But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
July 13, 2020
For the past two weeks, Jesus, in our Gospel readings, teaches us about God the loving and great sower. We learn of the importance of good soil and seeds and the evildoers' judgment. We are also gifted with the hope of abundance that occurs through preparation, justice, and faithfulness.
Each one of us at one time has ventured into a garden and attempted to plant new life. Within each seed, God has implanted a unique DNA, which holds the promise of great potential. Yet each seed must not only be nurtured; it must be covered over and transformed in isolation. The shell must be broken open for new life to occur.
In many ways, this is our present reality. We are being planted and broken like those seeds and at the same time the possibility of new life and ministry is developing. Yet, we have to endure the elements as the abundance of life is embedded deep within our faith and heart. As we journey forward, we have once again seen evil manifest itself through racism, murder, and hate. And at times it may feel like that evil threatens to overwhelm us. Yet we do not despair. We step forward because we have within our souls the ability to endure, overcome, and bring new life to the world. We do so because God has implanted the same sacred and unique potential that was present in Jesus Christ into our souls. Thus, the passage from Paul takes on greater clarity. We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed.
Now more than ever, amid this endless year, we must reflect on the Body of Christ's strength. God is always most present in the simple and mundane. In the presence of family and friends, on the way to work, working through your faith to find ways to combat injustice, sacredly listening, or sitting at home while holding the health of our siblings up in prayer. As we do this, we must constantly reflect and ask ourselves how do our words and actions demonstrate to a skeptical world that we believe what we proclaim and are truly disciples of Jesus Christ? This is often far more difficult than responding in the ways of the world.
This is also a time to take care of yourself. We have a long path ahead as we deal with COVID and the sin of racism. Check on one another, take care of one another, and love one another. If you feel you are at a breaking point, there is no shame in seeking professional help. We need one another, united in Christ, to walk this path with strength so that Jesus will be visible in our bodies.
Dismantling White Supremacy, Racism and Injustice
I have committed that the presence of racism, hate, and white supremacy, both in us as individuals and as present in our culture and legal structures, is the cross that our diocese will carry. Each month I will keep this at the forefront of our diocesan conversations. We cannot allow the "next" news cycle or a short memory to distract us from the necessity of our call to step into this pain and face this sin.
As a diocese, we cannot speak of healing unless we fully enter into and understand the pain that has occurred. Our work will be long, painful, and honest. The Loving Presence group –a dedicated group of clergy - is developing a covenant as well as short, medium and long-term goals. In a few weeks, they will be expanding the membership so that the laity can build upon their initial work. This ministry is working hand in hand with the Anti-Racism Commission and the Absalom Jones Committee. If we are ever to truly dismantle the sin of white supremacy and systemic racism, we must have a revolution of the heart as a people and as a church.
We are currently in the Yellow Phase of our slow re-entry back into in-person worship. I must reiterate that the safest option is always not to gather in-person. For those churches who have prayerfully discerned to wait; we support you. We have seen cases rise exponentially throughout the country, and I will not risk one life in our diocese. Never fear, God is always present.
There may be some who still believe that we are conservative in our approach. I want to share a story that recently occurred in our diocese. One of our churches was carefully following all of the protocols. One of their parishioners was not feeling well on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, the parishioner seemed to recover and decided to attend the Sunday service. The next day, the parishioner was confirmed positive for COVID. The church subsequently had to suspend worship for three weeks, follow the contact tracing protocols and instruct everyone in attendance to be tested. In the meantime, they were also advised to self-isolate.
Churches are now identified as one of the primary spreaders. As we continue to discern the most faithful way forward, we are constantly in communication with local government and health officials and our decisions are made with the latest factual information. I will be reviewing the numbers and will decide if we will continue in the Yellow Phase. We will inform the diocese on July 23. I would also like all of us to be prepared for a potential spike in the fall. If that occurs, we will revert to the Red Phase. We have faith and put our trust in God; however, we are taking no chances with the lives of the faithful of this beloved diocese.
Finally, please encourage your clergy to take time to recharge, rest and take vacation. They have been working endlessly during this time caring for you and the church. Although our journey is a marathon, they have been running it like a sprint.
I pray for you, I love you deeply, and we will be stronger as a church. God is with us, and the Risen Christ is present with us as we grow. Be not afraid. God brings forth the potential of the seeds he planted with in us. And if we press on in faith, we will yield a harvest of love that will transform our world.