Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Striving for justice and peace and Respecting the dignity of every human being in North Carolina

North Carolina bishops issue statement regarding HB2

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In our baptismal covenant, we commit “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” For many, this is the most difficult promise in the covenant, as it calls us to move beyond our differences, expectations, fears, prejudices and misunderstandings about other people and meet them where they are. At times, it means standing up in the world and speaking truth to power, knowing that there will be resistance. This promise takes us out of our comfort zone and into the uncharted territory of God’s grace.

In the highly polarized and political environment in which we live, we may be tempted to take sides on an issue or to back off entirely and be silent. But the issue of discrimination is not partisan, nor is it secular. The practice of discrimination by a state or institution limits, even prohibits, us from respecting the dignity of another human being. It inhibits our very capacity to care for one another and to work for the common good. This affects all people.

On March 23, 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2 (HB2). This bill overtly discriminates against LGBT people and goes further by cutting back on protection against discrimination for anyone in the state. HB2 does this by:

• Refusing to understand the complexity of the lives of transgender persons and criminalizing nonproblematic behavior by members only of that community; • Overturning the local passage of laws by the city of Charlotte to allow transgender persons to use the gender-specific facilities matching their identities, and requiring all people to use facilities according to the biological sex listed on their birth certificates;

• Preventing cities and counties from establishing ordinances extending protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons, while making no effort to call for protection at the state level; • Making it more difficult for people who are being discriminated against for reasons of race, age, sex, religion or disability to take legal action by making them take their cases to federal court instead of to the state;

• Discriminating against the working poor by restricting a community’s ability to demand that contractors raise minimum wages to living wages and pay for vacation and sick leave.

In the weeks since the passing of HB2, other states have followed suit, putting forth bills openly supporting discrimination against LGBT persons. Such discrimination by the state reinforces the fear and prejudices of people who do not know or understand the lives of people who are already marginalized in our society. It cultivates an environment in which we do not respect the dignity of each person but instead fight to hold on to personal power and privilege.

The response against HB2, in North Carolina and around the world, shows evidence that this bill affects the lives of more than a few people using the bathroom; it touches on the ongoing struggle for equality.

As a Church, we seek to love unconditionally as witnessed in the life of Jesus and follow his example by embracing those who are marginalized by society.

We affirm that all people are created in the image of God and are loved by God.

We oppose laws supporting discrimination against anyone by race, religion, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation, genetic information or disability.

These are complex issues with wide-reaching ramifications. HB2 was introduced and passed into law in one day, without sufficient time to listen to the voices of all who are affected by the bill. The mounting economic losses for North Carolina show this hasty process did not leave room to consider what impact HB2 would have on our state. We are all paying the price.

Because we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity every human being, we call on the North Carolina State Legislature to repeal HB2. We encourage our leaders to listen to the experiences of LGBT citizens and to seek to understand their lives and circumstances. Furthermore, we offer our prayers and support for the LGBT community, and for all who are affected by this bill.

Yours faithfully,

The Right Reverend Anne E. Hodges-Copple
Bishop Diocesan Pro Tempore of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina

The Right Reverend Porter Taylor
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina

The Right Reverend Robert S. Skirving
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina

The Right Reverend Peter James Lee
Bishop Assisting of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina

Remembering Chernobyl


It has been 30 years since Reactor 4 exploded at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster

What we can learn from this disaster, is found in this reflection by the Ecumenical Patriarch:

https://www.patriarchate.org/-/the-power-of-memory-chernobyl-thirty-years-later

This new kind of thinking—this new ethic that aspires to “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21.1) —is what should be taught in every parish and every corner of the world. Chernobyl should be a lesson about restraint and sharing. We must show compassion; we must demonstrate respect; and we must make peace, not just with our neighbors, but also with the whole of creation.

Season of Prayer III & IV

Presiding Bishop calls for a Season of Prayer

The Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called for a season of prayer for regions of the Anglican Communion which are experiencing violence and civil strife. “In this season of Resurrection, I call on everyone to pray for our brothers and sisters in areas where there is much burden and little hope,” the Presiding Bishop said.

Citing Galatians 6:2 - Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ

Presiding Bishop Curry called for prayer throughout the holy season of Easter. Beginning on April 3, the First Sunday of Easter, and proceeding through Pentecost May 15, The Episcopal Church is asked to pray for a particular province or region: Burundi, Central America, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Middle East, Pakistan and South Sudan.

