Over the last month or so there has been a lot of conversation around our liturgy and some of the choices that have been made as we seek to find meaningful ways of expressing our worship. The language that we use, influences how we perceive and experience God in our lives, and while we have inherited a rich liturgical tradition, the Church has always been seeking more expressive ways of interacting with the Holy. We can see this through the various versions of the Book of Common Prayer that have evolved over time and across space. Perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of this is the New Zealand Prayer Book. (Check out the Wikipedia page for the Book of Common Prayer for a discussion of Prayer Book Revision over the course of time.) Our General Convention, which is the decision making body of The Episcopal Church, has authorized a number of supplements to our current Book of Common Prayer, some of which are expressed in the five volumes of Enriching Our Worship. A similar journey is taking place with our musical tradition, with the publication of supplemental Episcopal Hymnals and resources such as Lift Every Voice and Sing, II and Enriching Our Music.
So, why is it important that we use these resources, you may ask. First, just as is happening throughout our nation, The Episcopal Church is rapidly becoming more multi-cultural and these resources help us to experience God through expansive and inclusive language. There is movement happening in the Church toward Prayer Book revision, and we need to be familiar with these supplemental resources because, if history holds true, many of them will likely appear in our next Prayer Book.
I understand that change can be challenging, particularly when we are asked to consider new language for something that is as meaningful and personal as our prayers. But the Church has never been static, and as our understanding and experience of God continues to change us as individuals, it only stands to reason that the Church shifts too. So, as we continue to draw on our wealth of historical and new liturgical resources, I am forming a Worship & Liturgy Committee to help guide our practices here at St. John’s. Over the next few weeks I will be inviting individuals to be a part of this work and will announce the members of the Worship & Liturgy Committee soon. This will be a Standing Committee reporting to the Vestry. If you have any questions or input as we move forward in this direction, please feel free to reach out to me, and, please keep our Church and this new Committee in your prayers.
As I reflect on the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, I wonder, “Am I a Mary, or am I a Martha?” I hope that I am a little bit of both, because both exemplify good and healthy faith. Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him, learning from him, and worshipping him, reminds us that we need those times of contemplation, of worship, of basking in the presence of God. These times of quiet reflection reenergize us and are necessary for a healthy and mature faith. But remember what James says in his epistle, that faith without works is a dead faith. We build relationship with God in these times of quiet so that we can be challenged to put our faith into action. Martha, the dutiful sister, the one preparing the meal, feeding the people, cleaning the house, doing all the work that is necessary in a healthy ministry, reminds us that our faith requires action. Our mission, here at St. John’s, is to form disciples, to be the hands, feet and heart of Jesus. In Mary we see a disciple being formed, building relationship with God through Jesus. In Martha we see a disciple who is being the hands, feet and heart of Jesus, as she feeds those who are hungry and loving them with radical hospitality. We will soon be marking our first year here at St. John’s. As we continue living into this collaborative ministry together, I challenge each of us to consider how St. John’s is forming us to be disciples of Jesus in this trying world. But don’t stop there. How is our faith being put into action? How are we being the hands, feet and heart of Jesus to those around us?
Just a week ago we celebrated Independence Day, the day that we remember when our founding fathers and mothers threw off the tyranny of foreign empire and declared our nation’s independence. It was the birth of a country that is often proud to claim itself to be a Christian nation, though that moniker is itself a myth, for from the very beginning we have been a nation committed to equality without regard to religion … at least in theory. We claim in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Now, admittedly, we have never succeeded in fully living up to these ideals. It was a long time before women were fully enfranchised and even longer before African-Americans (and one could argue that in some respects they still aren’t). There was a time when Roman Catholics received a similar bigoted reception as our Muslim sisters and brothers often do today.
Today we are facing a crisis in our nation that we have not seen in our life-times – and it is NOT a crisis being caused by desperate human beings seeking safety in the land that once offered to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Political ideologies aside, before we are Democrats or Republicans or Independents or any other flavor of party, we are people who call ourselves Christian. In our rite of initiation, by which we received that name, Christian, we promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. When the disciples thought that they would shoo the children away, Jesus rebuked them and said, “let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” When Jesus taught his disciples what it looks like to follow him, he said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” When they asked Jesus when he was any of those things, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Today on our southern border children are still being torn away from their parents, being locked up in cages, being denied clean clothes, a bed to sleep on, adequate food to eat or water to drink, basic healthcare, the ability to even bathe. These children are sleeping on concrete floors under foil blankets, and as if this is not cruelty enough, now reports are coming out that they are being abused, physically and even sexually. These children are suffering irreparable psychological trauma due a breakdown of a system that is supposed to protect them at every level of government: local, state, and federal. This is not how we treat other human beings. This is not what Jesus meant when he commanded us to love others as we love ourselves.
We believe in a God who created all life, and made each one of us in his likeness and image. When we look into the eyes of those who are being brutally and shamefully detained with no end in sight, we are looking into the eyes of the God who created us. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then the time has come for us take a stand for those who are being bound, and to speak up for those whose voices are being gagged. These beloved children of God deserve basic human dignity. Can you imagine how desperate these refugees must be to come to our border knowing what awaits them. If these conditions are worth the cost, then just imagine what it must be like where they come from.
I’m not normally one to pick up my picket sign and take to the streets, but these are extraordinary times when common decency, and the spirit of Love that Jesus calls us to follow, is being suffocated. But like the light that shines in the darkness, the darkness shall not overcome it! I invite you to join me Friday evening as we join voices with those all around the world who have committed to stand in the gap and be counted. A Lights for Liberty Vigil will be held in Homewood at Richard D. Irwin Park (18120 Highland Ave.) at 6:00 pm. We will stand in solidarity with those refugees being “housed” in inhumane conditions. Around 7:00 p.m. this Vigil will move to Kankakee where hundreds are being detained, right here in our own Deanery. The Kankakee Vigil begins at 7:30 p.m. near the gazebo in downtown (250 S. Schuyler Ave.). I am told that candles will be provided, but the organizers are asking that you bring your own sign. My Brothers and Sisters, we have been blessed with a voice. Let’s find a way to use it. Please, if you cannot attend tomorrow evening, write a real letter to your Senators and Representatives. Let us flood the halls with Congress with letters expressing our dismay and righteous anger.
May the same Spirit of God that led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, also lead us.
Fr. Jeremy is an Episcopal Priest and a Franciscan Friar. He is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida with a Bachelor's in History, and Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia with a Master of Divinity. He currently serves as Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in Flossmoor, IL and is a Friar in the Community of Francis & Clare.