February 25, 2018
Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
I speak to you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Good morning, Church of the Redeemer. It’s wonderful to worship with you in this stunningly beautiful sanctuary, to stand alongside my good friend and colleague, your rector, Cricket Park. If you are a guest today, I welcome you on behalf of this congregation. I serve as the bishop of this diocese, which takes me every Sunday to a different Episcopal church across four Maryland counties and the District of Columbia. I bring you greetings from those who worship in those 88 congregations.
If you’re the note-taking type, I invite you to take out your bulletins, or a piece of paper, and pen, or a smartphone app, because in a few minutes, I’m going to invite you to write something down to reflect upon during the coming week.
The central theme, and title of this sermon is The Ultimate Paradox of Faith:The Way of the Cross as a Way of Life.
First a story to remind us all of the meaning of paradox:
When our sons were in high school, we spent one family vacation mountain-biking in Costa Rica, which was every bit as adventurous as it sounds. It was also a lot harder than I had anticipated. Nothing in my years of tooling around on paved roads had prepared me the terrain there. Riding uphill was exhausting; riding downhill was terrifying. Staring down vertical trails covered with enormous rocks and marked with huge holes, I would ride my breaks all the way down.
Our tour guide gently tried to teach me basic mountain-biking skills. “I know it doesn’t seem logical,” he’d say, “but the safest way to ride down a steep, rocky trail is to accelerate. You need speed to carry you over the rocks safely.” Intellectually, I knew that what he was saying made sense, but I could never get my body to believe that I wouldn’t be killed if I pedaled my way downhill.
Such is the nature of a paradox. It’s something that goes against our common sense--a statement that seems contradictory, unbelievable, or absurd, but is, in fact, true.
We live with paradox daily. Our perceptions tell us that the earth is still and mostly flat, but the truth is that we live on a sphere spinning through space. In relationships, our instincts may be to rush in to help those we love in whatever way we can; but the truth is that there are times when doing so is not the most loving thing, that love at times dictates holding back, creating space, allowing those we love to find their own way. (I am the parent of young adult men. I know whereof I speak.)
Conversely, our instincts sometimes tell us to pull back when a situation becomes too painful, when in fact what is needed is deeper engagement even when it hurts. Thinking of the marvelous feats of athleticism we have been privileged to watch in the Olympics these past two weeks, I once heard an athletic trainer tell a group of aspiring young athletes that if they wanted to excel in their sport (and fill in here any other endeavor you would want to excel in), they would have to find “a new definition of fun,” one that included long, demanding hours of training and the sacrifices such training demands. That is truth in paradox—when what doesn’t seem true on the surface, in fact, leads us to a deeper truth or way of being to which we aspire.
Applying these insights into the realm of faith, we begin by simply acknowledging that the paradoxes of faith are many. They are, as the Prayer Book describes them, mysteries of faith, those things that on the surface seem impossible or contradictory, or at the very least counter-intuitive, and yet we come to believe, and even to know, that they are true. Surely Jesus gives us the ultimate paradox in his stark assertion that those of us who want to save our lives must lose them, and those who lose our lives for his sake and the sake of the gospel will save them.
Reading again the gospel text for this morning, Jesus sounds like the Buddha in his conversations with the disciples this morning, beginning with the matter-of-fact assertion that he must undergo great suffering. After rebuking his friend for trying to reassure him that suffering could never be his fate, he goes on to say that anyone who wants to be his follower must suffer as well, deny themselves and take up their own cross. It doesn’t make sense: how do we lose our lives in order to save them? How does suffering lead to good? And who would want to follow someone who's good news is linked to a cross?
What’s striking about Jesus’ words is the presupposition of suffering, an acceptance that suffering is not only a part of life, but an essential part of the spiritual path. He assumes that everyone has a cross to bear, and so the only question is whether we will rail against it or choose to carry it with some modicum of grace, accepting it as our own and finding the life it brings.
Now, certainly there is some suffering that is avoidable, and thus should be avoided. There is nothing to be gained by needless suffering, senseless suffering, or what some psychiatrists call false suffering, that is, the pain we experience as a by-product of avoiding something else. Carl Jung once wrote that neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. In other words, sometimes we’d rather choose one form of suffering that isn’t necessary in order to avoid of the cross that is ours to bear.
How, then, can we distinguish needless suffering from the suffering of our own particular crosses? How indeed.
