Sermons and Speeches

Bishop Lee's Sermons

Diocesan Convention Sermon 2015

Last week I was in New York for a meeting of the board of Episcopal Relief & Development. As part of the celebration of the organization’s 75th birthday we also hosted there a symposium with partners from around the world, partners with ERD in extraordinary work going on in many places. Health services in Africa and Central America, climate-smart agricultural projects in Ghana, efforts to stem the terror of sexual and gender based violence in Kenya and Burundi. These are projects of and by the people who live in these communities, Anglican Christians, our sisters and brothers with whom we partner to accomplish miraculous results, life giving change for the good. The keynote speaker for thesymposium was Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank Group (I never dreamed I’d be traveling in company like this!) Among other things, Dr. Kim is something of a theologian, much influenced by liberation theology. I was not expecting to hear from the lips of the president of the World Bank the phrase "a preferential option for the poor."

He reminded us that while the news around the world is full of tragedy, crisis and challenge, it is also a time of remarkable progress and possibility. Indeed, for the first time in human history we stand before the real possibility of eliminating extreme poverty in most of the world. The UN Sustainable Development Goals commit the world to just this goal by the year 2030. And it is not a pipe dream. A challenge, but not a pipe dream.

Here are some facts that hardly ever get reported:

• Since the 1990s the number of extremely poor people in the world (those earning less than $1 a day) has plummeted - declining by 200 million over the last three years alone.

• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.

• In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; today, 80 percent do.

Even birthrates are affected by economic and social development and they tend in the direction of sustainability. In 1985 Hatitian women averaged six children; today the number is 3. In Bangladesh and Indonesia the average is just over 2. When the poor know that their children will survive, when they educate their daughters, when they access family planning, they have fewer children.

Now the world remains a dangerous place - it hardly needs to be said after the last couple of weeks. Terrorism, domestic and global, threatens to undo us. Inequality abounds in this country. Climate change is creating increasingly volatile conditions and we know that will only increase global displacement and various kinds of instability. I heard from Dr. Kim that by mid-century, as much as 40% of the arable land in sub-Saharan Africa will become unarable. But the fact is, despite massive challenges, we have made remarkable, even miraculous progress in the direction of human flourishing and we can continue to do so. God has not abandoned the creation.

Read the sermon.

Diocesan Convention Sermon 2014

Bishop Lee: Picture a scene with me:

Two friends are working side by side helping to get things ready for a thanksgiving meal at a local soup kitchen. One of them is a long time member of his local parish…the other, well, not so much.

Jihan Murray-Smith:  What’s an Episcopalian?

Bishop:  How did you know I’m an Episcopalian?

Jihan Murray-Smith:  Your apron. It says, “Hug me, I’m an Episcopalian.”

Bishop:  Oh. Yes, I go to St. Paul’s Church, just down the street. We’ve been on the same corner for 150 years and just completed a million-dollar renovation of our organ.

Jihan Murray-Smith:  I think I know the building you’re talking about. It has red doors. I thought it might be closed, but if you’re there Sunday mornings, I guess that’s why I never saw the doors open. So tell me again: what’s an Episcopalian?

Bishop Lee:  Well, we’re a liturgical church, maintaining catholic traditions, but we’re not the Roman Catholic Church. We’re part of the Anglican Communion, a whole family of churches that stem from the Church of England. The Episcopal Church is the branch rooted here in America, founded just as the Revolutionary War finished.

Jihan Murray-Smith:(silence) No offense, but I’m not sure what a lot of what you said means. Liturgical? catholic but not Catholic? Anglican?

Bishop Lee:  Maybe you heard about us on the news several years ago? The gay bishop?

Jihan Murray-Smith:  Right! You’re the ones who split over homosexuality.

Bishop Lee:  We didn’t actually split. Some folks did leave, but Episcopalians describe ourselves as following the Via Media, and that means we can hold many theological perspectives in tension, but still gather at the same Eucharistic table.

Jihan Murray-Smith: (silence)

Bishop Lee: Did I lose you again?

