Evil and the Human Heart

11947543_10153637925899367_6423622083761918630_n A sermon preached on August 30, 2015 at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, Connecticut

The Fourteen Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17 B
James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

It is from the human heart
 that evil intentions come. Mark 7:21

It’s not easy to talk about and acknowledge the evil that is in our world. But we see it manifested in many forms all around us.

This summer I have been reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. And exactly one week ago today, John and I were in Johannesburg retracing many of the steps Mandela took along with others in their struggle for freedom.

Knowing I was going to be preaching right after returning home from South Africa, I read today’s Gospel a few weeks ago to allow me to ruminate on it while away. The juxtaposition of Jesus chastising the Pharisees about their adamancy of following the Law while being immersed in how the laws of a country – in this case South Africa – wouldn’t leave me alone. Until recently, laws in South African centered around a formalized, systematic segregation of blacks, colored, Indians, and whites called apartheid. There were hundreds of laws about where one could live, what kind of education one could receive, who one could marry, where you could travel, what kind of job you could have, and on and on. Racism was an accepted governmental policy.

The history of how these laws came to be and where the roots of racism began started many generations ago. They were based on an interpretation of scripture paired with greed and fear by groups that began with Dutch and English colonialism. Their fear grew out of the belief that one race was superior to another as part of God’s creation. It became their tradition and way of life, and became ingrained in generations to come. Continue reading Evil and the Human Heart

Bread for Life

The Tenth Sunday of Pentecost: Proper 18 —John 6:24-35

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, center, celebrated the opening Eucharist of General Convention. Photo: Sharon Sheridan/ Episcopal News Service
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, center, celebrated the opening Eucharist of General Convention. Photo: Sharon Sheridan/ Episcopal News Service

For the next few weeks, our Gospel readings will be focused on bread. Last week we heard the story of the feeding of the five thousand, miraculously accomplished through the division of five loaves and two fish from someone who was willing to share their food.

No matter how we might explain that miracle, it is a story of abundance. Every Sunday we celebrate that abundance of God’s love here and in churches all around the world. Some gatherings are small, some large. My job takes me to many places around the country in which I have had the opportunity to worship in many settings. From a large, ornate cathedral brimming with people to a few people gathered in a circle under a large tree, the eating of bread and drinking of wine – from one loaf and from one cup – symbolize our unity through time and space.

I got to experience a daily Eucharist along with an average of 3,500 people in July at General Convention. Each worship service involved 36 to 40 deacons, two to six vergers and a dozen altar guild members. They used one-and-a-half cases of Taylor Tawny Port and 96 loaves of bread from a local bakery. The elements were distributed by 144 Eucharistic ministers at 12 stations.[1] Not quite one loaf and one cup – but we were one in Christ. Fed with the bread that lasts forever.

There’s another particular church I have visited in San Francisco that many of you may have heard about. St. Gregory’s of Nyssa was built in 1995 in a not-so-great neighborhood of Portero Hill across from a brewery. Their mission statement is “to see God’s image in all humankind, to sing and dance to Jesus’s lead, and to become God’s friends.” Their liturgy is fully participatory and all are welcome–especially strangers—to communion. The sanctuary is incredible: the saints dance high above, depicted by Mark Dukes, a local IMG_3571African-American iconographer, who painted the entire rotunda with a mural of ninety larger-than-life figures, ranging from Teresa of Avila to Malcolm X and King David, dancing in a circle led by a dark-skinned, risen Christ. And as they move in their space, singing and dancing, they move from an area where the Word is shared to the table, where the gather around, centered below the dancing saints. Continue reading Bread for Life

Resources for Discussing Racism

circle-312343_640I have written about the VUCA World since attending a conference many years ago (Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes) that featured Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future. His research and predictions struck a chord with me and I continue to be reminded of his predictions as they are being lived out today – even though he spoke of these issues emerging in the future. The future is just as much a part of our past and present as they will be fifty or one hundred years from now.

