Sermon for Sunday, September 12, 2010
Exodus 32:7-14; Luke 15:1-10
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t remember where they were nine years ago today. The day after the day that has come to be known by its numbers: 9/11
And I’m remembering as well the days following – ones that brought out both the best and worst in what I’ve come to think of as our Big Fat Christian Family. Here’s some of the worst -- from the sermon I preached on September 16, 2001 as the priest-in-charge at St. Peter’s in San Pedro the Sunday after 9/11:
I read with horror and amazement the transcripts from the dialogue between Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on Tuesday’s tragedy: blaming the ACLU, feminists, gays & lesbians and those who support a woman’s right to choose for causing this calamity: for bringing down God’s anger on the United States. "I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'" said Falwell.And nine years later I could preach the same sermon this morning using this week’s craziness over the Florida pastor’s "Burn the Qur'an" circus as an illustration.
I realized with sobering clarity on Friday morning as I watched the service from the National Cathedral, that I hold much more in common faith with the Islamic and Jewish leaders who gathered … to pray for peace and healing than I do with these "fellow Christians" who use the Gospel of Jesus Christ as an assault weapon aimed at those with whom they disagree.
It wouldn’t be the sermon I’d planned to preach today. Actually, I was pretty far down the road on a sermon for this morning connecting the reading from Exodus about God changing his mind about smiting the Israelites for building a golden calf because Moses talked him out of it with Jesus’ parable about the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to go find the one who was missing.
But the news of the week kind of got in the way. And I found myself talking to reporters and writing press releases that included statements like this one:
While we believe the flurry of attention given this week to the Florida pastor and his ill-conceived plan to burn the Qur’an on 9/11 is regrettable, it also points out the crying need for education rather than polarization – and that is a need All Saints Church is mobilizing to meet in collaboration with our interfaith allies.
And then I found myself at the Islamic Center of Southern California yesterday at a Peace Vigil where our rector was one of the featured speakers. We’ll post a video of his remarks shortly, but let me share my favorite quote this morning as a preview:
"Let me give you some advice about Christian preachers. [he said to the Standing Room Only interfaith crowd.] If a Christian preacher is spewing hate and violence in the name of God or in the name of religion, that preacher is lying about his own religion. If that preacher doesn’t know the truth and beauty of his own religion, how can he be trusted to tell the truth about anybody else’s religion? He can’t."And to that all God’s people are invited to say, “AMEN”!!
“And we will not stand by while fear mongers attempt to make September 11th events moments of demonization and polarization by advocating tactics that are neither American nor authentically religious. All the world religions advocate living out of the House of Love, not the House of Fear.”
We hear a lot about the House of Love here at All Saints Church. (And if you’re a newcomer or visitor then just stick around – I guarantee you we’ll CONTINUE to hear a lot about the House of Love in the days and weeks to come!)
It is from the House of Love that we go out to proclaim the Good News of God’s inclusive love … and it is that radical proclamation that changes hearts and minds … that builds bridges rather blows up buildings … that draws us closer to being the human family we were created to be by the God who created us in love and then called us to love one another..
The quote from the Qur’an that opened yesterday’s peace vigil put it this way:
"O mankind! We created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know and honor each other (not that you should despise one another)." Chapter 49, verse 13• Another way to put it is: “A core Christian teaching is to love our neighbor as ourselves – and you do not love your Muslim neighbors by burning their holy scriptures.”
• And yet another is “This little light of mine” is for SHINING … not for burning other people’s books!
Now I TOTALLY hear all of those arguments about how we should have ignored him and his maybe-fifty-member congregation and why is he getting all this publicity, and, and. And ... here’s my response: This Florida fanatic is just the wing-nut-du jour who's crawled out from under the rock of bias & bigotry. He is not alone.
Sadly we know there are LEGIONS of others out there spewing this same kind of venom what Maher Hathout called yesterday: “the unholy Trinity of ignorance, bigotry and stupidity.” And maybe, just maybe, exposing them to the light of day will help wake up some who think our Muslim brothers and sisters have cornered the market on dangerous fundamentalists.
The truth is our Big Fat Christian Family has its own lunatic fringe – and they are the fear mongers the rector talked about yesterday at the Islamic Center. And whether we like it or not – whether we chose it or not -- it is both the challenge and the opportunity du jour.
