Among the living and the dead

A sermon for June 19th 2022

I woke up yesterday morning thinking of the people of St Stephen’s in Vestavia Hills, about the altar guild getting the church dressed for Sunday morning, and the Rector doing his damnedest to get a flight home. About the people, each and every one debating internally whether or how to show up.  I wondered who will preach, and what they will say to a congregation in shock.

Of course, they will preach the Gospel. For church people, the reason we are here is because Jesus called us to him, to hear him, to know him, to listen to his charge – to love God and all people, to forgive where forgiveness seems impossible, to care for the grieving – and to rest in his embrace when we need it. He has gone to the grave for us, and he does not leave lonely those who walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

The man – the Gerasene man now, not that other one – the man lived among the tombs (Luke 8:26-39). As I have written elsewhere,[i] he was a local boy, a man of the city. The people knew him, knew his worst. They had tried imprisoning him with guards and shackles; they had driven him out to live alone; he lived among the tombs, among the dead, and not among the living.

The man, from accounts that I have read, who murdered three people at a potluck supper Thursday evening was known to some of his dinner companions. He was described at a press conference as an occasional attendee of the church. One police update said that he was seated as one of them, welcomed to the potluck table before he opened fire. A statement from the family of the first person to die by his hand said this:

The family of Walter Bartlett Rainey (Bartlett) wishes to thank every person who has reached out to offer prayers and a thousand different kindnesses to ease the loss we all all feel acutely today while still finding it so hard to believe. Bartlett was a husband of 61 years to Linda Foster Rainey, and we are all grateful that she was spared and that he died in her arms while she murmured words of comfort and love into his ears. We also feel a sense of peace that his last hours were spent in one of his favorite places on earth, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, a place that welcomes everyone with love. We are proud that in his last act on earth, he extended the hand of community and fellowship to a stranger, regardless of the outcome. Bart Rainey was strong in faith and secure in the love of his family and friends. He made everyone he encountered feel special. We hope you will honor him by extending your hand to those around you who are in need. We—his wife, children, and grandchildren–will miss him

My God, what love is bound up in those words.

When the demons saw Jesus, they were afraid. They begged for their lives. When Jesus showed mercy even to the demons, they proved their destructive nature by plunging the herd of swine into the sea. Did he not know it must be so? It was their nature to be evil spirits. It was, it is Jesus’ nature to be love.

When things like Thursday happen, it makes it easier to justify exclusion, an abundance of caution. With the townspeople, we are afraid, and not without reason, not without evidence. Yet I notice that Jesus does not take the former demoniac away with him, as he requests and everyone would prefer. He, Jesus, insists that they work it out among themselves, how to live together, how to be human to one another, even knowing that the evil spirits may return. “Tell them all that God has done for you,” Jesus urges him. Preach the gospel of Christ’s incarnation and healing mercy. 

The man who perpetrated murder in an Episcopal Church this week has been charged with capital crimes, meaning that his prosecutors will seek the death penalty. But that is not what we do. Our church has been consistent in insisting that we deal in life, not death. That does not mean that this man should not be restrained and that a deeply wounded community does not need to know that it is safe from further harm from him. It does mean that we, that they, will need to work out how to pursue justice with mercy, life with humanity. It is a tall call.

Again, elsewhere I have written, “Everyone is welcome in the house of God, but not all behaviours are welcome. Everyone is welcome, and for the sake of safety and dignity, we set boundaries for how to be together respectfully.”[ii] We have had to navigate that line ourselves over the years and recently. “We all have fallen short of the glory of the “All Are Welcome” sign”, myself included and in particular.[iii]

This weekend, we saw, too, the anniversary of the Mother Emmanuel murders, the racist massacre of the Charleston Nine. Trouble is never far from us. Today, we celebrate Juneteenth, the complicated commemoration of good news too long delayed, and the beginning of the end of an atrocity committed against an entire image of God in God’s people. And no, I did not forget that it’s Father’s Day, too.

It is the nature of the world to be complicated, to be confused and confusing. It is the nature of God to have mercy upon those whom God has made, even in our confusion, our disobedience, our idolatry, our sin. It is the nature of certain spirits to pursue evil. It is the nature of Jesus, anyway and always, to be love.

Not for nothing do we pray today from Psalm22, which we so often associate with trouble, dereliction, and despair; that cry from the Cross. But today, we remember that God is not far from us, nor from our cousins in Alabama, and we pray that they will know the comfort of Christ’s rod and staff, to guide them and protect them in the valley of shadows:

18 Be not far away, O Lord; *you are my strength; hasten to help me.
19 Save me from the sword, *my life from the power of the dog.
21 I will declare your Name to my brethren; *in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.


