Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lent 5 Passion

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. The Palm Sunday service has two gospel readings, one for the blessing of the palms and the other the reading of the Passion. We will read the full passion from St. Mark 14 and 15. It is long, and the custom is a dramatic reading – narrator, Jesus, Peter, Judas, Servant-girl, Pilate, Centurion. high priests, disciples, bystanders and crowd.

We can read the Bible for spiritual growth as we imagine ourselves being part of the story, as we imagine the reactions and feelings of people in the story. Over the years the church has found that the dramatic reading of the Passion can help us grow in our spiritual life. It is not easy. Our natural tendency is first denial. We are rightfully uncomfortable as we begin to put ourselves spiritually into the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

One spiritual effect of this personal participation in the Passion of Our Lord is that us recognize our own guilt, our own participation in the sin that brought Jesus to his painful death on the cross. When we hear Jesus say to the disciples at the Last Supper,, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me,” we begin with the disciples “to be distressed and” we want “to say to him . . .,   “Surely, not I?”  But Jesus says to us, “It is . . .  one who is dipping bread . . .  with me” 

In our time and in our country we are blessed. We are not in the situation of the Syrian Christians in our own time facing decapitation from ISIS or the 17th century Japanese forced to stamp on a crucifix or Jan Hus burned at Constance, or Martin Luther in protective custody at Wartburg, or Bishops Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley burned at Oxford. Our denials tend to be  little ones, mostly sins of omission, failing to give an account of the faith that in in us, keeping silent when we should speak up in witness.   

Next Sunday we ask the congregation to read three parts: the parts of the priests and of the disciples, and of the crowd, who cried, “Crucify him, crucify him!”  In Jesus’ time the responsibility for maintaining stable political and economic structures was assigned to the priests. We are all in some way or another implicated in maintaining the injustice and sin of the political and economic structures of our time, so we get to share in the priests’ response to Jesus.  And we call ourselves disciples, spiritual descendants of the 12 whom Jesus called to follow and serve him, so we get to share the disciples’ response to Jesus. And finally we are all spiritual descendants of the bystanders and the crowd that called for Jesus’ crucifixion and jeered at him on the cross. We don’t escape our participation in the sin of the world that brought Jesus to the cross because we share in the joy of his salvation.

Sin is both individual and collective. We have each fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) in some way, and the society of which we are a part has also fallen short of the glory of God. As Article II of the Augsburg Confession teaches, “all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.”  The Prayer Book Catechism tells us, “Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with others, and with all creation.” 

So as we read the Passion we are spiritually convicted of our sin and convinced of our need for the redemption Jesus Christ secured for us and for all the world by his death on the cross.  We live in thanksgiving for Jesus’ redemption.

Today’s reading from Jeremiah immediately follows his prophecy (31:29-30), “29 In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ 30 But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” Jeremiah prophesies a new covenant, written not on tablets of stone like the Sinai covenant but on our hearts, not an external law we obey out of fear, but an internal law of love, a law of gratitude.  We are so grateful for God’s covenant of love and continuing presence that we seek to love and serve him in our lives,.

And when we sin, as we will (it is our nature) by God’s grace we are able to repent and return again and again to our Lord Jesus who receives us with open arms, as he did in Galilee, and on the cross, and in the resurrection, and as he receives us forgiven sinners at his table today.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Lent 3 Moses

Lent 3 B 18 Moses

This morning’s sermon has two parts: First two points of explanation to help us understand today’s Gospel reading about the cleansing of the Temple and second a reflection on the covenant of Sinai and the 10 Commandments. So (1) about the people selling cattle and (2) the money changers. (1) selling cattle:

How many of us have been to Jerusalem? On the east edge of the Old City is the Temple Mount – 37 acres (roughly as big as 30 football fields, 5 down and 6 across). Toward the center in Jesus’ time was a relatively small but tall building for the empty room of the Holy of Holies. It was surrounded by the Court of the Priests where animal sacrifices were made, then the Court of the Israelites reserved for ritually clean male Jews, then the Court of the Women for all Jews, and finally the much larger Court of the Gentiles. For the convenience of those who came to make the sacrifices a supply of ritually approved animals was provided in the otherwise empty Court of the Gentiles - the highest and best use of otherwise unused property.

