Friends, I hope this newsletter finds you in good health and spirits.
Whenever I travel on a mission or pilgrimage, whether it be domestically or internationally, I always place my rosary beads in my pocket. They are made of smooth and heavy stone. I can’t recall all the words of the prayers. I use them to pray with my hands, with my mind and with my heart. As I repeat the mantra “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee …”, I am meditating on the words of Gospel of Matthew, the 25th chapter starting at the 31st verse. (see page 2). Jesus articulates clearly for us how to be obedient to the Great Commandment despite our many differences. In doing so, God is present to us and will guide us through with strength and compassion.
This rosary was a gift to me when I took respite for three years at an amazing Roman Catholic Church in Sharon, Massachusetts. The late Fr. Bullock had blessed the beads and taught me it was possible to embody the teachings of Jesus Christ to all of God’s people. You see, at the time the town of Sharon had seven synagogues, one mosque, one Unitarian Church, an Episcopal Chapel and one Roman Catholic Church. This Catholic church building was small compared to most in the Archdiocese of Massachusetts, and somehow it was one of the top ten supporters of the Archdiocese. What makes that even more remarkable is that one-third of the families in the parish had one parent who was an active Jew and the other an active Christian. The Hebrew Scriptures in mass were often read by Jewish family members attending.
I found refuge in this church, not because I felt comfortable with all the teachings of Catholicism, but because I never had to abandon my Episcopal identity. I found refuge in this parish because I quickly learned, “All were welcome, no exceptions.” I learned this not by the words of the members of the church, their political leanings, nor by the social club activities. I learned that this faith community was extraordinary in its commitment to stand united in the face of bigotry, racism, sexism, terror, hatred, bullying and most every form of evil and unite in times of difference.
About a month after I moved to Sharon, I read in the daily paper that there was a candlelight vigil at a local cemetery. The evening before, a swastika has been painted on a gravestone. Months later, another vigil took place outside one of the synagogues after bullet holes had broken windows above their sacred scrolls of scripture. Another vigil was held at the high school after a student had been beaten. It was Fr. Bullock would go out and pray in silence. Within hours, hundreds of people, from all walks of life, would join him. These gatherings were remarkable. People of all faiths, political views, all generations, and various ethnicities gathered.
The deeper truth I learned is that to act in solidarity with others made it more difficult for bigotry, hatred, fear, racism to breathe and grow. The citizens of this small town learned not to be silent, for to do so would mean that everything they valued would be lost. Taken away not necessarily all at once, but slowly eating away at what makes us different as citizens of God, our country, our towns and our faith communities. Matthew 25 comes when the disciples and followers of Jesus tried to understand how they could possibly fulfill the great commandment. In much the same way, we too struggle today, for clarity on how to love God in unity, when our political, legal loyalties, family systems, and life experiences draws to see what makes us all different - differences that challenge our ability to be united in a collective response to the only God we serve and worship. How many of us grew up reciting the pledge of allegiance to our nation’s flag? Everything comes second to our commitment to God. Matthew 25 teaches us what do - how to stand with God, and to do it together. Faith becomes an action verb. Love God by feeding the hungry, offer water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison.
Matthew 25 does not tell us which political party is right, which religion is best, which ethnic group is most holy, which gender should be in charge, which language to speak, what tax rate we should pay. Matthew 25 directs us all to embody the solidarity as citizens of God by simply standing up, standing together, feeling the pain of the victims and the pain of God in the wake of human failings. Together, we will make this world a better place. I know it’s messy. But it’s God’s work.
St. Bart’s continues to build upon our history of standing together in times of difference and tension: Jews and Palestinians, Muslims and Orthodox Christians, Sudanese and Syrians, blacks and whites, Irish and Native American, Mexicans and Koreans, republicans and democrats, liberals and conservatives, rich and poor, straight and gay, active duty and homeless marines, atheists and living saints, young and old. The list goes on and on. St Bart’s will continue to embody the truth that the Episcopal Church embraces such solidarity. Let us continue to stand together and strengthen our ability to stand with all of God’s people in the face of all forms of bigotry, racism, sexism, terror, hatred, bullying and most every form of evil.
At the end of each mission trip, as I pray, I wonder if I lived fully into my baptismal covenant. If I fulfilled my ordination vows and whether I served Christ in all people – as described in Matthew 25. I know I can do better and every morning I ask God’s help to have the courage to do more.
Will you stand and pray with those who see or experience hate, racism etc.? Maybe you will not be alone.
~The Rev. Mark McKone-Sweet