Archives for the month of: September, 2011

Angel of New Orleans - Tracey Lind - 2005

Michael and All Angels 2011 – The Vergers’ Evensong

Welcome!   Welcome all of you to this the opening worship service for the annual conference of the Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church.  I am so glad that so many of you have traveled to Cleveland; and on behalf of Bishop Hollingsworth, our cathedral wardens, vestry, staff, congregation, verger emeritus Ed Metz, head verger Anthony Kastellic, and all of the Trinity vergers, I bid you welcome you.

Michael and All Angels is such an appropriate feast day for the beginning of the Annual Vergers Conference.  To many clergy (especially smart parish rectors and cathedral deans) vergers are angels  – messengers from God, servants of the Holy One – who are given to the church to help maintain order and dignity in our liturgy, to lead the parade, and sometimes protect the backsides of their clergy colleagues.

And what better angel to commemorate today than the archangel Michael – the dragon slayer – that powerful agent of God who battled evil on behalf of God and God’s people?  After all, many artistic images portray Michael as a well-costumed person carrying a big sword or stick with a cross on its top.  Good vergers, I trust though you couldn’t bring your sticks on the plane, you did bring those great outfits, I hope some of you brought your fabulous hats, and I know that you’re wearing your angelic halos.

Seriously, angels are an important part of our faith heritage.  They date back to an earlier time when the human imagination was very lively.  Since we humans don’t really see God, scripture tells us that we can see angels.  In fact, often it is an angel of God that speaks in scripture.  Angels are eyes and ears, the hands and mouths of the Holy One – ministers who do God’s biding and God’s will.

As our reading from The Revelation to John reminds us, there were four archangels: Michael, the warrior; Gabriel, the announcer; Raphael, the healer; and Uriel, the angel of death.  These archangels were part of a larger hierarchy of heavenly hosts, present at the creation and making up what liturgical scholar Gail Ramshaw once called the “crowded skies.”  Together, angels, described by Hildegard of Bingen “living light,” defend the honor and majesty of God.

Our spiritual ancestors looked to the angels for guidance, wisdom, and protection.  During times of trial and tribulation, persecution and war, disease and famine, people turned to the angels for hope and sustenance.  During the time of Jesus, and shortly before and after, when life for Jews and Christians was particularly difficult, the authors of scripture told the story of the battle of the angels over good and evil.  According to the scholars of these ancient texts, such stories gave hope to the hopeless and courage to the fearful.  Thus, the angels usually announced themselves saying, “Fear not!

Now we might say that we no longer need such angels.  Some would argue that we’re too smart, too enlightened, too well-educated, too scientific, or too post-modern.  But I would argue just the opposite.  Like those who came before, we also are living in challenging times, and we too want to be protected.  It’s just that the stories of our angels are told in film, photograph, novels, and comic strips.  That’s where we free our imaginations.

Are not Superman, Bat Man, and Spider Man more than super heroes?  Are they not considered by many of us angels battling evil on our behalf?  Isn’t Harry Potter a warrior for goodness?  Isn’t Luke Skywalker the archetype of an angel?  Might Buffy the Vampire Slayer also be a modern version of the angel?  Just use your imagination.

Friends, we need to restore our religious imagination.   For it is only through our God-given gift of imagination, the ability to visualize, that we can recognize the Holy One and the divine messengers in our midst.  In this evening’s gospel reading, the apostle Nathanael recognized Jesus as “Son of God.”  Nobody announced to him.  He saw the fullness of God in Christ through the eye of his imagination, and so must you and I.  And sometimes, angels are there to help us when we are deafened and blinded by fear.

A few weeks ago, I came face to face with an angel.  I met a little girl.  She was from Africa.  She had a history that I didn’t know, but I knew it was powerful and probably painful.  She was with her mother.   We were having breakfast.  She was completely absorbed in listening to her iPod as I quietly spoke with her mother.  I was speaking of something very frightening, and I said to her mother that I had confronted the darkness around me.  Without missing a bit, the little girl looked up, tapped me on the arm, handed me her earphones, and said, “Listen, I want to you hear something.”  I put the earphones on and listened to the Beatles sing “Here comes the sun.”  In that moment, I once again heard the voice of God and was no longer afraid.

Thanks be to God for the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven and earth.

