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!”