The Second Sunday in Lent: February 25, 2018
If it wasn’t already, Lent gets really serious today. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” That is as succinct a statement of the gravity of Christian discipleship as there is. Daniel Berrigan, one of the more notable prophets of faithfulness during the Vietnam War, said it another way: “If you want to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood.”
Taking up the cross of Jesus is the cost of discipleship and it is supposed to cost us something, yes? The image of the cross in Mark’s day was neither a religious icon nor a metaphor for personal anguish or humility, as in “your cross to bear.” It had only one meaning: that terrible form of capital punishment reserved by imperial Rome for political dissenters. Executed protestors on crosses was a common sight by the roadside in the revolutionary Palestine of Mark’s time.
In this recruiting call, the follower of Jesus is invited to wrestle with the consequences of facing the dominance of imperial Rome and dare to challenge those who want most to keep it so. It means that “taking up one’s cross” can be dangerous, it is full of risk, it may cost you your life. No, not may, it will cost you your life! Remember? “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” We are baptized into Jesus’ death in order to be raised with him.
So full stop here. If one of the calls of a Christian is to respond to the needs of the world by bearing one another’s burdens, and by taking action to make God’s Kingdom present among us now, especially on behalf of the least of God’s people, are we not called to lead the charge? I remember some years ago when one of my children reminded me of this truth in a rather poignant way. There was a young man who showed up at our parish one Sunday. He was homeless. He had been living in the woods for a week or so and came to us for some food and to warm up. I recall speaking to my wife, Bonnie, about this young man and feeling bad about turning him away even after stocking him up on some groceries. I had all the reasons why it would not be convenient to have him in our home: we had small children; we didn’t know him well; what of safety issues and on and on. What I didn’t realize was that my then 12 year-old oldest son had overheard the conversation and said, “Dad, he could come and live with us for a while. We have an extra room and besides, you told us that people like that are Jesus.” How inconvenient to be reminded of my own words!
In this challenging invitation of Jesus, the cost of discipleship means embracing that cross – we better look good on wood. That’s why baptism is so dangerous if we are paying attention, for in that water we are marked by the sign of Jesus – the cross. St. Paul tells us that the way of the cross looks like foolishness to the world, but that really it is the power of God.
So I struggle with the cost of discipleship as expressed by Jesus, remembering that it has been said that, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried” (G.K. Chesterton). Bear with me a moment as I offer some challenges to you and yes, me, with some intentionally provocative statements:
Jesus says, take up your cross. We say, it is easier to play sports on Sunday than to participate in a faith community.
Jesus says, take up your cross. We say, it is easier to give God what we can spare rather than engage in sacrificial giving.
Jesus says take up your cross. We say, rather than live more simply we want to acquire more.
Jesus says, take up your cross. We say, it is easier to engage war than love our enemies and become peacemakers.
Jesus says, take up your cross. We say it easier to hold a grudge than to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Jesus says, take up your cross. We say, I’ll give a can of soup to the pantry, but I don’t want to have to challenge the systems that keep people hungry while the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.
Jesus says, take up your cross. We who are white say, we’d rather keep our societal privilege than deal with all the manifestations of racism in our culture.
Jesus says, take up your cross. We say, we would rather keep drilling the earth for more fossil fuel than develop new technologies and healing the creation of which God asks us to be good stewards.
To be honest in the way that the discipline of Lent calls us to be, we must admit that we too often resist the foolishness of the cross. There are days I would rather look good in a mirror than look good on wood. Do we want our faithfulness to cost us as little discomfort as possible, rather than live the risky life of faith to which Jesus calls us? “Remove from Christianity its ability to shock and it is altogether destroyed. It will not be capable of anything great. We ought to be worried when our faith sounds reasonable” (Soren Kierkegaard).
A part of the good news is that we have a God who says that he desires to enter the pain of the world with us, to bring healing and hope to everything that would keep God’s people in captivity. This comes with the assurance that grace and mercy is offered even when we stumble and do not get it right. It has been said that, “In terms of human wisdom, Jesus was a complete fool. And if you think you can follow him without making something like the same kind of fool of yourself, you are laboring not under the cross, but a delusion” (Frederick Buechner).
Do you want to be a student of Jesus? Take up your cross and follow him.
Sermon at the Renewal of Ordination Vows
Calvary Episcopal Church, Charleston
February 20, 2018
View the sermon on video here.
From Exodus today: “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.”
