General Convention Day 3 – a new PB, a march, and it’s time to “git up!” because we ain’t dead yet

General Convention

Perhaps you heard that we elected a new Presiding Bishop yesterday?

That was pretty big news. The first African-American Presiding Bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church, the first YDS-Berkeley seminary grad in that office, and the first, first ballot election in a very long time.

You know what else? It’s also the first time in a long time that the election wasn’t about finding a way to hold the various factions of the Episcopal Church together. This election turned out to be a long and thoughtful conversation about how to git going, get moving, start preaching and quit fearing. All four candidates talked about that, and that was the focus of those of us who cast ballots at St. Mark’s Cathedral. “Which of these four would the lot fall upon to lead us out into the world proclaiming the power of resurrection?” And the lot fell on Michael Curry.

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If you haven’t met him yet, find a way. He radiates joy. And it’s infectious. He lights you up with the Holy Spirit so that you light up a room too.

And then after a big deep breath yesterday, this morning we all got up, put on vestments and walking shoes and marched through the streets of Salt Lake City, in a state where to more people are killed each year by guns than by auto accidents, and called for an end to this epidemic of gun violence. I haven’t walked in something like this in years. It was powerful. It was a moment of proclamation. It was a reminder to all of us of the power we have to proclaim “the power of the Holy Trinity is greater than the power of the violence, guns and despair.”

11538154 10152927437056931 5622585378255449080 oThe morning Eucharist was electric. Presiding Bishop Katherine preached with a power and an intensity I’d not heard her use before. She told us that we, like the woman who overcame the shaming and the finger wagging because of her hemorrhage of blood, and drew near to take Jesus hem and be healed, needed to stop listening to the finger waggers, realize we’d been healed and start shouting the Good News.

It was one of the sermons that make you realize you had been thinking about things wrong all along. And suddenly, in a flash of insight, you realized that God loves you, in spite of your flaws, and that God has a plan for you and expects you to get to it. And there are no more excuses for not getting to it.

When the sermon goes up online I’ll try to remember to link to it. Keep an eye on my twitter feed in the short term. And if you find it, give it a listen. It’s really worth it.

And then back to legislative sessions. But today they felt a little different. Sure, it was still the regular grinding of minutia and reports, but it felt like it all had a purpose in a larger context. And that’s exciting.

If nothing else, I’m praying we come home from Salt Lake City renewed and energized in a way we haven’t been in a very long time in the Episcopal Church. And it’s about time. The world has need of Jesus’ power. And we are being sent out to proclaim it.

General Convention – Orientation, Hearings and the next PB

General Convention

Convention is underway. This morning began with an early morning run, coffee on the go and a 7 AM hearing focused on a proposal to bring the full resources of modern technology and media strategy to sharing the Gospel as widely as possible.

There’s a proposal before Evangelism and Communications to use up to 3 million dollars in the coming triennium to create an online experimental evangelism initiative. We’d be creating downloadable resources, training people in different contexts how to reach out to their online neighborhoods and looking carefully and critically at how effective this is in doing what we want to do. The most common concern in the room was that we weren’t committing enough money and we weren’t moving quickly enough. Today we held hearing on the proposal. Tomorrow we’ll start working on sharpening it up and then hopefully move it out the main floor of both the House of Deputies and Bishops for a vote. (The sooner it gets acted upon, the more likely we might be to find the money in the budget to do this work.) It would a really exciting initiative if it comes about – just the sort of thing I believe the wider church structures ought to be focusing on in support of the parishes and dioceses of the Episcopal Church.

We left the hearing rooms and I had a chance to grab a muffin and a banana on our way into our first joint session – hearing the opening remarks of the present Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. (You can read the Presiding Bishop’s remarks here. I was delighted with the imagery she was using in her final address – I’ll missing having a scientifically trained primate.)

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The bishops were excused from the House of Deputies and we sat down for the first time this convention in the House of Bishops. People figured out which table they were assigned, greeted some old friends that hadn’t been to a meeting since the last convention and were trained about how to use the electronic media tools that will support the legislative work this convention. The rest of the remarks were preliminary and reminders about the norms of the House – we haven’t formally convened or taken the roll yet, so no business could be done.

The afternoon was historic. It was the first time the whole convention (and really any Episcopalian) was given a chance to hear all four candidates for Presiding Bishop give statements and responses to questions from across the church. There were some amazing and poignant moments. At least two of the speakers were moved to tears as they talked and opened themselves up to the thousands of people in the room. We have four extraordinary candidates. Each one brings different strengths. All four will serve the Episcopal Church well.