The Episcopal Church’s Middle East Partnership Officer the Rev. Canon Robert Edmunds shares a reflection this week:

“Not a day goes by without news of violence from somewhere in the Middle East. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank are all locations seared into our minds. Hundreds of thousands are dead and something above four million human beings are refugees in foreign lands and tens of thousands more are identified as “internally displaced persons.” The horror of barrel bombs, IEDs, knife attacks, brutality at borders, house demolitions, and the de-humanizing impact of occupation by military forces of civilian areas are painfully commonplace. Christian churches are desecrated and others destroyed. Innocent men, women, and children are lost to the violence every day. Muslim, Christian, and Jewish families grieve, each in their own neighborhoods or far from their homes.

In this same region is the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. Anglican Christians throughout the region continue to hope, work, and pray for peace in their respective homelands and for their neighbors. Education, health programs, and pastoral care for one another and those who seek help, both locally and from afar, benefit from the compassionate efforts of indigenous Christians whose faith is rooted in the Anglican tradition.

A Prayer for Peace: O Holy One, we know that violence between your children is not according to your will and we pray that you will help and guide all the peoples of the Middle East who are caught in the violence find both justice and reconciliation. We pray for open hearts for all sides to listen and work for peace. We pray for a change of heart for everyone involved in this struggle that they will realize that solutions to this conflict are to be found in negotiations and not weapons. We ask also for safety for our fellow Christians in the Holy Land that they may continue to serve as living representatives of your Son in the land of his earthly birth. We ask all this in His Name, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

The Anglican Church of Congo (Province de L'Eglise Anglicane Du Congo) was established in 1896 but remained part of the Church of Uganda until 1980. Today the Province includes nine dioceses and focuses its ministries on evangelism, education, social development and well-being, and reconciliation.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen decades of violent conflict and bloodshed. From 1997 to 2003, a brutal civil war raged throughout the country and saw troops from a number of neighboring countries participate in the fighting. In the years since the official cessation of that war, armed conflict has continued to be a part of the daily life for many Congolese citizens, particularly in eastern Congo. In the midst of this reality, the Anglican Church of Congo works to improve the daily life in communities across the country. It has embraced an asset-based development approach in its ministries and addresses physical, emotional, and spiritual needs through programs focusing on HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and gender-based violence. The Church also has a special ministry for women who have been victims of sexual violence during the years of conflict.

The Anglican Church in Congo participates in an ecumenical Great Lakes peace campaign along with neighboring countries and churches, including Burundi and Rwanda. In 2015, the Province organized peace, justice, and reconciliation-themed events ranging from cultural activities and workshops to soccer matches. 2016 brings new tensions surrounding the upcoming presidential election. The Anglican Church of Congo plans to continue their public witness about the importance of peacebuilding across the country.

A Prayer for Peace: Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 815)



Remembering Prince

There is an interesting NY Times article that looks at Prince & his Spirituality:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/opinion/sunday/princes-holy-lust.html

You can remember Prince as one of the most sexual artists of all time, and you would be right, but he was also one of the most important religious artists of all time. He put the thought of an inescapable Judgment Day and a vision of a glorious afterlife into the ears of millions of people. And Prince’s musical ministry was not about preaching to the choir like most gospel artists. He was outside the church, in the proverbial street, preaching to people who didn’t realize he was putting spiritual messages in their heads.

My favorite of his is the song The Cross that Prince wrote in 1987

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry, he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross

Ghettos 2 the left of us
Flowers 2 the right
There'll be bread 4 all of us
If we can just bear the cross
 
Sweet song of salvation
A pregnant mother sings
She lives in starvation
Her children need all that she brings

We all have our problems
Some BIG, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry 4 he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross

Ghettos 2 the left of us
Flowers 2 the right
There'll be bread 4 all, y'all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah

We all have our problems
Some are BIG, some are small
Soon all of our problems, y'all
Will be taken by the cross

The cross

Easter 5 Sermon (April 24)

Be present, be present, O Risen Christ, as you were with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of bread and in the Scriptures, we pray. Amen.

“Dearly beloved - We are gathered here today - To get through this thing called life”

Those are the opening words of the song Let’s Go Crazy by the musician, artist, composer, Prince (Rogers Nelson), who died on Thursday. In that same song from 1984, which is a song about living one’s life to the fullest and not getting down, he says:

“You better live now - Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door”

He is right. We are here to help one another get through life, and we need to live because none of us knows when death will come.

In her memoir Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son, Anne Lamott writes about getting through life in the face of death:

"The only son of some people that Sam (her son) & I know from town has died. How on earth can the parents survive that? How can the grandparents?

