Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:1-7
We had a sense, whatever the election’s outcome, that half the country would feel exiled in their own land; indeed, one lesson of this long election season is how profound that feeling of exile has been for many Americans. Moreover, we knew that no matter the outcome, we’d all have a wide range of emotions to process. And so today we welcome you into this sacred space, so together we might listen to beautiful music, reflect on the wisdom of Scripture, and pray.
With exile in mind, we turned to the writings of Jeremiah, a prophet of ancient Israel who lived and spoke to the nation in the name of God during their time of exile. To be clear, the exile of Jeremiah’s day was far more painful than a presidential election.The nation had been overrun; Jerusalem had fallen; and many Israelites had been carried away to captivity in Babylon. Like so many people around the world today, they had lost everything, including their hope for the future. As people of faith they were at a complete loss as to how they were to interpret what was happening. Where was God? And more practically, what were they supposed to do?
Jeremiah’s word to the people was both bracing and comforting. He said, in essence, “You’re going to be in exile for a long time. Don’t listen to those false prophets who want to assure you this is a temporary setback. So make your peace with it. Learn to adapt and adjust. And above all, seek the welfare of the people where you live. For in their welfare, you will find your own.” This was no small request: They were to seek their welfare and make their homes among the people whose soldiers had carried them into exile. “
I was not among those who voted for Mr. Trump, for reasons that I need not rehearse here. Thus I listened with an exile’s ears as he pledged to be a president for all Americans, and asked for the nation to come together. Speaking on behalf of this Cathedral and the Diocese of Washington, we pledge to be a part of that reconciling work. In faithfulness to God, we will seek the welfare of the cities, towns, and communities in which we live. As Americans, we give thanks for the transfer of political power and we respect it. And, if asked, Washington National Cathedral will host an inaugural prayer service for the president-elect and the nation.
Yet healing from such a bruising campaign is not accomplished with one call to unity or one prayer service. Things have been said in this election that cannot be easily unsaid or forgotten. The president-elect made promises that, if fulfilled, would be devastating to our nation. And we stand with those with reason to fear for their safety and we defend their place in our society. Nor will we forget the highest ideals of our nation and our call to follow Jesus in the ways of love.
I’ve been trying to think of a similar moment in American history from which to draw perspective and insight. In truth, no obvious parallels come to mind. Yet as last night drew into early morning and I pondered what we as a people most needed to hear, I remembered another fateful night: April 4, 1968. On that night, Senator Robert Kennedy was campaigning in Indianapolis when he heard that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed. The police tried to convince him to cancel his speech, for fear of violence. Kennedy refused, and from a flatbed truck he spoke to a grieving, angry crowd. More than that: he asked his volunteer campaign workers to go out and be among the crowds. There were 100 riots in American cities that night–the only city that did not erupt into violence was Indianapolis, where Kennedy made his speech.
I commend Robert Kennedy’s speech to you in its entirety. Here is a portion of what he said:
“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in… We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization–[as people] filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace violence with compassion and love.”
“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”
“The vast majority of [people] in this country,” he said then and I believe now, “want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.”
He ended with a call to prayer, as will I. Pray with me, this day, for President-elect Trump and his family, for Secretary Clinton and her family, and for our nation.
Please open the Book of Common Prayer in front of you to page 833. There you will find the prayer attributed to St. Francis. I commend this prayer to you, that you join in praying these words every day, until its cadences align with your breathing and it becomes a part of you. Would you pray with me now:
Lord, make us an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Where there is injury, pardon, where this is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood and to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.