Tag Archive for Bishop Michael Curry

Dreaming of a better world in the midst of this one

Cartoon by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham for Church Publishing Inc.

I have often begun Christmas sermons, and reflections about Christmas, with stories about Christmas Pageants I have seen. Like the time the child portraying the angel Gabriel did not exit the stage after her “annunciation” to Mary. Instead she stayed with Mary through all the rejections she and Joseph and the baby Jesus faced as they were turned away at inn after inn. And Gabriel looked on aghast but never left them.

Or the time the youngest children dressed as sheep were crawling down the middle aisle of the Church toward the stable as “Holy Night” was being sung. But when one noticed all the toys off to the side that had been collected for the needy, he broke ranks and headed for the toys. And so did the rest of the flock.

Or the time at Pageant rehearsal when my daughter Grace had the part of Mary. She was sitting and holding the baby, a real one, when the boy portraying Joseph standing next to her said, “I want to hold the baby.” Mary (Grace) said “No, I’m holding the baby.” Joseph insisted he should hold the baby. Mary said “no, the mother always holds the baby.” Joseph said “this year I should hold the baby.” To which Mary replied, “You know, Joseph, technically you are not even the father.”

Another preacher, I think it was Thomas Long, wrote about another pageant rehearsal. The director was encouraging the young people to read along in their bible as they recreated the story. When they got to the story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew, one girl kept on reading. She got to the part where King Herod was furious at the Magi, and ordered the death of every male child under the age of two in an attempt to kill Jesus. She said, “Hey, wait, what’s this? This is terrible!”

The director assured the girl that this part would not be in the pageant. She responded, “No. It is part of the story. We have to include it.”

The director and the young actress settled on a compromise. An actor dressed as the king would stand at the far edge of the stage throughout the pageant, hovering over the story of the first Christmas.

This part of the story makes us feel uncomfortable but it is true. Baby Jesus was not born into a spiritualized abstraction. He was born in the midst of a poor people ruled by a tyrant who was propped up by an Empire. He was born to parents who immediately became refugees fleeing to protect him.

Flight into Egypt, Ghana, 1971

And that is why Christmas is a life changing story of hope that never gets old. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the famous Royal Wedding preacher, puts it so eloquently and so forcefully: “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 us.”

Christmas is about hope, about dreaming of a better world while we are in the midst of this one. Christmas reminds us of all the love that is around us, reminds us of so much that is good and holy and sacred.  At Christmas we tell stories of our “better angels.” Christmas reminds us of generosity and forgiveness and courage – even as King Herod looks on.

Christmas reminds us that God has not given up on us. Just the opposite. We call this baby, “Jesus” – which means “God saves us.” And the angels tell us “do not be afraid. This is a message of great joy.” God is here now, in 2018, in the midst of us.

Merry Christmas.

+Doug

We have two precedents: prayer and action.

If we could see one of those “word clouds” of the media coverage of the last couple of months in our new political world, the dominant word would be “unprecedented.”

  • unprecedented use of Twitter by the President-Elect
  • unprecedented responses to criticism
  • unprecedented refusal to hand over tax returns
  • unprecedented attempts at interference in our election by a foreign power
  • unprecedented for Democrats to sit out the Inaugural

What should we do in unprecedented times? We can turn to the “precedented” in our own tradition. Our precedent is for prayer and action.

We will pray “for those in positions of public trust, especially President Trump, that they may serve justice, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person” according to the words of The Book of Common Prayer. That powerful but simple line has Biblical roots. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry recently reminded us, Psalm 72 urges prayer for the King of Israel that he might rule in the ways of God’s justice, defending “the cause of the poor” and “bringing deliverance to the needy.”

In that same communication to the Church, Bishop Curry tells us that when we pray for Presidents of the United States, “we pray for their leadership in our society and world. We pray that they lead in the ways of justice and truth. We pray that their leadership will serve not partisan interest but the common good.”

In an unprecedented time, we have precedent for praying for our President. I will do that on Inauguration Day and in the days to come.

We also have another precedent. We have the biblical mandate to act justly.  It can be seen in the 2000 calls in the Bible to help the poor, in the command to “welcome the stranger,” in Jesus’ prayer that God’s “will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven,” in Jesus’ respect for women clearly expressed so often in his ministry and in making Mary Magdalene “the apostle to the apostles.”

Our Christian tradition heralds the actions of those who tried to live this biblical imperative for social justice: Frances Perkins, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Dorothy Day, Thomas Gallaudet, Vida Dutton Scudder.

Our precedent is for prayer and action.

Christianity is not an abstract idea. The biblical imperative to act justly calls us to see immigrants and refugees as the “stranger” in need of our welcome. It calls us to imagine God’s will for the earth and to make it so. (Here is the letter to the President-Elect from the Bishops of Massachusetts about his choice for the EPA.) We will be acting  justly when we respect the dignity of all persons regardless of race, gender identification, sexual orientation, place of origin, religious beliefs, or economic status. We will be living justly when our streets and schools are safe from gun violence.

