17 March 2019
We bishops of the Episcopal Church were gathered in the hills of North Carolina, at the Kanuga retreat Center near Asheville, on Friday morning when we learned of the terrorist attack in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand that resulted in the death of fifty persons.
We were drawn to prayer mourning the dead, and stood with our brother, The Rt. Rev. David Rice (San Joaquin) who is a native of New Zealand, has served parishes in Christchurch, and will retire there, in years to come, when he has concluded his ministry here in the States.
We prayed for those who had lost their lives, for their families, for those who had lived through the horrific events in the two mosques, for the Imams of the mosques who both lived, and for the emergency and medical professionals who worked quickly to save the lives of the wounded.
We went to church, as it had been scheduled each morning at 9 AM during our week-long meeting, and we prayed again. We were gifted with a sermon by The Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves (El Camino Real) in which she reminded us that we are all beloved by God- every single one of us- as we worked through the challenging text of Matthew 5: 20-26:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
These words of Jesus’, part of his Sermon on the Mount, hit us square, as we heard, again, the call for justice but also the unending call to reconciliation and wholeness, the quest for harmony and unity through right-relationship with all.
Later that morning, just before noon, we put on our orange stoles showing a sign of solidarity in the movement to end gun violence, and supported the Presiding Bishop in a live event on Facebook that had been scheduled long before the horrors of the morning had unfolded. Bishop Curry lead us through texts in the Letter to the Hebrews, lifting up the importance of persistence in hope and the strength of our faith as we meet the on-going challenges of our times- the challenges of war and violence and evil.
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching….
But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved. (Hebrews 10: 23-25, 39)
Using the text of Hebrews 11, Bishop Curry reminded us of the faith of our forbearers, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and others, as we heard that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) Finally, in his teaching, Bishop Curry pointed to the example of Jesus, and, in the text of Hebrews Chapter 12 urged us not to grow weary, but to
lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and … run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12: 1, 2)
It was good to immerse ourselves in prayer and scripture on Friday as a way to process the events that had taken place on the other side of the globe, but that were, in our hearts, so close.
Brothers and sisters, the fight is real. Evil is a force that pervades our world; not only in our own culture, but across the world, and our call as Christians is to witness to a different truth and to work for a different reality, a reality of peace and justice as lived out in Jesus’ Way of Love. In our baptismal service, and on each Sunday as I travel through our diocese reaffirming our baptismal promises, we align ourselves with the Prince of Peace as we reaffirm our renunciation of evil and promise to follow Jesus as our Savior and Lord. We do these things not of our own accord, but knowing that it is only “with God’s help” that this challenging, love-focused life-path can be followed with any success. The forces of evil are strong, the temptation to sin, and to fall away are real, and it is only by the power of God that we can heal our sorry world.
And so, my word today is to cling fast to the love of Jesus, to the Way of Love, and to a faith that can, and ultimately will, triumph over all evil, even the power of death. Cling fast, be faithful, say your prayers and look to the One in whom we live and move and have our being, to keep us on the course of holiness and righteousness.
For those whose lives have been lost, we pray. For those who mourn, we pray. For an end to violence, we pray. May God’s will be done. Amen.