A manipulative son? An over-indulgent father? A Sermon for 4 Lent, 2019

How many of you remember watching as your parents let a sibling get away with things they would never have permitted you, or seemed to treat them better, more lovingly than they treated you? How many of you parents have had the experience of loving one child just a little bit more than your other children? Or at work, watching as a co-worker received special, and undeserved treatment while you had to stay late, or failed to get the credit, or the promotion, you deserved? Continue reading

Sly foxes, mothering hens: A sermon for the second Sunday in Lent, 2018

Another horrific massacre. Another white supremacist taking aim at worshippers. We’ve seen it at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, now the majhids in Christchurch, New Zealand as faithful muslims gathered for Friday prayers. The white supremacy and islamophobia that is so prevalent in our society is a worldwide phenomenon, flamed by social media and by politicians seeking to amass power and wealth by stoking fear, hatred, and anger. And too often, far too often, the hatred and white supremacy are coupled with a Christianity that is shaped more by nationalism and hatred than by the teachings of Jesus. Continue reading

Prayers for the victims of white supremacy, islamophobia, and gun violence

Once again, we are confronted with the worst of humanity: white supremacists killing people while they gathered for worship. This time in Christchurch, New Zealand. May we pray for the victims, for peace and reconciliation, and to turn hearts of hatred to see the humanity in all people. May we all renew our efforts to overcome hatred, to build a world and nations where all residents can flourish and differences in religion, race or ethnic background, sexual orientation are seen as strengths to be celebrated, not differences to be destroyed.

Some Prayers:

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, 260)

A Prayer for the Whole Human Family.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 815)

A Prayer for Social Justice.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 823)

Prayer for Victims of Terrorism

Loving God, Welcome into your arms the victims of violence and terrorism. Comfort their families and all who grieve for them. Help us in our fear and uncertainty, And bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love. Strengthen all those who work for peace, And may the peace the world cannot give reign in our hearts. Amen.

A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

The Future of the Men’s Drop-In Shelter at Grace, updated

Yesterday I wrote:

In an important article examining the mayoral candidates’ position on housing issues, there   was a line that threw me for a loop:

Porchlight’s men’s shelter at Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square will need to be moved due to redevelopment on the block…

After expressing my dismay to the author of the article, he added this sentence:

The current shelter is inadequate, and should be replaced, but won’t be displaced unless a replacement facility is created, said Rev. D. Jonathan Grieser, rector at Grace Episcopal.

I’m grateful for the conversation and for the clarification. A new shelter is needed, not to ease the way for another downtown development but because the current shelter is not adequate to serve the needs of our community.

The Future of the Men’s Drop-In Shelter at Grace Church

In an important article examining the mayoral candidates’ position on housing issues, there   was a line that threw me for a loop:

Porchlight’s men’s shelter at Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square will need to be moved due to redevelopment on the block…

This is not now true and will never be true. The Men’s Drop-In Shelter will move from Grace only when our community comes together to create a new purpose-built shelter designed according to best practices, and adequate to the needs of the guest who seek shelter there.

The Drop-In Shelter came to Grace on a one-year trial basis in 1984-1985. That it remains here 35 years later reflects Grace’s commitment to the most vulnerable members of our society, and that our community has lacked the political will to develop an alternative, more adequate, and permanent solution.

In fact, Grace’s leadership has begun a conversation on creating a new men’s shelter. We have met with homeless providers, city and county elected officials, and other community leaders. The counsel we have consistently received is that unless we set a deadline, we will never build enough momentum and urgency to create change. And that has been our dilemma. Our commitment to the men who sleep at Grace each night (and at the overflow shelters at St. John’s Lutheran and First United Methodist) is such that we could never issue an ultimatum. So we have slowly begun building support for our ultimate goal of a shelter that our city and county can be proud of.

Just last Sunday, we offered an update to our congregation on where we are with these efforts. In the coming weeks, we hope to contract with a consultant who will help us gauge community and governmental interest in such a project and solicit leadership from a broad representation of the community in our effort. If the climate seems favorable, we will move forward with the next steps: finding a location and beginning to seek funding. It’s a long-term project. Given my experience with Day Resource Center (the Beacon), I anticipate it taking anywhere from five to ten years.

A possible shelter move, while complicated by the development proposal for the new Wisconsin History Museum, is independent of any redevelopment plans. While Grace Church has been informed as the development proposal has moved forward, we are not currently involved in the project.

Ultimately, there are questions about the future use of our property, especially the west wing which houses the men’s shelter and our food pantry. Both of those entities provide essential services and are central to Grace’s response to the proclamation of Jesus Christ to feed the hungry and provide shelter for the homeless. Similarly, any development that  Grace undertakes on our property will have to support our mission and ministry and be consistent with the gospel mandate to preach good news to the poor and to proclaim justice in the heart of the city.