It’s a wonderful embarrassment of riches in this moment.

After the hearings, I and the rest of our deputation from Rhode Island returned to the hotel had a chance to debrief a bit, figured out how to grab dinner and then went off to the evening meetings. I went to a presentation by Tom Bair, the spouse of my predecessor in Rhode Island Gerry Wolf. Tom, an actor, has memorized the Gospel of Mark and presents it verbatim in a dramatic retelling. I’ve heard the gospel read through in one sitting, but never seen it as effectively proclaimed as Tom did tonight.

Finally back to the room to catch up on email and do a little writing.

By the way, I submitted three resolutions at this convention. One was really written and supposed to be submitted as part of the report of the Science, Technology and Faith task force, but was left out. It’s on the advantages and challenges of GMO in the food chain. (The sort of resolution that provides guidance for the Office of Governmental Affairs in its lobbying work should the resolution be adopted.) The other two have to do with strengthening our focus on constructive engagement with both parties in the Palestinian Israeli conflict. You can read about those two resolutions here. I think I may have a chance to testify on both of them tomorrow.

General Convention Day 0 – getting organized

General Convention

I’m attending my fifth General Convention, this time in Salt Lake City where we are being hosted by the Diocese of Utah. (This is the smallest diocese, in terms of membership, to ever host a General Convention, and it looks like it’s going to be one of the very best ever.)

I’ve been a deputy (elected as priest) to four conventions. This is my first as a bishop. The experience is largely similar: long distance walks, lots of happy reunions, frustrating and joyous work and worship. Some things are a little different. The life of the House of Bishops, being smaller and meeting more frequently and with less turnover, is different than the life of the House of Deputies. The bishops know each other well, often having eaten together and prayed together off and on for years. There’s an economy to our conversation, and a lot of catching up since we saw each other last a few months ago on retreat in Kanuga. But this is catching up with a purpose – conversations run to the “what committee are you serving on?” and “what are the issues you’re following this convention?” as much are they are the standard “How’s the diocese doing?” or “How’s your family?”.

Today we registered, received our iPad virtual binders and had our first sets of meetings. I’m just back from the organizing meeting of Legislative Committee 10, Evangelism and Communications. It’s the first time these two sets have been combined and it makes a great deal of sense in my mind. I became interested in communications primary in as much as it allows us to share the Gospel as widely and as cost-effectively as possible. I became interested in the Internet and its associated technologies in particular because of the possibilities that it presented for evangelism. (That’s been a mixed bag on the whole, but the Internet is young and is still well in its adolescence. We know not yet what it shall be…)

The folks on the parallel committee (of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops) all share that passion. It was evident as we went around the room and introduced ourselves. Some folks had been journalists and syndicated columnists all their professional lives. Some of us were technology folks. One or two were commission evangelists. We all want to do what the Missionary Society (the real name of the Episcopal Church) is called to do better and more effectively. And we want to see what General Convention will do to make that possible.

Pray for us? There are lots of other ways that this Convention will likely make news in church circles, but in terms of real and lasting impact, learning to share the Gospel more effectively and to bring more people into a living and transformed life in relationship with Jesus is the truly important work we’ll be doing. God grant us wisdom, courage and daring to accomplish this, or at least begin this work in the next two weeks.

(PS: I’m hoping to keep my previous discipline of regularly blogging from General Convention. We’ll see how well I manage. It might not be every day, but I’ll try to post regularly.)

Prayers for South Carolina from Rhode Island

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Current Affairs / Rhode Island

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Beloved in Jesus, the Prince of Peace;

Our hearts are breaking today as we take in the news of another mass shooting. Today’s crime, apparently motivated by racial hatred, has taken the lives of nine innocent victims while they were gathered in prayer and Bible study.
 
Church bells are being rung across the nation calling us to prayer for the victims and for all who’s lives have been forever shattered by this tragedy. I ask that all of our congregations who can, do so tomorrow on Friday the 19th. Many are ringing their bells for 10 minutes to mark all who have died.
 
Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, the Episcopal bishop in South Carolina, has asked those who can, to pray the prayer of St. Francis:
 
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
 
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
 
Amen
 
I have joined with other religious leaders in the state of Rhode Island in issuing the following statement:
 
We reach out in loving concern to the people of Charleston, South Carolina, and especially the members and friends of the individuals who were slain while attending a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last night.  We not only honor the life of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney who lost his life shepherding his flock, but we also honor those who were gathered in prayer and reflection.  Houses of worship must be safe havens for all who are in distress and seeking God.  When any sacred space is violated, all faith communities are diminished.  

Although when such a senseless act of violence occurs, we are filled with many emotions, but we cannot respond to a hate crime with more hate.  One Charleston resident is reported to have said, “We must love our way through this.”  We concur.  

Let our response go beyond our expression of empathy and grief.   Let us recommit ourselves to the hard work of racial reconciliation and building communities of safety and love.  As our Presbyterian colleagues have stated,  “Arresting the shooter is the job of law enforcement.  Arresting hate is the work we are all called to do.”

 
+Nicholas Knisely
 XIII Rhode Island
 

To not be provoked to evil

Current Affairs

I’m waking to the news that there’s been a mass execution of Coptic Christians in Libya this morning by masked men who claim affiliation with the Islamic State movement. The victims died with the words “Jesus is Lord” on their lips. Violent actions like these, shared widely in an intentional media campaign, are carefully calculated to provoke a response in the rest of world, to bring about a world wide religious war.

And here in America, in some isolated incidents, it might be having the desired effect. The details are still sketchy as to the motivation of the shooter, but last week three of the shining lights of the American muslim community were murdered in Chapel Hill North Carolina by a professed anti-theist. (Not an atheist in the strict sense of the word — someone who doesn’t believe in God, but a person who actively rejects those who do believe. It’s a relatively new phenomenon in the US apparently.)

In West Warwick Rhode Island yesterday, disturbing vandalism against a local Islamic school has brought the conflict to our community.

A day after holding a vigil for three Muslim students killed in North Carolina, the Islamic School of Rhode Island was vandalized.

Some time Saturday night racial slurs were spray-painted over the entrance of the school that serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, school officials said.

Orange paint covered the school’s doors with the words, “Now this is a hate crime” and “pigs,” among other expletives referencing the prophet Muhammad.

The irony is, such actions, if they are meant to be some sort of retaliation, are exactly what the violent actions in Syria, Iraq and now Libya are meant to provoke.

Jesus taught us that the great commandment was to love God above all else. And then he told us we could do that in a practical way by willing to love our neighbor as ourselves. Any thing else leads us away from God and into the realm of violence and death.

It will take a great deal of spiritual discipline to not be drawn into the whirlwind of violence which is the dream of those who have done such killings.

Will you join me in praying that God will grant us the courage and the will to resist? Pray that we focus on doing what we can to make our community stronger, to live into what America was founded to be, a place where freedom of religion was intended to put an end to religious violence of all forms.

It seems appropriate, on this President’s Day in 2015 to make the following prayer:

“O Judge of all the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 839)

Amen.

A Journey to Easter; a lenten discipline

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The series of blog posts that I wrote for the Diocese of Rhode Island during Lent of 2013 is now edited, tightened up and in print from Leader Resources. (Some folks in congregations said that they would prefer to use them in a book form rather than online.)

From the book’s page on the publisher’s siteKnisely Front Cover 1 inch:

Bishop Knisely invites you to on a journey through the Gospel of Luke and the Books of Acts. Journey to Easter was written as a personal Lent meditation guide. However, it can be used as group Lent Bible study or at any time as a daily reflection on one (sometimes two) chapters of two of the main New Testament books of the Bible. Knisely’s personal reflections embody the everyday realities we all face while calling us into a deeper reflection on the mysteries and wonder of the Scriptures. Journey to Easter is a pilgrimage text — a way for you to travel through the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and encounter him in your own day-to-day life.

My favorite part of the print edition is the image on the cover. I took that picture earlier this year while I was standing next to the Jesus’ tomb in the Holy Sepulchre while I was in Jerusalem.

The meditations were well received as I was posting them. It was the kind words that people shared that led me to write other Lenten Book that dealt with mediations on God’s Creation.

Connection is the cure to addiction

Books / Current Affairs / SOSc

In the 1970’s Bruce Alexander, a researcher in Vancouver, discovered that the social experience of laboratory rats in addiction experiments had a profound effect on whether or not the rats became physically addicted to various substances.

Essentially, what he discovered was that isolated rats, kept in bare cages by themselves, when fed addictive substances quickly became physically addicted. But rats in stimulating environments (happy cages) kept with other rats, rejected the drugs they were fed and had a significant physical resistance to developing addiction.

