My Statement on July 8, 2016

candleOnce again our hearts break.
Two more African-American men have been killed by police officers.
And now five officers in Dallas have been struck down as they attempted to keep the peace during a rally protesting police violence and honoring those dead black men.  Several other people who were part of the peace rally have been wounded.
We try to make sense of this to ourselves and our children, and there is no logic, no sense, no explanation.  We face an epidemic of violence for which it seems there is no cure.
There will be candlelight vigils and memorials this weekend–like the vigils in Ferguson and Baltimore, in Paris and Brussels, in Charleston and Orlando. It would be easy to admit our weariness, to say, “Why bother?  A candlelight vigil will not bring back those who were killed. A candlelight vigil won’t shield anyone from a police officer who misuses his service revolver, or from a crazy person with an automatic weapon.”
But by those candles we signify God’s grace and hope in the world.  We believe that there is an alternative to the dark night we are living through.  They are the symbols by which we say that “there is a better way, and we are here to make that better way come to pass.  We will not give up. This nightmare is not where we want to be, as people of faith or as Americans.”  It is important to come together to make that powerful statement.
I invite your prayers for the dead and for those who must go on living without them.  I invite your thanksgivings for the first responders who protect us at the cost of their lives.  I invite your action to support sane gun legislation.  And I invite your commitment to eliminate racism from our society.
Racism is the original sin of the United States, the nightmare that haunts our dream of  equality and justice, the ugly branding iron that has scarred every one of us, both black and white, from our nation’s beginnings until today.  This is our heart of darkness.
God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be neighbors to all–not just those who look like us or think like us or worship like us. That is God’s commandment, the God who created all in God’s image—black, brown and white, women and men, gay and straight together.
In this very dark time of anxiety and fear may we be models of love, patience and strength, just as Jesus was, knowing that the light will outshine the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
In Christ,
+Bill
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Explore, See, Ask, Learn

I was pleased and honored to receive, along with Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, the first Excellence in Ecumenism award from the New York State Council of Churches.  I continue to be surprised and delighted by the impact that Bishop Malone and I are able to have in raising the issues of equality, economic justice and inclusion.  Neither of us anticipated the impact that our joint pastoral letters would have in our own region, let alone the State of New York.

The award was presented in Albany, which gave me an excuse to do something that I really enjoy, sightsee.  My family will tell you that I am an incurable tourist.  I like to visit places, especially churches, and see and learn and ask questions and explore.

I took Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims and the Rev. Vicki Zust with me to Albany and in the morning before the awards luncheon we did the tourist thing in Albany.  We went to the First Church of Albany.  This is a Dutch Reformed Church that was, the first church in Albany.  We also went to Old St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, the New York Statehouse and the Cathedral of All Saints’, the Episcopal cathedral in Albany.

One of the things that struck me on this trip was the overwhelming hospitality we experienced.  We had not made prior arrangements to visit most of these places and yet everywhere we went we were welcomed and people went out of their way to make us feel as if we belonged.

The experience at First Church was particularly striking.  We literally rang the church’s doorbell at 8:45 in the morning.  The person who came to the door didn’t know us and when we introduced ourselves and said that we wanted to see the church, didn’t tell us to make an appointment. Didn’t ask us to wait while he found someone to show us around.  Didn’t even ask any questions to make sure we were who we said we were.  He just let us in, turned on the lights in the sanctuary, showed us where the bathrooms were, put a note on my car so we wouldn’t get a ticket or have to pay for parking and let us explore.   What would happen in your congregation if three complete unknowns from out of town rang the doorbell at 8:45 on a Thursday morning?

First Church is a great example of how an historic church can balance honoring and maintaining its history while doing modern, inclusive and active ministry.  Next to the framed letter from Theodore Roosevelt renting a pew in the church is a basket of “pocket prayer shawls”, small knitted squares that people can put in their pocket or purse to remind them that they are being prayed for wherever they go.  The church has a drive in worship service in the summer along with traditional worship in their very traditional sanctuary (the pews still have doors and numbers and plaques marking who used to own them).  Honoring the past while serving the world of the present is the balance that we are all striving to seek.

The experience of welcome and hospitality at First Church was repeated on all of our visits.  We were allowed to walk into the State Assembly Chamber and through the gallery outside of the State Senate.  We walked into St. Peter’s Church and saw the Queen Anne silver and the historic windows (and signed the guest book right under Bishop Malone, who had visited the church about an hour before us).

I encourage everyone to explore the treasures hidden in plain sight in all of the places that you travel this summer.  Explore, see, ask and learn.

Posted in Current Issues, Ecumenism, Miscellaneous, Reflection | 1 Comment

Second Acts, Second Chances, and Second Comings

Sermon preached at General Seminary on the Feast of the Ascension, 2016GtsAscension.jpg

In the name of our God of second acts, second chances and second comings: Amen.

