Habits of Grace

Habits of Grace, June 16, 2020: An invitation for you, from Presiding Bishop Curry

[June 16, 2020] As we learn how to adjust our lives given the reality of the coronavirus and the request to do our part to slow its spread by practicing social distancing, I invite you to join me each week to take a moment to cultivate a ‘habit of grace.’ A new meditation will be posted each week.These meditations can be watched at any time by clicking here.
June 16, 2020: In this month of June
Watch the Video
During this month of June, we find ourselves in the midst of great titanic struggles, hardships, and difficulties. When important things are at stake, when the lives of God’s children, and the life of the world in many respects is at stake. Even as I speak, protestors march through our streets, protesting the way we have been. Protesting for the way we could be. Black Lives Matter, protesting in our city streets that we might learn to live the ways of justice, and mercy that reflects the heart of God’s love. And even as I speak, this month of June is Pride Month when our LGBTQ siblings remember and recall, and continue their struggle for equality and mutual respect, and human dignity in our society, in our church and throughout the world.

And even as I speak, the COVID-19 pandemic continues in strange and unanticipated ways, but it continues. This is the month of June. These are some hard times. Hard times for all, but really hard times for so many. Sometimes it’s helpful to go back and look how others navigated hard times. I went and picked up a small book. There’s a book of sermons by Harry Emerson Fosdick. It was published in the mid 1940s, in 1944 I believe. It was a collection of sermons that he preached as the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, during the Second World War when the entire world was in an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil. One of the sermons he titled, “In such a time as this, no dry-as-dust religion will do.”

He pleaded with people of God to draw closer to God for strength and energy. To live lives of love, of faith, of hope. In that same period of time, he composed the hymn that’s found in many of our hymnals, and I would offer it for us this week in this month of June.

God of grace and God of glory,
on thy people pour thy power;
crown thy ancient churches’ story,
bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
for the facing of this hour . . .

Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of thy salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving thee whom we adore.

(Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1930)

God love you. God bless you. May God hold us all in those Almighty hands of love.

Reference: “No Dry as Dust Religion Will Do,” A Great Time to Be Alive: Sermons on Christianity in War Time, Harpers & Brothers, 1944

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Joe’s sermon is on our Facebook page video of the Sunday worship service. His sermon begins at 25.31.

Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Jesus went about all

cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. [Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”]

 

The Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. [Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”]

A Pastoral Letter on the Regathering of Congregations

A MESSAGE FROM BISHOP SUTTON

A Pastoral Letter on the Regathering of Congregations

June 9, 2020

Dear Members of the Diocese of Maryland,As state and county restrictions have begun to ease and as some of our congregations begin regathering under our diocesan phased guidelines, I want to thank you for the creative ways you have kept worship services going, provided pastoral connections with one another, and maintained important social justice ministries such as food pantries.

I want you to remember that regathering will look different for every single congregation and ministry for a variety of reasons. Some will be due to the difference in local restrictions and testing capacity. Some will be because of the restrictions your church’s architecture presents. Some will be based on the comfort level of congregants as well as the clergy who lead them, many of whom are also in a high-risk health category. So, I want to offer a few words of pastoral advice as each congregation and each of us individually consider what regathering will look and feel like:

Stay calm. Emotions are high and we are all coping in different ways. Our clergy are feeling that pressure just like everyone else. If the pressure of regathering is too much on your leadership, please wait until that pressure subsides sufficiently. I don’t want any of you to feel pressured to regather! Our physical and emotional health are paramount during this difficult time which will remain with us for a while. Clergy need a break and need to still take vacation time this summer. Utilize our cathedral service as need be, even once a month if that helps take the pressure off your own priest or deacon.

Stay connected. Thanks to Zoom, Facebook and other digital platforms (including the good old telephone), we are able to continue to stay connected. So continue to pray for one another. Continue to participate in worship as best you are able. Reach out to neighbors, call people whom you haven’t spoken with in a while, and continue to connect with your governmental leaders on issues of importance.

Stay church. Remember, the church never closed. Our buildings have been closed for public gatherings, but the church is really you, the people, living out your baptismal vows. Our community of love is not defined by bricks and mortar. It is our capacity and passion to pray, to connect, to give, and to speak out that defines who we are as a church.

