Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
 
 
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

 
Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016

Yes! . . . Well, Maybe

Luke 9:51-62

As most of you know, this is my final Sunday at Saint John’s. According to the canons of the Diocese, I must leave when the new rector comes. After much prayer and tears, with the help of Father Stephen, I decided the most graceful way to leave would be at the end of the current liturgical year. I want to thank each and every one of you that has welcomed me into the parish and made me feel like I belonged here. I will forever cherish my time here – you are extraordinary people and your future is unlimited.

So, as my last sermon, I want to assure you of God’s love and challenge you to take the next steps to grow as people and a congregation. You knew, based on my prior sermons, that I couldn’t leave without giving you a challenge and something to niggle in your brain. I hope this gives you some cause for thought.

We heard in the Gospel:

While Jesus and his disciples walked along a road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-61)

What did we just hear?

A series of ‘yes I will, buts. . .’

A series of excuses why these people weren’t ready to follow Jesus right then. Now, we don’t know if those were valid reasons or not, and really, it doesn’t matter. What we do know, is that Jesus was trying to tell us something important.

Jesus knew that there are times when we must simply move forward. His face was ‘set towards Jerusalem’; the city where he would share a last meal with his disciples; where one would betray and another would deny, and others would flee in fear and horror; where he would die an unspeakable death to remind us all of just how much God loves us. Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem and you and I are called to do the same as we follow him. And once we have heard that call there is no turning back. Not for anything. Not even those very good things which meant so much before. There is no turning back.

So we are urged to ‘set our faces towards Jerusalem.’ Every single day we must have our ears, our eyes, our hearts open to answer Jesus’ call, knowing that there is no turning back. Not now and not ever.

In these three encounters, Jesus calls us to leave behind one set of obligations and duties in order to take on a different set. Jesus calls us to unpack and leave behind nationalism, and racism, and social norms to embrace a kingdom that includes all people of all races and colors and languages from all over the world.

He invites us to leave behind selfish and narrow and localized devotion in order to accept a personalized love and duty for the salvation of the entire world, not just our little corner of it.

When Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, he turned his back on Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, on his life as a carpenter and small-town rabbi. When Jesus set his face for Jerusalem, he knew he was going to his death, he knew he was, from that very moment, walking to the cross.

And he invites us to go with him. He invites us, calls us to follow him to Jerusalem, to the cross. He invites us to rid ourselves of those things that keep us from loving God and each other completely and fully and passionately. Jesus invites us to drop our heavy loads, to cast aside the cares and concerns that hold us back, to reject the judgments and hatreds that turn us away from God and toward the world.

Jesus invites us to empty our hands of all of that so that we can take up our cross and gladly follow him. When we have empty hands, we can reach out to others. When we remove the hate from our hearts, we have room for love. When we take the judgment out of our eyes, we then see others as God sees them, as precious children in need of love and forgiveness.

Jesus wants people who will walk in his footsteps daily, people who will be with him who mirror his compassion and his love, even when such love and compassion are unpopular.

This was Jesus’ message that day: get your priorities straight. Then (and only then) will you be ready for God to rule in your life.

Recently I read that only between 2% to 4% of those who went forward to be redeemed during major Christian crusades like Billy Graham held are still actively observing the Christian life now. This is not to say that these crusades had no impact; some people were touched, but, for most of those who went forward, it didn’t last. The point is, in some situations, we might say, “Yes, Lord, I am yours,” but Christ knows we’re just caught up in the moment. This was obviously the way it was with this first man who said to him,

“I will follow you wherever you go.” (Luke 9:57)

The three men whom Jesus asked to follow him suffered from the “But-First Syndrome”. The American Medical Association hasn’t recognized the “But-First Syndrome” as a disease yet, but that doesn’t mean that many people are not suffering from some of its symptoms. We all have had situations where our heart desired to do something, but the flesh had a thousand reasons why we couldn’t.

Is there a BUT that is hindering your Christian journey? A BUT that is keeping you from following Jesus?

Have you been asked to help with Sunday School? Did you say ‘I would like to BUT there are others better qualified’?

Do you volunteer to make phone calls to shut-ins, BUT say you ‘just couldn’t fit it in’?

Do you sincerely wish to come to church regularly, BUT ‘Sunday is the only day you can sleep in’?

Have you agreed to serve on a committee BUT then never came, saying ‘I just can’t get there from work on time’?

Following Jesus is not easy, it means we have to re-organize our lives so that we can make it happen. We have to change our priorities and forego some things, but it is the way we have been called to follow. Can you hear Christ calling you now? Saying in the still quiet of your heart; “Drop everything that is holding you back and follow, follow me to Jerusalem, follow me to Love.”

 
In Saying Farewell
So, as I leave, I know that there will be a hole in my heart that you all occupy; this is one of the hardest things I have had to do, and I know that I will be grieving for a long time. So many people have sent me notes or expressed their feelings for me; it is bittersweet and touches my heart and soul. And although I am leaving, I want to leave you with these thoughts and prayer:

God,
You know it is going to be OK,
But too often it feels like it isn’t,
People come and go from our lives,
Sometimes friendships just slip away and fade with time,
Sometimes we move or they move,
But then there is death.

People leave our lives
and we don’t get a say,
Nor are we often prepared.
When they go,
We know deep down that it is going to be OK
Or at least we tell ourselves that
Not really feeling it,
But holding it in hope and faith.

We are thankful of the love that is shared,
Even though it leaves a hole in our lives,
When the people we share it with are not there to share it with.
We are grateful of the legacy of moments and memories,
Times which are cherished and treasured,
Which sustain us in connection with the ones that we have lost.
May we find time and courage to constructively give expression to our feelings.

