COVID-19 and Following Jesus: Living sacred lives, not scared ones

Image from the Centers for Disease Control website.

I have spent almost all of Monday working on COVID-19 — preparing for its arrival in South Dakota (which I am, alas, sure will happen), working with church leaders to figure out what we will do in services, searching in vain for hand sanitizer or anti-microbial wipes, praying about how to preach this Sunday ..

It’s my day off, but this outbreak of a disease that threatens the most vulnerable among us takes precedence.

And here is what I have concluded:

COVID-19 is a serious disease. Why? Because we don’t know enough about it, and we don’t have a medicine that directly cures it. New diseases are like this — they baffle us, and because they are baffling, we become afraid.

Too many people are dismissive of this outbreak. “We survived bird flu, Ebola, H1N1, etc., we’ll survive this.” I literally had two medical personnel tell me this just the other day. I pointed out to them that bird flu was confined, pretty much to birds; that we didn’t have Ebola in the United States (except for those who were brought back from Africa with it for treatment); and that while H1N1 was widespread, its fatality rate was 0.001 percent to 0.007 percent. Thus far, COVID-19’s fatality rate is much, much higher: an average of 3 percent to 4 percent thus far. 

The greatest risk is to those who have compromised immune systems, are elders, or a combination of both. Far too many dismissive comments are being made about them, as well. As in, “well, it’s really only dangerous to the chronically ill and older folks.” What? They aren’t important to us?! As one friend points out, that attitude pretty much condemns the sick and elders to death. Trust me, that is not what God wants. (Want to read more about this from this friend, Charis Hill, who is far more eloquent than I on this topic? Look here. And listen. Please.) Here on the Rosebud Reservation, where we still have Influenza A and B, as well as Strep, running through our schools, that means that those children are taking home their illnesses, often to grandparents, who then get sick, which means they are more susceptible to COVID-19, if and when it arrives here. None of us should be willing to condemn our loved ones to a potentially fatal disease.

Those are just the medical conclusions that I’ve reached through a lot of research from reputable sources, including the CDC.

So what does this mean to us, those who proclaim that we follow Jesus?

First, it means we have responsibilities, duties, really, that come not from medical personnel but from God.

We who follow Jesus, who say that loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and that loving our neighbors as ourselves are the two most important commandments, have a responsibility, a duty, to care for each other. We don’t get to take this swiftly spreading disease lightly. We don’t get to pooh-pooh taking practical precautions. We don’t get to tell people, “It’s not big deal.”

We who follow Jesus are called by Jesus to care for each other. To wash our hands. To limit our exposure to people with suppressed immune systems. To reach out to help those in need. To check on our relatives, our neighbors, and those most in need, to ensure they have what they need.

One more time, I want to emphasize this: We really need to wash our hands!

Good Lord, this is something we teach our children in preschool and kindergarten. Washing our hands is simply basic hygiene — only now, it has taken on even more importance. So, do it! Wash your hands thoroughly as often as you can. Sing a song whilst doing so – the Happy Birthday song, or the ABC song, twice through. Or, if you know it, sing the Doxology —in English, Lakota, or whatever language you want. (Check out these videos below.) Just don’t go too fast — that would defeat the whole purpose. If you can’t get to soap and water (a real concern in churches that don’t have running water), use some form of hand sanitizer.

The Doxology in English …
… and in Lakota.

When it comes to passing the Peace in church? No more hand-shaking. No matter how culturally important it is (meaning, this is incredibly important among the people I serve), please, just stop. In our churches, we’ve introduced the Elbow Bump — just make sure you don’t bump too hard — elbows can be sharp! We’ve also asked people to stop hugs and kisses … just to be safe. Why not?

We don’t have any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Dakota yet, but already, we have asked people to be very careful intincting (dipping the bread into the wine), or to simply take a sip from the chalice. If people don’t want to sip, it really is OK to not receive the wine along with the bread. (If COVID-19 arrives in the state, then we probably will stop sharing the cup in any form. We are waiting for more guidance on this.)

But what about when we are not in church? What about when we are going about our daily lives, with all the people with whom we are in contact on a day-to-day basis?

Well, that’s where Jesus’ call to us to care for others really comes to the fore.

We all have neighbors who need help. 

Help them.

Ask them if they need you to go shopping for them. Whether they need anything brought to them. Do they need some cooking done for them? Cook!

Whatever they need, we who follow Jesus are called to care for them.

This isn’t an option, by the way. Jesus never told us to help when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient. He said that loving our neighbor was one of the two most important commandments. 

So we obey it.

