Sister Joan Chittister famously said, "We are each called to go through life reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again." Reflecting on that journey -- a blog at a time -- is the focus of this site.
Every week All Saints Church puts its faith into action on an issue in alignment with the Gospel values of love, justice and compassion. This week we’re sending a thank you letter to President Biden & congressional leaders for the Respect For Marriage Act, signed into law this week. Here’s the letter:
Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,
We write today to express our heartfelt gratitude and deep appreciation for your leadership in the historic movement forward for LGBTQ equity represented by the signing this week of the Respect for Marriage Act.
As members of All Saints Church in Pasadena, we have been in the forefront of decades of struggle for LGBTQ equality — and this year we marked the 30th anniversary of the blessing of the first same-sex union in our congregation. Advocating for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in our church and for their equal protection in our nation has been a core value of our commitment to put our faith into action. And our commitment to that struggle is deeply rooted in our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being.
As Christians we believe we have a responsibility to both act on that promise and to speak out and stand up when the faith we profess is hijacked and used as a weapon of mass discrimination against LGBTQ people. Religious liberty is a bedrock of our country and a right cherished by Americans of many faiths.
But disguising homophobia as religious freedom is not only a gross distortion of the teachings of Jesus, it is a dangerous legal precedent. Religious liberty is not the liberty to impose your religion on everybody else – and equal protection is not equal protection unless it protects all Americans equally.
And so, while we celebrate together the momentous step forward represented in the Respect for Marriage Act, we also urge Congress and the President to continue efforts toward finishing the work by supporting the Equality Act – which would explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Many years ago, our rector emeritus George Regas challenged us to “set audacious goals and celebrate incremental victories.” The audacious goal of liberty and justice for all will remain aspirational in our nation until we finish the work of securing equal protection for those who have been historically marginalized. Nevertheless, we celebrate the incremental victory of the Respect for Marriage Act and offer our thanks to the President and Congress for their leadership in making it happen and pledge our continued support to them for the work ahead.
Another Monday, yet another opportunity to listen to Nina Totenberg dissect yet another Supreme Court case deciding whether the equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution to all Americans equally protects LGBTQ Americans.
To paraphrase Bishop Barbara — who famously said “there’s no such thing as half-assed baptized” — there is no such thing as half-assed equal protection. But there is a definitive difference between the First Amendment protection of the exercise of religion and the ongoing effort to enable the imposition of religion.
And yes, I am grateful for the Respect for Marriage Act wherein DOMA is finally actually repealed and federal protections for marriage rights are provided EVEN if SCOTUS goes rogue and Kentucky or Ohio or Florida or pick-your state acts up.
It's both a backstop to protect extant rights and a beachhead to regroup and get the Equality Act through when we retake the House and get a filibuster proof Senate.
Nevertheless, it is exhausting to continue to have your life, your relationship, your family and your equal protection a subject of ongoing debate.
So it might be a good week to offer the LGBTQ folk in your lives a little extra TLC. And if you’re part of the rainbow tribe to offer yourself a little self-care. Because clearly la lucha continua. And there are miles to go before we rest.
May the words
of my mouth and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O
God our strength, our courage, and our freedom.
first candle of Advent is the candle of Hope." And here we
are again -- marking yet another trip around the sun and the beginning of another
new church year ... marking it as generations upon generations have done before
us ... with the lighting of the first candle on the Advent wreath, the praying
of the familiar prayers and the singing of the familiar hymns as we settle into
the familiar time of preparation for the coming of our Lord.
yet, perhaps what binds us most to those generations on whose shoulders we
stand on this First Sunday of Advent 2022 is not the constancy of rituals and
routines but the inevitability of change ... and the necessity of those rituals
and routines changing and adapting as we move forward into the future evolving
-- sometimes it feels before our very eyes -- and sometimes it feels like one
step forward, two steps back.