May we have the patience that is needed to sustain ourselves until a new normal can be found.
May we hold the hope and faith that carries us,
Through the darkest of moments,
Until we can come at joy and happiness,
And bear the shadows of pain and sorrow which come as well.
Sustain and uphold us,
Comfort us in ways beyond our understanding.

For it will be OK in time.
We just need to wait for it to be so.
Amen.[1]

 
[1]      Adapted from Jon Humphries, “Mike’s Prayer”, The Welcome Table
 
 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 30 June 2019

I Choose to Follow Jesus

Luke 9:51-62

We heard in the Gospel reading that Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem with a group of his disciples. He was determined to go to Jerusalem, and wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way. Do you know why he was headed to Jerusalem?

(pause)

You are right. Jesus was headed to Jerusalem where he knew he would be arrested, tried, and killed. But then he would rise from the grave to give us all eternal life if we just follow him.

Jesus always had a lot of people following him wherever he went, because they wanted to see this person that they had heard so much about. As everyone was walking, a man said to Jesus,

“I will follow you, Jesus, wherever you go.” Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes to sleep in. Birds build nests. But I have no place to call my own. Are you sure this is the life you want?” (Luke 9:57-58)

He wanted the man to understand that following him might not always be fun and easy. He was not going to be staying in four-star hotels, and eat at the best restaurants; he was going to suffer and eventually be killed.

As they walked along, Jesus turned to another man in the group and said,

“Follow me.” But that person replied, “I’ve got lots of things to do first, and then I’ll follow you.” (Luke 9:61)

Every time Jesus asks someone to ‘follow him’, the person said he would – BUT then offers excuses as to why he couldn’t go right then.

We all know that we really want to follow Jesus, but we seem to always have an excuse for everything. Making excuses is not new. People even made excuses in Jesus’ day.

Jesus was calling those who would give up everything — family, friends, their job — and follow him. What he got instead were excuses.

Do you have excuses?

  • If your mother asks you to clean your room, do you think of a thousand reasons why you can’t do it right then.
  • If you are supposed to carry out the garbage, doesn’t the current TV program you are watching seem more important than carrying out the stinky garbage!
  • If you haven’t done your homework, do you tell the teacher ‘my dog ate my paper’?

Even adults give excuses for things they don’t want to do right away!

Jesus is still calling us today saying, “Follow me!” He asks us:

“I’m calling you to proclaim the kingdom of God. Isn’t that important work?” Jesus said, “You’ve got to commit to me fully, or the kingdom of God might not be for you.” (Luke 9:62)

Wouldn’t it be sad if we thought other things were more important than following the teachings of Jesus? If we made so many excuses to Jesus that we would not be a member of the Kingdom of God?

That would be horrible!

So, I ask you, will you follow Jesus, or will you make excuses?

Jesus wants us to follow him, to have eternal life, and show God’s love to the world. Are we going to follow?

Or are we going to make excuses why we can’t ‘right now’?

I have a paper that I want each of you to take home – it is called ‘I Choose to Follow Jesus’. It has things that happen to you every day. What you need to do is answer what you would do in each situation if you are following Jesus.

What would you do at school, at church, at home, when someone is mean to you, or when you are mean to someone else. The last line is what you would do if you follow Jesus. When something happens, remember to write down (or have your parents help you) what you did or what you should have done if you were following Jesus.

Let us pray:

Dear God, when Jesus calls us to follow him, may we not offer excuses. Instead, let us do what we must to follow Jesus. Amen.

In Saying Farewell
As most of you know, this is my final Sunday at Saint John’s. According to the canons of the Diocese, I must leave when the new rector comes. After much prayer and tears, with the help of Father Stephen, I decided the most graceful way to leave would be at the end of the current liturgical year. I want to thank each and every one of you that has welcomed me into the parish and made me feel like I belonged here. I will forever cherish my time here – you are extraordinary people and your future is unlimited.

So, as I leave, I know that there will be a hole in my heart that you all occupy; this is one of the hardest things I have had to do, and I know that I will be grieving for a long time. So many people have sent me notes or expressed their feelings for me; it is bittersweet and touches my heart and soul. And although I am leaving, I want to leave you with these thoughts and prayer:

God,
You know it is going to be OK,
But too often it feels like it isn’t,
People come and go from our lives,
Sometimes friendships just slip away and fade with time,
Sometimes we move or they move,
But then there is death.

People leave our lives
and we don’t get a say,
Nor are we often prepared.

When they go,
We know deep down that it is going to be OK
Or at least we tell ourselves that
Not really feeling it,
But holding it in hope and faith.

We are thankful of the love that is shared,
Even though it leaves a hole in our lives,
When the people we share it with are not there to share it with.
We are grateful of the legacy of moments and memories,
Times which are cherished and treasured,
Which sustain us in connection with the ones that we have lost.

May we find time and courage to constructively give expression to our feelings.
May we have the patience that is needed to sustain ourselves until a new normal can be found.
May we hold the hope and faith that carries us,
Through the darkest of moments,
Until we can come at joy and happiness,
And bear the shadows of pain and sorrow which come as well.

Sustain and uphold us,
Comfort us in ways beyond our understanding.
For it will be OK in time.
We just need to wait for it to be so.

Amen.[1]
 

[1]      Adapted from Jon Humphries, “Mike’s Prayer”, The Welcome Table

 

Rev deniray mueller, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 30 June 2019

The Needy: Our Duty Is To Help

There have always been needy people in Worthington, although many people think that there are no poor or homeless people within our surrounds.