Bumper sticker of the Presiding Bishop’s description of the Church (Forward Movement)

As the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, we have a big mission. We have to witness to our faith in our families, in our neighborhoods, where we work and in our politics. God be with our President, and God be with those who march in protest this weekend. God will be with us in the struggle to find our way, to speak our piece and act justly for the good of all people.

Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I pray for the courage to witness to our faith in the things that matter. I pray courage for us all.

+Doug

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.

Jesus was what we are.

John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity, 1990s.

John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity, 1990s.

The Bishop’s Christmas Eve sermon given at 10 PM in Christ Church Cathedral.

 

Don’t you love the Gospel for Christmas Eve? Written by Luke, it is an iconic story, a world-changing story, a story that touches the soul. I will happily preach about it in a moment but first, I want to look at a line from the Gospel we read tomorrow on Christmas Day from the Gospel of John. Since you decided to move the service up one hour – from 11 pm to 10 pm – that gives me plenty of time to preach on two gospels, right?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The darkness did not overcome the light, but the light didn’t overcome the darkness either. Preacher Scott Johnston puts it this way:

“I struggle with this verse because I want them to declare that when the light comes into the world it obliterates the darkness. It takes the bleak mid-winter with every sadness, every despair, every raw deal, every horrendous travesty, every evil plan, every god-awful life sucking disease, and tosses the whole mess into the cosmic trash bin. I want the light to arrive and I want it to win, and win big.”

The light came into the world and 2000 years later there is a lot of darkness. We know that so powerfully in 2015. But we have been given a promise – by God no less – that the light is here and darkness will not overcome it. Maybe, that is enough. Later in this liturgy we will turn out all the lights and sing “Silent Night” while holding candles. It will be more dark than light. But as we hold those candles and sing that hymn, I pray we know – we really know – that God is with us no matter what here in the real world and not in an abstract world.

That truth is what brings us into tonight’s gospel. “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. That was the first registration and was taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” It reminds us of a line that comes up a couple of chapters later in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus and his cousin John are adults. We are told who the emperor is, who the governor is, who the king is, who the high priests are “when the word of God came to a man named John in the wilderness.” These are crucial details. It is Luke’s way of telling us this is not a fairy tale. This is not “once upon a time.” In history, in the real world, God was present. The light was coming not in heaven but on earth. God was not present in a vague way but in a human being. That presence was not to be restricted to Jesus but was to be a presence, a light in the darkness, for all of us.

The Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins puts this world-rattling insight into three lines of poetry:

“In a flash, at a trumpet’s crash,

I am all at once what Christ is

Since he was what I am.”

Christ was what I am. If that is true, then we need to look to who Christ is to know who we are. And it just so happens that tonight’s gospel gives us lots of insights into that. This birth story sets the themes that play out through the life of Jesus and beyond into our lives.  Let’s look at three of them.

The census required that everyone go back to the hometown of their father to be counted. For Joseph and the very pregnant Mary, that means going to Bethlehem – a seventy mile journey. When they get there, “there is no place for them in the inn.”

12227775_10153430417817701_6768540478014500571_n

Now there are dozens of theories about what this means and to go into all of them would have required that this service start at 9 and not 10. But I am intrigued by one commentator who says that if all of Joseph’s family had to return to the ancestral home of Bethlehem, then his brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts were all in town. But no one came to their aid. No uncle, seeing the almost-ready to give birth Mary, said “hey, take my bed. You need it a lot more than I do. I’ll sleep outside by the manger where the animals eat tonight.” Again, we can speculate forever about why no one did this. Perhaps it was because Mary was pregnant and not married? Who knows? But what we do know is Jesus will later say in Matthew’s Gospel (I know I’m intermingling gospels here – don’t tell the bishop): “I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” Could it be he understood that from his birth story? Jesus tells us what we are to do to be truly human, to be a light in a dark world: “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

The shepherds give us another hint as to Jesus’ mission – and what it means to be human. Shepherds were not highly regarded in the society of that time, but just the opposite. To use modern terminology – they were “lowlifes.” And yet the angels bypassed the Emperor and the Governor and give the scoop about salvation and a whole new way of being to them. Doing that, the “outsiders” have been brought within the people of God. The baby Jesus would grow into an adult Jesus who would do the very same thing – including tax collectors and sinners, women, the poor and the marginalized. That was unimaginable in those days. One of my favorite theologians, Walter Brueggemann, puts it this way:

“The newness that God did at Christmas was to send into the world this Jesus who is beyond our imagination, who brought healing and grace everywhere he went, who forgave and transformed and called people out beyond themselves to a newness they could not have imagined.”

In another soul-gripping story from the life of Jesus, his cousin John who is in prison sends friends to ask Jesus: are you the one, the Messiah? And Jesus says tell him what is happening here. “Blind people are dancing. Lame people are walking into freedom. Lepers are being invited back into the family. Dead people are being given new life. There are poor people having their debts cancelled. All around there are people starting over in freedom and courage because God is doing a new thing.” God is healing and restoring and liberating and reconciling because the light has entered the world and the darkness could not overcome it.

