A communion of saints: A Sermon for All Saints’ Sunday, 2018

Today is All Saints’ Sunday. In the life of Grace Church, it’s a day full of opportunities to reflect on who we are as a community and who we are becoming, and called to become. We are baptizing a baby today. We commemorate those who have died from our congregation and our loved ones, in the last year and distant past. We welcome new members into our community, and finally, we gather up our pledges of financial commitment to the ministry and mission of Grace for the coming year. Continue reading


Anti-Semitism, Anti-Judaism and the past and future of Christianity

Last week saw two attacks on communities of faith. The first, at an African-American church, was thwarted by security measures the congregation had put in place after Charleston. Undeterred, the gunman went to a nearby town and gunned down two African-Americans in a parking lot. The second was at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 worshippers, aged 54 to 97 were brutally murdered by a white man. Both assassins were white men filled with hatred,, white supremacy, racism, and Anti-Semitism.

It may be that as a culture, we are so hardened by the recurrence of acts of racist terrorism that we hardly noticed the Kentucky incident. Or perhaps it was because only two people were killed. In either case, the lives lost there and the escalating violence against African-Americans, enabled by a culture of white privilege that refuses to acknowledge our complicity in systemic racism, has not so much reopened old wounds as it has exposed how deeply racism pervades the American psyche and American culture.

The killings at Tree of Life Synagogue have struck a nerve in myself and throughout America. World War II and the Final Solution showed us the scale of the horror that human beings could inflict on each other and revealed the end goal of Anti-Semitism. At the same time, American Jews assimilated into the mainstream. Overt acts of Anti-Semitism became rare and bias against Jews became unfashionable. As many Jews have become less observant and inter-marriage between Jews and non-Jews common, Jews seemed to be different from other Americans only in their personal or family histories, or that they observed Chanukah as well as Christmas.

The massacre at Tree of Life, like the massacre at Mother Emanuel Baptist Church places a mirror in front of us, revealing us to be who we are, revealing that Anti-Semitism is not a historical relic but a present reality. It demands that we confront it in all of its evil, to expose all the ways our culture and our religion continue to be shaped by it.

Though Christianity began as a movement within Judaism and a movement that sought to maintain a Jewish identity at its center, its theological and institutional development was shaped by anti-Judaism. Paul’s vision that “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male and female” quickly gave way to a very different perspective, such as that in the Gospel of John, where “Jews” are depicted as Jesus’ implacable opponents and responsible for his death. Not surprisingly, the Pittsburgh shooter alluded to a verse from John on his social media profile: “Jews [You, the text reads] are the children of Satan” (John 8:44).

Theologically, Jews were consistently viewed as obstinate, or stiff-necked for their resistance to the truth of the Gospel. Efforts were even made early on to expunge Scripture of its Jewish content or to claim that the Old and New Testaments bore witness to two different Gods—a perspective that persists in popular ideas of the “the angry God of the Old Testament” and the “loving God of the New Testament.”


I won’t rehearse here the history of Christian Anti-Judaism or how over time that Anti-Judaism, which was based in theological categories became something much broader and ultimately developed into Anti-Semitism. But there are important elements that are worth noting. For example, the first victims of the Medieval crusades were not Muslims or Turks, but Jews living in German towns and cities of the Rhineland. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, after Jews were expelled from Spain, the Spanish Inquisition continued to pursue third and fourth generation descendants of Jewish converts to Christianity.

If racism is America’s original sin, then Anti-Semitism is Christianity’s original sin, a symbol of our failure to embrace the full humanity and diversity of our brothers and sisters and to conceive of a God who might extend grace and love to all people without abandoning the covenant established with God’s chosen people. And like our reluctance to confront the racism central to American identity, our refusal to confront the Anti-Semitism that has helped to shape and define Christianity, has allowed it to linger just below the surface, or to manifest itself in a myriad of subtle ways. Still, it remains persistent and powerful enough to enter our political discourse in language of “globalism” or profiteering, in attacks on Jewish philanthropists or humanitarian organizations, or in images in campaign mailers that draw on medieval depictions of Jewish moneylenders.

As Christians, we must do more than mourn the dead, lament the persistence of Anti-Semitism, and shake our fingers at hate mongers. We must confront all the ways Christianity has contributed to the hate and evil in our culture and our history and we must do the hard work of developing resources that provide a basis for constructing a new way of being religious and Christian in our complicated and violent world. And even as we excavate the evil in our past and in our theology, we must acknowledge all the ways that our scriptures, our theologies, and our liturgies offer life-giving alternatives, hope, and joy, in the midst of so much evil.

