Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
Let us love one another, for love is from God. Those who love are born of God and know God, for God is love.Those who dwell in love, are dwelling in God and God in them. There is no room for fear in love, for love which is perfect banishes fear. We love because God first loved us; we cannot hate another and say, ‘I love God.’ If we do not love those whom we have seen, it cannot be that we love God whom we have not seen. This commandment we have from God, that those who love God must also love their neighbor.
Each of the institutions on the Cathedral Close are in the midst of the rituals of new beginnings. What a gift for us to be all together today, to lift our collective voices in prayer and song, take a breath, and enjoy each other’s company before we are sorely outnumbered by younger generations. A special welcome to all who are new to the Close and thanks to National Cathedral School for hosting us.
A bit of history to remind us all how we are connected: St. Alban’s Parish was here first, established in 1854 as a worshipping congregation of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. It would go on to establish a number of the Episcopal churches in the city, including St. Columba’s just up the way, and St. Patrick’s, home of one of our sister Episcopal schools. The Diocese of Washington was carved out of the Diocese of Maryland in 1895, right around the time that the U.S. Congress established the charter for the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation. The first Cathedral stone was laid in 1907. Were it not for the Cathedral, it’s not clear to me that the Diocese of Washington would exist, at least not in its present form. Our office building, known on the Close as “Church House,” was originally the Bishop’s residence, and the “Bishop’s Garden,” was once the bishop’s garden–or more accurately, the garden of the bishop’s wife. It was the wife of the cathedral’s first dean, Florence Bratenahl, who in 1916 established All Hallows Guild to nurture and protect the natural beauty of the Cathedral Close. National Cathedral School was established in 1900; St. Albans School in 1909, and Beauvoir in 1933.
While each institution on the Close has its unique vision, charism, and rhythms–each so absorbing that we sometimes lose sight of one another–the deeper reality is that we are organically and relationally connected.
Among the things we have in common, we adults who work on the Close, is that for 9 months of the year, we are surrounded by more than 1600 children and their families. Whatever our role–be it in the classroom or administration, in worship or sports; whether we come to know them over years or meet them in passing on the grounds, standing in line at the Cafe, or waiting for the go-ahead from a police officer to cross the street, we all have a role not only in their education, but their becoming. Educating children and adolescents isn’t a sprint but a lifelong journey, taken mostly in small steps, with a few giant leaps; with more than a few setbacks and at least one or two colossal failures on their part, or ours.
We all know this but let me say it aloud as a reminder:
How we treat children and young people teaches them far more than whatever knowledge we impart.
How we treat one another, others who cross our paths, and those whose lives we touch from afar communicates far more than our words about what we believe about the intrinsic worth and dignity of every human being.
How we disagree with one another, and express our disagreements with others in the wider society, teaches them more about living among their fellow human beings than anything they would read in a book.
How we respond when they make mistakes, and we make mistakes, and when other people we don’t particularly like make mistakes teaches them how we want them to live with the imperfections of human beings and of our relationships, and tells them how safe they really are–no matter how many security guards we have to protect them–to be themselves in our midst.
Now I’m of an age where I’m mostly invisible to anyone under 30, but the truth is–and you remember this from your own youth–young people watch adults like hawks. They see us better than we see ourselves. Think back now–how you were drawn to the adults who actually cared about you, and who lived lives that you admired; how you were inspired by those whom you saw mostly from a distance but who always seemed to see you as a person worthy of their attention and concern, and how a well-placed smile or word of encouragement could make your day or week. How we live and engage with one another and care–genuinely care–for those entrusted to this Close in the formative years of childhood and adolescence–matters more than we will ever know.
In the time I have left, I’d like to speak directly to the spiritual and religious dimension of our work:
First a story: A friend of mine married into a wealthy family and when she was in her 50s, she was invited to sit on the grant selection committee of their family foundation, which served as a major funding source for non-profits serving under-resourced neighborhoods and working for social change in the midwestern city where we lived (Toledo, Ohio) She told me of a time when members of this selection committee sat around a table, discussing proposals. One of the younger family members held up a proposal from a faith-based organization and asked, “Why on earth would we consider funding a church?” Another chimed in. “No kidding. The last thing the world needs is more Christians.”
