2020 Episcopal Address, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey

November 21, 2020
What troubles have we seen?
What mighty conflicts past?
Fightings without, and fears within, 
since we assembled last?

Worldwide pandemic,
Harmful politics,
Systemic racism,
Natural disasters – fires in the west
And here: hurricanes, hurricanes, hurricanes!

Today more than at any other time in history, we ask: Are we yet alive?

I wish we were together in person and could see each other’s faces and hear our response. 

YES! Yes!  Yes! “We are alive!”

We are alive because “the Lord has brought us by his love,” because his help he has afforded, he continues to hide our lives above.  

Yes, “We are alive!”

We are alive - not just physically, but we are alive spiritually. 
We are gathered across this virtual space because we are people of Faith, people of promise.  

We are alive because we are a people committed to safety, to the healing, and to the love of all people.

We are alive because we are a people fueled by the power of Pentecost and sustained by the power of resurrection.

We are alive because we are Easter people!

We are alive because God is faithful, and best of all, God is with us through the thickest and thinnest of our lives.

Let us take up the cross.
Till we the crown obtain,
And gladly reckon all thing loss.
So we may Jesus gain.  

Friends, we are people of relentless, undying, undeterred hope.  

We know that God was with us before pandemics and hurricanes and is with us today and all of our tomorrows.

Day after day after day...

Recently, on one of the morning shows, they featured an app called Time Traveler. You plug in your birth year, and it will give you a list of words introduced the year of your birth.  For example, I will give away my age – 1959 – words like CB, CBer, anyone remember CBs?  “Breaker one-nine.”  

Counterproductive, cruise missile, dinner theater, kooky.

In 2020: Coronavirus, COVID-19, Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.  

We have also turned nouns into verbs – ZOOMING, quarantining, social distancing...

This has been a year like none other.  You are almost afraid to ask what could possibly be next.

COVID shut us down on March 12.  In three days, many of our pastors became televangelists. Some of you had no idea what you were doing, but you pivoted and learned quickly.  And laity, you learned alongside your pastor, and you were patient

The buildings were closed, but the church never closed.

On May 25, racial unrest hit a peak as we watched with horror the senseless killing of George Floyd. There was also Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery.....and the list goes on.

Many of you added your courageous voice – Black Lives Matter.

We thought the shutdown would come to an end, but instead, we had to double down. We argued about masks and social distancing. 
Some of us still are.

Wearing a mask became political.  Having church or not having church services became the center point of our lives.

Then came Laura, then came Delta, then came Zeta.

Any one of these disasters would have been enough, but instead, they have compounded the grief experienced, the anxieties felt, and the exhaustion sensed. 

You friends, even in your weariness, have been resilient.  

I have learned in this experience and in the teachings of my friend Susan Beaumont that no system changes without heat.  

I know what you are thinking, “but I am boiling over here.”

Think about cooking – potatoes without heat – YUCK. 

Noodles without boiling water – are not edible.

None of us want as much heat as we have just experienced, but with it comes change.  Perhaps change that has been needed for some time.

But here is the Good News...God does not change. 

Regardless of the heat!  God does not change, but things around us do! 

And they certainly have. 

They don’t change smoothly, life transforms, turns over, disrupts –

These days of pandemics, floundering economies, unusual political climate, racial unrest are redefining the meaning of disruption!

Any one of these would be enough of a disruption – enough to make it easy to lose our way.  

Altogether, they cause us to not only lose our way but forget our destination, where we are going?  Why are we heading there?

Sometimes I catch myself sounding like the Israelites – Egypt would’ve been better than this!

This journey is truly a wilderness one. Few times in history has the entire world been in crisis at the same time. 

I often hear some of you say, “I want to go back to normal.”  I have news for you that you may not want to hear – we can’t go back, nor should we.  What we had was not normal.

Spoken word artist Sonya Renee Taylor says it this way.

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.” 

We should not long to return but instead seize the opportunity to stitch a new garment.

We are at a threshold with the opportunity to usher change—a new tomorrow.  

These days are filled with uncertainty.  These are liminal times, times of transition.  

As frightening and frustrating as this uncertainty might seem – I am reminded that we are also at a threshold.  

The word liminal finds its root in the Latin word threshold, indicating a transition space.  

We have left something and don’t know yet fully what is on the other side. It is not clear!  

It can be terrifying, or it can be exciting, maybe even freeing.  
Can we leverage what we are learning in this season of the unknown?  

I love the hymn Blessed Assurance and have been singing it a lot lately.  I’ve needed it.  

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is thy faithfulness!

Days, when we want to go back to Egypt are days to examine our soul. 