There are other things we can do as well:

Share our cookies. (OK, this is based not only on Jesus, but also on All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum.) If you have something that another person needs, share it: Food, water, clothing, rides to the store, firewood, you name it, share it.

Do not be afraid. That’s one of the most common things God says, usually via angels, to God’s people: Fear not! Not because God will protect us from this illness, but because we know that this life is transitory, that we have the promise that we get to spend the rest of our lives with Jesus, that there is more to life than this life. Don’t let fear paralyze us. Be brave. Go into the world and do the things that Jesus told us to do. 

Do not hoard. For some reason, not only is there a shortage of hand sanitizer (which kind of makes sense), but there is a shortage of toilet paper! People! How much toilet paper do any of us need?! Get what we need, and leave the rest for others in need. And please, we can all leave on the shelves the things that medical personnel and people with suppressed immune systems need, especially N95 face masks. Most of us will not need them; let’s make sure those who do can get them.

Love. Need I say more?

• If you have been exposed, or think you may have been exposed, stay home. I know this is not possible for everyone – less than 50 percent of employees in the United States has paid sick leave. I’m praying that our government will do something about that. But if you can stay home, please do so. Not just for yourself, but for everybody.

We live in what are shaping up to be very scary times. 

But we are not called to live scared.

Instead, we who follow Jesus are called to live sacred lives, holy lives.

And sacred, holy lives are not lived in fear, are not dominated by la-di-dah attitudes, and do not include hoarding, or “me-first” attitudes.

We follow Jesus.

Now is the time for us to step up and act like it.

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This and That: The meaning of the Eucharist

The Feast of Corpus Christi

20 June 2019

The First Eucharist Celebrated by

The Rev. Danny Lee Pegg

St. Luke’s Parish, Stone Cross, Sussex, England

The Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley

Superintending Presbyter, Rosebud Episcopal Mission (West),  Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

The audio version of this sermon.

In late Fall 2015, my bishop in South Dakota asked me if I would be willing to chat with a “tutor” (a what?) from Cambridge University in England who had a seminarian interested in coming to the Rosebud Indian Reservation to be my intern.

Danny Pegg and me at Canterbury Cathedral, after his ordination to the priesthood but before he celebrated Eucharist.

It was an odd request; I usually get my seminarians from American seminaries, and to be honest (and with great apologies, Fr. Danny), while I had at least heard of Cambridge, I had never heard of Westcott House. (And Fr. James,  before you get on your high horse about me not knowing Wescott, know that I never heard of St. Stephen’s House before last Sunday, even though I think I know where that might be located …)

Because I knew of Cambridge, I thought it might be worth a try, so I wrote to the tutor, whom I actually knew from my days as a missionary in Sudan, and soon enough, I was in conversation with this delightful young man who wanted to learn about Natives on Turtle Island and was willing to serve eight congregations in an extremely rural area beyond what we call the back of beyond. (We Americans are very good about being remote … and beyond the back of beyond is beyond even remote.)

Nine months later, Danny Pegg arrived on the Rosebud, and learned about all sorts of things, like how to drive for miles and miles from church to church to church each Sunday; how to stand up for righteous reasons against oil companies desecrating sacred land and water; how to put up a tipi as only the Lakota – what y’all refer to as the “Sioux” – can do; how to split firewood to care for grandmothers, and lead wakes and funerals and say prayers spontaneously and eat wojapi, a sort of fruit pudding that is, in Lakota culture, the food of Wakantanka, the Holy Mystery that is the Lakota name for God, and even how to eat a few other things that we won’t describe in detail here tonight.

Our time together is what led me to be with you tonight, as we celebrate not only Danny’s ordination to the priesthood on Sunday, but also his first Eucharist, on this Feast of Corpus Christi, the day we celebrate the institution of Holy Communion.

[Now, being an American, I know that I’m speaking to you in a somewhat foreign tongue, so I ask y’all to forgive me if on occasion, I use words that might not be in your English language.

[Like “y’all.” Which most people think means “you” plural, but really doesn’t. “Y’all,” where I come from, means one of you, or a few of you, or you in general, or “you” and your immediate kin.

[Where I come from, it does not mean “everybody.”

[That’s all y’all.

[I tell y’all this because at some point tonight, it’s going to be important, and all y’all will get it.

[(And yes, there will be a test on this later on …)]

Now, Danny asked me to come here tonight to preach because we had such a deeply important time together on the Rosebud and up protesting on the Standing Rock, a time that helped form him to be the priest he is to y’all – to all y’all – today.