My hope is that our community comes together in support of our effort. I also hope that this issue will become a central element of the mayoral campaign. Whatever vision for Madison that the candidates have, a great city is great only to the extent that all of its residents are able to flourish.

Temptation and Identity: A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, 2019

I know that many of you are relatively new to the Episcopal Church. I know that many, most of you didn’t attend Ash Wednesday services this past week, so you may be uncertain of what the Season of Lent is—what it means and why we observe it. Perhaps the best explanation of Lent can be found in the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday and specifically, the Invitation to a Holy Lent. It’s found on p. 264 of the BCP, and I’m going to read it right now:

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading andmeditating on God’s holy Word.

 

Our worship takes a much more somber and penitential tone in Lent. We traditionally begin our services on the First Sunday in Lent with the Great Litany. For the next five Sundays, we will begin with the Penitential Order in Rite I. While there is a solid reason for the Confession of Sin’s usual place in our liturgy, after the reading of Scripture and the Proclamation of Gospel. There, the confession is part of our response to what we’ve heard from scripture and preparation for the Liturgy of the Table, the Eucharist.

But placing the penitential order, including the confession, at the beginning of the service emphasizes the transition from daily life in the world to our worship of God. It acknowledges our identity, our sins and underscores the distance between us and God, a distance overcome in Jesus Christ.

There are other differences in our worship during Lent. I encourage to note them and reflect on how they might help us in this season of penitence and spiritual discipline. And I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities at Grace and the resources we’ve made available to deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ in these weeks.

Our gospel reading on this first Sunday in Lent, as many of us begin to think about this season of repentance and forgiveness, is Luke’s version of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. The connection with Lent is obvious—the 40 days of Lent are modeled on the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. He fasted as well. But the temptations seem just a bit out of place. It may prompt us to see in our temptation to break our fast, to eat the chocolate we said we would give up for Lent, a parallel to the confrontation between Jesus and Satan.

I doubt it. One of the interesting changes Luke makes to Mark’s story of the wilderness temptations is that Mark says, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, while Luke says that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. That’s in keeping with Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit. It also links this story to Jesus’ baptism, when the Spirit came down on Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is one of those overarching themes of Luke’s gospel and of Acts. And here we see Luke’s mention of it twice. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, as he had been filled at his baptism, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Unlike Mark’s construction of this scene, Luke wants to emphasize that this cosmic battle waged between Jesus and Satan, is at bottom a battle between unequal combatants—Jesus is not alone. He is the Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit.

But still, Luke doesn’t tip his hand. In fact, he suggests to the reader that Jesus is the weak one—emphasizing by repetition that Jesus fasted for 40 days, that he was famished. In that physical condition, and who knows what his mental or spiritual condition might have been, Jesus is confronted by Satan: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Hungry as he was, having not eaten anything for forty days, Satan may have been putting into words what Jesus was already thinking. For anyone who fasts, the temptation to break that fast is always present to a greater or lesser degree. It takes enormous willpower to resist and for Jesus, the Son of God, to resist the miraculous power to intervene and make a meal for himself from nothing, or from a stone—well for us mere mortals, it’s quite something to imagine.

But the temptation that Satan presented Jesus was deeper: “If you are the Son of God”—Just  a bit earlier, at his baptism, Luke tells us that Jesus heard the voice saying to him, “You are my Son, my beloved.” There are implicit questions in that statement, questions explored by nearly two millennia of Christian reflection on the nature of Christ.

Did Jesus already know his identity as the Son of God before hearing that voice? Was it confirmation of something he already knew? Did he become the Son of God at the baptism? Now, I am not going to explore those questions or why they may be important, but given the text, they are legitimate questions to ask.

From the perspective of Luke’s narrative, Jesus hears this voice, this statement of his identity, then led by the Holy Spirit goes into the wilderness where he fasts for 40 days. The very next thing he hears is Satan tempting him, “If you are the Son of God…”

Each of three temptations is about Jesus’ identity. Is he the Son of God? What sort of Son of God is he, or will he be? In the biblical tradition, the Psalms for example, the king is often referred to as a son of God, God’s representative on earth, with power on earth. In the second temptation, Satan says, “all authority has been given over to me.” In a sense, Satan’s questions of Jesus are questions about what sort of Son of God he might be, what kind of Messiah he will be. Jesus passes the test, and Satan departs from him until an opportune time.

Miraculous bread, all the nations of the world, the pinnacle of the temple—these were the tests put to Jesus by Satan. We might well wonder whether they are also tests put to us as individuals and as the body of Jesus Christ in the 21stcentury.

But at the same time, the deeper question of identity is one that also confronts us. Like Jesus we have been baptized, and in our baptism we gain our identity as children of God, marked as Christ’s own forever. What temptations draw us away from that identity? What temptations distract us from our knowledge and identity as God’s beloved children? May this season of Lent be a time, where we too, filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, may claim our identity as God’s beloved children and experience the love and grace of God revealed to us in Christ and expressed most fully on the cross.