[i] Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions in an Age of Violence (Upper Room Books, 2021), 62

[ii] Whom Shall I Fear?, 59

[iii] Whom Shall I Fear?, 60

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Goose

On the lakeshore stood a goose. The rest of the flock were in the water, feeding on the flotsam that the impending storm was churning up as the wind announced its imminence. This goose was having trouble. One leg was bad. In the water, it was at the mercy of the currents. On land, it was no help. The goose was trying to hop up the bank, but it was clearly heavy going.

I don’t know that Canada geese are anyone’s favourite bird. They make a noise, they make a mess, they slow down traffic, they are ubiquitous and often rude. They have a reputation for aggression that makes one wary of offering help.

What’s more, what could I do? I have no expertise in bird veterinary services. Just catching and calming the thing would be a trial for us both. But there we were, the goose and I, watching one another, and one of us was injured, and the other was whole.

I told the goose that I would try to find help.

A nature center lies beside my walk home. They often do animal rehab. I stopped in and asked if they had any interest in an injured goose. “Can you catch him and bring him in?” asked the animal man. 

Back home, I scouted out a goose-sized box in the basement. I retrieved from the garage the leather gloves I just acquired to assist me at the forge. I threw in a cloth bag and a couple of towels and drove back to the beach.

The goose was on the water. He was still far behind his flock, but he was out of my reach. I stopped back in the nature center with the update. I prayed for his safety, for the absence of pain, that his flock would take care of him. There was nothing else to do.

Perhaps if I had acted sooner I could have helped, not that he would have thanked me. Perhaps he would have flown away. Perhaps, perhaps. In any case, I knew that just because I was inadequate to the task, that did not let me off the hook for doing what I could to try to relieve the suffering of another creature. Seeing his pain made me, in some obscure way, responsible for his healing.

Perhaps I have heard that pesky parable one too many times.

I know that I will think of that goose whenever I feel inadequate to facing up to the pain that demands address: the frightening paroxysms of racism, misogyny, transphobia and homophobia, xenophobia, these things that are not really fear but loathing. I will think of him when the chronic pain of gun violence feels beyond reach, beyond help, beyond healing.

Once you have seen them, passing by on the other side is simply not option.

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It’s not nothing

This weekend, as we were setting up, or taking down, or hammering out the details for Saturday’s gun buyback and vigil to end gun violence at church, somewhere in Washington a group of senators announced a bipartisan breakthrough on gun regulation legislative proposals.

Forgive me for not pinning down the exact timing. There was a lot going on.

But that’s just it. A new agreement, after decades of petulant refusal to budge on firearms regulation – decades in which mass shootings have become a cultural phenomenon, and gun violence has become the leading cause of death for children and teens in America – this bipartisan (my auto-text suggests) “effort” is something. But in its details, many bemoan, it is not a lot.

And again, this is the rub. On Saturday, scores of volunteers and interested parties joined together to lament, repent, and recommit to ending gun violence, and as a sign and symbol of our commitment we took in guns from anyone who was willing to drive through our parking lot, and we rewarded them with a modest gas-and-grocery gift card, about a score of people with their stories and their secrets and their unwanted, sometimes scary, guns.

We took in north of forty firearms, of various types and heritage. An officer ran the numbers: none were stolen (we set the officer away from the guests so that anonymity would be preserved: if he flagged something, he would not know from which car it came). In a way, this confirmed the argument of some who said, “No criminal is going to give up their gun for a measly gift card!”

Of course not. But gun violence is not only the criminal activity, the atrocities we see on the news. It is the deaths from suicide, the childish “accidents”, the trauma that has a nation so on edge that it seems as though any loud bang could be the death of us. If doing nothing in the face of this new reality is not an option, then doing something is worth the effort.

The people who came to us on Saturday were (almost unanimously) grateful for the opportunity to turn their guns into something life-giving; to remove danger from their homes; to make an act of change, which in the Christian tradition we might call repentance.

The turn, the decision, is only a beginning, however. That’s one reason that we held the Vigil in the afternoon, to cement our commitment, in solidarity with a broader community, to make sure that we remained aware of the movement of the Spirit that has been known to hover, to rest, but never to relinquish the work of breathing life into the people of God and the creation.

What we did is not enough, but it was, I believe, inspired. What happened in DC this weekend is certainly not enough, nor is it yet even a done deal, but if it is a beginning, it is something. I remember learning about inertia in high school physics: a body at rest is inclined to continue to do nothing. A body that begins to move has the chance to collect momentum.

