Eclectic, Enlightening, Engaging - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

On most mornings--except in the cold of winter--Tim and I have early morning coffee in our small screened porch, which opens to a stand of woods in the back where we regularly see deer, some times foxes, and often our neighbors walking themselves and their dogs.

I drink my coffee from a cup which reads ”Eclectic, Enlightening, Engaging, Emmanuel.”  It's a wonderful motto or slogan dating, I think, from the early days of Rodney Hudgen’s time as Rector.  It's meant to identify the present Emmanuel and an ongoing commitment to the days ahead.

Does it still reflect who we are?  I like to think so, though perhaps not in the same ways as six or seven years ago.  With me as your Interim Rector, the Sunday services are probably closer to The Book of Common Prayer than they might have been before, but we still regularly use materials from other Anglican provinces and our denominational partners.  Though our choir has not yet started its season, I trust that it will continue its tradition of offering superb music from eclectic sources.  Having Sugar (Rob and Lucy's white dog) in the front row most Sundays also says something fun about who we are.

I hope you find the sermons enlightening at least most of the time.  We anticipate a new season of the Adult Forum and trust it will bring intellectual and spiritual stimulation.  The several parish meetings we have had in the past month have been enlightening as we have heard a variety of voices offering differing perspectives and experiences about who we are and where we want to go.  The commitment to Emmanuel is remarkable as people engage in growing not only in numbers but in our spiritual lives and in our connection with the world.

The vestry and the parish’s commitment to the renovation of this building to make it more accessible for us and for all who come here is a sign that we intend to engage ever more broadly and deeply with the community around us.

Can we do ever much more?  Absolutely.  Might we do some things differently, even in this time of transition?  Certainly.   Let us continue to show our care for one another.  Let us listen acutely to our own voices and the voices of those who look to us to model the love of God.  Let us be open to the notion that “new occasions teach new duties.”  If we do this, I believe that those coming to us--be they visitors, prospective members, or a new rector--will find Emmanuel Eclectic, Enlightening, Engaging. Lift high the coffee cups.

Jim Holmes

Slouching Towards Horeb* - Joseph Wood

  Last Friday, I traveled back to Annapolis to visit some old friends from college, both to catch up and to prepare for their wedding as it edges ever closer. Since I made the journey via public transit, it turned into a kind of pilgrimage for me. Not only does the route leave plenty of time for contemplation—it takes roughly two hours—it’s also a journey that I had to make frequently during the year after I graduated from St. John’s College. During that time, I was living in Baltimore** and working for the Episcopal Service Corps, but I was still making almost weekly treks back to Annapolis to take part in the communal life at St. Anne’s Parish as I tried to convince them that it would be a good idea to support my seminary aspirations. It’s a rather odd experience, continually returning to your college town during the year when you’ve supposedly, finally become an adult. Catching glimpses of so many familiar sights as the bus trundled along gave me pause, musing about the difference between who I was then and where I find myself these days. (Admittedly, the proximity to my 30th birthday probably didn’t help the instinctive turn towards self-examination.) What does it mean to grow up? And what does it mean to become who we’re meant to be?

  In this week’s Hebrew Bible reading (1 Kings 19:4-9), we get a brief, bleak glimpse into Elijah’s literal and figurative journey as he tries his best to live into his own vocation as a prophet of the Lord. Having just taken the drastic measure of executing all of the prophets of Baal as he tries to stem the tide of idolatry in the kingdom of Judah, Elijah is fleeing for his life before the wrath of King Ahab and his infamous wife Jezebel. Having failed to move the royal hearts to anything but wrath, the prophet despairs. He cries “enough” and begs God to “take his life, for [he is] no better than [his] fathers” (19:4). After this lament, he collapses into an exhausted sleep beneath a broom tree. (If there’s any image that can illustrate the dichotomy between the supposed loftiness of being the Divine spokesperson and the reality, it’s Elijah needing to seek shelter underneath a literal bush after his desperate escape into the wilderness.) However, the Lord does not take his chosen prophet’s life—to the contrary, God tends to Elijah with almost gentle concern. In a sequence that echoes the calling of Samuel (1 Samuel 3), the prophet is awoken twice by an angel with instructions to “arise and eat” (1 Kings 19:5,7). Thus, even in the midst of his despair, even in the midst of the bareness of the wilderness, God provides. Elijah is fed with “a caked baked on hot stones”*** and his thirst is slaked with “a jar of water” (19:5). The prophet’s emotional and physical needs are met, and he continues on in his journey for “forty days and forty nights,” which echoes, among a number of different Biblical precedents, the mountaintop experience of Moses and Noah’s sojourn in the Ark. His literal and figurative journey comes to an end at “Horeb the mount of God” (19:8). And it should be noted that “Horeb” means dry place, though it’s often used interchangeably with Mount Sinai. So, even in fulfillment, God’s prophet finds himself in a place that is paradoxically both dry and the heart of his faith.

