1 Covidians 12:1-11
Now concerning the wearing of masks, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that in the time before Covid, we were enticed and led astray thinking that we were not responsible for one another's health. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the spirit of love ever says 'masks be cursed!'; and no one can say 'masks are a really good idea for everybody!’ except through a spirit of love.
Now there are varieties of masks, but the same spirit of wearing them; and there are varieties of mask wearers, but the same virus; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same precautions that must be shown to everyone.
To each is given a manifestation of a mask for the common good. To one a mask is given through our mask makers, and to another a purchased one online, or in a store according to the same spirit of protection. Some fashion one after watching a video on YouTube, to another... they already had some. The knowledge of needing to wear one according to the same spirit, to another faith that the same spirit will improve health and save lives.
Another receives the gifts of healing by this generous spirit, to another this seems no less than the working of a miracle, another prophecies that we'll get through all of this sooner by observing these loving precautions, to another the discernment of figuring out how all can get one, to another the knowledge that a mask hides all kinds of mouths and tongues, to another the understanding that those mouths and tongues are still there, behind those masks.
All these are activated by one and the same spirit, and we hope to allot to each one individually just as they choose.
In other words, wear a mask!...
Because loving our neighbor as ourselves is the crux of it. When we wear a mask we are saying that we love and care for ourselves, and that we love and care for our neighbors. If our neighbor is sick (and perhaps doesn't even know it yet) our masks help protect US. If WE are sick (and perhaps don't even know it yet) our masks help protect OUR NEIGHBOR...
... it is a tangible and visible manifestation and practice of our LOVE.
The Rev Greg Brown
Holy Comforter Episcopal Church
The echoes of celebration are barely gone. The long lines of people standing to share their gratitude with, and for, our nurses, first responders, respiratory therapists, all those on the front lines, still ring in our ears. The nights of singing and ringing bells on our balconies and front yards to let them know they are our heroes, that we revere them, was like yesterday.
Those tributes were poignant and wholly appropriate, if not entirely inadequate. In fact, my last blog was about this very thing, the leadership and courage of our nurses, and all front line medical personnel. Collectively, we threw them right into harm’s way, and they eagerly, even if rightfully frightened, walked right into the fray. Some died for it. Some brought it home to their families. And we were grateful. Some of them, then, and still now, live in mobile homes in their front yards permanently isolated from hugging their own children, for weeks and months, so they could care for ours. And we fittingly called them heroes. Some sent their own families away, or left them, to walk straight to the front lines, and become the families for those real ones that could not be there. And we were brought to tears. That blog was posted during nurse’s week. One week ago. It ended on the 12th. Today is the 15th.
With all of that still so very fresh, and with this crisis hardly over, I now hear that many of these same heroes, are being asked to voluntarily furlough, or are even being laid off. In a matter of days, these “heroes” have gone from vitally essential, to a burden. If you don’t think our health care system is broken, or that our preparedness for this latest emergency lacking, nothing should assure of us that more than this latest turn of events.
We can bail out Pot Belly Sandwiches, the LA Lakers, Shake Shack, the Airlines, Banks, but when it comes to the very ones that, without whom, we would be far worse off now, with far more deaths, our message to them is.. you need to give still more, we can’t help. Is this our “Great” country?
It is true, and I am glad to say it, that many of the public traded companies returned their loans, and I don’t begrudge any that applied, even the large ones. For all of the failings in this I have to say the loans and stimulus checks were done quickly and for the most part well. All needed. But now, we have this new problem, and I have not heard much in the way of solutions for it. Our leaders say we “prevailed” but in so doing we have chosen to leave the brave ones that got us there, behind. Some of the media is paying attention, (https://www.insider.com/frontline-workers-are-going-without-salaries-while-ceos-keep-theirs-2020-5) but not many.