It is into that cycle of both hope and change -- and yes, I choose those words
advisedly and not lightly -- that we step as we cross the threshold into this
new church year.
this year here at All Saint Church, one of the things that changes is the lens through
which we will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the sacred texts appointed
for our weekly worship.
churchy word for the cycle of those readings is "Lectionary" -- and this
year ... as you may have read in our newsletter ... we are using "A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church"
created by our scholar-in-community Dr. Wil Gaffney.
this week in her introduction the lectionary, Dr. Gayle Fisher-Stewart reminded
us that this women’s lectionary for the whole church is for the whole church not just women … and not just
Episcopalians… but for the whole church.
is a chance for the church to read its sacred texts not for confirmation of what it thinks it
already knows -- but to let the sacred text speak to it anew – to tell the
is a chance to listen to how the story of God is told when the stories of women
are moved from the margins and held in the center. It is a chance to tread into
unsettled waters – unsettled waters that risk changes that are revolutionary,
revelatory, and threatening.
it is an opportunity recognize that in so doing we follow in the footsteps of
the radical rabbi from Nazareth who loved us enough to become one of us in
order to show us how to love one another by doing exactly what Dr.
Gaffney is doing with this lectionary for the whole church … by centering
voices from the margins and threatening the powerful in the center.
remember the story. The one where Jesus had the soft launch of his ministry in
his hometown of Nazareth and they invited him to read in synagogue that Sabbath
-- so he unrolled the scroll and read from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news
to the poor. She
has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and
recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to
proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
then he got to his big finish:
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!”
… and they were all thumbs up and attaboy and
“Hey, isn’t this the son of Joseph … I know his folks!” …
... until he decentered them from the text by
centering a woman and a foreigner -- the widow of Zarephath and some guy named Naaman the Syrian.
And – as the story goes – “On hearing this, all the people in the synagogue
were enraged. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him
to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him over
the cliff.” Beloveds,
this is what happens when we follow the Jesus who treads into unsettled waters.
doesn’t always lead to “nice sermon” handshakes at the door and likes on Facebook.
leads to unsettled waters that risk changes that are revolutionary, revelatory,
and threatening. And the threat is real.
In the words of biblical scholar Dr. Verna Dozier “Jesus announced that the
kingdom of God had come with him and … offered another possibility to
humankind. But since it is another possibility that threatens the existing
arrangements the existing arrangements will bend every effort to destroy it: to
water it down with religion or threaten it with disloyalty.”
Will bend every effort to destroy it.
When you “threaten the existing arrangements” the existing arrangements can and
will do whatever it takes to destroy that threat.
The existing arrangement of White Supremacist Patriarchy will do whatever it
takes to destroy the threat of sharing power with Black, Brown, Queer and
Female people – including dismantling democracy and replacing it with oligarchy
existing arrangement of cisgender heteronormativity will do whatever it takes
to destroy the challenge of transgender and non-binary people seeking to speak
their own truth and live their own experience of gender identity – a challenge
we see in sharp relief in the onslaught of anti-trans and “don’t say gay”
legislation across our nation.
existing arrangements within the church are designed to keep people
conveniently & perpetually in need of a forgiveness that only the church
can provide will do whatever it can to hold onto its power by marginalizing and
dismissing theologies and narratives that challenge it.
the existing arrangement of Church-aligned-with-Empire will literally do
whatever it takes to destroy any threat to its power – which is what accounts
for the rising tide of Christian Nationalism in our nation and in our world.
on this First Sunday of Advent we celebrate not only that there is both hope and change – we celebrate that there is hope IN
we claim the vision represented in the graphic on
our bulletin cover this morning …
May we grow back not to what was but to
what we might become
… because we follow a radical rabbi from Nazareth
who is about both hope AND change.
Hear again these words from poet Alice Walker:
The world has changed:
Wake up! Give yourself the gift of a new day.
The world has changed:
This does not mean you were never hurt.