And from I Corinthians as well as Luke’s Gospel just read: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Remembrance. The role of memory is essential in the life of faith. I would go so far as to say that one of the central responsibilities of being clergy, deacon, priest, or bishop, is to help the people of God to remember. Thus this reflection and a time for us to ponder.
Ritual is foundational to sustaining memory. It has been said, “When we remember, God remembers.” Examples in scripture abound. By keeping ritual, faith is re-enacted, continued, and re-membered. Jesus remembered, thereby creating an energized community rooted in a living tradition. In a world like ours, we have an invitation to keep rituals in a manner that sustain faithfulness and community, for there is a very real threat of losing our moorings, of forgetting, a kind of cultural amnesia. It is a part of our “mandatum.”
Rituals also help us remember the reality of pain as well as hope. Look at the ritual of the vigils in Florida the last few days. In those times we meet face to face with brokenness and evil with a recalling of God’s presence in history, all in the hope that we have not been abandoned and are being led somewhere.
This grounds us in our corporate memory in order to be able to move into a new future, however haltingly. In the symphony of gesture, symbol and story, memories are sustained not as past data, but as transformative possibilities. In liturgy, past, present and future are not collapsed into the present. Rather, we are drawn into the movement from the past to the future by our participation in the present. Such liturgical remembering can then have the potential to lead us to committed and reflective action.
In that light, Christians remember not for a nice trip down memory lane that we might call nostalgia, but in order to be transformed, as in anamnesis. We do so not mired in polyannish sentimentality, after all when Jesus remembered with his friends it was in the night he was betrayed. Right at that table we are confronted with the truth that we are broken. We see it in the example of Judas and lest we forget and solely call him out, we must not forget Peter in the courtyard. In the face of betrayal, our Lord still offered the invitation—“Do this…”
Staying with the theme of broken community, in the midst of the Corinthian Church’s exclusionary practices, Paul addresses the call to remember in order to remind the people of the possibility of the healing of relationships. Why is it that we so easily forget who God is, who God says we are, and who God calls us to be? There are the usual culprits like the addiction to novelty, the rate of change and so much that competes for our attention. Whatever the reasons, we do participate in the human tendency to forget the basis of our hope and become, as it were, functional atheists. The Hebrews forgot. The disciples forgot. So we engage in rituals of remembering. I trust we realize that we are one celebration away from falling into empty routine. If we lose the ability to creatively imagine with God and one another, the community Eucharistic meal, or even the liberation celebrated in the Exodus event for that matter, can be robbed of its power and transformative possibilities.
As clergy, we are called to remember on behalf of our people. The point is not personal comfort with our rituals. It is not merely a collection of historical moments of nations, dates or heroes as important as some of that is. We are being invited to remember in a particular way that is formative, communal, and life-giving. The model is of course the Passover where Jewish identity is rehearsed and shaped by the saving hands of God. There is a reason for their being, their very existence!
Each time the Exodus saving event is remembered, the Jewish people of every generation, place and time, are invited to remember, not as if they were at the Exodus as observer, but that they were actually a part of the Exodus. This fires the synapses in the brain and forms a memory—once bound, now free, belonging to the God who saves them.
So for us, we remember not merely as if we were present by looking on the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples, but that we were at the table with them and are now! We, once bound, are now free and belong to the God who saves us. “On the night he was betrayed,” we are invited to remember. When we betrayed him, Jesus offers us his life, and not just when we are charming, or clever, or worthy, or faithful or successful. We are invited to join him at table even and perhaps especially when we are at our worst.
“This is my body broken for you.” We remember not merely an idea or a philosophy or a feeling of well-being, we don’t seek a spiritual experience or a good teaching, but his life laid down, freeing us from slavery to sin and death. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” inviting us to remember not a thoughtful gesture or a passing promise, but a divine, eternal vow made to us by God that is unbreakable by human failure.
So we remember. Gathering the people. Reading the sacred texts. Praying the prayers. Setting the Table. Celebrating the great prayer of the Church—the Great Thanksgiving. There is life. There is liberation. There is hope. For there is Christ, who died that we and all the creation might live. We remember in here, in order to remember out there.
Sermon at The Episcopal Church in Okatie
The First Sunday in Lent, February 18, 2018
Do you remember when Paul Harvey was telling his stories and his famous line that would inevitably come at the end after a poignant pause: “Now you know the end of the story?” We begin Lent each year secure in the truth of the end of the story – Jesus is risen from the dead! We travel through Lent held by the promise of Easter.
