Dear People of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
As you are aware, we are scheduled for further mediation conversations December 4-5 in Columbia. As I prepare for this time, the sentence from St. Paul in I Thessalonians 5:16 keeps coming to mind: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
The gift of prayer is just that, a grace given to us that is part of the substance of our call to be disciples of Jesus. I ask of you once again to be holding in prayer all of us who will gather. Blessings to you for a most holy Advent as we rest in the One who is our hope, Jesus the Christ.
In Advent waiting,
The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III
Bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina
Dear People of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
Advent is my favorite season of the Church year. I like the countercultural feel of it that resists the rush around us and bids us slow down. Advent is about waiting on God. I like the season’s invitation to reflection, preparation and expectation of our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, but even more for the promise of the healing of the nations, all held by God’s grace and the hope of a new heaven and a new earth.
We tend to race here and run there. None of us are immune. Years ago someone told me of an account from Woody Allen where a guy, having just finished a speed reading course, boasted at a cocktail party that he read War and Peace in twenty minutes. One of the people standing by asked him what the book was about. He replied, “Russia.” Advent confronts our lifestyle head on. Too often in our hurriedness we end up wanting the condensed version of everything, avoid thinking deeply and end up living as a caricature of ourselves, rather than the person and community God calls us to be.
As we scurry about it is all too easy to lose a sense of the sacred. If we are able to give ourselves to the Advent rhythm, allowing ourselves to be immersed in the beautifully haunting scriptures and music, the next four weeks could end up being a kind of protest in contrast to the culture around us. It can be good for our soul to resist the frantic pace swirling all about us and hold up the virtue of holy patience.
Once again we wait in hope for the fullness of what we have seen in the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we then be better prepared to sing with the angels in praise of the Anointed One who is the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. Perhaps we can then pray in the words of the seventh verse of “O come, O come, Emmanuel,”
O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.
November 19, 2017
What do we do while we wait? This is a question raised by today’s scriptures. We pray over and over again, perhaps thousands of times in our lifetime and we will again today, “thy Kingdom come,” but we know all too well that the Kingdom has not come, at least not in its fullness. So what to do?
Each of us have been gifts to use, talents if you will, and the Gospel implores us to use these gifts not for self gratification, not holding on tight-fistedly out of fear, but freely and cheerfully offered for Kingdom use. By God’s grace, what is offered as we clothe ourselves with “the breastplate of faith and love” will be multiplied in God’s service so that we and all God’s people might flourish in the peace, unity and justice of God’s vision for the world. As has been said, God has a mission and God has a Church to carry out that mission. The mission is restoration to union with God and one another in Christ.
To be about this work we are reminded today to stay awake, be aware, pay attention. We cannot and must not cut ourselves off from the pain of the world. St. Paul tells the Church in Thessalonika that the danger for us is love will grow cold as we fall asleep while waiting. What is called forth is readiness by using our talents in God’s service. In today’s Gospel especially, Jesus is warning his people that clinging to a static, unchanging approach to faith is unacceptable. For Zephaniah, in some very challenging words, complacency is not an option for the faithful. Our temptation, then and now, is to cling to what is no longer life-giving and bury it in the ground for safe-keeping. Never in the Christian life, however, does Jesus call us to a safe, no-risk approach to Gospel life.
Our faith tradition tells us God is inaugurating a new age marked by a radical transformation of the world order. It is sometimes hard to see. Matthew is clear all through his Gospel that it often seems hidden starting out small like a mustard seed, but we catch glimpses. That is our hope as we long for a day when no more children die of starvation; no more mass shootings; no more genocide; no more racism; no more haves and have-nots; no more slave labor or sex trafficking; no more oppressive mortgages making millions for too-big-to-fail Wall Street bankers; no more spending more on cosmetics, face lifts and tummy tucks in the USA than is spent on feeding the hungry. Just like us, the people of Jesus’ time longed for the end of disaster and disappointment. They struggled with an oppressive Roman regime and escalation in violence and crumbling social structure. Even their religion was being threatened.
