October 21, 2018; Proper 24
As a disciple of Jesus one of the things I like to do is look for how the truth of God breaks through and becomes manifest in the culture around us. Often it happens through music. If you are of my vintage, perhaps you will recognize the words of the prophet Marvin Gaye, Motown musician from 1971, when he asked in a song’s title, “What’s Goin’ On?” If you do not recall the lyrics, allow me to remind you:
There’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother
There’s too many of you dying.
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today.
We don’t need to escalate.
You see, war is not the answer.
For only love can conquer hate.
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today.”
What’s goin’ on is this: Our world is lost. It is lost in a worldview that seems to highly value expressions of human interaction that come from raw power or domination by who can shout the loudest, misrepresent the facts in the most clever way, or rattle the biggest sword. It cannot see beyond winning at all costs by seeking to vanquish our neighbor through extremism and demonization. The world’s lost-ness appears every day whether it be the recent events in Saudi Arabia or in refugees fleeing their countries in the attempt to find a place of safe haven for their families. You can name your own examples. Too many crying. Too many dying.
The Gospel on the other hand, calls forth a transformed humanity that seeks the good of every human being as made in the image of God. As disciples of Jesus we desire to see human beings fully alive, fully awakened to our humanity in the highest and best sense of what it means to be truly human. It was Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon who said way back in the second century: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” It is what our own hearts long for even when we don’t recognize it. It’s about finding a way “to bring some lovin’ here today.”
That was the mission of Jesus. It follows then that it is our mission – to become a people who embody ever more fully and radiate ever more clearly that pure and unbounded love who is God. Yet we often don’t get it just as James and John didn’t get it. The dust up in today’s Gospel is a very human account of two disciples, ordinary men after all, looking for validation and status. They are seeking advantage for themselves. Jesus sees what is going on as they ask for special seating in places of honor. Who doesn’t like to be noticed for one’s effort and receive validation for working hard and showing faithful effort? Yet even though ambition within a community, even a community gathered around Christ is not unknown, it is not Jesus’ way. James and John truly do not know the depth of that for which they are asking. Jesus challenges both of them with a question of his own: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They may say they are able, but truly they are not. We know this because this whole episode of status-seeking occurs after Jesus has presented to them, for the third time, the likelihood of his death. They can’t consider the possibility and so deflect from what they really must engage and miss Jesus’ whole point.
To be baptized into a Christian community, to dare to drink that cup (point to the altar), indeed to come forward today to reaffirm one’s baptism through Confirmation, Reception or Reaffirmation, is costly, if we are looking to live it deeply, faithfully. Too often we travel through life seeing too narrowly, thinking too small-mindedly, and loving with limitations. Jesus dared to see beyond himself as he put his faith in God into action for the deliverance of us all.
Study after study of modern American religion is telling us that the time for casual Christianity is over. From the report of “The Pew Research Center”: “Casual Christianity, the kind that is not lived deeply as a pattern of life, is losing legitimacy among young people because many Christians only speak the truth and fail to DO the truth.”
Jesus teaches James and John what relationships in him are to look like. We are to live on this planet with the attitude of a servant, “diakonos,” literally as “one who waits on tables.” Such an approach ushers in the possibility of a life lived as a self-offering. Being bound in service to one another is a paradox in that we find that the very thing of which we are afraid can set us free. “By his bruises we are healed,” Isaiah tells us today. This is amazing as we discover that entering into the pain of another can actually bring healing to us, and them.
All of us have been called in our baptism to be servant of one another. We have a mission to celebrate and a love to share. Every Eucharistic celebration reminds us that our life as a Christian community is not primarily about the maintenance of an institution, nor about the management of an organization. It is about the profound and challenging transformation of God’s people into the mystery of divine love as we are called out to be. It is what it is to be a part of the “Jesus movement.”
Go again into the neighborhood of Summerville, not “to be served but to serve.” Wherever we can bring forgiveness, justice, release and reconciliation, there is Christ and then we are being a people of God who God can use to bring about his Reign “on earth as it is in heaven.” For what was Jesus’ purpose? It was to bring some lovin’ here today.
