In Memoriam: The Rt. Rev. Robert R. Shahan

The Arizona Episcopal Diocese

 

August 15, 2020

It is with sadness we announce that the fourth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, Robert Reed Shahan, Ph.D., D.D., died on August 14, 2020, in Kansas. Bishop Shahan was born on October 18, 1939, in Elkhart, Kansas, the son of John and Freda Shahan.

Bishop Shahan_Headshot-web

 

Bishop Shahan was a graduate of the University of Kansas and held a master's degree in Business Administration from Michigan State University. In 1979, he was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree in organizational development from Northwestern University. In 1994, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary awarded Bishop Shahan the Doctor of Divinity degree.

 

A lifelong Episcopalian, Bishop Shahan entered the seminary at Nashotah House, Nashotah, Wisconsin, in 1970, after serving eight years in the U.S. Navy and a year as a market analyst with Hershey Foods Corporation. He received the Master of Divinity degree from Nashotah House in 1973.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1973 and served several parishes, a seminary and a day school: as vicar of St. Alban's Church, Muskegon, Michigan (1973-1975); assistant dean for student services and administration, and assistant professor of church administration and preaching at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary (1975-1981); priest-in-charge at St. Francis Church, Chicago (1976-1981); rector of St. Thaddeus Church and president of Mead Hall Episcopal School in Aiken, South Carolina (1981-1984); and dean of Grace Cathedral, Topeka, Kansas (1984-1992).

On May 2, 1992, the Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Church in Arizona elected Shahan to become bishop coadjutor for the diocese. He was ordained and consecrated a bishop of the Church on October 3, 1992, and became Bishop of Arizona on December 9, 1992. After his time as the Bishop of Arizona, he and his wife, Mary Carol, retired to Lenexa, Kansas.

 

Bishop Shahan served on two national boards for the Episcopal Church: the Audit Committee and the General Convention's Standing Committee for Program, Budget and Finance. He also was chosen to serve as one of five Episcopal bishops on a November 1994 pilgrimage for unity to Canterbury and Rome, which included special meetings with Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and Pope John Paul II.

 

He is survived by his loving wife of 57 years, Mary Carol Shahan, his two daughters, Sarah Elizabeth Lauck (David) and Susannah Annette Hart (Brian), grandchildren, Addison Lauck Davis (Aaron), Halley Urich, Cooper Lauck, Lauren Hart Stavens (Parker), Lindsey Hart, and brother John P. Shahan (Michelle), along with many nieces, nephews, cousins, and lifelong friends. He was preceded in death by his parents, and sister Donna (Shahan) Drehmer.

 

"We are keeping Bishop Shahan and his family in our prayers. Many Arizona Episcopalians remember his years as bishop, and we are still benefiting from his wise stewardship of our diocese," said Bishop Reddall.

 

The celebration of Bishop Shahan's life will be at 9:00 a.m. (AZ time) on Friday, August 21, 2020, at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Overland Park, Kansas. The service will be available via Livestream.

 

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Bishop Shahan's name to St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, 12251 Antioch Rd., Overland Park, KS 66213, or The University of Kansas Alzheimer's Research Center at KU Endowment - KU Alzheimer's Disease Center), c/o Lindsay Hummer, Mail Stop 3012 3901 Rainbow Blvd., Kansas City, KS 66160.

 

If you would like to send condolences, address them in care of St. Thomas the Apostle's church office (12251 Antioch Rd., Overland Park, KS 66213).

 

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Robert. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

 

May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Respect the Dignity of All: Kids Engaging Racial Equity

By Canon Jana Sundin, Canon for Children and Youth


August 5, 2020, When a person is baptized in our church, they and the whole congregation make promises, and one of those promises is to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being" (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305). Judging from what we see in the world around us, this is not always a simple promise to keep, and part of the work of the church is to teach and support each member as we keep our promises and walk as disciples of Jesus.

 

As Bishop Reddall and many others leading our church have clearly named in recent months, one way we as The Episcopal Church have failed to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being is by maintaining silence in the centuries-long struggle for racial equity. We are called to the freedom in Christ that comes from transformative truth-telling! Opportunities abound for learning about white supremacy and our own individual, collective and institutional complicity in maintaining unjust systems, and more importantly learning what we can do to move toward justice. And because we care about the discipleship of young people, and because they are, and will become, our leaders, we must invite them into these important conversations now!