However, as the economy stays stagnant or experiences a decline, churches become easy prey for those who are looking for a handout. Saint John’s regularly sees people looking for assistance, particularly on Sundays, when most other services are closed.

We have been commanded by Jesus to:

“Feed my sheep”. (John 21:17)

And we are reminded

whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40)

The majority of homeless or needy men and women are not dangerous — they’re people just like us, but circumstances have resulted in them being needy. It could happen to every one of us under the right conditions. They are our brothers and sisters.

When a person requests assistance it is not our duty to determine if the request is legitimate, or if they are panhandling. We are told to take care of their needs. But there are ways to care for these people that can satisfy their need in constructive ways.

Worthington Resource Pantry
The Worthington Resource Pantry provides assistance to those in need on a regular basis, and Saint John’s does a terrific job of supplying those goods that they identify they need. Become aware of where the Pantry is located (6700 Huntley Road, 985-1766), and what their hours are (see www.worthingtonresourcepantry.org). The Pantry not only provides food, but also is a source of information for additional available services. You might want to think about volunteering at the Pantry, especially if you have children. And continue to donate food items that are listed in the weekly bulletin.

When approached by a needy person,

  1. Smile and politely decline any requests for money. But we can still show love and offer to lift them up in prayer.
  1. DO NOT, DO NOT give money to children! Giving money to children is like paying their families to keep them out of school. It is, in a way, a type of human trafficking.
  1. If you have the time, listen to their story. That may be more important to them than receiving what they ask for.
  1. Give them tangible things – some people keep McDonald’s gift cards in their purse or car. This will provide them with a meal; it is usually less than $5 to provide a filling meal at McDonald’s; or offer to take them for a meal and you pay for it.
  1. Carry some Care Kits in the car; these Ziploc bags contain essentials that are hard to acquire if you are homeless or needy. A typical Care Kit could contain any of the following: water bottle, socks, granola or cereal bar, fruit snack or applesauce cup, cheese/peanut butter crackers, handiwipes (avoid hand sanitizer because of the alcohol content), Kleenex, maxi pads for women, toothbrush and toothpaste, Chapstick, brush and comb, unscented soap, travel shampoo and conditioner, disposable razors, gum or mints (preferably sugar-free). It might be an opportunity for some education of children and teens to have a party to assemble these kits. There is a flyer on the Information Table about creating Care Kits.
  1. If they need money for medication, take them to a pharmacy and pay for the prescription drugs. The pharmacist will verify the legitimacy of the drug to avoid supplying drugs that would be sold on the street.
  1. Carry information about services that are available for those in need. Columbus generates a ‘street card’ which identifies places and times for services. Ask the church to keep a stack of these on the Information Table.

In dire emergencies, the rector has a discretionary fund which can be used for emergency needs, but it is not bottomless.

Most importantly, we need to remove the conditions that cause these people to be needy. Call your local legislators and ask that social safety nets be maintained or increased in your city, county and state. Contact local aid agencies to determine what support they need. Remember the old adage:

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Our goal, as followers of Jesus, is to remove those obstacles so that everyone has enough food, shelter, and services.

Remember we are all ‘beloved children of God’, regardless of our economic or social status.


 
 
Rev deniray mueller, The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 1 July 2019

Social Justice – Who Better than Deacons?

One of the aspects of the job of the deacon is defined as ‘taking the church to the world, and the world to the church’. This means we are to not only care for the needs of our congregations, but also take the concerns of the church to the wider world – in other words, ‘speak truth to power’.

At the recent meeting of the Association of Episcopal Deacons (AED) Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was our keynote speaker. Just prior to his speech, he heard a reference to “AED” and had an epiphany. AED in the medical world refers to “Automatic External Defibrillator’ – an application of electricity which stops the heart’s arrhythmia, allowing the heart to re-establish an effective rhythm. He suddenly made the connection that deacons “apply electricity of the Holy Spirit” to the world. And he is right! Bishop Curry went on to say that “we need a revival”, and he couldn’t think of “a better group of people more appropriately placed than deacons”. He ‘encouraged’ deacons to begin applying electricity to righting the wrongs in the world at the national and local level.

In the Episcopal Church a deacon exercises “a special ministry of servanthood”, serving all people and especially those in need.[1] Deacons often work directly in ministry to the marginalized inside and outside the church: the poor, the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned. Deacons have specific liturgical responsibilities in the worship that are intended to reflect their role as servants of Christ. These duties include taking the Good News of God’s love to the world (proclaiming the Gospel), bringing the concerns of the world into the church (working with others on the prayers of the people), modeling servanthood (preparing the table) and sending the people of God out to serve the world (proclaiming the dismissal). Ideally, each of these liturgical duties is matched by real world and congregational ministries.[2]

Deacons are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world – in other words, work for social justice.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary social justice is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society”. Aristotle, in The Politics, said ‘justice’ ensured that individuals both fulfilled their societal roles and received what was their due from society. Joseph Joubert, a French moralist and essayist, said “Justice is truth in action”.

Who could be against justice? If there’s one thing that the laws and prophets – especially Jesus –agreed on, it is ‘justice for all’, regardless of background or social status. This is one of the main things Jesus did in the world: identify with the powerless, take up their cause.

And who better to take up the cause of social justice than deacons?

Social justice might mean personally taking time to meet the needs of the handicapped, the elderly or the hungry in our neighborhoods. Or it could mean the establishment of new non-profits to serve the interests of these people. It could also mean a group of families from the more prosperous side of town adopting the public school in a poor community and making generous donations of money and pro bono work in order to improve the quality of education there.

When we try to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and calls to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as blessed creations of God. ‘Doing justice’ includes not only the righting of wrongs, but practicing generosity and interest in social concerns, especially toward the poor and vulnerable.

