The Gospel of Our Lives — Homily for the Renewal of Vows

Therefore, since it is by God ‘s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.  
2 Corinthians 4:1; 5-7

Thank you for taking part in this sacred tradition for the clergy of our church, as we gather to renew our ordination vows before God and one another. It’s an opportunity to take stock of where we are now in our vocation, even as we recall when we first professed our vow–for some, not so long ago; for others of us, many years ago. 

The passage of time is one measure of the distance between who we are now and who we were then, but only one. There is so much we couldn’t possibly know as we began this journey–about ourselves, the church, the particular time in which we live, and about God. I wonder what you have learned about God that you didn’t know when you started your ordained life. 

In the third chapter of John’s Gospel, we read of Nicodemus, a leader of the Pharisees,  who comes to Jesus by night. After the conversation in which Jesus talks about being born anew (which goes right over Nicodemus’ head), it’s as if Jesus turns away from Nicodemus and speaks to the audience for whom John is writing, which includes us. 

Jesus says,“We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen,” which has always struck me as one of the best definitions of evangelism. For we can only speak with credibility of what we know and have seen, which is to say, of our experience.  

So what do you know and what have you seen that has persuaded you to keep following Jesus and serving as an ordained leader in His Church? You could have quit at any point along the way. What keeps you on this path, choosing every day to live your unique vocation? 

The title of this sermon is “The Gospel of Our Lives,” based on something I once heard and thought was attributed to Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador. Archbishop Romero, as you may know, was assassinated 41 years ago while he was presiding at a worship service. This was during his country’s civil war, and Romero was killed by paramilitary leaders affiliated with the government. They killed him because he defended the subsistence farmers, university students, and church leaders who were organizing for human rights and he urged soldiers to lay down their arms. 

Once, when speaking to the priests under his charge, Romero is reported to have said, “Your life may be the only gospel that the people will ever know.” I haven’t been able to locate the source of that quote, but it is consistent with everything Romero stood for and taught. 

I’m fairly certain that what he (or whoever said it) meant is that because they worked among the poor, his priests needed not merely to preach but to live the gospel for those who might never be in a position to read about Jesus for themselves. St. Paul writes a similar exhortation in his letter to the Philippians: “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27)  We are to live in such a way that people know who Jesus is. Surely that is the charge for all Christians everywhere. 

What I know about living the gospel, however, is that it is often as much a revelation to me as it is to those around me. I don’t mean this in a general sense, in the ways I strive to model my life on Jesus’ teachings, but in the most concrete terms. From time to time, a gospel story or teaching moves from something I’ve read or heard and know in my mind and becomes something else entirely. It’s as if it takes up residence inside me and becomes, for a time, the lens through which I see and understand my life and through which I experience God. It becomes the gospel of my life. 

For all the diversity of vocations among us–diversity of background, history, experience of how our vocational paths have unfolded and continue to unfold; for all the differences in our experience of this season of pandemic, which, in talking with you, I know are considerable–surely we have this experience in common. I daresay that all know what it’s like to be spoken to by God through the words of a particular biblical text, and not only for that day or for the next sermon we’re scheduled to preach, but for our lives. 

For some, such an encounter with God through the text results in a dramatic conversion: Think of St. Augustine in the garden, struggling with the contradictions and excesses of his life when he hears the voice of a child telling him “to pick up and read.” He opened the epistles to Paul’s letter to the Roman, and based on a particular text, he felt compelled in that moment to surrender his life to Christ. Or of John Wesley, whose conversion experience came when he heard someone read Martin Luther’s preface to the same letter to the Romans, and as he famously said, “My heart was strangely warmed.” 

For all the drama these two men describe, the change that comes through an encounter with God by way of Scripture isn’t necessarily an external rearranging of life’s circumstances, at least not a first. Consistent with how Jesus lived and taught, it is more often an internal experience of being given new eyes and ears with which to see and hear what’s all around you. When the word comes, as it often does, by surprise, it feels like a gift from another source. The memory of it becomes a marking event that we return to again and again that helps guide our steps through life, and remember who Jesus is to and for us. 

I was reminded of this experience while preparing to preach a few weeks’ back for my visitation at Christ Church Kengsington. The gospel text for that Sunday (and incidentally, for today and tomorrow in the Daily Office readings for Holy Week), is a story that once marked me forever.   