His work has been repeated over the years and is referenced in a new book by Johann Hari called “Chasing the Scream: The first and last days of the War on Drugs”. Hari references Alexanders’ work and subsequent research by Gabor and Cohen on human addictive behavior.

In an article on his research Hari writes about the futility of our present models of treatment for addiction where we treat physical addiction by essentially asking people to endure pain (withdrawal and denial) rather than suffer the worse pain (physical and emotional) which is caused by the active addiction:

“If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

You can read the whole article here.

Rhode Island has the highest rate of marijuana use (and I’m told of heroin use) of any state in the US. We’re also a place that is suffering from a lack of hope in the future. We’re a place where, it is my observation, people find it much to easy to isolate themselves into small groups, small families or stable small communities of acquaintances. People will cut themselves off from the larger connections that a vibrant participation in community or activity might bring.

It seems to me that our congregations might have the real solution to the pain that so many people are self treating with illegal substances. Jesus teaches us how to live in real, life giving community. Perhaps we need to by a lot more intentional about reorienting our focus from celebrating the life giving relationships and faith we find in church to going out into the world and inviting people in pain to find life with us.

Is there any objective reality at all?

Science / SOSc

To my mind the fundamental objection to a Quantum reality, from a philosophical perspective, is that it seems to raise the question of if there’s any reality that exists outside of the experience of the observer. In other words, the Universe is only realistic if there’s someone looking.

The classic thought experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat is the best known illustration of this conundrum. A cat in a closed box and a randomly timed explosive device is, as long as the box is closed, both dead and alive at the same time. It’s only when the box is opened that we “pin” the cat into one state or another.

Most often the weird idea is explained away from having any physical reality by insisting that the whole paradox stems from our incomplete knowledge of the system. In other words, the cat is alive or is dead in the box, but because we can’t see into the box, we’re just writing a mathematical expression that contains our lack of knowledge. There is, goes the argument, an objective reality that exists apart from the observer, even if we can’t perceive it.

But that’s not true according to a new analysis by a team of Australian physicists who have done a detailed analysis of the situation.

They looked closely at the mathematical description of the cat’s state in the box, it’s “wavefunction” and how that function describes reality. The weirdness of Quantum Mechanics is essentially contained in the question of how to interpret and understand how wavefunctions describe reality.

This is what they found:

“‘Our results suggest that, if there is objective reality, the wavefunction corresponds to this reality.’

In other words, Schrödinger’s cat really is in a state of being both alive and dead.

As measurements improve further, physicists will be left with two possible interpretations of the wavefunction: either the wavefunction is completely real, or nothing is.”

More here.

I don’t know which is more interesting. The superposition of life and death, or the denial that there is any objective reality. Both would have profound implications in theology. Both would be a pretty big challenge to classical formulations of the faith, at least as they are typically taught.

(Though those of us who are fans of Karl Barth, who seems to me to be a fan of Meister Eckhart, might see that his fundamental insight about the unknowable reality of God, other than what God wills to reveal to us, could be profoundly useful.)

Je Suis Charlie – building walls of love in a dangerous world

Current Affairs / Religion

Je-suis-CharlieFourteen years ago I was asked to preach at a city-wide observance of the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. What I said then has been very much on my mind as I’ve been following the news out of Paris and the murders of the journalists who worked at Charlie Hebdo. Essentially I argued that it was only by having strong, healthy and interdependent communities that we would be able to feel safe again. There was no military solution, no Homeland Security protocol that would be able to protect us as much as that.

Someone who heard the sermon that night wrote me this morning asking if I had a copy of it. I guess I wasn’t the only person thinking about what I had said 12 years ago…

So I’m posting it again – in large part because I still believe what I said then.

Sermon Delivered at Nativity Cathedral on the Occasion of the Requiem Mass for those who died or were wounded in the attacks on 9-11-01.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my God and my Redeemer.

I’ve developed a new habit over the last year. When I sit at my desk, working on my computer, I tend to always have a web browser open to news page. I click the refresh button on the web browser every ten minutes or so just to see if some new development or disaster has occurred since the last time I checked. I suppose it seems pretty silly now, but in the first couple of weeks after the attack happened a year ago, it seemed like there were constant new and breaking stories.