It is an opportunity to change hearts and minds – it is a platform to preach about God's inclusive love and not roll over and let one Crazy Christian and his maybe-fifty-something followers simultaneously put our troops in more danger than they already are AND make Jesus look bad to the whole darned planet!
It is an opportunity to change the hearts and minds of those who have listened to the Falwells and the Robertsons and the Joneses and think they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one. And who could blame them? It is an opportunity for us to embody true Christian Values – the ones we share with our wider interfaith family -- and those values are not bigotry, hatred and discrimination ... they are love, justice and compassion.
This is NO time to be silent. It's a time to stand up. To speak out.To make our voices heard.
If Moses could argue with God and change his mind about smiting the Israelites – who let’s face it, kind of deserved it ... what with the golden calf incident and all ... surely we can speak up and change some of the minds who dismiss Christians as narrow minded, judgmental and ignorant. And if Jesus could leave 99 sheep and go out to find the one lost one, maybe we need to be stepping out of our comfort zone and doing the same. Looking for those who came looking for the God who loved them and ran from the church that judged them. Or condemned them. Or rejected them.
My brothers and sisters, the House of Love does not have a drawbridge to pull up to barricade ourselves inside safe from the challenges of the world not yet transformed into that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. It is not the place we hide from the world but the place from which we go OUT into the world … to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisons ... to proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor to the whole human family.
I don’t know anybody who doesn’t know where there were nine years ago today. The day after the day that has come to be known by its numbers: 9/11.
I also know where I was eight years ago yesterday. I was here – behind this altar … celebrating for the first time as part of the observation of the first anniversary of 9/11. And so I want to close today with this reflection I wrote eight years ago on September 11, 2002 – a reflection that is still for me an icon of who we aspire to be as the All Saints House of Love:
The candles massed in front of the altar burn in tribute to the names being read from the lectern – Naomi Leah Solomon, Daniel W. Song, Michael C. Soresse, Fabian Soto – as other names scroll above the altar projected on a video screen – John Bentley Works, William Wren, Sandra Wright, Myrna Yashkulka.
The church is silent save for the reading of the names and the careful footsteps of those who come forward to light a candle -- the gentle thud of a kneeler lowered for prayer --the quiet rustle of pages turned in a prayer book.
“American Airline Flight 11”– Anna Allison, David Lawrence Angell, Lynn Edwards Angell, Seima Aoyamma. The names began at 5:46 – the west coast moment when the first plane struck – and will continue through the morning until we gather for Eucharist at noon. The table is already set. The red frontal – blood of martyrs – covers the altar. The chalice is vested, the missal marked. The credence table is ready, too: flagons of wine, silver chalices and ciborium lined up – ready to hold the holy food and drink of new and unending life we will share here at All Saints Church.
“All Saints” – Charles’ deep voice breaks the silence as he begins reading the next segment of the list of names: “World Trade Center, continued” – Paul Riza, John Frank Rizzo, Stephen Luis Roch, Leo Roberts. I remember the ancient words of comfort from the prophet Isaiah, “I have called you by name and you are mine.” As Charles tolls the names of the dead that assurance echoes again and again in my head. These names I do not know – some I cannot even pronounce – each and every one known to God. Beloved of God.
“United Airlines Flight 93”: Christine Adams, Lorraine Berg, Todd Beamer, Alan Beaven. Gone from our sight yet gathered into God’s embrace -- seated at the heavenly banquet we can but glimpse through the sacrament we are preparing to share -- the offering of praise and thanksgiving we will present at this altar.
I look again at the ciborium massed on the credence table – the candles flickering in the polished silver – the light of lives lost reflected in the vessels holding the bread of life. It staggers the mind to consider what they represent – the magnitude of the collective loss of love, joy, hope and possibilities taken on that day a year ago with such sudden unexpectedness.
Takashi Ogawa. Albert Ogletree. Gerald Michael Olcott. The pain of death and loss mingles mysteriously in the promise of life and hope. Body and Blood. Bread and Wine. Strength for the journey and hope for the future. Hope for a world where differences enrich rather than divide. Hope for the end of wars waged in the name of the God who created us not to destroy but to love each other.
Dipti Patel. James Matthew Patrick. Sharon Christina Millan Paz. “Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith there is a place for you here.” Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.