One distinction might be in the fruits of suffering, whether or not the suffering takes us anywhere or keeps us spinning in place like a hamster on a treadmill. Is it suffering that makes us more of who we are or confirms our fears and keeps us small? The kind of suffering Jesus endured and that he encourages us to embrace always has redemption of some kind on the other side. In contrast, the pain of false suffering, while real, is pain that goes nowhere. “Choose your pain,” a wise person said to me at an important crossroad in my life. “Whichever path you choose will involve pain. The question is, which pain carries the promise of life?”
There’s a fair amount of language in the Scriptures that refers to a process of dying to self in order to live for Christ, or sacrificing self, as Jesus says today, in order to gain eternal life. But remember what someone told me in my early twenties, “If you don’t have a self to give, then there isn’t much sacrifice involved.” It’s important to remember, when we are tempted, particularly in youth or stages of immaturity, that if we rush too quickly to the part of faith that involves sacrifice without knowing who we are or what we have to offer, then we’re simply avoiding the hard work of becoming a self in the first place.
So with all those caveats firmly in place, let’s move now to the hardest way to determine whether a cross is ours to bear. It’s the one that comes to us and we must accept, no matter the sacrifice required, because we have no choice. These are the crosses thrust upon us and the only question is that of our response. The Benedictine nun Joan Chittister writes that "the will of God for us is what remains of a situation after we try without stint and pray without ceasing to change it."
These crosses require us to let go of something--something that we love, or hoped for, or worked toward--and to let it go for the sake of a greater love, or, because life demands it, even though we wished for something else. And it hurts. It hurts as much as cutting off a limb would hurt, or tearing out our heart. But the paradox, the mystery of faith is this: in the bearing of our cross, when it’s ours and we know that it’s ours, and in the denying and even sacrificing a part of ourselves, God gives us more of ourselves in return, selves grounded in the love of Christ, for us and through us. I don’t know how this works. I only know that it does.
The key is to accept the cross for what it is—the hardest possible thing asked of us—and to embrace it as our destiny, even if we didn’t choose it and would run far from it if we could. In that acceptance, we join our will and our heart to God and freely choose what otherwise has been thrust upon us. We move, then, from being victims of fate or circumstance to active agents of our own transformation, and through us, the transformation of the world. We make room for Christ within, room that he occupies with characteristic humility and love, helping us to become even more of the self we were created to be, even as we’re being stripped away of parts of ourselves that we hate to lose.
Obviously Lent is a particularly fruitful time to consider your life through the lens, and the paradox, of the cross, and to consider the particular cross that is yours to accept, take up as yours as your destiny, your vocation, through which God’s grace may flow.
We’ve come to the note taking part now: I ask you to write down, or hold in your heart, and name for yourself, if you can, the particular cross that is yours to bear.
Think, too, of the people in our society or in the wider world whom you admire for doing the same thing, those who have embraced the suffering thrust upon them for the sake of a greater good. By taking up their cross they are a part of Christ’s on-going redemption of the world.
I have been traveling alongside survivors of gun violence throughout my episcopate. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred within a month of my consecration, and like many others at the time, I thought that it would be a catalyst for a new approach to gun policy in our country. We were wrong. Over the years I have heard the anguish of those who have lost loved ones to gun violence. Many resolve in their grief to do whatever they can to ensure that others do not have to experience what they have gone through. There is a large and growing body of survivors determined to change our nation’s gun policies.
When the students of Parkland, Florida spoke last week of their resolve not to be the latest in a growing list of schools where a mass shooting took place, but instead the last such school, they tapped into a deep well of frustration, grief and solidarity across the nation. The students are not pretending to be anything other than who they are--students. They also recognize their privilege and their power to make their voices heard. In their struggle to accept the tragedy thrust upon them and to sacrifice a part of their lives, they are poised to help to stem the epidemic of gun violence.
There are countless examples across the spectrum of life experience that we point to--people who are helping change some portion of the world for the better through their acceptance of a cross they were obligated to carry.
As I draw to a close, I’d like to read to you a portion of an article that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in the early years of his public ministry. "Suffering and Faith," was published in the religious journal The Christian Century in 1960. This was after the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and three years before the March on Washington. The editors wrote King back because in his first draft of the article, he never mentioned his own suffering, and they wondered if he might. He hesitated to write of his own suffering, he responded, but given that they had asked, he added a few paragraphs. They didn't arrive in time to be included in the main article, but were printed later.
