Convention Eucharist Sermon, Diocesan Convention 2018

In the name of our loving God. Amen.

Earlier today, I talked about how here in Niagara Falls this weekend we are following in the footsteps of our forebears in the faith. Today we have indeed made history for the sake of God’s mission in the world, and I am very grateful to God and to all of you for making all of this possible.

In that spirit, I want also to take this opportunity to remember one of the great bishops of the church, Bishop Charles Henry Brent, one of my great heroes.

Western New York, give thanks that you will never again have to hear a mention of Bishop Brent in a sermon.
Northwestern Pennsylvania, you need to know that Bishop Brent was bishop of the Diocese of Western New York from 1918 until 1929.

If you do not know about Bishop Brent, I commend him to you — his Wikipedia page is rich with historical detail about his time in the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, his fight against the opium trade, and his brave and extraordinary service as the senior chaplain of the U.S. Expeditionary Forces during World War I.

But what Wikipedia will not tell you is that ninety-three years ago, here in Niagara Falls, Bishop Brent was arrested for reckless driving. He T-boned a streetcar, was arrested and taken to jail, and had to pay $10 in bail money. He was, according to the newspaper account of the incident, wearing his vestments at the time and was in a hurry to keep an appointment in Buffalo.

I have always assumed that Bishop Brent’s driving was simply a mark of dedication to his diocese and his people— and perhaps also an indication that he was taught to drive by General Pershing on a battlefield somewhere in France.

He was, in fact, so dedicated to the work of God that he was issued more speeding tickets then any elected official in the State of New York in the 1920’s.

And so, since I became your bishop more than seven years ago, I have seen myself as a spiritual and automotive heir of Bishop Brent. You know that I came to be bishop of this diocese directly from living in Italy, where the speed limit on the Autostrade was 90. So when I saw the signs for 90 on the New York State Thruway, I assumed that’s what it meant. I am sure the fact that no one would park near me when I first visited churches around the diocese was a complete coincidence.

But as my time of breaking traffic laws across Western New York draws to a close, I am pleased to tell you that you have elected yet another bishop who will follow in the footprints, or should I say in the tire tracks, of Bishop Brent and of me. You have elected Bishop Sean Rowe, who is legendary for his vision for the future of God’s church, for his quick strategic mind, and for his extremely fast and, shall we say, decisive driving.

Sean, I am proud to call you my successor, and I know that Bishop Brent’s favor shines down on both of us from heaven, where he has probably had his license revoked.

Driving aside, I admire Bishop Brent for his willingness to take risks for the sake of the Gospel, just as I admire Bishop William White, the bishop whose collect and readings I chose for this day, which is my last convention Eucharist with you. Here on this day, when you have taken the risk of following the Holy Spirit into an unknown future, you can rest assured that you are the inheritors of William White’s legacy to our beloved church.

You know, especially if you have heard me preach on Bishop White before, that he was a towering figure in post-Revolutionary War history.

He was the rector of the largest Anglican church in the 13 colonies, the first chaplain of the Continental Congress, and later the first chaplain of the United States Senate. He was also the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the newly liberated American colonies, and he ensured that our polity would include the voices and the authority of all orders of ministry — lay people, clergy, and bishops.

I am sure that our honored guest, House of Deputies President Gay Jennings, shares my high esteem for Bishop William White, who was also her predecessor in office, as he served as first president of the House of Deputies before there even was a House of Bishops.

Bishop White took risks. He removed prayers for King George from the liturgy after July 4, 1776, an act of liturgical defiance for which he could have been hanged. He ordained Absalom Jones, the first African-American Episcopal priest, and he made the Episcopal Church, which had been on the wrong side of the revolution, a truly American institution. It was indeed, as his collect reads, a time of turmoil and confusion, and out of it he raised up our beloved church.

Bishop White believed that as Episcopalians we look to the Bible as our authority. He knew that our church would survive and thrive by reading the Bible through the lens of tradition —how people have read the Bible before — and through the lens of reason — by which he meant, as a good friend of Benjamin Franklin, science.

And how do you bring the Bible, tradition, and science together? You do so by listening to others. And what is your guide when you are listening to others, when you are forming new ways of working together and of collaborating? You listen to the Holy Spirit, who was there at the beginning of the Episcopal Church in the colonies and is here now with us, guiding our deliberations and our decisions.

Bishop White believed that the Bible is our authority and our guide. And it is notable that when we remember him, the readings appointed for the day are not about risk-taking or daring to stand up to authority or being a champion of lay and clergy voices.