 (2) According to Exodus 30:12, all Jews paid a tax for the support of the Temple – half a shekel, about 14 grams of silver, about $7.50 in our money. It had to be paid in pure silver and the best available was in coins originally minted in the Lebanese port of Tyre and later by the Temple authorities. So you changed your Roman money into Temple money – at an exchange rate set by the Temple authorities. 

You can see how both of these might become a racket. And God is a God of truth. He despises dishonesty and rackets.

And Jesus says the true temple of God is not a building in Jerusalem, but the person, created by God, in whom God dwells by his Holy Spirit. Jesus is the true temple of God, and by his spirit we also are God’s temple.

First Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:19-20 remind us: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? . . .God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” And “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

Our question today is how much of the temple of our lives is dedicated to God and how much is taken up with cattle and money changers – with the rackets and ordinary dishonesty of life?  That is an individual question and one that we can reflect on this week and this Lent? Jesus cleansed the physical temple in Jerusalem; Jesus can cleanse the temple of our lives, and he will if we invite him to. That’s the first half of today’s sermon.

The second part of today’s sermon is about the covenant of Sinai and the 10 Commandments. For a long time the recitation of the Ten Commandments has been an examination of conscience and a reminded of our need for salvation by God’s grace in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which we receive by faith alone and not by works. That is a true and Godly use of the Commandments.

But there is another use of the Commandments and that is as a sign of God’s covenanted love and a guide to a Godly life in thanksgiving for our salvation by God’s grace in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ received by faith alone and not by works. Our Godly life, our good works, do not cause our salvation. Our salvation is God’s free gift received by faith. The commandments show us what a Godly life looks like. 

The commandments are in the negative: “Thou shalt not”  – have, make take, murder, adultery, steal, false witness covet. Turn these around. Imagine how life would be if God alone were central in our lives. Imagine us free from worship of the idols of money, property, prestige. Imagine what our world would be like when children honor parents, parents honor children, husbands honor wives and wives honor husbands (Ephesians), when public servants seek to honor and serve the people, first and always. Imagine a society in which people are safe and secure in their lives, in their intimate relationships, in their property, in their reputations and honor. Imagine a world free from the corrosive sin of envy, a world in which everyone is able to meet all their needs without depriving another.  In short imagine a world where truly God’s “will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

That’s the world God promises in his covenant with the people of Israel, the covenant we Gentiles are grafted into, the true and eternal covenant on Mount Sinai, the true and eternal covenant made sure on the Mount of Olives and on Golgotha hill, the true and eternal covenant we enjoy in the High Country, and everywhere Jesus Christ is proclaimed as Lord.     

Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously. Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace, teach us the wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ, and give us the power of  your Holy Spirit to love and serve you in that covenant, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Lent 4 Manna

Lent 4B 18 Manna

Numbers tells how the people of Israel came from Sinai up the east side of the Dead Sea to cross the Jordan at Jericho. Numbers includes the Aaronic blessing “The Lord bless you” 6:22-26 said in the Lutheran service. It also has lot of complaining and rebellion.

Six weeks after the Exodus the people started to complain (Exodus 16), “In Egypt we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” That is one of the signs of the spiritual continuity between Israel and the church. The Lord provided manna. Manna tasted like a honey cake, but even honey cakes can get old in time; 35 years of manna every day is enough for people to “detest this miserable food.” 

Manna has been variously identified as tamarisk resin, lichen, plant lice secretions, and mushrooms. The rabbis said manna was a unique and special food, part of God’s provision for his faithful people.

But as the Celebrate notes tell us, not all the people are faithful; many “whine and grumble.” Numbers says God sent poisonous snakes to bite people who complain. Many of us have known at least a few venomous people. We know about the bad consequences of bad behavior. And we have learned the healing power of repentance and confession.