Similarly, the promise of God as revealed in Genesis today points to the consistent and clear intent of God to create life. It points to the hope of new life to be known now, while on this earth, as well as for all eternity. We see it fulfilled in the gift and promise of Jesus’ resurrection. Note that the promise of covenant relationship made by God in this account is not just to Noah, but it is extended to all living creatures for all time. The outward and visible sign of God’s promise in this account is that of the rainbow.
I Peter makes it clear that for Christians the covenant sign, prefigured in Genesis, is that of baptism, revealing the truth that we are God’s beloved. You know the promise in the words of the baptismal liturgy, words of great assurance and hope. I text them to my own children on every baptismal anniversary: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Forever! Occasionally they will tell me that it brings tears to their eyes as they are reminded of this promise.
Yet, we have a problem. It is no more clear than when we experience the heartbreak and tragedy, one more time, of events like what unfolded in Parkland, Florida, this past week. It tests our trust in these promises and can be our own kind of wilderness, In times not unlike our own, the letter of I Peter is an exhortation to the Christians of that day to hold fast to their confidence in Christ. They were asked to do so in the midst of the danger of their own social alienation and the violence they regularly encountered. Although Peter assures them, and us, that all evil has been conquered, it continues to play itself out in horrible and tragic ways around us. Wilderness for sure. So what to do?
As a child I was taught never to pray for something for which I was not willing to be a part of the answer. So it is one thing to pray for the end of violence, the end of hunger, the end of the assault on the creation that God loves. The age old question, however, is what am I, as a person of faith, going to do about it? Yes, pray, but also act! And never let anyone tell you that religion and politics don’t mix. Any religion worth anything will always have political implications. Remember, it was the Roman government that executed Jesus. Perhaps you will recall the adage about being faithful people: “Don’t be so heavenly directed that you are of no earthly good.”
All the disciplines of Lent to which we were invited on Ash Wednesday, the self-examination, the reading of scripture, the self-denials, are all to be born of our gratitude. They are not directed to a morbid beating of the breast, but are to be an act of thanksgiving for the promises of God that we are seeking to live into while we have our time on this planet. They are to take shape in the life we live.
Furthermore, Christians do not trivialize sin or temptation. We all know that the discipline of Lent is more than giving up Godiva dark chocolate. Is that what Jesus died for? Of course not. The struggle is deeper than that. Much deeper. There is a battle we wage in the wilderness of our own heart, and there is the battle waged in the wilderness with the principalities and powers of this world—those of greed, power, empire, and the continual assault of lies perpetrated that tempt us to forget whom God says we are. It was true for Jesus and it is true for us.
We too easily forget that we are persons of Jesus, claimed by him through our baptism, inheritors all, of the covenant promises. Your mission and ministry, is to live out of that truth. The storms will come. They have come and will continue to come. The cross of Jesus remains at the center of our faith, after all. Yet perhaps it is not lost on you that rainbows often arrive after a storm. That’s easy to say right now as the people of Florida are living Good Friday all too explicitly. Yet we know that new life comes after apparent defeat.
Our call is to continue to stand with one another in our grief, in our pain, in our despair, even when hopelessness threatens to overwhelm us. We bear each other’s burdens to offer solace, comfort and healing. This is what God did in Jesus as he walked among us. We even dare, when the appropriate time comes, to be a reminder for one another of the covenant promise that darkness will not overcome us, truth will win out over every falsehood, and life wins over death.
We live now knowing the end of the story. Jesus is Risen. Hold the alleluias for the moment, although I won’t blame you if you say them in your heart. Now lets go out into the world in word and example to be the people who God says we are: loved, restored, forgiven, made knew, for the sake of the whole world. Perhaps, secure in God’s promise, we can be brave enough to act on what we believe.
Sermon for Ash Wednesday
February 14, 2018 at St. Thomas, North Charleston
Lent is about getting honest: honest with God, honest with ourselves, honest with the community of faith, about who we really are before God. Perhaps you’ve heard the old one-liner about a very unemotional German farmer who said, “I love my wife so much I nearly told her so once.”
We need to be able to speak honestly – As Isaiah does, as Jesus does, not for the purpose of making us feel bad about who we are as human beings, but in order to establish, maintain, repair and transform our relationship with God and our relationship with one another, indeed the entire creation. The purpose of the disciplines of fasting, praying and almsgiving are gifts to us from God to do just that.
