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.
Thank you for all your dedication to Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope. Thank you for the time, effort and love you put into 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 God has for it. Thank you. Your work and prayer means so much.
In June I was at the Tri-annual gathering of deacons throughout our country which was being held in Providence. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was there and, as always, he rocked the house with his keynote address. At one point he was talking about St. Paul and how everywhere St. Paul went with the message of Jesus, there was a revolution. The crowd was riveted as Michael brought that revolution of love and resurrection to the present day.
He started shouting out, as only Michael can, to the bishops in the gathering. He would shout out the name of a bishop and say “can you imagine what a revolution would look like in …and then names the bishop’s diocese.” He did this for several bishops –“Bishop- name- can you imagine what a revolution would look like in – name the diocese.” The he gets to me. “Doug, can you imagine what a revolution would look like …wait, there is already a revolution going on in Western Massachusetts.”
When I die, please put that on my tombstone.
Michael never did go on to describe what is
revolutionary about Western Mass. That leaves it open to me to speculate what
he meant in this convention address.
Could it be the day to day commitment you all make
to following Jesus? Could it be the hospital visits, the hours of sermon prep,
the choir rehearsals, the bible studies, the pastoral counseling, the millions
of prayers you say privately and publically, the loving care of church
property, the reaching out to the lonely or hurting neighbor, the generous
financial commitments you all make to the mission of the church? Faithfulness
in this era is revolutionary. You inspire me.
Here is some other revolutionary activity in Western Mass. This is not an inclusive list. You will see other examples in the videos throughout the day.
In Western Mass, we dare to go where the people are and where the need is. We have chaplains to the Appalachian Trail – because if people are coming from around the world to walk from Georgia to Maine (or some part of it) you know they are searching for something.
We go to the challenged Main South neighborhood in Worcester through our Walking Together ministry – addressing the opioid crisis and addictions through Twelve Step programs, providing counseling and getting people the help they need, which includes a lot of prayer. And, sometimes, it includes saving lives with Narcan.
Our chaplains for the Women’s Correctional facility in Chicopee and to the Worcester House of Corrections fulfill Jesus’ revolutionary statement; when we visit the imprisoned we visit him. And we do that in another way with Reconciliation House in Webster – a facility for men coming out of jail with addiction issues.
Some revolutionary ideas are simple – like gathering veterans for lunch. A number of our churches do that once a week. Together we serve 500 vets every week. Some of those vets are doing fine and they come for the companionship. Others are literally living under bridges. And some suffer from PTSD and Moral Injury. I’m studying both those afflictions and I invite other church leaders to do so as well that we might listen with understanding and compassion. It is where our church is called to be.
There are many other revolutionary ministries that change lives like Lawrence House, outdoor liturgical communities, Laundry Love and others you will hear about in this convention.
But perhaps Michael Curry was referring to the revolution of his Revival with us last year. It was a phenomenal day with our celebrations in Pittsfield and Worcester – marked by inspirational music, witnesses to our faith and of course Michael reminding us that “if it is not about love, it is not about God.”
That revolution was not a one day event. We followed up on that day in many ways with Revival Year 2. And one of the lasting effects of Year 2 is a new spirit of collaboration in our diocese. For Easter Vigil this year, all the churches in the Berkshires got together in Lenox for one glorious service. The Church was packed and we had baptisms and confirmations and receptions. And then in Pittsfield on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, over 100 people from many different parishes gathered to put together 20,000 meals (yes, 20,000 ) for the hungry.
I invite you to consider continuing the revolution
of Episcopal churches working together. This is not about mergers or closing
churches. It is because we are stronger together. And it is a lot more fun.
Christ Church Rochdale, Grace Church Oxford and St. Thomas Auburn are doing
this right now. In the last few years the churches in Chicopee, North Grafton
and Sutton, Wilbraham, West Springfield, Greenfield and Turners Falls have come
together with their neighbors and it all looks like Resurrection.
