The Episcopal Church of the Central Gulf Coast
views from the bishop's chair
October 29, 2018

Views from the Bishop's Chair
by the Rt. Rev. Russell Kendrick,
Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast
The sun peeked over the horizon as I made my way east to Port Saint Joe. My early Sunday morning trek meant that, once more, I would negotiate the devastation left from Hurricane Michael. My trek also meant I would, once again, be brought to my knees by the awe and grief of it all.

I know my way around our diocese quite well. I don’t really need GPS because I have landmarks that point my way. However, in the east of our diocese, most of those familiar landmarks are gone. Street signs are bent to the ground, trees stripped bare, buildings crumbled. As the sun, once again, ushers forth the promise of new life, even the horizon itself is unrecognizable.

This morning, however, is even worse. The news of the hate crime wreaked upon our Jewish sisters and brothers in Pittsburgh has left me wordless. This story is the third in a weeklong litany of hatred and evil in our country. Vitriolic hatred, divisive anger and unbridled egos have stripped away the very landmarks of virtue that have undergirded our society.  In a recent article in the New York Times entitled It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God, Jonathan Merritt makes the point that the very language about the virtues Christians call the fruit of the spirit — words like “love,” “patience,” “gentleness” and “faithfulness” — have become much rarer. The use of words that convey humility, like “modesty,” have fallen by 52 percent. Words invoking compassion, like “kindness,” have dropped in usage by 56 percent. Words of gratitude, like “thankfulness,” have declined by 49 percent. 

As I drove, I knew I needed to say something, but as I confessed earlier, I felt wordless. As I prayed, a name whispered to me, Habakkuk. I pulled over and pulled up on my phone the book that bears his name. In our three year lectionary we read his prophecy just once. Here is the first part:
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? 
Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? 
Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? 
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous--therefore judgment comes forth perverted. Habakkuk 1:1-4

Habakkuk feels as if the landmarks that undergirded his society have been stripped away. He is at his wits' end. The world is falling apart around him, so much violence and strife. His beloved nation has seen one corrupt king after another; the economy is a mess; the poor are neglected; the rich do not seem to care. Unlike other prophets who rant and urge the people, Habakkuk rants at God.  

God answers Habakkuk that He will send vengeance on the corrupt rulers of Judah via the rampaging violence of the Babylonians. In essence, Habakkuk argues back---“Time out, God. How can more corruption be an answer to corruption? It is bad, but not as bad as the Babylonians.” So Habakkuk continues: 

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; 
I will keep watch to see what God will say to me, 
and what God will answer concerning my complaint. Habakkuk 2:1
“I will stand and keep watch.” Yesterday in Port Saint Joe I stood with people who are the very incarnation of these words. Several have lost everything. One was rescued from her home while standing on a sofa in waist deep water. One man sobbed into his hands for most of my sermon. Weary souls, people at their wits' end, and yet there they were---standing---“We believe…” Their faith inspired me. Here was the landmark that I needed. You---Us---We.   I am confident that in the wake of this latest hate crime, we will again see people of steadfast faith arise. God is found when we stand together.

Tomorrow night, October 30, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., I will stand and keep watch at a Prayer Vigil hosted by The Ahavas Chesed Synagogue in Mobile, Ala. At the end of this reflection are the details of similar services in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach. If you can find one in your area---go. Stand and keep watch. It is a start. God is found when we stand together.

And don’t stop there. Find a way to keep watch in solidarity against hate and violence. Stand up; speak out. Let’s drown out the angry, divisive noise of this world by amplifying the volume of love. Find a way to stand and keep watch, so that like the saints in Port Saint Joe, you become a landmark of faith and hope in our world.  

When God did finally answer Habakkuk, here is what God said:
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. 
If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.   Habakkuk 2:2-4
Write the vision. This phrase seized my soul yesterday morning. As I strained to find something familiar on the horizon before me, the horizon itself became the landmark. The sun ushered in a new day. The word from a hymn long forgotten, whispered anew:
Awake, awake to love and work!
The lark is in the sky; The fields are wet with diamond dew;
The worlds awake to cry
Their blessings on the Lord of life, As He goes meekly by.   Hymn 9, The 1982 Hymnal
Write the vision. As a Christian, I believe that the vision upon which Habakkuk waited has been written AND enfleshed in the life of Christ Jesus. When we confess Jesus as our Lord, we are pledging our lives to awakening and being about the work of a vision in this world that is counter-cultural to the many ‘visions’ being thrust upon us.  

The vision which we seek to write and work for is God’s vision. It is, in a word, a vision for shalom. Peace be with you. It is a vision for all people especially the people who have the least in our society. It is a vision that strives for the justice of truth and reconciliation, not that of revenge or retribution. It is a vision that strives for peace in the structures and systems of our societies. And as followers of Jesus, we are called to do all in our power to write and work for this vision with our lips and in our lives in the way we make our decisions, give our time, use our resources, and share our very lives.  

One written form of this vision is a prayer that many of you know. May it be a landmark of the vision before us, and how you can be awakened and work for God’s vision in your life. As you pray it, ponder the phrase in it that provokes you to respond in a real concrete way. +RK

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.
Mobile AL: Prayer Vigil Service Tuesday 6:30 p.m. Ahavas Chesed Synagogue
Pensacola FL: A Service of Solidarity & Healing, Tuesday 5:30 p.m. Temple Beth El Synagogue
Fort Walton Beach, FL: A Service of Scripture, Music and Prayer 5 p.m. The Landing
The Rt. Rev. J. Russell Kendrick, Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast

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