21st Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23: October 14, 2018
Today’s Gospel reading presents one of the places in Scripture where many people feel that Jesus has gone from preaching and teaching to meddling. This is because we find Jesus is taking head on the issue of our money. For most people that can feel like meddling, because our money is one of the most closely guarded, personal and sometimes secretive part of our life. Whereas money, in itself, is morally neutral, for a Christian it is to be used first for the building of the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, issues of money can be so consuming that it takes on a power all its own and demands our obedience. That is what Jesus is addressing here.
The rich man has come to Jesus with a curious question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We discover the man is apparently a person of great moral integrity – keeping the commandments since he was a boy. But Jesus, sensing a disconnect in the man’s life, shows his love by telling him he must sell what he owns and give the money to the poor. His response is one of shock and he goes away grieving, for he was a man of many possessions.
Then come those words familiar to most of us: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” Perhaps as you, I have heard many explanations over the years as to what those images refer, but the point is this – it is nearly impossible for a rich person to get into heaven. You might respond, phew! I’m off the hook! Do remember, however, that if you own a house, even with a mortgage, you are wealthier than 95% of the world. If you own one car you are more wealthy than 82% of the world. We are the rich! This is about most if not all us and Jesus has gotten to meddling.
At least two questions now arise for me. Why does Jesus talk so much about money? Except for the Kingdom of God, the topic Jesus addresses more than anything else is the topic of money, our treasure. Second, if it is impossible for a rich person, you and me, to enter the Kingdom of God, then as the disciples said, “who can be saved?”
To the first question as to why Jesus talks so much about money, the answer goes back to how money gains a power all its own. Jesus recognizes in the rich man of today’s reading and in humanity, that money is God’s chief rival. Money and possessions, more than anything else, has the power to supplant the place of God in our lives, our time and our energy. We sometimes organize our life around it. It demands our attention. That’s why money is a spiritual issue for Christians and always will be. It can take a place of ultimate importance, demanding obeisance only properly due to God. As such an idol it can command more attention from us than we give to God and our discipleship.
A response to the second question regarding the impossibility of a rich person entering the Kingdom is a bit more complicated. So let me tell you about a rich person I knew who, in my limited perspective, seemed to be in right-relationship with her treasure.
I met Rebecca in the summer of 1979 when I was serving in a parish as a seminary intern. She was the daughter of a man who had the one industry in a small rural Maryland town. When I met her she was in her mid-60’s and had a solid eight figure portfolio. She spent every working day tutoring reading in the inner city of Baltimore.
Her housekeeper was one of her best friends. Almost every Thursday, after she would return from a day of teaching for a salary of $1.00/year (giving the rest to the PTA), she and the housekeeper would go out to dinner and then the Baltimore Symphony. Rebecca would support everything she could, including her parish, and her dinner parties were known as the most racially, socially, and culturally mixed occasions one could imagine. She often wore a favorite wool skirt purchased in 1946. At her funeral in 1982, hundreds attended across the political, racial, generational (many children were there) and socio-economic spectrum. For me it was a vision of the inclusivity of the Kingdom itself.
Her last act of ministry of which we know the day before she died, this rich woman picked through an entire school day’s garbage until she found a pair of eyeglasses a child had left on a lunch tray. Rebecca incarnated what Jesus is pointing to in the Gospel. It is not about what she did, not her behavior or good works that gains her the Kingdom. If you asked her why she conducted her life in this manner, she would have said to you, “Because I love Jesus.” You see, all stewardship of our life, including our financial stewardship, flows from discipleship and becomes an act of worship. It is not a deadly legalism of “oughts and shoulds.” It is about our time on the earth being a joyful response in thanksgiving for the gift of new life in Christ.
That’s what Jesus, out of his love for him, was challenging in the rich man. He wanted him to see that his possessions had begun to possess him. It is why we bring our gifts to the altar, as an act of honoring God with our substance. It is to be our best, our first fruits, before anything else, and indeed is one way we disarm the power of money over us. The issue here of course is not the amount, but the faithfulness with which it is given in order to glorify God in all things.