When my husband Paul and I were first married, nearly 35 years ago, we made plans to work for a year in Central America at a home for abandoned children. This was in the mid-1980s, not long after Romero had been killed, toward the end of the Central American wars. Central America, as our families reminded us time and again, was not a safe place to live. But we were young, and we wanted to serve in a part of the world where being a Christian required courage. 

As our departure drew near, I began to feel afraid, really scared. With each day, the fear inside me grew. What on earth had I been thinking? What would happen to us in a war-torn land? 

Early one morning, as Paul lay with a fever due to an adverse reaction to one of the many shots we needed to take before leaving, I sat alone trying to pray. I opened my Bible. That summer I’d  been reading a chapter a day from the Gospel of John, and I came that morning to John chapter 12, which included the passage in which Jesus prayed a prayer that still takes my breath away whenever I read it:  He said: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘Father, save me from this hour? No it is for this reason I have come to this hour.” Or as it’s stated in another translation, “It is for this reason that I have come.” 

It’s hard to describe what happened, except to say it was as if Jesus was there beside me, inviting me to walk alongside him toward the cross. I knew as surely as I knew my name that I couldn’t ask God to spare me from the source of my fear, because, in fact, I had chosen the very path that was now causing me to be afraid. It was too late to turn back. What’s more, I didn’t want to turn back. I didn’t want God to rescue me. What I wanted, and needed, was for God to give me strength to keep going in spite of my fear of the potential dangers ahead.  

The prayer that Jesus prayed and helped me to pray all those years wasn’t one that asked God to change my circumstances. It was a prayer asking God to help me make it through what lay ahead that I could not change. I felt a bit like the grain of wheat Jesus talks about that needs to be buried in the earth so that it can be transformed. A part of me needed to pass through something, in order to make it over or through whatever I needed to face. 

To this day, I come back to the memory of that morning, and I pray that prayer whenever I am in a similar situation that’s hard and that I cannot prevent, avoid, or change. Everytime I pray some variation of that prayer, I feel Jesus inviting me to grow in relationship with God.  

And so by grace, I have learned how to ride out a storm, to carry on when I’m weary; to forgive those who hurt me, and to love when it costs–not perfectly and not all the time but enough so that I can speak of it. I can testify to the costly grace I have known. 

In preparation for this service, I invited you to harken back to your ordination service and re-read the passages selected for the service, on the chance that one of them is a similar marking story for you. But if not, pick another to hold in your heart and share with colleagues. Remember how God spoke to you and speaks to you still, which as you go about ministry, is perhaps the most important thing to talk about with others. As Evelyn Underhill famously wrote to the archbishop of her day, “God is the interesting thing about religion, and people are hungry for God.” 

Let me close with a word about the past year. I daresay that there have been times when we’ve all felt at our wit’s end, when we’ve lost heart, felt a failure. There have surely other times when we’ve felt the opposite–strong, clear, confident–and everything in between. I chose the passage from 2nd Corinthians to remind us all that no matter our condition, no matter where we are on the spectrum of “success,” “fruitfulness,” or “failure,” we are earthen vessels, so that it may be clear to everyone that the power we proclaim belongs to God, and does not come from us. But I pray you remember that that same power is there for you. You can trust it. You can abide in Jesus’ love. You can turn to Scripture to feed your souls, and allow Jesus to meet you there, so that you might live the gospel–the good news–that is uniquely yours.

Amen. 

A Message from Bishop Mariann and Dean Hollerith on the Inclusion & Affirmation of LGBTQ+ Persons in the Life of the Church

Friends, 

On February 21, hundreds gathered to learn more about our decision to invite Pastor Max Lucado to preach at Washington National Cathedral and to express their concerns, anger, and pain. We are grateful for all who were present, all who wrote in advance to share their experiences and raise their questions, and for the many exchanges and conversations we’ve had in subsequent weeks. Again, we acknowledge, regret, and apologize for the pain we caused. We are taking intentional steps to align our practices and processes with our commitment to the welcome, inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ+ persons in the life of our faith communities.        

The listening session was one part of what we promised would be on-going work, in the ministry of both the Diocese of Washington and the Cathedral. We understand this work to be an integral component of our commitment to equity and justice. Many have expressed their concern that we pay attention to the intersectionality between the treatment of  LGBTQ+ persons, people of color, and others who are often treated as less than the beloved children of God that they are. We hear that concern and share it. 