How can we leave these “heroes” so quickly, in a matter of days? For all of our “prevailing” we have one of the highest per capita death rates in the world, and one of the lowest per capita testing rates, and now on top of that, we are willing to simply let the capitalistic model be the only salve we can give front line workers that dealt with it all. And then today, our leadership, in our "great" country said, "vaccine or no vaccine, we are back" It is important to ask, who is "we?" Nearly 100,000 and probably more, will not be back. There was no mention of them, or our heroes, today.
The strength and character of any country is, in the end, judged by who we are willing to leave behind.
This does not feel “great” to me, at all.
I am a frequent flyer. Of course, right now, I am not flying anywhere, at all. That is one of the great gifts of this pandemic for me. Flying is necessary for me as a bishop, much more than I ever suspected when I took it on. Once exciting, most plane travel has lost all of its glamor. Over the years I have gotten much calmer about flying. Not a whole lot rattles me. My wife, who does not fly near as much, is always indignant about this. In all my flying I have had tense moments, worried ones. But after going through enough of it, you begin to calm, or at least I do.
Here is what I do. I watch the crew. If the crew is calm, I am calm. If they can laugh through the thunderstorm and turbulence we are going through, so can I. By the same token, if they start to look worried, frantic, concerned, I pay a little more attention. This has worked for me.
And so now, in this most current turbulence, and in the midst of what I believe to be failed leadership in many important parts of our common life, I have decided that I am going to look to one person to be my leader through this crisis, one person I am going to heed, or give the highest attention to, as I consider my role, my actions, my strategy for these days.
That’s right. The nurse is my leader right now. Doesn’t matter which one, doesn’t matter where they head to work each day, as long as they head to work today, to somewhere. Like I watch a flight crew, I am watching them, listening to them, and literally feeding them. My wife and I have been regularly giving to a GoFund me page that is sending regular meals to front line medical professionals. It started with a $25000 goal and is now nearing $350000.
Go Fund Mefor meals for Front line workers.
This is the week of the Nurse, national nurses day just a few days back. Nurses were celebrated like we never have before, as well they should be.
I have lived with a nurse all my life. Literally. My paternal grandmother was a nurse, my mother is a nurse, my wife is a nurse, and teaches to prepare nurses now.
So many of our elected leaders are saying they are making “data driven” decisions. And I believe they believe that AND I also do not totally trust it. Some of the data seems to be the Dow Jones, or the hate mail in their email box about them “taking away my personal freedom” or their 401(k) plan. Or it might be the party line. There is way too much “party saving” going on, on both sides, than on human saving. I hate to be cynical, but right now, about this, I am. But not when it comes to the nurses, and really, let that word be a metaphorical captive of any front line worker, respiratory therapists, doctors, EMTs, fireman, policeman, grocery workers, delivery workers.
But the nurse, the people who have become not only caregivers, but families, who are not only providing medical care, but now counseling, grief response, last rites, connectors, holding up Ipads and Iphones as people say goodbye to someone they have loved and known their entire life, these are my leaders. It is not enough that nurses, and others on the front lines, have to work their physical bodies to exhaustion on our behalf, but now they are also having to hold the emotions of all those who are connected to the sick. They have, overnight, had to become counselors, pastors, social workers. No one else looks this virus, our enemy right now, in the face, like nurses.
And with all of that, some of our leaders have the gall to suggest that nurses “don’t really know what they are talking about” when they give us the score. I believe they do, more than anyone.
Somebody asked me the other day this very question. Who are you looking to for your information as you lead and direct? And without batting an eye I said, out loud, “nurses”.
When they are nervous, I am nervous. When they are concerned, I am concerned. When they are frustrated, I am frustrated. When they call on us to please stay home and help them help us, I am going to do it, and I am going to facilitate all in my charge to do it too.
I want to get “back” like everyone does. But I would like to get “back” with as many of our fellow humans as we can when we do. Getting “back” is going to take while, and in a way, we will never be “back” but as we make moves toward that, regardless of the sacrifice, I hope we will decide who our real leaders are going to be. I have mine. The Nurse.
