Thursday, September 22, 2022

Episcopal Church Supports Respect for Marriage Act

“Across religious traditions, we honor the common tenet that every person has inherent dignity and worth. And wherever we call home, we share the desire to care for our families with love and commitment. We urge the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, taking meaningful action to protect same-sex and interracial marriage.”

These words are from the September 20, 2022 the Episcopal News Service article entitled "Episcopalians encouraged to support federal law supporting same-sex marriage." You can read it here. Twenty years ago a collaborative initiative called "Claiming the Blessing" was launched with the goal of working with allies and organizations within the Episcopal Church to secure approval of liturgical rites of blessing for same-sex unions. This was before the election of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire and before the Windsor Report or the various efforts to vote the Episcopal Church off the Anglican Island during the Great Inclusion Wars -- when the lives, vocations and relationships of LGBTQ Anglicans were egregiously exploited as pawns in a game of global Anglican politics.
It was, of course, not "all about us." It was about the wider and still looming question of who has the power to decide who is in and who is out of God's Beloved Community; of how we will interpret the scripture we receive as an inheritance from our spiritual ancestors; of whether patriarchy is God's design for how we live and move and have our being in this realm -- of whether God is (as some continue to insist) "a boys' name" and if respecting the dignity of every human being actually means EVERY human being.
The journey continues -- as does the struggle -- but twenty years ago we couldn't have imagined an article like this offered by the Episcopal News Service covering the unequivocal support of the Episcopal Church for respect for ALL marriages. In fact, twenty years ago, we launched our Claiming the Blessing initiative with this disclaimer from then-Integrity President Michael Hopkins:
We believe in our heart of hearts that our relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships … and so, in our heart of hearts, we believe the rite used to publicly celebrate them should be equal. But that is not what we are asking for … We are compromising, moderating our position, for the sake of the Church. Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which for us to live. But learning to live together must mean “mutual deference” not moratoriums."
Our position was a bridge too far for some and not far enough for others -- and yet it was a bridge we continued to build. And while the work of full inclusion and the eradication of homophobia & transphobia in all its forms and manifestations is far from done, we find ourselves in this moment, at this time, in this place where the Episcopal Church officially stands up and speaks out for respect for marriage ... with no asterisk relegating some marriages -- our marriages --to second class status.
Margaret Mead famously said "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has." With all the challenges we face in this moment in this church, in this nation and in this world I think it's worth pausing for just a minute to recognize that change can happen. That persistence does pay off. And that incremental victories toward the audacious goal of making this a world where we respect the dignity of every human being are worth celebrating.
And then we get back to work

Monday, September 19, 2022

Our Dreams Are on the Other Side of Fear

So on Sunday, September 18, 2022 this happened: I preached on Homecoming Sunday at All Saints Church -- which was such a high honor it wasn't even on my bucket list! But the baton got passed to me on Thursday morning when the rector tested positive for COVID and here's what came of it ... with thanks to inspiration from Miguel Escobar, Verna Dozier, Viola Davis, Johnny Cash, Tobias Haller and -- of course -- Jesus! 

Our Dreams Are On the Other Side of Fear

It is always an honor to bring a word as a preacher from this pulpit – 
to stand where Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, George Regas, Barbara Harris, Michael Curry, Ed Bacon, and countless others have stood down through the years is a privilege I always carry with me when I step into this holy space.

And I carry all those feels with me this morning – along with a little bit of what I imagine it might feel like to get the call to come out of the bullpen to pitch for Kershaw on Opening Day – on this All Saints Homecoming Sunday 2022 as I stand here in place of our rector, Mike Kinman, who is back from sabbatical but home recovering from a bout with Covid. Mike, we send our love and your prayers to you for a rapid recovery and a quick return to us.

If you think you can’t-go-home-again
            Because the might-haves and
            the should-haves and the
            have taken hold,
Then think again.

And here we are ... home again.

This is the twenty-first year I've heard those words read from that lectern by the inimitable Anne Peterson on an All Saints Homecoming Sunday – and every single time I feel a little catch in my throat and a little sweat in my eyeballs at the unconditional love and welcome they embody.
At the radical inclusion they preach.
At the core Gospel they proclaim.

And if I've ever been tempted in the twenty years I’ve been on staff  here at All Saints to take them for granted then the changes, chances and challenges of the recent past have utterly knocked that out of my system.