We’d like to take this opportunity to answer some of the pressing questions raised in the listening session, specifically as they relate to inviting guest preachers, supporting LGBTQ+ leaders, and ongoing learning opportunities.

The Cathedral’s Process for Inviting Guest Preachers

You asked us to explain the Cathedral’s process for issuing invitations to guest preachers.  Recognizing that our internal processes failed in the invitation to Max Lucado, we have carefully reviewed and taken steps to strengthen our vetting process with the explicit goal of ensuring that such an incident does not occur again.  

It is our commitment that those who are invited to be guest preachers will be leaders who:

  • have lived, taught and spoken in a manner consistent with the imperative of the Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every human being;
  • represent the richness and diversity of our nation — consistent with Washington National Cathedral’s role as House of Prayer for All People;
  • have a demonstrated record of ethical leadership and teaching.
  • can bring a fresh understanding to the issues of the day as part of the Cathedral’s mission to live at the intersection of sacred and civic life.      

To identify potential preachers, the Cathedral leadership solicits ideas on an on-going basis from a variety of sources. The Cathedral always welcomes suggestions for preachers. Please send any you have to Dean Hollerith.

On a schedule defined by the Cathedral’s annual planning process, a group of the Cathedral’s clergy and lay leaders will consider potential guest preachers in the context of the above criteria. The vetting group will be intentionally diverse and will include      representatives of different races, gender identities, sexual orientation, age, and political and theological perspectives. Before an invitation is made, designated Cathedral staff will also formally vet the potential invitee, reviewing prior writings, speeches, news coverage and conducting internet and social media searches.

Raising the Voices and Presence of Our LGBTQ+ Leaders & Engaging LGBTQ+ Issues

We are committed to continuing to model inclusion in the highly visible ways permitted by the platforms of Washington National Cathedral and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.  

We are committed to supporting the influential and gifted clergy and lay leaders within both the Cathedral and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington who identify as LGBTQ+ so that our faith communities may be places of welcome, affirmation, and belonging for all God’s people.      

We will also continue with deliberateness and intentionality our liturgical recognition of the LGBTQ+ community as essential members of our church (e.g., remembering Matthew Shepard each year on his birthday, participating in Pride Day events) and ensuring the LGBTQ+ community’s voice is heard from the pulpit throughout the year. 

And we will ensure that LGBTQ+ leaders and discussions of LGBTQ+ issues are part of the Cathedral’s public programming. As one example, we recently hosted a Lenten conversation with Anna Blaedel, Theologian-in-Residence at Enfleshed. Plans are underway for another guest preacher and public forum in the near future. 

Continuing to Listen and Learn

We also promise to continue listening to the LGBTQ+ community and to educating ourselves so that we may be more effective allies. 

This spring, the Diocese of Washington’s School for Christain Faith and Leadership will take the lead in offering and promoting LGBTQ+ cultural competency training. We will both take part in this training, as will members of the Diocesan and Cathedral staff. As part of the Diocese’s ongoing commitment to equity and justice, the training will be open to congregational leaders and groups and will become part of the School’s ongoing offerings.  All of the School’s offerings are open to persons outside the Diocese of Washington.

The Cathedral’s Alliance for LGBTQ+ plans to facilitate small group conversations to continue opportunities for story sharing and ally education. We are attempting to gauge interest in such conversations both within the Diocese of Washington and beyond. If you would like to take part in those conversations, please let us know by contacting listening@edow.org.

Finally, we are open to hearing from you as we move forward, for we know that there is much more that we can and must do. Please be in touch with us with your suggestions and concerns. As we stated at the onset of the listening conversation, this is not the end of our response, but the beginning. Please know that we are both here to receive and respond to you.

We remain deeply grateful for your willingness to engage with us. As we prepare to commemorate Holy Week and await the promise of resurrection, may you experience the power of Christ’s presence and love. 

Faithfully, 

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of Washington
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral

Response to Racial Violence at St. Mark’s, Capitol Hill

Dear Friends of the Diocese of Washington,

I write with somber news and a request for prayer. 

Last Friday, March 26th, the Director of Music at St. Mark’s Capitol Hill, Jeff Kempski, discovered that someone had hung a noose from a prominent tree in the church courtyard where children from the church’s daycare come outside to play and people from the neighborhood often eat lunch, meet for coffee, meditate and pray. 