Make a joyful noise! A homily for Choral Evensong and the Rededication of the Bells

I wanted to say a few words as part of our evensong and service of rededication of Grace’s bells because it’s important to mark such occasions; to offer some words to put what we’ve done in larger perspective.

It’s easy for us to forget what we have here on this corner of N. Carroll and W. Washington. Sure, Grace is on the national register of historic places. It’s a landmark both literally and by designation, among the oldest churches in Dane County; among the oldest surviving buildings in Downtown Madison. But that’s only part of the story for behind that landmark, behind the stone and mortar are all of the people over the past more than century and half, who have worshiped here—who have been baptized, married, been buried from here. It’s easy to forget the legacy we have inherited from them—the presidents like Grover Cleveland and Harry Truman who worshiped here; senators, governors, and yes, regular people many of them.

It’s easy to forget all that they’ve given us; to ignore it or simply let them and their gifts pass into oblivion. That’s kind of what we did with the bells. Oh, we knew they were up there. We could even play some of them; but no one really remembered their stories. When I went digging in the files to try to figure out exactly what pitches, what sizes they were, there were at least 3 that were unrecorded (and the records we had, after the first nine were very incomplete, written by hand on note pads or lined paper). I myself had never even been up in the tower before this week.

But now, thanks to the persistence of a number of people, among them Conrad Bauman, Greg Rogers, and most recently Peter Schultz-Burkel, as well as Senior Warden John Wood, and all of those who donated to the effort, whose names are listed on the insert, thanks to all of you, we can enjoy Grace’s bells in all their glory.

No doubt part of the reluctance to assess let alone reinstate the bells was due to a lack of knowledge of how much it might cost, and a sense that it might be irresponsible, somehow even unfaithful to God to spend a significant amount of money on a rather frivolous project like this. But what we are doing by preserving and enhancing the bells is being good stewards of the legacy we’ve received. In many respects, we chose to worship here; to be members of and leaders of this congregation in this place, and part of what that means is to take care of, maintain, preserve, and enhance our facilities. It was an offense to that legacy and to those generations of donors, that too many of the bells sat silent for so long. We are honoring the memories of all of those people, from the Proudfits and the anonymous donors of the first 9 bells, right down to Bob and Betty Kurtenacker, who gave one of the last bells, and who many of us remember.

But it’s not just about that legacy. Ultimately the bells are about the worship and presence of God in our congregation and in our community. As I wrote in some of the materials describing the history of Grace’s bells, bells provide people with a sense of God’s presence in the world and in their lives. This was pointed out to me one day this week when I was stopped by someone on the sidewalk in front of the church he told me how the bells ringing reminded him of growing up in Goa India and hearing the bells call the faithful to prayer and rang out at the moment of consecration during the Eucharist.

Bells help us celebrate the great festivals of the church year, and sacraments like weddings; they toll at funerals, as ours did on Friday for Bob Kurtenacker, the funeral boll tolled 100 times to mark the years of his life, and at 6 seconds between each ringing, it took a total of ten minutes.

We worship in many ways, in the privacy of our homes, in silence and meditation, and in joyful song. Our bells fill the air with music and fill the nooks and crannies of the streets and alleys around capitol square. May their sound bring the city joy and remind us all of God’s beauty and presence in our world!










Jesus, Son of David, Have mercy on us: A Sermon for Proper 25B, 2018

 This is a week that has been filled with meetings—with downtown leaders, with the Outreach Committee, the Creating More Just Community group, the taskforce working on issues around the redevelopment of our block, with ecumenical colleagues across the state, with grieving family members, families preparing for baptisms, and couples about to be married. I was so busy that I barely had a chance to take in the excitement of Grace’s participation in the downtown trick-or-treating on Wednesday, when thousands were welcomed to Grace and heard the spooky playing of our own Mark Brampton Smith. I did get to see the photos and videos that Pat posted to our facebook page and show all of the fun and excitement that was taking place.

Accompanying all of that, all week, has been the sound of the bells, as the technicians completed their work in time for this afternoon’s evensong and bells rededication. Many of us are looking ahead to events here at Grace, making plans for the coming months, talking about new opportunities for ministry and mission, or opportunities for deepening relationships among members in the congregation. The excitement is palpable all over Grace and in the soundwaves above and beyond Grace.