Jesus was looking to set the rich man free and yes, seeks to set us free, leading us to a new relationship with our possessions and therefore a new relationship with God and each other. It’s all impossible of course, except that, “For God, all things are possible.”
I want to share with you a letter written to The Episcopal Church by the Rt. Rev. David Alvarado, the Episcopal/Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of El Salvador. It is a recognition and celebration of the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero by the Roman Catholic Church. Interestingly, Archbishop Romero of El Salvador has been on the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints for many years, noting his assassination and martyrdom on March 24, 1980.
I have had the privilege of walking in solidarity with Bishop Alvarado and many other dear ones in El Salvador for a number of years, even now serving on the Board of Cristosal.org, a vital human rights organization. This recognition, among other things, validates the struggle of the people there in their search for justice for all God’s people.
Having sat in silent prayer before Archbishop Romero’s tomb, stood at the altar where he was assassinated while saying Mass, and being present in his apartment to gaze transfixed upon a blood-stained clergy shirt he was wearing that awful day is contained as a relic behind glass, I can tell you that his spirit lives on in the hearts of the people, including my own. I even keep a copy on my desk here in Charleston a book of sayings and sermon excerpts from Archbishop Romero.
I leave you with this from Archbishop Romero, fierce defender of the rights of the poor: “The Church would betray its own love for God and its fidelity to the Gospel if it stopped being 'the voice of the voiceless.’”
In Resurrection hope,
The 18th Sunday After Pentecost
September 23, 2018
I have been a board member of a human rights organization called Cristosal for almost 20 years. In that time we have grown from a loosely knit yet committed volunteer organization with a scraped together $25,000 per year budget to one with a budget of $1,500,000 and now recognized as one of the top organizations in the world working in the area of human rights and displaced peoples. If you go to the webpage of Cristosal (www.cristosal.org) you will see that the very first statement that appears is this: “We believe every human being is inherently equal in rights and dignity.”
I trust you hear in that statement echoes of our baptismal covenant, when we promise to God that we will “respect the dignity of every human being.” We make this promise because we are disciples of Jesus and we believe that all people are made in the image of God. It doesn’t mean that we, or anyone, always acts out of that truth, but it does mean our discipleship as a part of the Jesus Movement points to such truths as foundational for our identity and belief system. Many scholars believe that this section in Mark is a part of an early Christian catechism that converts seeking the way of Jesus were required to memorize.
So why do I start here today? In El Salvador the Cristosal team on the ground receives up to forty referrals a week from the U.S. Embassy or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as families receive death threats, children are orphaned, and teenage girls flee gang slavery. In El Salvador alone, 5.1% of the population is currently forcibly displaced by violence and threat. We know such horrors occur in other places as well. Syria and Myanmar are notable. And what population tends to suffer the most? Children. Even up the road right now in northeastern South Carolina and eastern North Carolina, as a result of hurricane Florence, the ones most exposed and vulnerable are children.
When we engage Mark’s Gospel in today’s reading we find that the disciples have, once again, failed to understand what it means to be a disciple. Jesus, through the image of a child who he places before them, teaches them what discipleship with him means. You recall what I am sure for you are familiar words: “Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’”
When using this image of a child, Jesus is not here speaking of innocence or humility. Let’s disabuse ourselves of that notion right out of the gate. What he is talking about is what was true of children of his day. They had no legal status and therefore they were helpless. They were powerless and some of the most vulnerable. Now hold on to your seats here. What Jesus is saying in this Gospel is that true greatness is when we treat as first in the kingdom those who have no legal status, are powerless and helpless. It means too that when greatness consists in serving others, especially the most vulnerable, we are welcoming Christ into our midst. To receive a child is to welcome someone with no regard to how we might benefit individually or communally, and to do so for one deemed as insignificant with no hope of reward. James’ Epistle today puts it this way: “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”
Folks, this is radical behavior. It is why, at least in part, that the disciples have a hard time grasping what true discipleship is. It’s about death and resurrection. It’s about giving up privilege and the abuse of power. Sure, it’s easier to do what the disciples did and try to deflect and start arguing about other things such as who is the greatest in order to keep one’s privileged position. It’s such a human response, even understandable, yet as people of faith we know it as sin because we see it as falling short of the mark to which Jesus calls us. It all gets revealed when Jesus asks the disciples what they had been arguing about as they walked along. It is then that he takes the opportunity to teach them what kind of Messiah he was to be and what it is to be a disciple. To be truly great is to die to the greatness of the world rooted in power and privilege and first-ness, then being raised to be servants of all.
