My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
All good and well-meaning people in America and across the world are horrified and heartbroken over the mass shooting that took place at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this weekend. This may have been the largest assault on American Jews in our history, and has happened at a time when there remain many among us, including some of the victims of Saturday’s massacre, who lived through and can remember the Holocaust in Europe of the 1930s and 1940s. Vicious, violent anti-Semitism has been a continuous dark current through western culture century after century; it has erupted in some of the most horrific chapters of our history, and some of the most extreme campaigns of human brutality; and, on Saturday we were reminded in the most painful way that this sheer evil continues to reside in the deep pathology of American religious, racial and ethnic hatreds.
Every community of faith, and the larger society around us, are recoiling at this violent crime of religious hatred in our midst. Everywhere are prayers for the dead and wounded, for the bereaved, and for a shattered community. The people of Tree of Life, and of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, will know, I am certain, the compassion and love of the much larger body of people who feel the deep wound of this violence alongside our Jewish brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh. To all of them this diocese extends our love and grief and the embrace of our common humanity. And the rich fabric of constant prayer.
But this terrible act came at the end of a week when we saw some fourteen or more bombs sent through the mail to political leaders and the news media. That those bombs brought no loss of life is a grace, but the fact of them, sent by an extreme far-right politically motivated attacker, has shaken the foundation of a country preparing right now to exercise the sacrament of its democracy.
Something essential and needed in our common life is coming undone. Some foundation upon which we believed we stood is crumbling. Some thread, by which we were bound together, has been cut, and we are falling away from one another into warring camps and tribal divisions. I have had vestry persons in our parishes tell me that their congregations are so divided that “we can’t even talk to each other anymore.” At church! Everywhere is the fear that those treasured democratic values and bonds of community by which we have ordered our common life across our differences, by which we have endured and survived crisis upon crisis throughout our history, may now be spinning away from us. Who are we actually? And what may we become?
In the face of such a societal crisis, and in this vacuum of political leadership, it is more important than ever that we, the church, be the church. That we choose the gospel witness. We must make now, as ever, no peace with evil, and continue our conviction in the love of God for all people through our Lord Jesus Christ, and for the generosity and freedom and equality and compassion and welcome that this love of God requires of us. These principles must inform everything we do as a church: when we are being pastors and caregivers to one another; when we pray for those who do not pray for us; when we pray for the victims of hate; when we are reaching out to the least, the last and the lost among us; when we are learning in interfaith commonality the thousand faces of God; when we stand as one in advocacy for racial and ethnic and gender and LGBT equality; when we come before the altar to receive the absolving, reconciling love of God in Christ and then turn to this broken world to make our peace. And, too, when we look across the political and cultural divide and extend ourselves for the possibility of something new. To invite, beckon and call those whom we might otherwise name adversary or opponent or enemy into the enfolding love of communion. That we may make every sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom. So that we may be repairers of the breach. This is what our Presiding Bishop meant in his royal wedding sermon: “love is power.” The power to transform. That simple proclamation, which galvanized the world, is our hope for the world; that the love of God, and the powerful expression of it in your life and mine, may make all things new.
With every good wish, I remain
The Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietsche
Bishop of New York
We Must Be Church
Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, October 28, 2018
Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
Sermon text: Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. Psalm 126:6-7.
The Bible speaks of exile, sin, injustice, but also of return, restoration, reconciliation.
The Gospel shows us Jesus heading to the cross, but healing along the way.
We are followers of the Risen One.
We believe in the biblical narrative arc that love is stronger than death, and God will one day bring the people back to the holy hill of Zion. Those who sowed weeping will harvest with joy. The kingdom of heaven will come to earth.
But we are also eye-open observers and active agents in the world as it is. We acknowledge the reality of human brokenness and sin, the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God and against which we strive. We are hopeful and faithful realists.
After losing a 4-0 lead in game 4 last night, my beloved Dodgers will probably lose one of the three remaining games to the Red Sox. I know that.
As a long-suffering Mets as well as Dodgers fan, I will also say, wait till next year.
But I cannot say wait today. For we cannot wait in the fight and struggle against hate, in the long march toward God’s kingdom of justice and love. We cannot wait. We cannot be still. We cannot be silent. We must strive, speak, vote, march, pray. We must be citizens. We must be church.
It is stewardship season. I wrote a stewardship sermon. Here it is (show typed out sermon). It talks about the characteristics of vital and viable churches as spelled out in the diocesan strategic plan. I make a case that here at Grace Church we meet or are trying to meet them. We are healthy; we are giving; we do good work. But I cannot this morning talk about giving to Grace because we meet criteria of viability and vitality.
I woke up this morning realizing I have to talk about partisan pipe bombs and a synagogue shooting. I have to say to the murderous haters and those whose rhetoric feeds them—you will not win.
Not if we as a people of faith and love stand strong and stand together.
And we stand together here. We have differences of belief and opinion; we argue about policy and party. But we stand together here. We stand together here in Grace Episcopal Church, Millbrook New York. We stand together here in the house of God.
I was proud of the Episcopal Church last week when hearing about the beautiful memorial service for Matthew Shepherd at the National Cathedral—the Episcopal Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul. Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of our denomination, spoke eloquently. We take our stand against anti-LGBT bigotry.
I am proud of Grace Church for being a place of intergenerational fellowship. It is rare in these days of age-siloed cohorts, of segregated classes and peoples, to gather babies, children, youth and young adults, parents and elders all in one body. To invite and welcome all who live here—reaching out as we do in Spanish as well as English. You see some of us around you this morning but I tell you there are others you do not see but who are here in spirit and whom we touch with love. Seniors who are living alone, house-bound, but who I and others of the church visit. Those who are sick and suffering we visit with prayer and support. To those who are young and struggling, perhaps new to this country and strangers, we reach out with help and hospitality.
We don’t stand apart. We don’t meet as a membership club. We reach out with true hearts and steady hands to our neighbors in need. Because we need our neighbors to be truly ourselves. Because that is the way of Jesus and we are followers of his Way. Because we are a church of Christ.
The church is not just a force for good among other civic institutions—but we proudly take our place among all the people and institutions that knit together our civil society. We join them, knowing that a strong country needs strong cities, towns and villages. We need each other, all faiths, all people of good will, to unite together against the forces of hatred, the strong but sinful impulses that draw us apart from God and each other.
So we gather. So we reach out. So we unite. And in order to do that, we worship and pray. Faith gives us courage, hope, purpose, and power. Without God, we are weak and will not prevail against all that threatens us. With God we cannot be defeated.
We are here. Grace has been here for one hundred and fifty years. The Gospel has been preached for two thousand years. God is eternal. We are not going away. We shall overcome.
We cannot go away. Not if I can help it. Not if you can help it. The world needs us. Our people need us. This is a stewardship sermon after all. For I urge and invite you to join and support this great church. Be part of the light; join the good fight. Have faith, take heart. We weep this day for those who have died, for our country and our world in its brokenness. But we will one day enter with joy the restored and renewed city of God. And we this day make our pledge: here we stand, here we pray, here we welcome, here we heal, here we strive for justice and peace, here we love. Together. We must be church. May God bless us in this work and mission.
Let the people say, Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew Calkins, rector
Grace Church, Millbrook NY