"Same old inadequate answer: They will survive with enormous sadness and devastation. I don't see how this is possible. But looking back over the years, I see that people do go on against absolutely all odds, and truly savage loss.

"Some of us have a raggedy faith. You cry for a long time, and then after that are defeated and flattened for a long time. Then somehow life starts up again. Other people set up foundations so other kids don't die the way theirs did, and so their kids didn't die in vain, or they do political work for the common good. Your friends surround you like white blood cells . . . Some aching beauty comes with huge loss, although maybe not right away, when it would be helpful. Life is a very powerful force, despite the constant discouragement.

So if you are a person with connections to life, a few tendrils eventually break through the sidewalk of loss, and you notice them, maybe space out studying for them for a few moments, or maybe they tickle you into movement and response, if only because you have to scratch your nose."

If we look carefully, with persevering trust, we will realize the love of God breaking through like flowers through the cracks in the sidewalk of our brokenness and pain. Such compassion and care is ours to give and receive in our "raggedy" attempts to follow Jesus and when others suffer trauma and loss, may we possess the grace of God to be a "tendril" of God's love for them.

For Jesus at the last supper, told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The greatest challenge that we have as Christians & our raggedy faith, is to be that open, loving person that Christ calls us to be for others. Who we are as disciples of Jesus is defined by that love we give for one another.

In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter responds to the criticism that he has begun reaching out to Gentiles, by explaining how it was that the Holy Spirit guided him to this work.

“The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

In many ways Peter is not only talking about faith, but about love too. The Holy Spirit helped him see that he shouldn’t be making a distinction (us vs. them), that if they [gentiles/uncircumcised] were called to receive the same gift as he has, he needed to respond in faith and love to them.

I am reminded of a beautiful collect from the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with… "Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace."

What Jesus asks of us, is to help with that saving embrace, how we reach out our arms of love to this world. A world that is so filled with hate, spite, violence, inequality, and death. And yet, it is the little acts of love that can transform our world. A young woman remembers her beloved grandfather:

"Grandpa was a man of integrity. He was a rancher who loved his family fiercely and passed down simple yet important life lessons. My dad tells a story about helping his dad tediously wash borrowed farm equipment before they returned it to a neighbor. 'Why are we cleaning this?' he asked. 'It was dirty when we got it.' 'Always return something a little better than you found it,' was Grandpa's reply.

"A week after Grandpa's funeral, I helped my dad vacuum, wash, and refuel a car he had borrowed from a friend. After accepting the vehicle, the friend leaned over to me a remarked, 'Whenever I loan something to your dad, I know it will come back in even better shape.'

"And that is my grandpa's legacy. He left the world just a little better than he found it. I hope I can do the same." [Katharine Hanschu, writing in Reader's Digest, March 2012.]

A legacy of respect and generosity passed down through the generations and recognized by others. That same legacy of love is the legacy of Christ to us - our very identity as disciples of Christ is centered in such complete and constant love.

Our faithfulness in imitating the compassion and forgiveness of the Risen One is lived in our openness of heart and spirit to love selflessly, completely and unconditionally, as God has loved us in Christ.

Jesus the Healer and Reconciler, Jesus the Footwasher, Jesus the Crucified & Redeemer, entrusts to his Church, the Body of Christ, love that places others first and the common good before our own, love that renews and re-creates all human relationships, love that transforms the world and helps make it a better place.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life, with God’s Spirit empowering us together to live and give such love and hope to make this a better world. Amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sermon: Easter 4

Be present, be present, O Risen Christ, as you were with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of bread and in the Scriptures, we pray. Amen.

What does it mean to be the Church today?

The Church is the Body of Christ. We are the disciples of Jesus today, doing the work he has called us to do. Our discipleship calls us to prayer and worship, service and fellowship: I think of the refrain from the Song of the Body of Christ:

  • We come to share our story.
  • We come to break the bread.
  • We come to know our rising from the dead.

The words from David Haas, a contemporary hymn writer, speak to our coming together every week as the Body of Christ in this beautiful & holy place. We come to share our story.

We each have a story. In fact, we each have lots of stories. About family, about play, about work. Our loves and hates. Lots of things…

It is here, in this place, where we can share our story with one another. Stories of struggle, stories of despair, stories of hope, stories of loss, stories of love, stories of you and me. And these stories are connected to the stories we hear each week from Scripture, from Hymns, from the service itself. In sharing our story, we are connected to the Body of Christ here at St. Peter’s and in our more symbolic sense, with the Body all over the earth.