We have come through so much together since the last time we gathered for an everybody back in church, tent on the lawn, party after the service, everything but the kitchen sink All Saints Homecoming Sunday back in 2019. 

We have weathered a pandemic
which continues to infect and affect our daily lives,
we have survived both a general election and an armed insurrection,
we have provided a safe haven
for siblings experiencing homelessness on our campus
and we have mourned the loss of family, community,
and congregation members who we love but see no more.  

We have shared the collective grief and outrage
at the senseless death of George Floyd
and the systemic racism that continues to infect our nation,
marched together in protest at the stripping
of constitutional rights to bodily autonomy
for people who can become pregnant 
and wondered together if our country can survive
the ongoing assault on this fragile experiment
we call constitutional democracy –
all under the shadow of the existential climate crisis,
ongoing scourge of gun violence
and the threat of global war in general and Ukraine in specific.

Nevertheless, we persist.

As we gather on this Homecoming 2022 we celebrate the resilience of a community of faith living out its commitment to courageous justice and radical inclusion in our generation as those who came before us did in theirs.

For we inherit a legacy of what it is to be home – not only for each other but for all those who come seeking the love, justice and compassion so tragically lacking in so much of our beautiful and broken world. 

And we also inherit a legacy of changing and being changed by those who make All Saints their home as they join in that work and witness we share as we continue to move forward into God's future.

In our home, my wife Lori and I have dedicated a wall to family photos. Maybe you have one of those, too. Hanging in the center of ours is piece of calligraphy that reads:

            Our family is a circle of strength and love.
            With every birth and every union, the circle grows.
            Every joy shared adds more love.
            Every crisis faced together makes the circle stronger.

It is a reminder that nothing is static; that families change and grow as the circle grows; and that both shared joys and shared challenges are part of what it means to build a home together – whether that home is a family home or a church home.

So welcome home!

Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on this 18th day of September in the year of our Lord 2022 ... whether you're here at 132 Euclid  in your favorite pew or choir seat or chancel chair; out on the quad lawn in our outdoor seating area or streaming from afar due to the marvels of modern technology; whether it is your first or twenty-first or forty-first Homecoming Sunday – or if you just wandered in the door or clicked on a streaming link and are wondering what this is all about – Welcome Home to All Saints Church as we celebrate one of the great parish feast days of our big fat parish family.

And as the lectionary roulette wheel would have it, our opening prayer gave us a head start on setting the table for that feast: 

Grant us, Loving God, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure …

Am I the only one who heard Sally read the words “not be anxious” and thought “Are you kidding? Have you seen the news lately?”

No. Not kidding.

Yes – there’s a lot to be anxious about. 
I’ve got a whole list of the things and I’ll bet you do, too.

But the good news is the very fact that there’s a prayer in the prayer book that explicitly calls us out of that anxiety means we’re not the first generation to work our way through that anxiety.

The good news is that we have a whole balcony full of cheerleaders in the host of heaven supporting us as we grapple with the challenges of our time as they did with the challenges of theirs.

The good news is that when the ongoing deluge of what my father used to call “the news of fresh disasters” threatens to discourage, exhaust, and immobilize us we’ve got an app for that.

And that app is not pie in the sky when you die theology …
It is God is with us here on the ground theology
which is as ancient as these words we heard this morning from the Psalmist:  

Who is like our God? Enthroned so high, you need to stoop to see the sky and the earth! You raise the poor from the dust and lift the needy from the dust to give them a place at the table with rulers, with the leaders of your people.

And it is present in the Gospel appointed for today … which is hard to understand and harder to preach – or at least it was for me until I encountered my friend and brilliant colleague Miquel Escobar’s new book: The Unjust Steward: Wealth, Poverty and the Church Today.”   

Miguel reminds us that throughout the Gospels, stewards are the foils to Jesus’ scandalous generosity – and that they are closely linked with domination, exploitation, and injustice: this morning’s Gospel being a key case in point.

For context, what we hear is a story that takes place on a vast agricultural estate, one in which a landowner and his property manager -- the steward – had pressed workers into forms of debt bondage.

Biblical scholars have noted that the steward here was likely a “first servant” who had been freed from enslavement for the purpose of serving as manager and overseer of the others in bondage to the landowner.

When the landowner fires the steward, he panics and comes up with a curious plan for survival. After years of extracting wealth from those he had overseen, the steward now begins to send his master’s wealth flowing in reverse by remitting the debts of those indebted to the master.  

