Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Pastor Donald Phillips from Lewis Chapel called me on Tuesday morning to let me know about the vandalism that had occurred in Albion and that there would be a gathering for unity and peace at Superior and Ash that evening. I then heard that St. James was one of the buildings that were spray painted. I was outraged, feeling angry and very sad, feeling helpless and violated. Why would this happen in Albion? How could people be so hateful and destructive! What did St James ever do to anyone? Jon asked how could anyone deface our building, it is such a pretty little church. The reality is that hate and bigotry are ugly and cruel and don’t care about beauty; they are more interested in destroying anything and anyone that does not agree with them and their opinion.
Over the past few months we have been discussing Christian Social Witness and what it means to be “welcoming and affirming”. Some of us are fearful of drawing attention to ourselves, of making St. James a target for hate and bigotry. The events of the past couple weeks here in Albion and across our great nation have shown that we do not need to display decals for a weapons free zone or fly a rainbow flag to become a target for hate and bigotry, that they will seek us out even if we try to blend into the landscape.
Many of you have told me that St James is welcoming and affirming that we are polite and friendly to all people who visit us or who want to become one of us; that we offer emotional support and encouragement to those different from ourselves. Many of you have told me that you are not racist or elitist, that you have friends of color and family members who are people of color that you have friends and family members who are homosexual or mentally ill or have been convicted of a felony and that you love them and accept them as they are. Good, I am glad to hear this. I am grateful that I can count on your support as we explore what it means to be welcoming and affirming and examine our own complicity in the exclusion of others. I am grateful that as we study the Episcopal Church’s history of racism and sexism and genderism that I can count on you to step forward and say that this was not and is not acceptable behavior that you will actively strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. I am truly thankful to serve such a loving and engaged community as I find at St. James and in the wider community of Albion. I am truly blessed!
Many people have reached out this past week to offer St. James and the community of Albion support and prayers. We welcome visitors this morning especially those visiting from Trinity, Marshall. Bishop Whayne Hougland asked me to tell you that he is sorry that he cannot be with us today, but that we should know that Albion and St James are in his prayers. The Bishop said we must be doing something right if we are attracting vandalism and symbols of hate. Bishop Whayne is very proud of what we are doing in Albion. I am hopeful that this week’s vandalism was a random act and that St. James was not specifically targeted, but we should seize this as an opportunity to speak out against hate and bigotry and to say that racism and ageism and sexism and genderism and socio-economic elitism are not acceptable; that intolerance of those who look or think or believe differently is not acceptable. Yes, we are intolerant of intolerance!
I have heard a couple stories in the past week of people approaching women wearing hijab, a traditional head covering for the hair and neck worn by Muslim women and threatening them if they do not remove it. Isn’t it strange that some people find a sign of modesty in another culture a threat to their own culture?
I have heard a criticism of St James, that we are making too much of our ministries and thinking too highly of ourselves, that there is nothing special about us. I agree that we are not special, we are just one of thousands of little churches across the country living out our faith day in and day out, carrying out the mission of the church through the ministry of all our members, working to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ; praying and worshiping, proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice, peace and love. We don’t expect to be thanked or praised for doing our ministry, for carrying out the work of the church, but if in tooting our own horn we can help other small churches realize that yes they can make a difference in their community too; that a handful of enthusiastic people can stir a response in a community that builds trust and relationship; that a Reading Camp can help build self-esteem and character in our children; that a community garden can help feed the hungry, promote appreciation for God’s creation and create an environment to build relationships and share stories, then I say we should toot away.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, a day to celebrate and remember Christ’s kingship over all creation. The Jewish people were hoping for a savior to rescue them from the tyranny of the Romans. They were looking for a mighty soldier, a David to fight their Goliath, who would lead their people to a place of power and prestige. Jesus was not who they were expecting. Where they expected someone who would be comfortable working among the rich and the powerful, Jesus worked among the poor and the powerless often offending the rich and the powerful. Where they expected someone mighty and powerful, they found Jesus to be gracious and compassionate, welcoming children and women, the poor and the marginalized. Jesus' earthly ministry was not one of military might or oppression. Rather, it was one of peace, liberation, and above all, service. Jesus turned the whole concept of lordship and primacy on its head. In the Kingdom of Heaven, in order to be a ruler of all, a person must be a servant of all. Jesus demonstrated this servanthood in his life and miracles. Even the Incarnation is an example of this: God the Son, King of all creation, humbled himself to become human, even sharing the ultimate fate of his captive subjects: death. Where the people were hoping for a powerful king to sit on David’s throne, God sent a servant king whose throne was the cross, a throne from which Jesus Christ was able to liberate God’s people from the tyranny of sin and death and reconcile all creation to God the Father.
