Advent Reflections

advent-wreath

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit, he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Collect for the Nativity of Our Lord – Book of Common Prayer

 As we have moved through the season of Advent this year, I have been struck again by the call on all of us as followers of Jesus Christ to bring light to dark places, to prepare the way for the kingdom of God.

The true Light, Jesus Christ, is coming into the world.  We who are followers of that Light are called to take that light into the places in our world that are dark.

We are called to do this, because we have caught a glimpse of that Light, and we are promised that we will live in that Light forever.  We are called to make our world a better place by seeking out dark places and bringing the Light of the World to them.

The Light that we bring is joy and peace and hope and love.  It is the knowledge that we are loved by God and that we belong to Jesus Christ forever.

We must take that Light to places where there is no hope, no joy, no peace, no love.  We must show the love that God has shown to us and the belonging that we have found in Jesus Christ to those who don’t feel they belong, to those who have no one who loves them.  That is what it means to bring Light to the darkness.

My prayer this Christmas is that each of you will find the Light in your own life and find ways to share that Light with our world.

May the blessings of Christ be with you all this Christmas and all through the year.

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A Statement on the Election

We all woke up this morning to a country that has been revealed to us as more divided then most of us knew.  We woke up this morning to the realization that there are more people than most of us realized who feel themselves to be on the margins of our society.  We woke up this morning to the realization that there are more than most of us realize who do not believe that there is anyone who cares about them.

It would be easy to jump right to taking sides.  It would be easy to gather around us people who voted the same way we did, whichever way that was.  It would be easy for each of us to circle our wagons and pull back into our circle of family and friends and to listen only to voices that reinforce our own beliefs.

I believe that our responsibility as Christians is to do the opposite.  I believe that as followers of Jesus Christ we must seek out those with whom we disagree.  I believe that as followers of Jesus Christ we must truly listen to those who disagree with us.  I believe that as followers of Jesus Christ we must work to find and build places where all of us can stand together.

One of the promises of our Baptismal Covenant is that we will respect the dignity of every human being.  That means that we must respect the dignity of those who voted for Hillary Clinton.  We must respect the dignity of those who voted for Donald Trump.  We must respect the dignity of those who voted for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein.  We must respect the dignity of those who felt themselves unable to vote at all.

The first step in respecting that dignity is to acknowledge that we are all people of faith, that we are all people of good will, that we all, equally, want what is best for this country.  That is what our Baptismal Covenant calls us to do.

We are called to listen to why those who disagree with us feel the way that they do.  We are not called to agree with each other, but we are called to accord each other respect.

There are people in your congregation who are rejoicing that their voices were heard yesterday. There are people in your congregation who are feeling that their most closely held beliefs were rejected yesterday.  There are people in your congregation who are afraid of what the future will bring for them or for those they love. There are people in your congregation who are unsure of what might happen next.  Our congregations must be places for all of those people.

From the days of its founding, the Episcopal Church has prayed for the President of the United States in our liturgy.  I expect that all of the congregations in Western New York will include prayers for Donald, our president-elect in those places in the prayers of the people where we pray for Barack, our president.

In the days to come, I urge you to listen to one another, to pray for one another and to find and build places where we agree and can come together.

I close with the prayer for sound government from the Book of Common Prayer (p. 821)

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Lord, keep this nation under your care.

 To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties. Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

 To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities and Towns, give courage, wisdom and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations. Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

 To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served. Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

 And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.  For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.  Amen.

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Believe Out Loud

Sermon for the 179th Diocesan Convention

Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor: By the guidance of your Holy Spirit, grant that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight; through Jesus Christ, our Judge and Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

 In the name of our God of the still, small voice … the God of the earthquake and storm and wind … the God who hears our whispered prayer.  Amen.

Listen!

Can you hear them?

In a whisper … in a murmur … in a conversation … in a shout… in a roar…

Can you hear the prophetic voices all around us?

We are the people of the voice of the prophets, Miriam and Ruth, Deborah and Moses and Elijah, Jeremiah and Isaiah, people who spoke with God and then conveyed God’s story, God’s wishes, God’s warnings, God’s love to the people of Israel.

We are the people of Mary Magdalene and of Paul and Peter, who took the story of Jesus into all the world, and of countless missioners and pilgrims who carried the story from a tiny rural outpost in the Middle East … and their faith spread throughout the Roman Empire and then moved out as far and wide as their feet and voices could carry it.