  I offer you that summary not to suggest that my trip or my thoughts were anything like Elijah’s, but rather to illustrate just how much growing up and becoming who we’re meant to be can mean letting go of the familiar and its expectations. In despair, Elijah meets the Lord. In the wilderness, Elijah is fed. I’m not sure that my freshly-minted college graduate self could ever have imagined what my life looks like now, and I’m positive that the teenager who enrolled at St. John’s couldn’t possibly have. It’s a strange blessing to know that my life has exceeded my younger vision. I pray that it continues to do so—though, Godwilling, without ever coming too close to the prophetic experience. That’s also my prayer for Emmanuel more broadly. May our communal journey exceed our abilities to hope, like water and bread underneath a broom tree. May we recognize God as our constant companion, even in the driest of places. May we one day find that, without ever quite noticing that it’s happening, we’ve become more than we ever meant to be.

 

*While Joan Didion’s collection of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, might more quickly come to mind these days, I'm more inclined towards Yates’ “The Second Coming."

**Well, Pikesville

***The Ancient Near East equivalent of pita           

Reflections on Shakespeare - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

Unlike many of you, I am sure, I was not brought up with Shakespeare as a constant presence. I never read a Shakespeare play in high school, nor did I have to memorize any of his sonnets. (The deficiencies of my high school, thought to be the best in Baton Rouge fifty years ago, is another story.) I have since seen several Shakespeare plays, with the movie versions being the most memorable.

This week, Tim produced an evening of Shakespeare scenes and sonnets. I was particularly struck by Shylock’s speech in The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, a Jew pleading for justice, describes himself as a human being at a time when it was illegal to be Jewish in England and Jews were persecuted throughout Europe. “Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions. . . ? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”

Why have these people of God, who taught us that we are all made in the image of God, been so vilified, so defined as other? The answers are myriad and reflect on human nature. But we can ask now--four hundred years later--why there is again a rise in anti-semitism, and we can also ask why we have to put up banners saying “Black Lives Matter” and have a movement called “#MeToo"? Why do we consider some folks humanity to be less than ours, whoever we are? If we prick them, do they not bleed?

There is a new play on Broadway called “Straight White Men” which takes a look (not particularly successfully, according to one reviewer) at the nature of privilege in our society. Privilege is part of the answer to the questions in the prior paragraph. Many us here at Emmanuel enjoy being of one or more of those three categories, and we may really think about it as “just the way things are.”

Shylock invites us to keep the issue of ‘the other’ in the front of our minds and hearts. And to let it inform our actions. “Will you respect the dignity of every human being” is a question followed by a vow in our baptismal service (BCP 305). It is who we are called to be as Christians, as human beings, as we try to live into the notion that there are no others. When we are pricked, we all bleed; when we are tickled, we all laugh. We are all in this together.

Jim Holmes

Entering Together - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, Tim and I live in a retirement community in Prince George’s County.  Now in our early ’70’s we are among the younger residents of the place.

Tim is a licensed lay preacher in the Diocese of Washington, and he and I—separately and together—have occasion to conduct services in the Memory Care unit of the health center.  The services are usually short, with prayers, familiar hymns, a reading from Scripture, and a short meditation.

Last Sunday’s use of the 23rd psalm at Emmanuel reminded me that we both usually invite our worshippers to join in saying it together.  (We don’t have to say “The King James Version;” that is a given.)  Almost to a person, these aged and impaired folks are able to join right in and keep going even if one of the leaders loses his place. 

What is it about this particular psalm that causes it to be so firmly implanted in the memory of all sorts and conditions of people?  It is certainly a psalm of comfort as it describes God as a shepherd who leads us to safe places, green pastures and still waters; who guides us in the right way to live, the paths of righteousness; who is with us in the most difficult times, through the valley of the shadow of death.