Due to my involvement in the struggle for the freedom of my people, I have known very few quiet days in the last few years. I have been arrested five times and put in Alabama jails. My home has been bombed twice. A day seldom passes that my family and I are not the recipients of threats of death. I have been the victim of a near fatal stabbing. So in a real sense I have been battered by the storms of persecution. I must admit that at times I have felt that I could no longer bear such a heavy burden, and have been tempted to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. But every time such a temptation appeared, something came to strengthen and sustain my determination. I have learned now that the Master’s burden is light precisely when we take his yoke upon us.
As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive.
There are some who still find the cross a stumbling block, and others consider it foolishness, but I am more convinced than ever before that it is the power of God unto social and individual salvation. The suffering and agonizing moments through which I have passed over the last few years have also drawn me closer to God. More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God.
In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer at the end of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage that reads: Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life.” To make the cross to be the way of life. It is the ultimate paradox. It doesn’t make sense, it is true.
With whatever cross you are struggling to accept, remember that Jesus is here for you to help you shoulder it. Trust that God’s grace will not only sustain you, but honor your suffering and help transform the loss you experience into a way of life. Rest assured that others will know something of grace and love because of the cross you accept and carry. Amen.
February 22, 2018
A police officer takes away protest signs on May 3, 1963. Moments later firemen hosed demonstrators.
(Ed Jones/The Birmingham News)
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
I think we were the pivotal point that caused some changes to take place in society. I think the nation was so outraged by how children were being treated . . .
Janice Kelsey, Participant in the Children’s Crusade, May 2nd, 1963.
In the spring of 1963, leaders of the Civil Rights Movement feared they were losing momentum in the Birmingham, Alabama campaign. White officials, led by the infamous Bull Connor, wielded the full power of a police state to deny black citizens basic civil and human rights. Violence was their tool of intimidation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and others had been beaten and jailed for their efforts, but the mass movement needed to awaken the nation’s conscience failed to materialize. African American adults feared house bombings, threats against their families and losing their jobs if they joined the protests. White religious leaders chastised King for stirring up trouble. The press was losing interest in Birmingham, as was much of the country.
But among young African Americans, the passion for justice was growing. Hundreds of teenagers and elementary-aged children began showing up at mass meetings. Fearing for their safety, King was initially reluctant to allow young people to participate in the resistance, but then realized he could not stop them.
On Thursday, May 2nd, 1963, more than a thousand children and teenagers defied a court injunction prohibiting them to march on the streets of Birmingham. Police arrested them all. The next day a thousand more took to the streets. Police met them with fire hoses set at pressures strong enough to tear flesh. When water did not deter them, the police used billy clubs and dogs. Still the young kept coming. “Don’t worry about your children,” King told frantic parents gathered in a mass meeting. “They are suffering for what they believe, and they are suffering to make this nation a better nation.”
If you don’t know the story of the Children’s Crusade of 1963, now is a good time to learn. For we are witnessing a similar rising up of young people. Student leaders around the country are stepping in where adults have failed, compelling our elected leaders to address the issue of gun violence. What began as a call from survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School shooting has become a national movement.
We can ensure that they do not march alone.
To date, there are 63 marches organizing around the country for March 24th, with thousands planning to come Washington, D.C. The Diocese of Washington is preparing to join the marchers and welcome them with the best of our hospitality. We’re looking for churches where marchers can sleep, find respite during the day and food for the journey. More than a dozen churches are leading the way. We’re also organizing EDOW youth and all who wish to walk in solidarity with them to take part on this historic march. With our ecumenical and interfaith partners we are planning a pre-march vigil on Friday evening March 23. We'll have more information soon.
We are not alone in this work. The country’s conscience has been awakened and people from all sectors, many faiths, and every point on the political spectrum are responding. You can learn more about the Episcopal Church’s national efforts on the Bishops United Against Gun Violence Facebook page.
If you are interested in being part of EDOW’s ministry of solidarity and hospitality, please let us know. Plans are still fluid, but we will keep you informed each step of the way.
It’s a privilege and great responsibility to be present and awake at pivotal moments like these. I give thanks for the young people who are leading the way.
Learn more on opportunities and information related to March for Our Lives.
February 18, 2018
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Preachers are often counseled to address from the pulpit whatever issues they know are on people’s mind when the come to church. While everything I have to say today has been informed by the events of the past week and all that has led up to them, I won’t touch upon them directly. So before going on, might we pause together and allow God’s grace to meet us in silence as we offer our sighs too deep for words on behalf of those killed or forever marked by the school shooting in Parkland, Florida and for the 800,000 young people fearing deportation from the only country they’ve known as home.