A great example of this is the Small Church Summit
which has had two very successful meetings of devoted followers of Jesus who
have come together to share the challenges and opportunities of being small
As a sign of my commitment to collaboration, how
about this idea? For any neighboring parishes that want to do this, I volunteer
to walk from one parish to another, ending with Evening Prayer, a meal and a
discussion as to how those two parishes can work together. After all, you are
in walking distance of each other!
Another collaboration that came out of revival is our Pilgrimage Project. Members of our Diocesan Council called every church in WMA and asked them about a ministry they are particularly good at. They range from food pantries to farmer’s markets to Celtic liturgies and many others. If your parish is considering a new ministry and want to know how to do it, you are invited to a Pilgrimage to one of the parishes that is already doing it. It is part of an ancient tradition – go to a holy place and grow in mission and spiritual depth. Those holy places are right here in revolutionary WMA. You will hear more about this in the next issue of our diocesan magazine.
I’m excited to announce here that Bishop Mark Beckwith is our new Missioner for Spirituality and Leadership. Mark brings great gifts to our diocese. He is spending time in our congregations, preaching and teaching.
This is all part of a big commitment we all have to parish renewal. In past Convention Addresses, I have invited us to “double down” on social justice, and to “double down on prayer.” Let’s add to that “double down on parish renewal. We have a whole range of ways to make this happen. Already 10 of our parishes have done Renewal Works, 5 are enrolled in the College for Congregational Development. One is doing Natural Church Development. 7 parishes are working with Peter Swarr and Sue Schneider in “Explorations into Christian Leadership.” And we have 11 coaches to work with parishes leaders to fulfill our hopes and dreams for the holy mission Jesus has given us. If you want to know more about any of these programs see Pam Mott. Yes, let’s double down on parish renewal.
Let’s collaborate with Episcopal Churches and with the Lutherans, Congregationalists, Methodists and anyone else that wants to share prayer and mission. Recently I was at a meeting with other “heads of churches” brought together by the Mass Council of Churches.
We told stories of parishes working together across denominational lines. One example is that this year we are merging our popular Leadership Day with the UCC’s “Super Saturday” where there will be dozens of workshops that can be helpful to any UCC and Episcopal church and there will be a few particular to our Episcopal Church. When so much in our world is coming apart, we are coming together.
Michael Curry has given us a clear definition of the Church. I mentioned it earlier. “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 God has for us.” Could our humble efforts at that be what he means by revolutionary?”
Religious scholar Thomas Cahill has written several books about key moments in the history of Western Civilization and how different communities contributed. He wrote The Hinges of History series, and The Gifts of the Jews. Twenty-five years ago he wrote, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. He tells the stories of how monks formed communities of peace and prayer, with farms to feed the poor displaced by the many wars. Monks spent their lives copying the bible by hand to preserve God’s word for future generations. Without the efforts of the Church, what was known as the “Dark Ages” might never have ended.
The Church responded to the needs of the time. We have not always. When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in 1860, they said nothing about slavery or the impending Civil War.
We now have another “hinge of history” moment. We face a climate change crisis. And as the monks saved Western Civilization, it is our challenge to save the earth. Listen to the words of our Michael Curry and Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Archbishop Jackelén, head of the Church of Sweden:
“…the link of unprecedented climate change to human action rests now on insurmountable scientific evidence. In human societies, these climate changes compound social injustices, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable among us. Yet the burdens are not borne by humans alone: acceleration in the disappearance of species of plants and animals underlies the intertwined struggles of all life on Earth, and the destructive exploitation of resources leaves a diminished planet for all time to come.”
A Call to Join in the Care of Creation From The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Church of Sweden (Lutheran)
These religious leaders go on to say, “We claim the deep resources of our Christian faith to meet this challenge. We worship a God who created all that exists, who rejoices in its flourishing and blesses its diversity.”
They issued a call to action which involves: advocacy, education, prayer and collaboration. That sounds like the work that our Margaret Bullitt-Jonas has been doing for so long.