 

There may be people who feel concerned about the idea of talking with children about race, perhaps because it is uncomfortable, or because we want to shelter them from difficult realities in our world. However, experts agree that even the youngest children learn to make judgments based on differences they perceive. "We often avoid talking about race with our young children but, whether we like it or not, children notice similarities and differences between people. When we are silent, they are left to draw their own conclusions about what 'different' means. Without coaching or support, their conclusions often reflect and reinforce biases."

 

Animated by my own baptismal vows and this call to truth-telling and discipleship, I am happy to announce a formation series called Respect the Dignity of All: Kids Engaging Racial Equity. Through this series, produced in collaboration with churches from all over the diocese, we will practice ways to respect the dignity of all people and love each other as Jesus taught us to do. On Sundays, from September 13 through November 22, we will use stories, prayer, music, and crafts to explore how we listen for the voice of God, the importance of attending to others' perspectives and needs, the meanings of justice and mercy, the interconnectedness of all living beings, and what love in action looks like.

 

This formation series will be available in the Family Formation playlist on the Diocesan YouTube Channel and will be designed to be used by churches as their Sunday School programming, or by individual families at home. If you would like more information about how you and/or children in your church can engage this program, please contact me. And while this program is specifically designed for elementary school-aged children and their caregivers to enter together, striving for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of all is the work of a lifetime. We do not outgrow it, and we do not do it alone--we walk together as a community of disciples of Jesus, and everything we do, we do with God's help.

 

 

 

6.19.20 The Episcopal Church Encourages Support of the Dream Act

The Episcopal Church has long advocated for legislation that protects Dreamers and offers a pathway to citizenship. Through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that allows those brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country without fear of deportation, nearly 800,000 Dreamers have come forward, passed background checks, and been granted permission to live and work legally in the U.S. Ending DACA in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic would be detrimental to the health and safety of families and communities around the country.

"At this time, the Dream Act is pending before the Congress of the United States," said Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry. "I'm asking you as Episcopalians, as people of good will and faith, to write and call members of Congress who represent you to support this Dream Act."

 

The Episcopal Church Encourages Support of the Dream Act | Episcopal Church

 

 

 

For more than a decade, The Episcopal Church has called for a pathway to citizenship for immigrant young people. As the U.S. and other countries are continuing to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, so many are being called to work on the front lines, including Dreamers. It is more critical than ever for Congress to pass legislation to protect this vulnerable group working and living in the U.S. and to allow these members of our communities, many with U.S. citizen children and family members, to remain in the country without fear of deportation.

"As the prophet said in the Hebrew scriptures, 'What does the lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.' The Dream Act can actually help us to do that in our time," said Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry.

Respond to Bishop Curry's call to action by writing Congress through the Episcopal Public Policy Network's easy to use action alert system.

 

About the Office of Government Relations:

The Office of Government Relations represents the policy priorities of The Episcopal Church to the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. We aim to shape and influence policy and legislation on critical issues, highlighting the voices and experiences of Episcopalians and Anglicans globally. All policy positions are based on General Convention and Executive Council resolutions, the legislative and governing bodies of the Church.

 

About Episcopal Migration Ministries:

Episcopal Migration Ministries, in addition to its long-standing work in refugee resettlement, is The Episcopal Church's ministry network for collaboration, education, and advocacy about migration. To directly support EMM, visit their website or text 'EMM' to 41444 (standard messaging and data may rates apply).

 

Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31: 8-9

 

Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations

VISIT US

1.202.547.7300


The Episcopal Church invites participation in Good News Gardens

Join the movement to Plant, Pray, & Proclaim!

[June 12, 2020] What can people do in this moment? One new and sacrificial act of love is to commit to  planting more, praying more, and proclaiming more, in order to share the loving, liberating, and life-giving Good News of God's love with all people.

Plant:  Commit to planting  more than under average circumstances in order to share the bounty.

Pray:  Commit to pray  daily for  the church and the world to form loving, liberating, life-giving relationships with all of creation  through the better use of the land – personally and communally.

Proclaim:  Commit to  proclaiming the love of God  through  word and example by  sharing Good News Garden  commitments,  statuses,  and stories  via  social media channels, personal testimonies  and by using the hashtag #GoodNewsGardens.

Committing to the Good News Garden Movement is a way to join Jesus and his way of love. Participants will receive support in the following ways:

Monthly newsletters with practical links on growing and sharing the bounty, bible studies and prayers, and additional videos, podcasts, and resources

Community Support via the Agrarian Ministries of the Episcopal Church Facebook Group

Good News Garden webinars and open office hours from Creation Care and Evangelism

Digital Graphics that you can use on social media, your website, and to print yard signs.

