Rector's Chronicle

A Message from the Rector
Saturday, August 29, 2020

Dear Friends,

Our virtual services continue to be wonderful, but one aspect of them is that they have to be recorded well in advance and the sermon written early in the week. In times like these events are happening all the time. Another black man was shot in the back by police in Kenosha, and we have all witnessed the violence, shootings and deaths that followed it. Just exactly what happened will come out no doubt, but the videos are painful to watch. Along with these events we also witnessed on Friday, the large gathering of conscientious souls commemorating the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. In the light of these I wanted to reflect a little on these events and the deep divisions that seem only to be deepening further at this troubled time.

Bishop Mariann quoted the late Peter Gomes, professor of ethics and chaplain at Harvard University, from the sermon he preached for students entitled, “How are You Going to Live after the Fall?”

“Innocent pagans that most of them are,” he once said, “they assume that I’m asking them what their plans are after September. But I’m not. I’m asking them what they are going to do after their dreams fall from the sky.”

Perhaps, this Fall, we feel our dreams are in danger of falling from the sky. People, and by that I mean both our own parishioners, and the country at large, will take different views on the nature and extent of the problems we face as a society and also what should be done about them. However much we would like to be able to, it is at times challenging to find much in the way of common ground beyond, a shared abhorrence of racism, political violence and the hatred we see written deep on so many faces, but try we must.

As Christians and Episcopalians, we seek to respond to life in a faithful, prayerful and reasoned way. Beyond these things, we cannot fail to be aware that there is also a lot of anger in all that we see around us. We feel it deeply within ourselves as well, no doubt. 

Anger at wrong doing and unfairness can, of course, be both faithful and rational. Jesus was angry at the injustice he saw in the way the money changers were exploiting worshipers who came to offer sacrifices in the Temple.

Rage and hatred are another matter, however. Anger can be selfless when we are angry about what has been done to others. Rage and hatred are what can be called disordered affections, as they inevitably come down to a clash of selfish wills and the age-old dark desire to beat down those who oppose us. 

We are all committed to our Baptismal Covenant in which we promise to answer in a resounding affirmative to the question:

 

Will you strive for justice and peace among all

people, and respect the dignity of every human

being?

 

In God’s eyes we all have the same worth as his children regardless of race, politics or any other difference. We also promise to desire wholeheartedly both justice and peace.

We know this, but with so much rage around it is so easy for us to forget it. As has often been observed, when it comes to the evil actions of others, (9/11 comes to mind) the danger lies, less in the evil itself, than in the reaction it generates in us. This Sunday’s Epistle states the painful and costly solution very clearly, 

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Who is the enemy? Well, that will be different for each of us, but we know who they are. We know the rage that rises within us when we think of them in our worse moments. We have a choice. We can deliberately remind ourselves that they are God’s child and do what we can to treat them with kindness, respect and care, or we can seek to denigrate or destroy them. We know which we are choosing even as we consider this thought. 

As St Paul, points out, sometimes we may not have a choice. “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you” he says, “live peaceably with all.” Some will not give us that choice, but that does not excuse us from trying respond to, what we consider to be, the evil actions of others with respect, decency and goodness. 

As Episcopalians, we are committed to the via media, the middle way. Many people lament the loss of the center ground in today’s political climate but, of course, the center is hard to define and depends on where you are standing.

The via media Episcopalians are committed to refers to a religious spectrum and an ethical understanding. It is the rejection of Roman Catholicism’s hierarchical rule on the one hand and Protestant anti rational fundamentalism on the other. Perhaps more importantly, it raises up a Christian interpretation of the Aristotelian understanding of virtue. Virtue is the middle course between opposite vices. In our current troubles we might place “living peaceably where possible” as the virtue that sits between between the vices of uncontrolled rage and vengeance on the one hand and quietism and avoidance of responsibility on the other. 

We are all deeply troubled by where we find ourselves and, perhaps not a little afraid of what may come. As I said in my sermon written earlier in the week, even if we are troubled and afraid, we cannot be hopeless or lose confidence because God’s promise to us is indestructible. Come whatever may, it remains true that we are his and that he will see us through. We walk the hard road because we know it leads to the fullness of life, both now in our day, and in eternity.

So today, I would simply suggest we reflect prayerfully and on each word in that Baptismal promise; our promise to strive for justice and for peace as well as to respect every human being, whether we agree with them or not.

 

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all

people, and respect the dignity of every human

being?”

 

As we go through the coming months, I pray we will be able to do what Lincoln spoke of in his Second Inaugural Address way back in 1865, namely bind up the nations wounds and achieve a just and lasting peace. It is true that many of our own dreams may well fall from the sky in times to come, but the dream of God will not fall as long as we hold to the via media and keep seeking to overcome evil with courage, reason, genuine hope and the desire to see those who oppose us, not as enemies, but as fellow sons and daughters of the same Heavenly Father.

Every blessing,

Father Tim

The Reverend Timothy A. R. Cole, Rector