Jihan Murray-Smith:  It’s okay. How about we get started? I think the guests are coming in now.

That little dialogue (adapted) opens volume one of the church’s newest teaching series. The series is called “The Episcopal Way.” It’s the beginning of the first book in the series and it’s written by our friends Eric Law and Stephanie Spellers. I wonder if it was at all recognizable to you? I wonder if it might even have made you wince a little. I’m pretty sure Eric and Stephanie meant it to. It certainly worked on me.

So much of our time and energy, so much of our attention, our blood, sweat and tears seems to me to be focused on, well, us. The most read news source for the Episcopal Church is a remarkable, comprehensive website called the Episcopal Cafe. News items and commentary are contributed from across the church. The Cafe was created by and until just recently curated by someone who works on our communications team in this diocese (and who is in fact back there in the room today) Jim Naughton. It’s full of news and opinion pieces on many topics of concern in both the church and the wider world. It is interesting though to me to see just what news items are most read and gather the most comments. You might wonder that with me in a world like ours. Can you guess which stories might be at the top of the heap? Ebola? The sins of racial inequality? The environment? Gun violence? Nope. The most recent prize for the highest readership (by a landslide) is the high drama and internal conflict at our oldest Episcopal seminary - the General Seminary in New York. I won’t even go into the quality of the commentary on that topic in both the Cafe and on Facebook, except to quote one memorable Facebook posting that likened the firing of faculty at General to (and I quote) “Jesus being crucified all over again.” Jim Naughton likes to joke that on slow news days they could just put up a headline that says, “Let’s argue about church music” and sign off for the day.

Read the entire sermon.

Diocesan Convention Sermon 2013

Change. Our scriptures today hold before us a dazzling image of God at work to create new heavens and a new earth, that God is making all things -- us included -- unimaginably new. Our friend on Grey's Anatomy deftly sums it up the way physicists and other scientists do -- the one and only constant in all of physical reality is change and all that is up to us is how we will experience change, what we would call theologically the gift of human free will. To change or not change is a moot point: look in the mirror, listen to the news, walk down the street.

Read the sermon.

Agents of Advent

Bishop Lee's preached at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Evanston on December 16, 2012, two days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Read his sermon.

Diocesan Convention Sermon 2012

Read Bishop Lee's 2012 convention sermon, titled "Fierce Shepherd."

The Great Awakening

Bishop Lee preached on Friday, January 6, 2012 at The Great Awakening, an Epiphany event hosted by Seabury Western Theological Seminary with support from the Diocese of Chicago.

Diocesan Convention Sermon

Living Under Water, Orthodox and Practical: November 19, 2011

print (.pdf)

video (YouTube)

Bishop Lee's Speeches

Common Prayer and the Common Good

Bishop Lee spoke to the Men's Prayer Breakfast at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn about "Common Prayer and the Common Good."

Diocesan Convention Address 2013

Read Bishop Lee's address to the 176th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Chicago, November 22-23, 2013 in Lombard, Ill.

Remarks to the House of Bishops: Loss and Possibility

On September 24, 2013, Bishop Lee spoke to the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops on loss and possibility.

Bishop Lee's Reunification Convention Sermon

Read Bishop Lee's sermon to the 175th convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago when it reconvened on June 8, 2013, to vote on reunification with the Diocese of Quincy.

Diocesan Convention 2012

The Conversation is the Relationship: Bishop's Address, November 17, 2012

Diocesan Convention 2011

This Little Light: Diocesan Convention Annual Address, November 18, 2011 (.pdf)

At the Table of God's Delight

Bishop Lee gave a presentation on October 12 at a consultation in Durban, South Africa sponsored by the Univeristy of KwaZulu-Natal and the Chicago Consultation:

"The decisions we have made as a church, in moving toward the full inclusion of all people in our sacramental life, flow not from political correctness, nor from increasingly elastic social norms, nor from an “anything goes” attitude toward sin, but precisely from a profound engagement with the central matters of the Christian faith, beginning with contemplation of the Trinity itself."

Read the entire presentation, beginning on page 14.