May our grief and hope empower us to act

Bishop Stephen Lane shared the following sermon at the Service of Lament for Gun Violence at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland on March 14. The service, one of many across the Episcopal Church, marked one month since the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Channel 13-WGME-TV covered the service and interviewed Bishop Lane.

Bishop Lane’s sermon

Psalm 23; Isaiah 61:1-3; Matthew 2:16-18

[Bishop singing] – Trisagion, Archangelsky
Holy God, Holy and Mighty
Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us

Thank you for coming out this evening. A Service of Lament is not an easy thing to sit through, and I thank you for your courage and your hope in coming here.

We all know the little metaphor about the frog and the pot. Put a frog in a pot, so it’s said, and turn the heat up slowly, and the poor frog slowly cooks to death without ever trying to escape. The heat rises so slowly that the frog never notices until it’s too late.

I think something like this has happened to us and to our country in relation to gun violence. For the most part, gun violence is so dispersed, so private, that it goes unnoticed. A large number of gun deaths – half – are suicides. Another large number of deaths are the result of domestic violence. We read about them here and there without putting together the reality that the number of deaths across our country now exceeds 30,000 a year, more than 38,000 in both 2016 and 2017. It takes something like the mass shooting at Parkland High School to get our attention, to tell us that the pot is at full boil.

And it is at full boil. The Las Vegas music festival shooting resulted in 58 dead and 851 injured from a single gunman… Some folks are still hospitalized. Full boil.

Yet, awareness of the boiling pot is not enough. What’s needed is time to count the cost, to feel the loss. The response to any death, to every death, must be grief.

A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and much grieving.  Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were no more. Or as Andrew Pollack said in testimony to the President about his daughter, Meadow, one of 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, There should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it. And I’m pissed. Because my daughter, I’m not going to see again. She’s not here. She’s not here. She’s in North Lauderdale King David cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now.

A time of lament is deeply embedded in our Judeo-Christian tradition as the appropriate response to the infinite value of every human life, lives bearing the image of God, and deeply related to our own. We stop tonight to think of the lives that are here no more, that are gone from us forever.

Lament faces the reality of loss and death. Lament gives voice to grief. Lament gives human voice to the pain of God over the loss of God’s children. It is fundamental to our humanity that we take time to lament.

[Singing]
Holy God, Holy and Mighty
Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us

Lament is not, however, hopeless…

In a private letter to the House of Bishops, Episcopalians Philip and April Schentrup wrote about their daughter, Carmen, and called us to action. They write: Our hearts are saddened for the loss of our beautiful little girl and the absence of her amazing presence, but we cannot be sad for Carmen. We believe that Carmen’s murder was not part of God’s plan and that God is saddened by the violence in this world more than we can know. We know that God’s promise is for us to be with him in heaven, and in faith, we believe that Carmen is in heaven, in the loving embrace of God. She awaits us, loved and cared for.

And so we believe. God is doing more for Carmen than we can ask or imagine. God has received Carmen and holds her forever. God’s love gives us hope that all is not lost and that hope compels us to action.

As Carmen’s parents went on: As our family struggles to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives, we ask the Good Lord daily for the strength to fight the good fight, to finish the race. In our attempt to heal from despair and grief, we are compelled to try and make the world a better place for our two remaining children and for all children.

The time has come for those of who believe in God to say that gun violence is not of God. It is not acceptable to us as God’s people. Whoever the victims, however the death, sudden death is not what God wants. Whatever the remedies needed, and there are many, the time is passed for us to pretend we don’t know the water is boiling. The time is now to tell the truth and to act.

Isaiah proclaimed, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.

We are the Lord’s chosen. We are the people called and baptized to carry the Good News of the coming kingdom. We are the ones called to prepare the way… and the time is now.

May our grief and our hope empower us to act. May we crawl out of the pot and speak, not only to save ourselves, but all of God’s children. May we recognize that unfettered access to guns, access that exceeds anything we would consider for cars, is blighting our lives and killing our neighbors. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, may we be voices for hope and for peace and for the infinite value of every human life.

