likes to break through in the details we never noticed before.

St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, has a powerful way of praying bible stories. He says we should imagine ourselves in the story from the perspective of each character. Let’s look at one. There is that great story of the paralyzed person with four faithful friends. Jesus is in town and he is preaching in a house. The house is so full of people, not another one can squeeze through the door. The four friends know that if they can just get the paralyzed person to see Jesus, something remarkable could happen. They carry him to the house, but can’t get in. But they don’t give up. They climb up on the roof, tear the roof apart and lower their friend in front of Jesus. Jesus stops his sermon in mid-story and heals the man.

Ignatius tells us to use our imagination and read the story as if you are one of the four friends.

  • Who is it that you are bringing to see Jesus?
  • What do you feel like as you carry your friend?
  • What does it feel like when you can’t get into the house?
  • What are you thinking as someone says “let’s lift him onto the roof and then take the roof apart?”
  • What do you feel like when your friend is healed?

Now pray the story as if you are the paralyzed person.

  • Who is carrying you?
  • What does it feel like to be so vulnerable?
  • What does it feel like to meet Jesus?

Then pray the story as if you were Jesus. Now that might seem to lack humility, but we are all called to “grow into the full stature of Christ.” We don’t just admire Jesus. His very Spirit lives within us.

You see, the Bible is the Living Word of God because we are living. We bring our hopes and dreams, our challenges and pain, to the Biblical narrative and find our story there. Theologian Richard Rohr says there is a primal desire in our souls to connect our little stories to the Big Story. To find our own lives in the cosmic Life which is bigger than us and includes us.

40 days of curiosity might include intentional times of silence. What would happen if we shut everything off for a few minutes and just breathed? Did nothing except breathe in and breathe out, knowing that God is in the breath. The transcendent God is that close. Are you curious as to what that experience might be?

Courage

Let’s move from curiosity to courage. Later in this service, we will pray the Litany of Penitence. This is raw, honest, strong stuff.

“We have NOT loved you with our whole heart.”

“We have been deaf to your call to serve.”

“We confess all the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.”

“For our blindness to human need and suffering.”

It goes on and on. It is truly a litany. We only pray this litany on Ash Wednesday because we can only take it once a year.

Isn’t it interesting that we do this Litany after we have the imposition of ashes with those chilling words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” You would think the imposition of ashes would be in response to the Litany of Penitence. Symbolic action following word. But no, we do the ashes first. Here’s why. It has to do with baptism.

The ashes are placed on your forehead in the shape of a cross. I know, I know, a lot of times it just looks like a smudge. I have been ordained almost 37 years and I’m still trying to get the ashes to look like a cross. But that is what is intended – a cross. You are marked with the cross.

At your baptism you were marked with a cross. Using oil, the minister made a cross on your forehead and said your name followed by these words:

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

“Marked as Christ’s own forever.” That’s you. That’s me. Not “marked as Christ’s own when you are your most generous best self.” Not “marked as Christ’s own in the good times.”… “Marked as Christ’s own forever.” In life and in death.

In this service we get marked as Christ’s own again, with that poorly formed cross of ashes. We belong to Christ. Even when we do not love him with our whole heart. Even when we are deaf to his call to serve. Even when we are proud and hypocritical. Christ is not letting go.

That means we can say all the facts of how we are messing up and how far this world is from the Dream God has for it. There is no need to spin this. We can look at a broken world, take responsibility for the ways we broke it, and respond with courage because Christ is still with us. Christ is not giving up.

I invite us to 40 days of courage in responding to that Litany of Penitence. And because I made a vow on December first, 2012 to “stir up the conscience of the people,” I invite you to respond with courage to two of those prayers in particular.

“Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty.”

We cannot turn a blind eye to the largest displacement of people since World War II. We responded then with the Marshall Plan. We are responding now with injustice and cruelty. Beyond the refugee crisis, we have long time immigrants here who live in fear. In these forty days of courage, and beyond, we stand with the refugee and the immigrant.

 

I invite us to stir up our conscience and respond to our confession,

“for our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us.”

We live at a time when political decisions will greatly impact the world we leave to “those who come after us.” 40 days of courage means “concern for those who come after us.” Let’s stand with Pope Francis who says the degradation of the climate is a “sin against God.” And,

“The World’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.”

I would say this rises to the status of “notorious sin.” We stand with our military leaders who have concluded that climate change is a “threat multiplier” that is already creating instability around the world and will likely create significant security challenges in the years ahead.  And we stand with the Native Americans of Standing Rock who protest the “waste and pollution” of their sacred lands.

