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A number of people have asked me to share the “prologue” to my sermon on Sunday (August 13, 2017). It was a short reflection on the events in Charlottesville, VA that I gave before starting the sermon in earnest. Like the sermon, it was extemporaneous, so I am not able to share a manuscript; however, I have tried to recreate it in writing as best I can. — Michael
Preachers have two major fears. Well, actually preachers may fear a lot of things, but there are two fears that are relevant to this moment. First, there is the fear of Sunday morning arriving and not having anything to say. Well, if you’re responsible, you deal with this fear by starting your sermon as early in the week before as possible, and getting it done with time to spare. The problem is when that brings on the second fear: that something may happen between when you prepared the sermon and when you give it. Something so important that you can’t ignore it. Sometimes, it’s something important enough that it really shouldn’t just be ‘worked into’ the sermon somehow, but needs to be addressed directly.
Well, something exactly like that has happened. Something that can’t just be passed by without comment or reaction. People need to hear from their church at certain times and moments, and this is one of those times. I’m talking, as you probably have figured out, about what’s been going on in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Now, I want to be clear on a couple of things. It would be very easy to stand here and simply denounce violence. We can all agree that we don’t like violence, and rightly so. Just as mayhem and chaos make us uncomfortable, and we can all wish that it didn’t happen or wasn’t happening. All of that is understandable, and true. But just saying these things isn’t enough, not enough at all. Because the real issue here, the reality behind all of what is happening is racism and bigotry.
Again, I want to be very clear. As Christians, we must condemn and reject racism and bigotry. This is not a partisan political issue, It is a moral and spiritual issue. We must know and understand that racism and bigotry are evil. We cannot compromise with racism, minimize it, or try to explain it away. Nor may we ignore it, or claim that it isn’t there when it plainly is there.
There are those who try to claim that when they promote racism and bigotry that they are somehow doing it in the name of Christ, Christianity or the church. This is wrong in every possible way. Racism and bigotry is in every way opposed to the teachings of Jesus; this is so obvious that it seems like we shouldn’t even have to say it. But we must say it. Racism and bigotry have no place in the church or in Christianity. As disciples of Jesus, we have only one response when we see racism in our social systems and institutions: we must oppose it. And we have only one proper response when we perceive racism and bigotry in our own hearts and minds: we must repent. Those who would claim otherwise are absolutely wrong, and what they are saying is theologically anathema and evil.
I hope that is clear. Because we must be clear. Jesus said to love one another, and we do our best to do just that. But love does not mean passivity, any more than it means returning hate for hate. Love also means opposing hate, the ideas that produce hate, and the fruits of those ideas.
I once heard a band sing a song that included the line: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” These words jumped into my mind as I was thinking about the wonderful Centering Prayer time we are offering at All Saints now. On Tuesday mornings at 11:30, anyone who wishes gathers in a circle of chairs in the chancel. Our leader, Sally Smith (who leads several Centering Prayer groups and is very experienced in Centering Prayer), reads a brief spoken prayer and then rings a small gong three times, followed by the words: “Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be.” Then, we sit there! We sit together in silence for twenty minutes, until the gong rings again to bring us gently back.
If you haven’t ever experienced this type of prayer, you may be wondering what we do during those twenty minutes. The answer is: nothing! We sit, with the intention of being in the presence of God, and when our minds wander (as they inevitably do) we gently bring them back to the intention of being in the presence of God.
It doesn’t sound like much, but this kind of prayer is a cornerstone of my own life of faith. I find that it changes me, that it opens me to God, and that I become aware of God’s presence.
I highly recommend experimenting with Centering Prayer, either by coming on a Tuesday morning or by sitting by yourself for twenty minutes, doing nothing but holding the intention of being in God’s presence. (Find more information about Centering Prayer here.) Centering Prayer has the potential to deepen your connection with God and to transform your spiritual journey. Give it a try!
Thoughts and updates from All Saints
First, the Easel –
The “Roots” of All Saints:
We are a truly welcoming community. Our circle expands to fit whoever comes. We care for and love one another. We honor doubt and strive for authenticity in our spiritual life together. Our liturgy and music is traditional and we take it seriously; at the same time we have fun with it and it is never stuffy.
One of the other signs says:
Becoming more deeply who we are as Episcopalians;
sharing who we are with the world.
The “roots,” you may remember, were something that the whole community commented on a couple of years ago (remember Betsey’s “trees”?). The rest of what is up there is the result of the work of last Fall’s vestry retreat.