My friend, a practicing Christian, told me of this exchange with real sadness, which I felt as I heard it, but we both understood why her younger family members felt the way they did. The appalling behavior of some Christians in the name of Jesus is the primary reason why many leave the faith or are repelled by it.
And so when I, as a Christian leader, ask myself if the world needs more Christians, as a Jewish leader might ask about the world needing more Jews or a Muslim leader about the world needing more Muslims, the answer would surely be, “Well, it depends on what kind of Christians we are talking about. What kind of Jew, what kind of Muslim?” Some would argue with plenty of data to support their argument, as did the young person my friend spoke of, that the last thing the world needs is more of us.
The sad truth is that being a religious people in no way assures that we will be good people, kind, caring, generous, loving people, although that’s what every one of our faith traditions–and speaking as a Christian, certainly what I know Jesus wants those who feel called to follow him–to be. We are all far more complicit in the evils and hypocrisies we decry than we are comfortable admitting. There’s a gap between the aspirations of our faith and how most of live; for some, the gap is so wide as to create havoc and cruelty around them, all in the name of a loving God.
Yes, it’s enough to make people of conscience and goodwill want to walk away or to stay away from religion entirely. Or to go deeper. To walk with even greater intention and commitment to personal and societal transformation that every spiritual tradition known to humankind calls us to.
Going deeper is what these institutions stand for, and we, collectively affirm: that there is a way to live in this world steeped and schooled in the best of what it means to be human and personally touched by the spiritual mysteries that surround us and call us into relationship with the all encompassing mystery we call God.
This is a really interesting time to belong to the Episcopal Church, to teach in an Episcopal school, or work for an Episcopal institution. Because we have at the helm now a bit of a rock star. Those of us who knew Presiding Bishop Michael Curry before he catapulted onto the world stage with a sermon he preached at a wedding you might have heard of know how consistent his message is. His is the message of Jesus, one of radical love, the all encompassing, transformative love of God that Christians believe Jesus came into the world to manifest. We believe that Jesus came into the world to show us how to live, and how to love.
Bishop Curry has been preaching essentially the same sermon he preached at the Royal Wedding for over 30 years. But now that he has our attention, he is calling anyone who is listening, and especially those of us in the Episcopal Church to intentionally walk and grow in this way of love, to be the kind of Christians, he would say, that actually follow Jesus.
He’s given us a rule of life, summarized in the small card before you, with specific spiritual practices that make up what he calls a Jesus-focused life. There is nothing new here–these practices align with ancient practices of all faiths and also with modern insights on how to live well. If you’re not a Christian, you can easily substitute your faith or sources of inspiration wherever you see the word “Jesus.”
Let’s look at them together:
Turn–Pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus.
Learn–Reflect on Scriptures each day, especially Jesus’ life and teachings.
Pray–Dwell intentionally with God each day.
Worship–Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and draw near to God.
Bless–Share faith and unselfishly give and serve.
Go–Cross boundaries, listen deeply, and live like Jesus.
Rest–Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration.
I was talking to a colleague who worked for years as chaplain at one of our great rival schools across the Potomac that will go unnamed, and she said that these practices are at the heart of Episcopal education. I leave that to your further reflection to see if you concur.
I will be preaching and writing and reflecting on the Way of Love for the foreseeable future, taking each practice in turn and all them together, committing myself to them and encouraging others to remember how important it is to engage in simple but transformative daily practices that open and expand our hearts, enable us to be more present to one another, and receive the grace and mercy of God.
I leave you now simply with a word of encouragement to consider the gift and the call of your own lives, the ways of love to which you are already committed. You might review these practices to see which ones speak to you, which ones are challenging. Ponder what it might look like for all of us, together, to intentionally commit to a way of love that is both robust and compassionate, humble and confident, focused on the highest aspirations that human beings are called to, in full recognition of how often we fail to meet them and how quick the God of love is to forgive and help us to begin again.
What an example that would be for the Close students and their families, giving them the greatest gifts of Episcopal education, which is a way to live with love and compassion in this world. May we aspire to be the kind of people, leaders and teachers who raise up young people walking in way of love so fully that while others may never know what faith they practice, they will surely say, “The world needs more people like them.”