In the end, the steward gains new life by releasing his master’s ill-begotten wealth for the remittance of debts; and he gains refuge by serving those he’d formerly exploited. In other words, he chooses which master to serve – and Jesus concludes the parable by appearing to praise the actions of the steward who alleviated debts in an act of economic jubilee – contrary to the ways of the world but in alignment with the heavenly values of love, justice, and compassion.

Also in alignment with these words from a Johnny Cash tune:

If you're holding heaven, then spread it around
There's hungry hands reaching up here from the ground
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
You’re so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good

To be saved from being so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good liberates us to love things heavenly in a way that empowers us to engage in earthly things – 
to be the change we want to see in the world –
to live out God’s heavenly dream of love, justice, and compassion in the spite of the epidemic of hate, judgement, and condemnation spreading like another kind of viral variant throughout our human family.

Just this week we watched in disbelief as members of our human family were used as pawns in a game of partisan politics for exercising their legal right to seek asylum in our nation.

It’s literally enough to give Baby Jesus colic …
and yet we have the example of the good people of St. Martha’s Episcopal Church on Martha’s Vineyard who opened their arms, hearts, and parish hall – holding heaven and spreading it around. 

Their Gospel witness is but one example of how we hold onto things heavenly not as an escape from all that’s broken in our world but as a lifeline to the grace and power we need to repair that what is broken – to move over and share the high ground with those who hunger for hope and home – 
to continually widen the circle of strength and love –
to make this world once again into the dream God dreamed for all
rather than the nightmare it has become for so many.
To make the garden of Eden grow green again.

I watched an interview with Viola Davis this weekend about her new film “The Woman King” – which I may or may not have seen while scrolling through Instagram procrastinating writing this sermon -- but I digress. 

In the interview, Ms. Davis described both the process of making the film and its core message with these words: “All your dreams are on the other side of fear.”

All your dreams are on the other side of fear.

And immediately I thought of these words from biblical scholar Verna Dozier: words I’ve quoted many times over the last 20 years from this pulpit:

“Doubt is not the opposite of faith.
Fear is.
Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong,
I will trust that if I move today
by the light that is given to me,
knowing it is only finite and partial,
I will know more and different things tomorrow
than I know today,
and I can be open to the new possibility
I cannot even imagine today.”

All Saints Church, all OUR dreams are on the other side of fear.
Possibilities we can’t even imagine are on the other side of fear.
All our dreams of all that we’re called to be as a community of faith, 
as a parish family, as an outward and visible sign of the Body of Christ in the world …
the work ahead of us building on the legacy behind us …
the privilege of continuing to imagine All Saints into being …
the gift of growing back not to what was,
but instead toward what we can become.

On this Homecoming Sunday 2022 let us claim that vision and that promise together. 
Let us resolve to be heavenly minded in order to do earthly good. 

Let us dare to dream together of the day when all will be restored; a day when that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven we pray for every time we gather becomes not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live – a day captured for me in these words by poet Brother Tobias Haller:

My beloved in Christ,
I give you this word:
now is the time for the children to grow up,
now is the time for the heirs to inherit.
Nothing will be lost.
All will be restored.
And now is the time.
The whole world is waiting,
the stars hold their breath,
the wild beasts and cattle
regard us with growing impatience,
the birds hover over us, the fish all tread water,
the trees shrug in wonder, or stand limbs akimbo,
and deep in our hearts
God’s Spirit is groaning:

“Be reborn, beloved, become what you are
and the world will be free.”
The Spirit is crying:
“Look up to the light, your hearts will be whole
and the wound will be healed.”
The Spirit is singing:
“My children, my children are home!”



Sunday, August 28, 2022

True Religion vs Toxic Religiosity

 I've always thought there should be extra credit for anyone who remembers a sermon after coffee hour. And that has never been more true than in this age of accelerated data dumps and social media tsunamis.  The sheer volume of stuff shouting for our attention seems to exponentially increase from Sunday to Sunday … and shows no sign of slowing down. We are arguably on information overload.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a seminary professor compared preaching a sermon to standing in the pulpit and flinging a bucket of water into a room full of Coke bottles. "If you're lucky," he said, "some of the water will end up in some of the bottles."

I suspect his point was to lower both our anxiety and our expectations as fledgling preachers -- but I remember it because even at the time it felt to me like the bar should be higher. And I still do.

Nevertheless, the metaphor stuck with me -- and this morning I'm getting extra credit for remembering a sermon past coffee hour … because I'm still carrying around some of the water flung from this pulpit last Sunday by Brother Chase. 

