A CHILDREN’S CRUSADE: THEN AND NOW

This is the sermon I preached to the General Board of Examining Chaplains of the Episcopal Church and the readers of the General Ordination Exams. 

 We were gathered the week after the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

 The sermon was preached on the day commemorating Frederick Douglass.DSC_4596

When I arrived jet-lagged from the snow-belt yesterday, Duncan Ely, the Executive Director of the General Board of Examining Chaplains, asked me if I would preach at the Conference Eucharist today.  At first I was daunted by the idea that I had to produce a sermon text in twenty- four hours while at the same time read multitudes of General Ordination exams. But suddenly I realized that this occasion to preach allows me the chance to speak to a topic I have needed to address.

I know we are all daunted this afternoon, struggling to know how to face the aftermath of yet another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida.  But in my own personal struggle to know what to say to my Diocese of Western New York, I am heartened by the high school students of Parkland who are standing up and speaking out about evil.  A real, inspired Children’s Crusade has risen up before us, as has happened a number of times before, even in the history of the Christian Church. Children have changed the hearts and minds of people in past centuries, and would that it could happen again in our own time.

How fitting then that today we commemorate Frederick Douglass, the young liberator of the nineteenth century, in The Episcopal Church. The New Testament reading assigned for today speaks that “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfected through suffering.”

And the collect for today speaks of “Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of a president and a people to a deeper obedience to Christ….to be outspoken on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation….”

Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass can be a model for the children of 2018, two hundred years later.  As a child of eight he was separated from his mother and given away to his owner’s brother and sister-in-law. At the age of fourteen he had the experience of conversion to Christ in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their traditions of spiritual music sustained him to start a movement among young people for freedom.  Even in his teens and twenties, the power of his clear use of the English language, like the power of the speeches of the Parkland teenagers, caused him to be sent on speaking tours throughout the North. The more he became known for his speaking the more threatened he was to be recaptured by slave-catchers and returned to the South, and he was protected by a circle of young African-American men and women who traveled with him. Finally, he sought refuge in New York City in the 1850’s where he founded his journal THE NORTH STAR.  The 1850’s were perhaps the worst years of American history, but THE NORTH STAR “moved the hearts of a president and a people,” and it was a force toward Civil War and ultimately the abolition of slavery.  I believe that the message of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, that God was acting through these events, to be true and Biblical.  And, I believe God can act again.

Children have changed the hearts and minds of many in days gone by, and may it happen again.  We must move from helplessness to something more.

This prayer was composed by Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims of Western New York as we in my Diocese needed help to face another time in our nation not unlike the 1850’s and 1860’s in which Douglass was one of those who wrought an indelible transformation from slavery to freedom.

Let us pray:

“Good and gracious God we are at a loss.

We do not know how our children keep getting killed at school while we seem incapable of making the madness stop.

We ask your urging to prod us out of helplessness into action, out of hopelessness into faith, out of fear into courage.

We pray that we, together with our elected officials, will find a way out of partisanship and into unity, out of blame and into responsibility.

We pray all of this through the One who emptied himself in order to free all, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who together  with the Holy Spirit lives and reigns with you, now and forever.

Amen.”

I invite the Diocese of Western New York to join me at the March for Our Lives, Buffalo on Saturday March 24 from 1:30 to 3:00 pm in Niagara Square.

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All Our Children

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I attended the All Our Children Network’s national symposium in Columbia, South Carolina this week.  Some of you may remember that the Diocese of Western New York hosted a regional symposium with All Our Children in May of 2016.

All Our Children is a network of congregations and dioceses and organizations who have partnerships with public schools and who advocate and work for equity in public education.

I was honored to be asked to be part of the panel on how the church is responding to issues of inequity in educational opportunity.

The panelists were asked what led to each of us, personally, being involved in working for equity.  I told the story of my grandmother, Eddie.  She was a strong advocate for racial equality.  In Jim Crow era Mississippi she spoke out loudly for equality and justice.  In 1956, I can clearly remember the KKK coming to her house to try to frighten her into silence.  They failed.  In fact, I think they strengthened her resolve to work for justice.  I also mentioned the relationship with Bishop Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and our work together to make sure that everyone has a part in the renewal of our beloved city.

We were then asked to talk about what our organizations were doing to respond to inequity in education and in the broader society.  That was my favorite part of the panel, because it gave me the opportunity to share some of the great ways that Episcopalians in Western New York are working to strive for justice and peace among all people.

I spoke of our congregations who have partnerships with public schools and the different ways that each partnership is making a difference.  I got to talk about Good Shepherd, Buffalo; St. Paul’s, Harris Hill; Grace, Lockport, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Calvary, Williamsville.

I also told the story of Eaton Camp and the Children of the Book in Jamestown and the joys and successes and the challenges of both programs.

One of the great blessings of being the Bishop of Western New York is that I get to tell our stories.  I am privileged to be able to share what you are doing with the wider church and the rest of the world.

In a cathedral full of advocates for education equity, from a wide variety of denominations and many secular advocacy organizations, I was proud to speak of the ways that we are making a difference and the ways in which you are making all of the children of Western New York our children.

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The Baby in the Manger

nativity scene

Many families, including my own, are in the process of setting up our Nativity scenes.  The center of most Nativity scenes is the baby in the manger.

I find the figure of the baby in the manger particularly meaningful this Christmas because my own family has our own baby, my granddaughter, Rey.  She isn’t lying in a manger, but she is lying in a crib and a baby carrier.  I am sure that my experience is similar to that of most new grandfathers.  I have found myself falling completely in love with Rey.  She has brought a joy and a light and a hope to my life that I have never known before.

That is the message of Christmas as well.  The baby in the manger brings to each one of us, and to the whole world, joy and light and hope that we have never known before.

Christmas is a time when we have the opportunity to share that joy and light and hope with people who we don’t reach very often.  Christmas is a time when people come to church who don’t often join our congregations for worship.  I believe that the message of the baby in the manger draws them as much as the music and the ritual.  People seek joy and light and hope and believe that they may find it in our Christmas Eve services.

Of course we cannot stop with the baby in the manger.  The baby in the manger is also the Christ of the cross and the one who will bring the kingdom of God when he comes again.

The baby in the manger calls each of us to bring the presence of God to every corner of our lives.  The baby in the manger calls each of us to bring the presence of God to each person that we meet.  The baby in the manger calls each of us to live every minute and every part of our lives as if we are standing in the presence of God, because, in fact, we are.

That is what it means that we call the baby in the manger “Emmanuel” – “God with us”.  God is not only with us to comfort us or to make us feel safe.  God is with us to remind us of our ministry, our job, to bring the love and the presence of God to everyone we meet in every way we can.

That is the message of Christmas.  Christ has come.  God is with us.

The message of the baby in the manger is the same as the message of Christ on the cross.  God is with us and has brought joy and light and hope to each one of us and to the whole world.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas.

Bishop Franklin

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