What this amounts to is a discernment of who we are as a community, and a vision of who we will carry and build on this in the future. I’m reminding you all of this today because this is still the plan which the vestry and the clergy of All Saints are using as we move forward. Each decision that we make comes with this vision in mind. How does what we are doing or proposing to do fit in with the kind of community we are? And how does it further the mission of the church, which at the core is becoming more deeply disciples of Christ and inviting others to do the same?
We came to the conclusion that the best way we, the All Saints Community, could do this was to ground ourselves more deeply in the tradition we represent. We believe that the Episcopal way is a great avenue to Christ; and that the best way for us to fulfill on our call to ministry was to emphasize the strengths of that tradition in which we are already grounded. This means two things: first, that we recognize that our tradition has been ‘undersold,’ that it has much to offer the world but we’ve been too quiet about it; and second, that to do this, we have to begin by understanding it better ourselves. All this is why we are consciously making an effort to both explore and practice our tradition. That is why we have added a new worship opportunity on Tuesdays at Noon based on the Episcopal Daily Office; it is also why we are currently offering an “advanced bible” class on Sunday, not just to understand the Bible better, but to understand better the way our tradition offers us tools to understand what the Bible means to us. And of course, we’ll be doing more based on these principles going forward.
Above all of this, of course, is the root of what it means to be a Christian community. The goal is to understand better what it means to be disciples of Jesus, both so that we can be better disciples ourselves, and to offer an example of disciples to others in the wider community around us.
That’s what we’re doing. I just thought you’d like to know.
Ash Wednesday is on March 1st, and All Saints will offer two worship services, one at noon and the other at 7pm. Both services will include imposition of ashes and Eucharist. Childcare is available at both services, and, as always, children are also welcome in worship.
September 11 was a day for looking back, but also, after Sunday worshipers had gone home, for looking forward. The vestry and clergy of All Saints met for almost five hours, sustained by sushi (courtesy of Sandra Takagi), caprese sandwiches (courtesy of Doni Blumenstock), a variety of coffee-flavored hard candies (courtesy of Paula Ostrom), and, not least, by the Holy Spirit.
I (Betsey) designed and led the retreat, using tools from our diocesan College for Congregational Development. We spent time considering the purpose and work of every congregation, which can be summarized as:
We also looked carefully at the ways that All Saints does these things, and spent the most time thinking about the many opportunities for transformation and spiritual growth that we offer at All Saints.
You may remember a time two years ago, after the vestry retreat of 2014. I like to think that the “trees” I drew then (some said that they looked more like a strange variety of seaweed) were memorable artistic depictions of the work of the vestry retreat. We had discerned the four roots, or core values, of All Saints:
Building on this work of discerning our roots, and looking at the ways that All Saints currently offers opportunities for spiritual growth and transformation, the clergy and vestry at our retreat this year created an area of focus for our work as we move forward. That area is:
As you can see, we really combined two areas within one, but we felt that it was important to do so. First, we at All Saints need to learn to be more fully who we are (see root #3!), especially who we are in our particular Episcopal/Anglican branch of Christianity (see root #4!). The leadership of All Saints believes that the world has a great need of what the Episcopal Church has to offer, and in order for us to offer it, we at All Saints need to know it well and live it in our own congregational life. Then our task will become learning how to share who we are with those who are seeking, and learning how to invite and incorporate people more effectively into our common life (see roots #1 and 2!).
The clergy and vestry envision a time in the future when All Saints becomes known in the community as the place to go for education in the Gospel and for spiritual growth; when we are more intentional with invitation and incorporation of new members; and when opportunities for robust exploration of the Gospel and of our Episcopal/Anglican faith and tradition are abundant in our congregation.
We are excited about the future that we believe that God is leading us into. Please share your ideas and enthusiasm as we move forward together!
All Saints Episcopal Church
2076 Sutterville Road
Sacramento, California 95822
8:00 am Sunday Holy Eucharist, Rite II
9:15 am Sunday Adult Bible Study
10:00 am Sunday Holy Eucharist, Rite II
Nursery and Sunday School at the 10 am service.
All Saints Church is located across the street from Sacramento City College. Each semester we offer students the opportunity to purchase a pass to park in our parking lot Monday through Friday from 7:00 to 4:00. For more information see our parking pass information page.
Some people think of the blessings of God when they are in nature. Others may feel it when they meditate or pray. We are all different. We are all loved. Take the time today and this week to look for signs of the love of God in your life and give thanks for that love as you pass it on.