What of us now? How will we use what God has given us? As human beings we are always in search of security, things, structures or situations that will give us a new sense of groundedness and permanence. Yet when I am most honest with myself I can admit that I am not in control. I may labor mightily to be so, but ultimately I am as much an observer as a manager.
On one extreme, when I read of events like the horrific actions of Isis or a madman on a California highway, I know I am not in control. When I get the news of sickness of a friend hundreds of miles away, I know I am not in control. When I have to wait for courts to make decisions, I am reminded I am not in control. And yes, more sweetly, when I FaceTime with my three year-old grandson hundreds of miles away, I know I am not the one in control.
This isn’t a surprise to us. In the midst of it all, the Bible, at almost every turn, calls us to have faith, to be ready. What we discover is that every hero in the Bible, including Jesus, is a man or woman who gives up control, who leaves a seemingly safe and comfortable life for something unknown. The best we can do is be prepared. How do we act? What do we do with our “out-of-controlness,” even our frustration with the here and now? How do we act in anticipation of the end of all things and the coming of God’s yet-to-be fullness? What do we do while we wait?
Archbishop William Temple once said, “The world minus God equals zero. God minus the world equals God.” What he meant is that God is the only final reliability. Being prepared means holding on to things lightly. Acknowledge with gratitude the gifts you have been given. Use them well as an offering to God. Do not hoard for private treasure. In other words, do not grasp in fear and isolationism. The commitment of your baptism is an awakened and ready heart so that when the Kingdom does break in, and it does regularly in every moment of our existence, you will be able to notice when love shows up, when joy does break in, when justice prevails, when hope calls you forth, when grace happens as pure gift. For in those moments the Kingdom has come! Embrace all that is good and beautiful for even as we do not always know for sure how God will show up, come he does.
St. Paul bids us today to “encourage one another and build up each other.” What you do while we wait is keep searching, keep forgiving yourself and others, remain in relationship, do everything you know possible to align your life with God’s mission for justice and make his mission and desire for humanity your mission. God’s handiwork is fulfillment, for Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. He’s here right now! How are you doing with those talents?
Still Life with Jug and Bread by Pablo Picasso, 1921, via Wikiart.org
November 23, 2017
Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, speaks of the “intensification of inner life” that occurred for him and other prisoners in their concentration camp experience. A sunset outside the window, lines of poems, and the most ordinary actions of the past such as riding a bus, answering the phone or turning on the lights became filled with beauty, longing and thanksgiving.
I experienced this in a small way just after I had bought a loaf of bread at a bakery in Amman, Jordan some years ago. The bag containing the warm and fragrant bread had various words on it: tak, tack, grazis, gracias, merci. One of the words stood out beyond the others – eucharisto – used on the streets of ancient Greece to say thank you.
Perhaps it was the warmth and aroma of the bread that had taken me to another place in my heart, but all of the sudden I was overwhelmed by a sense of deep gratefulness to be holding the bread, noticing my hands around it, being able to purchase it, the beauty of the people around me as I walked, the sun of the brilliant Jordanian sky, and the children in the orphanage where I was working with whom I would later share the bread. All was gift. God was as close as the bread in my hands and the scent that filled my nostrils. I was nearly giddy with joy.
To say a blessing or grace this day over our meals is to acknowledge the source from which it all comes, to be acutely aware that God is the source and beginning of all that is good. May your day be one in which you experience the intensification of inner life as it bursts forth in the generosity of love and intent of God’s great embrace of you, me and all that God has made. Eucharisto to all.
Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church
November 18, 2017
Jason, take a look around this room at the people who join you here today. They are here because they care about you, they care about this parish, they care about the ministry to which God invites every one of us, and many have participated in forming you into the person and priest you are and will be in this place and beyond.
And because we celebrate you, we also celebrate them, because this ordination liturgy is not only about you, but a celebration of the whole Church. One of the reasons we call you out from among the people to receive the laying on of hands of the bishop and be ordained a priest, is so that you can be an icon, a window, to remind all the people of God of their own priestly ministry given and received in baptism. That is, all of us are to be conduits of the holy, all of us are to be outward and visible signs of the grandeur and beauty of God for the sake of the world.
