About djgrieser

I have been Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, WI since 2009. I'm passionate about Jesus Christ and about connecting our faith and tradition with 21st century culture. I'm also very active in advocating for our homeless neighbors.

How #Ferguson changed me

Jamelle Bouie has a piece on Slate in which he reflects on the year since Michael Brown’s death and how it has changed America.

As I read it, I began thinking about how I had been changed by Ferguson. I think it was this photo (shot by Whitney Curtis of the New York Times) that did it:

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That photo captures a key dynamic in contemporary America: a militarized police force that apparently regards African-Americans as the enemy to be subjugated by means of any force necessary. It’s a photo of White Supremacy and racism exposed for what it is. It’s a photo of our America, an image I can’t get out of my mind because it reveals all of our hypocrisy as well as the evil at the heart of American culture and history.

I went back through my blog to look at how I’ve addressed racism over the years. It’s quite telling. Before the release of the Race to Equity report that detailed the horrific racial disparities in Madison and Dane County, there’s a smattering of references to racism on my blog. Since Ferguson, it’s probably the dominant topic. I’ve preached about it, written about, participated in demonstrations. I’ve read more about racism in the last year than I had in the decades since taking a course on African-American history in college. Racism and America’s culture of violence will be a major focus of our programming at Grace in the coming year.

Boo goes through the litany of deaths and protests and at the end of his recitation, he points out how politicians, mainstream media, and corporations have been forced to address issues of racism. At the end of it all, he writes:

If Ferguson was an earthquake—a tectonic shift in our arguments over race and racism—then a year later, we’re not just feeling the aftershocks. We’re preparing for the next blow.

Bouie did not mention how Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter have changed American Christianity and I’m looking forward to reading similar retrospectives from theologians and religious commentators.

 

 

Sharing the Bread of Life: A Sermon for Proper 13, Year B, 2015

This past week, I had an interesting encounter with a young homeless man. He came to the reception desk at Grace and asked to speak to me. He said he needed assistance and counseling. I brought him up to my office and began asking him questions, trying to figure out what he was looking for, what he needed. Eventually, he told me that he needed money to go somewhere. The story he gave me was rather flimsy, so I ended up not providing financial assistance.

I remembered that he also had asked for some counseling, so I tried to engage him in conversation around his life, the struggles he was having. Whatever had led him to ask for counseling, by the time he got into my office, he was not about to share anything substantive about his life. So I led him out of the building and sent him on his way. But a few minutes later he was back. This time, he wondered whether we had a computer he might use. Of course, we don’t, but I pointed out to him that public computers are available in the Central Library, and that Bethel has a computer room as well.` Continue reading

Moving the men’s drop-in shelter from Grace

An article by Pat Schneider provides some background on the potential move. It is an exciting prospect for the future of homeless services in Madison, and for Grace Church, too. If the shelter moves, we will engage the community and our congregation in a conversation about our future ministry and mission in a spot where we have been worshiping and serving God for over 150 years. At the same time, we will continue to advocate for “the least of these.”

In the spring of the year, kings rape and murder: A Sermon for Proper 12, Year B

It’s been a violent summer, a violent year, in the United States. On Friday, I read that so far there have been 204 mass shootings in the US in 2015; Friday was the 204th day of the year. It’s estimated, because for some reason no one keeps official records, 516 people have been killed by law enforcement officers in 2016. There was Charleston, the shootings in Tennessee and Lafayette, LA that occurred this past week. We had the spate of shooting incidents in Madison this spring, some of them hitting close to home to members of our congregation. Continue reading

A Holy Place for Compassion and Rest: A Sermon for Proper 11, Year B

 

After hearing today’s readings, you might suspect that I selected them for the occasion, as we make last minute preparations for the beginning of construction today and over the next few days. But that’s not the case. As you know, we follow the lectionary and so the fact that we heard the story of David’s desire to build a temple, and the famous image of Christ the cornerstone from Ephesians, are only coincidental. Continue reading

Kings behaving badly: A Sermon for Proper 10, Year B

 

Are y’all already as tired of the presidential campaign as I am?

. It’s not just that our own governor has announced he’s a candidate for President; it seems like every day we hear about another Republican who has thrown his or her hat into the ring. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has already visited Madison and the media are paying close attention to the horse race between him and Secretary Clinton. Apart from the entertainment value of Donald Trump’s outrageous statements, I expect that by next November we will be weary of it all, even while we have to gear up for the next cycle to begin in January of 2017. Continue reading

On being sent out: A Sermon for Proper 9, Year B, 2015

By now, most if not all of you have heard the news coming out of the just-concluded General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Among many other resolutions passed and the election of a new presiding bishop, the items that got the most attention outside of the church from the mainstream media, were the resolutions concerning marriage—the change in the canons, removing the reference to man and woman in the definition of marriage, and the approval for trial usage of new rites for marriage.

We are not of one mind on these issues. Some of view these changes positively, as signs the church is responding to cultural change, embracing and welcoming diversity. Others are much more cautious, even opposed, struggling to understand how these changes fit in with scripture and tradition. While Bishop Miller has suggested that congregations may use these rites when they become available on the first Sunday of Advent this year, as a congregation we will have to discern where we are and how we might move forward together as the body of Christ.