As children of God created in the image of God I am grateful that we have the example of Jesus Christ who shows us how to embody the love of God, who shows us how to love our neighbor, our enemy and those different from us. I pray that none of us will need to prove our love by dying a horrible, tortuous death, but am humbled to know that God calls us to carry out his work in our communities. I am thankful that we live in a part of the world where we can participate in selecting our leaders, where we can hold our leaders accountable for their actions, where we can criticize our leaders when they do not follow the law or when they make hurtful, thoughtless comments, where new leaders do not execute their opponents or the previous leaders and where people of different beliefs and philosophies can agree to work together in the best interests of the people and of the country that they lead. I thank God for each and every one of you, both those who share my opinions and those who hold different opinions and life experiences. Together we are stronger because of our differences. I pray that each and every one of you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. May God bless and keep you. Amen.
Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
The events of this past week caused me to stop and think about what it means to live in the United States of America and whether that is compatible with living in the Kingdom of Heaven now and not yet. This week we remember our Veterans. In Great Britain, Canada and the British Commonwealth November 11th is Remembrance Day when those who died in wars since World War I are remembered. A red poppy is often worn. I wore one this week and was asked if it wasn’t too political to wear. Does it mean I support war? What about those whose ancestors fought on the other side? What about those of Japanese descent who spent World War II in internment camps? What about those who suffered at the hands of the British and their allies?
In the United States those who died in wars are remembered on Memorial Day in May. Veterans’ Day is when we remember those who fought and fight for their country whether they were killed in the line of duty or return home safely or return home with physical and .psychological disabilities, with missing limbs or eyes or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and lost youth. Why do these young men and women fight? They fight for our way of life, for democracy, for capitalism, to protect our interests, for justice and peace. A question I ask is do we fight for those same things here and now where we live and can we do it non-violently?
This week we also held elections for a new president and other offices with Donald Trump and the Republican Party the presumed winners. For some this is cause for celebration, an opportunity for change for those unhappy with the status quo and current affairs. For others this has been a time of grief with many wondering what this will mean for women and women’s rights to live without sexual harassment, with reproductive freedom and equality; what will this mean for immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, and people of color; what will it mean for those who identify as homosexual and LGBTQ; what will it mean for health care for the poor and the powerless; what will it mean for the environment; what will it mean for education?
No matter where you stand on the election, remember that we are ALL children of God and that God loves everyone, Democrat and Republican, American and Mexican, heterosexual and homosexual, white and non-white, male and female, Christian and non-Christian, rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, you and me. Share your concerns and listen to the concerns of others.
This morning’s reading from the Second letter to the Thessalonians is sometimes used to justify the elimination of social welfare programs, “anyone unwilling to work should not eat”, but I do not believe that was Paul’s intent. Paul and many of his followers believed that Jesus Christ’s return was imminent so marriage, property ownership and many other things were no longer deemed a priority or important. Some people used it as an excuse to no longer work or support their families. These are the people Paul is reprimanding, those who can and are able to work but choose not to. Paul is telling them to work hard and not to live off the graciousness of others. Paul is NOT talking about the sick, the elderly, the foreigner, children, women, the powerless and those who are unable to work or are not able to support themselves. Paul is reminding the Thessalonians to remember what he taught them, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and to work hard.
We know that the Good News is that we are beloved children of God and that God loves us and that God loves everyone including those we disagree with and our enemies. We are called to follow the example of Jesus who walked out among the people, all the people including the poor and the powerless. Jesus gives us the example of regular pray and maintaining a relationship with God, to love God. Jesus gives us the example of loving our neighbor and our self, to communicate with others sharing our story and listening non-judgmentally and with curiosity to their story, to build a relationship with our family, our friends, our neighbor and the stranger, to share from the bounty that we have with those who have less, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick and to provide for the needs of the foreigner, the stranger and the powerless. The creation story tells us that humankind was created to care for God’s creation and Jesus confirms in his parables that God continues to care for the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, for God’s creation and so we should continue to love and care for our environment and the good gift of life that God has given to us.
As Christians in the Episcopal tradition, this is what we should fight for whether as members of the American Armed Forces, as politicians, or as citizens and residents of this country and this state of Michigan. We should fight for the right and the freedom to love and to worship God whether as an Episcopalian, Catholic or Protestant, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, Hindu, Atheist or Agnostic. We should fight for justice, respect and peace for all people. We should fight for clean water and fresh, healthy food for all people, here at home and around the world. We should fight for suitable clothing and shelter for all people. We should fight for education and health care for all people, not just those who can afford it or whom society deems worthy. We should fight for the poor and the powerless including children. We should share our story and our Christian story especially with our children and our young families and listen attentively to their stories. We should fight for a clean, healthy environment for ourselves, for our grandchildren, for our international neighbors and for all of God’s creatures. Remember God created us in his own image to love and to be loved in relationship with all of God’s creation. Amen.