Days to recalibrate our center and remind ourselves that God is faithful, that every morning brings new mercies, 

that God provides all that we need for today – and for tomorrow.

That Great is God’s faithfulness!

While our world has changed and nothing is familiar, our destination has not changed – how we get there has changed – we have changed – but God is still God.  Thanks be to God.

The disruption might actually be good for us. 
Every once in a while, a pause is good in order to make sure that our “route” is still good, best, faithful.

Could we see this time as a much needed Sabbath?

A season to reconsider, to lay fallow, to consider how we will cross the boundary with courage and with the assurance that there is, in fact, bright hope for tomorrow?

This time will require courage in the midst of fear.

Nelson Mandela said it this way...

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man [person] is not he [the one] who does not feel afraid but the one who conquers that fear.”

You are known for your resilience – you know how to navigate the unknown.  You know how to face your fears - you have done it time and time and again. 

My friend and colleague Bishop Janice Riggle Huie says resilience is the work of a prophet. 

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threat, or significant sources of stress.”  

The prophet teaches us how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.  The prophet reminds us that God is doing a new thing – through exile, through difficulty, through a God who seems absent.

The prophet expands our imagination...

Walter Brueggemann tells us that “The prophet engages in future fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined.  The imagination must come before the implementation.”

Our work these days requires prophetic imagination.  

It requires unlearning the old, emptying the old wineskin looking for and believing what is true.  

Courage, resilience, and hope go hand in hand.  

And Faith that God is with us day after day after day. 

There will likely never be any other time in history like this for the rest of our lifetime – I certainly hope not.  

We have an opportunity to recalibrate, re-center, and find our soul yet again.  We have an opportunity as never before to listen and to learn to the world around us, the people around us – listen and learn from our own shared experiences.

If we are honest, we have needed recalibration for some time now.

We were distracted long before pandemics and politics, and racial injustice has been with us longer than most of us have memory. 

Imagine what might happen if we were to focus – laser-like focus - on the more important matters.  

What if we stopped marginalizing the marginalized?

What if we made room for ALL, including our LGBTQ siblings? 

What if we added a voice of courage, “Black Lives Do Matter”?

What if we made it less about us and stopped putting ourselves at the center and instead “liv[e] on the edge of the inside,” as Richard Rohr calls us to, so that we won’t be so easily co-opted by our own needs but instead gain a better perspective of the needs of others?

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow!

As people of Faith, we must commit ourselves to – “proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the captive, recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to announce that the time has come when God will save!”

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow!

Like you, these times have made me doubt – I have doubted leaders around me and even doubted myself.  

The prayer list is long, and some days we don’t even know where to begin.  Yet, I am convinced by the apostle Paul in Romans that the Spirit comes to help in our weakness.  
When we don’t know what or how we should pray, the Spirit pleads our case for us.  

I have witnessed hurricane after hurricane upend your lives. 

The needs are so great I don’t even know where to begin. I cannot imagine what you have had to endure. Most days, I have not even known how to pray.  I have relied on the Spirit to intercede for me.  

I rely on the words from Lamentations of all places – “Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly, God’s compassion isn’t through!  They are renewed every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.”

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow!

God’s compassion isn’t through.  Let those words sink in .... say them over and over, “God’s compassion isn’t through!”

No pandemic, no disaster – nothing will disrupt God!  God’s compassion isn’t through!

While the future might look murky as people of Faith we go – we put a foot in front of the other.

As many of you know, I am an avid fan of Frederick Buechner. The now 93-year-old Buechner wrote on Faith in a recent devotional. 

“Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession.  It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all.  
Faith is not being sure where you’re going, but going anyway.  A journey without maps.”  He adds, “Paul Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

Faith is not being sure where you’re going, but going anyway.

God is faithful and promises to accompany us on this journey of pandemics, politics, disparity, racial injustice, division, anger, despair – God will provide us with all that we need just as God has for generations who have gone before us.

Imagine the experiences of our sisters and brothers – the pandemics, the injustices, the wars and rumors of wars - God has remained the same: faithful, leading the way, providing new mercies each day.  

All we have needed thy hand has provided –
Great is thy faithfulness.
Great is thy faithfulness. 
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow 

God is the God who challenges us and also encourages us.  The God who confronts and accepts.

God is guiding us even now, especially now – accepting, guiding, forgiving, giving us all that we need today and all of our tomorrows.

Great is thy faithfulness!

Let’s use this in-between time wisely, boldly, and courageously...remembering: 
GREAT is thy faithfulness.  
GREAT is thy faithfulness.  
GREAT is thy faithfulness.

Day after day after day

Revised 11.9.20 9:12 a.m.
Found an issue with this page? Click here to let us know.