If you are interested in this issue, I encourage you to stick around after service today and join me in the library for a conversation. Bring your questions and concerns as we talk together about the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church as well as marriage equality. This conversation is not just about gender and sexuality, it is about hospitality and mission, two themes that find resonance in today’s gospel.

Jesus comes home in the first section of today’s reading and isn’t welcomed with open arms. Remember that he has been on the road, visiting the towns and villages of Galilee, but also crossing the lake and working in Gentile territory as well. He has healed people, raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, cast out demons, and taught crowds. Now he’s home, enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and preaches. The response from the community is astonishment. They know this guy, he’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary. They know his family and wonder where he gets off talking with such authority and performing the mighty acts they’ve heard about. Their response of astonishment and offense seem to limit Jesus’ ability; instead of performing “deeds of power” similar to those he has done elsewhere, in his hometown, he only heals a few people by laying hands on them.

Jesus resumes his itinerant ministry, teaching and healing, and as he does, he commissions the twelve to share in that ministry. Like Jesus, they traveled about, healing the sick, casting unclean spirits, and preaching repentance. Indeed, these are precisely the same activities that Mark shows Jesus doing in the preceding chapters. The disciples become an extension of Jesus’ himself, proclaiming the coming of the reign of God, and in their actions, offering a foretaste of that reign.

But there’s more. In addition to sending them out and empowering them, Jesus gives them instructions on what to take with them and what to do. They’re to take no provisions with them, no bread or money, to wear sandals and not even carry a change of clothes. In fact, so puzzling are these instructions that when telling the story, Matthew and Luke change the details. In Mark they are to carry a staff and wear sandals; in Matthew and Luke, they are forbidden either sandals or a staff. But all three agree that if they come to a place that rejects them, they are to leave, and as they leave, shake the dust off of their sandals, symbolically demonstrating their rejection of that place.

On one level, these instructions reflect a central concern in the first century or so of Christianity, the local community or congregation responsibility to provide for its leaders, especially for itinerant evangelists. Paul addresses such issues in his letters, stressing at times that he was paying his own way; and in Christian sources outside the New Testament, we see similar instructions for the lifestyle of evangelists. And over the centuries, these instructions have provided inspiration for movements like that led by St. Francis of Assisi, who sent his followers out two by two, and instructed them to wear sandals, no belt, and take no money with them.

We may get caught up in the specificity and simplicity of Jesus’ instructions as well as the dramatic image of disciples shaking the dust from their sandals as they leave a place that rejected them. These details reflect two larger themes that deserve our attention. First, mission. The very word comes from the Latin word, “to send.” Here Jesus sends the twelve out. They are doing the very things that Jesus has done; they are extending his ministry, his proclamation, his presence, and his healing, in places where he cannot go. They are expanding his influence and message.

The second theme is hospitality. Jesus is not welcomed back home—they take offense at him—and apparently because of this response, he is unable to do in his hometown all of the things he can do elsewhere. Jesus instructs the twelve on how to receive hospitality, and what to do if they don’t receive it. It’s that aspect of hospitality that we don’t often think about.

When we talk about hospitality, we tend to emphasize how open or welcoming we are or should be. We think about how we greet newcomers, how we embrace people unlike ourselves. All of that is important, of course but it comes from a position of privilege. We are the ones to whom guests come, we are the ones opening our doors, inviting others in. That’s not what Jesus was talking about here. He was giving instructions on how to receive hospitality.

The disciples he sent out had almost nothing—no food or money, nothing by the clothes on their back, their staff and sandals. They were dependent on the kindness of strangers, for shelter and for food. As recipients of hospitality, they were vulnerable. It’s not a comfortable place in which to find oneself, as anyone who has ever had to ask for help can tell you.

Can our hospitality embody such vulnerability and openness? Can we let go of our privilege and comfort and welcome the possibility of change when we welcome the stranger? Can we be open to their gifts and experiences, open to relationship based on vulnerability and openness, rather than requiring them to conform to our expectations?

We have talked a great deal about hospitality here at Grace; we are talking about issues of diversity and welcome, of reaching out to our neighbors, but most of those conversations are one-sided. We are talking to each other, but not to people beyond our congregation. We are thinking about how we might be more welcoming and do more outreach in our neighborhood and the community but what we are not asking people outside our doors what their needs, and gifts, are. Can we receive what they have to tell us?

Hospitality and mission; there’s something else we ought to reflect on in all of this. We see Jesus rejected because apparently his preaching offended the townspeople. We see Jesus telling his disciples what to do if they’re rejected when they come in his name. Can we imagine ourselves offending others in Jesus’ name? Can we imagine being rejected because we have said, or done things, that make our neighbors uncomfortable?

The most discomfort we might have is hearing these words of Jesus, as he tells his disciples, tells us, to go out and do his work, to travel lightly, to receive what others have to offer, to be ready to receive rejection. It may be uncomfortable, but Jesus is sending us out. When we say the prayer after communion, we accept that responsibility, “Send us now into the world in peace … to love and serve you.” May we accept that mission, may we do his work.