All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2018
I’m wondering. Is there anyone here today who has been to Winchester cathedral in England? Do any of you recall what it says as you enter? Allow me to remind you: “You are entering a conversation that began long before you were born and will continue long after you are dead.” You and I are taking part in that conversation that spans millennia by what we are doing here today as we continue the conversation of prayer and thanksgiving that has been going on in this parish church since its inception.
Another way of joining in the conversation is by engaging scripture to discover the dialogues with God held therein. As we come upon midterm elections, confront the epidemic expressions of hatred and bigotry, deal with national tragedies, or even face a time of parish transition in the retirement of a rector, I find it helpful to hear from the Bible its wisdom by taking the long view it affords us. When the One seated on the throne says, “See, I am making all things new,” it can be hard to trust that promise if we but take a snapshot of a moment in history. But the Revelation to John goes on to offer the big picture, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
Even the conversation we overhear in John’s Gospel among Jesus, Mary, Martha and some religious authorities, calls us to see in a more universal way. In the short term Lazarus is dead. Flesh is corrupted. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Yet look what Jesus does. “Take away the stone!” Big picture. “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Back to narrow picture. But hold on for the biggest picture, “Lazarus, come out!” “Unbind him and let him go.”
Scripture teaches us time and again, and it might be good for us to hear this today, God is the master of history. “…the Lord will reign over them forever,” the Wisdom of Solomon says. Big picture. “Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones and he watches over his elect.” Even bigger picture.
All Saints Day reminds us again of this grand vista. We find ourselves part of a vast community that spreads beyond the limitations of time and space. And perhaps you can find a degree of hope in this, that what we see at any given moment is not all there is. The Nicene Creed calls us to believe in God, the creator of all that is, seen and unseen. The Apostle’s Creed calls us to believe in the communion of saints. We are reminded that we are always a part of something, held in God’s love, which is much bigger than anything we can observe. In times like ours we need the perspective All Saints Day gives us, that what we see is not all there is. Once again from Revelation, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples.” Panoramic!
Look at it another way. Some years ago I was visiting one of my retired priests in the hospital and standing over the food tray table, you know, the one on wheels that can be positioned over the bed. Such a table often serves as a makeshift altar. As I was opening up the portable Communion set and placed the sacred Body and Blood of Christ on the square linen cloth, something began to happen.
“Who sent you the flowers?” I asked. He told me, “A member of the parish I used to serve.” The card said, “From a heart filled with love.” Suddenly, not just two of us were at that table, there were three – one in the bed, the one who sent the flowers, and me. God was in our midst.
The community was growing and it continued to grow. I noticed cards on the wall. Some were from other parishioners and some from family. The wine and the bread – they were provided by the people of the parish next door where I had stopped to obtain the reserved sacrament, consecrated at a gathering of God’s people in worship some other day. There was a white linen cloth, gently washed and pressed by a member of the Altar Guild. The Communion set was given to me by loving friends from yet another parish where I was ordained priest 38 years ago this week.
It was an amazing flood of love and presence and joy and communion, a communion of saints, All Saints, known and unknown. Beyond the priest and his bishop was a whole community of concern and care, joined by Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven. Talk about the big picture! I wanted to turn and tell a nurse in the hall, “Are you aware that there are several hundred people, maybe thousands, in this room right now?” But I wanted to make it out of the hospital that day.
You and I are here because of a great repository of faith from over the millennia. We are inheritors of these gifts that must not be taken lightly. Nor can we forget the church expectant, those yet to be born who will inherit the legacy of God’s faithful people in the ages to come, all because of you.
Those being confirmed and received today, do you see the great treasure of which you are a part and through which you are making vows today? You are a part of God’s great vision as we participate with God in the power of his Spirit to know and be known, to remember and be remembered, to lavish love and to receive love, to dine on Jesus in the fellowship of those who live in him. It is why we sing the hymns and pray the prayers.
Before falling asleep tonight, I hope you all will intentionally thank God for the communion of saints which we experience every day and in whose prayers we are held and sustained throughout eternity. Never forget that what we see is not all there is, beginning long before we were born and continuing long after we are gone.
St. Stephen’s, North Myrtle Beach
Proper 25; October 28, 2018
In a display of faith as extraordinary as any in all of Scripture, the blind beggar Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and comes to Jesus. That simple act of wild abandon is a detail too easily missed. The cloak was likely Bartimaeus’ only possession. Not only that, as a beggar, it would have been the receptacle placed on the ground to receive coins tossed his way.
Contrast for a moment the beggar’s wreckless gesture with the response of the rich man earlier in this same chapter of Mark read two weeks ago. Bartimaeus gives up all that he has to come to Jesus, but the rich man apparently is not able to give up even a small part of his fortune. The man at the top of the pecking order in terms of wealth, status and virtue (remember, he said he had kept all the commandments since his youth), gets a direct call from Jesus and walks away grieving because of his many possessions. The blind beggar Bartimaeus on the other hand, jumps at the chance to be with Jesus. The well-heeled can’t say yes and the destitute blind beggar can’t wait for the opportunity. The first have become last and the last have become first. Once again, Gospel surprise. What does it teach us?