First we must be honest about who we are. To do so we must start with our baptism, and in doing so we are reminded that the entire season of Lent originated in the Church as a time of preparation for Easter baptism. We hear again our baptismal reality from the holy mount of Transfiguration on the last Sunday After the Epiphany a few days ago when the welcome words from Jesus’ baptism are echoed and repeated, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” This is the reality for us all as daughters and sons of God. As it is spoken to Jesus it is spoken to us. You are God’s beloved. If you hear nothing else, go into Lent with that truth close to your heart.
Our honesty must start there – in Christ as God’s beloved. So even as we are reminded today that we are dust, that is, mortal and broken and not yet fully whole, but remember also that we are redeemed dust, totally loved and embraced by the God of all creation. Hopefully this then prepares us to hear the difficult yet honest words from Jesus, that we sometimes misuse our giftedness, the gifts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, in order to be noticed, even thanked by someone. In other words, doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
Or hear the bold honesty from Isaiah, not holding back but shouting out and declaring that Jacob’s fast was not bringing about the desired result. Our life as a people of faith is to participate in the loosing of the bonds of injustice, undoing the thongs of the burdensome yoke, letting the oppressed go free, sharing one’s bread with the hungry and homeless, bringing the poor into our house and covering the naked. It’s why we pray “thy Kingdom come.” If we do not see this happening, Isaiah is telling us our faith is a sham, a false representation of the purpose of life in God.
So we find that we are dust, mortal and finite on this earth, yet we are beloved, made in the image of God, and united to Christ in our baptism. It has been said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive! At the same time we are broken and in need of love, healing and transformation as we are always needing to be made new. We are, as Martin Luther said, “simul justus et picatur,” at the same time a saint and a sinner. Or to hear it a different way from John Dominic Crossan: “heaven is in great shape; earth is where the problems are.”
So if we are honest, we must admit, even confess, that we have a problem as a human race that Ash Wednesday is calling upon us to address. We are out of proper relationship with one another, with God and the creation itself. Unfortunately it doesn’t take much to look around our country and world and see the evidence. Contrary to the manner in which Lent has too often been overly individualized in personal piety, Isaiah and the prophets show us a way of repentance, walking a new way, not merely as an act of individual piety, but an action of the entire community as we make ourselves available to the world. The gifts of prayer, almsgiving and fasting are not only good Lenten piety, they are ways to move into the heart’s journey of peace and being awake to addressing the issues of humanity.
Isaiah and Jesus are calling us to see once again why we are here as a faith community. Only when our piety is about God’s justice for the world will our light break forth like the dawn and healing spring up quickly. Then we shall call and the Lord will answer. If we offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then our light will rise in darkness and the gloom be like the noonday. That is a church people want to be a part of! It has integrity. It is honest.
So if we dare to enter into the way to which Ash Wednesday calls us, we find that the call to return to prayer, almsgiving and fasting is for our sake, yes, but even more for the sake of the world. It calls us once again to do the work we are given to do, knowing who we are and whom God calls us to be.
A Message from Bishop Adams: Lent 2018
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Mark 1:12
Dear Friends in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
Get real. This is perhaps the central call of God through the season of Lent. The forty days of introspection and renewal are not so much prescription as they are a journey, one in which we move into greater awareness of who we are, especially in our relationship to God and to one another.
Get real. Standing with Jesus on the holy mountain of Transfiguration, we discover once again our baptismal reality as proclaimed by God to Jesus, “You are my beloved.” Facing the chaos of Lent, we do so standing secure in this promise as we come down the mountain, as Jesus did, to face the reality of the cross and to be a self-offering for the transformation of the world. He was offering a new way of self-giving love in order to lead us to a clearer vision of God’s desire for God’s people.
Get real. Lent is a time to re-discover who you are as God’s own, fully awake to the gift and challenge of what it is to be human, yet dependent on God’s mercy and love in utter vulnerability. This was Jesus’ great gift to the world as he faced his own humanity and discovered how best to offer himself to the glory of God and the healing of the world.
Get real. Be honest about the struggle, the challenge and the difficulty of being faithful people in this time of upheaval where everything seems up for grabs. It does often feel like wilderness. What are we called to leave behind? What new way of thinking and believing are we to embrace? Be honest that, even as we work hard in our faith communities, we do not have all the answers as we gaze into the future before us. Trust that it is the way of healing, meaning and significance.
So – get real. God is with us even as it is the Spirit who leads us into the rare yet rich wildness of Lent to embrace once again our dependence on God’s mercy. It is the only way Jesus faced the cross. It is the way we are to face life.
I ask of you your prayer as I prepare to leave for El Salvador on February 7, returning on the 12th. I do so as a long time member of the Board of Trustees of an organization called Cristosal. I invite you to check out the website at Cristosal.org.
