In Praise of Your Local Church

In Praise of Your Local Church

Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Matthew 18:20

As with the air we breathe and the ground beneath our feet, we sometimes take for granted the faith communities that we count on to be there for us when we need them. So in this season when the leaders of your local church ask you to consider your financial pledge to support its ministry, l invite you to consider the many ways you are blessed by your church, even if you haven’t been inside its doors for a long time.

Let’s begin with your clergy, who are quick to respond when you call, reach out when you’re hurting, are always glad to see you, and work every day to create sacred spaces in which you can draw closer to God. They do all these things because they care. Who else in your life spends hours each week preparing to speak about the most important things–such as faith, doubt, suffering, joy, courage, forgiveness, grief, and love–and encourages you to orient your life toward Jesus.

Now consider the community itself–the people who show up early to prepare a place for you, who practice the songs, tend to the altar, and clean up after you’ve gone home. Think of those who inspire you by their selflessness and who provide all manner of opportunities for you to help make this world a better place; those who are the first to knock at your door with a casserole or flowers when you’ve lost someone; who ask how you are doing, and genuinely want to know. Let’s not forget the person who drives you crazy, and yet who helps you practice patience and acceptance–the very patience and acceptance that you need, too.

If you are raising children, consider the priceless gift of doing so with other families who, like you, want their children to have, as we pray the Baptism liturgy, “inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love God, and the give of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” In church, your children are surrounded by surrogate grandparents, aunties and uncles, and really cool teenagers for your kids to look up to, until, low and behold, they are cool teenagers teaching a rising generation how to hold the candles and cross.

While caring for the building itself is a big responsibility and costs a lot of money, think of what it means to have such a place, a home away from home where people like you have gone to pray for generations. The walls of your church are soaked with prayer. If they could talk, they would tell of tears and laughter, moments of unspeakable sorrow and wondrous joy; of forgiveness sought and received; of the word spoken that changed a person’s life, of an injustice done and then, by grace, acknowledged, and restitution made–all in that sacred space.

Finally, consider all those who have never been and perhaps will never be part of your church but who nonetheless receive blessing through its ministry–those whose sobriety depends on the A.A. meeting in the basement, or who are experiencing homelessness and your church is the one place they are treated with dignity; the children who are nurtured in the daycare or receive the backpacks your church donates at the beginning of the school year; the refugee family given a home and support in a new land.

Now it may be that your church doesn’t do all of the things I’ve mentioned, or that it’s struggling to regain its footing, or is in a leadership transition. No church is perfect, and if you’re looking for reasons to be disappointed, you will probably find them. But don’t forget the ways you have experienced God through the ministry of your church, despite or perhaps through its imperfections. Think of the times you’ve felt Jesus’ mercy when you needed it, the joy of singing a favorite hymn alongside others, and the gift of belonging to a community of faith, not so much because you get everything you want there, but rather because you know that it’s your spiritual home. Your presence and your gifts make a difference, including the gifts you didn’t realize that you had. You may have a big part to play in your church’s future, and maybe what’s coming next is something you don’t want to miss.

Finances are challenging for many of these days, and that’s true for your local church, too. If this is a hard time for you, know that your church understands if you need to reduce your pledge. But if you are blessed with a financial cushion to weather rising inflation and the fluctuations of the stock market, consider being more generous in the coming year. Let your clergy know that you’re grateful for them. Help your volunteer lay leaders rest easier as they work on ministry goals and budgets. Do your part. You’ll be glad you did. And others will be blessed in ways you may never know.

En alabanza a tu iglesia local

En alabanza a tu iglesia local

Jesús dijo: “Porque donde dos o tres se reúnen en mi nombre, allí estoy yo en medio de ellos.”
Mateo 18:20

Al igual que con el aire que respiramos y el suelo bajo nuestros pies, a veces damos por sentado que las comunidades de fe con las que contamos están ahí para nosotros cuando las necesitamos. Por eso, en esta época en la que los líderes de su iglesia local le piden que considere su compromiso financiero para apoyar su ministerio, los invito a que consideren las muchas maneras en las que usted es bendecido por su iglesia, incluso si no han estado allí durante mucho tiempo.