We may never know the identity of the person or persons who did this nor what motivated them. The message they conveyed, however, is horrifyingly clear, particularly for African Americans and people of color in our diocese and the communities they serve. As the Rev. Michele Morgan, rector of St. Mark’s, told the religious editor of the Washington Post, “Such a symbol of racialized hatred is shocking to see where I gather with people to talk about God. . .We are in the business where symbols matter.” 

Washington, D.C. police officers and a representative from Mayor Bowser’s office responded quickly, and the incident is being investigated as a suspected hate crime. I asked the detective how often such symbols are placed in public spaces in the city. He said, “It happens quite a bit, actually; far more than people realize.” In a public statement, the police said, “These types of offenses are taken seriously and are entirely unacceptable.”

After the police took down the noose, a small group of us from the church and neighborhood, as well as leaders of a musical ensemble preparing for a production at St. Mark’s and Police Officer Thomspon, who said that he could use some prayer, gathered around the tree. We offered prayers to bless the tree, reconsecrate the courtyard, and remember all persons wounded by racial hatred, including those responsible for the symbol of racial hatred. 

In this Holy Week, may we all acknowledge and lament the pain such symbols of racial violence cause people of color in our churches and communities. On behalf of the entire diocese, I write to express our renunciation of the attitudes and crimes all these symbols express and support for those who feel the pain of them most personally. As we remember the violence Jesus endured for the sake of the world, we call to mind God’s particular solidarity with those suffering similar violence now. 

I ask for your vigilance, for churches are frequently the target of racial violence. I am concerned for your safety and well-being–particularly our leaders and communities of color and all who have taken public positions for racial justice—in a time when fellow human beings feel they have license to harm others with both symbols and acts of violence. We are working to gather more resources for our congregations in this fraught time, including increased security where needed and on-going consciousness-raising for us all.  

Yet we know that with God, hatred and violence do not have the final word. On Sunday we gather to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection as God’s definitive response and gift to us, and we live as people of the resurrection in this world. To that end, St. Mark’s is  planning a neighborhood event on Holy Saturday to promote love and good will. “Our commitment to seeing everyone as a beloved child of God remains,” Michele wrote to the people of St. Mark’s. “We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, and we will continue to do our work to bring more light, more love, and more God into the world.” 

Amen. This is the work for us all. We walk toward resurrection, as the first disciples did, before the light of dawn. 

May God protect, sustain and guide us as we follow Jesus and His Way of Love. 

Faithfully,
Bishop Mariann

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Palm Sunday Sermon

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself. . .
Philippians 2:5-6

Easter Sunday this year coincides with a somber anniversary. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee. The Sunday before his death–Palm Sunday–Dean Francis Sayre and Canon Missioner John T. Walker had invited King to preach at Washington National Cathedral. His sermon’s  themes are strikingly resonant with all we are grappling today. Here is a video recording of his sermon, worthy of your time as we enter Holy Week. The look in his eyes will stay with you. 

While King’s memory is now universally revered, it’s helpful to remember that by1968, many were questioning his influence and approach to social justice. Among black leaders, there was growing disillusion with non-violent resistance as an effective strategy to address entrenched racism, while some of King’s former political allies, including President Johnson, were furious at him for speaking out against the Vietnam War. 

In that fateful week, those closest to King were concerned for his physical safety and emotional well-being. They urged him to rest. Yet he was determined to honor the commitments he had made; first, to make a case from the Cathedral pulpit for the upcoming Poor People’s Campaign, in which King planned to bring a large multi-racial crowd to Washington; and second, to march with black sanitation workers in Memphis for safe working conditions and a living wage.  

He titled his sermon, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” to underscore the importance of paying attention to what’s happening in our country. “One of the great liabilities of life,” he said, “is that all too many people find themselves living amid a period of social change and yet they fail to develop the new attitude, the new mental responses that the situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.” 

Surely we are still living through the revolution King described 53 years ago, and we are still struggling, as a people and a species, to rise to what God longs for us to become and to do. 