Sign up for the Good News Gardens here.

More information about Good News Gardens here.

On the web:

The Episcopal Church invites participation in Good News Gardens


[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 Council

June 8, 2020 Opening 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.


June 9, 2020

The following are the opening remarks of President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings at the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, currently meeting virtually through June 11.

Executive Council 

June 8, 2020 

Opening Remarks

Good morning. I'm glad to be with you all this morning and I want to to welcome, for the first time, people from across the Episcopal Church via live stream on YouTube.

Twice in recent years, I have traveled to Cape Coast, Ghana, and both times, I visited Cape Coast Castle, where thousands of enslaved Africans were held and then forced to board ships bound across the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps you know about this fort, which was home to an Anglican church built directly above the dungeons where enslaved African men were held. The women were held on the other side of the fort, closer to the sleeping quarters of the white men who enslaved them.

At this moment in the United States, when people across the nation are rising up against racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism, we must not turn away from this deeply painful history, our history. There in that fort, our church literally stood on the bodies of enslaved black men, and white people on both sides of the ocean who proclaimed our faith profited mightily, building fortunes that have benefitted our church for centuries.[1]

Especially now, we must not turn away from that Anglican church built over the slave dungeon. It is an egregious symbol of what happens when a predominantly white institution like ours values its proximity to power and wealth more than it values the gospel. In our case, what has happened is centuries of institutional complicity in slavery, in Jim Crow, in mass incarceration, and the economic and social practices of systemic racism.

Too often, we are too proud that eleven presidents have been Episcopalians, that presidents and members of Congress and Supreme Court justices worship at our churches, and that we bury them with pomp and circumstance when they die. We are proud that, in Episcopal pews across the country, you can find civic leaders and business tycoons and media superstars. We still like our access to power and wealth.

Now, there are many places in the church where the great wealth to which we have access is being used for great good. And we are justifiably proud that our history also includes prophets like Absalom Jones, Pauli Murray, Thurgood Marshall, and the martyr Jonathan Daniels. But in recent years, our identity as the church of the establishment has sometimes hindered our collective willingness to speak the truth about racist, xenophobic, anti-democratic policies and actions and the brutal policing and enforcement actions and practices that undergird them. Like the Anglicans who worshipped at Cape Coast Castle, we have helped normalize oppression and racism and the people who enforce it, because we have been too comfortable with our relationship to temporal power.

Last week, we published on the House of Deputies website an essay by Dr. Reuben Varghese, a member of the Task Force of the Theology of Social Justice Advocacy, created by General Convention Resolution 2018-A056. Reuben is also a member of St. John's, Georgetown in the Diocese of Washington. In this essay, Reuben says that too often, white Episcopalians behave as if our baptismal promises—which all concern ways to dismantle systemic and institutional racism—are a choice, not a mandate.

"The question for us," he writes, "is how we as members of the Episcopal Church help each other to strive for justice, not making it optional to do something to help dismantle systemic and institutional racism."

"Lamentations are part of our tradition," he continues. "God has heard this lamentation from the oppressed over millennia: 'How long, Lord, how long?' I am changing this," he writes, "to 'How long, white Episcopalians, how long?' That is, how long before white Episcopalians take on the emotional labor of those oppressed by white supremacy in the church and outside of it because it is your bound and right duty as part of the baptismal covenant, as baptized persons. There are many who are weary, including me. So I ask again: 'How long, white Episcopalians, how long?'" Thank you, Reuben.

It has been a long time since Anglicans worshipped in that church built atop the slave dungeon. Let us not take our eyes off it until we have repented of the evil done there, and countless other places much closer to home, on our behalf. There is nothing more important than this on our Executive Council agenda.

[1] Resolution 2006-A123 has guided important work, particularly in the Diocese of New York, in coming to terms with the economic legacy of slavery that benefits us to this day.

 

The Presiding Bishop Curry A Word From the Church

5.30.20 When the Cameras are Gone, We Will Still Be Here

 

"Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone."

In the midst of COVID-19 and the pressure cooker of a society in turmoil, a Minnesota man named George Floyd was brutally killed. His basic human dignity was stripped by someone charged to protect our common humanity.