Perhaps the call of the prophet Isaiah, way back around 742 B.C., can inform what is unfolding here at Holy Cross Faith Memorial today. Isaiah was facing the domination of Assyria and its plan for world power. In the face of such a threat he attempted to proclaim a vision that would lead the people of Judah to a singular hope in God in the midst of troubling and violent times. Specifically, he sought to address the power struggle of the nations as, get this, Syria and Israel invade Judah to try and force them into a coalition against Assyria. Some things just don’t change.
So let’s listen again a moment to this call on Isaiah’s life: “Above God stood the seraphim; each had six wings; with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of God’s glory.” Faces, feet and flying – what can this teach us today about the ministries to which we are called, and specifically, your call as a priest?
Faces, here covered by wings, out of reverence, averting their eyes to avoid looking at God directly, for there was to be found a holiness, an otherness, so magnificent they could not bear the sight. Here, Isaiah is granted a vision of that holiness, so much so that he declared God holy three times for emphasis – holy, holy, holy means “majorly” holy. God is the Holy One, yet God’s people are holy as well as we see God’s mark on us all as we are made in God’s image. Our holiness is derived from the holiness of God. Your priesthood Jason is to continually remind God’s people of their inherent worth, their holiness in Christ.
One of the great dangers of ordained ministry is to get so caught up in the tasks of priestly life that we become technicians of the sacred rather than standing as windows through which we are invited to gaze upon the holiness of God and everything God has created. You are to be consistently proclaiming a vision of God that is ever expanding. One of the great calls of priesthood is to assist God’s people to uncover their eyes and discover their own holiness. Doing so we can begin to confront the fear that does not want to see the beauty of that presence in us all, especially those most different from us. Your priesthood is to call forth the priesthood of every human being to join in a deeper conversation with a holy God and each other. Isaiah’s contemporaries did not like his teaching. It was unpopular, seen as irreverent, even seditious. Don’t be afraid to walk to that edge even as did Isaiah.
Now feet. This can be sensitive territory for we know that “feet,” in this image from Isaiah, is a euphemism for “sexual parts.” Sexuality is a powerful, wonderful and yes mysterious part of being human. God knows, the Church has not always done a very good job in this arena of human experience. Yet, classically, we understand this as the seat of desire, which leads me to St. John of the Cross. One of his central themes, as he wrote in the late 1500’s, is the transformation of desire. His point is that all of our desire, at the root, is a desire for God. Your priesthood is to be grounded in that passion and directed toward the Holy One who will not let us go.
The Isaiah narrative is filled with energy and excitement. It calls us to that place where all of our passion, including the glorious passions and desires we experience in and through one another in these human bodies, are understood as gift and given over to God so that all of us can fall deeply in love with God and God’s vision for all the creation. Your call and ours is a call for fidelity and a call for radical obedience, the way of the Cross.
And flying? May we be given wings to go wherever it is we are called. It was the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who said that Christians are meant to fly, but too often we act as if our wings have been clipped and thus we remain penned in and diminished in God’s intent for us. In Isaiah’s image, the wings enabled the seraphim to deliver the coal of cleansing and offer purification and forgiveness to a world too often ridden with guilt, fear and confusion, hell-bent on its own destruction.
When my daughter was a little girl I was driving her to pre-school and NPR was on the radio describing troubled places in the world. Apparently she was listening as she said to me, “Daddy, are the people in the war just having a bad dream?” This could have happened yesterday as we continue to struggle with world events. Her question took my breath away as I witnessed her sweet innocence slipping away. After recovering I said, “No Emily, it is all real, and a lot of people are being hurt, but you are safe with me.” Jason, you are to embody for us a priesthood where you name clearly what you see, declare that brokenness and injustice are all real, dare to show us where it raises its ugly head, and then proclaim God’s hope for perfect justice, God’s offense at the oppression of the weak, and where we are to boldly join you in living out in our actions the transformation God is calling forth. The kind of discipleship we are called to offer is never at the expense of our neighbor. God calls us to serve our neighbor and offer radical welcome.