Friends, we will get through this. It may take a while, but God’s presence and God’s love is steadfast. This is a resurrection moment for us – not a death – and God’s grace is abundant. We need to allow ourselves the space to receive that grace as a salve for the pressures that weigh upon us. So, wait to regather only when you are ready. I have your back and we in diocesan leadership want to help guide you, not force you. We have “guidelines” for a reason, rather than policy or mandate. Trust yourself and your leadership.

Stay calm. Stay connected. Stay church!

+Eugene

The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Trinity Sunday

June 7, 2020 The Rev. Matt Rogers

The Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Presiding Bishop’s Opening Remarks at Executive Council

[June 9, 2020] The following is a transcript of the opening remarks of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, currently meeting virtually through June 11.

Executive CouncilJune 8, 2020Opening Remarks

In the context in which we find ourselves, allow me to offer some opening remarks. Before I do that I want to say a word of thanks to Secretary Barlowe and the General Convention Office. Members of Council may note this is a massive undertaking to be able to enable us to meet this way. We are blessed and privileged to have a team such as this, to do this, and on your behalf I thank them and thank God for them.

Allow me also to offer a text. It comes from Isaiah Chapter 40:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
   his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
   and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
   and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
   they shall mount up on wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
   they shall walk and not faint.

When the cameras are gone, when public attention has moved elsewhere, we must not be distracted. The work goes on. The struggle continues. God is still God. And we must keep the faith. I am profoundly grateful and thankful for the continued witness, not only of Episcopalians, but people of all faiths and people of goodwill and decency in this time in which we live. But I have to say I am particularly thankful for the people of this Episcopal Church, many of whom, bishops, clergy, and lay people who have gone on to witness to Jesus and his way of love in public protests, in political actions, and willingness to stand and speak when it might be more convenient and comfortable to remain silent.

I want to note in particular the people of the Dioceses of Georgia and Atlanta in light of Ahmaud Arbery’s death. The people of the Diocese of Kentucky, and the particular quiet courage of Bishop Terry White in light of Breonna Taylor’s death. The people of the Diocese of Minnesota in light of George Floyd’s death. The people of Washington, the Diocese of Washington and St. John’s Church in particular, Bishop Mariann Budde. She reminds me of the courage of Queen Esther. The people of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, and many of our dioceses that ENS and others have covered how they have borne witness to Jesus, his teachings, his example, his spirit, and his way of love in our personal relationships, our interpersonal relationships, in our social and in our political. I want to thank God for them.

But it is important to remember the cameras will go away. Public attention will go elsewhere. And we must not be distracted. God is still God. The work must go on. The struggle must continue. And we must keep the faith. These words from Isaiah 40, if I’ve got the context correct, come from a moment when the people of God had been set free. Abraham Lincoln of the ancient world, otherwise known as Cyrus of Persia, set the Jewish people free from their captivity in Babylon. And they were then free, if you will, to go home. Like that biography of Nelson Mandela, it was a long walk to freedom. And many gave up. Many didn’t leave Babylon and just stayed. And a smaller number stayed the course and went on that long walk to freedom.

Freedom’s walk is always a long, arduous walk, fraught with setbacks, filled with hardship. It is that walk like Jesus walking the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows. It is that walk, like those who walked at Selma. It is that walk of those who had to walk the Trail of Tears. It is the walk of those who have stayed and stood for the freedom of any human child of God from any kind of captivity that would hold them down. It is a long walk to freedom, but we must remember they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up on wings like eagles. They will run and not be weary. And more importantly, they will walk and not faint. When the cameras are gone, and the attention has moved elsewhere, God is still God and our work goes on. The struggle continues. And sisters and brothers and siblings, we must keep the faith.

At our General Convention in 2015, we kind of had sort of a covenant renewal, if you will, sort of like Joshua in Joshua 24, when all the tribes of Israel were gathered at the river entering the promised land. It was a covenant renewal to work that this church has engaged in for years, the work of racial justice and reconciliation. We recommitted in some deeper ways to that work. And we said we’re not going to quit. We’re going to stay the course. We likewise made a commitment to the work of evangelism, a particular way of lifting up Jesus of Nazareth, his teachings, his example, and his spirit as the way and the face of what it is to be a Christian. We said we were going to do that work and continue to do that work. And even in addition to that, knowing that our arms are short, and our hands are small, we made a commitment to do everything we can to save God’s creation, to save this world. We made a commitment to that being the shape for all of us together embodying a Jesus movement in our time, that would dare to lift up Jesus of Nazareth as the face of what it is to be a Christian, what it is to follow in the way of God’s love.