Perhaps the deeper pain is the fact that this was not an isolated incident. It happened to Breonna Taylor on March 13 in Kentucky. It happened to Ahmaud Arbery on February 23 in Georgia. Racial terror in this form occurred when I was a teenager growing up black in Buffalo, New York. It extends back to the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and well before that. It's not just our present or our history. It is part of the fabric of American life.

But we need not be paralyzed by our past or our present. We are not slaves to fate but people of faith. Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone.

That work of racial reconciliation and justice – what we know as Becoming Beloved Community – is happening across our Episcopal Church. It is happening in Minnesota and in the Dioceses of Kentucky, Georgia and Atlanta, across America and around the world. That mission matters now more than ever, and it is work that belongs to all of us.

It must go on when racist violence and police brutality are no longer front-page news. It must go on when the work is not fashionable, and the way seems hard, and we feel utterly alone. It is the difficult labor of picking up the cross of Jesus like Simon of Cyrene, and carrying it until no one – no matter their color, no matter their class, no matter their caste – until no child of God is degraded and disrespected by anybody. That is God's dream, this is our work, and we shall not cease until God's dream is realized.

Is this hopelessly naïve? No, the vision of God's dream is no idealistic utopia. It is our only real hope. And, St. Paul says, "hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5). Real love is the dogged commitment to live my life in the most unselfish, even sacrificial ways; to love God, love my neighbor, love the earth and truly love myself. Perhaps most difficult in times like this, it is even love for my enemy. That is why we cannot condone violence. Violence against any person – conducted by some police officers or by some protesters – is violence against a child of God created in God's image. No, as followers of Christ, we do not condone violence.

Neither do we condone our nation's collective, complicit silence in the face of injustice and violent death. The anger of so many on our streets is born out of the accumulated frustration that so few seem to care when another black, brown or native life is snuffed out.

But there is another way. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a broken man lay on the side of the road. The religious leaders who passed were largely indifferent. Only the Samaritan saw the wounded stranger and acted. He provided medical care and housing. He made provision for this stranger's well-being. He helped and healed a fellow child of God.

Love, as Jesus teaches, is action like this as well as attitude. It seeks the good, the well-being, and the welfare of others as well as one's self. That way of real love is the only way there is.

Accompanying this statement is a card describing ways to practice the Way of Love in the midst of pandemic, uncertainty and loss. In addition, you will find online a set of resources to help Episcopalians to LEARN, PRAY & ACT in response to racist violence and police brutality. That resource set includes faithful tools for listening to and learning from communities too often ignored or suppressed, for incorporating God's vision of justice into your personal and community prayer life, and for positively and constructively engaging in advocacy and public witness.

Opening and changing hearts does not happen overnight. The Christian race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Our prayers and our work for justice, healing and truth-telling must be unceasing. Let us recommit ourselves to following in the footsteps of Jesus, the way that leads to healing, justice and love.

 

4.29.20 Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's Word to the Church: What Would Love Do?

 

 

In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, we are now at another one of those threshold moments when important and significant decisions must be made on all levels of our global community for the good and the well-being of the entire human family. In this moment, I would ask you to allow me to share with you a Word to the Church: What Would Love Do? (Companion resources available here.)

A Word to the Church

The Easter Season A.D. 2020

--------------------

"What Would Love Do?"

Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult

of our life's wild, restless sea,

day by day his clear voice soundeth,

saying, "Christian, follow me"

Text of Hymn 549, verse 1 – Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-95), alt.

Throughout the Book of Common Prayer there are rubrics, those small or italicized words that don't always catch our eye, that provide direction and guidance for how a liturgy or service is to be conducted. Rubrics tell us what must be done and what may be done. They limit us and they give us freedom. They require us to exercise our judgment. And when we are at our best, we exercise this judgment under God's rubric of love.

Jesus tells us things like: Love your enemies; Bless those who curse you; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; As you did to the least of these who are members of my family you have done to me; Father, forgive; Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the way of unselfish, sacrificial love – love that seeks the good and the well-being of others as well as the self – that love is the rubric of the Christian life.

This rubric of love is seen no more clearly than in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel according to John.

When [the disciples] had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me." (John 21:15-19)

The death of Jesus had left his followers disoriented, uncertain, and confused, afraid of what they knew and anxious about what they did not know. Thinking that the movement was probably dead, the disciples went back to what they knew. They tried to go back to normal. They went fishing.

They fished all night but didn't catch a thing. Normal would not return. When the morning came, Jesus showed up on the beach, alive, risen from the dead. He asked them, "Children, have you any fish?" They answered, "No." Then he told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat. They did and caught more fish than they could handle. And then, Jesus invited them to breakfast.