I'm still mulling the powerful image of the moment when Jesus stopped preaching the sermon and BECAME the sermon -- the moment when he dared to heal the woman who came to him on the Sabbath -- defying the purity codes, rubrics, customs, and protocols that defined the religious tradition he inherited ...  enraging the religious leaders of his day as he continued to make a name for himself as that Radical Rabbi from Nazareth.

And I'm still reflecting on this powerful question Chase asked from the pulpit:

“What will we be when life -- as life so often does --
dares us to be everything we say we believe?”

What will we be in response to a news cycle dominated by the rise of Christian Nationalism, by systematic faith-based scapegoating of transgender people in general and transgender youth in particular, by pearl clutching over student loan forgiveness and by the distortion of ancient biblical texts to justify eliminating the right to bodily autonomy for people who can become pregnant.

What will we be when judgment, condemnation, and exclusion are deployed as weapons of mass discrimination by those presuming to speak for Traditional Christian Values while utterly ignoring the justice, compassion, and inclusion preached by the Radical Rabbi they purport to follow.

“What will we be when life -- as life so often does --
dares us to be everything we say we believe?”

We’ll get to the “what will we be” part … but let’s back up for a minute to the “where do we start?” part.

And as Episcopalians – as people of Common Prayer (if not always common belief) we start with this prayer appointed for today:

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your Name;
increase in us true religion;
nourish us with all goodness;
and bring forth in us the fruit of good works. 

Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion

These words we just prayed in the “Collect of the Day” – the prayer which began our worship this morning as it does every Sunday with words intended to summarize the themes of the lessons appointed for this particular day.

Let me just start by saying that “True Religion” – (the thing we just prayed for God to increase in us) is, I am convinced, a whole lot easier to pray for than it is either to recognize or to agree on. 

Here’s my own “religion confession:”

I spent a number years suffering from what I can only describe as a “religion allergy.” That is maybe a weird admission from a priest, but when I was a young adult I spent a lot of time explaining to people that I didn’t need religion in order to be spiritual.

I also spent a lot time avoiding attending the church I grew up in which was so full of rules and rituals, do’s and don’ts, judgment, criticism and cranky old people talking about the love of God while being truly dreadful to each other that there seemed to be no actual room for GOD – which I was naïve enough to think was supposed to be the POINT of this whole thing in the first place! 

It got to the point where religion became a roadblock in my spiritual journey – and so I took a detour. And because God works in mysterious ways, my “spiritual GPS” led me back to the Episcopal Church of my birth and to All Saints Church!

And eventually I looked up the word “religion” in the dictionary and here’s what I found: it turns out to have the same root as the word “ligament” – that which “binds together” – and one of its definitions is “that which binds together people in their quest for the divine.”

• Not “that which insists that our way is the only way.”

• Not “that which gives people license to villianize, exclude and even kill in God’s name.”

• Not “that which creates enough rules and restrictions that everybody you disagree with has to stay out.”

No – in the Gospel According to Merriam Webster, the definition of religion is: “That which binds together people in their quest for the divine.”  

And if that’s true religion then that’s something I’m willing to pray for. To work for.  To speak out for.

Because it turns out the allergy I had wasn’t to “religion” at all – but to what it had become in the hands of those who had taken what God intended as a means to draw all people TO God and turned it into a system to hold everyone they found unacceptable AWAY from God.

And it turns out the allergy I had was the same one Jesus had – and acted on – throughout the gospels whenever he was confronted by the rule makers, gate keepers and power brokers of his generation. 

People like those who complained that he was healing on the Sabbath – who gossiped about his eating with tax collectors, sinners, and outcasts – who complained that his disciples didn’t wash their hands the right way … and dozens of other examples all throughout the Bible.

“And what is the greatest commandment?” (in other words “what IS “true religion?) they will famously ask him later (trying to trap him) And Jesus will tell them: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind – this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it –love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang ALL the law and the prophets. 

There you have it: the essence of true religion – that which binds us together in our search for the divine – turns out to be love: love for God and for each other.

ANYTHING else that we manage to create – even our most beloved rituals, most comforting routines, most cleverly designed systems – can become religious roadblocks if they themselves become more important to us that this walk in love, this quest for the divine – this journey to God.

True religion becomes toxic religiosity when it makes what is supposed to bind us together in search of the divine more important than the divine for which we search.