It is often thought of as a psalm which is about what God does for us, for me, but my domestic theologian points out that the last half verse, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever,” implies a response and commitment on the part of the comforted one.  Not ‘oh, by the way, God has me as a tenant forever.’   Any number of churches have inscribed over their entrance doors the words from Genesis: “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” I, we, choose to enter the doors, to be a part of the household of God, which—as we all know—is not all green pastures and still waters.   We, at least I, stray from the pathway of righteousness regularly.   Goodness and mercy seem at times in short supply.

I believe we stay in the Church because it is a locus of God’s comforting promise to be with us always.  The 23rd psalm is a reminder that we can all commit to memory and call upon as we, the Church, and the world need it.

Jim Holmes

How Do You Covenant? - Joseph Wood

  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the main word for covenant is ברית (berith), which is often paired with the verb כרת (karath)--to cut. The imagery of making a covenant through an act of cutting has deep Biblical roots, extending out into the ancient Middle Eastern cultures that surrounded the Israelite community and helped inform its development. Perhaps the clearest example is the word pairing’s first appearance in Genesis 15 and God’s covenant with Abram; however, covenanting through karath can be found in sources ranging from Joshua 9:6 to 2 Kings 23:3 and even Jeremiah 32:40. (Isaiah 55:3 and 61:8 are also excellent examples, striking an eschatological chord similar to Jeremiah.) In more modern usage, the idea of cutting a covenant has narrowed to implications of circumcision, so I would be mindful about using berith karath language around your Jewish and/or Israeli friends. Nevertheless, I think some familiarity with the Biblical tradition of forming a covenant with another party--particularly God--by means of some kind of cut is essential for beginning to understand what Paul is up to in this week’s second lesson from his letter to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 2:11-22).

  You see, Paul is making his theological point about the peace that Jesus Christ “proclaimed” “to [those] who were far off” and “to those who were near” through an extended circumcision pun (2:17). Yes, the Bible does, in fact, contain jokes--and sometimes it’s even Paul making them. Here, he juxtaposes that literal act of ritual cutting with all of the ways that we have been historically and continue to be metaphorically cut off from the Divine. Without at least some reference to the scriptural wellspring he’s drawing upon, it’s easy to read these passages as supersessionist, as devaluing the legitimacy of more traditional Jewish religious understandings and experience. Which is not to say that context exonerates Paul of such charges, but it does help to remind us that he was a Rabbinically trained Jew from Judaea, like Jesus and the rest of the apostles. It clarifies why he would talk about genitalia in the same pericope that he talks about the passion and death of our Lord and Savior. It’s because Christ offers us--in Paul’s terms, is (2:14)--a peace that transcends any of our attempts to maintain worldly divisions. The gentiles who were once literally “far off” in terms of both distance and worship practice are brought into a community that does not maintain the strictures of the temple in Jerusalem (2:13). He preaches instead a radical “access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18), one that knows no distinction of citizenship, of ethnicity, or even of geography. It's an access that resists any division that we might try to place upon grace, rippling out towards a kind of universality in broader and broader circles. All are invited to join together to form a new kind of covenant and grow “into a holy temple in the Lord” through the community of believers (2:21). And thus the rupture of karath is reoriented towards a new creation.

  As many of you know, I have a complicated relationship with St. Paul. If I’m being entirely frank, I don’t think there’s a way to read Ephesians 2:11-22 that isn’t at least a little bit supersessionist. Even as Paul talks about building together "upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (2:20) in a way that is suppose to transcend all of the ways we seperate ourselves, he dismisses the "commandments and ordinances" of the Torah and his people (2:15). But, if anything, that falling short is something of a relief to me. Because if there is any part of Paul's legacy that redeems the rough edges, it's these moments when he points beyond himself, when he points to all of the ways that the Lord enters into our lives that surpass our wildest preconceptions. Even when God's chosen apostle is messy and more than a little problematic, the Gospel is proclaimed and the Lord enters in. Which is not to let any of us off the hook--even Paul--but it does remind us that we are more than the sum of our parts. The Christian community is more than any of our messy, more than a little problematic bits. There is always a chance to lay aside our divisions; to lay aside all of the ways that we have been cut off and cut down (or, worse, done so to others); and try to live into a new kind of covenant. The temple of our joint efforts may not be any where near perfect yet or any time soon, but it is here, it is holy, and it is in the Lord. Perhaps that's enough for now.