Dare to name it when you see it. Tell the truth in Christ. God is not pleased, Isaiah would tell us, if this rite of worship today does not also usher in work for righteousness and peace. Have the courage to use your wings and fly wherever God calls you to go and may we have the faith and courage to join you, even if you or we are seen as seditious, irreverent and unpopular just as it was so for Isaiah.
(Invite Jason to stand) One more time Jason, look around. Call us through your priesthood to our priesthood. Give us a vision of our holiness in God’s loving presence. Call us to be on fire with a passionate love for God and to know of God’s passionate love for us. Call us to be honest and truthful for all that distracts us from God’s vision for us as tireless workers for justice and peace. And may I also say today, thank you, thank you for being you and for offering yourself to God’s Church and to us for this work.
November 11, 2017
Isaiah 11:1-9; I Corinthians 12:12-27; Matthew 26:26-30
We know the Wisdom of the Body when we see it. In Montana a Jewish family placed a menorah in their window only to come home and find its exterior and their yard vandalized and trashed. The next morning word got out, and by that evening all the people in that community, most of whom were not Jewish, had put a menorah in their own windows. The violence of that neighborhood ended because of a connective unification that stopped it. It arises on behalf of a larger purpose and is not based entirely on the knowledge of one person. This makes wisdom collective even as individuals act within its expression.
This is my body (point to self). This is my body (point to the altar). This is my body (gesture to the assembled people). The Wisdom of the Body comes from and leads to all of these locations of the individual and of the assembly, even from outside of ourselves as we take into our bodies sacramental outward and visible signs of the Christ among us and in us all. We ingest whom we already are and are created to be individually and corporately, the Body of Christ.
I have been among you one year and three months, present in every worshiping community at least once and some now twice or more. In this relatively short time I have discovered that the wisdom of this body is broad and it is deep. I remain grateful to God to be ministering with such a blessed group of faithful people. It brings me joy.
As I survey the lay of the land of our diocese, I note that the Visioning Committee is close to the conclusion of its work. It will report before long to Diocesan Council and then decisions will need to be made as to how it is shared more widely for consideration as well as next steps to engage strategic initiatives in support of the vision and its implementation.
The Diocesan Council and other leadership will be engaging in a strategic communication plan in order to more broadly and effectively tell our story as a diocese of the Episcopal Church, who we want to be and become, using all the best tools at our disposal technologically, in the press and in social media, as instruments of the Good News.
As you know, we also are in the midst of mediation conversations with the disassociated diocese regarding diocesan and parish property, even as we wait for the State Supreme Court to respond to the motions of rehearing and recusal brought by the other side. Stay tuned. In all the above much is happening, much is unfinished and yet to be known. It is, at the same time, very rich and full of possibility. So what do we do along the way?
When Jesus shared a Passover supper with his friends and said, “this is my body,” what did he create? A community! A cosmological moment came to fruition during that Last Meal before his death where all time, past and future, was made present. God’s desire for us to enter into a new relationship with one another and the created order was again being revealed. We call it the Kingdom, or Reign, of God. Not only is it present now in glimpses, it is also an anticipation of a continually unfolding reality. As with all Body Wisdom, new perspectives are invited and it evokes higher aspirations. Often its emergence is grounded in a different way of listening and brings attention to the immediacy of the moment.
We, as in all of humankind, have been rescued by Jesus from all that destroys God’s creation. No longer constrained by death, we are now being made into a new creation as we are defined as Christ’s own forever. Jesus’ life has been “poured out” in the hope of reconciliation, thereby creating a community with new possibilities for life. It is this new community for which we have been created, a community that brings life to the world and one another. It has not been created primarily to gather in incessant meetings to repair roofs and replace boilers. We repeat the covenantal meal of relationship on a regular basis in order that we will always remember who we are, to whom we belong, and who God calls us to be.