Toxic religiosity creates a narrow worldview that programs you to believe science is an enemy of faith and sets you up to reject as “fake news” the very science that calls us to come together to save what we can of this plane we have exploited rather than tended.

Toxic religiosity insists on male language for God 
marginalizing women and non-binary people, perpetuating the patriarchy and fanning the fire of unexamined privilege. 

Toxic religiosity lays down a roadmap where it a very short journey from “the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it” to “my country, love it or leave it.”

And there is a direct connection between this theological worldview 
and the rise of nationalism, sexism, white supremacism and the rest of the litany of isms that plague our nation and our world: the rise of the forces we struggle against daily as we live out our baptismal promise to persevere in resisting evil.

And I’m convinced on this sultry summer Pasadena Sunday that toxic religiosity is high on the list of those things daring us to be everything we say we believe.

Daring us to live out in our time the same countercultural values of true religion the ancient biblical texts we inherit were calling our spiritual ancestors to live out in theirs.

And how is it those texts call us to live out those beliefs as Jesus followers in the world?

From the Letter to the Hebrews we heard this morning:

  • ·      Continue to love each other as siblings.
  • ·      Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers
  • ·      Keep in mind those who are in prison
  • ·      Be mindful of those who are being treated badly
  • ·      Let marriage be honored by everyone

From the Psalm appointed for today:

  • ·      Good people are honest in all their dealings.
  • ·      Quick to be generous, they give to the poor, doing justice always and forever
  • ·      They are generous and lend money without interest

And can we just pause for a minute and give a shout out to that Psalm? What are the odds this particular Psalm would be appointed for this particular Sunday in the week when forgiving debts has suddenly become a bad idea to some because it applies to folks staggering under the burden of student loans instead of corporations lobbying for tax credits?

Psalm 112, verse 5. You might want to write that down. It might come in handy.

And as long as we’re down the proof-text rabbit hole, here’s another one: Deuteronomy 15:1. At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. Seriously. That’s not from some liberal think tank. It’s from The Bible.

You think maybe with football season starting, we might start seeing Deuteronomy 15:1 signs in the end zones? 

Probably not.

Because as one of the meme-making pundits on Instagram put it:

“If there’s one thing student debt forgiveness has taught us
 about biblical literalists it is that they aren’t actually biblical literalists.”

This will not be breaking news to most of the All Saints Church faithful.

This is a community of faith that has literally spent decades challenging the kind of biblical literalism that takes passages out of context and twists them into weapons of mass discrimination – turning true religion values of justice, compassion, and inclusion into toxic religiosity values of judgement, condemnation, and exclusion.

It is part of the DNA of this community of faith we call All Saints Church and it is one of the building blocks we are called use as we to continue to build forward into God's future. 

“What will we be when life -- as life so often does --
dares us to be everything we say we believe?”

I pray that the answer is that we will be "ligaments of love" 
that bind up the wounded, encircle the lonely, welcome the stranger, bridge the divide, and preach the Good news of God's inclusive love radically available to absolutely everyone.

A tall order in the face of all that challenges us on sultry summer Sunday in Pasadena? Of course it is.

Political activist and philosopher Angela Davis famously said:

“You have to act as if it were possible radically transform the world.
And you have to do it all the time.”

Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.
And yet that is the work we have been given to do.

It is why we gather around this table week after week, year after year, to be fed by the holy food and drink of new and unending life — reminding us that it is in the broken that we are made whole that until all of us are gathered in none of us are truly home and that another world is not only possible ... she is on her way.


All Saints Church, Pasadena | August 28, 2022 - Proper 17C | Susan Russell


Friday, August 12, 2022

How the Anglican Communion Continues to Fall Short of Being "God's Church for God's World"

The purple dust continues to settle from the recently concluded gathering of Anglican bishops known as Lambeth 2022 and aspirationally entitled "God's Church for God's World."

There was much good to be celebrated and much to be grateful for in the two week assembly ... particularly for veteran Lambeth Watchers who still carry around PTSD from the 1998 and 2008 Lambeth Conferences dominated by pitched battles over issues of human sexuality in general and debates about the full humanity of LTBTQ people in specific.

The bait-and-switch effort to slide a reaffirmation of 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 prohibiting the marriage of same-gender couples into the mix failed -- and the final language adopted by the Conference acknowledging the differences held in tension between provinces across the communion was widely applauded -- including by yours truly -- as a significant sign of both hope and progress. 