Plumbing Our Depths - Joseph Wood

  If this week's first lesson leaves you scratching your head, let me begin by clarifying that a "plumb line" is a line with a weight attached (from the Latin for lead, plumbum) used to measure the depth of a body of water or check that vertical structures are true. So now Amos 7:7-15 makes perfect sense, right?

  Continuing on the various iterations of the theme of measurement, of taking account of the beloved community, that the lectionary has offered us over the last few weeks, these verses challenge us to re-examine how God upends our expectations. Last week, the Rev. Daynes spoke beautifully to the dichotomy between hometown (temporal, geographical) and home (emotional, relational) when it comes to reading Mark 6:1-13. In the same way, Amos' prophesying draws a distinction between how we name ourselves and our surroundings and how the Divine enters into our lives and names us. Pushed aside are all of the ways that we try to fit God into our own contexts, because--let's be honest--the majority of us have more than a little Amaziah in us. We hear the Word of the Lord and we paraphrase it, we echo back a version that conforms more to our own perceptions and preconceptions. When Amos speaks, all that Amaziah can focus on is the last handful of words from the prophet's lips. All he can hear is how destruction will come to Israel, how the king who has given him so much power will face "the sword" (Amos 7:9-10). In his dismay, "the priest of Bethel" cannot bear to actually take in very much at all of what Amos says (Amos 7:10), and so he accuses him before the king of plotting against sovereign and state. (He even inserts the whole idea of exile into the prophet's mouth.) Notice how he then turns and counsels Amos to flee from the land and never again "prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom" (Amos 7:12). Perhaps the most telling part of his response are how he identifies Bethel and its affiliations--not as the Lord's sanctuary, as a temple of the God of their holy and righteous ancestors, but as the king's sanctuary, as a temple of the kingdom. In his fear, he cuts off himself, his temple, and his people from anything but the present and its immediate bounty.

  Who among us hasn't done something similar? Who among us hasn't clung to what we know--even, sometimes, when it is painful--rather than face the anxiety of what lurks beyond our expectations? It is an utterly human response to such situations. But the Divine words that Amos shares with us are not all calamity, now matter how our most primitive instincts might begin to distort them in our ears. Yes, there is talk of "desolation," "waste," and "the sword" (Amos 7:9), but such grimness is outlined by relationship. These are the difficult words that God commands Amos to declare to "[God's] people Israel" (Amos 7:15), so that the crux of even the most tumultuous upheaval is how the covenantal relationship between Israel and her Lord continues to unfold. A plumb line isn't a tool of obliteration, it's a tool of exploration and building up. Thus, the lesson we'll hear is bounded by the nature of salvation history, and it's message is clear: we cannot allow ourselves to be cut off from the past or the future, we cannot make the present into a false sanctuary. It is only by continuing to name all that we have been and all of the (often unexpected and even a little scary) ways that our Savior is calling us into deeper relationship that we truly claim our nature as believers and a believing community. It is only in the fullness of both of those relationships that we can properly be named as beloved. After all, God can take the most unexpected elements and fashion something glorious and new out of them. In God's hands, even "a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees" (Amos 7:14) can transform a people. Who knows what our Lord and Savior might call forth from us?

Through Heaven's Eyes* - Joseph Wood

 At first glance, the psalm we’ll say together on Sunday seems, well, problematic (Psalm 123):

To you I lift up my eyes, 
  to you enthroned in the heavens.
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, 
  and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God, 
  until he show us his mercy.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, 
  for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, 
  and of the derision of the proud.

The opening lines begin traditionally enough, reminding us of our covenantal and salvific relationship with the Divine. We metaphorically “lift up our eyes” to our Lord because God sits “enthroned in the heavens”-an image that captures both authority and majesty, particularly in comparison to human proportions, in a single phrase. (It also parallels Ezekiel, though from the opposite direction of Ezekiel 2:1-5 and God’s sending a prophet to rather than drawing our eyes up from.) Even as we are in relationship, the Almighty remains far beyond the community of believers, forcing our perception of the world into a higher register simply by being in said relationship, simply by the dynamics of our faith.

  For me, issues start to arise as we continue into the next several couplets, especially the next verse. By using the language of “servants,” “maids,” and subservience to their “masters” or “mistress,” the psalmist would seem to be confusing their rhetorical arc. Instead of elevating our awareness, these lines appear to too actively seek for a parallel within human society. In the relationship between those who serve and those being served, our covenant would be reduced to something transactional and mundane. Rather than God offering a new way of being, our worship would become something that reflects the same patterns as the world around us, become something business-like and stratified. The next verse even affirms this possibility, emphasizing that we “look to the Lord our God” to “show us his mercy.” We look to the heavens, in other words, for the same kind of reward or punishment that we find in the systems here on earth. We look to “the Lord our God” the way that we would look to authorities here on earth. The problem is that those systems and the fulcrums of class and race that they all too often turn upon are a far cry from the heavens.