If we thought, on Saturday, that we were done, that we had done our part, it would be more than we imagined we could, and it would not be very much. But within an hour of our beginning, I had people asking me, telling me, advising me about “next time”, and next steps. There was movement, and there may even be momentum.

The danger exists in the celebration of any small progress of the corruption of complacency. The racism that killed in Buffalo, the undomesticated violence that triggered a massacre in Uvalde, the despair that steals lives daily continue to cry out for our attention, and to be disarmed.

But there is danger, too, in writing off the whispers of the Spirit, the slight breeze on the edge of hearing that, with a following wind, may become a perfect storm.

May her currents lift our wings.


[Jesus said] ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. ‘(Matthew 17:20)

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Not all at once

A sermon for Trinity Sunday


“Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

Jesus knew that we cannot handle everything at once. Jesus, in his mercy, his experience of human frailty, promised that the Spirit would remind us, guide us, show us the way in our own time, to what we need.

The relationship of the Spirit of truth to Jesus and to God the Father, the Creator, is of interest on this Trinity Sunday. She speaks not only for herself, but she speaks what she hears, says Jesus, and declares what is to come. The Holy Spirit, who is one with the Creator and the Christ, listens to them, and does not speak apart from them. The mystery of the Triune God is just that – a mystery. Our minds are moulded and, dare I say, imprisoned by the physics and mathematics of the world in which we live. But the life of the Divine, the eternity that exists outside of our laws of time and space can unite three and one, can discuss and listen and speak without division, and whisper as the Spirit to a single soul.

What could we learn, if we were to free ourselves from the constraints that we have imagined about whom we should hear and to whom we should pay attention, and whether in listening to another we risk losing our own advantage? What could we learn from the Holy Spirit, who declares what is true, but does not speak only for herself, but listens for the Word of God, and breathes with the breath of God?

There is a lot going on in our world, in our time. Jesus knew that we cannot handle everything at once. Who can process the images of an insurrection while the words of those reeling from gun violence still echo? Who can enjoy the smile of summer while the spectre of climate crisis clouds the sun? We are still working out how to live through a pandemic, how to survive when it stretches well into its third year and is still bringing people down. We are still grieving the children we have lost, and the innocence we once thought we had. We are still wrestling racism. There is a lot, and Jesus promised to be patient with us, perhaps more patient than we deserve.

Once again, as in last week’s gospel, we find Jesus preparing his disciples for the trauma that is to follow this last evening together: the arrest, the trial, the cross, the tomb. He knows that in their distress, they are liable to forget his promise to rise, to return, that this is not the end. He promises to send the Spirit not only to prophesy and to provoke, but to remind them of all that Jesus has said and done with them. To remind them that God so loved the world as to send Jesus to us.

We cannot handle everything at once. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, who brings the full strength of the Trinity with her, we can remember that God can handle everything at once, and that Christ has already opened the way to salvation. We have only to follow. Only to follow.

Yesterday as you all know we had a pretty major event in our parking lot, then another in the church. A gun buyback and a vigil to end gun violence. We didn’t end gun violence, nor did we address all of the other crises that are assaulting us. We can’t do it all at once. But I do think that the Holy Spirit was with us. I think we saw her in the partnership of friends and strangers alike, from different calls and categories. I think we saw her in the people who bypassed the “Cash for Firearms” sign out on the street and instead handed us their weapons to be forged into garden tools. I think that we saw her before the altar as we prayed for the young lives lost to the scourge of gun violence. I think that we saw her in the reminder that together, we have hope; that in love, there is peace.

We cannot bear it all at once. When I was expecting our third child, I had a small friend over to play with the older two. We thought we would go to the park. I think that it took half an hour to get three children under the age of four into their shoes, because I was for some reason determined that they should each be wearing a matching pair. When my friend came to retrieve her son, I was practically in tears. “How will I manage with three children?” I asked. “We’ll never be able to leave the house again!” 

But the smallest walked early, before ten months, and as soon as she as learned to walk, she began bringing her siblings’ shoes to them whenever we were getting ready to go out, and she was pretty good at matching pairs, for a baby.

I absolutely could not handle everything at once. But I didn’t have to. Three became its own lightness, because of love.

When Jesus promises his disciples that they will not be alone, that they will not have to remember all that he has taught them and given them on their own, he is speaking of the Holy Spirit. But they will also have each other. “Bear one another’s burdens,” as Paul has written elsewhere (Galatians 6:2).

Because the Holy Spirit, even the Holy Spirit, who moves where she will and is infamous for stirring things up, even that Spirit does not speak alone, but in solidarity and unity with her partners in the Trinity, the mystery that is God.