I don’t understand how the snake-bit children of Israel were cured by looking at a bronze serpent lifted up on a pole, but that was the remembered experience of the people. St John says Jesus used the experience in the desert teaching to tell Nicodemus that so “must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

The bronze serpent on the pole was sacramental. It was an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, the grace of forgiveness which heals the poison of venom in the soul.
Another sacramental is the wedding ring – the unbroken ring a sign of eternal love. And the great sacraments use ordinary things as signs of God’s eternal love and grace. Water washes away dirt – and sin. A small piece of bread and a sip of wine are our spiritual food, our manna in our wilderness of sin.   

Jesus continued with the familiar verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  That is the core of the new covenant. All the covenants – Noah, Abraham, Moses, Numbers, Jeremiah – all are assurances of God’s continued love and presence in this life.  The new covenant is the new assurance of eternal life, life that continues through death into the fullness of God’s presence.

Jesus continued, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

These verses frequently raise questions like, “What about those who do not believe, Jews, Muslims, our friends and neighbors who don’t go to church? Does God condemn them?”  The short answer is, No. God does not condemn. “God so loved the world . . . “

So take a step back. Remember the airplane rule. “Put the oxygen mask on your own face first, then on others.” That seems contrary to the Christian ethic of concern for others. But truly, we are to work out our own salvation. The first question is, “Have I claimed for myself the new life Jesus offers? Do I know my own sins are forgiven? Am I a new creature? Have I put the mask on myself? We need to start with what we can deal with, and that is ourselves.  

As I look back on them I recognize my own doubts and fears were not theological, but moral. I was in college, strongly influenced by my hormones. I had not yet internalized the truth that the God who made me loves me. God wants what is best for me. And so I’d best seek to know and do his will. Once I made the commitment of obedience the theology fell into place.

The condemnation is human condemnation, not God’s. We live in lots of human judgment and condemnation. Talk politics; get people of one party talking about the moral failures of the leaders of the other party. Condemnation is human, not divine.  God is righteous and just; he calls us to share divine righteousness and justice. But condemnation is for our own sin, the sin for which Jesus died on the cross.  

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. . . . God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Father Abraham

Lent 2 B February 25, 2018

Do you remember the Bible camp song, “Father Abraham?”  Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you, So let's all praise the Lord.  Sing it 6 times. After each one. right arm, then left arm, right foot, left foot, chin up, turn around - sit down!

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; . . . I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face.

Billy Graham was 99 years old. November 7 he would have been his 100th birthday. Friday’s paper compared him to St. Paul as an evangelist. In the 58 years between1947 and 2005 Graham conducted 417 crusades in 185 countries on six continents. He was heard by more than 210 million people - face to face and on television. The longest crusade was in 1957, 16 weeks in New York City. In 1973 in South Korea he preached to over 1,100,000 people at once. I never heard him in person but I watched him on television. Graham is remembered for his friendship with Presidents and other world leaders, remembered for desegregating his crusades in 1953, remembered for posting bail for Martin Luther King in 1963, but chiefly Billy Graham is remembered as a preaching witness to the good news of God’s love in the life, death, ns resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham was 99. Abraham was 99. I can’t imagine beginning a family at 99. I hope we all continue to be like Billy Graham and like Abraham, trusting in the love of God as long as we have breath.  St. Paul tells us that Abraham’s faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” God offered, and Abraham received by faith, a covenant of eternal life. We are spiritual descendants of Abraham and God offers us in Jesus Christ the same covenant of eternal life.

Abraham stands at the margin of legend and history. Noah is oral tradition and legend. We have physical evidence of an ice age, and global warming, and many cultures have a tradition of flood, destruction, and new life repopulating the world.  Genesis tells us of God’s covenant with Noah and with all humanity, a covenant of respect for life with the sign of the rainbow.

God offers Abraham a covenant for himself and for all his descendants physical and spiritual. God will bless Abraham’s descendants, and they will be rulers of nations.  Abraham received tis covenant in faith. “Then Abram fell on his face.” He prostrated himself in faith and obedience before the Lord.