  The Bible, however, is almost always more complicated than we allow it to be, more complicated than it first appears, and the psalm upends our expectations just as they are reaching their pitch in our disquiet. When the psalmist pleads with the Lord to “have mercy” “for we have had more than enough contempt,” it sounds like a servant or maid begging a callous employer for more lenience. It sounds like we are asking God to lessen Divine contempt. Yet the final couplet confounds this simplistic reading. Rather than seeing God as the ultimately iteration of human expectations, the last verse makes clear that it is “the indolent rich” and the derisive “proud” that are the source of the psalmist’s suffering. Instead of reaffirming society’s roles, the psalm ultimately illustrates how far they can be from our Savior’s hope for us. So, we have to ask ourselves: are we ready to lay down those expectations? Are we ready to admit to ourselves when we might be indolent or proud despite our best intentions? Are we ready to lift our eyes from our habitual patterns of behavior and seek to live mercy instead? In short, how will we treat the prophets among us when they begin to say, “Thus says the Lord God...” (Ezekiel 2:4)?

 

*Yes, this title is definitely a reference to one of my all-time favorite movies, The Prince of Egypt--this song, in particular.

We Were Not Made for Death - Joseph Wood

  Over the last few weeks, I've had Langston Hughes' poem "Let America Be America Again" stuck in my head. In particular, I've been caught by a line from relatively early on in the poem, when Hughes writes achingly about allowing our country to live into its potential: "Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed." He will go on to recognize that "the dream" so profoundly birthed and held has often been just as profoundly unrealized--at least, beyond a select subset of the population. Many of the hands that have toiled to cultivate the dream have been denied its fruits. It's a painful admission, especially as we prepare to celebrate July 4th and remember when those early dreamers, our founding fathers and mothers, began to share their hope as more than just talk. In naming that juxtaposition, Hughes draws from a wellspring of religious imagery, carrying forward images that have passed from generation to generation through spirituals and other reflections of our shared Biblical traditions. In particular, I hear an echo of the psalm we read together a few weeks ago, but which has come up again in the alternative track that the Revised Common Lectionary offers: "I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;/ in his word is my hope./ My soul waits for the Lord,/ more than watchmen for the morning,/ more than watchmen for the morning./ O Israel, wait for the Lord,/ for with the Lord there is mercy" (Psalm 130:4-6).* Just as surely as the life of faith is one of disruption, like I talked about last week, it is also one of longing for something more. It is one of living resurrection, of knowing and naming how surely God will reach down to draw us out of our graves even when we can catch only the barest glimmer of that light.

  In the readings on Sunday, you would normally have heard a slightly different articulation of the same theme in the words of the Wisdom of Solomon (Wisd. of Sol. 1:13-15; 2:23-24):

God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.

Now I'm always a little hesitant about the Deuterocanonical books,** but I'm also not one to argue with the movement of the Spirit when our assigned reading is so utterly, painfully timely. (In fact, we'll use with yet another alternative in our services: Lamentations 3:21-33.) In the wake of yesterday's news from Annapolis about the horrific violence at the Capital Gazette offices, it is more important than ever to affirm that God "does not delight in the death of the living." Whether for our own assurance or that of our larger society, we must remember that God "created all things so that they might exist," and we are made in the likeness and image of the Divine--including our Lord's "own eternity." Only a few hours after the shooting occurred, I saw another priest post something about how the front desk of that building is left largely unmanned, and that this event should force management to rethink that decision in case of another such incident. Have we really lost so much sight of the dawn, of how gloriously we are made, that we talk more about next time than the unconscionability (even ungodliness) of this kind of "destructive poison"? I'm not sure it's even a matter of the righteousness described by the author of the Wisdom of Solomon, as much as it is holy necessity. How can we possibly recognize new life if we allow ourselves to become callous towards suffering and death? How can we share in the fruits of the dream if we cannot quite remember what they look like?