And who better to ‘do justice’ and apply the electricity of the Holy Spirit than deacons?

Again and again in the Gospels, Jesus angrily challenges the religious authorities, mocking them for their self-aggrandizing, self-promoting ways. He alienates the elite by spending time with and showing favor to the poor and marginalized; he talks to women, eats without regard for the dietary rules, he heals those considered unclean and returns them to wholeness. He questions current laws and challenges the status quo. And as a result, he becomes the target of those in authority. Ultimately, those authorities kill him.

Nevertheless, Jesus showed us that there are times when we must stand up and express ‘truth to power’ in constructive, meaningful, unyielding ways despite the possible consequences. Consider how often, and in how many ways, Jesus expressed anger in the Gospels. He was clear and direct, bringing about justice or revealing malice or ignorance. He made no personal attacks, but sought to uncover the evil behind the actions. There is no record of Jesus being angered by a personal offense no matter how wrong, unjust, or violent it may be. He lived and taught that the one who is persecuting us is also created in the image of God and loved by God, and in that reality, we can love our enemy.

And who better to ‘speak truth to power’ than deacons?

Just as God is righteously angered over oppression and injustice, so should we be. Learning how to balance these teachings and actions is a lifelong process for those who choose to follow his ways. The Good Samaritan wasn’t good because of his origins or because he was traveling. Instead, he looked around him, around where he lived and worked and traveled, saw a human in need, and got involved. He gave up time, money, and most likely status and respect in doing so. As he went about his day, he loved someone and righted an injustice.

Deacons are, destined by nature of their calling and ordination vows, to right injustice as well as care for those who are needy.

There are many ways we can be involved in helping set things right. We can advocate for stricter, common-sense gun laws, or work toward offering much-needed services for those suffering with mental illness; we can encourage our governments to shelter the homeless; we can feed those in poverty, visit those in prison, clothe children in need, serve those with special needs; we can work with youth who need an adult mentor. The needs are endless, the injustices everywhere.

This is the time for each of us to ask ourselves: How can our sense of outrage at injustice be channeled into loving action? We, as members of the Association for Episcopal Deacons have an obligation – no, a mandate – to work for social justice, just as Jesus did. We must be angry at instances of injustice, speaking truth in love to our friends, our neighbors, our legislators, our nation and the world.

When we witness wrong done to others, particularly those who do not have the strength or means to defend themselves, then as deacons we need to express the anger of love — the anger that gives us boldness and outspokenness to defend what is right and just.

Jesus’ example and teachings reveal to us that anger, channeled and directed in love, can redirect our anger into positive acts. We open ourselves to the guidance of the spirit of the Holy Spirit to determine how best to express our moral anger, and in all matters, how to speak and act in love.

This kind of direct action is risky because it involves other people, who are also made in the image of God. People about whom Jesus said,

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:45)

The Jesus who said,

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

We need to remember what Micah 6:8 says:

what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

We, as deacons, are called to be a witness to the world of God’s love and Jesus’ teachings.

Are you ready to be the electricity to return the world to its normal rhythm?

Are you ready to take those steps needed to carry out the teachings of Jesus?

Are you ready to:

strive to do justice,

         love kindness and

            walk humbly with God’?

 

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 543.
[2] Episcopal Diocese of Maine

 

Rev deniray mueller, Legislative Liaison, Diocese of Southern Ohio

WHO or WHAT is The Holy Trinity?

John 16:12-15

As you know, Bishop Price was scheduled to make a visitation today, and I usually accompany him when there is not a deacon present. Unfortunately, Bishop Price became ill and has just been released from the hospital. I don’t know any details, but it appears he will have surgery in the near future. I am asking that we all hold and Mariann in our prayers.

This service is going to be a little different than ones you are used to because as a Deacon, I can’t consecrate the host. But, by permission of Bishop Price, and because you have reserved sacrament, I will be able offer a slight modification of the Eucharist. Thank you for being understanding as we proceed.

I have to thank you, Whit, who managed to print out a sermon for me. We can thank the wonders of modern technology that I could pull up a sermon from the cloud and he could print it! And thanks to your organist, Sheryl Wise, who doodled on the organ until I could get it together.

I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the first sermons I delivered Saint John’s Worthington, without realizing when I agreed to preach, was Trinity Sunday in 2011. I have to tell you, of all the Sundays in the year, this is the one that makes even the most seasoned priest quake in their shoes. This is probably the most difficult to preach on because the concept of the Trinity and the concept of ‘three-in-one’ is hard enough to understand for those trained in theology.

There is an inside joke among clergy:

When Father Applegate was figuring out the preaching rota for Saint John’s this year, I told him I would preach on every other Sunday on the calendar, but NOT on Trinity Sunday – I didn’t have anything else to say! He is really going to get a chuckle out of today!

Today is Trinity Sunday. Since Pope John XXII, the western church has set this Sunday aside for reflection on the tremendous mystery of the Trinity. When we sing the words of one of our best-known hymns,

Holy, Holy, Holy, we sing, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Praising the Holy Trinity has been going on for almost 1690 years since Emperor Constantine called 317 bishops from all over the Christian world to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ in 325 CE. They settled the question of whether Christ was simply another great prophet and teacher — even a high-ranking angel from God — or was he the divine Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with God?

The church fathers had spent hundreds of years trying to reach agreement on the doctrine of the Trinity. And we, as preachers, are supposed to pull something ‘out of the hat’ that explains the Trinity as a matter of fact. I will say, since 2011, I have been studying and researching, bound and determined that I would purposely select this Sunday and give my best try at explaining the Trinity. . .

may I leave you with some understanding and no more confusion than you had before.