And we, although we cannot save the whole world at once, and sometimes can’t even get a matching pair of shoes together, we are not alone. Christ has already saved the world, the Spirit is here to remind us, and God, God who loves the world so much, will not let us fall like the sparrow without catching us.

There is always more to be done, but as the glorious image of the Trinity reminds us, none of us is in this world alone.

Glory to God whose power, [whose Spirit,] working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21)


Image via pexels.com

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Pentecost: fear and tailfeathers

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

“I do not give to you as the world gives.” It is that moment, that aside, that qualification of Jesus’ gift of peace to his disciples that makes all the difference. How else can we understand him telling them, telling us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid,” when we know what is coming next in the story: the scene in the Garden at night, with torches and weapons; the trumped-up trial; the Cross.

“My peace I give to you.” Jesus is not saying, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace,” as the false prophets try to calm the people into complacency (Jeremiah 6:14). The peace that he will give to his disciples is not the whitewash that paints over problems, nor the paste that papers over cracks. It is not the bliss of ignorance but the grip of truth. It is peace that passes understanding, that finds the restless Spirit of God even in the most troubled times, and seizes upon her tailfeathers in order to find the direction in which she is moving. It is not a passive peace.

“I do not give to you as the world gives,” says Jesus, who gives freely of himself, who does not hold back even his life, even his body, even his wounds; who does not charge for his services nor even lay charges against those who persecute him, but prays for their forgiveness. Truly, he does not give as the world gives.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

The world does not recognize truth when it is on the move in the midst of us. The world does not know, the world has turned away from the love of God. The world has turned from the love of neighbour, the image of God in every person it meets. The world has torn itself apart, burning the forests to choke its own lungs, sacrificing children on the altar of an idolatrous construct of freedom. 

Do you know how many mass shootings have taken place since we met last week? It’s hard to keep track, isn’t it? Do you know how many more quiet wounds have been incurred by our addiction to guns and violence? None of us does. It seems that in Ohio, the only answer our leaders will try is providing for more guns. Did you know that the same legislators last week tried to write into an unrelated Bill the right for anyone, anyone to question a child athlete’s gender and require that they undergo intimate examinations to prove themselves to strangers before they can continue with their beloved activities? And yes, the two things are related, because when discrimination and oppression are authorized and armed, the world becomes a lot less safe for the least powerful among us. (This is not a partisan complaint: this is a lament over the way in which the world continues to deny the Spirit of truth, of life, the Advocate of mercy.)

The world is far from the self-giving, all-embracing, powerfully-forgiving, humble, and freeing love of Jesus; love that is so complete that it frees the heart from fear and the conscience from trouble. The world has tumbled like the Tower of Babel. 

And here is our problem, to quote a once-popular song: We are the world. We are the children. 

And yet, says Jesus, you know the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, whom God the Father sends, because she lives within you, and dwells within your heart, and wanders within your imagination. We have dreams, we see visions of how it could be otherwise, if God’s will be done.

Do you remember when our Diocese began putting up billboards and printing bumper stickers: LOVE GOD, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, CHANGE THE WORLD. Is there any doubt left that we have to change the world if we, or our children, or our children’s children are to survive it, let alone if we are to stand before the judgement of the living and the dead? And the thing is, we have the recipe for change. The question is, do we believe in it?

Love God, as God has loved us. Love your neighbour, as Christ loves. Change the world.

On the Day of Pentecost, when the disciples were gathered while the world was outside and the Holy Spirit decided to stir things up, the world was called to account by Peter, and the visions of God were poured out like oil, and three thousand people believed and were baptized and repented. They were changed. Their world was turned inside out by the self-giving, out-pouring, visionary, vital love of God.

Are we ready for a change?

Well, we’d better get ready because in one short minute we are about to renew our baptismal covenant. We will respond to the Apostles’ Creed, affirming our faith in God represented in Trinitarian form, the Creator, the Christ, the Spirit. And we will make certain commitments to the life of the church and our life in the world: to persist in prayer, to resist evil, to proclaim peace, to serve Christ, to respect the dignity of Christ’s incarnation in every human being with whom we share the air. Five times we will say to those bold propositions, “We will with God’s help.” And, God help us, God might just help us change. So we had better be ready.

Because Jesus, because the Spirit, because God does not give as the world gives. This time it’s different. This time is for eternity.

Last weekend, at the Cathedral, we ordained five new deacons for service in the church and in the world. I say we, because while the Bishop laid his hands on them, we all prayed for the presence of the Holy Spirit, to make it so. At our baptisms, the people prayed that we be “[filled] with [God’s] holy and life-giving Spirit;” that this Spirit would “teach [us] to love others in the power in the of the Spirit;” and “send [us] into the world in witness to [Christ’s] love.” (BCP 305-6)

In witness to Christ’s love, given not as the world gives, but completely, devotedly, utterly.