The day after President Trump’s election, we held a service at Washington National Cathedral. We had planned it for weeks, recognizing that no matter the election’s outcome, we would need to pray for our nation. The biblical image that came to mind for me that day was exile. Many of us woke up feeling exiled in our own land. And we knew, that had the election gone the other way, at least as many others would have felt the same way. In fact, one of the more theologically conservative priests of the diocese wrote me afterwards to say that he was among those who have felt in exile not only in the country but in the Episcopal Church for a very long time. Regardless, then, of where we stand on any theological or political spectrum, exile is an experience common to all.
Today I’d like to reframe our experience of the times we live in through the lens of another biblical image given to us every year at beginning of Lent--that of wilderness. The season of Lent, as you know, is patterned on Jesus’ time in the wilderness, when he was driven by the Spirit after his baptism to the wilderness. He was there for 40 days and 40 nights, mirroring the ancient Israelites’ 40 years in wilderness after their escape from slavery in Egypt.
Wilderness and exile have a lot in common. They are seasons and states of dislocation and disorientation. We rarely choose to go to either place, but are instead driven there, as Jesus was, by circumstances or forces larger than we are. While the terrain may be similar, the reasons we’re there and the work given us could not be more different. In exile, we must learn to make our home in a new place, much like the refugee family you are preparing to welcome. In contrast, when we enter a wilderness, we’re never meant to stay there. It’s a pass-through place, on the way to somewhere else.
The wilderness is a place of testing, of trial and transformation. We aren’t in control of what happens to us in the wilderness, but how we respond to our circumstances and what God is doing in the midst of them will, in large measure, determine the direction of our lives and the impact of our witness when we’re on the other side--and we will get to the other side someday, when we are ready. You know, it wasn’t physical distance that kept the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before they entered the Promised Land, but rather their spiritual capacity to live as free people. It took them that long to able to live as free people.
So if we’re in wilderness now, let’s get our bearings so that we can be open to all that God wants us to teach, so that we, too, can move on.
Remember that being in a wilderness isn’t necessarily an indication that we’ve done something wrong. While it is, by definition, a hard place, landing there can be one of the best things that ever happen to us. The wilderness is where Jesus went, as Frederick Buechner once said, “to learn what it meant to be Jesus.” It’s where we learn something of who we are and what matters most. It’s where we learn to distinguish the essential from the trivial, and discover how little we actually need.
The wilderness is a lean place--you get what you need there, but not much more than that. There is a nomadic quality to it, which I’m sure as a church you can relate to. While the Israelites were in the wilderness, they complained of hunger and became nostalgic for their days in slavery, when at least they were given something to eat. So God sent them manna, a bland sticky grain that they could gather each morning, enough for the day. The day before Sabbath, they could gather for enough for two days, but otherwise if they tried to hoard or keep manna it would rot. The lesson is clear enough: in the wilderness, you get your daily bread from God, no less and no more. It isn’t the greatest bread, either, but it will keep you alive.
I once heard someone describe the kind of guidance God gives in the wilderness as that which comes to you one piece at a time. You receive an insight to act upon; after you do, the next bit comes to you, and then the next, each step requiring some response. The novelist E.L. Doctorow likened the work of writing a novel to driving the fog with your headlights on. You can’t see far in front of you, he said, but you can make the entire journey that way. Traveling in the wilderness can feel like that—moving forward according to the dim light you’re given, without being sure of the destination.
There’s also a sense of cleansing that’s part of the wilderness experience, shedding patterns or ways of being that no longer suit us. Years ago, Anne Lamott told a story of a time went she went dress shopping with her dying friend, Pam. Modeling one dress that she especially liked, she asked her Pam if it made her look fat. Her dying friend was quiet for a moment and then said, “Annie, I don’t you think have that kind of time.” Is there anything you don’t you have time for anymore, some way of being yourself that no longer suits you? In the wilderness, you’re invited to lay it down.
We exercise new spiritual muscles in the wilderness. Sometimes we feel very far from God and must learn the disciplines to keep our own candles burning, but it’s also possible to feel an extraordinary connection to God, even in desolation.
