December 18, 2020

                                    

Beloved:

 

Mary probably didn’t hear the choir of angels. On that first Christmas night in Bethlehem, it would have been chilly, there would have been pain mixed with tears after giving birth, alone in a strange place, as a teenage girl with a man she barely knew, separated from all she loved — she probably didn’t hear the angels.

 

Joseph probably didn’t see the star that night. Traveling on foot for days with a young woman who carried a child that was not his own, kneeling next to her while the barn animals looked on and the baby was born, envisioning all that might lie ahead for a simple carpenter — he probably didn’t see the star.

 

But there were angels, and there was a star that lit up the sky. Our story tells us so. This year, we are living through a Christmas like no other. It is probably closer to the original Christmas than those of past years. We might not be hearing choirs of angels or seeing the star of Bethlehem. But the story is still real — very real. And, the story is still God-anointed. Amid the pain, uncertainty, loneliness, and unfamiliar things that mark this Christmas amid twin pandemics, the miracle still unfolds.

 

That is one of the joys of Christmas — each year, the Christ child is born anew into our lives and into the world. We celebrate an ancient story, but as people of faith, we also rejoice in the coming of a savior, the Prince of Peace, who comes bearing the gift of unconditional love. It is both ancient and new every year.

 

This Christmas, I pray that the spirit of Emmanuel — God with us — fills your life. I pray that God will once again break into history and hold you and all those you love in God’s embrace. I pray you will share God’s love with those around you in acts of mercy and justice. And, I pray that you will hear — however distant — the singing of the angels’ alleluias and experience the light of God’s glory illuminating the year ahead.

 

This year has taken so much from us, but it has also gifted us with blessings as well. One of those blessings is unfolding in the night sky. The Star of Bethlehem or Christmas Star, which astronomers theorize may have been caused by the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn passing one another very closely, will be visible on December 21. This magnificent celestial wonder has not been visible in this way since March 4, 1226, and will not likely occur again before 2239. I hope you will take the time to look up and receive this blessing. I pray we will all quiet ourselves and receive the wonder of the light.

 

May your Christmas celebration reflect the realities of these uncertain times. But more importantly, may it also be filled with the wonder of a star that caused the angels to sing. I wish each of you love.

 

Grace and Blessings, the Lord is come!

 

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling
Baltimore-Washington Conference
The United Methodist Church

 

 
July 8, 2020
 
Bishop Easterling’s Letter:
The Time is ‘Now’ to Address Racism
 

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Over the past four years, we have proclaimed, together as a conference, that “We are One.” (Ephesians 4:1-16) We are one in times of celebration and joy, and we are one in times of challenge and struggle. As the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many others have drawn the nation and our denomination into a conversation about the sin of racism, our conference has been engaged in several prayer vigils, public witnesses, and an intensified call to action. For some, these acts of public witness have created the sense that we are no longer one because we are talking about systemic racism and oppression. Yet, it is more important than ever that we remain connected; that we embrace our unity in Christ to confront this evil together.

 When Jesus opened the scroll to the passage from Isaiah, he announced that, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). 

 I believe this and many other passages evidence that equality, justice, freedom for all, and fullness of life are ours because Jesus is Lord and God has ordained it to be so. We must work together to make this become a reality for all.

 What is happening in this country must be addressed from the perspective of the Gospel — not to make people feel bad or to engage in partisan politics — but to equip disciples for the transformation of the world. That is our duty. To not engage the crises of the day makes our preaching and teaching disconnected from our lived reality and, some would argue, irrelevant. Karl Barth famously quipped that a good preacher should have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. As is stated in our shared Social Principles, racism is a sin. To help everyone explore and respond to becoming an anti-racist church, I have called upon the people of the Baltimore-Washington Conference to preach one sermon a month and offer one teaching opportunity on racism or systemic oppression. Each of us has much to learn in this area. We do our best learning together in covenant with one another.

 In order to help facilitate this work, The Discipleship Council has provided an excellent outline of action for churches who are ready to commit to becoming an anti-racist church. This, and other resources for people at various points along this journey, may be found at bwcumc.org/justicenow. There will also be resourcing added each month to assist with the preaching and teaching efforts.

Our focus on rising united to end racism does NOT mean that anyone is being asked to apologize for being White, to denounce their ancestors, or confess that being White is to inherently be a racist. And yet, there is still a truth that stands before us: racism exists; the architecture of racism and White supremacy are real and harmful; and we must confront them to live out our Gospel commitment, baptismal vows, and the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church. As we engage this work, it will also be incumbent upon those who have suffered under systemic oppression to release any bitterness or animosity and, as real confession and change occur, work toward reconciliation and healing. This is what it means to walk the road toward Christian perfection. This is what it means to be one.

As people of God, we understand that God created all people in God’s own image. God didn’t create one race as superior and others as inferior. God created all persons as sacred, worthy, and equal. For centuries, humans have distorted this truth to exert power over one another. While progress has been made toward creating a more just and equitable society and church, we have much more work to do. The coronavirus stands out as an example of disparities in health care and the systemic inequality rampant in our society. Another current example is the disparity in access to the Internet, which has impacted distance learning. It is these types of disparities that we must work to overcome.

The work of dismantling racism is hard. Very hard. It evokes resentment, denial, anger, fear, and pain. And yet, we must do it. As we dive into this work, we must realize, it is always easy to talk about racism and oppression in general, but it is exceedingly harder to create real, tangible change. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in his speech, The Other America, “It is much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality.” Generalities are easy; specifics are hard. It is hard, but it is not impossible. We are a people of faith, hope, and determination.  

Some have argued that this is not the right time to engage this work. That we are stretched thin as we face the realities of COVID-19, a recession, and other exhausting events in our lives. I again look to Dr. King in addressing this sentiment. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he states, “‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.'” To demand that those suffering injustices be patient and wait is itself a manifestation of privilege. If you literally cannot breathe, you cannot wait patiently for air. The time, beloved, is now.

It is essential that we keep the doors open for further conversation. I pray for each of you every day. I love you, I seek to serve you, and I recognize that each of us is a sacred child of God. It is my prayer that we will continue to serve Christ together — all to the glory of God.

Blessings and Peace,

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling 

The time is “NOW” to address racism