Now I invite us to make a commitment to joining her in this earth saving work. One way to do that is for all our clergy and lay preachers to make a commitment to preach about creation care. And to do so in the spirit of Michael Curry who says, “We acknowledge the dire urgency of this moment not through the lenses of despair, but through lenses of hope and determination.” We will be providing resources on how to do this.
We have a public health crisis of gun violence in our country. Over 100 people a day die from gun violence in our beloved USA. Our diocese is acknowledged by the network called Bishops United Against Gun Violence as a leader in this cause.
One of The Episcopal Church’s top priorities is racial reconciliation. Our Beloved Community Committee is working hard at education about white privilege. Several of our churches had services marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves in our country. They came from Ghana where we have a companion relationship. Friends, we have a long way to go in this work before we can be anywhere near revolutionary, but we are committed.
And we have a long way to go in being revolutionary in standing with immigrants and refugees – check all the references in the Bible about “welcoming the stranger” for why we do this. A shout out to Grace, Amherst for their embrace of a refugee family and for their support of the Congregational Church as they provide sanctuary for Lucio Perez, a father of four who has worked and paid taxes here for over 20 years. I went to the ICE offices with several UCC ministers and a rabbi to advocate for him. Thank you to our many churches that have signs saying “immigrants are welcome here.”
The mission before us is daunting which is why we need prayer and one another. Rachel Held Evans, a wonderful young Episcopal writer who died all too soon this past year, writes “The only way to work for justice in a sustainable way is to be rooted in the nourishing soul of contemplation and community.”
When we do that, really do that, we recognize God’s presence among us. And here I want to thank our brothers and sisters who tell me I am too political. They tell me we should be about saving souls. In my heart I believe this work IS about saving souls. But I do thank you for faithfully calling us to a life of prayer. If we lose our center in Christ, our work for creation, addressing gun violence, welcoming immigrants and refugees, promoting racial reconciliation becomes about power instead of following Jesus who has merged loving God and loving neighbor.
A few weeks ago a video about a boy anxious about school and what his parents did about it went viral. They dressed him up as a different super hero every day.
I think St. Paul would like that video because he had a similar idea. He told the early Christians to “put on Christ.”
Galatians 3:27 “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
Ephesians 6:10 “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God.”
Romans 13:14 “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”
And 75 times we are told we are “in Christ.”
Prayer, deep, sincere prayer leads to a resurrected life. We know this from theologian Bruce Springsteen. You knew I was going to get Springsteen into this address somewhere. In “My City in Ruins” he sings:
Now with these hands,
with these hands, with these hands, I pray Lord.
I pray for the strength
I pray for the faith
I pray for your love
I pray for the strength
I pray for your Love
And then he sings “Come on, Rise Up.” Eleven times. “Come on, Rise up.”
You see, praying leads to resurrection – for our souls, for our society, for God’s creation.
My spiritual director often says to me “Doug, you are capable of more than you think you are.” And I say to all of us in the revolutionary diocese of Western Massachusetts – “We are capable of more than we think we are.” And if you don’t believe my spiritual director, believe Saint Paul, who in his second letter to Timothy wrote, “We have not been given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love and power.”
We say that every time we pray Evening Prayer. It’s 9 am but let’s pray these words.
“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.”
As summer fades into fall, we are always taken aback by the sudden changes in color, the cool mornings and warm afternoons. Western Massachusetts is some of God’s most beautiful earth – from the Blackstone to the Housatonic. We are observing Creation Season with ecumenical partners all over the world. It is a time for gratitude and for conversion.
We are slowly waking up from our denial about climate change. Young voices are calling to us to do now what will profit the world we will leave to them. Like many I have been moved by Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist who captivated the UN, sailed across the Atlantic to avoid the carbon exuded by airliners, and who speaks for an entire generation. This young voice and many others are calling the adults in this world to act – to give climate justice pride of place in the long global to-do list. And a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6b). Thunberg in no child, but neither is she, by our standards, a person with power. Yet, she is using her voice in a way that is moving hearts and changing minds. It’s time for the adults “in charge” of things to get with the program. We have limited time now to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s time to move from “business as usual” to a new mode of awareness and activism.