I first met Bishop Gene Robinson years before his election. He had come to the Diocese of Minnesota to lead a clergy conference sometime in the late 1990s. He spoke to us of his wilderness time when he decided at last to be honest with himself and all around him about his identity as a gay man. That honesty resulted in the loss of his marriage, the daily joys of parenting his children, and the near loss of his vocation in the church. “I crawled into bed each night,” he said, “with only my integrity and relationship to God intact. And I learned that those two things were enough.”
There’s something exhilarating about knowing God that way, and knowing that we are mentally and spiritually prepared to face just about anything. “I know that I will never be afraid of anything again,” I heard someone say, after facing his greatest fear. “I know that I will never be someone's good little girl again,” said another, after facing a mean-spirited authority figure and holding her ground. These are wilderness statements.
The last thing I’ll say about the wilderness, echoing Bishop Robinson’s words, is that it is a place of tremendous honesty and integrity. It’s where you learn what it means to be you. So if someone asks to you to state your truth, the essence of who you are and what you live for, you can do it. The wilderness is where God sends us to learn who we are and who God is to us. It is a costly yet priceless gift.
Now let me wrap things up by giving you a bit of wilderness homework this week, if you’re interested in going deeper.
First, read and contrast the biblical accounts of Jesus’ time in the wilderness as told in Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke. It will take about 5 minutes to read, and a lot longer to ponder: what were the temptations that Satan put before Jesus and what do his responses tell us about him? Equally important, what temptations would Satan put before you to keep you from your true path? What would he put before you to keep you small, prevent you from claiming your true identity as a child of God?
Second, read two articles from today’s Washington Post.
The first is a feature article in the Style section tracing the stunning career of African American director Ava DuVernay, whose film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time opens next month. Her story is a great example of wilderness training preparing a person for an important life work. Here’s one excerpt:
“DuVernay’s rise is not accident. It’s about talent, long hours and the way you treat people. About not doing things the same way because that’s how they’ve always been done. Oh, and always remember: you may be the first to get a big break but your not the first to deserve one.”
The article also tells of a particularly low moment when it would have been easy to be bitter that her white male counterparts were moving up in Hollywood at lightning speed while she felt passed by. But instead she reached out to a friend for support, got back to work, rededicating herself to her craft, her purpose in life, her abilities, and in so doing, forged her own path in the film industry.
The second article, A Politician is Born in the Magazine section, is an exile-to- wilderness story if there ever was one. It highlights all the women motivated to run for political office in the wake of the last presidential election and what it takes to get ready for such a race: motivation, training, confidence-building, fundraising prowess, networking skills. You don’t learn those overnight. It takes time, patience, willingness to fail. You go to the wilderness to learn those things. While our current body of politicians are doing whatever it is they’re doing, there is a rising body of women in wilderness training, getting ready for their opportunity to replace them.
The wilderness is where God sends us to prepare for a future we cannot yet see.
I can’t help but wonder what it is that you, as a church, are being prepared for, what spiritual attributes you will need for your life as a church when the new building is complete. With that in mind, I leave you with one final wilderness image, this one directly related to the creation of a building:
The renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, near the end of his life, taught a master class for gifted young architects. The students were rising stars in the architectural field, eager to try innovative ideas and make their mark in bold and dramatic ways. Wright, however, encouraged them to turn their energies inward. “As no stream can rise higher than its source,” he said, “so you can build no greater buildings than you are. So why not go to work on yourselves, so that you become the person you would have your buildings be?”
St. Thomas’ Church, we aren’t in exile any longer. We are in wilderness training. May God continue to bless and equip you to become the church your new building is being created to house. May God sustain each one of you in the wilderness terrain of your individual lives. You are meant to be here. There are lessons to learn here. God will show you the way, one wilderness step at a time.
February 16, 2018
The heart of our nation has been broken yet again by another mass shooting at an American school.
We offer our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were murdered at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We mourn with particular sorrow Carmen Schentrup, a 16-year-old student at the school and leader in the youth group at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, who died at the hands of the gunman. We pledge to work with the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida to lend whatever material and spiritual comfort we can to all those who have suffered such a devastating loss.
The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has been devalued by politicians whose prayers seem never to move them to act against their self-interests or the interests of the National Rifle Association. Yet, as Christians, we believe deeply in the power of prayer to console, to sustain and to heal, but also to make evident the work that God is calling us to do. We pray that all who have been touched by this violent act receive God’s healing and solace.