Last week I was sitting at my computer working on something and I did what has now become reflexive for me. I clicked the refresh button on the browser I had open and glanced up at the news page as it displayed. There was a breaking news bulleting that “another plane has been hijacked. The plane is reported south of Washington and turning back to the city. Evacuations are occurring and bedlam is breaking out on the ground and there are sirens heard everywhere.” I immediately leapt up from my desk and went out into the hallway to let the staff know what was happening. We all went right into emergency mode. The Sexton grabbed an AM radio and hurriedly tried to tune in a news station. Our Outreach Minister started to say a prayer and our Receptionist’s face completely drained of color. In a moment we were taken back to the same feelings we had experienced a year ago tonight.

I ran back down the hall to the computer and hit “reload” once more. Apparently someone had thought it would be “interesting” to repost the news stories as they had appeared from a year ago – and what I had read was year old news about the plane that ultimately crashed in Pennsylvania. I went out and reassured everyone that this was a mistake – but the strong emotions took time to disappear, and we realized with some surprise just how close our fears were to the surface. The fear and stress that we had felt a year ago has not vanished or been truly dealt with. At best the hole that the pain had left in our souls was merely papered over, and this “false alarm” had ripped that thin covering apart and we were left looking down into the abyss once again.

What is it about this attack on America that has left such strong feelings lingering in so many of us? The number of people who died on that day was horrible, but there have been worse moments and more frightening events in our history. More people die regularly in traffic accidents or died in the Blitz on London, but neither seems to have affected so many so deeply and so profoundly. Tens of thousands die yearly of AIDS in southern Africa but we haven’t had the same deep emotional response to their loss.

For a long time I thought that what we were really mourning when we returned to contemplate the loss of life in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania was the fact that we no longer felt safe. For so long we in America have felt secure and protected behind our two great oceanic moats. Wars happened, persecutions happened, terrorist attacks happened, but always someplace else, never here where we lived. This attack has struck us directly on the mainland of the United States, in two of it greatest cities and came seemingly out of the blue. It was an attack not against military forces or groups prepared to defend themselves, but upon civilians going about their everyday routine, never imagining the doom that hurtling toward them from out of a cloudless sky.

But I believe there is something more subtle happening here tonight – something more complicated causing the distress that we all feel. It isn’t so much that we were attacked – it more an issue of who attacked us. These 19 men who fiendishly killed so many so quickly are not the sort of attackers we’re used to thinking about. These are not terrorists in the strictest sense of the word. They made no demands, they presented no manifesto, and they took no credit on the world’s stage for their deed. They attacked us not to cause us to change our ways. The attacked us simply to kill us. Their deepest prayer was that their action would cause ignite a Third World War – a conflagration that would set peoples of different religions against each other. Out of the war they hoped they would start, a new radical militarily robust Islamic sect would stride forth and sweep all opposition away.

The implications of this are truly frightening. They don’t want to talk with us, they don’t want to reason with us – they want to kill us. In their minds we need to die. We need to die not because of our admittedly error prone ways – but because of the way we behave when we are at our best. They want to kill us because we are tolerant, because we encourage and try to embrace dissent – because we believe truth is elusive and only become apparent through hard, committed conversation and interaction between people who disagree. They hate the fact that we don’t believe there is a simple clear answer for every moral question. They hate the fact we tolerate in our midst those people they can not tolerate. They hate us for being the best the American ideal can be – diverse, a melting pot for all the world’s greatest hopes and dreams.

It is truly frightening to imagine that there is nothing that we can do to discuss this with people who seek our destruction. They offer us no quarter, no terms to accept or reject – only death and that because of who we are when we are at our best.

Who are these people?

It’s important that we be very very clear.

They are not people who follow the religion that was revealed by the Prophet Mohammed. The leaders of Islam have disowned these men and made clear that the submission to the Will of Allah does not ever include the willful taking of innocent life.

These are not the people of the Arab nations – many of whom reacted with horror at the acts that were supposedly perpetrated in their name.

These were not the people of the Arab street who curse us and argue with us. They engage us in conversation and attempt to get us to change our way – a disagreement with how we are American. Their disagreement is something that not only will we hear and engage, but whose very existence is sacred to the American ideals.

Who are these people? In truth they are a small group of men. Thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of whom have gathered around a wealthy man who’s family has rejected him, with a history of violence and who is a self declared religious leader of a small extremist sect of Islam. They represent no nation state, no broad consensus among honorable people – merely a focal point for a small number of men who have chosen to fill their hearts with hate in their attempt to hide from the light of God’s love.

