Speak, Lord for Your Servant Is Listening

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’* and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ 
1 Samuel 3:1-10

Lord, you have searched me out and known me; 
you know my sitting down and my rising up; 
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places 
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, 
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.  
Psalm 139:1-18 

What a gift to worship with both communities of Good Shepherd and Transfiguration. I pray that the spirit of collaboration between you will continue and deepen over time. So often in congregational life, it feels like we’re all on our own, and it needn’t be that way. There’s potential for strength and renewal in intentional partnership, and I hope you will share with others you are learning from your joint endeavor. 

Let me begin by simply acknowledging the challenging times we are living through and all that has happened in the past year, and indeed, in the past two weeks: We are being asked to hold a great deal, some more than others. The meaning we will take away when we look back on this era in our lives is beyond our knowledge now, but I do believe this: that how we make it through matters, so that we and others will look back with gratitude for our actions and witness now.  

Thank you for your efforts to keep the virus in check–masks, distancing, and shifting so much of your lives to screen gatherings. This is not easy. The illness has taken its toll, as have all our efforts to contain it. Thank you for persevering in hard times.   

Thank you for doing your part to lend a helping hand, in ways large and small. Truth be told, we need one another, and it’s often harder to be on the receiving end in times like this, especially for those who have never needed such help before. But we humans are communal beings–in the giving and receiving of help in difficult times we draw closer to one another, building bonds between us through which God’s grace can flow. Thank you for preserving in love.

Thank you for your commitment to justice and all the ways you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. 

And thank you, lastly, for your prayers, for gathering in weekly communal prayer, and for your prayers in the silence of your hearts. 

A grief counsellor I met with recently said that she believes we are living now through one of the holiest times in human history. That wasn’t a word that I would use to describe 2020 and now the first weeks in 2021. But she was adamant. “We are all vulnerable in new ways. Our hearts are broken open. We are praying like never before.” 

Prayer is my topic this morning: taking inspiration from two of the passages from Scripture for today–the story of the boy Samuel hearing the voice of the Lord call his name, and Psalm 139. In keeping with our remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I’ll close with a story from his life that inspires me to persevere in prayer. 

But first let me ask: on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the quality of your prayer life? (You needn’t tell me or anyone else your number.)

The reason I ask is that for many people, and I find myself among them, the topic of prayer can evoke feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and skepticism. Please know that I consider myself not an expert but a learner, in prayer. In the posture of a fellow-learner, I speak to you. 

For some, and perhaps this is true for you, the practice of prayer comes easily and is an established, fixed part of their lives. One of the women who helps care for my mother comes to mind for me: she rises at 5:00 a.m. every morning for a set time of prayer, and throughout the day she listens to an audio recording of Scripture. At night she meditates. I am in awe of her.  

The majority of people I speak with, including clergy, find prayer to be a source of anxiety or vague guilt. It’s true for bishops, as well. A few weeks ago, I was on a video call with bishops from across the country. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, invited the former Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, to speak about prayer. And the first thing he said to us–bishops all–was that we needn’t feel ashamed of our struggles in prayer. 

He reminded us that we all tend to define prayer as a discipline or activity that we initiate ourselves, much as we might practice the piano or maintain an exercise routine. He encouraged us to turn that thinking around, in recognition that any effort we make in prayer is preceded by God’s initiation within us. For emphasis, he quoted a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: 

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26–27) 

What an overwhelming relief, Griswold said, to be told by none other than St. Paul himself that we don’t know how to pray as we ought. In fact, we pray best in weakness, for the Spirit uses those weaknesses to draw us into companionship with Christ. Even our inability to pray to our own satisfaction can be an invitation to pass beyond self-judgment and be available for grace. 

In its simplest terms, Griswold encouraged us to think of prayer as availability. It’s a compelling image. Think what it feels like for you to be available to anyone, much less God. What might it take for you to be available to receive, rather than perform, in prayer? 

Let’s turn back now to Scripture, beginning with Psalm 139, which is a prayer underscoring  Bishop Griswold’s point that everything about us begins with God. Psalm 193, by the way, is part of an adolescent faith curriculum of the Episcopal Church known at Rite-13. It’s a good one to share with young people in that incredibly formative time of life.  