  I apologize if my words seem grim, because I don't mean to chastise or otherwise imply that there is only one kind of action required from members of this community, let alone believers more generally. We are all made for wholeness, and one of the most wonderful facts of the wholeness of creation is just how countlessly it reveals the love of God in all of its eternal reality among us. If that love invites you to protest against gun violence, may Emmanuel Church be a fount of solace and strength for your prophetic deeds. If that love invites you to seek and serve Christ in the refugees along our border, may Emmanuel Church be a fount of solace and strength for your prophetic deeds. If that love invites you to hold your family a little tighter or treasure your friends a little more dearly, may Emmanuel Church be a fount of solace and strength for your prophetic deeds. There are ways beyond any ability I have to name to live into what it means for us to be Christian. So, however you are resurrected in the midst of our struggles to let America be the dream it has always been, know that God is with you. Know that you are loved beyond measure. And know that life is short, that we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those that travel the way with us--so be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. Don't worry, you were made for this.

 

*It could also be argued, perhaps more convincingly, that Hughes echoes my favorite psalm, Psalm 126.  

**From the Greek meaning "secondary canon," the books are a series of Second Temple writings and supplements to other Biblical texts that passed to us through the Septuagint. While they are not part of the Jewish canon--partially because we do not have access to the presumably Hebrew originals--they were eventually accepted by large portions of the Church. At least, they were until the Protestant Reformation, when Luther and other leaders argued that they were later additions outside of the proper Biblical witness. (The Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox churches still generally include them.) Naturally, the Anglican Church hedges its bets, and the deuterocanonical books are described in the Thirty-Nine Articles as: "the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine" (BCP, 868).

Spending Our Lives - Joseph Wood

There are weeks when it’s harder to write a meditation, harder to catch more than a single glimpse of Divine meaning within the Biblical texts assigned for the week—and God forbid using the same interpretation that I’m planning to preach on. So, here I sit in my office on a rainy Friday afternoon, pondering what else I could possibly have to share with the parish this week. As I mull over my options, my mind returns again and again to one of the collects secreted away within our Book of Common Prayer, this one “For the Oppressed” (826):

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Now, this prayer isn’t our collect for Sunday, but it seems especially timely nonetheless. As we close out June and what we have come to call “Pride Month” here in the United States, as we continue to struggle through a national discussion about what it means to be a refugee, a family, a Christian citizen, I cannot help but stumble over the second sentence: “Have mercy upon us.”

The majority of Christian prayer—at least, liturgical, Christian prayer—follows a ritualized form that can be found across cultures and religious traditions. It begins with invocation, emphasizing who one is speaking to and how one recognizes that deity. Here, we petition our “heavenly Father,” immediately setting the prayer within certain eschatological and theological (read: New Testament) contexts. The echoes of the Lord’s Prayer; of “Our Father, who art in heaven;” should ring in your ears as the words resound within your mind or from your lips. It is a reminder of how much greater God can be from us, entering into the moment of supplication by drawing tight the dichotomy between the Kingdom of God as we so often live it on earth and the heavenly Kingdom we strive again and again to midwife as a Church. Yet, at the same time, it comforts us, reminding us that the Almighty in all of God’s eternal goodness has sought out relationship with us, and that the history of our Faith is one of continued, intimate relationship. Even as the Divine is entirely other from our human experience, God is also as entangled in our lives as a loving parent anxious to see their child grow into the fullness of themselves. Even as we fall short, we are loved beyond measure.

As we continue the prayer, we admit to the realities of “injustice, terror, disease, and death” in the lives of so many individuals and communities around us, begging God to take pity on people burdened by so much that would seem to invalidate the fact of that holy love. Even as we name our own closeness to our Lord and Savior, we acknowledge the barriers erected for so many and their ability to live into their own fullness. And we immediately confess our own complicity in those barriers. Whatever difference there might be between the world as it is and the world as it should be directly corresponds to how little difference there is between pity for those struggles and mercy for our willingness to live into the systems that sustain them. Our wholeness (or lack thereof) and their wholeness are inseparable.

The prayer continues and concludes by focusing on the doing, how the fulfillment of pity for those “who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death” demands action on our part. It demands love for “our neighbors,” “equal protection of the law,” “equal opportunities,” and “a fair portion of the riches of this land” for one and all. It sounds almost impossible, sounds almost like a quixotic ideal. How would we even know what a fair portion looks like, let alone equal protection or opportunities? How could we ever love our neighbors like God does? It’s an oddly challenging, almost disruptive, prayer. But I think that’s what the life of faith ultimately is: disruptive. Our understanding of what God’s Kingdom should be will never be perfect, but the simple fact that we have been offered it demands that we turn again and again and enter into the world—offering a closer and closer approximation of that same love to our Divine siblings so desperate for it.