Faithful Development: Stewardship of property for mission during a real estate boom.

News broke this week that Governor Evers’ proposed capital budget includes funds for a new state historical museum. There is a proposal on the table to redevelop much of the block on which Grace Church is located with a new museum as the anchor tenant. We’ve been in occasional conversation with the developers for almost five years, most recently before the election last fall. At that time, we were told that the project’s future would be determined after the election and its fate might depend on the election’s outcome. That Governor Evers has included it in his capital budget is one more step in a long process. Currently, construction is anticipated to begin in the Fall of 2021 with completion in 2023.

It’s not at all clear whether or how Grace Church might participate in this major development. Early on, it was thought that part of our property might be needed in order to assure adequate parking for the project but as plans have changed, that seems less likely. At the same time, our west wing which currently houses our homeless shelter and food pantry, is underutilized and may be ripe for development.

When I first learned of the proposed redevelopment of our block, I was excited because I saw the possibility of our participation in such development to be a way of securing long-term financial viability for Grace Church and its ministries in the midst of our rapidly changing culture and the decline of mainline Christianity in the US.

During my tenure at Grace, I have become increasingly interested in issues of urban planning, development, sustainability, and how Christian theology and Christian churches intersect with those issues. I spent my sabbatical in 2016 reading widely from Jane Jacobs to Richard Sennett to those few theologians who are thinking about such questions. I also visited cities from Richmond to Boston, as well as Seattle and Portland, to explore how congregations in urban settings were thinking about their property and using it to connect with their neighborhoods.

Recently, I have begun to see that questions of real estate development are not just about financial sustainability, more importantly they are questions that have at their heart theological and ethical dimensions. One reason for this is that this redevelopment is occurring in a city that is among the most segregated in the nation, in which racial inequities are among the highest in the nation. At the same time, our real estate boom is not creating affordable housing.

When I met with the mayor last April about the desperate need for a new men’s shelter, purpose-built and adequate to the needs of our community, he immediately turned the conversation to possible uses for a new development on our property. In a conversation with another elected official, I was asked what I thought the city of Madison’s core value was. My reply came immediately, “real estate development.”

I came across a book that will be published next week: Samuel Stein’s Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State.

the growing centrality of urban real estate to capital’s global growth strategy. Through this process, the price of land becomes a central economic determinate and a dominant political issue. The clunky term “gentrification” becomes a household word and displacement an everyday fact of life. Housing becomes a globally traded financial asset, creating the conditions for synchronized bubbles and crashes. Government, particularly at the municipal level, becomes increasingly obsessed with raising property values and redistributing wealth upward through land and rents. Real estate developer Donald Trump becomes first a celebrity and ultimately a president. Taken together, we witness the rise of the real estate state, a political formation in which real estate capital has inordinate influence over the shape of our cities, the parameters of our politics and the lives we lead.

You can read an excerpt of the book here:

From what little I’ve read, Stein seems to be describing the situation in Madison well.

As property owners, churches participate in this “real estate state.” Diana Butler Bass points out that in many cities, the cumulative property owned by churches and religious organizations is significant, making them among the largest nonprofit landowners. As Christianity declines and demographic shifts take place, churches in urban cores are often seen more as financial assets than as ministry opportunities. Across the country we have seen numerous sales, property developments and the like, often with significant financial windfalls for congregations and denominations. We saw this happen here in Madison with the redevelopment of the St. Francis House Episcopal Campus Ministry. A private student housing development on a portion of the land funds not only UW Madison’s campus ministry, but also supports diocesan campus ministry elsewhere. And yes, I was actively involved in that project.

When Willie James Jennings spoke in Madison recently, he emphasized the importance of place for Christian theology, especially given the ways that our theology has not seen itself as grounded in local and spacial contexts. At one point he said, “planning and zoning meetings are the most important meetings for determining the futures of our communities. Churches and Christians should be present and engaged at these meetings.”

Our churches, especially older churches constructed in traditional religious architectural styles, are increasingly witnesses to an alternative to the glass-clad buildings of contemporary cities. While they are symbols of the sacred and gathering places for the faithful, their very presence in the heart of cities bear witness to an alternative to the neo-liberal, capitalist, and consumerist culture in which we live. When we sell our property, or redevelop it in order to maximize profit, we succumb to the idolatry of the market and abandon our allegiance to the Christ who died as a victim of the imperial system of domination.

Our churches are not only pieces of property, they are outposts of the reign of God. They should model the community and world Jesus proclaimed and that God is bringing forth. In our stewardship of our property, our primary concerns should be to create community, to support and nurture the flourishing of the residents of our neighborhoods. My hope is that as redevelopment plans for our block move forward, Grace Church can be an advocate for a project that values justice, diversity, and a vibrant neighborhood where all residents can flourish, as well as profit.