Lord, you have searched me out and known me; 
you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is so high that I cannot attain to it.

The part we didn’t read this morning is worth holding onto: 

Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 
If I climb up to heaven you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 
Even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me and the light around me turn to night,” 
Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light to you are both alike.

Then it continues as we heard read:

For you created me in my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will thank you, because I am marvelously made;
Your works are wonderful, and I know it well. 

This ancient prayer puts us in a posture before God of complete openness. It’s similar to the prayer with which we began this morning:

O God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid. 

Not only can we be vulnerable before God in prayer, we already are, all the time, whether we are consciously praying or not: God has already searched us out and known us, fully and completely–and loves even the parts we struggle to love. Realizing that changes how we approach prayer and enter into whatever practices we might have to be open and available from our side.

Let’s turn now to the story of the young boy Samuel, among the most helpful passages about prayer in the entire Bible. It begins with an astonishing contextual statement: The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. This was a lean time, a hard time, when those seeking God’s will were feeling alone and adrift. 

In this spiritual desert, a boy named Samuel hears a voice call his name whom he thought belonged to his teacher. His teacher, Eli, of course did not call. After being awoken three times by the boy, Eli discerns what’s happening and sends Samuel back to bed with these words which, if nothing else, I hope you take with you today: 

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.  

Would you repeat them with me now? 

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.  

This can be our prayer every day, as we sit quietly,  take a walk, or clean the house. It’s best to turn off all your devices when praying this prayer, to cultivate that sense of availability that Bishop Griswold described. But then again, maybe sound is what you need. In the words of the Roman Catholic writer,  Dom John Chapman, “Pray as you can, and do not try to pray as you can’t. Take yourself as you find yourself, and start from that.”1  

As promised, I’ll end with a story that Martin Luther King, Jr. told about a pivotal moment of prayer for him, when he prayed as he could, and started where he was. 

It happened near midnight, on January 27th, 1956. King was up because he couldn’t sleep for worry and fear. This was during the Montgomery Bus Boycott that he helped to organize to protest segregation in public transportation, an effort that had dragged on far longer than anyone anticipated, now over a year. He knew that as a leader he was in way over his head. Everyone was exhausted, the strategy didn’t seem to be working, and he was afraid. He had good reason to be fearful for he had received numerous abusive calls and death threats targeting him and his family. The latest call had come earlier that January evening, with a sinister voice assuring him they would be sorry if they didn’t leave Montgomery within a week.

With his head in his hands, Martin Luther King, Jr. bowed over the kitchen table and prayed. Later he would say that his prayer started like this: “Lord, I am afraid. I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” 

In that moment, he would later say, he experienced the presence of the Divine as never before. It was as if he could hear a voice saying: “Stand firm, Martin. I am with you and will never leave you. Trust your instincts and carry on.” He rose from the kitchen table a different man, with a new sense of confidence, ready to face whatever came.2

I can’t help but believe that part of God’s word to you, and to me, is similar: “Stand firm. I will never leave you. Trust your instincts and carry on.” That’s not to say that all our instincts are accurate and should be acted upon, but that God will speak to us and guide us through our inner lives. We can trust God to speak when we are available to listen. And if we don’t hear anything–which happens to me a lot in prayer–we take the silence as God’s word: perhaps to trust our instincts, or to wait, or to ask for help, or simply to keep going.  

If you don’t have a prayer practice now, I invite you to join me in this one: setting time each day to acknowledge that God already sees and knows everything about you. Give voice before God to all that’s on your mind and heart. Then, when you said all that you needed to say, to stop and in a posture of availability say: Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. You may be surprised by what you hear. 