Do not let your hearts be troubled, therefore, and do not be afraid to stand in the Spirit of truth, in the Spirit of love, and change the world. For there is far too much of trouble, and too much fear; but the Spirit is on the move among us, and we fly by the grip and grace of her tailfeathers. 

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Do not harden your heart

An open letter to Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio

Dear Governor DeWine,

I appreciate your stated commitment to making our children safer in their schools. Arming their teachers is not the way to do so.

As you know, the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the Ohio Education Association have urged you to veto HB99, stating that, “The Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers want to be clear: House Bill 99 will make Ohio’s students less safe in their schools.”

Everytown for Gun Safety agrees that “Research strongly supports the idea that children will access guns when guns are present”; that “Access to a firearm, irrespective of age, triples the risk of death by suicide and doubles the risk of death by homicide;” not to mention that “Arming teachers introduces new liability risks.”

More guns in our children’s schools do not make our children, nor their teachers, safer.

Again, the educators themselves lament,

“The safety of Ohio’s students and educators is our utmost priority, but we know putting more guns into school buildings in the hands of people who have woefully inadequate training—regardless of their intentions—is dangerous and irresponsible. Teachers and other school employees should not be asked to serve dual roles as educators and school safety personnel armed with weapons, but, if they are, rigorous training standards, as set under current Ohio law, are essential. House Bill 99 guts those requirements, capping the state training requirements at 24 hours and putting educators in the impossible position of making split-second life-and-death decisions without sufficient training. This could undoubtedly lead to more tragedies in our schools.”

Governor DeWine, it is time to look beyond “hardening” tactics, the escalation of available weaponry, and capitulation to a culture of gunfire in order to protect and promote our children’s welfare. Do not harden your heart (Psalm 95:8).

Instead, evidence-based research tells us that it is past time for sensible gun storage laws to keep firearms out of the hands of children and teenagers, and to teach and encourage responsibility among adult gun owners. It is past time to limit the sale of semiautomatic weapons that have no place on our city streets, let alone in our schools, or in the hands of teenagers. It is past time to strengthen background checks, which are supported by the vast majority of your constituents. It is well past time to care for one another’s mental health with access to healing and support, not firearms.

Governor DeWine, you have spoken of your faith, and so I appeal to you not only as a citizen but as a fellow Christian: Do not put a stumbling block before these little ones (see Matthew 18:6). Since 2020, injuries from firearms have become the leading cause of death among children and teens in America. Our guns have become a stumbling block to our children. Do not set more in their way.

Please veto House Bill 99 when you are offered the opportunity.

Faithfully,

The Revd Rosalind C Hughes

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Do not leave us comfortless

A sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter: the Sunday after the Ascension, and the Sunday after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas


“Do not leave us comfortless,” we pray in the Collect for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, in the midst of those ten days between the Ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. If three days between sealing the tomb and seeing the stone rolled away seemed an eternity, ten days of new waiting, new wondering what was to come, what they were to do, must have felt like a lifetime to those apostles.

In ten days in May, we saw grandmothers and lovers gunned down in Buffalo, a church attacked in California, and now, and now those children and their teachers. We are shocked to the core by the spectacle of another elementary school shooting, two days before summer break, with its promises of ice cream and lemonade. And we pray, “Do not leave us comfortless.”

And that’s appropriate. We each have our own grief and trauma to process, and God cares about it, about us all. Even so, after Buffalo and Uvalde, not to mention Ukraine and Yemen, I can’t help feeling a little selfish, a little greedy when there is so little comfort to go around. When I hear, “Do not leave us comfortless,” I think of his grandmother. I think of those four children in Uvalde orphaned first by the murder of their mother as she tried to protect other people’s children in her classroom, those children whose father’s heart was literally and physically broken by her loss. I wonder, would it not be better to pray, “Do not leave them comfortless”?

On this Memorial Day weekend we honour those who gave their lives for a vision of freedom, of justice, of some kind of peace we imagine. Yet war continues to kill civilians in Ukraine, in Yemen, and elsewhere, and weapons of war continually and repeatedly terrorize our children, their families, our communities.

In the vision of Revelation, John sees those who are welcomed into the city of God, who have the right to eat of the Tree of Life, which produces twelve kinds of fruit for each month, and its leaves are healing for the nations (Rev 22:2). And “nothing accursed will be found there any more,” writes John (Rev 22:3). There is no murder, no harm, no foul thing within the city (Rev 22:15), and no more weeping (Rev 21:4). Amen, he declares, come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20) And we echo his prayer: Do not leave us comfortless, but give us the vision of God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done here and now.