But just because it wasn't as bad as it could have been for LGBTQ Anglicans doesn't mean it was good enough for Jesus or for us.

Which brings me to this important analysis by the brilliant Jim Naughton of Canticle Communication fame. He puts flesh on the bones of the argument that there is an ontological difference between feeling persecuted because you’re disagreed with, and being persecuted because of who you are.

It is nothing less than a false equivalency that continues to feed, water and fertilize unexamined cis-het privilege — perpetuating the oppression and marginalization of LGBTQ people which grieves the heart of God and flies in the face of the Gospel imperative to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jim writes:

Episcopal bishops are beginning to write about their experiences at the conference, and it is encouraging to see so many discussing their conversations with bishops who minister in dire situations in the Global South and elsewhere. These exchanges help those of us who live in privileged and sheltered contexts understand what Christians in other parts of the Anglican Communion are up against. But conversations in which one bishop mediates their reality to another give us only a partial and possibly distorted sense of life in the communion.

At this Lambeth Conference, and other high level Anglican meetings, bishops whose churches have moved forward on LGBT issues are pitted against bishops of churches who have not. Each party is cast as “representing” its people.

However special provisions are made for members of inclusive provinces who oppose inclusivity (Bishop George Sumner, the anti-gay bishop of the Diocese of Dallas was on the Lambeth Conference design team. Christopher Wells, a member of Sumner’s diocese who supports sanctions against provinces that pursue LGBT inclusion—is now the communion’s director of faith and order.) but no compensatory provision for LGBT Anglicans or their allies in the Global South.

Justin Welby has suggested that Global South churches would face derision, and in some cases danger, if they moved toward inclusion. This is intended to explain their not doing so. While this claim has some truth to it, it deserves greater scrutiny. Putting aside for the moment that civil marriage equality prevails in some hardline anti-gay provinces, it is not Anglican churches that are under the greatest threat in countries that persecute LGBT people, it is LGBT people.

I learned this through my firm’s work with the Chicago Consultation which sponsored three gatherings on sexuality and scripture in the Anglican Communion in Africa between 2011 and 2015. The first was in Durban, South Africa, the second in Limuru, Kenya and the third in Elmina, Ghana. The gatherings drew people from across Africa who could afford to risk being identified with advocates of inclusion in the Episcopal Church, or could attend in secret. Many were scholars, some clergy, a few bishops, and, at every gathering, some local LGBT people.

At the two latter gatherings in particular, these LGBT leaders described the risks they faced in their daily lives and the rejection they endured from their churches. After the meeting in Kenya, a Kenyan participant posted video on Facebook of police raiding a club where she and her friends gathered. After Ghana, a few participants sent us video of one of their friends being beaten on the streets.

The Episcopal Church makes much of how we “talk across differences” about LGBT issues. The Anglican Communion has begun to follow suit. The phrase “despite our deep divisions” or something similar appears in almost every story about the Lambeth Conference. But in the communion, “talking across differences" usually involves LGBT-aligned bishops who are at no earthly risk for stating their views talking with anti-LGBT bishops who are at no earthly risk for stating theirs.

There is, however, is a more profound division in the communion.

It is between those who are at risk of having the sh*t beaten out of them for loving whom they love, and those who are not. And until the Anglican Communion “talks across” that difference, it is complicit in the persecution of faithful queer Christians, and worse than that, it is complicit by design.

We cannot live into the aspiration to be God's Church for God's World unless and until we repent of the sin of heterosexism and both recognize and celebrate God's LGBTQ beloved who are part of God's World and entitled to full and equal claim on the love, care and pastoral support of God's Church offered every other member of our human family.

Thank you, Jim Naughton for your tireless advocacy in this ongoing work of calling the church to continue to become the best it can be: refusing to settle for it at least not being as bad as it was. 

La lucha continua -- the struggle continues. Nevertheless, we persist.


Sunday, August 07, 2022

A Sermon for Proper 14C: Of Treasure Hunts and Vin Scully and 20 Years of Claiming the Blessing

I bid your indulgence this morning by beginning with this favorite prayer of mine.*

·      God of the stand-up triple, the backdoor slider, the stolen base and the 3-6-3, we thank you for the ordered enchantments of the game of baseball.

·      For the snap of a split-finger fastball in a catcher’s mitt and the arc of a white ball against a blue sky, we praise you.

·      For the green of the grass and the throat of the crowd, we glorify you.