Amen. 

~~~

1 Much of the content of Bishop Griswold’s talk with the bishops can be found in his book, Tracking Down the Holy Ghost. Church Publishing, Inc. Kindle Edition.
2 As told in Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, (Simone & Schuster, 1988).

Called to Hope

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened,  you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.
Ephesians 1:17-18

Called to Hope is the theme for Diocesan Convention on January 29-30, and indeed, for all of 2021. 

Hope is not optional for followers of Jesus. It is the approach to life to which he calls us. 

Christian hope is not to be confused with wishful thinking or naive optimism. Nor does it allow us to turn away from the brokenness in our lives and our world. Rather this hope is rooted in a firm persuasion–and sometimes a leap of faith–that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ, and that through Christ, God is always on the side of life and love.

Christ calls us to hope, and gives us hopeful work to do. Where there is despair, we pray in the words attributed to St. Francis, let us sow hope. Thankfully, the hope to which we are called doesn’t depend on us alone, but the Holy Spirit at work within and among us. 

A journalist recently asked me to offer a word of hope after the events at the Capitol on January 6th. First, I said, we must grieve what happened and see it for what it is. For as James Baldwin famously said, “Only those things that are faced can be changed,” and we have much to face in our land. Yet I am hopeful for our future, I continued. The self-corrective capacity in our nation is real and has been activated. There are people across the country with love in their hearts who are determined to make things better. Yes, there are others who must be held accountable for their actions and dangerous movements that must be contained. But we are called to hope. 

The hope to which I feel called inspires me to persevere as your bishop. I refuse to lose sight of the vision with which God has blessed us. January is a pivotal month for us. At our annual convention, your leaders and I will present our final accounting of the work we committed to accomplish last year and our stewardship of diocesan resources. Equally important, we will cast our gaze to the future and set forth specific goals for 2021. We do this work in prayerful, collective discernment. 

I am mindful of the hardships many have endured and how exhausting ministry has been. Yet there is a contagious spirit of determination, adaptation, and courage evident across the diocese. For some, this year has borne great fruit; for others, holding on was a triumph. The outpouring of generosity for those in greatest need has been awe-inspiring. And by grace we accomplished many of our goals, even in a ministry context that changed overnight. You can find a full account of diocesan ministry in the 2020 Annual Report. Read and be inspired. 

We’ll dedicate the Friday evening of Convention, January 29, to our goal of partnering in ministries of equity and justice for greater impact. After the events of this summer, the overwhelming diocesan consensus was to collectively address racial equity and justice. Together we commit to bravely uncover, understand, reckon with and act to dismantle racism within ourselves, our faith communities, the Diocese and our localities. 

We’ve invited Bishop Eugene Sutton to speak to us about the Diocese of Maryland’s comprehensive study of its legacy of slavery and racial segregation–a legacy we share. Maryland’s efforts culminated in the decision to establish a Diocesan Reparations Fund. We’ll also hear from our own Reparations Committee and have time for questions and discussion in small breakout groups. Please come to learn from others and share stories from your congregation’s history. Registration is required to participate or you may choose to watch the live stream

On Saturday morning, January 30, our focus will be our strategic goals of revitalizing our churches to build the Jesus Movement and inspiring all people to grow in faith and equipping  our leaders to lead well. Eligible participants have been emailed registration information. All who wish to follow the proceedings online may watch the live stream.

I look forward to highlighting the strategic initiatives for 2021. These include the launch of Tending Our Soil, a Lilly-Foundation funded 5-year initiative supporting our congregational revitalization work; further development of the School for Christian Faith and Leadership; and how we’ll take up the proposal put forth from the Taskforce for Diocesan Stewardship and Congregational Vitality. 

At Convention we’ll also celebrate the ministries of three beloved diocesan staff members: Ms. Cheryl Wilburn and the Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin, who are retiring; and Canon Paula Clark, Bishop-elect in the Diocese of Chicago. (Here’s more on how we’re saying farewell and how you can participate)

Their gifts to us have been immeasurable. How we will miss them! 

Thanks to those who have expressed concern for the remaining diocesan staff, given this month of transition. We appreciate your support. At the Convention I’ll describe how we as a team are facing the future with hope. With staff transitions also come opportunities, and our collective commitment to diocesan ministry is strong. 

My personal commitment has never been stronger. God willing and with your consent, I hope to continue serving Christ and this diocese for years to come. Together we are called to hope, as we follow Jesus, draw others to him, and embody his love for the world.

 

Diocesan Staff Farewells – Personal Notes, Gifts, and Celebrations

Well done, good and faithful servant.
Matthew 25:21 

At the end of January, we give thanks for the ministries of three remarkable members of the diocesan staff and send them off with our blessings. The Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin, Missioner for Latino Ministries, and Ms. Cheryl Wilburn, Administrative Assistant for the Bishops are both retiring, and the Rev. Paula Clark, Canon to the Ordinary has been elected Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago. 