The world has changed: Rise!
Yes & shine!
Resist the siren call of disbelief.
The world has changed:
Don’t let yourself remain asleep to it. Our
challenge this Advent season is to resist the siren call of disbelief that our hope can change anything … because
it not only can – it does
is to claim the hope we find in the telling and re-telling of the stories of our spiritual ancestors -- even
as we frame and re-frame their telling by centering historically marginalized voices.
is to continue to pray for the grace to cast away the works of enslavement and be clothed in the hope of liberation.
it is to embrace the promise in today’s reading from Romans:
that is seen is not hope. For
who hopes for what is seen? But
if we hope for what we do not see, we
wait for it with patience.
while we wait – with patience – we remember that another Radical Rabbi – Rabbi
Abraham Heschel – famously said ““Patience, a quality of holiness may be
sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.”
can be patient – and indignant. We
can be patient – and persistent. We
can embody both change – and hope Because
hope will never be silent.
will never be silent.
we mark the forty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk – member
of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a national gay rights leader. On November
27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were gunned down in City Hall by Dan
White, a disgruntled former supervisor. Mourning and riots throughout San
Francisco followed news of the assassinations and White’s subsequent conviction
for manslaughter rather than murder.
the message Harvey Milk proclaimed forty-four
years ago still preaches to us today:
have to give them hope. Hope
for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope
for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. If
there is a message I have to give, it is this: that
you have to give people hope ...”
so on this First Sunday of Advent in the Year of Our Lord 2022 for
all the daunting challenges there are still to face for all the work there is yet to do for all the changes that stand between us and
the Beloved Community God would have us be, let
us remember today that we are where we are today because of those who
believed in the hope in their hearts enough to risk the threats from “the existing arrangements” in
order to live out that hope in the world.
again the words of Alice Walker:
The world has changed: It did not change without your numbers your fierce love of self & cosmos it did not change without your strength. The world has changed: Wake up! Give yourself the gift of a new day.
then let us pray:
O Christ and dwell among us! Hear our cries, come set us free.
Give us hope and faith and gladness. Show us what there yet can be.
Set us free to be the change you call us to be.
Set us free to live your love.
Set us free to be your justice.
Set us free to journey into the adventure of God’s future this Advent and
us free to proclaim the Hope that will never be silent.
Join us beginning Monday, Nov. 21 as All Saints Church in Pasadena hosts a weekly online lectionary study for preachers and anyone using Year A of the Women's Lectionary by Dr. Wil Gafney. Sessions will be Mondays at 9 am Pacific, 10 Mountain, 11 Central and Noon Eastern.
Each session will begin with a reflection on the readings and Dr. Gafney's notes from a noted woman of color who is a theologian, priest, deacon, bishop, biblical scholar, psychologist, etc. in order to ground the conversation in the womanist perspective from which the lectionary was written. We will then break into small discussion groups for study and conversation and come back together in a large group at the end of the hour.
We have a spectacular lineup to kick us off for Advent -- Gayle Fisher-Stewart, Melanie Mullen, Wil Gafney, and Leah Gunning Francis. A free-will offering will be taken up each week for the speaker to support her/them and their ministry. The opening and closing portions will be recorded and available for later listening/viewing.
“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.
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
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.
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 didn’t-quites have taken hold, Then think
And here we are ... home again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
family is a circle of strength and love.
With every birth and every
union, the circle grows.
Every joy shared adds more
Every crisis faced together
makes the circle stronger.
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!
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
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:
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 …
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
your dreams are on the other side of fear.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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
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
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
• Not “that which insists that our way is the only
• 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
“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
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
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
·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?
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
think maybe with football season starting, we might start seeing Deuteronomy
15:1 signs in the end zones?
as one of the meme-making pundits on Instagram put it:
there’s one thing student debt forgiveness has taught us about biblical literalists it is that they
aren’t actually biblical literalists.”
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.
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.
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.
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