In the Holy Land from November to February the rain clouds blow east from the Mediterranean Sea. On average 24 inches of rain fall each year. (Boone gets 52 inches.) Most of the rain falls west of the central ridge where Jerusalem sits. East is a steep escarpment down to the central valley of the Jordan and Dead Sea – 4,000 feet in 14 miles. Little rain falls there. But the rock formations bring some of the water that falls in the west through the limestone to springs and pools to the east. The Dead Sea has so much salt and minerals that swimmers can lie on their back, put chin up and all four hands and feet in the air. “Father Abraham had many sons . . . .”  Four yards from the edge of the Dead Sea is a fresh water swimming pool.  This is sheep and goat country, nomad country. Flocks move from spring to spring, well to well. Scholars think Abraham was a nomad chieftain, living in a big tent. The bible stories about Abraham fit into the Middle Bronze Age, about 1800 to 1500 years before Christ.

Abraham received God’s offer of blessing with faith and trust. St. Paul reminds us, “The promise that he would inherit the world” came to Abraham “through the righteousness of faith.”  It is not what Abraham did, but what God does. God offered the covenant to Abraham not based on what Abraham did, but what God does. God offered, “I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous. . . . You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations .” The covenant with Abraham and his descendants was God’s free gift of a relationship.

Abraham had a choice. He could have rejected God’s offer. But Abraham fell on his face in worship and acceptance. Sarah first doubted and then accepted God’s offer of a son.

God offers us in Jesus Christ the same covenant of relationship that he offered Abraham. We don’t have to be 99 years old; we don’t have to be childless; we don’t have to be a nomad herder of sheep and goats in the Holy Land. We are who we are; where we are, in the present time. We don’t have to fall prostrate.  We have simply to open our hands and our hearts to receive God’s love, and to allow that love to fill us, and cleanse us of sin, and give us the truth and power of the Holy Spirit to love and serve God, this day, and for the rest of our lives.

Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you, So let's all praise the Lord.  Right arm, then left arm, right foot, left foot, chin up, turn around – love and serve! Amen.



Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Epiphany 5B February 5, 2018

Some years ago Lucy and I had a friend visit for 10 days recovery after an automobile accident. It wasn't all that easy. The first few days she mostly slept, but then she was up and around, and on the phone making arrangements, and a fourth person at the table when you are accustomed to three takes some getting used to. Everything went well, and Lucy did almost all the work, but I have to admit some feeling of relief when our friend left. Nevertheless, hospitality is a Christian virtue, and friendship includes caring about each other, and I am glad that we were able to offer our friend hospitality.

Hospitality is a Christian virtue. In today's gospel after Jesus preached in the Capernaum synagogue and healed a man possessed of an evil spirit Peter took him home for dinner.

At Capernaum archaeologists say a group of low stone walls are the remains of a 4th century church surrounding a first century house. The house is barely 20 feet on a side. You can imagine how hard it was for Peter's mother-in-law to be sick with a fever and have these extra men arrive, particularly because you don't cook on the Sabbath day; all the food has to be prepared the day before. Husbands who have, once, brought an unexpected guest home to eat will appreciate Simon's situation. His mother-in-law was sick. It took her some effort to be gracious and hospitable. But Jesus responded to her need and to her hospitality. "He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she served them." They ate together.

St. Paul in Romans (12:13) commands us, "practice hospitality." St. Peter's first Epistle (4.9) says "practice hospitality ungrudgingly," and the Epistle to the Hebrews (13:2) reminds us, "do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

The Greek word here translated "hospitality," is philoxenia (like Philadelphia, love of the brother) literally "love of the xenos,” the stranger who becomes a guest. Anthropologists tell us that strangers are always viewed with suspicion and even fear. All people, put in a strange situation, with strange people, are fearful, cautious, and timid. Test this against your own experience; think of a time when you were a stranger, whether it was the first time in a foreign country, or a new town, or a new school.

Strangers are viewed at first with suspicion, even fear, but every society has developed a way to move from suspicion and fear to knowledge and affection - and that is the common meal. A stranger, received into table fellowship, becomes a guest, perhaps even a friend.

Jesus, at table with his disciples at the Last Supper took bread and wine, blessed and gave them, "This is my body and blood; do this in remembrance of me." At Emmaus, Easter evening, "he was known to them in the breaking of the bread." You can appreciate how important the Communion has been in the life of the church as an effective sign of God's love and hospitality.