Empecemos por el clero, que responde rápidamente cuando se le llama, le tiende la mano cuando está sufriendo, siempre se alegra de verle y trabaja cada día para crear espacios sagrados en los que pueda acercarse a Dios. Hacen todo esto porque se preocupan. ¿Quién más en su vida pasa horas cada semana preparándose para hablar de las cosas más importantes – como la fe, la duda, el sufrimiento, la alegría, el valor, el perdón, el dolor y el amor – y le anima a orientar su vida hacia Jesús?

Ahora piensa en la propia comunidad: las personas que se presentan temprano para preparar un lugar para ti, que ensayan las canciones, atienden el altar y limpian después de que te hayas ido a casa. Piensa en aquellos que te inspiran con su desinterés y que te proporcionan todo tipo de oportunidades para que ayudes a hacer de este mundo un lugar mejor; aquellos que son los primeros en llamar a tu puerta con un poco de comida o con flores cuando has perdido a alguien; que te preguntan cómo estás y quieren saberlo de verdad. No olvidemos a la persona que te vuelve loco y que, sin embargo, te ayuda a practicar la paciencia y la aceptación, la misma paciencia y aceptación que tú también necesitas.

Si estás criando a tus hijos, considera el don inestimable de hacerlo con otras familias que, como usted, quieren que sus hijos tengan, como oramos en la liturgia del Bautismo, “un corazón inquisitivo y perspicaz, la valentía de comprometerse y perseverar; la pasión por conocer y amar (a Dios), y el don de gozar y maravillarse ante todas (las) obras (de Dios)”. En la iglesia, tus hijos están rodeados de abuelos sustitutos, tías, tíos y adolescentes realmente geniales a los que tus hijos pueden admirar, hasta que, por fin, son adolescentes geniales que enseñan a una nueva generación a sostener las velas y la cruz.

Aunque el cuidado del edificio en sí es una gran responsabilidad y cuesta mucho dinero, piensa en lo que significa tener un lugar así, un hogar lejos de casa donde personas como usted han ido a orar durante generaciones. Las paredes de su iglesia están empapadas de oración. Si pudieran hablar, hablarían de lágrimas y risas, de momentos de dolor indecible y de maravillosa alegría; del perdón buscado y recibido; de la palabra pronunciada que cambió la vida de una persona, de una injusticia cometida y luego, por gracia, reconocida y restituida, todo en ese espacio sagrado.

Por último, considere a todos aquellos que nunca han formado parte de su iglesia, y tal vez nunca lo hagan, pero que, sin embargo, reciben bendiciones a través de su ministerio: aquellos cuya sobriedad depende de la reunión de A.A. (Alcohólicos Anónimos) en el sótano, o que se encuentran sin hogar y su iglesia es el único lugar en el que se les trata con dignidad; los niños que son atendidos en la guardería o que reciben las mochilas que su iglesia dona al comienzo del año escolar; la familia de refugiados que recibe un hogar y apoyo en una nueva tierra.

Puede que su iglesia no haga todo lo que he mencionado, o que esté luchando por recuperar su equilibrio, o que esté en una transición de liderazgo. Ninguna iglesia es perfecta, y si está buscando razones para sentirse decepcionado, probablemente las encontrará. Pero no olvide las formas en que ha experimentado a Dios a través del ministerio de su iglesia, a pesar de sus imperfecciones o quizás a través de ellas. Piensa en las veces que has sentido la misericordia de Jesús cuando la necesitabas, en la alegría de cantar un himno favorito junto a otros, y en el don de pertenecer a una comunidad de fe, no tanto porque allí consigues todo lo que quieres, sino porque sabes que es tu hogar espiritual. Tu presencia y tus dones marcan la diferencia, incluso los dones que no sabías que tenías. Puede que tengas un papel importante que desempeñar en el futuro de tu iglesia, y tal vez lo que viene es algo que no quieres perderte.