We invite your participation in our collective efforts to celebrate and give thanks for these extraordinary women.  


Personal Notes

Please send your personal note of thanks to each one individually, either by email 

or by mail to: 

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington
Church House
Attn: Kathleen Hall 
Mount St. Alban 
Washington DC 20016 

Gifts

On the weekend of Diocesan Convention, we will present all three with a special gift, handcrafted by the Rev. Joe Clark out of the wood harvested from the oak tree that once stood in front of Church House. We will give them all the personal notes we have received. 

We are also raising funds for Bishop-elect Paula’s episcopal ring and a liturgical set of cope, chasuble, and mitre. Both will be presented to her, on behalf of her home diocese, at her consecration on April 24. If you would like to contribute, please give online or text paulaclark to 50155


Celebrations

In addition to the time to honor Sarabeth, Cheryl, and Paula at Diocesan Convention, we invite you to take part in these two events: 

Latino Ministry Event to Honor Sarabeth
Join Bishop Mariann and the people of our Latino congregations for a virtual Celebration of Thanksgiving for the Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin’s ministry on Saturday, January 16 at 7:00 p.m. The service will be bilingual.


Drive-By Celebration for Cheryl and Paula

Paula, Cheryl and Bishop Mariann will be on the Cathedral lawn across from Church House on Sunday, January 31 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Please drive by and offer a shout of thanks! 


Each has blessed so many in their years of ministry. Now is our opportunity to let them know how much we love and appreciate who they are, their faithfulness to Jesus, and their many gifts to us.  

Know That You Are Loved

Bishop Mariann preached this sermon to the congregation of St. Mary Magdalene. 

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  
Mark 1:4-11

Friends of St. Mary Magdalene, I’d like to begin by telling you something that you already know: Your rector, the Rev. Dr. Sarah Lamming, loves you. She loves you truly and deeply. Not only does she love you, she delights in you, and she is fiercely protective of you. 

Rev. Sarah loves to tell others about you–how wonderful you are, how brave and kind. She describes how creative and resilient you have been in this challenging year; how attuned you are to one another and supportive of each other; and how you continually give generously to assist others in the wider community.   

From time to time, priests in the diocese will write to me about their congregations. I hear from Rev. Sarah regularly. Dear Bishop, she’ll begin–or actually, Dear Bishops, because she always includes Bishop Chilton Knudsen–and then she’ll give a warm update about your annual meeting, or Veteran’s Day celebration or some other event. She’ll tell me about a parishioner who has done something remarkable, or send–as she did last month–a screenshot of your Zoom coffee hour. All this and more she communicates with love and pride infusing in every word. When we are together in clergy gatherings, Rev. Sarah always begins by saying how blessed she is to be rector of St. Mary’s. 

I also know of your love for Rev. Sarah. It’s evident in everything you say and do, and how you have supported her in this most challenging year. I’ve seen the affection between you when I’ve been blessed to be in your physical presence. I hear it in every conversation. I see it now in your faces. The bond between you is among the strongest and most affectionate I have seen between a priest and congregation. And what a gift that is. It gives you a glimpse into the wondrous, amazing unconditionality of God’s love. 

When Jesus went to the Jordan River to be baptized, he was still an unknown figure. We have no record of his adult life prior to his baptism. John seemed to know that there was someone greater than he on the horizon, and there’s indication that he knew Jesus and was even related to him, but as yet, Jesus hadn’t done anything noteworthy or remarkable.

That’s what makes what the voice from heaven said to Jesus so revealing. Jesus hadn’t done anything to earn God’s love. “You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” God loved Jesus for who he was, not for what he had done, or was about to do. 

I can hear Rev. Sarah saying to each and everyone in this congregation that you are her beloved. With you, she is well pleased. And I can hear you say those words to her, and one another: you are my beloved. It’s not as if you don’t know each other’s faults and blind spots; it’s not as if your love keeps you from being human with one another–which is to say, imperfect. It doesn’t mean that you feel loving toward one another all the time. But that doesn’t take away the reality and the depth of your love. 

Let me read to you perhaps the most famous description of this kind of love from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. We read this passage most frequently at weddings, which is understandable, but the kind of love Paul was actually referring to is love in community. 

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

To experience something of that love is what inspires us to share it, to be the kind of person that can love like that, love like Jesus, all the time. 

Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest in California who has dedicated his entire life to a ministry of rescue, recovery and rehabilitation of gang members in Los Angeles. Reading about his work, it’s clear how much Father Greg, as he’s called, loves the young men he calls his Home Boys. He sees them in all their pain and struggle and mistakes– and they have made and continue to make dreadful, costly mistakes. But he loves them, and they love him back. 

Boyle’s ministry flows from his core conviction that no one, even the most notorious gang members, is beyond God’s love, God is too busy loving us, Father Greg says every chance he gets, to be disappointed in us. 

We are forever fretting over things we think ruffle God’s feathers. God is not feathered, though. . . We are always trying to “make a good impression,” but God is not so interested. Dressed for a job interview, a home boy once told me: “I just want to make a good expression.” That’s more like it. Our lives, fully expressive of God’s pleasure, delight, and loving-kindness.