Good morning, on this festival day.

This is a second act, a second chance for me. I preached often from this pulpit from 1993 to 1997, when I was a layman and a professor here, but this is my first time in this pulpit since I became a bishop five years ago last Saturday.

Sometimes those five years have flown by so quickly, they have felt like five minutes. Other times, those five years have felt like 55. If you aspire to the episcopate: You have been warned.

As I was preparing to be with you today, I said to my wife, Carmela, “Would you ever have thought in your wildest dreams that I would be preaching from the pulpit at General as a bishop?”

And Carmela shot back: “What makes you think you have ever been in my wildest dreams?”

Allow me to step back and be Professor Franklin the church historian for just a moment. The Feast of the Ascension was not widely celebrated in the church until around the fourth century, and it wasn’t until around the sixth that we began to see depictions of it in Christian art. There are two images that I particularly like.

One shows the hands of God around Jesus’s head, indicating that the Father was welcoming the Son into heaven.

The other is the “disappearing feet” image. You can still see this today half a block away from us,   on Tenth Avenue, right next to the Highline, above the door of Guardian Angels Chapel.  The crowds witnessing the Ascension look up to see Jesus’s feet disappearing at the top of the frame. It’s a simple but effective — and actually quite sophisticated — way of indicating that Jesus is literally out of the picture.

He is no longer here, bodily, on earth, limited to one place or one time. Now we recognize him as king of kings and lord of lords, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and accessible everywhere, all the time, to everyone.

Our scriptures do not place Mary the mother of Jesus among the followers watching the Ascension, but images of the Ascension traditionally do. Mary was, literally, there at the conception; she witnessed her son’s passion and death; and now she shares the joy and glory of his ascension. It is a second chance for her as she moves from grief to joy, from pain to pride, from the promise at the Annunciation that she would give birth to the Son of God to the undeniable evidence that this is so. Here is faith that survives the worst that the world can do.

The Easter story — from resurrection to ascension to Pentecost — is a story of second chances and do-overs, of forgiveness and reconciliation, of Why not?” rather than Why?”

The two major figures of this period — Peter and Paul — are people in whom God saw not failure but promise, people whom God would not throw away even though they had sinned mightily.

God transformed Saul, an enemy, into Paul, an advocate. He turned a threat of death into a promise of new life, a bully who demanded “Why?” into a leader who asked, Why not?”

In Peter, the broken and damaged disciple —“Lyin’ Peter”— who betrayed Jesus became a healed and strengthened leader, no longer the impulsive upstart who tended to speak first and think later. Peter has his moment of truth. He is ready for his second chance, for whatever it brings. He is ready to ask, Why not?”

This is a time of second acts and second chances in our nation and in the church.

In this presidential election year we have watched the campaigns and wonder what our next act as a nation is going to look like.  I hope the “New York values” of diversity, inclusion, creativity and tenacity and welcome to all will be part of that next act for our Nation and for The Episcopal Church . After the primary on Tuesday, some of the unsuccessful candidates may be wondering what their own second chances are going to be.

Here at General Seminary you are in the process of rebuilding and recreating a seminary that meets the needs of a new time in the church. What I hear from my fellow bishops and from the priests in my diocese is this: We are all working under circumstances for which we were never prepared or trained or formed. The church of five or 10 or 20 years ago is not the church of today or tomorrow or five years from now. We are called to rethink, relearn, re-invent.

We are called by our Presiding Bishop to be part of the Jesus Movement, which is as ancient as the first century and as new as today. We are called to ask, Why not?”

  • Why not a city in which people do not sleep on the streets or beg for change on the corner.
  • Why not a nation in which children do not go to bed hungry.
  • Why not a world in which health care, jobs and education are rights, not privileges.
  • Why not a church focused on reconciliation and evangelism, transforming a nightmare into God’s dream.

My colleague N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham, puts it this way: “The Church must be prepared to be the agent of healing even for those…who are the lepers of modern society. The Church must do for the world what Jesus did for the world: announcing the kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation.”

Remember those images of the Ascension that I described a few minutes ago — the hands of God receiving Jesus into heaven, the feet of Jesus leaving the earth.

They remind us of the words of Teresa of Avila. Christ has no body but yours, No hands or feet on earth but yours. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.

Teresa’s statement defines exactly for me what the purpose of theological education and formation for ordained ministry should be here at The General Theological Seminary as we move further into the Twenty-First Century.

I invite you who are preparing for the priesthood and for lay ministry on this Ascension Day to be the hands of God and the feet of Jesus. To give this world the second chance, the do-over it so desperately needs. To exchange the anger and pain that have been revealed out there in this primary season for joy and hope as the currency of the day. To ask “Why not?” and then go out and take Jesus into the world, everywhere, all the time, for everyone.

Amen.

 

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