Thanks and the Future - Hentzi Elek

Dear Saints of Emmanuel,

I write to thank the following people:

            Thank you to the Wardens: Martha Montgomery, Senior Warden; Lindsay Herbert, Junior Warden; Jesse Craig, Secretary; and Demetreus Gregg, Treasurer. The Wardens have been wise, dedicated, and appropriately attentive to the micro and macro issues of leadership at Emmanuel.

            Thank you to the Vestry: Rebecca Atwater, Matthew Crenson, Saidah Grimes, Doty Jackson, David Kettler, Tiffany Lundquist, Jonathan Mester, Vickie Miller, Ashley Newtown, and Gregory Weidman. These servant-leaders have met regularly together with the Wardens, prayerfully discerning what is best for Emmanuel and how to most faithfully lead the parish. It is a graceful dance to balance all the interests, passions, and constituencies that comprise Emmanuel.

            Thank you to the Reverend Joseph Wood, Associate Rector, for his liturgical creativity and insight; for his Biblical and theological preaching and teaching; for his tireless logistical dedication; and for his presence with the Urbanites and Children’s Ministry. Joe has taught me a great deal, and I know he will continue to serve you faithfully.

            Thank you to Walter Ridgeway, for your excellence in overseeing the financial and building management at Emmanuel.

            Thank you to Kim Harris, for your positive attitude; administrative and pastoral skills; and for the 40 years of service to Emmanuel that continues to bring perspective and untold blessings to the community.

            Thank you to Antoin Quarles and Sheila Miller, for the diverse Sexton duties of setting up, cleaning up, and other miscellaneous tasks that provide us both a functional building and a beautiful worship space.

            Thank you to Jordan Prescott, for being a tremendous blessing to Emmanuel. Your ability to translate the notes, the intentions of the composers, and the current pastoral/liturgical situation at Emmanuel into beautiful organ music is nothing less than inspiring.

            Thank you to John Repulski, for bringing a comprehensive vision, an experienced track record, and a pastoral sensitivity to his role as Director of Music & the Arts. Not only is John an excellent musician, but he is also wise and intuitive in drawing on the wide and diverse pieces of music available to church musicians. (You should know that few musicians have the capability or will to integrate the Classical Repertoire with Jazz, Rock and Roll, Gospel, African and African-American Spirituals, Contemporary praise music, Taize, and numerous other musical genres.) John’s music; his leadership of the choir and Jordan; and his commitment to ministry—all form a liturgical mosaic each Sunday that is an incredible gift for Emmanuel and visitors to the parish.

            Thank you to the Outreach Committee, the Anti-Racism Project, the Brown Bag Discussion, the Adult Forum, the Lenten Series, and all of the other groups who have welcomed me into your midst. Your thirst for knowledge, wisdom, and justice is unique, inspiring, and an enormous future potential for Emmanuel, for Baltimore, and for the world.

            Thank you to all of you, Emmanuel. I have prayed for you each every day, and I shall continue that discipline. Thank you for welcoming me into your midst. Thank you for your wisdom, compassion, support, and prayers. It has been a much shorter season of mutual ministry than any of us expected, and yet I fervently hope that our ministry together has been a blessing.  

            I know God is calling me back to my wife, Sara; to our old basset hound and lively puppy; and to my ancestral home in the Philadelphian suburbs full-time. Regardless of my departure, you will never, ever be alone. The Vestry, Staff, and the Rev. Wood will continue to faithfully serve and lead you, and the Bishop and the Diocese will continue to support you in this transition.

            Emmanuel, you are all God’s saints, made in God’s likeness and image, and hence you have enormous hope and potential for the future. Never forget that God is with you and that with God’s love and power in your midst, everything and anything good is possible.           

            Please take the opportunity to say goodbye to me if you feel so inclined. I will be at Emmanuel full-time through June 17th.  After June 17, 2018, I will no longer be your Priest/Pastor and Rector and, therefore, all pastoral and liturgical concerns will be in the hands of your Vestry and the Rev. Wood. While I would love to be able to stay in contact with you, it would be inappropriate to do so.

All Shall Be Well, Emmanuel. And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well. Be Still and Know that God is Good, Faithful and Loving to You.

With My Prayers,
The Rev. Hentzi Elek