 At the communion rail we enjoy the Lord's hospitality. Here we can cease to be strangers and become friends together. Here we receive new spiritual life. Here Jesus takes us by the hand to lift us up from our beds of fever to serve the living Lord.

We serve, among other ways, in hospitality, by greeting one another, by concern for one another, by friendly encouragement, by inviting our friends and family to join us at the Lord's Table.

As in church, so in the society. Our national government shut down briefly over immigration . The Congress is negotiating over the “dreamers.” I offer some history and invite you to pray.

We are a nation of immigrants. Henry Rightmyer came from Baden in southwestern Germany to Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1743. He made wheels for a living. His children and their children stayed there for 120 years; it makes family history easy. My mother’s people came from northern Ireland, some in the 1850’s, some in the 1880’s. Until 1891 there was no national immigration policy; the states dealt with immigration issues.  Some were more welcoming than others. My mother’s family remember signs at construction sites, NINA – No Irish Need Apply.  Through most of the 19th century immigrants came from the British Isles and northern Europe. In the late 19th and early 20th century more immigrants came from southern and eastern Europe, Italians, Poles and Hungarians, and Jews from western Russia. Resistance to immigration led in 1921 and 1924 to national immigration acts imposing quotas for each country, quotas based on the percentage of immigrants from each country. Since most immigrants had come from the British Isles and northern Europe, immigrants from those countries had an easier time than people from other countries and other continents. We’ve been tinkering with a quota system ever since. A 1934 immigration act allowed American citizens to bring in foreign spouses and minor children. War brides were admitted in 1945, and the door has been nudged open and nudged closed ever since.

I ask you to pray about immigration and to let the members of Congress know what you think.

And as you pray, remember Peter’s mother-in-law who was healed by Jesus and got up to serve her son-in-law’s friends. Give thanks to Jesus who welcomes us to feast at his table. Amen.     

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Evil Spirits

Epiphany 4B Newland

This morning we prayed, “Bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion, that all creation will see and know your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.” 
This Sunday and next Sunday our Gospel readings tell us about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Today Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit; next Sunday we will hear of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and how Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”  Then after Lent and Easter we return in June to more about Jesus’ public ministry of teaching and healing.

Ash Wednesday we’ll meet at 6:00 PM for a bilingual service from the Prayer Book in English and Spanish. This year our Palm Sunday service will be from Evangelical Lutheran Worship and the Easter Day service from the Book of Common Prayer. Next year reverses: Palm Sunday from the Prayer Book, Easter Day from the  ELW.
In today’s gospel we hear, “. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out . . .” We have lots of unclean spirits in the church and in the society. Jesus “brings wholeness to all that is broken and Jesus speaks truth to us in our confusion.” Wholeness and truth are connected.  Wholeness is brought by truth. And as St. John reminds us in 8:32 and 16:13 that the truth makes us free and that the spirit of truth will guide us into all truth. About half the congregations I know of have suffered some kind of serious misconduct by clergy or lay leaders. Sexual misconduct, stealing money, misuse of power, malicious gossip, all these evil spirits are found in the church and in the society. Penn State, Hollywood, the American gymnastics organization, our political life, all of these have recently shown the presence and the power of evil spirits.

Last week Rachel Denhollander testified at the sentencing hearing of Dr. Larry Nassar. Nassar had been convicted the Michigan court of sexually abusing her and other young girls. The transcript of her testimony is on line. You can read it after church. Her report of misconduct by the doctor and by university and gymnastic association leadership is horrifying.
But the testimony is also a word of grace. This is part of what Rachel Denhollander said in court directly to her abuser, “The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God's wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me -- though I extend that to you as well.”

The truth sets us free. It appears to have set Rachel Denhollander free. The truth will set us free.

In your bulletin today are letters from Bishop Jose McLoughlin and from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church. They call us “to create a church that is not simply safe, but holy, humane and decent. We must commit to treating every person as a child of God, deserving of dignity and respect.”