If they are so few in number, how did they cause so much destruction? Thomas Friedman in his latest collection of essays Longitudes and Attitudes writes about the advent of a new person in history – the super-empowered individual. The nineteen men who managed to kill as many people as died in the bloodiest day of the Civil War, and in an hour or so rather than a 24 hour period, were able to do so because they perverted modern technology from its intended use. 150 years ago it took two great armies of more than 100,000 men on a broad field of battle an entire day to manage to kill more than 3000. It took 19 men moments to kill the same number of unarmed civilian men, women and children. These men used unarmed airplanes, built for peaceful commerce, for travel and for the good of many – and turned them into human guided missiles with warheads of innocent lives.

Friedman argues we are going to have deal with the fact that modern technology is going allow a single individual a greater ability to affect the whole of society than we’ve yet seen. This is the just the latest and more horrific example. We are most likely going to see more and more of this type of attack – a small group of men causing death and injury on a scale unimagined just a short time ago.

It seems so hopeless – but we are never without hope. We worship the living God – and with God there is always hope.

The Bible lessons that we have heard read aloud this evening remind us that we are not the first people in history to suffer at the hands of a seemingly implacable enemy. The words of the Prophet Jeremiah remind us that God will never forsake God’s people forever – and that after a time, the promises made of old will be seen to be true of us again.

The Gospel lesson reminds us that Wars and Disasters surround us but do not overcome us. They are the remnants of old reality that the in-breaking of God’s kingdom is replacing with new. In spite of the momentary fear we experience, the larger view is that God is with us in the midst of our loss leading into a deeper relationship with God and with each other.

But more than that: the small group of men who seeks to destroy us are not the only super-empowered individuals upon the stage. We are super-empowered individuals as well – but our power comes not from hydraulic lifts or electrical relays or network connections. We have the burning flame of the Holy Spirit that was placed within us at our baptism. If we have God within us – who can ever stand to truly harm us? The power we share in is the power of creation itself, a power that binds up the works of destructive chaos.

How can we use this power we share?

Some of us – those with heroic faith are probably already well on their way to forgiving those few who destroyed so many. They know what so many of want to know – that the true power of God is to love those who hate us, and by loving them, we can transform them.

But what of the rest of us whose faith is not of that quality just yet? What of people like me?

I may not now be able to truly love those who hate me, but I can love those around me.

I can love the people I meet day in and day out as I live my life here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I can love my neighbor right here, right now.

I can go outside tonight and sit on my front step and get to know the names of the people who live closest to me. I can work at finding ways to turn our group of homes into a real neighborhood whose inhabitants know and care for one another sharing the burdens of sorrows and the rewards of joys.

I can join Rotary or Lions or the Jaycees or any community based organization that works locally to make a stronger region. I can share in the important task of building up a region so hard hit by the aftermath of 9-11.

I can smile at the people I meet in line today. I can hold the door open for someone whose arms are full of packages. I can thank people as I go about my little everyday errands.

I can build a wall of love around this town. I can help to construct a wall of love that no plane, no missile, no hatred can ever breech let alone destroy. I can do this – we can do this because we are individuals beloved of God – the God of Love. With God’s love supporting our small efforts we can love the world back into a proper relationship with the one who made the world in the beginning. For we know and have Christ’s own promise, that nothing can ever destroy the works of Love co-created with God.

Is there an image of hope for us this evening?

Absolutely. There is an image from a year ago that has seared itself upon my mind. Two people, who in desperation chose to escape the flames of the Twin Towers by leaping out of a broken window to their death. But as they fell – they held hands. They knew in that moment of unimaginable terror that the simple act of relationship could make the unbearable bearable. Their act of hope in the moment of their death reminds each one of us this night that we are never without hope.

Let us pray that by God’s grace we can witness this truth to others in our daily lives.

Amen.

Christmas 2014

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“Bethlehem has opened Eden: Come, let us see! We have found joy hidden! Come, let us take possession of the paradise within the cave.

There the unwatered stem has appeared, from which forgiveness blossoms forth! There the undug well is found from which David longed to drink of old! There the Virgin has borne a child, and at once the thirst of Adam and David is made to cease.

Therefore let us hasten to this place where for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child!”

Anonymous from the hymn, Ikos of the Nativity of the Lord

May the Christ Child be fully present to you in this season of Christmas, and may you and your family be blessed in the coming year. Thank you for your prayers this past year.

+Nicholas