We need always to be asking ourselves, in prayer, some questions. How will we use our privilege to serve those who do not share it? What arguments are we having within ourselves, in our families, in our church, in our nation, that are far from how to be disciples, but are really about fear, privilege, and who’s number one? No easy answers there, and I don’t mean to suggest that there are. But to be faithful we must consider the questions that Jesus’ teaching raises.
We’re not in El Salvador or Syria, Myanmar or Puerto Rico, or even a bit north of us, but we must never allow the helpless or the plight of the displaced, for whatever reason, to be politicized. Not if we’re going to be disciples. The helpless, wherever we find them, are made in the image of God, just as you are. Jesus’ challenge to the disciples shows us that we must be open to new perspectives, be more committed to impartiality in our dealings, and persevere in advocating for others.
We are called by the living Christ to be servants of one another. There is a claim on our compassion and a religious duty to meet the displaced, the powerless and helpless with assistance, yes, and also to challenge and change the systems that keep people in such prisons. Compassion always finds it legs in genuine Christian communities. We can be that community, indeed are called to be that community, grounded in the kind of discipleship to which Jesus calls us.
Bishop Adams recorded this message on Thursday afternoon from his home on Daniel Island, South Carolina as we wait and prepare for Hurricane Florence to make landfall. A transcript follows for those unable to access the audio.
Greetings to all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I wanted to take a few moments to offer a word of encouragement to everyone as we await this storm of Hurricane Florence and as it impacts us and so many others up and down the East Coast.
The encouragement comes from knowing who sustains us and who holds us in grace and love and care as we extend that grace to one another.
I trust you know that your diocesan disaster response team has been doing wonderful work on our behalf for several days and it continues as we reach out to our parishes, as we stay in touch with you, as we send you possibilities for staying in touch with us and as we look to do the work that we need to do during the storm as it comes ashore and in the days and efforts to come.
I especially ask all of you to continue to hold each other in prayer for the grace to continue on, to be present to God’s people in all the ways that might be called upon of us, and especially for first responders, that they be kept in safety and that we don’t call upon them to do anything that would jeopardize their health and life as well, by doing what we need to be doing on our end.
I also want you to know that we have been receiving words of encouragement and hope and care and concern, prayer from all over The Episcopal Church. I received a call from Presiding Bishop Curry last night, extending his care and love to us. Episcopal Relief and Development has been amazing by offering everything that they can to us, and we’ve been having daily check-ins throught the staff and others in the diocese. I’m grateful to Fred Thompson, who is chairing our disaster team here in the diocese, and all that he’s doing.
And as we are here on this ever of the Feast of Holy Cross, I want to conclude this time for now with that Collect. Because it is through the Cross that we receive the life of God. It is through the Cross, the ‘medicine of the world,’ that we are sustained and given hope, and it is through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus that we are reminded that God walks with us in everything and through everything, whatever may come.
So let me now offer that collect, and bid you all Godspeed – God is with you, God is with us. And thank you for all your efforts in our communities and all you continue to do for God’s people, especially for those most vulnerable among us, and as we know it is events like this that expose the most vulnerable amongst us, most clearly.
The Lord be with you. Let us pray.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
God be with you and may you take up the cross that has been given to you, and follow wherever He leads.
Dear Faithful People of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
I trust you are well aware of the issues playing out regarding the separation of families on our borders. Not only does this raise significant political questions, but for us as a people of faith in the living God through Christ, it raises deeply theological ones. As followers of Jesus we must be asking how we respond to present policies that tear at the very fabric of what we hold dear in our national soul, yet even more of who we seek to be as a community who has committed to respect the dignity of every human being, and to seek justice and peace among all people. This is a time to ask, what would Jesus do?