Dick Porter, Diane Garrison, Tamara Crupi and I were at the 142nd Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan Diocesan Convention in Battle Creek on Friday and Saturday. It was a very good Convention. Bishop Whayne Hougland continued sharing his vision for the Diocese. The theme in 2014 was “Changing the Game” with prayer, study, worship, outward facing ministry and a Rule of Life. The theme in 2015 was “Starting a Movement” discerning what we are called to be in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan, our values and priorities, our emerging vision and to courageously follow and encourage others to follow the “Jesus Movement”, to experiment and take risks, to embody the love of God in our lives, reorienting our lives to be witnesses to a way that is loving, liberating and life giving, a way that can change this world.
In 2016 we are “Getting into the Groove of the Jesus Movement.” The Spirit is vividly moving in vibrant ways among us as we seek to live into our emerging vision to:
1. Communicate better with God, each other and the world around us.
2. Reach out to younger generations.
3. Raise up a Deacon in every congregation as a catalyst for mission.
4. Support programs that address needs around food, water and shelter.
5. Engage in a process of Asset Mapping.
Bishop Whayne shared with us many stories and videos, including our own, of new and exciting ministries sprouting organically all over our diocese, demonstrating what the loving, liberating and life-giving Jesus Movement looks like. Look for our Albion Community Gardens Video on Facebook and I included the link on our website under Outreach. The Bishop and the Convention were very affirming of our ministries here in Albion. Reverend Law encouraged us to “Keep God’s Blessings Flowing!”
We were reminded of the importance of voting on Tuesday, that it is an important civil duty and a privilege that too many take too lightly forgetting the sacrifices that others have made so that we can vote. We are asked to remember our tradition of considering “scripture, tradition and reason” and not to succumb to the dehumanizing rhetoric displayed by many seeking their own will instead of the will of God and distorting our relationship with God, our neighbors and ourselves. In our baptismal vows we are called to love all our neighbors, to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being even Republicans and Democrats.
The Reverend Jennifer Adams gave a report from the Task Force on Restructuring.
Judy Fleener and The Reverend Zachariah Char were elected to the Standing Committee.
William “Bill” Fleener Jr, Anne P. Davidson, Thomas W. Perrin and Mary Wylie Simpson were elected Lay Deputies to General Convention with Pamela “Pam” Chapman, Dr. Barbara J. Kelly and Amanda Henes elected as Alternate Deputies.
The Reverend Canon William J. Spaid, The Very Reverend Brian Coleman, The Reverend Anne Schnaare and The Reverend Nurya Love Parish were elected Clergy Deputies to General Convention in Austin, Texas July 5th to 13th, 2018, with The Very Reverend Jared C. Cramer, The Reverend Cindy Nawrocki and The Reverend Paula Durren serving as Clergy Alternate Deputies.
The Reverend Eric Law, Executive Director of the Kaleidoscope Institute was our Keynote Speaker and guest preacher at the Convention Eucharist and Confirmation. Some of you may remember that we did a book study with Trinity, Marshall two years ago on Reverend Eric Law’s book “The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community”. Reverend Law held three workshops and a sermon on the topic of “Holy Currencies: 6 Blessings for Sustainable Missional Ministries”. Reverend Law suggests that there are Six Currencies necessary for a sustainable ministry: the Currency of Time and Place, the Currency of Gracious Leadership, the Currency of Relationship, the Currency of Truth, the Currency of Wellness and the Currency of Money. I highly recommend his book to you.
During his sermon for All Saints Day, The Reverend Eric Law said that there are three things necessary for a saint. The first is to remember that we are a beloved child of God and that God loves us. He asked us to repeat after him, “I am a beloved child of God and God loves me!” Let’s try it.
The second trait of a saint is to remember that all people are a beloved child of God, even our enemies, those who vote differently than we do, and ISIS. He asked us to turn to at least three different people sitting near us and tell them, “You are a beloved child of God and I will listen to you.” This is how we build relationships, by listening to the other. Let us try this at the peace.
The third trait of a saint is to go and spend time with the poor and the powerless, to listen to their stories and to learn their truth, to be curious and to ask questions, to get to know our neighbors.
This morning’s gospel is from “The Sermon on the Plain” in Luke chapter six. Jesus promises blessings to the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the abused and the powerless. Jesus warns those who have an abundance not to neglect the poor and the powerless, but to share from our abundance so that all may have enough.
We had a great time at the Western Michigan Diocesan Convention. Please speak with Dick, Diane, Tamara or me to hear more about our experience at convention. And remember, “You are a Beloved Child of God and God Loves You!” Amen.