Cristosal exists as an organization, with close ties to the Episcopal Church, for the purpose of advancing human rights in Central America. It seeks to address issues such as how forced displacement affects unemployment, and families forcibly displaced by violence. We often need to say hard things to hold those in power accountable for actions that disrespect and even deny the dignity of every human being. We do our work rooted in the premise that all human beings are to have basic rights not as a privilege, but because we are human, made in the image of God.
I am a part of this organization because it is about a way of loving. I happen to be one who believes that the justice God calls forth for the healing of all our relationships on the earth is how we put Christ’s love into action. I believe the work we are about is, at least in part, participating with God in an answer to the prayer Jesus taught us, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
While I am in El Salvador, know that all of you remain in my prayer as I remain grateful for the work God has called us to do here in South Carolina and beyond.
Grace and peace in Christ,
Celebration of Absalom Jones at Voorhees College,
February 6, 2018
Watch video of this sermon here.
Why is it that the Church sets aside days on the calendar to remember particular human beings? A part of the answer is to preserve history and a record of significant moments that impacted people in a certain day and era. Through this lens of history, we remember Absalom Jones, the first black priest of the Episcopal Church, ordained in 1802, and rector of St. Thomas’ Church, Philadelphia (yea Eagles!), founded in 1792, the first black Episcopal Church in the USA. These are important and not to be forgotten historical facts.
There is more to it than that, however. By having Absalom Jones named on the calendar of the Church, actually February 13 by the way, we are saying that in his humanity and in the manner in which he lived his life, we recognize something of Christ in him that we want to hold up for all to see. In that way, as he walked on this earth, we declare that he was an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of the Risen Lord Jesus. We are also saying, his witness as a Christian is an example for us as we walk the earth. We are to learn something from him. Absalom Jones was an icon, or window, through which we view something of God’s desire for all people. To use Isaiah’s words and apply them to Absalom Jones: “The spirit of the Lord rested on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,”
Absalom Jones, in his day, cast a vision that was in concert with Christ’s vision for humanity. In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus’ amazing words of embrace when he said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” then going on to say, “I have called you friends.” The love of which Jesus speaks is not passive. It is not a mere sentimental feeling. It is certainly not about being a doormat. How has Jesus loved? On a cross, which says at the very least, love is costly. It does not accept oppression. It does not countenance anyone being subservient to anyone else, much less enslaved. The love to which Jesus is pointing is sacrificial, it is a self-offering, and it sets people free as we stand on equal footing as friends.
As a loving pastor, Absalom Jones called his people to see and act as Jesus sees and acts. He denounced slavery, warning the oppressors to “clean their hands of slaves.” For him God always acted on “behalf of the oppressed and distressed. That word carries to today where the institution of slavery may not any longer specifically exist in the Untied States, but you know as I do that the remnants of the sin of slavery still hold people captive: modern forms of Jim Crow, the industrial prison complex, sex trafficking, lack of access to jobs, resources, and the continued denial of basic human rights. You can fill in the list. We must renounce with every fiber of our being anything that keeps people from being truly free, especially those of us who have power and privilege.
Have you heard of something called the butterfly effect? There are a lot of variations, but essentially it says something like this: If a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo, you will feel the breeze on your cheek here at Voorhees. What’s up with that? It’s a poetic way of saying that everything is connected. The way that God has created the universe is that everything, everyone is connected, and one thing cannot happen in one place without it in some way affecting something somewhere else. We are inextricably linked together in this creation, you and I, sometimes in ways of which we are not immediately aware.
What God does is send Jesus, perfect love, right into the middle of this splendid, beautiful, diverse, sometimes puzzling universe. And he says that amazing thing, “I have called you friends.” Do you see how radical this is? He is totally redefining our relationship with God and each other. There are not just a select few to be in an intimate relationship with God. No, it is open to everyone, and not only that, the relationship is one of friends. This is what Absalom Jones so clearly understood. We are bound in the truth that connects and holds together the entire universe – God’s love.
The love as shown in Jesus is all-inclusive, it respects the dignity of EVERY human being, seeks justice for all, and in case we have missed the point, no one is outside the realm Jesus has established. Let me give you a heads up. Sometimes we confuse hospitality with real inclusiveness. A friend has said, “Hospitality is just good manners, making people feel at home. It is not merely about tolerance, patience, kindness, or even being nice.” Those things are good to be sure, but inclusiveness in the way of Jesus leads to passionate, dancing-with-our-arms-wide-open love for everyone and everything God has made. It’s supposed to cost us something. It ought to challenge, to the core of our being, all the ways we think and behave.