And I am here because Danny knows how important the Eucharist is to me. I’ve been a priest for 21-plus years, and I have celebrated the Eucharist in great cathedrals and under thorn trees, in refugee camps and urban centers, with archbishops and refugee children, with my own kin (kin – y’all know that means me and mine, right?) – and with complete strangers, with freshly baked bread and fine port, and with animal crackers and undiluted fruit juice concentrate. I’ve celebrated in the backseats of cars on freezing cold days (as in, 30 below zero Fahrenheit), and on blistering hot days (as in, 105 degrees Fahrenheit). I have celebrated the Eucharist in just about every context y’all can think of, and a whole lot more y’all can’t hardly believe. (Translation: Unimaginable.)

And now, tonight, it is Danny’s turn.

It is his turn to do one of the holiest things he will ever do in his life – he will stand at that table, and he will hold up the bread and say, “Take. Eat. This is my body,” and he will lift the cup and say, “Drink this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant.”

He will say, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

And when he does that, he will be changed … he will be a different person – to himself, to God and to all y’all.

Because let me tell you – let me assure you – y’all will never look at him in the same way again.

The one who celebrates the Eucharist, who presents to y’all and to God the bread and the wine and asks God to send down the Holy Spirit so that that bread and wine is not just bread and wine but is – in some way which we cannot and do not need to understand – the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ … the one who does that is not the same as he or she was before. He is different. He is set apart. By his very words and actions, he becomes a symbol of the holy to us.

That, my young friend, is what is about to happen to you.

It is a holy, dangerous and completely wild undertaking, and I’m going to tell you right now: Don’t you ever take it for granted.

Let me try to explain this holiness (not that we really can explain it, but Danny did ask me to come a very long way to be here, so let me at least try …)

You see this?

THIS is communion bread, what y’all’s priests refer to here as the concelebration host.

It is made up of wheat flour and water. That’s it. Wheat flour and water.

It is plain. It is dry. It goes bad quickly (just leave it sitting out in the air sometime, and you’ll see …)

This whole host contains, oh, about 40 calories.

That’s all it is.

Bread.

And not the good chewy bread that fills your mouth and strengthens you and makes you say to your neighbor, “Now that’s good bread.”

It’s … plain.

THAT bread that we will have up there, at the altar, after Danny consecrates it?

It may look the same, but trust you me (that’s another Southern expression, trust you me…) IT. IS. NOT. THE SAME.

Because THAT bread is the bread of life.

THIS bread? Once it is broken, it will give you just enough calories, barely, to breathe. To literally breathe. Inhale. Exhale. That’s it.

THAT bread? THAT bread will give you enough calories, enough life, to change the world.

THIS bread? (Inhale. Exhale.)

THAT bread? Move mountains.

THIS bread? (Inhale. Exhale.)

THAT bread? Bring the dead to life.

THIS bread? (Inhale. Exhale.)

THIS bread is like the manna that fell from heaven to keep the Israelites alive in the wilderness. And manna, my friends, is not really what y’all would call “bread.” Because manna is really nothing more than excretions from plant lice that live in the desert and feast on tamarisk trees. (Yes, the bread from heaven that kept the Israelites alive for 40 years in the wilderness was bug poop …)[1]

THAT bread? It will fill you and sustain you and strengthen you and give you the courage and endurance and everything else y’all will ever need to do all God is calling all y’all to do.

Do you see the difference?

THIS bread is nothing but a few calories that will allow you to survive for but a few short minutes. I could break it up and it would be, for us, just a snack.

But THAT bread – THAT bread is LIFE.

And once THAT bread is consecrated – not really by Danny, even though that’s what we say, but by God on high – it becomes the Body of Christ.

And THAT, my friend, is when the holiness happens.

NOT at the consecration – although that is holy in and of itself, and should never be taken for granted.

No. The real holiness comes when we, the Body of Christ, come forward as the Body of Christ to meet the Body of Christ in its most intimate form.

Let me say that again: The real holiness comes when we, the Body of Christ, come forward as the Body of Christ to meet the Body of Christ in its most intimate form.

What we are doing here especially tonight, on this Feast of the Body of Christ, is engaging in an intimate, loving encounter with love itself.

Which is why Danny can never take this for granted.

And it is why all y’all can never take communion for granted, either.

Because THAT bread is NOT THIS bread.

THAT bread is the fullness of all of the love that God has for each and every one of us, all the incredible, radical, wild, never-ending, world-changing, life-altering, life-giving love that God freely gives to each one of us.

THAT bread – taken, blessed, broken and given – is THE bread of life, THE bread of love, THE great gift that God gives us freely and recklessly, over and over again.

Now, let me ask y’all something:

Why do y’all think God gives us this bread, every single day, over and over again, whenever we want it, whenever we need it? You think it’s just because God wants us to survive one more day, to draw one more breath?

NO!!!!