“Do not leave us comfortless.” What if our prayer was not for ourselves, for our own comfort, but that we might not be without comfort to offer to those who are beyond consolation? 

We have all felt that helplessness, that hopelessness in the face of tragedy and seemingly overwhelming violence. But we are not without help, and we are not without hope. God does not leave us comfortless.

In his letter this week, in the aftermath of far too imaginable violence against innocent children and their helpers, our Bishop rightly wrote that we cannot say this is not who we are, when it keeps happening. When we keep letting it happen.

But if this is who we are, then we have the power to change that, to repent, to repent in dust and ashes and on bended knee; to become something new, washed and wrung out [and God will not hang us out to dry].

Yesterday, five new deacons were ordained into the church, and at their ordination a lay member of our diocese preached. Ruth Benedict Mercer spoke of hope, and I wish that I could just deliver her here to you, because her message was so powerful. You can find it online. At one point, she quoted Cornel West, who has called himself a “prisoner of hope“ . I chased down that quote and found that he describes the difference between optimism and hope in a Masterclass on “Hope and Optimism, Love and Loss”:

Optimism, he says, is a spectator sport, watching to see whether the evidence shows that things might get better. But hope, if hope sees that things are not getting better (and that is how it looks to many of us just now), then hope decides that we need to create some new evidence, that we have to do something different if things are going to get better.

To quote West, “hope is in the mess, in the muck, in the mire, in the funk. And it helps create new evidence. Because when you are in the funk, in the mire, in the mess, your actions, your attitude, your inspiration, your impact on other can create new evidence.”

And, he says, “It’s no accident then that hope and despair go hand in hand. Hope is a wrestling with the despair. Over and over again, but never allowing despair to have the last word to dampen your fire to sustain your hope in your quest for truth, goodness, beauty, and maybe the Holy.”

We are not comfortless. In the midst of despair, we have the hope that comes from taking up the Cross, that instrument of death, and bearing it away, creating the conditions for new and resurrected life. We are not comfortless, but comfort is not saying it’ll be ok when nothing is ok, peace when there is no peace. Comfort, like hope, has to be an agent of change if it is to have any meaning.

In the coming weeks you know that we have some work to do. We are running a gun buyback here in two weeks’ time. We will beat some guns into garden tools, swords into ploughshares. We are planning some diocesan-wide and province-wide sessions to encourage and equip one another to do the work of disassembling our economy of weaponry and violence. After this service, you may gather in the Chapel to pray a Litany in the Wake of a Mass Shooting, you can sign condolence cards to some of the communities most recently affected by atrocity; you can also follow the urging of the Episcopal Public Policy Network to put pressure on our elected officials to do the will of the overwhelming majority of the American people and put some controls around our gun trafficking, which has led to so much death, devastation, and despair. We, the body of Christ, can pray and hope and demand that no more bodies be broken by AR15s acquired by teenagers. And, we are partnering with our neighbours to address anti-racism, using the Sacred Ground curriculum. Hope creates new conditions, and does not simply sit back and hope for the best. 

I invite you into that work in whatever way works best for you. Because if we are to pray, “Do not leave us comfortless,” we cannot turn our backs on those who are inconsolable. 

God does comfort us, feeds us with the fruit of the Tree of Life, Christ’s body and blood broken on the Cross and poured out for us. May we become fruitful in feeding others with comfort, hope, healing for the nations. May the Holy Spirit come not only to comfort us, but to inspire and incite us, to provoke us to visions of how this could be otherwise, and to work to paint them into reality. Do not leave us comfortless, but come, Holy Spirit.


Featured image: Rachel weeping for her children, via wikimedia commons

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He descended into hell

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God …

Thence shall he come
to judge the quick and the dead,
he who sitteth at the right
hand of God who sees the sparrow
in flight and will not let
a feather fall from sight without
remembering its creation,
shaft and vane, the downy barbs,
whose hand is swift to bless
and slow to anger;

thence shall he come
who said, let the children
come to me, sitting at the right hand
that lifted Ephraim to the bosom,
carried him cheek to cheek;
thence shall he come to judge
the dead and the quick,
the right hand of God raised …

The Apostles Creed, Matthew 10:29, Hosea 11:3-4.
Featured image: Last Judgement, Pieter Pourbus, 1551 (detail), public domain dedication by Vassil via wikimedia commons

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Resolution

The Mayor and City Council of Euclid passed a resolution recognizing #WearOrange, gun violence awareness month, and the Guns to Gardens: National Buyback Day


Sometimes, it seems as though the bad news never ends; as though bad will has blotted out our ability to see humanity in one another, let alone the divine image.

