I have been an Episcopalian my whole life and have been involved in program planning and leadership in some way or another since I was in college. I have been ordained as a priest since I was 33. I am now 52 years old. So, according to my calculations, I have been in approximately 3,200 church-related meetings which ended in this way: The person leading the meeting looks at their watch, pauses, says, “Well, it’s time to end. Who would like to offer a final prayer?” This is followed by a long, awkward silence.
Who has been through this? I wonder what is on your mind in that moment….“I don’t know what to say.” “Why doesn’t the priest pray?” “I want to pray but I don’t want to overstep someone’s authority.” “What if I do it wrong?”
So let’s get ready for the next meeting, so everyone’s ready to prayer. Let’s practice! Repeat after me: Thank you, God, for this gathering. Bless everyone here. Be with us as we go our way. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Boom. You’re ready!
But I know that even after this “practice,” the next time you’re in a meeting, you may not volunteer…. Instead of speaking, we often remain quiet. We feel inadequate. Awkward. Unauthorized. So did Peter. But he spoke up anyway.
There was nothing special about Simon Peter. In fact, gospels go out of their way to emphasize how normal and human he is. He is a fisherman, adept with nets but not with public speaking. He is sometimes courageous and sometimes fearful. He doesn’t always say the right thing – when he offers to make booths at the Transfiguration, the writer tells us “he didn’t know what he was saying.” His fear of the consequences causes him, on the night of Jesus’s arrest, to deny Jesus three times. He is not smarter than others or more called than they. But in today’s gospel, When Jesus asks his followers, “Who do you say that I am?” he speaks up. He confesses.
And Jesus stops everything to pronounce him blessed. He spoke his faith. The church is the church when it speaks – in prayer, in action, in ritual, in song, we speak – we confess that Jesus is the Son of the living God. We proclaim that this is good news, healing balm, saving, mending.
Jesus builds his church on this courage. Whenever and wherever we confess Jesus through our words or actions, Jesus is building his church.
Notice that in our church, we pray “through Christ our Lord.” We’ve already done it twice today – at the end of the Collect for Purity and at the end of the collect of the day.
That’s not just a nice way to close up a prayer. It’s intentional. These are powerful words. This is confession. Each time we pray, we affirm that Christ is Lord.
To confess that Jesus is Lord is to take a stand in a world filled with other gods. Money is not Lord. Power is not Lord. The President is not Lord. My own safety is not Lord. I do not worship my tribe, nor my race, nor my own intellect.
When we pray “through Christ our Lord” here we prepare to live a life that is a prayer and that shows forth our confession. We remind ourselves in our corporate prayer that we were created and redeemed, not through our own power, but through the grace of God, and we are sent to speak a word of hope and love into this broken and beautiful world. The church is the church when it speaks – when you speak.
Now, if you’re like me, you can believe all this theologically and still really struggle to speak. Should I write a letter to the parish in the wake of Charlottesville or just forward the letter from our bishop? So often in recent months, as bad news and hateful words fill the airwaves, I’ve had so much on my heart and mind, and have been grieving so deeply, I wasn’t sure I could put anything into words that would be a blessing. Why not simply forward the latest video from the Presiding Bishop and call it a day? But what I hear from you and others in this community is that you need to hear my voice because you know me. Jesus works in relationships.
I haven’t and won’t always get it right, but I take solace in the story of Peter, who didn’t always get it right. Jesus loved him, forgave him and authorized him anyway. In handing Peter the keys of the kingdom, Jesus is reaching all the ways through the centuries to all of us misfits, sinners, ne’er do wells, and fearful folks who are chock full of imperfection and have decided to fall into the arms of Christ, trusting him to mend our wounds and knit us back together.
Speaking of Peter, James Carroll writes: “The faith of the church, down to the 21st century, rests upon this one man’s experience of Jesus. The Gospel began with him. Its central proclamation was not of a noble project of virtuous action in the name of God, but rather of a solidarity in feebleness that, once acknowledged, could be transformed into strength.” (Carroll, Christ Actually)
Jesus loves, forgives, and authorizes you, too, to be the church, the body of Christ, through your words to others, in your relationships and communities.
Where is your voice needed now? Maybe it’s to lead a closing prayer at a church meeting.Maybe it’s to remind a child that they are beautiful and loved. Maybe it’s to mourn publicly for Heather Heyer and the people of Barcelona. Maybe it is to advocate for those who are not able or ready to speak up for their rights. Maybe it is to tell someone that everyone is welcome at your church. Maybe it is to sing your prayer in a choir or with your grandchild.
All of us are still growing in our ability to confess our faith, and all of us are called to do it in different ways. As Paul reminded us in our reading from Romans, we have different gifts, and Christ needs that variety of expressions and voices to bring healing to this world. We are so fortunate to live in a diocese that is always trying to equip us to speak our faith. Just in the month ahead, you can join trainings on dismantling racism in church meetings, faithful public dissent, non-violent communication, becoming a eucharistic visitor and much more. If you want to grow in a specific area, check our diocesan website or talk to me and I’ll help you find the resources you are looking for.
Ten years ago, on my first visit to the West Bank, I spent a day in Hebron. Hebron is a dark place; threat and mistrust fill the air, and violence erupts quite often. We were led through the streets of Hebron by a member of the Christian Peacemaking Team – the CPT’s, who show up in places where human rights are threatened and, by their presence, help decrease the likelihood of violence. At the time, I remember thinking, “Isn’t it great that the CPT are out there in places like Hebron, Syria, Afghanistan?” Those places were far from my home, and their witness seemed way beyond what I was called to do in my own town.
My friends, we all need to be CPTs, here and now. White supremacy and the devaluation of women, immigrants, those with disabilities, LBGTQ persons, and others are devastating lives and poisoning our civil discourse. Your voice is needed. Let us speak, and sing, and march, and pray boldly for love’s sake, as Christ calls us to do.