“A Pissing Section in the Pool.” That is what he said. I don’t even remember what news program and what epidemiologist, as I am in the Zoom/News blur of pandemic life, but I very much remember his answer. The reporter asked the epidemiologist, “with no federal coordinated response, and some governors defying guidelines for reopening, do you think this uncoordinated approach will work?” The epidemiologist just looked back at the camera and said, “does a pissing section in the pool work?”
And like a Damascus road experience I was suddenly able to see in a way I had not before. You may be wondering where I am going with this, and those of you that hound me about “staying out of politics” or “staying in my lane” which usually is translated really to, staying out of YOUR politics, or out of YOUR lane, I am going to look at this theologically, the Church, my lane.
This sudden epiphany made me see how our theology bleeds into our common life. As divided as our country is, so is Christianity. We have, over time, developed on a more overarching level, two distinct and nearly opposite theologies. One I call “personal freedom theology”. You recognize this by people in the protests carrying signs that say, “Jesus is my vaccine” or during interviews saying things like, “it is my God given right to..blah, blah, blah.” This is a personal God that only worries about you. This is the old Tom T. Hall song, “me and Jesus got our own thing going” theology. No one else matters. Or only those who can help me in some way matter. I find it very difficult to find much in our guide, Scripture, about this theology.
The other is a communion theology. It is based on a totally opposite idea, that the common good, the good of all is the Gospel. “Laying down your life for a friend” is communion theology. “Blessed are the meek” is communion theology. “Leaving everything behind and following” is communion theology. “Losing your life” is communion theology. These are complete contrasts to the belief that your life is the only life that is really important.
In reality, and probably a far healthier reality, is to live somewhere between, but can we?
I remember, almost 20 years ago, in a small fundamentalist church in Tennessee, the preacher came bounding out of the pulpit like a jackrabbit on steroids, bounding down the middle aisle, he quickly spun around and hunched down a bit for effect, and lowering his voice almost to a whisper, brought his two index fingers together, dramatically, and said, “you see that cross, you see that American Flag, they are exactly the same.” I have never forgotten that. And I have never forgotten the sour stomach I had for days after. No, they are not, exactly the same. The point of the cross, and what happened on it, is that no flag is primary any longer, no border, no country. Instead, God is primary, Jesus is primary. But it is just that kind of appropriation that gets us to moments like this, to division like this. I do love and admire the US, but as a Christian, it is no longer primary. It is high up there, way up there, but it is not what I worship. It is not primary.
When the epidemiologist asked sarcastically, “does a pissing section in a pool work?” It just became so clear. We, in this pampered, and generally more and more every day, selfish nation, have the idea that this virus will recognize us as the greatest country on earth, and thereby, it will respect our borders.
So how it that working for us?
“It doesn’t matter what happened every where else on the globe, it won’t happen here!” This is simply another symptom of the delusional after effects of personal freedom theology.
Many governors seem to be working off the same playbook. Surely if I do this in Florida, or Arkansas, or Georgia, the virus will stop at the border and go somewhere else.
A pissing section in the pool.
This is not an easy time. It is not easy now to be a leader of any group of humans at this time. There is so little we know, and so much yet to be known. We are flying blind to a degree, but one thing that seems pretty clear, in all of this, is that it takes us all working together, to even have a chance at beating this. And that, well, we are just not very good at it, and we haven’t been for a while.
Some say, and it is just an opinion I know, but I have heard it a lot, that Italy definitely had its bad days during their run with this, but they were far better than us at following guidelines and staying on the same page. There are lots of reasons for that, different culture, different geography, smaller geography, and all of that is real, But many are saying that the often energetic, hard to corral Italian, followed these orders because, in their culture, they care so much for the elderly. The elderly in their culture are icons, revered, to be protected. In short, there is not the “it is my God given right to do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want” even if that is scientifically proven to be detrimental to others. What do we say to those who are vulnerable in this? Well, in this theology it is said, “tough!” you have to find your own way. You shouldn’t have eaten so much, or gotten hypertension, or diabetes, or just gotten old. Why did you get old? Take responsibility!