This week has also been a week of hatred and violence, with bombs sent in the mail, the killings of African-Americans in Kentucky, and then yesterday the shocking murders of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Whatever excitement and joy we may feel here at Grace as we gather this morning to celebrate a baptism and as we celebrate our newly refurbished bells is tempered by the grief, sadness, and anger we feel at the deep divisions in our nation, at the violence and hatred that surrounds us and threatens so many. Continue reading

Prayers in times of violence, hatred, and grief

A 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 for Social Justice

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)

A Prayer for First Responders

Blessed are you, Lord, God of mercy, who through your Son gave us a marvelous example of charity and the great commandment of love for one another. Send down your blessings on these your servants, who so generously devote themselves to helping others. Grant them courage when they are afraid, wisdom when they must make quick decisions, strength when they are weary, and compassion in all their work. When the alarm sounds and they are called to aid both friend and stranger, let them faithfully serve you in their neighbor. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.– adapted from the Book of Blessings, #587, by Diana Macalintal

For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of Massachusetts, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

For Peace

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. 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 Brazen-Throated Monsters:” Madison’s newspapers’ reporting on Grace’s bells in 1874

Workers from Lee Manufacturing Co. of Muskego, WI are putting the final touches on new strikers and state-of-the-art bell-ringing technology on the 23 bells that reside in Grace’s bell tower. The first nine were installed in 1874. Additions from the 1950s through the 1970s brought us to our current status. Along the way, all of the bells were made stationary and equipped with an electronic ringing system that has deteriorated over the decades so that in recent years, we’ve only been able to play a half-dozen or so of them. It seemed to me to be poor stewardship of the resources past generations gave Grace not to be able to use them in worship and celebration and after consultation with a number of vendors and a successful campaign to garner the congregation’s support, work began a few weeks ago. I’ve enjoyed learning more about the bells in the past few months.

Apparently, there had been something of a competition among Madison’s churches to have the largest bell. Apparently, with the installation of the “Bishop’s Bell,” weighing 2500 Lbs., Grace emerged victorious.

Madison’s newspapers, “The Daily Democrat” and the “Wisconsin State Journal” both reported on the installation of the bells. They arrived from Troy, NY on March 20, 1874. The total weight of the bells and platform was 14000 lbs. The Daily Democrat reported on March 31:

The nine chime bells were safely deposited in the tower of the Episcopal Church yesterday, and will be raised to their places as fast as possible. A large number visited the church to see them, and all will anxiously await the first peal from the “brazen throated” monsters.

After their installation and use throughout the day on Easter Sunday, 1874, the State Journal noted that:

the chimes were generally regarded as a success, and something on the possession of which the church and the city is to be congratulated, though they will sound better when experience will lead to more skilful ringing. Some tunes sounded beautifully, others, rather discordant. We have heard the opinion expressed that one or two of the smaller bells had not as good a tone as was desirable. This morning there was considerable experimenting on the bells by different parties, and a great deal of jangling. –State Journal April 6, 1874

A few days later, The Daily Democrat disclosed that action was being taken to address the intonation issues:

Slightly out of tune. – The third bell, key of G, in Grace Church tower, has been discovered to be slightly out of tune, and the services of a man were engaged through yesterday in chipping off a portion of the rim, by which means it is proposed to obtain the correct sound.–The Daily Democrat, April 10, 1874

However, as is often the case with contractors, Grace, and the whole city were assured that nothing was amiss:

Those bells are in perfect tune, so says a good judge of music; and Mr. Waters, the gentleman who came with them and superintended their erection, has received assurances that all is well; the money is paid down, and all the members of Grace Church are satisfied that the chime is superior to any in the State. –The Daily Democrat, April 16, 1874

The Bishop’s Bell, E-flat or Tenor Bell, 2500 lbs.from The Jones Company of Troy, NY), dedicated to the memory of Bishop Jackson Kemper, first Bishop of Wisconsin, and Bishop William Armitage.

The Third Time wasn’t the Charm: A Sermon for Proper 24B, 2018

We’re drawing near to the end of our reading of the Gospel of Mark this year. The past weeks, we have been accompanying Jesus and his disciples as they walk toward Jerusalem. They are now in Judea, the province where Jerusalem is located. As they near Jerusalem, the dangers and possibilities that await them come to dominate the narrative. It’s as if they can see the temple mount on the horizon as they walk.

We don’t know what the disciples were expecting. From Mark’s depiction of them, it seems likely that they thought they had signed up for a divine mission; that when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem and confronted Rome, God would intervene in history and restore the Kingdom of David and the Kingdom of God. Continue reading