The life of being the friends of Jesus is one way of living the resurrection, the new creation to which God is calling us and seeks to establish on this earth, right in this town, at this College, everywhere you live, and move, and have your being. I hope you can leave here today with a renewed sense that Jesus has called you friend and it is out of that truth and that reality where we will find true inclusivity and being set free of systems, forms and institutions that continue to bind God’s people.
As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, might say, it is that “living, loving, liberating God” to which Jesus points us. It is that same God who Absalom Jones spent his life proclaiming as found in Jesus. Connected forever. And amazingly, he calls you and me – FRIENDS.
Sermon at Holy Communion, Charleston
(Note: Church of the Holy Communion has shared audio of this sermon here.)
The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, February 4, 2018
We are today given words of great assurance, and at the same time words that offer a view to our purpose as the people of God that call us out to engage God’s world. We are challenged not to succumb to the temptation of a passive faith that can end up not transforming us, or the world to which God sends us.
All of us need assurance from time to time. When life around us rocks our boat, whether it be illness, a broken relationship, societal ills, or even a time of transition in the life of a parish or a diocese, we look for something on which we can stand firm. This is Israel’s plight in the 40th chapter today.
The people are in exile. They are outcasts. It leads to the despairing question as to whether God is with them any longer. Everything they thought they knew had collapsed around them. Dynasties were toppling and empires cracking up, even as they were surrounded by the zenith of opulence and power.
Yet stunningly, in the midst of the apparent hopelessness around them, Isaiah dares to bring a word of hope and assurance. Listen: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?” Isaiah goes on to say that God is still with them, all encompassing and the earth and all rulers are still subject to his rule, even when it may not appear that way. “To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? Says the Holy One…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”
This is the “peace that passeth all understanding.” All the evidence around us may seem to indicate that God is not in control, yet Isaiah dares to speak a word otherwise. For those who might be losing heart we hear, “…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up like wings of eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah speaks bold and courageous words of assurance. It reminds me of that great definition of faith from Hebrews. It was appointed in the Daily Office just this past week: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The Psalmist today strikes a similar tone as Isaiah, likewise speaking to the outcasts of Israel, possibly in light of the fall of Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C.E. It was the most devastating event in Israel’s history to that time. Whatever the context, the Psalmist is praising God for a restoration that has not yet taken place. It is still in the future. Everything is still broken.
Even with that stark reality consuming them, Israel is reminded that God is still worthy of their praise. “O Praise the Lord, for it is a good thing to sing praises unto our God.” Their purpose then, as Psalm 147 directs, is to worship. Our central purpose is to worship. Holy Communion, of all places through your rich heritage, is a parish community that I trust is most clear about that.
So what follows worship? Or perhaps better said, what is to flow from our worship as we live in the world as worshipful beings? The post communion prayer gives us a direction. After thanking God for our being fed in the holy mysteries, and again with the assurance of God’s favor and goodness toward us, we continue in that holy fellowship by “doing all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” When Peter’s mother-in-law was healed, what was the first thing she did? She served others. This is the content of Michael’s vows today as he is received into this Communion – worship and service.
This is of vital importance, for we are well aware of the warning from several places in the prophets as well as from our Lord, who are clear that if our worship does not also bring us to justice, compassion and reconciliation, our worship is in vain and dead. It means nothing. Perhaps most famously we hear from the prophet Amos who declares that God rejects our solemn assemblies, unless “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
I recall a moment some years ago in the parish in Baltimore where I grew up. There had been, shall we say, a major kerfuffle between two prominent members of the parish that had put a strain in their relationship. One Sunday, as the peace of Christ was bid by the priest, we all watched as one of the men got out of his pew, walked around to the other side of the church and extended his hand in the hope of Christ’s peace. I think we were all holding our breath. The good news is that his offer was returned. It was a beginning. Over time healing and reconciliation was realized.
Today our scriptures have given us a portrait of God who gathers, heals and restores. We have the assurance of God’s faithfulness to us. We, by grace, can stand on that good news, knowing that we also have a purpose to be co-creators with God, living out our work to be gatherers, healers and restorers. What we do and prefigure in here, at this altar specifically, is to take shape in the way we live out there for the sake of the world. In a world fractured by conflict within and between communities, even nations, we are called to cast a new vision, like Isaiah did, of a reconciled world – reconciled to God and reconciled to one another. It is the work of Christ that we have been given to do.
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.