This week my heart has been heavy as we find ourselves, yet again, offering our thoughts and prayers to families whose loved ones went shopping at Wal-Mart and never came home, whose children and brothers and sisters went to enjoy a night out in downtown Dayton, Ohio and will never come back to them. I am dismayed by the rise of hatred and violence in our nation that our current political establishment seems to condone and perpetuate. I am sick and tired of offering my thoughts and prayers on days like today. I am sick and tired of looking young people in the eyes and promising them that God really is a God of love, despite the evil that seems to surround us. I am sick and tired of attending senseless funerals, of lighting candles in front of schools and churches and synagogues and now Wal-Marts.
We are a people called to bear witness to God’s love in the world, and that means that we must be willing to speak out against injustice and inhumanity when we see it. We are a people of prayer, who know that prayer is a powerful force, but if we fail to put our faith into action, our prayers are meaningless at the least, and we are complicit in the perpetuation of such violence in the extreme. In the last seven years, 458 people have died in the United States in incidents of mass shootings. Last year alone, 39,773 people died in the United States as the result of gun violence. This past weekend, in the city of Chicago alone 7 people were killed and another 52 people injured in acts of gun violence. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that it is time that we make our voices heard, that we take our anger to the ballot box, and that we speak God’s justice loud and clear. God is love, and does not condone violence of any sort. Any person who calls themselves Christian, and is willing to be complicit in such violence, is lying about their identity, because followers of the way of Jesus Christ cannot stand idly by as grandmothers are being shot in the checkout lane, parents are murdered using their own bodies to shield their children, and our young people are massacred enjoying a night out or while taking a math test.
Again, I don’t know what the answer to all this hatred and violence is, but I do know that we can all call and write our state and federal legislative representatives and let them know that we expect them to do their job to protect all of us from gun violence.
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?
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.