People that know me know I am big into personal responsibility, but I do believe that as Christians, personal responsibility, calls us to a different response. Especially in instances and crisis such as this, where it is clear we have to work and act together to truly turn the tide on our woes.
I am not sure how we, the Church, navigate this difference. It does not give a very consistent face of Christianity to the world we say we want to offer this faith to. There is a huge difference in the theology of “This is my God given right to, ...... do whatever I need to do to take care of myself, and survive, regardless of the effect on others,” and a theology that says, “this is my call as a Christian in times like these, to look to the community, the whole, and to act so that we might be stronger together.”
Christianity is not a faith with “rights”. It is a faith with “calls”. We should spend a lot less time on what my personal right is, and more time on what the call of the Gospel, and of our God is, now, for me, in this time. I continue to be amazed that Christianity is a faith, the origin of which, comes directly from sacrifice, perhaps one of the greatest sacrifices ever, but much of our professed and practiced theology is one of entitlement, preference, avoiding sacrifice at all costs, most especially for anyone else.
I think the Gospel can have a saving effect for us in these days, but we are far from together on what it is, the Gospel that is. That quip was good for a virus we are trying to control, and I believe just as good for a faith we say, we really want to share. Trying to do it like we are, is about as effective as a pissing section in the pool.
Sermon, Renewal of Vows
April 7 and 8, 2020
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel
There are always, every year, some great things to pick up on in these passages as we come together in Holy Week to renew our ordination vows. And yet, this year, is hardly a normal year. In fact, this will mark the first time in my episcopate that we could not hold a face to face Chrism Mass, where we bless the oil for the year. That is difficult. That is different.
Now, My suspicion is that you have plenty of oil, and if you don’t, let me know and we will be able to get you some, but just the same, we will bless oil, at some point, as soon as we can get back to some normality.
No, this year a lot of things that we have believed are important, are not nearly so, maybe even distant considerations we don’t even remember. This year I am drawn especially to those words in the Gospel of John,
"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—`Father, save me from this hour'?
Now, I have to admit I have wanted to be saved some in these last few weeks. Yes, please, save me from one more Zoom meeting. Save me from feeling imprisoned. Save me from this Groundhog Day feeling I get every morning. Save me from isolation. Save me from leftovers. Save me from fear.
But, then, I also remember, God has saved me from so much more, and empowers me for this hour, and any hour we encounter.
If you haven’t figured it out by now I am not really into the micromanaging God theology. I don’t really subscribe to the “its God’s will” answers or “everything happens for a reason” answers, or even the “if it is meant to be it will be” version of this either.
I have told you on several occasions that I believe more in the premise that the bumper sticker, Shit Happens, is a profound theological statement. And I stand by that today. I don’t believe God had anything specifically to do with this virus, coming now. Infecting you or me, or not. No countries are going to be in God’s favor more than others. No race is better off. It just is.
Equally, I do not believe, as some of our reckless and self absorbed Christian siblings who are so cavalier as to keep meeting in large groups over these days, that God will show US some special favors. I don’t. This blatant exceptionalism, and arrogance, on their part is, in the end, not at all appealing to those who try so desperately to find a way to God, through us, the Church. Frankly, right now especially, it just looks reckless, and arrogant, and stupid.
To say, God will protect those of us who gather to worship, is saying equally, God is somehow damning all of those who are dying on a ventilator, that God is just not as much with them right now. I don’t think the virus cares much either way. It will take the opportunity it has when people gather, be they faithful, or not.