Fish-Full Thinking

I was invited to deliver opening remarks on the second day of the third annual Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit.  “This appreciate inquiry summit brings together a cross-section of stakeholders in academia, business, civil society, and government – people and groups that care about and have a stake in Cleveland’s economy and future.” (Sustainable Cleveland 2019, Summit 2011, Participant Guide, p. 7)  The focus of the second day was sustainable food.  Below is a paraphrase of what I had to say (with a few afterthoughts).

Give someone a fish

Teach someone how to fish

Go upstream to figure out where all the fish have gone

Clean up the polluted fishing waters

Build a sustainable, local fish farm

Open a local fish market and restaurant

 At Trinity Cathedral, we’ve been feeding the hungry on Sundays for nearly thirty years. Five years ago, a group of parishioners decided to start a community garden to grow fresh vegetables for our Sunday lunch program. Three years ago, we started a CSA (community supported agriculture) to provide neighborhood residents and workers with fresh produce from local farms. Last years, we began sending neighborhood school children home on Friday afternoons with backpacks full of healthy food for the weekend. And now, we’re working with Greater Cleveland Congregations – a coalition of forty churches, synagogues and mosques – to address the issue of hunger, nutrition, access to healthy food, and the environment in Cleveland.

Multiply one journey by the dozens, and you the story of a commitment to sustainable, local food in our city and its region.  Greater Cleveland is becoming a national leader in the local food movement. We now have 150 community gardens, 20 urban farms and market gardens, 25 farmer markets, more than 25 Community Supported Agriculture programs, fabulous local food restaurants, and our renown West Side Market.

We have adopted new zoning and funding for urban agriculture, new healthy foods initiatives, and new farm legislation. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Hunger and food deserts are still realities in Greater Cleveland.  As one law enforcement officer remarked, “It’s easier in some urban neighborhoods to buy a gun than fresh vegetables.”

The challenge of hunger and the quest for sustainable and affordable local food is as old as the Bible. Thus, the Hebrew prophet Amos wrote: “I will restore the fortunes of my people…and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. 
I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them.”

As I travel around Greater Cleveland and see all the urban farms, community gardens, csa’s and farmers markets, I am so hopeful that we might be rebuilding our city and its region, and restoring the fortune of our people, through sustainability efforts, including sustainable, local food. I’m convinced that the day is coming when we will have rebuilt many of our inner city neighborhoods as “urban villages” surrounded by beautiful gardens, farms, fields and pastures. The day is coming when Greater Cleveland will have transformed what Garrett Hardin once called “the tragedy of the commons” into what Jonathan Rowe terms “a fanfare for the commons.”

And so, as we gather this second day for our third Sustainability Summit, I invite you to join me in asking the Eternal source of justice, love and mercy for a blessing upon our work.

Holy One, whom we come to by many paths and call by many names, we thank you for all of the gifts placed before us: for the extraordinary natural resources and built environment of our city and its region; for the time, talent and treasure of the leaders gathered in this room; and for the wisdom, energy and dedication of our community.

As we come together this day to move our sustainable food vision forward, we pray for the farmers, gardeners, food processors, cooks, market vendors, grocery store workers, and food servers in our community. We ask that you bless those who plant, harvest, prepare, sell and serve our food. May they be respected and rewarded for their work. We pray for those who are hungry, who still live in food deserts or who don’t have enough to buy healthy food. And we pray for the earth itself: may it fruitful, may it benefit from seasonable weather, may it be healed from abuse, and may it be sustained for future generations.

Pour out your spirit on our city and its region, so that we may work together in creating and realizing a common vision for a new tomorrow. Let the people say, Amen.

This was my “Message of Faith” article published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer on September 3, 2011

On Monday, our nation will celebrate Labor Day. It will be marked by parades and picnics, and here in Cleveland, by the air show and the 10th annual Peace Show.

With unemployment hovering around 9 percent and higher in cities like Cleveland, growing numbers of uninsured workers, collective bargaining under attack, and predictions of another recession, some might ask what there is to celebrate on a day that honors the American worker.

In the faith community, we practice celebration regularly — at least once a week in our liturgies, or acts of public worship. For Jews, it is the recitation of the Shema in synagogue worship; for Muslims, it is the practice of Salah;for Hindus, it is prayers and offerings of Puja; for Christians, liturgy includes the Eucharist and the Daily Office.

In its ancient Greek origins, the wordleitourgia meant “public duty” — a work of adoration and a service of respect offered to the state by an individual. In the Episcopal Church, we often say that liturgy is the work of the people to the glory of God.