Photo: Episcopal News Service

40 days of curiosity and courage

May we live into our baptisms knowing that we are marked as Christ’s own forever. May we live with curiosity and courage so we can pray at the end of these forty days:

“Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Amen.

+Doug

 

 

Desiring a Christ-Centered Life, Not a Trump-Centered Life

The frenetic and often controversial activity of the new administration dominates the news, and it is often the main topic of conversation in families, with friends, at our places of work. Certainly, the President is at the center of attention in our country right now, and for some that brings worry and fear.

In this time of anxiety, I invite the Church to stay Christ–centered. I said after the election that the mission of the Church remains the same as it was before the election – to follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope. That is what we are called to do and to be no matter who the president is.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us “You are the light of the world.” You ARE the light of the world. Not “someday you will be the light of the world.” Not “you ought to be the light of the world.” You ARE the light of the world. What would the light of the world look like in this time and in this place? How can we stay Christ-centered now?

More and more, I’m learning from Buddhists who say theirs is not a religion but a practice. Christianity, too, is a practice; it is a way of living. In this blog, I hope to offer some practical ways to stay Christ-centered in this era.

  • Increase time spent in prayer and reduce time watching the news, whether it is MSNBC or Fox. Stay in touch with what is going on in our world. But how much do we really gain watching four hours of news instead of one or two? Thomas Merton warned us that constant activity is a form of violence. Take time, now more than ever to live from the soul. Buddhist Jack Kornfield writes,

“Whatever your point of view, take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart. Then go out and look at the sky. Remember vastness… Remember the Noble Truths, no matter the politics of the season: Greed, hatred and ignorance cause suffering. Let them go. Love, generosity, and wisdom bring the end of suffering. Foster them.”

  • Make friends with someone on “the other side” of the political aisle, or keep a friend who has differing political views. People are more than the sum of their political opinions. I’ll always remember in 2003 in a sermon I strongly denounced the imminent invasion of Iraq. One of my parishioners, a former member of the Nixon administration, told me how wrong he thought I was. A few days later he became ill and was hospitalized. I went there and prayed with him. We talked and he said, “Doug, we will never let a war get between us, will we?” And we never did. In our time when our nation is so divided, show how friendship can go beyond opinion.
  • Whenever there is an interfaith service in your region, go out of your way in your time-poor life to go to it. And not just once. And if there are no interfaith services near you, start one. As the world feels like it is coming apart, we need to come together.
  • I invite church leaders in our Episcopal diocese to consider saying “The Baptismal Covenant” at every Sunday liturgy in place of the Creed. The Creed gets covered in the first three questions and then we are asked five questions about our commitment to a Christ-centered life. We need an affirmative answer to all five questions, and especially now, we need the last two:

“Will you seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” With God’s help, we can do that.

I was asked a series of questions in the liturgy when I was ordained a bishop.

I keep all those questions before me daily, but the one that challenges me the most is,

“Will you be merciful to all, show compassion to the poor and strangers, and defend those who have no helper?”

The answer to all the questions is “I will…” but always followed by a different clause. Sometimes, it is, “I will, for the love of God.” Or, “I will, by the grace given me.” For me, the answer to that question has become, “I will, for the sake of Christ Jesus.”

For the sake of Christ Jesus. A Christ-centered life means standing with the poor, the stranger (immigrants, refugees) and those who have no helper (those without health insurance, the environment). There are others that fit into my parentheses. Those who are discriminated against: women, people of color, indigenous people, LGBT people, Muslims. Those who have lost jobs due to automation, down-sizing and technological advancements. Those who cannot get jobs because they are experiencing homelessness or because they were once incarcerated. Those who are addicted who wind up in jail instead of rehab.

I was the one who answered the question, but as a faith leader I was answering for all of us. Calling elected officials, participating in the political process, engaging the American right to peacefully protest in order to stand with “those who have no helper”- we do this for the sake of Christ Jesus.

At the House of Bishops gathering last September, we reflected on the political turmoil in our beloved country and created a document in which we said, “The Church is made for times like these.” In a troubled time, the Church is made to call people to be our best selves, to live from our God-filled souls, to imagine God’s will which is to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

With all that is getting our attention right now, we are all invited to Christ-centered lives. Let’s practice Christianity in the midst of an uncertain world. Let’s follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope. In the words of that great African-American spiritual, let’s keep our “eyes on the prize,” our hands “on the Gospel plow,” and “hold on.”

+Doug