For months now young people have done monthly school walk-outs to witness to the urgency of climate change. On September 21st our young people are leading a global climate strike. They are asking adults to leave their places of business and their homes and to join them. There will be events for seven days all around the world to highlight the plight of the earth and share problem-solving platforms and strategies.
On Friday, September 20, Springfield folk can participate in the Climate Strike Solidarity Vigil 12:30 PM, Court Square. Later that day in Northampton, join the Climate Emergency March for a Just Future will start with a march at 4:30 p.m. from Sheldon Field, Northampton, followed by a rally at 5:00 p.m. at City Hall. Our Missioner for Creation Care, the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, will speak at both of these actions. Visit globalclimatestrike.net and you’ll see that there are strikes scheduled in Greenfield, Williamstown, Pittsfield, Worcester and more!
I will be at the fall meeting of the House of Bishops that day. Bishop Marc Andrus and I are organizing a public witness in which the whole HOB leaves our meeting at 1 pm on Friday. We will walk across the bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will speak.
Not everyone can leave work. If you can’t join the strike locally or in Boston, why not make September 20th a day for personal climate action?
Have you joined sustainislandhome.org? This platform helps each household to track and reduce its carbon footprint.
September 20th will go down in the history of this movement as the day adults walked away from the important in deference to the urgent. It’s time for us all to have their backs – the youth who lead this movement and will live with the consequences of our inaction. Be part of the Global Climate Strike and be a witness for the earth, our fragile island home.
Everyone (and we mean everyone) knows our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as “the Royal Wedding Preacher.” He certainly touched souls around the world in his inspired message of the transforming power of love. But did you know that five days later he participated in a Vigil at the White House?
Bishop Michael Curry (C) waits to speak during a vigil outside the White House May 24, 2018 in Washington, DC, in response to what organizers say is “the moral and political crises at the highest levels of political leadership that are putting both the soul of the nation and the integrity of Christian faith at stake.” (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The Vigil was a witness that both rejected President Trump’s “America First” policies and urged bringing people of all political parties together for the sake of the common good. The Vigil was a follow-up on a declaration Michael wrote with other faith leaders several months before called “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”
That document includes the powerful statement: “We reject domination rather than stewardship of the earth’s resources.”
As we gather together this Sunday in Pittsfield and Worcester for an Episcopal revival led by the “oh so much more than a wedding preacher” Michael Curry, let’s look at why this is a time of crisis for God’s creation.
The Earth is reeling under many pressures, from an explosive growth in human population and consumption to species extinction, habitat loss, and resource depletion. But our most urgent concern is how human activity is changing the climate. Our fears were confirmed last week when the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international group that assesses climate change, released a major report. The IPCC report was stark: humanity is on the brink of catastrophe. The only way to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degree Celsius – the level that countries around the world have agreed is a safe upper limit for maintaining life as we know it on this planet – is for nations to cut their carbon emissions drastically and rapidly. In just over ten years – by 2030 – the world will need to have cut global emissions in half (45 percent below 2010 levels). To hold global temperatures to 1.5 degree Celsius will require rapid and massive transformation of every level of society. For example, the report calls for a total or near-total phase-out of the burning of coal by 2050.
The task ahead of us is daunting. The world has already warmed 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times, and without a massive global effort, the world will warm by 1.5 degrees in as little as 12 years. If we allow global warming to rise by 2 degrees Celsius – to say nothing of allowing business as usual to continue on its present track, which would raise global temperatures by 3.4 degrees by the end of this century – we will live on a planet that is extremely difficult not only to govern, but even to inhabit. The IPCC report warns that there is “no documented historical precedent” for making the sweeping changes in society that would be required in order to hold global temperatures to 1.5 degrees. Yet if we want to prevent massive crop failures and droughts, extreme storms and sea-level rise, and the migration of millions of refugees, and if we want to pass along a habitable world to our children and our children’s children, we need to tackle climate change.