I don’t think courage is deciding not to follow the health authorities, who have pretty much made a good case, that to truly care for one another, we need to stay apart. Courage is a 75 year old priest in Italy, who gave up his ventilator so that someone younger could have it. Why did God not save him?
Because that is not the way it works.
Courage is going in every day, knowing you are walking right into the virus, surrounded by it, and then going home to your family, frightened that you might just carry it back to them. Courage is continuing to serve your fellow travelers here in ways only you can, and at great risk. It is not courage to risk all of that, to put those very people at greater risk, just so you can put on your show. Courage is what all of you are doing, letting it go, this year, modeling staying at home, in order to love and care, and not engage, and not, as in most years during this week, nearly killing ourselves with our Pelagian bent toward perfection.
God does not need our worship, our prayers, or any of the things we are missing right now. God needs us to love, one another, and ourselves enough, to sacrifice what is important to us, what brings us closer to God. God needs us to get some new priorities for this moment.
What I do believe, and always have, and always will, is that God is present in it all, with us, as close as every breath. Certainly, our souls are troubled in many ways right now. Certainly, we have had those moments, during this crisis, with more to come, where we might, in our own way, ask God to save us from this hour.
But those pleas, I don’t believe, are going to change the reality of what we are dealing with. What the prayers will do is help us get through this, to remember who we are, and whose we are, and to remind us of the victory over death that these very days, this Holy Week, is set to remind us of.
We have been challenged in these days to reimagine what Church is, what faith on this planet means, of how we navigate a new way of life. Through that, we have also learned some things about ourselves, what precious symbols, traditions, rituals, spaces, we need, and perhaps we are learning how much we need them, and are even starting to wonder why?
Things won’t be as they normally are this week, and yet, that I believe, can still be a great gift. I believe we have some amazing new truths to discover through all of this, that will make whatever we do, or become, or choose after all of this, much richer.
Because what cannot change, and what cannot be changed, is the powerful presence of God, with us, no matter what befalls us. What cannot change, and will not be changed by this virus, or any other calamity, is our eternal salvation in God.
Easter will come this year, just as it has in all the years before. It will arrive, to whatever alleluias we can give, wherever we give them, with whomever we are with when it comes. It will not be stopped.
It is true, now, at this time, our souls are troubled, and we all are ready to be saved from this hour. But, I hope you will hold that next line closer than perhaps you ever have, in this week, as you navigate it, with all of its joys, but also with all of your insecurities, all of your concerns, all of your feelings of helplessness, and uselessness, during these penultimate days for us Christians, The days when we usually work the hardest and are the most tired, and now, when we are being asked, for the good of all humankind, to let that go. In all of that remember that next line in the Gospel today,
No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
We are here, you and me. We are here to live this hour, to love in this hour, to celebrate in this hour, to find ways to connect and to share and to be in community, in this hour.
My colleagues, I hope you don’t need a Governor to tell you, you are essential. If you don’t know that, please hear it from me. You are essential, you are essential to our church, to our community, to this planet, and to me.
Let’s, together, even though apart, live through these days, knowing, fully, joyfully, that we do not need saving from this hour. God has already saved us, long ago. We don’t need saving from this hour, we need only to open our eyes, and see God at work in this hour, and to share that, and live that, and be that. This is our liturgy for this Holy Week.
You, each of you, is exactly what God needs and wants for this hour. I thank each and every one of you, for who you are, for all you do, for this vocation you have said yes too, and for which we renew together today. Bless each and everyone one of you, each of you, precious, beloved, of God.
Dear Ones, I have offered these words in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +Greg
March 26, 2020
“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6
Today is my son’s 24th birthday. He lives in New Orleans, which has become one of the COVID-19 hotspots right now. Several weeks ago, and for months before that, we had planned to leave today to be in New Orleans for his birthday and to spend the weekend with him. Of course, all of that has changed. And that is a reality for all of us. Many, many things have changed and continue to every day. For our planet, and for its inhabitants, this is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetimes. There is great uncertainty about so much.