I have come to the conclusion, after almost eight years of studying, that we CAN NOT fully explain the Trinity… we can only speak of things that we can understand that might suggest the Trinity.

Did you know that Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the entire Christian Calendar which celebrates a doctrine; and it is an unfinished doctrine, a mystery that is not completed or understood. And many would say that there is reason that only one doctrine is celebrated; because nobody wants to hear a sermon on a doctrine.

But today is Trinity Sunday — what on earth could I say about the Trinity that was new?! How do I even begin to explain the mystery? So, it came to me — I CAN’T explain the mystery. No one can. No one has the ability to fathom the mystery, so we express it in symbols — and we look around the church and find Trinitarian symbols.

A doctrine by its nature is an abstraction – never referenced directly in scripture; others still, would state that the Trinity is the most unattainable doctrine of them all.

There are two concrete facts about the Trinity:

  • There is no reference in the Bible to “Trinity”
  • There is no reference in the Bible to the Triune God.

The Trinity has been explained in many ways from very heavy philosophical ideas to picture metaphors like a three-leaf clover. With any of these, it is important to remember that none of them describes God in his very being or essence. That cannot be done. The Trinity is a statement of how God relates, not how God is. When it comes to our relating to God, we can’t pin God down to one thing or one way. When we consider one way to view God there is always another way. But why three, as in the Trinity? Who knows? But we do know that just as we can’t pin God down to one of our simplistic ideas, we also can’t pin God down to three either, or any one of the three.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have striven to express this triune understanding of the oneness of God’s in various ways. The underlying belief is that God’s very being is reflected in his creation.

  • Augustine spoke of the Lover (Father), Beloved (Son), and the Love shared between the two (Spirit)
  • John of Damascus was one among many early church fathers who spoke of water that bubbled up from a spring, flowed into a river, and reached its source in the ocean. Water is one, yet spring, river, and ocean are distinctive expressions of it.
  • Martin Luther spoke of the root, trunk, and fruit of a tree as the living God traceable in his creation. He spoke of iron in a blacksmith’s shop that would glow, burn, and place its stamp on wood.
  • The Desert Fathers (the two Gregorys and Basil) compared the members of the Trinity to the source of light (Father), the light itself that illumines (Son), and the warmth when you feel the light (Spirit)

Can we be like God? Remember, we are the image of God. In that image we also cannot be pinned down to one way of relating. We are all many things. What wonderful surprises we all are, just as God is always a wonderful surprise.   God is everywhere; look at the beautiful sunset. God is there. Look at the home destroyed by a tornado. God is there. God is in the tears of joy and in the tears of sorrow.

St. Augustine, one of the most astute thinkers the Christian Church has ever produced, was walking along the seashore one day while pondering the doctrine of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He seemed to hear a voice saying, “Pick up one of the large sea shells there by the shore.” So he picked it up. Then the voice said, “Now pour the ocean into the shell.” And he said, “Lord, I can’t do that.” And the voice answered, “Of course not. In the same way, how can your small, finite mind ever hold and understand the mystery of the eternal, infinite, Triune God?”

The Holy Trinity is not a debatable doctrine: it is an icon, a window into God. It is a parable, a paradox that invites us to behold the mystery of the Divine. All these efforts to help us in our understanding of God do not explain him in completeness, they keep us mindful of a mystery – an essence that comes through to us in a tri-fold fashion. We have the Trinity, the Three in One.

God the Creator: called Father, not because God is a male – God is beyond all gender, male or female – nor because the first person of the Godhead is like a father. We call the first person Father because this is the Father of the Son and the source of the Spirit. We call the first person of the Godhead “Father” because that is what Jesus called him and taught us to call him. Through Jesus, the One Jesus called “Abba Father,” is also “Our Father” – who is the source of all that has ever been, is, or will ever be created.

God the Redeemer: we call the second person of the Godhead “Son” because he comes from the Father, was sent by God to us, to be God with us, to live out his life with us and for us, as one of us. He was not a hologram; he was flesh and blood. He was the greatest gift from God who saved the world, all of creation, all of US, through His living, teaching, sacrifice and resurrection. We know Jesus as the Son not only because he was of the flesh, but as the Gospel of John confesses, because of his life lived out in obedience to his Father (John 4:34).

God the Sanctifier: When Jesus prepared to return to his Father, he promised another Advocate – the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit–the presence of God would be with us (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit brings new birth from above, to transform, renew, sustain, to make us children of God. It is the Spirit’s work to make the bread Jesus’ body, and the wine Jesus’ blood to draw us into Christ’s risen. The Holy Spirit is the wireless connection between us and the Son, and us and the Father, because they are “hard-wired” together in the one essence we call ‘God’.

The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, but the Father, creator of heaven and earth. The Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, but God in human flesh, sent as the Savior to redeem the world through divine love. The Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but God’s presence with us today, the means by which you and I come to experience and know God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three distinct means of God being over us and above us, with us and for us, and in and among us, – three distinct relationships with one another, who are nonetheless one in essence. What one wills all three will, what one does all three do–they work in concert, the three playing their different parts–three voices emerging from the same string at the same time, forming a trio of melodies that harmonize into one glorious sound, in order to accomplish the same purpose–as indivisible in their work as they are in their being–One God in three co-equal persons.

The Trinity is even a statement of our faith: God created us, saved us, and sanctifies us. God invites us back to Him, back to the Creator, back to the Redeemer, back to the Sanctifier. God calls us home, for we are created in God’s image, and God’s image and Spirit are within us. God is the Trinity. God is Unity. God is One. And God wants to share that Oneness in love. Within God, and with each and all of us, God wants to be ONE….WITH US!