·      For the grace and grit, the speed and strength, the skill and savvy of those who take the field, we give you thanks.

·      Shower your blessings like so many free agent contracts upon those who play, those who coach and those who cheer.

·      Exalt with us when we knock in the winning run, comfort us when we muff an easy grounder, befriend us when the hour is late and the game on the radio is our only company. 

·      Creator God, teach us to play fair; to cheer excellence whomever exhibits it, and to root for teams worthy of our affections. And keep us ever mindful that no matter what the umpire says, in your love, we are always safe at home. Amen.

I grew up on baseball. My dad was a lifelong Dodger fan who believed it was an outward and visible sign of the inherent goodness of the universe that the Dodgers moved to L.A. after he came west from New York looking for work during the Great Depression. The voice of Vin Scully was literally the soundtrack of every summer of my life until he retired – after 67 years of broadcasting the ups and downs of the Boys in Blue. And I know from the outpouring of responses to his death this week at the age of 94 that my story is the story of countless others for whom Vinnie was not just a voice on the radio but a friend and a companion on the journey – not just through the baseball season but through life.

In reflecting on his life this week I have found myself bumping up against all kinds of bits and pieces of my own life. Fond memories of listening with my daddy on the patio in Eagle Rock on hot summer nights to games on the radio. Of sitting in the stadium where the sound of Scully’s voice hovered over the crowd from the hundreds of transistor radios tuned in to his play-by-play.

Of the night Sandy Koufax pitched his perfect game against the Cubs in 1965 … yes I was there! I was nine. Do the math.

And all of those memories transcend the context of a particular game or team or stadium or sportscaster. Rather they are about remembering and celebrating the relationship at the center of those memories. Not only with my dad but with others I’ve shared the joy of victory and the agony of defeat as a lifelong Dodger fan.

Yes, baseball is great. And I give thanks for it. But even more so, I give thanks for the memories of the relationships that have sustained and shaped me – relationships which moments like this week’s collective grief over the passing of Vin Scully has surfaced and given me the chance to ponder in my heart.

And as I mulled the lessons appointed for this Sunday, these words from Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel According to Luke are the ones that jumped out at me:

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Jesus tells his followers to get rid of their stuff – empty out the Public Storage locker of all the gizmos and whatnots they weren’t using but couldn’t bear to part with – and store up a different kind of treasure: the kind thieves cannot steal, and moths cannot destroy.

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

What I wonder this morning is if the history of the church -- ostensibly founded to follow Jesus and live out his teachings in the world -- has not spent the last 2000+ years on a kind of treasure hunt trying to figure out what that treasure is and therefore where its heart is.

And whether it’s more breaking secular news of the rise of Christian Nationalism in our nation -- or more breaking church news about bishops behaving badly by turning the lives and vocations of God’s beloved LGBTQ people into bargaining chips in the game of global Anglican politics -- we don’t have to look far to see how far we are from bringing that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven we pray for every time we gather.

And – listening to the words from the prophet Isaiah this morning – it seems we have plenty of company from our spiritual ancestors who were evidently blowing the treasure hunt thing, too.

“These interminable sacrifices of yours: what are they to me?” … Do not bring any more of your useless offerings to me — their incense fills me with loathing. New moons, Sabbaths, assemblies — I cannot endure another festival of injustice! 

“I cannot endure another festival of injustice.”

Maybe it’s just me, but the fact that this particular lesson is appointed for this particular Sunday -- which just happens to be the final day of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops -- struck me as a rather remarkable coincidence: and that is not to say some good things did not happen across the pond … I’ll get to those in a minute.

But to get back to Isaiah – here is what the prophet proclaimed trying to get them back on the hunt for the treasure God would have them both find and share:

Cease to do evil and learn to do good!
Search for justice and help the oppressed!
Protect those who are orphaned
and plead the case of those who are widowed!
Come now!  Look at the choices before you!

The choice before them was between focusing on their rituals and gatherings and incense and sacrifices or focusing on their relationships with those in need: leveraging their power to protect the orphaned and plead the case of the widowed.

This is the same treasure hunt Jesus called his followers throughout his entire ministry. From the first sermon he preached in Nazareth – which riled up the hometown crowd so much he almost got tossed off a cliff – to his final words in Jerusalem which led to his death and – ultimately to his resurrection.