The readings are, instead, about shepherding and teaching the people of God as they journey into new lands, into a new future where all of the familiar touchstones — the ark of the Covenant, the presence of the Messiah — will be gone.

Even in the midst of that kind of unsettling change, Jesus asks us only one question – he asks it three times, in fact – to make sure we hear it: “Do you love me?”

And when we, like Peter, answer,
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” Jesus does not provide strategies or guidelines about how to lead effectively or how to allay the anxiety and fear brought about by change. Because voicing the answer to that question, “Do you love me,” is all we need. It is what grounds us and guides us through all of life’s steps and missteps – familiar and unfamiliar.

And so, hearing the answer to his question, Jesus then tells us to get to work, saying simply, “Feed my sheep.”

In these days, it sometimes seems as though our familiar touchstones are falling away. But just like Peter, and just like Bishop White, our love of Jesus, which binds us to his command, is our guide during our own times of turmoil and confusion. No matter how daunting the change we face, no matter how unfamiliar the ground before us, if we love Jesus, we will feed his sheep.

Now it is time for you all to journey into an unknown future, to remember our answer to Jesus’s question, “Do you love me?,” to find new ways of feeding and teaching and shepherding all the people of God in our communities and congregations.

It is time for you to listen to the Holy Spirit in new ways and, as the Presiding Bishop said to us in the video he recorded in advance of this convention, to learn new ways of doing ministry to proclaim that gospel.

I feel a little bit like Moses standing up here in this pulpit today. You are heading off into a new promised land, and I cannot be with you. But I know that you go into the future connected by the Web of Grace that we have woven together and that you are led by the Holy Spirit, who has given you the courage to make this future possible.

As you go, I pray that you will remember simply to love Jesus and to feed his sheep. Go with my love and my abiding faith that the Holy Spirit will guide you always.

Amen.

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Homily for Congressional Episcopalians June 21, 2018

This is the homily I offered at the Morning Prayer Service on Capitol Hill this past Thursday. 

In the name of our loving God. Amen.

In a week when the shouting from all sides has been deafen-ing, I invite you into a moment of holy silence.

We are no longer a nation that listens to one another. Our na-tional conversation has become a shouting match and a smear campaign. No slur is too coarse to go unuttered, no language too vile to be spoken. We demonize those who look or think or vote or worship differently. We live in a world of yes/no, right/wrong, for or against, of MSNBC or Fox, of raw emotion without nuance.

I invite you into silence where we may listen to each other.

Our Gospel reading today invites us to listen, and listen, and listen again. And if those who disagree with us refuse to listen — or if we refuse to listen to them — Jesus charges us to treat them as if they were “a Gentile or a tax collector” — in other words, people in need of our special attention and care as we help them see how God is already active in their lives.

The goal is never to say to each other, “Listen and do what I tell you.” The goal is always: “Listen to how God is speaking to us.”

I stand here in the shadows of one of the most famous figures in American history: Bishop William White of Pennsylvania. I know the question of who the House of Representatives Chaplain should be, should the Chaplain be a Roman Catho-lic, or should the Chaplain be a mega-Church pastor, was an issue here on Capitol Hill a month or so back.

Actually, I am proud to say that the first chaplain was an Episcopalian. White was the first Chaplain of the Continental Congress, and later he was the first Chaplain of the United States Senate. He was also the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the newly-liberated American colonies. In many ways he was our George Washington.

White was literally present at the creation of both a new na-tion and a new church.

White knew that there was a time to listen, as the founders struggled to design a country and then govern it according to the sacred documents they drafted.

He was a talented reconciler and brilliant political organizer, highly skilled in bringing together sparring factions. Would that Bishop White were with us today!

As a bishop, he knew the dangers of a church that was part of the political establishment, as the Church of England was part of the British government.

White knew that our strength as a church is in our independ-ence. He knew that we cannot let our prayers be dictated by our politics. He knew that our moral voice must not be used to deliver campaign speeches. He knew that it is at the name of Jesus that every knee should bow — not at the name of a human ruler, whether king or president — and that we serve God best when we serve others first in God’s name.

White believed that as Episcopalians we look to the Bible as our authority. But how could Scripture speak to a new nation with new conditions? It would happen by reading the Bible through the twin lenses of tradition—how people have read the Bible before, but also reading the Bible through the lens of reason—by which he meant, as a good friend of Benjamin Franklin—science. And how do you bring the Bible, tradition, and science together? You do so by listening to others. And so he created a Constitution for our Church very similar to Congress—a House of Bishops like the Senate, and House of Clergy and Lay Deputies like the House of Representatives, and both elected by the people of the Church. He believed that the Holy Spirit was present as these two Houses worked together and listened to one another to map the path to our future, and that the Holy Spirit was likewise present in the Senate and the House of Representatives to guide our nation in the right path. Listening to the Spirit, not shouting, but moderation and reason were to be the hallmarks of The Epis-copal Church, and so why not now?