In the wake of this massacre, we believe God is calling us to understand that we must not simply identify the social and political impediments to ending these lethal spasms of violence in our country. We must reflect on and acknowledge our own complicity in the unjust systems that facilitate so many deaths, and, in accordance with the keeping of a holy Lent, repent and make reparations.
Specifically, we ask you, members of our church and those who ally yourselves with us, to:
- Contact your elected representatives and ask them to support legislation banning assault weapons such as the AR-15, which is the gun used in most of the recent mass shootings in our country; high-capacity magazines; and bump stocks, the equipment used by the killer in the Las Vegas massacre that allows semiautomatic weapons to fire dozens of rounds in seconds. We understand that mass shootings account for a small percentage of the victims of gun violence; that far more people are killed by handguns than by any kind of rifle; that poverty, misogyny and racism contribute mightily to the violence in our society and that soaring rates of suicide remain a great unaddressed social challenge. And yet, the problem of gun violence is complex, and we must sometimes address it in small pieces if it is not to overwhelm us. So, please, call your members of Congress and insist that your voice be heard above those of the National Rifle Association’s lobbyists.
- Participate in a service of a lamentation for the victims of the Parkland shooting and all victims of lethal gun violence. We will be announcing a schedule of such services at churches around the country in the near future. To keep up with these plans, please follow our Facebook page Episcopalians Against Gun Violence
- Enter into a period of discernment with us about how, through prayer, advocacy and action, we can make clear to our elected representatives that they must vote in the interests of all Americans, including law-abiding gun owners, in passing life-saving, common sense gun policies.Visit our websiteto learn more about our work and how to reach us. And if you plan to attend this summer’s General Convention in Austin, Texas, plan to join us each morning for prayer outside the convention hall and to attend the Bishops United Against Gun Violence public witness on Sunday, July 8 at 9 a.m.
Two years after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that took the life of Ben Wheeler, an active young member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Connecticut, his father, David,asked parentsto look at their children and then ask themselves, “Am I doing everything I can to keep them safe? Because the answer to that question, if we all answer honestly, clearly is no.” In memory of Carmen and Ben and all of God’s children lost to senseless gun violence, may God give us grace and fortitude in our witness so that we can, at last, answer yes.
February 15, 2018
“We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen. . .”
In the last 3 weeks I’ve been in a variety of group settings--clergy lunches, a dinner with wardens, table fellowship at our home, and a Sunday forum. What they had in common? Conversation in which we shared stories of personal faith experiences. I came away from each gathering uplifted, inspired, and wanting to hear more.
We had a prompt for these conversations, a deck of “faith sharing cards.” Each card has a question, both in English and in Spanish, such as:
Some people feel that they are being ‘led’ by God. Tell about a time when you felt the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as yourself. Share a story of a time in your life when this was especially challenging. How did you respond?
What is the message you think Christ wants us to take into the world? Share a story from your life when you were most faithful to that call.
Share a story about a time when you allowed God to change your mind.
Not wanting to put anyone on the spot, when I introduce this faith sharing exercise, I hand out at least three cards per person, so that participants can choose among a variety of questions. “And if you don’t any of those”, I tell the group, “you can pick three more.”
So far, after a moment’s hesitation, people have jumped into the conversation. The level of personal sharing surprises everyone. At one gathering over dinner, people who had not met before went around the table three times! At another, those who knew each other well expressed awe at what new things they had learned about their friends.
It’s often a revelatory experience to share part of our story, for in retrospect we often see more clearly how Christ was present in a time of struggle, how the Holy Spirit acted in ways that we hadn’t recognized before. In the telling of our stories there is an increased confidence in God and our response to God. It is always moving to hear another person’s story.
At Diocesan Convention last month, we gave a set of “faith sharing cards” to every delegate and clergy person present, encouraging them to use them in a variety of settings among their faith communities. For the next year, I will use them when I meet with clergy and lay leaders, particularly when we share a meal together, and at some diocesan meetings, perhaps inviting folks to share a faith story with the person sitting next to them as part of our devotional time.
Research shows that among Christians, Episcopalians are the least comfortable sharing their faith with other people, which makes it difficult for us to grow in faith together, and it helps explain why our churches struggle to attract new people.
I invite you to join me and others in sharing bits of your faith story and listening to others in your community do the same. If we all take up this gentle challenge for a year in various settings, I’m convinced that we will be a more joyful, spiritually confident, warm and welcoming church.
It’s worth trying, don’t you think?
You can download your own set of faith-sharing cards on the EDOW website. There we also have suggested questions for youth and children.