And in many ways, we feel in exile. Adrift a bit. That is not a comforting feeling. What we know is scary, what we don’t know even scarier. And yet, even in isolated exile, we are not alone. It’s apparent now that our Holy Week and Easter Day will need to be virtual and not face-to-face. Yes, that is a huge loss for us. It will be mightily different. But hear me, please. Nothing can stop Easter. Nothing. It is coming, virus or not, packed churches or empty ones. No matter what, it is coming. That is actually the whole point of Easter in the first place, Jesus risen from the dead, and through that, complete victory over death. This virus, nor nothing else, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In my sermon this past Sunday, as I contemplated Psalm 23, I said these words:
My fellow followers. God is right here, even if we all can’t be. God is right with you, God is with everyone suffering with this, and even with those selfishly ignoring all of this. You and I may not get to share communion right now, but in God, we are in communion. Even separated we are communion... Coming here was and will be again a great blessing, and now we might even say a luxury. We will certainly relish it when we can be here again, but no space, no symbol, no ritual, no manual act done perfectly, or not done at all, no theology or ecclesiology will ever make us be loved one bit more, or less by God. Wherever we are, together, or separate, surrounding this table, or surrounding the world, God is in the midst of us, loving us.
And I believe all of it. As Paul’s Letter to the Romans reminds us this Sunday, we are people of the Spirit, not of the flesh, and yet the flesh is not completely negated by that reality. We still live our very real, “fleshy” lives. We are certainly doing that now. But, as people of the Spirit, we have hope beyond this earthly life of the flesh.
As Mayor Durkin of Seattle reminded me yesterday in a interview she gave, “Hope is not an action.” I thought that line sounded a bit strange, but the more I thought about it, the more it really resonates with me, “Hope is not an action.”
Hopelessness is where we sit on the curb, with our head in our hands, and we give up. We are immobilized, we don’t move. We could just as easily sit on the curb, with our head in our hands, and say we are hopeful, and still not move. Hope is a concept, a feeling, an aspiration, but it is not, in and of itself, an action. As I reflected on this more, I believe from hope comes action. And without that second part, no hope can be realized. It might be hopeful to simply state, “Oh, this virus will pass. It will just sweep right through us and be gone.” That is perhaps hope, or a whole lot of wishful thinking, but those words are not going to make this virus disappear.
Our call to action right now is a hopeful call. We can flatten the curve. We can spread out the pain and loss, instead of adding to the pain and loss. That is our hope, To realize that hope, we have to act. And the action we need to take right now is so foreign to us, both as Americans and as Christians. For us, action means going, doing, being with others, walking closely, along side. And yet this enemy needs the exact opposite from us. The only antidote we have, the only weapon against this enemy, is separation. Please abide by it. We need each other right now, but our need is to be separated, as much of a sacrifice as that is. Every single contact is a potential for continued spread. Every one. I am urging you to take every one seriously, for with every one we not only put ourselves and those we love, but all others, especially those on the front lines, nurses, doctors, EMTs, allied health professionals, chaplains, more at risk. Our role is simple, stay home, stay apart, say your prayers, and continue, as you can, to give. If you have not lost your income, and you still can, please give, to your church, to those agencies helping on the front lines, to any we can, as much as we can.
I am hopeful. Very hopeful. I believe in the God of Love and through that Love I know all matter of things shall be well, and I also firmly believe that hope alone is not an action, but that out of hope, comes action. Let’s be what we profess to be, in all the times we are together, the people of the Spirit, people of hope, people of action, people of care for others, those we know, and those we don’t. Because Paul was right, and is right now, “to set our minds on the flesh is death, but to set our minds on the Spirit, is life and peace.”
I am so grateful, and truly inspired, by all that you are doing, for the creative ways you are staying connected, and being the Body of Christ, even in separation and isolation. Thank you. I am so blessed to be in this ministry, at this time, with all of you