But I’m talking about the prophetic voices of today.

Can you hear them?

Listen again to today’s Collect:  “Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor: By the guidance of your Holy Spirit, grant that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our judge and Redeemer.

So, can you hear them?

They are the voices we need to hear – even though we may not like what they are telling us.

They are the voices that speak without a sound – but confront us with the conflict between who we are and who we say we are.

They are the voices that may speak ugly words.  They are voice we cannot ignore.

They are the voices that offer hope and a future – and it is our job to make sure that they do not speak alone.

Yesterday in my convention address I talked about getting outside our doors and listening to those we meet on the streets, in the labor pools, and the food pantries, at the shelters.  Many of the people we meet there are the people Jesus listened to, the people he hung around with, the people on the margins.

Jesus knew then what those of my age heard in the 1960’s in the words of Simon and Garfunkel: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway halls and tenement halls.”

Listen with me to those prophetic voices.

Turn back to last August, when the front page of virtually every newspaper – in print and online – carried the photo of a shell shocked 5 year old Syrian boy, sitting in an ambulance, covered in dust and blood, having survived an attack near his home in which his brother died.  His soundless voice calls out to us.  How do we respond?

Any day you like, listen to the voices of religious fundamentalists who preach a gospel of fear, who turn young men with no hope for jobs and advancement and meaningful lives into suicide bombers and terrorists.  These voices – that fed the hungry with the fast food of terror and extremism – call out to us.  How do we respond?

Listen to the voices of incarcerated young black men, shackled to lives of poverty and violence.  Listen to the voices of their worried parents who wonder whether their children will come home safe at night.  These voices – that want only what many of us take for granted, safety and security, hope and a future – call out to us.  How do we respond?

And listen to the voices of our fellow Episcopalians all around Western New York who are feeding the hungry, reading to children, healing the sick, visiting the prisoners, making safe spaces for LGBT youth, supporting undocumented workers, and clothing the shivering.  These voices call out to us.  How do we respond?

There are prophets of doom out there and prophets of joy.  Those who are doing their best to keep pain in circulation and those who work tirelessly to bring peace and justice to their neighbors.  Which voices will we listen to?  How will we respond?

How will we create a community where the voices on the edges are heard and responded to?

The great Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen tells us: “Community is first of all a quality of the heart.  It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive, not for ourselves but for one another.  Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own.  The question for us therefore is not, ‘How can we make community?’ but ‘How can we nurture giving hearts?’”

So how do we develop those giving hearts and then – as St. Benedict said – listen with the ear of our hearts to the prophetic voices around us?

I think we do what our reading from the Gospel of Mark tells us this morning.  We put the lamp of the Gospel up on the lampstand and let it shine for all the world to see.

We let it illuminate the dark corners.  We carry it into the dimly lit places, to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.  We take the Gospel message of God’s love out of our churches and carry it in a grand procession to the public school, the office, the bowling alley, the diner.

It really is possible to be a good and faithful Episcopalian and to love Jesus – and to say so out loud.

Will you do that?  Will you live your faith out loud, in the light of that Gospel lamp?  Will you show that you have heard those prophetic voices by the way you live your life, by the way you take violence and hate out of our vocabulary, inside and outside the church, and substitute peace and healing, joy and hope?

Mark tells us what else we need to do to brighten up the world with that Gospel lamp.  We need to scatter seed on the ground, watch and wait as it sprouts and grows, see how it ripens, and then harvest that crop.

That’s our job: to get out there and grow the Gospel.  We don’t always know how it is going to grow and often our crop is a surprise – but that’s God’s part of the bargain.

When you leave this place in a few minutes, you will be going out to work sites that plant seeds of that Gospel harvest which nourishes this community.  This is Gospel work.  This is responding to the call of those prophetic voices.  This is the work of giving hearts.  Listen to the prophetic voices when you get on that bus in a few minutes and venture out into this city.  Listen to those that cry out for justice and those that speak words of equality.

Will yours be a prophetic voice?  Will you speak the words of Jesus and do the work of Jesus, and live your faith out loud in the light of the Gospel lamp?

Will you?

In the name of our loving God.  Amen.

Posted in Diocesan Convention, Diocesan Vision, Hope for Future, Miscellaneous, Web of Grace | Leave a comment