Peace, and if not peace, then protest

Even during and after the Civil War, Americans used Independence Day to argue and to advocate for their idea of America, their ideals for America. A project from Virginia Tech reports,

… a wide range of Americans — northern and southern, white and black, male and female, Democrat and Republican, immigrant and native born — all used the Fourth to articulate their deepest beliefs about American identity during the great crisis of the Civil War.
…  For everyone, the Fourth was a day to argue about who counted as an American and what that meant.[i]

Certainly, we are still debating what it means to be free, and whose life matters in America. I am aware, as we meet today, of our neighbours in Akron, and another family grieving for answers.

Jesus was not an American, except insofar as he was Everyman.

He began with peace: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (Luke 10:5). If the house would not receive the kind of peace that belongs to the kingdom of God, the kind of peace preached by the Prince of Peace, the kind of uncompromising love and mercy that accompanied his lambs into the midst of the wolves – well then Jesus advised protest. “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” (Luke 10:11)

How does the lamb protest against the wolves?

How do we, who know that the kingdom of God requires mercy, not sacrifice; love, not legalism; courage, not arrogance or violence; how do we offer peace to a world full of wolves? 

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world,” writes Paul (Galatians 6:14)

I have probably shared this quote with you before, but I appreciate Donald Mackinnon’s warning not to take this kind of talk as simple and traditional piety. Instead, he reminds us, the cross, the crucifixion was as real and true and deadly a defeat as could be imagined. Christ crucified: my God!

“It is a lesson to be learnt from tragedy,” MacKinnon writes, “that there is no solution of the problem of evil; … In the Cross the conflicting claims of truth and mercy are reconciled by deed and not by word.”[ii]

The apostles, the seventy, return rejoicing in the power that they have handled and handed out: “Even the demons submit to us!” And Jesus responds, “Yes; and I have seen Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Nevertheless.”

Nevertheless, Jerusalem and the cross await.

Jesus did not come to start a cult, nor a country. He did not come into the world for a select few people, twelve, or twenty, or seventy. He had no desire to keep the kingdom of God to or for himself, nor was he in any mood to argue about who should belong. Instead, he sent out lambs into the midst of wolves, loving disciples into the unpeaceful world, and bid them become messengers of God, speaking peace, and leaving protest in their wake where that peace that passes our understanding was not welcomed.

I like how this gospel passage frames the disciples’ engagement with the world. Peace, but if not peace, then protest. Lambs among wolves do not resort to the tearing and shredding with teeth that typifies their oppressors; yet they have a voice, and a flock, and a shepherd upon whom to call. 

The disciples, the seventy have power, but it is used only in the service of healing. The only beings cast out, cast down, are demons. Even then, Jesus warns them not to bask in their own good deeds, but to revel instead in the mercy, the love, the life that the kingdom of God has brought near to them.

If it had just been for the select few, for him and his crew, he could have stayed safe, done some good, cast out some demons, unmasked a few wolves in sheep’s clothing. But the Lamb of God was sent for the sins of the whole world, including ours.

We are living in wolfish times, full of appetite and anger, a pack mentality it sometimes seems; but the Lamb of God, our own Good Shepherd still sends us out to speak peace, and to bring healing where we may, with acts, with deeds of mercy, and of grace; to protest inhospitality and inhumanity to our siblings and cousins made in God’s image wherever it is found.

An email from the Episcopal Public Policy Network last week addressed the persistence of hard times, even of evil, and our constant need to boast only in the cross, that ignominious defeat that brought a whole new way of life, of victory, especially when the world seems wolfishly ravenous in its appetite for unmercy and unlove:

As Christians, we believe that Christ already is victorious. And so, even if the odds are long, even if we face defeat after defeat and do not see a way ahead, even if we feel that we are fighting the long defeat, we remain steadfast, our eyes fixed on the cross. As advocates, this means we continue to carry out our work and strive for justice. We do not do so because we will win every time, because we won’t. We do not do so because we are assured of progress, because we are not. We recognize that on a human scale, we may face defeat. We keep striving for justice because that is what we are called to do.[iii] 

If we feel as though defeat is always at hand, may it be a reminder of the cross of Christ, and be turned to our hope. If we feel as though the world is at war with itself, with us; if we think the world we thought we knew is strange and full of wolves, may it be a reminder of our own status as lost sheep, dependent on the love of our shepherd to find us and bring us home. If we feel as though peace has dissolved into protest, may we lift up our feet and find ourselves on the way of the Cross.

May we learn to boast of nothing but Christ, and him crucified; may we find our deepest identity in his merciful love.

Amen


[i] https://civilwar.vt.edu/mapping-the-fourth-of-july-in-the-civil-war-era/

[ii] Donald MacKinnon, “Atonement and Tragedy”, in Borderlands of Theology and other essays (Wipf and Stock, 2011), 97-104, here quoted 104

[iii] https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ogr/why-do-we-advocate/

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#GunstoGardens

Pistols into ploughshares

Starve a fever, feed cold 
steel barrels into the forge

Beneath scorched earth cool clay
the kiln at earth’s core;
creation’s heart of stone

Beneath the concrete floor
reverb of the hammer starts a rumour
 – revolution, evolution, healing – 
over the anvil, fever breaks

swords into ploughshares
long guns into garden tools
threat into the promise of
life grown from a mustard seed …

This poem first appeared at https://episcopaljournal.org/pistols-into-ploughshares/

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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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