As long as we have breath, there is something we can do about that.

The Church of the Epiphany is honoured to stand in partnership with this City Council, the Mayor, and with our friends at Our Lady of the Lake’s Nonviolence Ministry to declare and resolve that we are not helpless in the face of rising gun violence. If we have the good will, we can be good news for this City, this community, this country.

We are not trying to paper over the cracks. I hear the racism that drove a young man to Buffalo this weekend to kill people buying food. I hear the despair of the victims of crime, and those who feel imprisoned in their own lives. I am not suggesting, God forbid, that wearing orange, running a gun buyback, planting a seed makes everything ok. But as long as we have breath, we have to do something.

A gun buyback is one small thing, and from 11am – 1pm on Saturday, June 11th we will do it. Anyone can bring their guns, unloaded please and in the trunk of the car, and exchange them anonymously for a gift card. Perhaps that gun is not well secured at home, and you are just beginning to see its danger to your growing family. Perhaps the time has come to have the conversation with an older relative about the car keys, and the gun, and whether they are still safe things to have to hand. Perhaps someone left you a gun or gave you a gun that you didn’t want and don’t know what to do with. Perhaps the gun presents a danger to you. If we can help make one family, one person, one life easier, we will take that gun off your hands and hand you a gift card. As long as we have breath we have to do something.

What happens to the guns that we collect? They are done posing a threat to anyone. They will be destroyed, legally and safely, but that’s not the end of it, because in the Christian tradition we like to talk about being raised to a new life. The guns that come in on June 11th will be repurposed, as far as we can do it, into garden tools, using a simple blacksmithing forge. Think about that: the thing that was causing sleepless nights can now be used to plant lavender and chamomile to soothe the spirit. Instead of finding its way into a supermarket and wreaking havoc, it can be used to grow food for the community. At 2:30 on the same day, June 11th, we will begin that process of transformation.

So much more needs to be done. We look to our elected representatives to help us form a community that reflects good will and the values of a compassionate collection of individuals. We are in this together, and I thank the Mayor and the Council for your support of these initiatives and for this Resolution, and I look forward to continuing the work with you.

Because as long as we have breath, we are changing the world, one simple exchange at a time.


Resolution of Recognition (retyped: any errors are mine)

A resolution recognizing June 3rd, 2022 as National Gun Violence Awareness Day, recognizing June as National Gun Violence Awareness Month and encouraging individuals to wear orange the first weekend in June to help raise awareness about gun violence and to honor the lives of gun violence victims and survivors.

WHEREAS, in 2016, Congresspersons joined together to introduce a resolution establishing the first Friday in June as National Gun Violence Awareness Day and designating June as National Gun Violence Awareness Month thereby bringing attention to the issue of gun violence and honoring the thousands of Americans who are victims of gun violence every year, including Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed in Chicago, Illinois on January 29, 2013; and

WHEREAS, this year, people across the United States will recognize National Gun Violence Awareness Day on June 3,2022 and wear orange in tribute to Hadiya and other victims of gun violence. Wear Orange Weekend (June 3-5, 2022) was inspired by a group of Hadiya’s friends who asked their classmates to commemorate her life by wearing orange. They chose this color because hunters wear orange to be visible to other hunters when out in the woods and orange is a color that symbolizes the value of human life; and

WHEREAS, according to the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, the CDC, Ohio Department of Health, in 2021 there were 853 homicides in Ohio and 1,798 injuries due to gun violence. Guns are used more often in suicide than in homicides and are the most common method of suicide in Ohio and U.S. In Ohio, five people die from suicide every day – and one youth dies from suicide every 33 hours; and

WHEREAS, the Mayor and Euclid City Council are grateful for community efforts such as The Nonviolence Ministry of Our Lady of the Lake and the Guns to Gardens: National Buyback Day at the Church of the Epiphany on June 11, 2022; and

WHEREAS, Euclid City Council, the Mayor and her Administration renew their commitment to reduce gun violence and pledge to do all they can to keep firearms out of the wrong hands, encourage responsible gun ownership to help keep our residents and children safe.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED:

Section 1: June 3rd, 2022 is recognized as National Gun Violence Awareness Day, we recognize June as National Gun Violence Awareness Month and encourage individuals to wear orange the first weekend in June to help raise awareness about gun violence and to honor the lives of gun violence and survivors.
Section 2: That this Resolution take immediate effect.