After having fed his disciples, Jesus turned to Peter and three times asked him, "Do you love me?" Three times Peter said, "Yes." And Jesus said, "Feed my lambs," "Tend my sheep," "Feed my sheep." In this, Jesus told Peter what love looks like. Love God by loving your neighbors, all of them. Love your enemies. Feed the hungry. Bless folk. Forgive them. And be gentle with yourself. Follow me. You may make mistakes, you may not do it perfectly. But whatever you do, do it with love. The truth is, Jesus gave Peter a rubric for the new normal – God's rubric of love.

Today, like Peter and the disciples, we must discern a new normal. COVID-19 has left us disoriented, uncertain, and confused, afraid of what we know and anxious about what we do not know. Our old normal has been upended, and we hunger for its return.

I do not say this from a lofty perch. I get it. There is a big part of me that wants to go back to January 2020 when I had never heard of COVID-19, and when I only thought of "Contagion" as a movie. Looking back through what I know are glasses darkened by loss, I find myself remembering January 2020 as a "golden age."

But of course, January 2020 wasn't perfect, not even close. And anyway, I can't go back. None of us can go back. We must move forward. But we don't know for sure what the new normal will be. Fortunately, God's rubric of love shows us the way.

In her book The Dream of God the late Verna Dozier, who was a mentor to me, wrote:

Kingdom of God thinking calls us to risk. We always see through a glass darkly, and that is what faith is about. I will live by the best I can discern today. Tomorrow I may find out I was wrong. Since I do not live by being right, I am not destroyed by being wrong. The God revealed in Jesus, whom I call the Christ, is a God whose forgiveness goes ahead of me, and whose love sustains me and the whole created world. That God bursts all the definitions of our small minds, all the limitations of our timid efforts, all the boundaries of our institutions. [1]

Kingdom of God thinking is already happening. God's rubric of love is already in action. I've been watching bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people of our church following Jesus in the practices that make up his way of love and doing things we never imagined. The creativity and the risk-taking – done with love – is amazing.

We've been trying, making mistakes, learning, regrouping, trying anew. I've seen it. Holy Week and Easter happened in ways that none of us dreamed possible. I've quietly read Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline online with you. I've seen soup kitchens, pantries, and other feeding ministries carefully doing their work in safe and healthy ways. Zoom coffee hours, bible studies, and small discipleship groups. I've seen this church stand for the moral primacy of love. I've seen it, even when public health concerns supersede all other considerations, including in-person worship. That is moral courage. Who knows, but that love may demand more of us. But fear not, just remember what the old slaves use to say, walk together, children, and don't you get weary, because there is a great camp meeting in the Promised Land. Oh, I've seen us do what we never thought we would or could do, because we dared to do what Jesus tells us all to do.

As our seasons of life in the COVID-19 world continue to turn, we are called to continue to be creative, to risk, to love. We are called to ask, What would unselfish, sacrificial love do?

What would love do? Love is the community praying together, in ways old and new. Love finds a path in this new normal to build church communities around being in relationship with God. Love supports Christians in spiritual practices. Prayer, meditation, study. Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest.

What would love do? Love calls us to care for our neighbors, for our enemies. Love calls us to attend to those in prison, to those who are homeless, to those in poverty, to children, to immigrants and refugees. Love calls us to be in relationship with those with whom we disagree.

What would love do? Love calls us to be gentle with ourselves, to forgive our own mistakes, to take seriously the Sabbath. Love calls us to be in love with God, to cultivate a loving relationship with God, to spend time with God, to be still and know that God is God.

Jesus says, Simon, son of John, do you love me?

Jesus says, Michael, son of Dorothy and Kenneth, do you love me?

Jesus says, Do you love me?

Jesus says, Follow me, and take the risk to live the question, What would love do?

This, my friends, is God's rubric of love. This, my friends, is God's very way of life.

In our joys and in our sorrows,

days of toil and hours of ease,

still he calls, in cares and pleasures,

"Christian, love me more than these."

Jesus calls us! By thy mercies,

Savior, may we hear thy call,

give our hearts to thine obedience,

serve and love thee best of all.

Text of Hymn 549, verses 4 and 5 – Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-95), alt.

God love you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.

Amen.

+Michael

The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church

[1] The Dream of God, Verna Dozier, Cowley Publications (1991), Seabury Classics (2006)

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