But what do we do, then, with our disappointment with one another, our disappointment in ourselves? What does God do with disappointment? Surely God must be disappointed in us when we fail to love, when we harm one another, when in mean-spiritedness, petty cruelty, or violence we act in the exact opposite ways God would want? Think of how God must have felt on January 6 as the events unfolded at the Nation’s Capitol. Or how God must feel when taking in the countless ways we fall short of this call to love. 

This is what Father Greg has to say about God and disappointment: 

Disappointment is not the foot God puts forward. There is instead only a redoubling of God’s loving us into kinship with each other. If we truly allow that tenderness to reach us, then peace, justice, and equality will be its by-product. . .“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” the old hymn proclaims. In order to experience this mercy and love, we need to accept that there is room for us in it.  This can only come when I know that I am accepted especially at my worst.1

For a lot of people–and I include myself here–it’s a struggle to believe and to feel that we are loved–not for what we’ve accomplished or earned, or look like or say, but for who we are, as we are. That’s why the love you share with one another and Rev. Sarah is so powerful and transformative. Being loved by another helps us imagine the possibility of God’s love. 

Yet there is a hard truth that lies alongside the gift and blessing of this love. We are loved but not spared from suffering, disappointment and loss.

My 89 year-old mother lives with us now. She has always been healthy and independent. But last year she had a relapse of a terrible illness, and was so sick that my sister and I had to assume control of every aspect of her life. She’s adjusted as well as any of us could expect, and she is stronger now, but not able to live on her own and never will again. She still struggles to accept that truth. 

Yesterday I asked her if I could do anything for her before I started my work. Yes, she said. “Make me well and strong, so that I have my life back again.” I wish I could, I told her. “Pray to God that it will happen,” she said, only half-joking. I smiled and said okay, that would be my prayer, and it is, although I know the physical wholeness she longs for will not be hers on this side of heaven. And it’s hard. 

This has been a hard week for all of us in this country as we try to absorb what happened at the Capitol on January 6. Those of you who have experienced such attempts to interrupt and overturn the basic functioning of government know far better than others what the consequences of such actions are. Those of you who have been on the receiving end of mob violence and racial hatred know how overwhelming it is, and how otherwise peaceful people can get caught up in it. We have a lot to absorb and respond to in civic society as well as our personal lives. 

It’s been part of my spiritual practice for years to spend time each January with the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as our nation prepares to honor his life next weekend. Indeed, in times of struggle–both personal or societal–I often turn to his writings. So I’d like to close this morning with a passage from a sermon King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church (the same church that the newly elected Senator from Georgia, Raphael Warnock, leads today).

King preached this sermon on a Sunday in 1966. It wasn’t for a big public meeting or in preparation for some event that we now consider historic. It was for a Sunday morning worship service in his community. And it’s clear that King was trying to help members of his community deal with disappointment, hardship and loss.

Don’t imagine that there’s something wrong, he said. Failure is as much a fact of life as success; disappointment as likely as fulfillment. Take your burden, he said, look at it, don’t run from it. Say this is my grief and I must bear it. Look at it hard and ask, “How can I transform this liability into a blessing?”2 

He went on to describe the power and the presence of God in those times. 

God doesn’t say that you’re going to escape tension; God doesn’t say that you’re doing to escape disappointment; God doesn’t say that you’re going to escape trials and tribulations. But God has the power to give you a kind of inner equilibrium through your pain. So let not your hearts be troubled, Jesus says. . .Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden. Come to me all who are burdened down. Come to me, all that are frustrated, with clouds of anxiety floating in your mental skies. I will give you rest. And the rest God gives passes all understanding. The world doesn’t understand this kind of rest, because it’s a rest that makes it possible for you to stand up amid outer storms and yet maintain inner calm.3

After his baptism, Jesus knew that he was beloved of God, and he felt called to spend the rest of his life helping other people that God loved and delighted in them, too, particularly those whose life circumstances suggested that they were farthest from God’s blessings. Jesus lived and died so that we all might hear God call us by name, know God, and live with all the confidence and courage that God desires. 

I am convinced that God longs for us to know that we are beloved, that we are blessed, not for anything we accomplish or accumulate or look like. From that blessing, God wants us to go where we most need to go and where we are most needed. God wants us to receive the peace that passes understanding that allows us to maintain inner calm in the midst of outer storms, to persevere in faith, which Martin Luther King, Jr. once described as “taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” 

So hear once again, God’s words to Jesus, and know them to be true for yourselves, and for those you love, and those you struggle to love. Hear them, and believe, and then go and live, as best you can, so that others might know that they, too, are beloved of God:

You are my Son. You are my daughter, my Beloved. With you, I am well pleased.