King saw more clearly than most how we are bound to one another, that salvation is not personal, but a collective reality: 

We are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made, this is the way it is structured.1 

You can hear in King’s voice and see in his eyes how the persistence of racial injustice, racist attitudes, and resistance to change among white Americans was a source of deep disappointment for him. From the Cathedral pulpit he lamented: 

It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle–the disease of racism permeates and poisons the body politic. . . The roots of racism are very deep in this country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to rid the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice.2

King knew then what is still true today, that there is nothing passive or inevitable about the work for racial justice. “Somewhere we must come to see,” he said, “that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. Without this hard work, time becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” 

King’s vision of the Beloved Community–what Jesus called the Kingdom of God realized on earth–extended beyond race to include the suffering of all people, and in particular, the poor. By 1968, he had dedicated himself to the eradication of poverty for all people, no matter their race or nationality: “Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. . . and in our own nation. I have seen it in the ghettos in the North, in the rural areas of the South, and in Appalachia. I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.” 

King was clear that something dramatic needed to be done to stir the conscience of this country. “It is our experience that this nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine inequality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively and dramatically.” In those last days, he poured all that he had into the effort to awaken us. 

Reading and listening to King’s words, it is not hard to draw parallels to the ways we are being confronted now–massively and dramatically–by events and movements that are challenging us to stay awake and respond. Given the magnitude of what we’re facing, it would be easy for us to fall into despair, cynicism or apathy. King certainly had every reason to do that, but he refused. “I will not yield to a politic of despair,” he declared. “I am going on with the determination to make America the truly great America it is called to be.” If King could maintain hope in us and in our future, surely we can do our part now. 

Yet as in all ways we are called to be brave, we do not do this work alone. In fact, it is not our work, but God’s in and through us. King knew that. He concluded his Palm Sunday with a word about his deep, abiding faith in God, and he called us to that same faith. He prayed that we might join God in order to bring about a new day of justice, beloved community, and peace. “On that day,” he said, “the morning stars will sing together and the children of God will shout for joy.”3

~~~

1“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” (March 31, 1968), Martin Luther King, Jr., found in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., James. W. Washington, editor (San Francisco: Harper Collin, 1986), pp. 268-278. 

2“Remaining Awake.” p. 270

3“Remaining Awake,” p. 278.

The Rev. Dr. Anne-Marie Jeffery Called to Serve as Canon for Congregational Vitality

The Rev. Dr. Anne-Marie Jeffery Called to Serve as Canon for Congregational Vitality

The Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery, incoming Canon for Congregational Vitality

I am delighted to announce that the Rev. Dr. Anne-Marie Jeffery will join the diocesan staff as Canon for Congregational Vitality beginning May 1. 

Drawing on her expertise, experience, and adaptive leadership skills, Anne-Marie will serve as a senior member of diocesan staff, with primary responsibility for all strategic initiatives that promote vibrant, mission-driven, and spiritually mature congregations. She will engage in on-going resource development and supervise the staff members responsible for carrying out the three core initiatives of the diocesan strategic plan. She will also serve as a pastor and mentor to clergy and lay leaders. 

This is something of a homecoming for Anne-Marie. She first discerned her call to the priesthood at Ascension, Gaithersburg in the early 2000s. After serving in a number of positions in this diocese, including as Interim Rector of St. Margaret’s, DC in 2010-2011, Anne-Marie was called to St. Peter’s, Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where she has served for the last ten years. Throughout her ministry, she has been a student and practitioner of congregational vitality and renewal, while deepening and expanding her coaching and mentoring skills. Congregational vitality is the driving passion of her ministry. The question she asks every parish she interacts with is, “What makes a congregation thrive?”

“I am excited to be returning to the Diocese of Washington,” Anne-Marie writes, “bringing my passion for the nurture and building up of congregations to the work that you are already doing. I believe my experience serving several different kinds of congregations for the past 17 years and my work with congregations in the Diocese of New Jersey will be a great asset in our work together.”

“While we all eagerly look to success stories in hopes of identifying the formula for congregational growth,” Anne-Marie continues, “I have learned there is no magic bullet. What makes each congregation thrive is individual to itself. My years of coaching have helped me develop the skills to support parishes in finding answers for themselves and assist them in taking the necessary steps to move into a new reality. Of course, walking alongside congregations yearning to thrive and grow isn’t possible without my own prayer life and pastoral support system. I have learned I cannot lead change without modeling and practicing that which I preach.” 

Anne-Marie’s call to serve among us is a gift of the Holy Spirit. She brings congregational and mentoring experience, a warm and gracious demeanor, and a willingness to engage the issues facing our congregations in brave and creative ways. I give thanks to God for her presence among us and look forward to welcoming her officially in May.

Please join me in welcoming Anne-Marie. 

Faithfully,

Bishop Mariann