But White knew also that there was a time to act. On July 4, 1776 — the day the founders signed the Declaration of Inde-pendence — it was White, as their Chaplain, who omitted the mandatory prayers for the British monarch from their daily worship — an act of treason that could have got him hanged. White the man of moderation, listening, and balance, when confronting fundamental issues, stood on the side of Revolu-tion, in the name of our freedom.

We have seen this week what happens when people of con-science move from listening to action.

The outrage of a wide range of Americans — liberal and con-servative, Republican and Democrat, red state and blue state, immigrants and native-born, people of faith and people with-out — their outrage finally persuaded the President to rethink his policy about separating parents from children at our bor-ders.

Watching the appalling images of children being ripped from their parents’ arms and warehoused in Wal-Marts, people have been saying, “This is not what America stands for. This is not who we are.”

We have said to those in power: If we allow this behavior to continue, this IS what America stands for, this IS who we are. We will have to own that.

This week Americans took back their power and said NO. They cast a vote for dignity and justice. How appropriate that yesterday — World Refugee Day — the President and his advi-sors listened. We will wait to see if their actions match their words.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has been very clear about this: “This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic is-sue,” he said. “It is a humanitarian issue.” The Episcopal Church has long supported responsible immigration reform, and we know this is a highly nuanced, controversial issue that is more complex than it seems.

Bishop Curry continues: “Our work with and for refugees be-gan when we began to follow Jesus, to follow the way of love, of compassion, of human decency and kindness.”

This week we said no to raw power and yes to love. That is the way of Jesus.

The actions of recent days should inspire us all to keep speak-ing, marching, praying and listenin: to insist that our country reflect the values embraced by our founders that once made us great. A nation that does not protect the most vulnerable can never call itself great. A nation that uses children as polit-ical pawns can never call itself great.

In two weeks we will celebrate Independence Day — that day when William White risked his life for freedom, the day our nation was born. I offer you a prayer for that day:

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in ac-cordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And I invite you to remember the words of a song we will sing that day, and to make this patriot dream a reality:

America! America! God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Amen.

The Right Reverend R. William Franklin
Bishop of Western New York
June 21, 2018

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A Statement by The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin on the Forced Separation of Children from their Parents

Children separated from their parents, tagged with numbers, herded onto vans and buses, transported to “detention centers.”

Consider that scene. Taken from the only parent they have ever known. Branded with a number. Transported to large facilities where they are herded like cattle.

Children.
In America.

My friends, this is not a political issue, this is a moral issue.

As Episcopalians, as Christians, as people of faith we must stand up and speak out when we witness immoral, abhorrent, and ruthless behavior. These children are being taken from their parents in our name, the United States of America.

It is time we say “enough.”
It is time I, as your Bishop, say “enough.”

It is common for us, in the shadow of dreadful events in our world, to say that Jesus weeps.
But I don’t think Jesus is weeping.
I think Jesus is shouting, “No!”
I think Jesus is furious, heart-sick and disgusted.

Furious that children are treated as pawns in a political fight.
Heart-sick at the terror these children are experiencing.
Disgust at us for allowing this to happen to children. Precious, innocent children.

What can we do? What must we do?
Obviously, we must pray. But we also must speak up.
Call your representatives. Call every single day. Demand that the children be returned to their parents immediately. Demand that our elected officials make this their first priority.
This “zero-tolerance” policy is wrong. It is immoral, unethical, cruel and it is not who we are as citizens of the USA.

This may be a political issue for the politicians, but for me, and I hope for you, it is much, much more.
It is a human issue. It is a dignity issue. It is a love issue. It is a Jesus issue.

Call your elected leaders. Pray for them, pray for us but above all else, pray and ACT for these precious children.

Remember that when the disciples wanted to remove the children Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Luke 18:16)

As we look forward to Independence Day weekend in two weeks, I offer you this Prayer for the Nation, which holds profound significance for me in light of this crisis:

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

May we all stir up our zeal for justice and use our liberty to rescue these children now.

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Bishop Franklin is traveling to Capitol Hill Wednesday and Thursday of this week. He will preach on Thursday June 21 at an 8 am Morning Prayer service for Congress. He will then offer prayers at a Vigil on Capitol Hill scheduled for Thursday at 9 am. The Bishop will spend the rest of his time in Washington D.C. lobbying as many Members of Congress as possible. He is praying AND acting.

 

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