~~~

Gregory Boyle. Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition, (p. 25-27)
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Guidelines for a Constructive Church,” in A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Clayborne Carson and Peter Holloran, editors, (New York: Warner Books, 1998), 108-09.
3 Ibid.

A Very Present Help in Trouble

The Lord is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved 
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea 
Though its waters rage and foam, and through the mountains tremble at its tumult.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Psalm 46

Dearly Beloved of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington,

With heavy hearts, we are all still absorbing what happened on January 6 in our nation’s capital, and for many of us, our home city. We find ourselves reaching out to those we love, no matter where they are, and receiving calls of concern from around the country. It’s an understandable response, given what’s happened. 

That is my purpose for writing today: to let you know that I am here, praying for you and your loved ones; and in particular, for your well-being and physical safety. 

I am praying for all whose work requires them to be in public spaces in the midst of the pandemic and continued unrest, and for those experiencing homelessness in our city, with few options for safe haven. I am praying in gratitude for all in our diocese who are first responders, who serve in the federal workforce; for hospital personnel, social workers, and teachers. I know that we are united in prayers for our nation.   

Washington, DC is no stranger to civic protest. Members of our congregations are among the first to offer hospitality and welcome, even to protesters with whom they disagree. We cherish the political freedom enshrined in our US Constitution guaranteeing the right of all Americans to express dissenting opinions in the public square. 

That is not what we witnessed on January 6. We saw an attempted insurrection and desecration of the United States Capitol and what it symbolizes, encouraged by the President himself. We also witnessed a notably different response on the part of law enforcement as compared to the way protesters last summer were treated. Had the majority of yesterday’s gathering been people of color, there is little doubt that the outcome would have been much different.  

A word of profound thanks to diocesan clergy and lay leaders who virtually gathered their communities in prayer last evening. Please continue to offer such opportunities. As the Church, we need to be together in prayer. 

For our part, Dean Randy Hollerith and I will offer a brief prayer service from Washington National Cathedral each evening at 5:00 p.m. from now until Inauguration Day, January 20. We will be joined by interfaith leaders across the diocese. If you’d like to join in these prayers, please follow this link.  

Among the more disturbing images of the last few days has been the grievous misappropriation of the Christian faith. It must be said by all who claim to follow Jesus as Lord that there was nothing Christian about what happened at the US Capitol. Those who claim the mantle of Jesus for such deeds and the worldview that justified them do great damage not only to themselves, but the witness of the Christian faith. 

We are called to show another way, the way of love, to so embody love that others may see in us something of the mercy and goodness we have known in Jesus. May God’s love so fill your hearts, so inspire your minds, so gently touch your wounds with healing grace that you may know, without a doubt, that you are precious in God’s sight. 

And may God grant us all wisdom and courage for the living of this hour.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Bishop Mariann