[Singing]
Holy God, Holy and Mighty
Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us

The love of God is never exhausted

Bishop Stephen T. Lane offered his annual address and Convention sermon to the people of the Diocese of Maine on Saturday, October 28, during the 198th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Maine at the Cross Center in Bangor.

Read his address, his sermon, or watch them below.

In his sermon Bishop Lane had this, in part, to say:

“[We are] to testify to the Good News of God in Christ.

“I love that word testify. It means to stand up and tell the truth. To testify means we have to be among the people. We cannot testify in our closets. We cannot testify in our homes. We have to be in our communities…We have to be voices for the love of God. Followers of the way of Jesus. That’s the work God is inviting us into. It may seem like a lost cause but, my friends, the love of God is never exhausted. It is here. Right here. Right now.”

the core of our life is following Jesus

Bishop Stephen Lane of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine offered these remarks at Spring Training 2017 on April 29, at St. Paul’s Church in Brunswick. More than 130 Maine Episcopalians gathered for a day of learning, sharing, and worshipping together. The 20 workshops offered focussed on spiritual growth, church leadership, community engagement, and other topics around the theme, “Leading as a Christian, Rooted in Jesus.”

“The pursuit of justice is a direct outgrowth of one’s relationship with Jesus. A decline in formation has led to a decline in advocacy for the poor and the stranger. Without a life-giving relationship with Jesus, most of us are simply not willing to take the risks that the pursuit of social justice demands.”

– Bishop Steve Lane

Finding our place in “a world come of age”

Bishop Steve Lane’s address at Spring Training 2016
St. Paul’s, Brunswick
April 9, 2016

[More than 135 Maine Episcopalians gathered on April 9 for day of learning and sharing in workshops on church leadership, spiritual growth, ministry and advocacy. At mid-day Bishop Lane called everyone together to worship and consider his remarks on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who called Jesus a man for people, and how we will meet up with God’s mission in the world.]

bishop4-9 (1)Today we mark the Feast of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer, the brilliant theologian, pastor and seminary professor, was a member of the so-called Confessing Church in Germany during WWII and also a participant in the plot to kill Adolph Hitler. He was executed at Flossenburg Prison just before it was liberated by the Allies.

Bonhoeffer’s writings are of great interest today, not only for his acute Biblical and theological insights, but also for the way in which his writings seem to anticipate and predict the world of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Bonhoeffer spoke of a world come of age, a world which had no need of religion – particularly in his view, the denominational religion that had failed completely to stand up to the Nazis. What the world needed now, he said, was “religionless Christianity,” that is, a devotion to Jesus Christ, whom Bonhoeffer called “the man for others.”

As a devout Christian, a Biblical scholar, a Lutheran pastor, Bonhoeffer did not advocate doing away with the Bible or the sacraments, but he saw no point in the church unless it pointed to Jesus and encouraged its members to follow Jesus.

We live now in an age when most people no longer participate in a religious community. The United States is among the most religious countries in the Western World, with more than 80% declaring belief in God. Despite that confession, however, fewer than 20% are in church or synagogue on any given weekend. More than ⅔’s of adults 30 and under have no contemporary religious experience, and people declaring no religious affiliation are now the largest single group of young adults. Although many Americans see themselves as connected to a religious tradition, increasing numbers simple describe themselves as “spiritual, not religious.” Maine is one of the four least-religious states in America, along with Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Moreover, many people no longer see the church as the place to go for spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment. That’s frustrating for all of us who love our churches, but the fact is that many folks experience the church as being more interested in its own needs and in people’s wallets than in them.