The treasure map is this simple:

Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two hang all the law and the prophets

All the law and the prophets.
All the rituals and sacrifices and assemblies and festivals.
All the liturgies and cantatas and prayer book revisions and fights over inclusive language.
All the General Conventions and Lambeth Conferences of Anglican Bishops.

It all hangs on love – love lived out in relationship with God and in relationship with our neighbor.

All our neighbors. Not just the ones who live in our zip code or drive in our carpool or put the same yard signs out on their lawns.

All the law and the prophets.
All your neighbors.

Now this may feel like a non sequitur, but work with me.
I’ll bring it back. I promise.

Twenty years on last Monday, August 1st I arrived here at All Saints Church with a milk crate full of file folders to set up camp in the southeast cubicle in the "temporary trailer."

My title was Executive Director of Claiming the Blessing and my job description work for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in Body of Christ in general and in the Episcopal Church in specific -- by healing the rift between sexuality and spirituality.

I know. Right?? Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Well, clearly that work is not done yet. There are miles to go before we rest and there have been countless two steps forward and one step back in the last 20 years.

But we are inarguably in a different place on the journey than we were when the sidewalks outside 132 Euclid were frequently lined with megaphone carrying protestors, when the blessing of a same-sex union or the ordination of a gay or lesbian priest was front page news, and when the Episcopal Church was under threat of being voted off the Anglican Island for consecrating the first openly gay bishop. (Emphasis on the “openly.”)

Yes, we organized and strategized,
legislated and lobbied,
fundraised and focus grouped,
prayed, studied, and then prayed some more.

And yet overarching all the work we did were these values we held to throughout the struggle:

That we never threatened to leave if we didn’t get our own way; 
we only threatened to stay and continue to speak the truth that until there are no strangers left at the gate none of us are truly welcome.

That we called the church to focus on who will come if we include all – not who might leave if we refuse to exclude some.

And that the love that unites us in relationship as members of the Body of Christ iis greater than the differences that challenge us.

Which brings me back to the treasure hunt metaphor and my wondering this morning if the treasure at the heart of our Anglican tradition might just be its ability to value relationship over agreement. 

As Anglicans our DNA was, after all, forged out of the English Reformation by spiritual ancestors who found a way where there was no way to become a particular people of faith who were willing to live with the tension of being both catholic and protestant – rather than keep burning each other at the stake over who was right about which dogma or which doctrine.

We continue on that seeking the treasure of relationship over agreement  at every level of the Episcopal Church –
from our bishops gathered at Lambeth
to our recently completed General Convention
to our work here in the Diocese of Los Angeles
to our mission and ministry here at All Saint Church in Pasadena. 

Nobody ever said it would be easy – but if we continue to set our hearts on relationship … with God and with each other … then we will indeed have the treasure that thieves cannot steal nor moths destroy.

A publication called The Anglican Digest used to have a feature entitled "Makes the Heart Glad." Here's what made my heart this week: this quote from the Archbishop of York addressing the Lambeth Conference of Bishops:

“Now we are no longer threatening to leave, we are threatening to stay. This week is a new beginning for the Anglican Communion, a new beginning of discipleship.”

It makes my heart glad because hope springs eternal and I believe it may truly be a watershed moment.

I am daring to hope that we have arrived at the point where we can live into the DNA of our Anglican Comprehensiveness and move beyond the decades of pitched battles over the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the work and witness of the church as we focus on our common call to discipleship: to telling the Good News of God's inclusive love to this beautiful and broken world in desperate need of it.

I’m not naïve enough to think that we have “arrived at destination” … but I am old enough to know that we are a way piece further down the road than we were when we set up shop in the “temporary trailer” 20 years ago this week – and that is something to rejoice and be glad in.

And so we continue on the treasure hunt – for that is where our heart is.

And as we journey together in God’s future, our job post-Lambeth will be to continue to do what we've been doing. 

To insist that nothing less than full inclusion is good enough for Jesus or for us.

To leverage our privilege to stand up and speak out for those LGBTQ siblings whose voices have been silenced by oppression and marginalization.

To continue to build relationship across difference and trust that the Holy Spirit not only can but will use those relationships to change not only hearts and minds but theologies and policies until there are no strangers left at the gate; until there is no treasure left to hunt; until no matter what any umpire says, every single member of our Big Fat Human Family will know that in God’s love, they are always safe at home. Amen.

Preached on Sunday, August 7, 2022 at All Saints Church, Pasadena by the Reverend Canon Susan Russell

* [adapted from Jim Naughton's Opening Day Prayer, 2019]