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Tabitha’s companions struggle “to assert her dignity and worth as a human being”

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday), 2022. The readings include the story of Tabitha/Dorcas and the comforting words from Revelation 7:17. In the news this week was the leak of a Supreme Court draft decision that would end the legal precedent of Roe vs Wade.


I hope that Peter saw more in Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, than what she had made. I know that the display that her companions made of her sewing and stuff was done out of deep love and admiration for their friend and all that she had been to them; but I also know that there is a tendency to judge a person by what they produce, and for all of her works of charity, the women knew that Peter would be impressed if they could show him Tabitha’s material value to the community.

And, I hope that Peter saw through it.

We hear the refrain time and again, appealing to the unique status, vulnerability, and gifts of women: she was somebody’s mother, sister, wife, daughter. But what if she were an only child, or an orphan, one way or another? What if she were widowed, or never chose to marry; what if she missed motherhood, and was grieved by it, or what if she never missed it at all? 

What if she had made different decisions, suffered different accidents, chosen different paths than we would have, given her body? Well, that we will never know, since we are not privy to the process which formed clay, dust, and ashes into human form and gave it life, the gift of our common Creator, whose imagination and compassion never run dry.

What if she had no one, or no one left, to grieve her, to display the items she didn’t produce: wouldn’t God still love her, she who was made in his image? Shouldn’t we?

The women, the widows interpreted Dorcas to Peter in the way that they thought he would best understand, but I hope that after all his time with Jesus, Peter knew better. I know that her companions knew her better than that.

The women had come together to wash her body and commiserate, because there are always those spaces in time and culture where those who bear the title or burdens of womanhood need to come together for mutual support, encouragement, commiseration, wisdom, laughter, and tears.

This may be one of those spaces in our time and culture, for those of us who bear the title or carry the (often blessed, sometimes heavy) burdens of womanhood.

You’ve all seen the news, you know where I am going with this. What you may or may not know is that the Episcopal Church, our Episcopal Church, has considered the ethics of abortion and the relationship especially of women to reproductive healthcare many times across the past fifty years and more, and rightly so. This is not a theoretical subject divorced from the lived reality of our pews. Nearly one in four women in America experiences abortion, one way or another, for one reason or another, by the time she is forty-five years old.

Now, to some of you, that is a shocking statistic. To at least one in four of us, it is not a surprise. I am one. The surgery that I underwent during the failure of my first pregnancy was no different just because I had deeply wanted and still grieve that foetus than the procedure undergone by the very, very young woman in the next bed, nor do I know what was in her heart at that moment. I know that we suffered and recovered side by side, and each went home alive and intact, grateful for that, if bereft. I know that God, by the way, who gives life and who welcomes us into eternal life, has charge of both of the beings lost that day, and cares for them.

At successive General Conventions, the Episcopal Church has affirmed that human life “is sacred from its inception until death. … Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God.” As such, the Church grieves with those who want but struggle to become pregnant or give birth and opposes what it calls “abortion for convenience.” But that is a phrase wide open to interpretation, and the Church recognizes that there are many issues that impinge upon a person’s ability or advisement to fulfil a pregnancy. Where there is doubt, the Church would like people to know that they can safely come here to pray. The Episcopal Church, since before I was born, and before Roe vs Wade became law, has maintained without wavering its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation … which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.” 

As I have described, my personal experience of abortion care, as painful as it was, was that of necessary, compassionate, and healing medicine. At our most recent General Convention, the Episcopal Church called for “women’s reproductive health and reproductive health procedures to be treated as all other medical procedures,” and declared “that equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health care, is an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being,” all of which, I might add, we understand to apply equally to trans and nonbinary people who may become pregnant. 

Which brings me back to Tabitha. The woman’s struggle (the person’s struggle) to assert her dignity and worth as a human being should not be dependent upon anything other than the integral value that she has as a child of God herself, made in the image of her Creator. I hope that Peter understood that, when Tabitha’s friends were struggling to assert her worth and value to their community through what she had produced, what she had made. I hope that it was the pure and self-giving love of God that caused him to raise her up.

But most of all, in this week, and on this Good Shepherd Sunday, I want to remind each of us, and especially those of us who need to hear it most this day, that Jesus loves more than ninety-nine out of every hundred sheep; that God loves more than three out of every four women; that God loves you, without qualification or exception. That whenever we are in need, sorrow, or any other kind of adversity, there are those who will gather with us, to weep and to pray, to heal, and to bring resurrection to hand. That God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

“Do you love me?” Jesus asked Peter in last week’s Gospel. “Then tend my sheep.” No exceptions.

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