Some of this reaction is the unintended consequence of the Reformation, each denomination competing with others over worship and doctrine. (We Episcopalians sometimes pride ourselves on having the best stuff, the best worship. We don’t do guilt – that’s our poke at the RCs. We aren’t fundamentalists – that’s our poke at the Baptists. Every other denomination thinks about itself in similar fashion – as superior to the rest.) As a result, every church is a destination church, drawing people out of the community into more homogeneous groups on Sundays. Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week, the church being far less diverse than business, education or the military.

And some of this reaction is related to the vast cultural changes we are all experiencing: the declining income of the middle class, the cynicism of many about large institutions, including the church, the distrust of the intentions of leaders of all stripes, the patriarchal culture of the church, etc., etc. The church is in decline, and the bottom is nowhere yet in sight.

So… what to do? What kind of response can we make to all this which is not simply defensive, not simply a matter of self-preservation?

Well, this day, Spring Training, is a partial response, growing from my conviction that if we are to serve God’s mission, then we must find our personal stories in the Biblical story, must be deeply grounded in the traditions of our faith, and must learn the skills needed to follow Jesus into the world.

More of a response can be found in reshaping our common life not around our survival as institutions, but around our faithfulness to the man for others. In preparing for this day, invited each of the workshop leaders to consider three principles in shaping their workshops: Follow Jesus… into the neighborhood… travel light.

Our fundamental conviction as Christians is that God is present and active in the world God has made and that Jesus is the key to understanding God. We discover God by following Jesus. Jesus shows us who God is and where God is.

Jesus leads us into the world. God may be found in the church, to be sure, but not exclusively so. God is in all the places where people live, and it is to these places that Jesus leads us. We go into our communities not because potential members live there. We go to meet our neighbors because that’s where Jesus is.

And as we follow Jesus, we need to travel light, to leave as much baggage behind as we can. Our task is not to make Episcopalians, but share the good news that God is present. We’re not in search of clients or missionary targets, but friends – friends who, through us, might discover that they are also friends of Jesus.

This movement – following Jesus into the neighborhood traveling lightly – is what Bonhoeffer called religionless Christianity and what some of us are calling Going Local – moving beyond our doors into the places where Jesus is.

God is not finished with us yet. I  believe that God is intent on completing the work of reconciliation.  God is inviting us into the work of reconciliation. “Do you not know, says Paul, that you were baptized with Christ in his death…”

Dying and rising is what this is all about. Our work is Easter work. Death to ourselves and perhaps to our way of doing things, so that God’s reconciliation might take place among us. As long as it is necessary for people to be like us in order to be saved – in our minds or theirs – there is no reconciliation. Only in moving toward one another, in serving Christ together, across all our difference and diversity, will reconciliation take place.

Bonhoeffer was involved in the plot to kill Hitler, and he has been roundly criticized for that involvement. Bonhoeffer, for himself, never tried to justify his action. He knew he would face God for his part. Yet he believed that in the face of evil, Christians have to act. Christian faith is not simply a matter of piety or intellectual assent. It is rather a matter of action on behalf of others. The task of reconciliation is the lifestyle of Christians. We are called not to save the institution, but to be Christ’s body – to bring our gifts and skills to bear on the work of making friends for Jesus. Bonhoeffer put it this way: “This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us. We do not abandon it; we do not repudiate, despise or condemn it. Instead we call it back to God, we give it hope, we lay our hand on it and say: may God’s blessing come upon you, may God renew you; be blessed, world created by God, you who belong to your Creator and Redeemer.”

May the work we do this day help to center and steady us in the work of reconciliation. May we find inspiration and hope to follow Jesus… into the neighborhood… traveling light. Amen.

God is always creating a new heaven and a new earth

Bishop Stephen T. Lane’s sermon at the 196th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine
October 24, 2015
St. Luke’s Cathedral, Portland

“I don’t know about you, but I find all this incredibly challenging. How will I ever find away to offer myself in service to the one who made the world? … God is on the move. The world is changing and I can’t stop it. Moreover, it seems that God is behind the change. God is not satisfied with the world as it has been, with the structures and institutions that we have created. God is always creating a new heaven and a new earth.”
— Bishop Stephen T. Lane

Read the text version.