St. Augustine Church, Prophet Isaiah by Raphael

St. Augustine Church, Prophet Isaiah by Raphael

And one more of many connections between the birth story, the mission of the adult Jesus, and our lives now. The angels who appear to the shepherds sing a hymn that is an echo of a hymn in the book of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:3). The prophet Isaiah who lived 600 years before Jesus will be incredibly important in his life and message. You all know – too well – that in many of my sermons I use a quote from a Bruce Springsteen song or a baseball story. They are my “go to resources.” The “go-to” resource for Jesus is Isaiah. He quotes him more than anyone else from the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah. The one who tells us: “Look, you who serve your own interests…and oppress your workers…the fast I choose is to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house.” That is one of dozens of passages about social justice and the rejection of violence. Isaiah is Jesus’ spiritual hero. Isaiah is on Jesus’ personal Mount Rushmore.

Isaiah also says “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” I always thought Isaiah got the order of that movement wrong. He goes from flying to running to walking. Shouldn’t it be walking to running to flying? Isn’t that what we are called to in the spiritual life? Maybe. But perhaps the spiritual life and real life are the same thing. Sure, sometimes we soar. We have “Paul on the road to Damascus moments” of incredible insight and connection to the living God. And we know about running – it’s Christmas in America – anyone feel like they have been running the last few weeks? But walking, and not fainting – that’s huge for living in a world where the light has not obliterated the darkness. Walking and not fainting because we believe every day that the darkness will not overcome the light. Walking and not fainting because we follow Jesus “who was what I am” and leads us on a mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, invites us to be part of the Jesus Movement. And the Jesus Movement is determined to change this world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it. 2000 years ago the Jesus Movement, building on the Isaiah Movement was born. We are part of that. The Light is in the world. When Barack was president, and Charlie was governor, and Michael was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the word of God came to you and me. The darkness will not overcome it. Amen.

+Doug

 

FREEDOM RIDE 2015: Lift Every Voice and Sing

I have the great blessing of spending a week in North Carolina with  70 young people from all around the United States, South Africa and Botswana. We studied the art of non-violence, the sin of racism, the Civil Rights Movement and what we are called to do as part of the Jesus Movement that seeks to transform the world into God’s dream.

11174967_1617130285242945_4912134216223742690_n

Here is the WMA cohort with the Presiding Bishop-elect, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry. The Rev. Hilary Bogert-Winkler, second from right, is our Youth Missioner. We’re so grateful to Hilary for making this pilgrimage happen and for her boundless energy!

LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING is a powerful hymn written by James Weldon Johnson over one hundred years ago in an effort to give voice to God’s grace bringing liberty to an enslaved people in America. I will never forget being in the House of Bishops when Michael Curry’s election was announced and we spontaneously sang this hymn. I’ll use some of the lyrics as a focus for describing the power of Freedom Ride 2015.

“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us.”

11698698_960577410672156_1819661305737959732_n

We went to places that told of a dark past of suffering for an enslaved people. One such place was Stagville, a huge plantation of 900 slaves that has been preserved as a historical site. Owned by a prominent Episcopalian, Duncan Cameron, the primitive houses were actually better than most in the South as the owners did not want the slaves getting sick, thereby decreasing their value. After the Civil War the plantation continued as it was before Emancipation. The newly freed slaves worked the land as poor sharecroppers always in debt to the landowner. Another museum described how voting by blacks was suppressed (we were there as laws suppressing voting were being debated in the North Carolina legislature) and the pain of the Jim Crow era.

11703212_960582597338304_7717864775953453764_n

One of the team leaders, Michelle Lainer, gave us a great insight into what we might feel based on these experiences. This could make African-Americans feel bitter. It could make white Americans feel ashamed. But beyond bitterness and shame is witness. We are all now a witness to our history, a witness to our culture of racism. Black and white share this history, we share this culture. Now what will we do together, as witnesses to the truth?

“Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us.”

The young people who went on this Freedom Ride fill me with hope. They are energetic, compassionate, prayerful, joyful and highly sensitive to inequality of all kinds. These witnesses are going to do great things.

“We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.”

11742641_960092134054017_618023194281090937_n

We all know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rightfully so. But how much do we know about the thousands of men and women, black and white, who sacrificed so much for a cause they recognized to be greater than themselves? This week acquainted and reacquainted our young people with many of those heroic stories. I know the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds me when I pray that great All Saints preface on November 1  – and on many other occasions outside of All Saints Day (don’t tell the bishop) – has been dramatically expanded.

“Keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God where we met thee. Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.”

We learned the “10 Commitments” of Dr. King – printed on a card that those who followed him on the non-violent  path of resistance in Birmingham, Alabama had to sign in 1963. The first commitment is “Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.”

Capture2

The work of social justice must be soaked in prayer and for Christians, grounded in Christ. Prayer – often in the form of praise music – was everywhere this week.

“May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land.”

Our native land is the kingdom of God – where Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope comes to fulfillment. These are hard days in our world for race relations, immigrants, refugees and indeed for our Mother Earth. But we embrace those issues and more, filled with hope because we believe in a God greater than ourselves, in a God who makes all things new.

+Doug

Editor’s note:  We are especially grateful to the Diocese of Northern California for the use of their photos.