Redding Voice offers a good overview at New Leadership Skills:

Bob also spoke about his earlier book Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present – look for what you have in common, not what you are polarized about. The Book of Provocation, written for the Episcopal Church, is a product of IFTF and CEEP. Bob said “Faith will live in the space between judging too soon and deciding too late.” The Book of Provocation highlights 15 sources of provocation for the Episcopal Church from the custom ten year forecast map. For each provocation the author suggests dilemmas that are likely to be raised for Episcopal churches if this forecast comes to pass, as well as discerning questions for church members to consider.

This VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) can also lead to opportunities (vision, understanding, clarity, and agility) in the present moment. Several polarities are being lived out in our country today that he names: the Rich/Poor Gap, Polarizing Extremes, and Urban Wilderness.

As we have watched young black men die and our cities have been filled with events of violence, hatred, and polarity the Church has again named the sin of racism that is alive and well in our society. At the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, three resolutions were put forth regarding resources for discussing racism and anti-racism training. And funding was provided for the creation of new resources in the triennial budget.

But what about now? What is available for our congregations to delve into this fall as a new program year arrives? Here are a few that are available to begin the conversation, according to each resolution: Continue reading Resources for Discussing Racism

Discussing Violence in Church

Last week I attended the annual Christian Formation Conference held at Kanuga, a conference center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina outside Hendersonville (near Asheville). The conference theme was Hope in the Midst of Crisis: From Tragedy to Healing through Forgiveness. Plenary sessions and workshops largely focused on how we address the issues of hope, reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing in a world that is often beset by tragedy on a national as well as personal level. From the events of 9/11 (World Trade Center) to 12/14 (Sandy Hook) to our cities today, stories were shared and processes for healing were shared.

I was invited to give a workshop based on a book that I compiled and edited, Reclaiming Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace Coverthe Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence (Morehouse, 2015) based on a conference of the same name held in Oklahoma City in April 2014. In preparing my workshop I hoped to broaden the conversation to discuss how many forms of violence (such as gun violence, inter-partner/domestic violence, bullying, and video-game addiction) are issues that need to be addressed and acted upon as imperative to our baptismal promises of “respecting the dignity of all human beings” and “loving our neighbors as ourselves.” As followers of Jesus, we are called to turn the other cheek as well as speak out against injustice in our world.

While I was caught up short the two days before my presentation over lunch with some Christian educators who shared their opinions with me (as gun owners with licenses to carry concealed weapons), I knew I had to tell the truth (from my perspective) and focus the conversation on why and how we should be having such conversations in our churches. It is why I put the book together. And my angst following this lunch conversation showed me how much our church needs to engage in this conversation. It is not about being opposed to hunting, target shooting, and banning of all guns. It is about creating a world in which we can create safe places and promote the gospel of peace. Continue reading Discussing Violence in Church

It’s Planning Season!

All the planning, implementation, and celebrations of Holy Week and Easter Sunday are now a joyful memory, and those of you working in a congregation have hopefully had a quiet week of reflection and rest. But there is no rest for the weary . . . it’s time to begin evaluating this past year and begin planning for the next program year.

A checklist for the coming weeks:

  • Collect feedback from volunteer leaders and teachers about what worked and what needs improvement. Plan how you will be recognizing and giving thanks to all those who have given their time and talents this past academic year.
  • Begin the discernment process for calling new teachers and volunteers for next year.
  • Evaluate the programs and the resources you have been using. Do they need tweaking or refreshment? Poll participants, including children and youth, about what they have found memorable and life-giving over the past nine months.
  • Gather a group of parents, teachers, and other leaders together to discuss the curricula you have been using. What has worked? What hasn’t?
  • From your evaluation processes, what will your goals be for next year?
  • Discern what curricula and program resources can support your goals with a team that represents the ministries and cohorts of your congregation.

Some tools to help in your discernment: Continue reading It’s Planning Season!