Read his Convention Address.

Bishop Steve Lane answers questions about Holy Conversations

Bishop Steve sat down with Canon Heidi Shott this week to answer questions about the Holy Conversations process that each congregation in Maine has been asked to engage in.

He answered questions like, “Why are we doing this, anyway?”

[youtube=http://youtu.be/nWNhsB5r5wo]

Do you have a question you’d like to have the Bishop answer on video? Please post it in the comments or email him at slane@episcopalmaine.org.

If you would like to have a copy of the video to share with your congregation off-line, please contact Heidi at hshott@episcopalmaine.org or 772.1953 x126.

Join Bishop Steve for an Epiphany Book Group

Bishop Steve will be reading Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, in January.  He invites members of the diocese to read along with him, follow (and weigh-in your impressions on) his blog posts, and then sign up for one of two one-hour webinar discussions on the book.  The first will be Wednesday, February 8, at 7:30 p.m. and the second will be on Wednesday, February 15, at 7:30 p.m.  

Because participation will be limited to 23 people for each evening, registration is required.

Phyllis Tickle will be one of the keynote speakers at the Downeast Spiritual Life Conference in Ellsworth on August 24 – 26, 2012.  The conference which will also feature, Fr. Richard Rohr and Andrew Harvey. For more on the conference visit www.stfrancisbluehill.org

The Great Emergence is available for purchase for $12.23 on Amazon.com here.

The new St. Martin’s welcomes its first diocesan events

This past Saturday I took part in a Maine institution – the Ministry Fair. It was held in Palmyra’s brand new church and parish hall. St. Martin’s, as you may recall, was struck by a tragic fire three years ago. The Ministry Fair – and the Social Justice Summit on Friday night – were the first diocesan events held in the new buildings. The space is wonderful – bright, open, inspiring. I suspect the meetings were the first of many.

The Social Justice Summit was a gathering of several of the social justice groups in our diocese. Canon Heidi Shott called them together to share about their ministries and to ask what more needs to be done. Representatives of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Haiti-Maine Connection, Prison Ministry, the Hispanic Ministry and several others joined for conversation and mutual support.

Bishop Steve leads the singing between speakers at the Ministry Fair.
Bishop Steve leads the singing between speakers at the Ministry Fair.

The Ministry Fair is an annual occasion to discuss our vocations as Christians. Some 60 persons gathered for morning devotions and then a series of stories about ministry. This year we were privileged to hear moving stories by Deacon Aaron Perkins, prison chaplain; Dr. Cynthia deSoi, doctor who serves in Haiti; Joshua Buck, student at UMO; and Rector Nina Pooley of St. Bart’s, Yarmouth. Between the stories we joined in the singing of hymns as a way of helping us reflect on what we’d heard. (The singing gave me an opportunity to work on my chops as a song leader.)

After the story-telling we joined for workshops. There was one on the diocesan discernment process, one sponsored by the Commission on Baptismal Ministry, one on the ordination process, and one on deepening our spiritual lives.

The Rev. Nina Pooley, rector of St. Bartholomew's, Yarmouth, shares her faith story.
The Rev. Nina Pooley, rector of St. Bartholomew's, Yarmouth, shares her faith story.

We broke for lunch provided by the hospitable people of St. Martin’s and enjoyed the new parish hall. Several members of the parish shared their experiences of the fire and the process of rebuilding. We heard touching stories of death and rebirth. Following lunch, the workshops were repeated, and we ended the day with prayer.

My deep thanks for all who participated, the rector, deacons and members of St. Martin’s, the members of the Commission on Baptismal Ministry, members of Commission on Holy Orders, the Rev. Jim Gill, and to Canon Vicki Weiderkehr, who planned and organized the Fair. It was a good day in the Diocese of Maine.

For more photos from Ministry Fair visit our picasa web album at http://picasaweb.google.com/episcopalmaine/2009MinistryFair#