I commend to you the materials offered here. I also hope that you are and will be having conversations in your parishes about what a compassionate, faith-filled response might look like for you personally and as a faith community. May God have mercy on us all.
Faithfully in Christ,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
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The Third Sunday after The Epiphany: June 10, 2018
Who is this Jesus? Today’s liturgy, as in every Eucharist, and indeed the Scriptures just read, raise that question. Who is this Jesus we promise to follow with our life on the line? What does it require of us as we walk this planet?
Paul, whom we now call St. Paul, discovered that this Jesus rattled his cage and rumbled through the history of his life so that it would never be the same again. As the writer of many letters to the various new Christian communities, as today to the Christians in Corinth, we must not forget that he had been transformed from being a persecuting enemy of the Church to a proclaimer of God’s Good News of welcome and mercy to all. Indeed he writes that, “…grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” Our call as the baptized people of God is to do just that: out of our own deep gratitude to extend God’s grace to more and more people in order that God might be glorified, and his kingdom come, “on earth, as it is in heaven.” All through the Gospels we find in Jesus one who, if we are listening, leads us to resist oppressive authority, pointing us to a God who works from the underside of every system of power, as we are set free to be who God calls us to be.
So it is that in today’s Gospel we find a Jesus who, as a faithful Jew, once again steps beyond the convention and prohibition of his religion as practiced in his day. Some people levied the accusation that, “He has gone out of his mind.” Others of the religious authorities said that he was an instrument of evil, Beelzebul. Then, in a most clever rabbinical response, Jesus teaches that to name what is of the Spirit to have originated from an evil demon is a blasphemy against God. Next comes those amazing words when Jesus says that those called together in God’s Spirit are a part of a whole new community: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” So you are.
Jesus remains true to his mission. Not only does he not seek the security of his own family and retreat into what is comfortable, he sets aside whatever others may think of him and remains resolute in his faith in God and God’s mission. One more time we discover a Jesus who refuses to be contained in rigid formulas of doctrinal correctness. He insisted that all are beloved sons and daughters of God, who does not rest in promoting the work of God’s Reign that recognizes that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. It doesn’t mean that we or the people of the world always act out of that truth, but it is why we say bold and wildly crazy things like, “we will respect the dignity of every human being,” and will “work for justice and peace among all people” as our lived response to being disciples.
Jesus will not play favorites and has no patience with the so-called devout looking down on others. He gives no countenance to those who believe they are so right that they rise up on the heels of sanctimonious self-righteousness. Jesus’ emphasis is on the way of God and his own sense of urgency to be about God’s reign of justice. He remains centered on God’s mission of love in the place of the constant barrage of violent and hateful actions and rhetoric infecting us on a daily basis; all evidence as described in Genesis of the enmity set into creation by our disobedience to our “loving, liberating and life-giving” God, to quote our Presiding Bishop.
Jesus is plain inconvenient in that way isn’t he? When Jesus enters the scene, we recognize that a new truth has shown up. It’s why he was always getting into trouble – he told and lived the truth. He was the truth. St. Paul says that we “do not lose heart…our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” This is what the world is to see when you or I show up in the name of Christ, not only in our words, but also in our example. If we are going to have a voice in the joy as well as the struggle of what it means to be human, of what it means to be the Church in our time, we must remain hungry for a Jesus that can be taken seriously. The God Jesus preached liberates those who are in death’s prison. They and we are set free to serve in love. This Jesus summons us to something powerful and life-changing and world-affirming. We must reject any view of a Jesus who remains too small, private and disconnected to anything that truly matters.
I had a parishioner in my parish in Southern Virginia who in the early 70’s was outspoken about the overt racism evident in the area. In that day and in that place this was a risky thing to do. Members of the parish told me that Pat’s home, where she lived with her husband, would get pelted with eggs and spray painted epithets too horrible to repeat here appeared on their garage door. When I was her rector in the mid 80’s I heard these stories from others and one day, when visiting Pat, I asked her about those days and why she was motivated to speak out. She said, “Because I promised to follow Jesus.”