Evil spirits do not come out easily. Conflict and trouble have come along with the progress we have made toward holy, humane, and decent treatment of all people regardless of race, sex, language. We have a ways to go. But Jesus who set free the man in the synagogue in Capernaum works by his spirit of truth in each of us, in the church and in the society, to set us free to love and serve our Lord.    

Bishops letters on sexual abuse

The Diocese of Western North Carolina            January 24, 2018

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On January 22, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, called on all people to examine and repent the many ways in which our Church has been complicit in the marginalization and victimization of women.

In the letter, they write, "As our societies have been forced into fresh recognition that women in all walks of life have suffered unspoken trauma at the hands of male aggressors and harassers, we have become convinced that the Episcopal Church must work even harder to create a church that is not simply safe, but holy, humane and decent."

Indeed, our Lord counted among his disciples several women, and the Gospels record that women were the first to encounter the resurrected Jesus and were the first evangelists. Clearly, he honored, valued and empowered women as vital participating members of his community. As such we, too, are called to advocate for the safety, protection and equality of all women and girls, our sisters in Christ.

I therefore invite everyone to read and reflect on Bishop Curry and the Rev. Jenning's letter and then to talk about the implications for our ministry and mission in your parish. It is my hope that we all take part in an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer on February 14, "devoted to meditating on the ways in which we in the church have failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment and to consider, as part of our Lenten disciplines, how we can redouble our work to be communities of safety that stand against the spiritual and physical violence of sexual exploitation and abuse."

It is so very important that we join together in prayerful reflection and recommit ourselves to the holy work of standing up against and eradicating exploitation and abuse of all God's children.



The Rt. Rev. José A. McLoughlin ,
VII Bishop of Western North Carolina

The Episcopal Church – The Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies

Dear People of God in the Episcopal Church:     January 22, 2018

In recent weeks, compelling testimony from women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted by powerful men has turned our minds to a particularly difficult passage of holy scripture:  the story of the rape of King David’s daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13: 1-22). It is a passage in which a conspiracy of men plots the exploitation and rape of a young woman. She is stripped of the power to speak or act, her father ignores the crime, and the fate of the rapist, not the victim, is mourned. It is a Bible story devoid of justice.

For more than two decades, African women from marginalized communities have studied this passage of scripture using a method called contextual Bible study to explore and speak about the trauma of sexual assault in their own lives. Using a manual published by the Tamar Campaign, they ask, “What can the Church do to break the silence against gender-based violence?”

It is, as the old-time preachers say, a convicting question. As our societies have been forced into fresh recognition that women in all walks of life have suffered unspoken trauma at the hands of male aggressors and harassers, we have become convinced that the Episcopal Church must work even harder to create a church that is not simply safe, but holy, humane and decent. We must commit to treating every person as a child of God, deserving of dignity and respect. We must also commit to ending the systemic sexism, misogyny and misuse of power that plague the church just as they corrupt our culture, institutions and governments.

Like our African siblings in faith, we must create contexts in which women can speak of their unspoken trauma, whether suffered within the church or elsewhere. And we must do more.

Our church must examine its history and come to a fuller understanding of how it has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse through the years. When facts dictate, we must confess and repent of those times when the church, its ministers or its members have been antagonistic or unresponsive to people—women, children and men—who have been sexually exploited or abused. And we must acknowledge that in our church and in our culture, the sexual exploitation of women is part of the same unjust system that also causes gender gaps in pay, promotion, health and empowerment.

We believe that each of us has a role to play in our collective repentance. And so, today, we invite you to join us in an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer on February 14 devoted to meditating on the ways in which we in the church have failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment and to consider, as part of our Lenten disciplines, how we can redouble our work to be communities of safety that stand against the spiritual and physical violence of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Neither of us professes to have all of the wisdom necessary to change the culture of our church and the society in which it ministers, and at this summer’s General Convention, we want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future. May we find in our deliberations opportunities to listen to one another, to be honest about our own failings and brokenness, and to discern prayerfully the ways that God is calling us to stand with Tamar in all of the places we find her—both inside the church and beyond our doors, which we have too often used to shut her out.


The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings President, House of Deputies