Then notice what happens in the Gospel. It is really quite stunning. After being identified with Jesus’ broken and wounded body, yes, for God’s Wisdom has become a body of real flesh and blood, before going out from the meal they sing a hymn, probably the Hallel Psalms 115-118. Do you get it? Vocalizing from those amazing folds within the larynx, they sing a new relationship into being and it takes every voice to make it so. The purpose is the praise of God as they sing themselves into unity! Then they go out, for from now on, their and our sole job is bringing about on earth the Kingdom of Heaven in its fullness – God’s vision of perfect justice and peace, and it starts in here (pointing to my heart).
So what of this new community we have been created to be? St. Paul gives us a compelling image familiar to most of us by naming parts of the body – feet, hands, ears and eyes, as an organic image of the Body of Christ. Where might he have gotten such a picture? All preaching, including that of St. Paul, is done in a context. In Corinth, where St. Paul was ministering to a newly founded church, there was a building called the Asclepion. People went there to find healing and left images and renditions of body parts, “ex-votos” as we call them now, to indicate a votive offering of devotion and gratitude for healing.
This image of the Asclepion was shown during the Bishop's Address.
Such a practice is still done today all over the world in places of worship and at shrines although more often now with paintings, photographs and hand-written notes. St. Paul very likely borrowed from this cultural reality that he would have known well, prompting him to develop his image of the Body of Christ by naming body parts.
His point of course is that we are an organic unity, not derived from ideology or agreement on issues, but out of a relationship with a person, Jesus of Nazareth. Naming various parts of the body as examples of various responsibilities in the faith community, he says that no one part can say to another, “I have no need of you.” Or to say it more positively, we need each other and must find a way to function that way. St. Paul is clear: the Body is one and so it is with Christ. We might call this “The Wisdom of the Body.” It means the end of power plays, manipulation, the running of personal agendas and “my way or the highway” reactivity that takes our marbles and goes home. All are watered of one Spirit. We come from the same source or faucet if you will, for “You are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.”
Let me offer you another image. Have you ever seen a “murmuration?” Hundreds, even thousands of starlings flying together in a whirling, ever-changing pattern is a phenomenon of nature that amazes and delights. Take a look
The video above was shown during the Bishop's Address.
How do they do that? As they fly they seem connected as they twist and turn at a micro-second’s notice.
Scientists have been surprised to learn that the flying pattern of murmurations have more in common with physics than biology. It is now believed that murmurations are similar to other systems, such as crystals forming, avalanches, metals becoming magnetized and liquids turning to gases. These systems exist on the edge, which means they are ready to be completely transformed in an instant. Like the elements in these other systems, each starling in a murmuration is connected to every other starling. The Wisdom of the Body! When one turns a phase transition occurs. In St. Paul’s words, “If one suffers, all suffer. If one is honored, all rejoice,” because we have been made, through Jesus, into a new community for God – “This is my body.”
The implicit model of American Christendom we have received and too often absorbed is that our main job is to break down people’s resistance to going to church – just work harder to get them to come. What is being called forth, however, is vastly different. It is a community able to turn in an instant, to live on an edge that is focused on being the Reign of God present in your community. This is not for the sake of those on the inside of the Church, but for the sake of those of our neighborhoods, whether one block away or half-way around the world.
It was John Chrysostom in the 4th century who said, “This is the rule of the most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good…For nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for their neighbor.” Brian McLaren would help us see that “In a pluralistic world, a religion is judged by the benefits it brings to its nonmembers.” And why not call upon our own blessed Bishop Guerry one more time who clearly understood the Wisdom of the Body when he said, “We are called upon to preach…a social righteousness; a corporate salvation of each individual member of the community. It is not enough that the individual, viewed apart from society, should repent and be saved. He must be saved – can only be saved – as he is a member of a family, of a Church, of a regenerated and redeemed social order…A less comprehensive Gospel we cannot preach.”
This must be our focus. To do so in the world we have inherited in 2017, recall what Julia Stetcher said on Twitter through a Lutheran pastor, “We are at serious risk of being a Blockbuster Church in a Netflix world.” When it comes to communicating God’s Good News, we must be smarter than our so-called smartphones and smart TV’s. We need to know for example that millennials don’t buy into traditional hierarchies. If we are going to reach them we must be aware that they relate through networks, causes and story-telling. What does that mean for the kind of Church we are going to be? We cannot be about protecting self and our own interests. Christianity is a call to a relationship that changes all other relationships. It is our phase transition, like the starlings.