I trust the One who was resurrected from the dead who indeed changes lives and brings hope to the captive, the disenfranchised, the despised, the left out, the immigrant, the prisoner, the homeless, the displaced, the jobless, the sick, the disillusioned, the depressed, all of whom are present right here and right outside this door. They too are our sisters, and brothers, and mothers.
Who is this Jesus we proclaim today? Who is this Jesus we are promising to follow, to whom we are once again giving our lives as he has given his life to us? He affirms our infinite worth, encourages our yearning, honors our questions, and trusts us with our honest doubt. Perhaps most important of all: he forbids our indifference, for we have been made into a new community. I cannot get away from him. You cannot get away from him. Nor, at last, should we want to.
As you may be aware, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to discuss the petition involving our diocese at its conference on June 7. As the time draws near for us to hear their decision, I write to make you aware of how matters stand in this ongoing process.
Uncertainty always brings a measure of anxiety. One thing we can do to help manage that is to be clear about what will, and will not, be decided when the Supreme Court rules. It is important to know that whatever the ruling, it will likely take several months for the rest of the legal process to conclude.
Here is the best information we have now:
If the case is discussed on June 7 as scheduled, the Justices may or may not make a decision at that conference. If they do, then at least four of the nine Justices would have to vote to grant a writ of certiorari for the case to proceed. If not, certiorari is denied, and that part of the process ends.
Monday, June 11 would be the first day we might expect to hear a decision, but it could come on a later Monday. The Supreme Court’s term ends June 30.
When the decision arrives, I will call together our diocesan leadership for a time of prayer, information sharing, and discussion. I ask you all to hold the Justices and every person involved in this case in your prayers.
Again, no immediate changes will take place as a result of the Supreme Court ruling. If the Supreme Court grants certiorari, then more legal steps lie ahead. If the court rules in our favor and denies the petition, it will still remain for the state court to implement that decision before any change in the status of property occurs.
The legal steps toward implementation are already in progress, in both state and federal court, but are likely to take several months to reach their conclusion.
Meanwhile, another process also has begun, which is the important work of reaching out, establishing relationships, encouraging conversations, and inviting people who want to be part of The Episcopal Church to join together in healing and reuniting our diocese. This is an equally important process, and one that I hope you will pray for, and participate in.
I am grateful to all of you who have continued to work tirelessly in your faith communities and have been steadfast through sometimes trying circumstances.
When the property matters reach their final resolution in the courts, our prayer is that we will be joining with the people in the affected parishes to worship our Lord Jesus Christ together, as people have done in this diocese every Sunday for more than two centuries.
Gratefully and in Christ,
The Day of Pentecost: May 20, 2018
They were gathered, much as we are gathered. After Jesus’ resurrection the faithful had come together to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, or in the Greek, Pentecost, for it was celebrated fifty days after Passover, as an agricultural festival, to give God thanks for the first fruits of the winter grain. They also were commemorating the giving of the Torah, the Jewish law, to the nation.
“And suddenly, from heaven there came a sound like a mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting.” A rush of wind. Can you feel it? The breath, the wind, the Spirit, all the same word in Hebrew. The effect for them 2000 years ago was apparently overwhelming and they would never again be the same.
There is often a lot in the news about wind, particularly tornadoes moving across the heartland and as we soon embark on a new hurricane season. There is a professor of atmospheric science named Richard Peterson who visits and teaches about his specialty – wind. Most of us I would guess are not wind sophisticates. I mean really, how many intelligent things can one say about wind? We can watch the Weather Channel and follow local meteorologists. We step outside and feel warm breezes or cold fronts approaching. And yes, we know wind can be powerful and we better be aware when going out on the local rivers. We trust too that airplane pilots are paying attention. But what else is there? The wind scientist knows something of the intricacies of wind and indeed it is wonderfully complex, but perhaps all we need for now is the definition offered by a sixth grader: “Wind is like air, only pushier!”