But in our time, we have seen false representations of Christianity and Christian nationalism on display for all the world to see. We have seen the blatant face of brutality, of the brutality of racism that is very often far more subtle, and pernicious, and systemic, and institutional. But we have seen its brutal face. We have seen fundamental challenges to the ideals of freedom, justice, and human equality that are foundational ideals of the United States. In spite of the fact that the United States has not always lived up to it, the ideals were there. We have seen fundamental challenges to the democratic fabric of American society, something I never thought I would live to see. We have seen a ruthless virus, a plague in the land, sickness and death and hardship visited to one degree or another on all of us, but particularly on the most vulnerable among us. And it has exposed inequities and moral wrongs that shouldn’t be in our land or in our world. We have seen increased danger to the very earth itself. And the failure of the nations, including this one that I love, to stand up for our mother the earth. Thank God there’s a little girl in Scandinavia who is willing to stand up. When the cameras are gone, when public attention has gone elsewhere, God will still be God, and we must not be distracted. The work goes on, the struggle continues, and we must keep the faith.

Earlier this week, I was being interviewed and I’ve forgotten who the interviewer was, and they caught me off guard with a question I hadn’t actually anticipated. The interviewer said, “In light of all of this in, in light of the fact that, that George Floyd was a black man just like Barack Obama, one was president of the United States and one was killed by an officer of the United States. In light of that horrible paradox of our reality, what gives you hope?” And for a second, I didn’t have an answer except that I remember my grandma used to say, “God will always have a witness. God will always have a witness.”

And I’ve seen a few witnesses. I’ve seen witnesses in those protestors. Most of them peaceful, non-violent, exercising their constitutional right for freedom of assembly and to give voice to their concerns. I’ve seen them. But more than that, we’ve protested before. This is not the first time there have been… There were protests after Ferguson. There were protests after Eric Garner. There were protests after Trayvon Martin. There’ve been protests before. But something’s different about this one. This time it’s not just black folk and a few white folk protesting. This time it is the rainbow children of God. This time they are black and white and Anglo and Latino. It’s amazing. They’re gay, they’re straight. They’re Mitt Romney, a Republican. This is something different going on. And that gives me hope. God’s got a witness and it is a multiethnic, it is e pluribus unum. It is the rainbow children of God coming together to bear witness that we don’t want to be like this anymore. We want a better world. We want a better America. Let the true America rise up. Let America really be America. One nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice, not for some, but for all.

But even if the crowds and protestors weren’t there, even when the cameras have gone away, even when the public attention has moved elsewhere, God will still be God, and our work goes on. Our struggle continues. And we will not quit. We will, like Simon of Cyrene in the New Testament, who when Jesus fell under the weight of the cross, picked up that cross, followed him, and carried the cross.

Amen.

Habits of Grace

Habits of Grace, June 5, 2020: An invitation for you, from Presiding Bishop Curry

[June 5, 2020] As we learn how to adjust our lives given the reality of the coronavirus and the request to do our part to slow its spread by practicing social distancing, I invite you to join me each week to take a moment to cultivate a ‘habit of grace.’ A new meditation will be posted each week through June. These meditations can be watched at any time by clicking here.

June 5, 2020: For Quiet Confidence

Watch the Video
I had intended to do our Habits of Grace earlier this week on Monday or Tuesday, as I usually do, and then so many things began to happen, both in our country and in our wider world that I wasn’t able to get to it.

In the midst of all that was going on, there were a few moments when so much was happening so fast and it was so chaotic, that at one point, I was on a Zoom call with a member of our staff and we were working on videos and interviews and it was so much and so chaotic, I remember just saying, “Let’s just stop, and pray.”

And the prayer I prayed was a prayer from our prayer book. It’s toward the end of the prayer book on page 832 called “For Quiet Confidence”. This prayer is based on a time in the life of the prophet Isaiah, when the people of Judah and Jerusalem were living in a time when their country was in turmoil and things were uncertain and chaos seemed to be ruling.