When we dare to live on the edge and take risks, even to fail, the results we get are like when about 43 years ago a group of brave women stood together in a church in Philadelphia to be ordained. We in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina are reaping the benefits of that Wisdom of the Body even as it occurred at great cost for some. The Wisdom of the Body continues to be manifest as now it is permissible to ordain women to the episcopate in the Church of England. I give thanks to God that my daughter does not know of a Church that does not ordain women. The holy work of inclusion must continue to be our work among “all tribes, languages, people and nations” as long as there are people pushed to the margins, their dignity diminished, and the image of God in them unrecognized.
Some of you are aware that one of the main foci of the Fellowship of South Carolina Bishops is our concern for public education in South Carolina. It is a matter of justice as it involves issues of racial equality, violence, poverty, fair distribution of resources and class. I am aware of a public school in the South Bronx brought about there by the leadership of an Episcopal Church, where the percentage of students going to college is 98% when the other schools in the area are sending 16% to college. The reason? Some believe that even beyond good educational models, it is the system of love, support and accountability shared in the surrounding community and encouraged by the Church, that leads to such positive outcomes. The Wisdom of the Body!
It was Martin Luther King, Jr., who observed that, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We need to participate with God in the bending. It is the hope as shown forth in Christ that urges us forward to live into the great vision of Isaiah. “A shoot will come forth from the stump of Jesse.” Rooted in history, connected to the Wisdom of the ages, we discover once again that true religion brings peace where the created order is reconfigured. Once again we are given a call – to delight in the awesomeness of God as we seek to make it so, which is, in the Wisdom tradition, the favorite quality of human beings.
This Diocese, gosh, the whole Church, no, the world, needs your wisdom. It is why we cannot say “I have no need of you.” We need, together, to be offering our best to re-imagine our structure in the local parish and diocese along with the entire Episcopal Church, to re-imagine the language we use to communicate eternal truths, to seize the moment God is giving us to assure that the main thing really is the main thing – the Reign of God. I have a hope that our parishes will learn to share resources with one another and find ways to come together to do this work, to participate in the Wisdom of the Body. We are reminded in the book The Wisdom of Crowds that, “when more are involved it is more likely we will get it right.” Collective Wisdom tells us it “is about how we come to make sound judgments with others, touched by what is common and decent in all of us.”
I wonder if you would be willing to do a self-assessment in your vestries and parish committees. If you are not doing something like this from time to time, perhaps at your next gathering you could ask yourselves something like:
The way to start is “to be so developed in a prayerful, contemplative consciousness that it allows illusions and judgments to fall away,” so Rose Marie Berger would tell us. The purpose of leadership is “not to make the present bearable, but to make the future possible.” It is born in community. If we do this from a deeply centered place rooted in the wisdom way of Jesus, it will lead to action that is life-changing for all. Being a Christian is supposed to be a radical statement. Mature spiritual leadership is rooted in the collective of the Wisdom of the Body.
Yes it can all be scary. Yes we are sometimes filled with anxiety and fear, especially when it can appear that so much of what we have known is falling away. Yet our longing for God’s dream needs to exceed our dread of loss. We are followers of Jesus. “If we knew where we were going, we would not have to follow anyone” (Francis Wade). Again our call: Follow Christ into the unknown and do not do it alone, “for you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
For now – pray without ceasing, listen deeply, act boldly. Trust the gift of God’s Spirit among you. You are a blessed and beloved people. I am a witness to it! For you are the Wisdom of the Body, as Christ has made you to be.
All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2017
“Beloved, we are God’s children now” (I John 3:2). It is one of the truths of our baptism. As we come today to observe the Feast of All Saints, we are thinking not only of Apostles and martyrs, the pioneers of the spiritual life, or the great doctors of the Church. We are considering in the imagination of our hearts the great body of the faithful, the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes, people and languages” (Revelation 7:9). That includes you and me and perhaps especially today, those being confirmed and reaffirming. So listen closely: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (I John 3:1).