Consider that the pushiness of wind is one of the central points of the Feast of Pentecost. We do not need to know the subtleties of wind to appreciate this stirring moment in the life of God’s people. We need only recognize the power of such a force. The strength of the wind explains something of the way the Holy Spirit works. If God is going to deal in any substantive way with the wreckage of the world that human beings have created, that is, rescuing God’s people from all the ways in which we continue to destroy one another and the planet with which we have been gifted, all the ways in which we live contrary to God’s vision of love and justice, God is going to have to offer the extraordinary power of the Spirit. God breathes new life into us now just as Jesus promised to give us another Advocate or Helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us forever. The description in Acts is like a violent or mighty wind because nothing less will work!
The great miracle of Pentecost is found when the small tight-knit and secluded group of the followers of Jesus move out beyond the walls of the upper room into the public square. The surge of the Spirit pushes the fledgling Church then out into Jerusalem, and we of the Church now out from this building of St. Stephen’s, into the board room, the courtroom, the surgical waiting room, the grocery store line, the high school cafeteria, wherever it is our day may take us. As one of our post-communion prayers says – “Send us out to do the work you have given us to do.” Every Eucharist is a sending rite. This same Holy Spirit is a gift of our baptism, indeed Sarah Hannah’s baptism, and stirred up for re-kindling in Confirmation. It is the Holy Spirit, the relationship of love between God the Father and Jesus – who is given to us! It is the same Spirit we are asking today to strengthen, empower and sustain those coming forward for the laying on of hands.
When the wind blows, things happen. Branches sway, sometimes trees are uprooted, windows rattle. We don’t always like that part especially if it is things uprooted in our life and the windows of our complacency that get rattled. Yet even in that first Pentecost, as the wind blew, a new world was coming into being. The people of God began to discover that the old ways of relating to one another and thinking about God had been blown out the window! Why do you think Jesus was always being accused of eating with the wrong crowd? It was a breath of hope and life the likes of which had not been known – that things really could be different.
Our call today is to join a conspiracy, a conspiracy of the Holy Spirit. Think about it. The word “conspiracy” literally means, “breathing together.” Pentecost was and is a conspiracy of breathing together for the good. The rush of the wind broke down barriers to reconfigure lives and embrace whole new relationships across all dividing walls. The Spirit was poured out, the account in Acts tells us, on “all flesh,” referring to God’s dream from the book of Joel for the unity of all people.
Perhaps there is no better definition of the Church than the people of God, called out to breathe together, to break down the walls that divide us, offer radical forgiveness and acceptance to anyone and everyone and have our own lives forever changed in the process. Pentecost says we live in the promise that Cretans, Arabians, Parthians and Galileans, examples of people in any time who are radically different in origin, history, language and even ideology, can come together as unified in the Spirit of God. It was true then and it can be true in our day.
We are, one more time, being invited to become God’s hope for all flesh, the entire Creation. It is the only reason St. Stephen’s exists, so that this may be a place where the hope of God is lived and can take root in us. Holy Spirit, push us out, reveling in the wonder of God among us, to be God’s new presence for the sake of the world.
Dear Friends of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
As you are aware, racial justice and healing is a primary focus for us as Episcopalians. It is Gospel work for the healing of the nations. Such ministry commands our constant attention along with the necessary action to rid our country and world of the sin of racism.
I ask that you continue to find ways to address racism in all its forms as it occurs in the Church and in our culture. The present-day manifestation of racism is no less insidious than at other times in our national life. I encourage you to seriously consider ways in which you can take advantage of the upcoming Racial Justice Sunday on June 17, and also on June 24, in our own Diocese, Bishop Guerry Sunday.
These are great opportunities to bring to awareness and teach one another about how the ministry of Christ leads us to be at the forefront of addressing modern expressions of injustice and inequality. Links to resources for these days are provided below.
“Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” Ephesians 3:20.
Blessings and peace in Jesus, the Risen One,
Resources for Racial Justice Sunday on June 17: CLICK HERE
Racial Justice Sunday 2018 Resource Booklet
Resources for Bishop Guerry Sunday on June 24: CLICK HERE
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.