We come to break the bread. Each week we gather for a meal, a ritual done since the time of Jesus when he broke bread and shared wine, asking the disciples to do this in remembrance of him.

We now remember as we gather around the altar, inviting young and old, newcomer and old timer, rich and poor, welcoming everyone to the Lord’s table. And here we offer bread and wine, we bless the elements, we break the bread, and we give the bread and wine to all who have gathered.

Bread and wine, gifts of the earth, the work of human hands. Bread and wine, the body and blood of our God, lovingly given to us in the Eucharist, as a gift, and in return we give our thanks for what God is doing all around us and in our very lives. In the act of the breaking of the bread, we are connected to the Body of Christ.

We come to know our rising from the grave. For in our Easter lives, Jesus has conquered death, and has brought us into his new life.

We hear from our scriptures, our tradition, of how God has entered into lives, bringing seemingly dead things back to life. As the biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann puts it, “Biblical faith attests that God, creator of the world, is the giver of life, even in a world of deathliness. While that claim is pervasive in faith, it is rooted in specific, nameable moments when God’s power for life was particularly concentrated and effective in contexts of death.”

Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles illustrates this beautifully.

Tabitha (or in the Greek Dorcas) was a disciple of Jesus and she was a pillar of her faith community in Joppa. She was a widow, which would have meant that she was on the margins of that society and not financially secure.

But what she had was faith. It was that faith that the widows and other disciples also had in that community. They felt her love and her care. She fell ill and died.

They learned Peter (Yeah Peter!) was nearby and asked him to come at once. Peter learned from the widows of the good works & charity of Tabitha, the clothing she made for other widows.

Peter puts them all outside the room where they beautifully laid their beloved Tabitha. He prays and asks Tabitha, to get up. (Reminiscent of the prophet Elisha who raises the widows’ son and of course, Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead, a little girl from the dead, to name just a few).

She does get up and Peter returns her to her community alive. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, raised Tabitha. It was a reminder to the early Christian community that God’s Spirit was still active in the world, just as it is for us today.

God’s spirit is still active, still bringing new life, still resurrecting people from their dead lives.

As we come to know our rising from the dead, we come also to know our place in the Body of Christ. And sometimes when we share our story, we can help others rise from the dead…

A man was walking along the East River promenade in New York City in a very dejected state of mind. He was more than dejected—he was suicidal, was seriously contemplating climbing over the railing that separated the promenade from the river and throwing himself in. Life felt empty, meaningless, hollow. He felt that the writing he had devoted himself to for decades had no real value, and didn't amount to much, what had he really accomplished in life?

As he stood staring at the dark, swirling water, trying to summon up the courage to do the deed, an excited voice interrupted his thoughts. "Excuse me," said a young woman, "I'm sorry to impose upon your privacy, aren't you John Doe,* the writer?" He nodded indifferently. "I hope you don't mind my approaching you, but I just had to tell you what a difference your books have made in my life! They have helped me to an incredible degree, and I just wanted to thank you." "No, my dear, it is I who have to thank you!" he said as he wheeled around, turned away from the East River and headed back home. (from Small Miracles & is a true story.)

We come to share our story. We come to break the bread. We come to know our rising from the dead. And then we go from here, to share the story with love, hope, & peace for all, sharing bread to those in need, and spreading the Good News of our rising from the dead with the world God has made and redeemed in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Holy Communion

The 1979 prayer book restores the most ancient name for this tradition on making Eucharist: the Great Thanksgiving. there are four primary actions within the Great Thanksgiving, and these are based on the actions of Jesus in the Last Supper as well as on the Jewish pattern of thanksgiving suppers: we offer bread and wine, we bless them, we break the bread, and we give the bread and wine to all who have gathered. In the church's vocabulary, these four actions of offering, blessing, breaking, and giving are called the offertory, consecration, fraction, and communion.

In the Episcopal Church today we receive communion in a variety of ways. In some congregations you will go forward to the altar and kneel at an altar rail. In others, you may stand and receive in front of the altar or at various communion stations located throughout the church.

Some people receive by eating bread first and then drinking directly from the cup; others prefer to did the wafer or morsel of bread into the wine and then consume the bread and wine together-a process known as intinction, or to receive just the bread. (Gluten Free wafers are often available.)
Source: Vicki K. Black, Welcome to the Book of Common Prayer. Morehouse Publishing: Harrisburg, PA, 2005, pp.53, 56, 57.