The prophet Isaiah said, “You must remember that it is in returning and rest, that you will be saved; in quietness and confidence, you will find your strength.” And this is the prayer we prayed and I offer it for all of us. Let us pray:

Oh, God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and in rest, we shall be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength. By the might of thy Spirit, lift us, we pray thee to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

God love you and keep the faith.

Bishop Sutton’s Statement on the Current Crisis

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

We are enduring a spring of the deadly outbreaks of three viruses: Covid-19, racism and violence. We’re suffering from over 100,000 deaths of the coronavirus as of today, but are also becoming increasingly aware of the thousands of “silent deaths” of predominantly black and brown persons from a violent society that has never overcome its original sins of white privilege and racism. These sins have shown their face in the past few weeks in the outrageous violent deaths of unarmed black persons, as well as in several other racially fueled and demeaning incidents across our nation. People of good will all over the world are protesting; they are variously ashamed, enraged, and fearful of an uncertain future.

How did we get here?

We are a people of faith. We follow in the footsteps of one who was a member of a subjugated race in a powerful empire, unjustly accused, brutally tortured, and who suffered a grisly death at the hands of political and religious leaders who colluded to prevent his message of peace, justice and salvation from spreading. The world in which we live today is not too different from the world for which our Savior gave his life.

We worship a merciful and compassionate God, who was made manifest to us in the face of Jesus the Christ. After his resurrection, facing the very ones who betrayed him only a few days before, the first words out of his mouth were, “Peace be with you.” Ever since, his followers have vowed to seek and serve Christ in the face of every human being.

More than fifty years after the dream of Martin Luther King for a just, multiracial society of a free people living in peace, where do we go from here?

Here are a few resources to get you started. I invite you to prayerfully and carefully read the excellent statement of the Diocese of Maryland’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the present racial crisis that we’re facing. I also invite you to view and listen to my recent dialogue on racial trauma with a white member of the diocese as we try to demonstrate how to have civil and respectful conversations about race in America.

Watch an interview with our diocesan urban missioner, the Rev. Ramelle McCall and listen to other voices from across the diocese on our growing list of sermons and statements.

Representing the diocese, Bishop Ihloff and I will be gathering later this week with other religious leaders in Baltimore to make a public common outdoor witness for justice and peace in this troubling time. Look for more details to come as they unfold, and how you may be able to support this witness.

The Diocesan Truth and Reconciliation Committee will be extending an invitation to the diocese to participate in a dialogue on race and the impact of current events in our country, If not now, when?  If not us, who? How long oh Lord, how long? Please stay tuned for more information on a date and time.

The Diocese of Maryland has made great strides in trying to repair the damage of racial injustice in our state and in our world. There is much more work to be done still…stay tuned. Will you join me in this effort for the next several years?

If not now, when? If not us, who?

+Eugene

The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Pentecost

May 31, 2020 The Rev. Joe Cochran, Rector

The Gospel of John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 

The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. The Collects, Psalms and Canticles are from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979. From The Lectionary Page: http://lectionarypage.net

 

Racial Trauma: A Dialogue on How We Can Heal

May 31, 2020
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, elected in 2008. Previously he served as canon pastor of the Washington National Cathedral and director of its Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Read more about Bishop Sutton.
Ford Rowan served as a news reporter for nearly 20 years. One of his first stories was on the integration of the University of Mississippi and the riots by white students. Later, as Pentagon Correspondent for NBC News, he covered combat in the Middle East and he hosted a PBS television show, International Edition. Ford is currently a member of the International Dialogue Initiative, an interfaith group that has done conflict resolution work in Jerusalem, Istanbul, Vienna, and Northern Ireland. For 20 years he has volunteered in prisons in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware with the Kairos Prison Ministry. He is a member of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, MD.

Watch the video conversation

Presiding Bishop’s Pentecost Sermon

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Pentecost sermon from the live-streamed service at Washington National Cathedral

[May 31, 2020] The following is the text of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Pentecost sermon from the Washington National Cathedral service that was live-streamed on May 31, 2020.

This sermon can be watched at any time by clicking here.

This Pentecost service included the collect, “A Prayer for the Power of the Spirit among the People of God,” specially written for this time. This prayer is included at the end of the sermon text.

Washington National Cathedral
Pentecost
May 31, 2020

Pentecost in a Pandemic

And now in the name of our loving, liberating and life-giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen.

