This blog and I have a sort of love/hate relationship. When my deadline is approaching and I don’t know what I want to cover because the needs are so great, I really dislike “having” to sit down and write but, when it’s written and I feel that I have done my best, I am pleased that I have a venue for sharing something significant with you all, my Church family. The challenge each week is discerning what is most important and timely. The charge of the Resolution Review Committee of Diocesan Council is to bring the resolutions that originate from General Convention, Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, Diocesan Convention and Diocesan Council to all of you so that we can together be about the work of the Church and further the Kingdom of God as the Beloved Community. Sometimes, I know I stretch that charge a bit to include issues of timely concern that have not come as resolutions but are, nonetheless, important reminders of ways to love our neighbor. Living out the Gospel shouldn’t require a resolution. That’s where I am today.
I was really struck by the Scriptures we read on Sunday (Proper 19, Year A) in a way that I hadn’t expected (don’t you just love the way the Spirit makes familiar words come alive just when we need them?!). I must have read the story of the unforgiving servant from Matthew’s Gospel hundreds of times. I know well that we are to forgive one another; we certainly repeat our plea to God enough when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” What caught me off-guard this time was recognizing the extravagance of the master’s forgiveness. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t a serious count of the number of times I fall short of God’s desires for me or missed the mark of God’s best on a daily basis. Yet, in God’s amazing and unconditional love, God forgives all of my debt. All the time. And my debt is huge. Pondering this amazing grace, I remembered a story…
Back in October 2006, a troubled young man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, and shot ten young girls aged six to thirteen killing five and seriously injuring the other five. This terrible act of violence shocked the nation as the story hit the media. Gentle, sweet Amish children were murdered by a man whose personal demons allowed him no rest. The gunman committed suicide before the police could break into the schoolhouse.
While this event was, indeed, newsworthy, what came next really flooded the airwaves. Almost immediately after the bodies were taken away, the Amish families spoke words of forgiveness to the family of the shooter. The grandfather of one of the girls murdered heard some relatives saying: “We must not think evil of this man.” A neighbor of the Amish was quoted as saying: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.” Amish community members visited the shooter’s widow and parents and some 30 members of the Amish community attended his funeral. Where did they find the grace to forgive like this?
It’s interesting – and also tragic – to note that the wider religious community did not share this attitude of forgiveness. Some spoke of seeking revenge; others wished his body burn in hell for eternity. A Muslim imam in that county reported to the press that, while their faith encourages forgiveness of all sins, they believe that they have a “right to take action against one who injures” them. A local rabbi added that in order for forgiveness to be valid, the offender must acknowledge they did wrong and be willing to change. In response in a local newspaper, an Amish reader asked: “Why is forgiveness so foreign?”
So where do they get it? How did this response become so immediate and convincing? The Amish understanding of forgiveness comes precisely from the Scriptures we read this past Sunday. The Anabaptists, from whom the Amish evolved, have lived these verses since their persecution following the Protestant Reformation some 500 years ago. The central tenet of their faith is that it is not enough to believe in Christ and receive salvation from him, one must be like Jesus in attitude. As John Ruth writes in his book Forgiveness about the Nickel Mines murders, Jesus, to the Amish, is the “new Joseph” who forgives his brothers as we read in today’s passage from Genesis. They look to this verse from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). They hold that salvation in Christ comes, not only for what was done for us, but also what has been done in us as followers of Jesus. Well, this is not just an Amish understanding of Scripture; it’s the way all of Jesus’ followers should behave. It’s not enough to merely believe that Jesus is God’s Son and our Savior and Lord, we are to grow in our faith and practice to be like Jesus.
You are likely wondering how I moved from resolutions to forgiveness? Well, maybe I’m making another stretch but I see forgiveness – God’s to us and ours to our neighbors – as being about relationship. And relationship is all about meeting one another’s needs just as Jesus did. As we grow in our ability to live and love like our Lord, our heart of compassion will grow.
Every time I listen to the news, I am struck by the privilege I experience every day merely because I was born as who I am. My privilege really has nothing to do with me or my actions. I have a good job, food on the table, a very comfortable place to live and reasonably good health. I have done nothing to deserve this. For me, I see the good fortune of my birth in this place at this time to be an opportunity to share this with others. Maybe I was born for such a time as this. Maybe you were, too.