This is the mystery of God we celebrate today: God over and above us, God for and with us, God in and among us, One God, the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the God who in the waters of baptism makes us his own, the God who meets us at table to give us the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation, the God who is in us and among us, using us to share the good news of his love and purpose for us all.

In the Nicaean Creed we will recite, we affirm that we believe in One God, the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

It would be appropriate for you to say, when trying to understand the Trinity:

“Why bother? I have enough problems with things that I understand, let alone things that I don’t understand.”

Surprisingly, there are THREE good reasons why we should attempt to understand the mystery of the Trinity.

The first reason is that Jesus revealed the Trinity to us. The existence of the Father, of himself, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom He and the Father sent forth upon the apostles. Jesus came and lived among us to teach us, to show us how to live and how to love, He worked miracles and died for our sins and rose from the dead to show us the way to eternal life. So whatever Jesus revealed to us, He revealed for a reason and it is important for us to pay attention to it and try to understand it as best we can.

Secondly, while we cannot grasp the idea of one God – three persons – each of them God, we can recognize that the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the perfect model of harmony and unity, a community of relationship, so perfectly intertwined that you cannot tell where one begins and the other ends.

The third and most important reason is that in the first chapter of Genesis, humankind, you and I, are created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, since Jesus has revealed to us the essence of God as perfect unity, harmony, community and relationship, then the very core of our creation is a call to perfect harmony, community and relationship. This is the real challenge living in a society where individualism is promoted. Nonetheless, we are called to expand our circle of relationship to include more and more people.

We are called to worship the One who created the world. We are called to worship the One who loved the world enough to come into the world and invite us into relationship. We are called to worship the One who comes as Holy Spirit, blowing where it will. This is the Holy Trinity: a mystery we catch glimpses of as we seek to know and love.

A Blessing for Trinity Sunday
In this new season may you know the presence of the God who dwells within your days, the mystery of the Christ who drenches you in love, the blessing of the Spirit who bears you into life anew.

Amen.

Delivered at Trinity Episcopal Church, Newark, OH; 16 June 2019

“To Tell the Truth”: UBE Ambassadors for Healing Pilgrimage

One of the four foundations of the “Becoming Beloved Community” movement is to “Tell the Truth” about the history of churches and racism. To better experience and understand that truth, four women from the central Ohio area joined 48 other “pilgrims” from seven states and the District of Columbia in late May for a pilgrimage to civil rights sites in Alabama. The group, led by The Rev. Dr. Gayle Fisher-Stewart of the DC Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians, included other denominations as well. Almost equally divided between African and white Americans, the group also included five clergy and an ELCA deacon. The group was based in Birmingham, with daily trips to sites in Selma and Montgomery as well.

Although words cannot fully express the impact of the trip on each “pilgrim”, a brief review of each day will, perhaps, help impart the scope and intensity of the pilgrimage.

Day 1 – Birmingham
Like all of Alabama and throughout the South following the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation in 1867, Birmingham remained a stronghold of segregation, enforced by customs, “Jim Crow” laws, and violence. From 1950-1962, Birmingham witnessed fifty racially motivated bombings of African American homes, businesses and churches, earning the city the name of “Bombingham”. Segregation was the “norm” in housing, education, and all aspects of public life. In 1963, however, led by a group of local and regional pastors (most notably Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy), a series of strategically planned, non-violent marches were held that captured national attention and led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On our first day, we began by visiting Kelly Ingram Park, the gathering site for the “Children’s Marches”, which had its beginning there. During May 1963 over 1,000 teenagers gathered to march, demanding equal rights for themselves and their parents; all were arrested and jailed. For two more days, thousands of youth gathered to repeat the march until jails were filled for a sixty-mile radius of Birmingham! Attacked by dogs, water cannons, national guardsmen, and police on horseback, the children continued to peacefully march and sing, eventually joined by adults. Finally, the city power structure began to listen – and – responded by beginning the dissolution of segregation laws within the city. Consequently, today Birmingham is the most vibrant and progressive city in Alabama. Kelly Ingram Park provides a walking trail of moving statues and monuments to King, Shuttlesworth, and the African American children. At one point, we were joined by an older gentleman, a deacon from Shuttleworth’s church who had participated in the marches, who passionately explained the intensity and suffering of the 1963 marches.

Just across the street from Kelly Ingram Park is the historic 16th Avenue Baptist Church, which was bombed in September 1963, killing four young black girls. Founded in 1881, the 16th Street Baptist Church is now on the national historic registry, commemorating this tragic event. The young girls, now called “Angels of Change” by the locals, were introduced to us by a church member who knew them. He showed a film about the horrific Sunday event, then spoke eloquently to us about the impact the death of these young martyrs had in accomplishing civil rights reform in Alabama and the nation. We toured the church and left in silence, awed and disturbed by such suffering.

This first day ended with a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where a self-guided tour of displays, videos, films and holographs and a large research library helped to deepen and re-enforce all we had learned.

Days 2 & 3 – Montgomery
Early on each of the next two days, we boarded a chartered bus for Montgomery.