The day of reckoning has come. As St. Paul exhorts, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Today is a good day to put climate denial behind us. Today is a good day to reject the climate denial expressed in White House policies that promote fossil fuels and ignore, downplay, or even accelerate the climate crisis. Today is also a good day to admit our own everyday version of climate denial and to step up our personal efforts to reduce our use of fossil fuels.
What next steps can you take? For starters, does your congregation have a “green team” or “Creation care committee”? Whatever you call it, a team of parishioners concerned about climate change can take the lead in educating and organizing its community. You can download an article about how to start a “green team” here. At diocesan convention, delegates will vote on a resolution that asks every congregation to create a green team or liaison.
Here’s another idea: how about eating less (or no) meat? A new report confirms that shifting to a plant-based diet is one of the most effective actions we can take to reduce our carbon footprint, limit climate change, and allow the Earth to keep feeding the global population.
Michael Curry has made Creation Care one of his three priorities. (Racial Reconciliation and Evangelism are the others.) We have said many times that this Sunday is so much more than great speeches by Michael. It is an opportunity to commit to a revival of our souls, our church, our communities and our world. In a time of crisis, may we passionately recommit to fighting climate change and caring for God’s creation.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle after their wedding, May 19, 2018. Ben Birchall—AP Wire; @WhiteHouse.gov
It’s been wonderful watching the world meet our Presiding Bishop. 29 million people heard Michael Curry preach, as only Michael can, on the joyous occasion of a royal marriage. I’ve enjoyed the excitement and the opportunity this event created for evangelism – for reaching out to new seekers who want some of the joy and hope we have found in Jesus. But it’s Monday morning and we’ve got work to do.
It’s time we move from Windsor to Washington, DC where “that guy from the royal wedding” will walk in prayerful vigil to the White House. As a signer of Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis, Presiding Bishop Curry has made it clear that we are about the Gospel of love, solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant and the refugee. Time is up for those who have used the Christian faith as a weapon, co-opted a message of compassion and used it to amputate away parts of the Body of Christ.
As Michael Curry moves from the wedding feast to witness at the center of power, let’s go with him. Let’s read this statement as individuals and in our congregations. Let’s mine it for wisdom and Tweet out the sentences that resonate with our experience of this time. Signing this statement took moral courage. Let’s celebrate that our Presiding Bishop is more than a great preacher. He is a follower of Jesus and that road will never be easy.
It’s also time to send our children to school unafraid. It’s time for our cities – where children of color fear the walk to and from school – to be safe again from the threat of gun violence. There are too many schools to list, too many names of children who will never know a wedding day. #Parkland is past, and now it’s, #SantaFe. We cannot lose heart even as our hearts break.
On Saturday morning June 2nd I am speaking at the first gathering of a new branch of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence in Worcester. The State Democratic Convention happens to be meeting in Worcester and we have invited them to join us. On Sunday June 3, I will wear an orange stole as a sign that no human being should ever be a target. Wear Orange Weekend starts on June 1st — National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Bishops United Against Gun Violence is a partner in this effort. We are all weary of the cycle, but it’s more important than ever to stay with the movement, to give one another strength for this witness. Just as we keep returning to Smith and Wesson, we will continue to mark the death of Hadiya Pendleton, a black Chicago teen murdered by gun violence in 2013. Our Presiding Bishop has charged us with racial justice and reconciliation. The epidemic of gun violence highlights the intersectionality of the issues we face.
It’s time to take action on climate change – together. On Wednesday I will join Bishop Alan Gates and the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at a joint press conference with Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
Unprecedented changes to our fragile island home have brought together people of faith and science. Faith and science are the gifts that will enable us to reverse damage done and chart a course that is true to our interconnectedness with earth.
It’s Monday morning, my friends. The party is over and it’s time to get back to the sacred work of Reclaiming Jesus, standing against racism and gun violence, and advocating for the earth.