This Thursday is the 21st of September which means it’s our monthly day of prayer, fasting and action as we share the work of For Such a Time as This. This month, we are focusing our #PrayFastAct in support of School Meals and SNAP Funding. Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) asks that we…
PRAY for our nation’s elected leaders to stand with those who struggle to receive their daily bread.
FAST to call attention in our own minds and actions to the plight of hungry children in our nation.
Share on social media using #PrayFastAct and @TheEPPN. Post a picture of a dinner place setting with the reason you are fasting this month.
ACT by urging our elected representatives to support strong funding for school meals and SNAP.
EPPN recommends that we read The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations informational paper:
In a nation of great wealth and resources, no child should ever go hungry. There are 42 million people in the U.S. — 13 million of them children and over 5 million of them seniors — living in households struggling with hunger. Lack of access to nutritious food sets children apart at an early age, resulting in issues like lower test scores, decreased attention in the classroom, or sickness. Childhood hunger also has life-long negative impacts on a child’s development and growth stretching all the way into adulthood. Access to consistent and nutritious meals gives children the fundamental and necessary elements needed to grow, learn, love and play.
Parents and educators are no strangers to what is needed to support young people in their development, and it all begins with good nutrition. For far too many, a school meal might be the only food a child receives in a day. This makes child nutrition programs critical, and they are increasingly threatened by tighter federal budgets.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps) is one of the most effective government responses to address food insecurity and poverty. When members of our community become unemployed or experience unexpected economic hardship, they can apply for SNAP benefits and receive them quickly and efficiently to ensure children and working families don’t experience a hunger gap. Despite an improving economy, the need remains high. SNAP lifted 4.6 million Americans above the poverty line in 2015, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure.
Both the House of Representatives and the White House have put forward proposals that would make drastic cuts to programs that feed poor and hungry children in our schools and provide food assistance to struggling working families in our communities. Some of the harshest cuts include:
$1.6 billion cut from the Community Eligibility Provision for school lunch and breakfasts in high-poverty schools affecting some 3.8 million students currently benefiting from the provision and preventing another 6.2 million students from access.
We urge Congress to retain the Community Eligibility Provision in the FY18 Budget Resolution.
Converting SNAP funding to a “block-grant” funding structure that could mean an additional $150 billion in cuts to the program.
We urge Congress to oppose any structural changes that would block-grant SNAP.
$10 billion in cuts over 10 years to SNAP reducing food assistance to scores of children, low-wage working families, seniors and disabled members of our communities.
We urge Congress to reject cuts to SNAP in the FY18 Budget Resolution.
It is time for the Administration and Congress to recommit our nation to one of its most important bipartisan beliefs.
We call on the Administration and Congress to commit to ensuring that no one in this country go hungry.
Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry shared a short video inviting us again to join him in this monthly remembrance of our opportunity to care for our neighbors. You can find it here.
One last plug for support before I leave you… Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) has a donation page on their website to make it easy to contribute to the many needs following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Here’s the link to share our abundance with our brothers and sisters who have suffered considerable loss from these disasters.
Thanks for bearing with me on this rather meandering train of thought today! You are my friends so I trust you’ll be forgiving! J
Let us pray…
O Creator of all living things:
We are all hungry in a world full of abundance.
The possibilities of food for bodies and souls overflow in this
We ask for the grace to see the abundance of our world and
enough awareness to acknowledge our sins of greed and fear.
Give us openness of soul and courageous, willing hearts
to be with our sisters and brothers who are hungry and in pain.
We ask for your intercession on behalf of every person hungry
for earthly food and hungry for the taste of the Spirit of God.
We give thanks that we can be part of that intercession.
This world is blessed with enough food of the earth
for every person to eat and be satisfied.
We all can feed on the bread of Christ, through the Holy Spirit,
as God makes a home in our hearts.
We come together in awe and wonder
at the Creator who loves us so much
that we are invited and urged to be co-creators with God
in the care of our brothers and sisters.
In the name of the tender Mother-Father of all people who
hears every cry, Amen.
Ann Case, Episcopal Relief and Development
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council