The Rosa Parks Library and Museum is located in downtown Montgomery on the campus of Troy University. The museum and memorial is in homage to Rosa Parks, whose bravery in 1955 by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person, really began the civil rights political movement. Mrs. Parks’ great heroism spawned the 11-month long bus boycott in Montgomery. Once again, a well-planned strategy, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and local African American pastors finally began to break the grip of segregation in Montgomery. It was astounding to learn the detailed planning and discipline exhibited by the over 50,000 black citizens of Montgomery as they maintained this monumental example of non-violent protest.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church and Parsonage, another historic black church established in 1877, was the first pastorate of the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he began his ministry. Its basement held the first organizational meetings for the 1955 bus boycott response to Rosa Parks’ arrest. Here we were greeted by two church members who had participated in the Selma marches and other early protests. A visit to the nearby parsonage where Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King lived with their first child, was a moving experience. The house was furnished as it was in the 1950’s, with much of the original furniture. We saw Martin Luther King’s study, the dining table where he held many late-night planning meetings, and the kitchen table where he prayed for guidance and heard God tell him that he would never be alone. On the porch is a plaque denoting the site of one of the many bombings he and his family experienced during the civil rights movement.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is headquartered in Montgomery – and we ended our first day by visiting the fountain (designed by Mia Lin), a moving memorial to heroes of the civil rights movement.

We learned that when the overseas slave trade was banned by the United States Congress in 1808, Montgomery became the center of the domestic slave trade. In 1857, there were more slave auction sites in Montgomery than hotels and churches. Within a few short blocks, one can see the marker of the Confederacy White House, the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, and the corner where Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the Cleveland Avenue bus.

On day two we visited two projects of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), found in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson. The EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protect basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. In addition to securing the reversal, relief, or release of over 125 wrongly convicted people on death row, the EJI has raised consciousness nationally about the continued persecution of black Americans starting with lynchings, through “Jim Crow” segregation, to today’s mass incarceration.

The Legacy Museum is located on the site of one of the major warehouses used in Montgomery for the slave trade, where up to 435,000 slaves were contained. Slaves were brought from southern ports, imprisoned in these warehouses and then sold to the highest bidder. When Alabama banned free black people from living in the state in 1833, those remaining were returned to slavery and sold. A beautiful fountain now stands at the site of the major auction block; very few non-people of color know its history!

The Legacy Museum contains alarming panoramas of the civil rights struggle through the 1970’s. The holographs of slaves telling the stories of their separation from members of their family were heart-wrenching. Something that we see again at the Mexican border so many years later.

Videos and testaments of wrongly-convicted prisoners are equally disturbing, not to mention the soil collected from the grounds of hundreds of documented lynching sites in America.

Further down the street near the river docks where thousands of Africans were unloaded from ships for sale stands the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as “The Lynching Memorial, dedicated in 2018. Veiled in silence, this awe-inspiring monument cannot help but leave one feeling anguished and guilty about what white supremacists perpetuated on our African American brothers and sisters for over 400 years. Hanging obelisks are displayed by county and display the names of those African Americans who were lynched there from 1857 through 1950. The verified count is over 4,400 men, women and children. What is not taught in Ohio history is that 18 African Americans were lynched in Ohio!

Day 4 – Selma
On our final day we traveled to Selma, site of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the historic march for voting rights in 1965. We visited the Brown Chapel AME Church, which was instrumental as a meeting place for the protests that finally culminated in the Civil Rights Act. A gathering place for many young protestors, these students would skip school to participate in non-violent protests. We were fortunate to have guides at the church who were children at the time and participated in these marches.

They reminded us that there were three marches protesting restrictions on voting in 1965, making the 54-mile trek from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Since the Birmingham marches in 1963, there had been renewed efforts to register African American voters, resulting in clashes with Southern white supremacists and Alabama law enforcement. By January 1965, over 3,000 people had been arrested. In early February Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being shot by a state trooper and this lit the powder keg. On March 7, 1965, 600 protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were attacked by state troopers and vigilante men with billy clubs and tear gas. This day will be forever known as “Bloody Sunday”. The violence at the bridge and subsequent murders resulted in a national outcry and many clergy from other parts of the country came to the South. Protest officials issued a call for clergy and citizens from across the country to join them. Awakened to issues of civil and voting rights by years of civil rights movement activities, and shocked by the television images of “Bloody Sunday,” hundreds of people responded to the Southern Christian Liberty Conference’s call. One of the men who traveled from Massachusetts was Johnathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian, who was later killed while trying to register voters. The second march was March 9, 1965; Martin Luther King, Jr. took the people to the end of the bridge, and when the state troopers did not stop them, he and the marchers returned to the church.

As a result of the violence and confrontations, President Lyndon Johnson sent 1,900 national guard, federal agents and marshals down to ensure the safety of the marchers. A final march left Selma on March , making 10 miles a day, along the “Jefferson Davis Highway” (U.S. Route 80), and arriving on the steps of the capitol on March 25, 1965. Over 25,000 people entered Montgomery supporting voting rights. The Voting Rights Act became law on August 6, 1965. Sadly, today many states are chipping away at the voting rights granted in 1965, including a random “voter purge” here in Ohio, that seeks to disallow over 2 million voters.

At the end of each day, our pilgrimage group met to share thoughts and experiences from what we had seen and heard. These sessions brought even more understanding to the white “pilgrims” of the challenges and heartaches every person of color in our society faces daily – as well as the role our “white privilege” plays in perpetuating their sorrow and struggle. We grew to know one another better, relationships were formed, and the beginnings of a “Blessed Community” were truly sown.

Observations
The pilgrimage to Alabama proved to be a life-changing experience for its participants, and each left determined to continue the work of cleansing our society of racism, and of unifying all of our citizens in love and community. We gained a new appreciation for the civil rights movement as a major force for human freedom in our country and the world, and we came to admire anew the courage and spiritual strength exhibited by those thousands of African American citizens who comprised the movement.

We made several observations about the movement and the work ahead that will drive our future endeavors if we are to be “ambassadors of healing”.