Today is the day of Pentecost, sometimes referred to as the birthday of the church, the beginning of the Jesus movement being launched into the world. When the Spirit of God, the same spirit that rested upon Jesus, when the spirit of God rested upon those first gathered apostles and followers. It was the beginning of what we call the church, this movement of those who follow Jesus. But this year, we observe Pentecost in the midst of a pandemic, and that’s what I’d like to talk with you about for a few moments. Pentecost in a pandemic.

For a text, the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 5:

We. . . boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (who) has been given to us.

The old spiritual says it this way. If you cannot preach like Peter and you cannot pray like Paul, just tell the love of Jesus how he died to save us all. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

Pentecost in a pandemic. We really do observe this Pentecost in the midst of a pandemic. The pandemic of COVID-19 is real. It is painful. And we pray that scientists and researchers and all of the folk who are working hard will find a way to bring this pandemic to an end. But there’s another pandemic, not of the viral kind, but of the spiritual kind. It is a pandemic of the human spirit, when our lives are focused on ourselves, when the self becomes the center of the world and of the universe. It is a pandemic of self-centeredness. And it may be even more destructive than a virus.

This pandemic of self-centeredness, if you will, has been the root cause of every humanly created evil that has ever hurt or harmed any child of God or even the earth itself. James, in the Epistle says, and I quote, “What causes wars? What causes fighting among you? Is it not the passions that are at war in your own members? You desire and do not have, so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war.” That is the pandemic of selfishness, of self-centeredness. It is the pandemic where I am the center of the universe and if I’m the center of the universe, then everybody else and everything else, including you, is the periphery.

And that pandemic is the root cause of every humanly created evil that has ever been made. Every war that has ever been fought, every bigotry, every injustice, every wrong that has ever been wrought. Anytime a human being has hurt another human child of God directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, at the root cause is me being the center of the world and you on the periphery. Dr. Martin Luther King called this the reverse Copernican Revolution. Where not the sun is the center of the universe, but the self. Love is the antidote to that. Love is the cure for that. Love is what can help us remove that way of living and establish a way of life where we find life for us all.

If you cannot preach like Peter,
and you cannot pray like Paul,
just tell the love of Jesus,
how he died to save us all.

There is the balm in Gilead that can make the wounded whole. There is the balm in Gilead that can heal the sin-sick soul. There is a cure for that pandemic. Unselfish sacrificial love. If you listen to the writer of the spiritual, that’s what they grasped. Jesus didn’t die for himself, he died for others. He died for the good and the well-being of others, not for anything that he could get out of it. It was an unselfish act, if you will, a sacrificial act. And it is that way of unselfish, even sacrificial living that has the innate spiritual capacity to actually save and help us all.

Jesus following the teachings of Moses told us long ago, you shall love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. To love God and love the neighbor and genuinely to love the self. Not prideful false self-love, but genuinely to love the self. That is the way. That’s the way to life. Not just for us individually, but for us corporately as a society and us globally as a global human family. Love is the way. It is not a mere utopian dream. It is our hope. Our only hope. And it is the cure for this pandemic caused by the human spirit.

But let no one deceive you. This is not cheap grace or sugar-coated religion. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to live an unselfish life. It’s not easy. And the truth is, much that we see around us is the fruit of this unhealthy self-centeredness. Seemingly ruling the day. But again, the spiritual may help us here. The singer said it this way,

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my life’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Love is the way, but we don’t always have the power to live that way. But the spirit of the living God does have that power, because I think if I read my Bible correctly, 1st John chapter 4, it says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God, because God is love.” If God is love, and the Spirit of God is the spirit of God’s essence and life and heart, then when that spirit is poured out on us, the very love that is the heart of God is being poured out on us and love becomes possible. But it’s hard.

This past week, we have not only had to endure a pandemic occasioned by a virus, a viral pandemic, but we’ve had to endure and face a spiritual pandemic. The roots of self-centeredness where one person can look upon another person and despise and reject them, and not even behold them as a fellow child of God. We have seen once again the unthinkable become thinkable. It’s caused great pain or better yet, on Earth, the great pain that was already there.