The late William Stringfellow — lawyer, theologian, writer and activist — once wrote: “In the broadest sense, all of life is liturgical.” Liturgy is the ethical witness of the faithful in this world. Thus, Labor Day ought to be a reminder to the faith community that God — whom we address by many names and come to by many paths in life — calls us to a life of public action for the good of the human enterprise and the rest of creation.

Our liturgical lives are drawn from our sacred texts. We are called to do justice and love kindness; to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive and the recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of God’s favor. We are called to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked and care for the least and most vulnerable among us.

This Labor Day in Cleveland, many in the faith community of Cleveland are celebrating a new liturgy. Greater Cleveland Congregations, or GCC, a nonpartisan coalition of religious congregations and community organizations, has come together to make our region a more just and prosperous place. We have set aside our parochialism and differences, our limited self-interest, our cynicism and hopelessness, the mistakes of our past, and our fear of failure to rise together.

Beginning last year, with the support of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s oldest and most respected community-organizing movement, lay leaders and clergy from some 40 congregations — Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Unitarian — conducted scores of one-on-one conversations, 200 house meetings and numerous training sessions, to identify our most pressing issues and concerns.

GCC unites people across lines of race, class, religion and geography to promote public, private and civic sector actions that will strengthen and improve the quality of life of our neighborhoods.

In a true act of liturgy, we are rising together in community, conviction, creativity and courage to organize and campaign for good jobs, accessible and affordable health care, safe and productive schools for our children, fair and equal treatment in our criminal justice system, and sustainable and healthy food. We are asking the deeper questions and seeking strategies that might move our community toward a strong common good.

Through GCC, we are challenging Clevelanders to imagine the change we can accomplish, connect individuals and organizations to multiply our power, and mobilize our members by the thousands to make our voices heard.

As in any organizing movement, we are taking our time to build membership, thoroughly understand the issues and articulate effective strategies for action. We hope to step out into action in the fall. To learn more about GCC, or join our effort, please visit our website at greaterclevelandcongregations.org.

Let’s celebrate this Labor Day with a parade and a picnic and perhaps even oohing and ahhing at planes overhead. But let’s also have our celebration include a procession for peace, a banquet of justice and a generous display of God’s commonwealth on Earth.

All are Welcome

Listen to my entire sermon:

Yesterday morning, I came to the cathedral to join in the preparations for our annual Ministry Fair.  Walking in around 10 a.m. I found this wonderful house of God abuzz with activity.  John was cutting out paper animals.  Marie was taping them to the wall.  Martin was busy setting up his ministry database.  Cris and Bev were working on their Third Half of Life booth, ready to post those wonderful words “Blessed are the flexible.”  Elizabeth was preparing to practice the organ.  Debbie was organizing the Episcopal Peace Fellowship materials.  Natalie was updating the Labyrinth materials.  Ed was working on last minute details for the Vergers Conference.  Rob was promoting the Wag ‘n Walk.  Sahra was organizing the Sunday school scavenger hunt.  Karen was arranging flowers. Charlotte was recruiting volunteers for the Nominating Committee.  Dave and Roderick were setting up tables.  Rosemary was welcoming everybody who walked in the door.  And of course, Ginger was trying to coordinate it.  I also knew if I went over to the community garden I would find more Trinity members harvesting fresh vegetables for the hungry.

The theme of this year’s stewardship campaign is “We are Trinity,” and if you doubted the efficacy of this statement, all you needed to do was be here yesterday.  Frankly, if you don’t believe me, just roam about the Ministry Fair today, and you will see Trinity at work in the church and the world.

  • You will find Trinity folks leading Cleveland’s sustainability movement.
  • You will see Trinity members leading Greater Cleveland Congregations.
  • You will meet Trinity parishioners on the staff and boards of Cleveland’s neighborhood, arts and cultural organizations.
  • You will hear about Trinity congregants involved in Cleveland’s philanthropic community.
  • You will encounter Trinity people in the hallways of nearly every hospital, university, college and school in the Cleveland area.

So often we talk about the ministry of the baptized – the priesthood of all believers.  Brothers and sisters in Christ: it’s no joke.  You and I are really the arms and hands, the eyes and ears, and the voice of Christ in at church, in Greater Cleveland, and around the globe.

We are Trinity – the Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Cleveland, and it takes the entire congregation – each and everyone one of us working together – to be the Body of Christ in this part of God’s vineyard. Read the rest of this entry »