God gives us this bread so we can DO something with it!

It is not enough to simply come to church once a week and get our little nibble and then go home again and pretend that that’s that.

God gives us THAT bread so that we have the strength and courage and power and nourishment to go out into the world and do all the things that God is asking us to do:

To feed the hungry and Give water to the thirsty

to give Voice to the voiceless and hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind

To make the lame leap for joy and the dead come to life.

To set the prisoner free and include the excluded and touch the untouchable.

To love the unloved

THAT bread is so powerful that with it, you will change the world.

THAT bread will give you the strength to stand up to a world that says, “I got mine and I don’t care if you ever get yours,” and say in return, “Not today, Satan. Today everybody gets what they need, everybody eats, everybody is loved and welcomed and celebrated.”

So … let me sum this up for you:

THIS bread? A snack. And not a very good one at that.

THAT bread? Love. Life. Holiness.

Got it? Good.

Now, David, do me a favor and open those back doors, please. Let the world in for all of us to see.

And Danny, I need you come here please, to receive your charge:

My friend. My brother in Christ. You have been called by God to nourish and strengthen the people whom God has placed in your trust so that together, all y’all can go out into that world you see to do all that God calls all y’all to do. You are to do this through prayer, and through the regular feeding of your people. You listen to me, son: Do not EVER presume that you can do this easily. Do not EVER think you can fall out of bed to land at that table. Do not EVER believe you can simply say some pretty words and wave your hands in a pretty manner, and that that will be enough. You take this calling from God seriously, Danny. EVERY time you stand at that table – or anywhere else – you remember: This is holy stuff you’re doing. This is wild stuff. This is dangerous stuff. Because you, on behalf of God, are feeding God’s beloved children with God’s very self so that together, all y’all can do all the things God needs all y’all to do. You are playing with fire, son. So, please … be faithful to this call. Always.

You listen to me, son …

And now, my friends, I’m asking all y’all to stand, and to look out those doors into your world, as all y’all receive your charge:

My friends. My sisters and brothers in Christ. Y’all – all y’all – are the Body of Christ. Y’all are the hands and feet and arms and legs and heart and soul and mind and voice of the Risen Lord in this world. Y’all have been called to stand up in this broken, hungry, fear-filled world and proclaim God’s good news by word and deed. And as the Body of Christ, you are given the great gift of coming forward to meet the Body of Christ, to be nourished by the Body of Christ, to be strengthened by the Body of Christ so that all y’all can do everything Christ asks of you. Do not EVER presume that THAT bread is just a snack. Do not EVER come to the table willy-nilly. Do not EVER forget that y’all are playing with fire every single time you receive the Body of Christ. Go into your world, my friends, knowing that you have been fed with the very love of God, which y’all received as the Body of Christ from the Body of Christ. God needs all y’all in this world. So, please … be faithful to y’all’s call as well. Always.

Amen.


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, 1987, p. 9

The Rev. Danny Pegg celebrating his first Eucharist on the Feast of Corpus Christi.
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Pentecost 2019: Today’s the day!

My sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Rosebud Episcopal Mission, Rosebud Reservation, on Sunday, 9 June: Today’s the day we get the power and the ability to do the work that Jesus has given us to do.

pentecost-2019-the-day-we-get-the-power-to-live-the-gospel

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Ascension 2019: It’s time for Jesus to get out of the way

My sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Rosebud Episcopal Church, Rosebud Reservation, on Sunday, 2 June 2019: This is the day when Jesus gets out of the way – because Jesus trusts us to do the work he has given us to do.

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6 Easter 2019: A little love here, a little love there, a little love everywhere

My sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Rosebud Episcopal Mission, Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota, on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 26 May, on John 14: It’s all about the love.

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5 Easter 2019: We are all clean, holy, and worthy

My sermon preached on the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C, at Trinity Episcopal Church, Rosebud Episcopal Mission, Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota, on the Acts of the Apostles, 11:1-18.

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4 Easter 2019: God doesn’t ‘follow’ us; God ‘chases’ us!

My sermon preached at Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Parmelee, on Sunday, 12 May, 2019, on Psalm 23: God doesn’t timidly follow you in life; God aggressively pursues you!

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3 Easter 2019: Do You Love Me?

My sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Mission, S.D., on the Rosebud Reservation. From John 22: Do You Love Me?

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2 Easter 2019: God is God, and God is love

My sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Mission, S.D., on the Rosebud Reservation. From both Acts 5 and John 20: We are the ones to stop the hatred in the world.

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Easter 2019: Believing the ones who went before

My sermon for Easter Sunday 2019, on believing the ones who went before us, and who testified to the truth of what they had seen.

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