Then there is that question, that strange question Jesus asks of Bartimaeus that he also asked of James and John last week in the Gospel, “What is it you want me to do for you?” Mark, the gospel writer, continues to be clever with irony. The Zebedee brothers had been with Jesus from the outset. They had listened to him teach and witnessed his mighty works. Of all people they should get it. Yet when Jesus asks what they want from him, James and John respond they want to be top-dog, numbers one and two with Jesus, thus showing severe spiritual blindness. In contrast, poor, blind Bartimaeus shows his capacity to see by wanting Jesus to restore his sight. Another Gospel surprise. What does it teach us?
We are caught in a tension aren’t we? We know we are called to trust in our Lord totally as the readings from Job, the Psalm and Hebrews make abundantly clear: “The Lord has done great things for us and we are glad indeed” (Psalm 126:3). Like Bartimaeus we are called to toss aside our garment, whatever that may symbolize for us, and go to receive God’s love and wholeness for our life. Just as we discover in the life of Job, it is God’s desire to restore all things.
Yet we continually hear the lies being proffered around us: “Be strong. Take control. Don’t show your weakness. Never apologize. Fear those different from you. Be rid of ‘the other.” You come first.” Left unchallenged, buying into such lies results in our inability to see the blind beggars around us or even our own blindness. In the extreme, it can end up expressed in hatred and bigotry such as what we saw manifested in the horrors of Pittsburgh yesterday. Our blindness divides us and refuses to acknowledge that all are made in the image God. What does it teach us?
I’m thinking that this is precisely why Jesus asks the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer may seem obvious to some—of course he wants to see. Yet the truth is, often we are content to remain blind. If we remain blind we don’t have to change, be challenged or walk in a new direction. Our presumptions and prejudices can remain intact. We don’t have to recognize God in the other.
Some fascinating research has been done about the response of blind people who are given sight through medical treatment. Their transition is remarkable. Even after being able to see, they would crack their shins on tables and chairs that before had not been a problem. They had issues judging distance. For many, suddenly having sight was not the wonderful gift the sighted would have imagined. One individual is reported to have simply closed his eyes and went back to the comfortable and familiar world he knew. Another said that he couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to tear his eyes out. Seeing was too painful.
To receive God’s sight as shown to us in Jesus is to see differently, through different eyes if you will. It can be difficult. It cost Jesus his life. It has been costly for other prophets of God over the centuries. The call of our baptism and as being renewed today in those coming forward for the laying on of hands, is to acknowledge that Jesus has given us new eyes through a new identity. The reason Bartimaeus can get up with such self-abandon and throw off his only security to then trust in God alone, is that he has come to some awareness of the depth, magnitude and beauty of the gift. When Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well,” the verb Mark uses there signifies a physical cure to be sure, but it also indicates the gift of salvation itself. What it teaches us is that until we see, really see, and know deep within ourselves the immensity and wonder of the gift of God in Jesus, we will too often be content to hold onto our cloak, remain in blindness, what we think we already know, and seek the comfort of the status quo.
Our invitation today, as always, is to follow Jesus “on the way” as Bartimaeus did. The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen says in his little book, Here and Now: “If we could just be, for a few minutes each day, fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone and that the One who is with us wants only one thing—to give us love.” “Start by doing what is necessary,” St. Francis of Assisi said, “then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
As you renew the baptismal covenant today, throw off your cloak, whatever that may be. Then begin to see, really see, like Jesus.
Bishop Skip Adams offered a video message on October 28 following the attack at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left at least 11 people dead. A transcript of the video is here:
Dear People of God in South Carolina, as is mine I know your hearts are torn and your minds are reeling in response to the horrifics acts of hatred and bigotry as they were perpetrated in the synagogue in Pittsburgh.
As I visited with the people of St. Stephen's, North Myrtle Beach this morning, we prayed together for the victims, for their families, for all who respond to them, and also spoke of how we ned to be a people who are reaching across all kinds of barriers for those, and to those, who are different from us, to show the way of love to which Jesus calls us.
These things strike awful close to home as we continue to remember the people of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston.
If you are in a communtiy that has a a synagogue, if you have Jewish friends, I hope you will especially reach out to them in care and concern. Find ways to pray with them, for them, and perhaps you can find other ways for all victims of hatred and bigotry to talk about a new way, a new possibilty, a new hope, a new way of being.
It seems appropriate at this time to share with one another the Shema, the great Jewish prayer spoken before and at the end of worship, and before bedtime each nite, and we share that prayer with our Jewish sisters and brothers: -- Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. --
We know it to be so, and may we share in solidarity with those who are grieving and are hurting this night. Blessings to you all, and thank you.
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.
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.