  1. It is imperative that we fight against the return to stringent voter restrictions at the state and federal level. Write letters, call your senators and representatives at the state and federal level.
  1. We must actively participate in registration of potential voters and participate in our election process by voting, serving as poll workers, and assisting people getting to the polls.
  1. Each of us needs to learn the history of the subjugation of African Americans and all people of color that our schools have often deliberately chosen to exclude.
  1. We need to build personal relationships with African Americans, building bridges of understanding experiences for all.
  1. We need to fully participate in Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s “Becoming Beloved Community” as a means to reach racial reconciliation, and finally, the healing of our society.

Birmingham is a vibrant city, attracting new industry and growing, partially because they chose to do away with the old “Jim Crow” legislation and grant African Americans the rights of white Alabamians. Montgomery and Selma appear to be dying cities, probably because of the refusal of their white citizens and leaders to embrace change and work for the good of over half of their population: their African American citizens! And so it is with our nation. We can flourish fully as a society only if we work for the common good of all of our people; when any are suffering and deprived, so are we all, and we can only become a truly good and prosperous nation and world when we care for the freedom and welfare of all of God’s children. To do this work will be to become a “Beloved Community”.

For further information, these websites may be helpful:

Equal Justice (https://eji.org/)

Rosa Park Library and Museum (https://www.troy.edu/student-life-resources/arts-culture/rosa-parks-museum/index.html)

Southern Poverty Law Center (https://www.splcenter.org/)

The Legacy Museum (https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/museum)

The National Memorial for Peace & Justice (https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/memorial)

United States Civil Rights Trail (https://civilrightstrail.com/)
 
 

Rev deniray mueller, Legislative Liaison & Dr Karen Peeler, Saint John’s Worthington, Connections, 1 June 2019

Even Me, Lord?

John 13:1-17

I want to share with you some prepared thoughts I had which I think are important. But first I want to acknowledge, for all of us, the deep sorrow the Christian and entire world is feeling now due to the fire and desecration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. For those of you lucky enough to have visited there, you know that it is a structure that is a man-made homage to God, eternity, and the human spirit. It has become an icon of civilization and a tribute to beauty and the sacred that we thought was timeless. As we remove from the altar this evening the linens, flowers and cover the cross, as the lights go out, and the music dies away, we are reminded again that all of the beauty and love in this world comes to us from God, and without God, the world would be a wretched place. It is with the strength of God in our lives that we are able to rebuild, repair, and renew each day, and so shall it be with Notre Dame.

We shall all, no matter the individual faith beliefs, help to rebuild it and restore its beauty to our world.

But today is Maundy Thursday, the least understood, probably least attended, and surely the most intimate of the Christian holy days.

Most people, even non-Christians, have heard of Good Friday and Easter – the last two days of what is called the Paschal Triduum. But most people don’t know much about this important Thursday observance. “Maundy Thursday” comes from “mandatum novum” meaning “new commandment” referring to the 13th chapter in the Gospel of John, which describes Jesus hosting a meal for his disciples (now known as “The Last Supper”) after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It describes how, in the middle of that meal, Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist, and then started washing the feet of his disciples. He ended this loving and servile act by giving the “new mandate” to

“love one another.” (John 13:34)

Maundy Thursday is awkward and often ignored because, frankly, who wants to be reminded that Jesus humbled himself to do the task that servants and slaves did? We want to celebrate him as the risen king and lord of creation. Who wants to be reminded that Jesus lived out the truth that the ‘first must be last’ (Mark 9:35), and even now – as then – he is willing to touch us where we’re most vulnerable and where the dirt in our lives can be seen?

Who wants to be reminded of the tawdriness in our lives at all?

Who does not shrink from being intimately seen and known in our most wounded self by another?

Who wants to break bread and commune with people who truly know us at our deepest and most broken level?

Jesus’ first disciples balked when he washed their feet – “What are you doing? That’s for slaves to do! We can’t let you do this!” Jesus answered,

“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8)

To paraphrase,

“Unless you let me do this, unless you let me humble myself, unless you let me do something that you think is shameful; unless you let me embrace you in your shame, you cannot truly share my life, my mission, and my love”.

And so now, if we don’t let Jesus into our lives where we’re truly most vulnerable, ashamed, and broken, we don’t let Jesus into our lives at all.

The love of God, as we learned from Jesus, is unconditional, . . .

just as we are.

To share in his life, to be fully followers of Jesus, we are called to love ourselves and others in that way too. . .

unconditionally.

Are we willing to accept that Jesus loves us totally, regardless of our failings, no matter what dirt we may be wearing? Can we remember that he suffers when we suffer? Can we fully accept that our pettiness, anger and violence hurt him deeply, as it hurts all humanity? Can we fully comprehend, that no matter what, his love has redeemed us and through his suffering and example, we are assured that with him we have eternal life?

Would you pray with me a prayer by Presbyterian Minister Rev Erin Counihan:

Almighty One,

Before I get lost,
In this night of false belief,
This night of cheap faith,
This night when my real is exposed, Along with my bare feet.
Before I give in.
Before I give up.
Before I walk away.
In silent complicity.

It’s obnoxious, I know,
but would you, please,
feed me.
Fill me.
Hope in me.
Give me strength.
Share your grace.
Share your all.
With me.
(Even tonight.)

Please.

If you’ll help me
I promise to try to trust you enough to believe,
to really believe in your wild and radical love
that it might even be for me
in a very real way,
and to let you hold this sin of mine.
The one I like to carry because I think I deserve its weight,
its punishing load should be forever shaking my arms.

So if you’ll help me
I promise to try to trust and believe you can really be that wonderful
for me too.
AMEN.[1]
 
[1]       Rev Erin Counihan, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, MO

 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 April 2019