A sign as you enter Winchester Cathedral in England says, “You are entering a conversation that began long before you were born and will continue long after you are dead.” We take our part in that ancient conversation by what we do here today and join the conversation of prayer that has been going on in this worshipping congregation since its inception. One part of that conversation is today’s Gospel from what we know as The Beatitudes. They are, if you will, Jesus’ platform within the Sermon on the Mount. As he climbs the mountain like a new Moses, he proclaims the meaning of God’s call as an invitation to the common people, those like you and me, who so blessedly and by grace enjoy God’s favor.
Listen in with me to Jesus’ radical, challenging and life-transforming conversation:
We find that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to “the poor in spirit,” humble people who have little enough to offer in God’s service and we who have no temptation to boast of what we have or what we are – yet, we give ourselves in trust to God.
God’s comfort is for “those who mourn.” It is not necessarily that we have suffered great loss although many of us have, but that sometimes, beyond our best efforts, there is so little we are able to do about the many things in our world that are amiss and deeply broken. So we grieve as our hearts break while watching the evening news, most recently in the horrific events of NYC, and we bring that pain to the great conversation before God.
“The meek,” we who make no claim for ourselves, “shall inherit the earth.” Virtually nothing of real value can be taken from us. We come into and leave this world with nothing of our own. It all belongs to God and is to be offered to God’s service—all of it.
To “hunger and thirst” to see the right done is also blessed. Those not bound by our own prosperity to a worldly status quo have a keen desire of God’s justice to win the day for all the world, every human being and indeed for the created order itself. Matthew is stressing a desire to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven and to see the vindication of all who suffer. The assurance is that such hunger will be satisfied as we offer ourselves for the sake of others and that God’s agenda can be established through us and must ultimately prevail in the consummation of all history.
Those who “show pity” for others day after day in our own lives – the merciful – are the very people who shall receive God’s compassionate forgiveness for our own failures. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Give mercy as we have received mercy.
The “pure in heart” are we who concentrate upon God’s aims so clearly that we begin to see God’s desire for the world. Cleansed in heart we seek God in all and through all in the hope of finding and being found by God.
We trust that as we continue in the great conversation with God while on this earth that we will be prompted to be “peacemakers.” We bring reconciliation to quarreling neighbors and family members, even including disassociated Episcopalians. We bring it to the larger conversations of the world in our political action and the way we vote, in community meetings and in our jobs. Our acts toward peace are to resemble the life of the Prince of Peace, as we confront structures of violence and even our own language when it dehumanizes and degrades God’s people.
To “suffer persecution” for loyalty to God, to endure patiently the enmity of some in the world, is to find our reward in heaven. We may not experience this in the manner the ancient Christians did, but be sure that there are Christians in the world today suffering greatly, even being martyred solely because of faith in Christ. Certainly today, of all days, we celebrate the unnoticed service of all whose names are known to God alone and who comprise the vast majority of God’s people.
The blessed as they are called in The Beatitudes, are not noted for any outstanding talent or achievement. They are ordinary people whose virtue is simple faithfulness. All Saints celebrates the innumerable company of people who have responded to God’s call by quiet and honest service – not for recognition, but out of faith. Welcome to those receiving the laying on of hands today as you recommit yourself among the great company of saints, and continue the great conversation that began long before you were born and will continue long after you are gone. You are beloved and God’s children, now and always.
Dear Good People of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
As you are aware, the mediation conversations will commence in Columbia on Monday, November 6, and are scheduled for an initial three days. I know many of you are already doing so, but I ask that everyone in our Diocese, individually and corporately when gathered in worship, to be holding all parties at the table in prayer. The form and content is up to you, but my prayer will be that everyone present will be radically open to the Spirit’s presence, our conversations will be respectful of one another’s dignity, and that we will begin preparation for a future that participates in the new creation God desires for us all.
On this All Saints Day, be reminded that we are gathered together in a “blest communion, fellowship divine…yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.”
Blessings and peace to you in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III
Bishop Provisional, South Carolina
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.