In Minnesota, the killing of George Floyd was a violation of basic human decency and dignity. And we all saw it. We all saw it. Maybe the deeper pain that comes with that is that that wasn’t an isolated incident. It happened to Breonna Taylor on March 13th in Kentucky. It happened to Ahmaud Arbery on February 23rd in Georgia. And need I mention Melissa Ventura, Paul Castaway, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin? This is a painful path that we have been on for a long time. We’ve made such progress in our human relationships and in our racial relationships, and yet this seems not to have changed at all.

I’m 67 years old. In the late 1960s and early 70s when I was a teenager, the same thing was going on then. My father who was an Episcopal priest, rector of St. Philip’s in Buffalo, also served not only as a parish priest but as the director of human relations for the city of Buffalo. And in that capacity after riots in the 1960s, he was brought on board and brought others on board to lead sensitivity training sessions for police officers in the Buffalo police force. That was necessary because some of the riots that were occasioned resulted from precisely the same thing that happened just this past week in Minneapolis.

I was a teenager then and it was going on then. I was a teenager when my father warned me when I learned how to drive, that if ever you have encounters with the police, obey, do what they say. Do not talk back and watch how you move your hands. I was told that in the 1960s and we’re still having to say it today. That’s where some of the anger and the frustration that we’re seeing on our streets is coming from. It’s accumulated hurt and disappointment. But not just for those on the streets, for people of goodwill and human decency of all races, of all stripes, of all religions, of all kinds.

There is a part of us that just wants to throw up our hands, and in the words of the Psalmist cry, how long? How long oh, Lord? How long? And yet, we are not victims of fate. We are people of faith. We are not doomed and condemned to continue our past into our present and future. We need not be slaves of fate. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus. And this Jesus taught us that love will make a way out of no way. He taught us that sometimes you have to take up the cross and follow in his footsteps. And that if you dare to follow his way of love, you will find God’s way of life. We will not submit to fate. We must not give in to fate. We must dare to follow Jesus in the way of love that can save us all.

But I don’t have the power to do that all the time. And I suspect, neither do you. But God does. And that’s why the singer of the spiritual had a verse that said,

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and (I) think my life’s in vain,
but then th(at) Holy Spirit
(It) revives my soul again.

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Love is the way. It can save us all. And maybe we’ve seen a sign of it. And maybe we’ve seen evidence that by the power of the spirit, we might be able to do it.

Public health officials have told us that we all need to start wearing these when we go out in public. These face masks. And it’s interesting, when you put the face mask on, it’s not fun to wear. They’ve told us that you’re really putting it on not to save yourself. You’re not putting it on to protect yourself. The reason for wearing the face mask is I wear it so that I don’t spread anything to you. I wear it to protect you. It’s a small inconvenience, a little sacrifice that actually may be a symbol of what it means to love. And the possible miracle could be that if I wear to protect you from me, and you wear it to protect me from you, or the virus within you, we get protected and we all win. And that is the power of love.

If I make room for you, and you make room for me, and if we will work together to create a society where there is room for all of God’s children, where every human being, every one of us is treated as a child of God, created in the image and likeness of God, where everybody is loved, everybody is honored, everybody is respected, everybody is created as a child of God. If we work together to build that kind of society and don’t give up, then love can save us all.

If you cannot preach like Peter,
and you cannot pray like Paul,
just tell the love of Jesus,
how he died to save us all.

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole.
There (really) is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

So, walk together children. And don’t you get weary because there is a great camp meeting in the promised land.

 

A note about A Prayer for the Power of the Spirit among the People of God:

From Pentecost Sunday through the first Sunday in September, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his Lutheran counterpart Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton welcome congregations and individuals to regularly pray “A Prayer for the Power of the Spirit among the People of God.” This prayer – crafted by a team of Lutheran and Episcopal prayer leaders in light of the COVID pandemic – is meant to unite us in common prayer and revive us for common mission, wherever and however we may be gathered.

A Prayer for the Power of the Spirit among the People of God
God of all power and love,
we give thanks for your unfailing presence
and the hope you provide in times of uncertainty and loss.
Send your Holy Spirit to enkindle in us your holy fire.
Revive us to live as Christ’s body in the world:
a people who pray, worship, learn,
break bread, share life, heal neighbors,
bear good news, seek justice, rest and grow in the Spirit.
Wherever and however we gather,
unite us in common prayer and send us in common mission,
that we and the whole creation might be restored and renewed,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.