Las finanzas son un reto para muchos en estos días, y eso es cierto para su iglesia local, también. Si este es un momento difícil para usted, sepa que su iglesia entiende si necesita reducir su promesa. Pero si ha sido bendecido con un colchón financiero para enfrentar la creciente inflación y las fluctuaciones del mercado de valores, considere ser más generoso en el próximo año. Hágale saber a su clero que está agradecido por ellos. Ayude a sus líderes laicos voluntarios a estar más tranquilos mientras trabajan en los objetivos y presupuestos del ministerio. Haga su parte. Se alegrará de haberlo hecho. Y otros serán bendecidos en formas que tal vez nunca conozca.

Be Humble

Be Humble

Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God–since you have received me with such favor. Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” So he urged him, and he took it. Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.”
Genesis 33:1-12

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned…
Romans 12:3, 9-18

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
John 13:3-17

Good morning, St. Barnabas. I thank God for the gift of worshiping with you in this beautiful sanctuary and with those joining us via Zoom. Special thanks to your rector, the Rev. Franklin-Vaughn for her warm welcome, and for her good ministry among you.

I’m honored to offer this sermon, the third in a preaching series here at St. Barnabas, across the diocese, and in churches around the country, based on the classical biblical text from the prophet Micah:

God has told you, o mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

In this series, we’re asking ourselves, as followers of Jesus, how we can be just, kind and humble in all of our interactions. We are asking this with particular intention in these last weeks before the midterm elections. For October is arguably the month when, as a nation, we are our most polarized. It is certainly a time when we are exposed to near round the clock news coverage of tightly contested elections, with billions of dollars worth in political advertising designed to inflame our differences, exploit our worst fears, discredit those with whom we disagree, and simplify the complex problems we face that require a unified nation to address.

The idea behind the Micah 6:8 pledge is for Christians to do whatever we can to narrow the gap between us and to tone down the rhetoric of both personal and public discourse.

Imagine how the world would be different if Christians across this country committed ourselves to be just, kind and humble in all our relationships? What would happen if all Christians added our voices and our resources to efforts that make for a better world, a more just world, and did so with kindness and humility, especially with those who do not share our point of view?

I’ve given you all who are present in church the Micah 6:8 pledge (and will leave extras for others who would like to have one). Will you read it with me?

I pledge to strive to follow Micah 6:8 in all aspects of my life:

    • To act justly and pursue justice by standing with and speaking out for those who are vulnerable, mistreated, in need or exploited;
    • To practice kindness and mercy in every interaction, even with those with whom I disagree;
    • To act with humility, surrendering my will to God’s will, acknowledging that I may not always be right and should listen more and speak less.
    • Today’s theme is the third of Micah’s exhortations–to act with humility, to walk humbly with God and one another.

I’d like to begin by making the distinction between humility and humiliation.

Here’s an example of humiliation taken from a recent article in The Washington Post about an exchange between two political party volunteers at the Frederick County Fair.

Perhaps it was the aroma of smoked turkey legs and warm cinnamon rolls, or the pleasant coolness that stole across the fairgrounds as the sun began to set behind the Magic Maze. Whatever the reason, a woman, (whom I will call Susan), was in a fine enough mood on a September evening to make a friendly overture to a man she considers her enemy.

“You want to come to the Republican side?” she called out cheerfully to a 70-year-old Democratic activist (whom I will call Joe) clad in blue, who strode by the Republican party’s headquarters at the Great Frederick Fair.

“Only when I’m crazy,” he replied without stopping.

Susan’s face darkened.

The Republicans of Frederick County do not like it when people call them nuts. And it has not escaped their attention that people aren’t hesitant these days to do so.1

What strikes you about this interaction between two political activists making their case at a county fair?

What could have been a reasonably friendly exchange, or even a robust debate about the issues at stake in the upcoming election, was immediately shut down by a comment seemingly meant to humiliate. Now perhaps there’s a backstory. Perhaps Joe has been humiliated by someone on the opposing side of the partisan divide; maybe he was in a hurry and stressed and said the first thing that came to his mind; or perhaps he genuinely believes that everyone who votes Republican this November is insane.

Whatever his motivation, his rebuke to someone who reached out to him in a moment of light-hearted banter was insultingly dismissed. Notice that he didn’t stop to engage. He made his flip response and kept on walking. It reminds me of what I’m tempted to do when I’m in my car, typically late for wherever it is I’m going, and I am slowed down by another’s person’s driving. I don’t always respond to that person as a person. I just honk my horn, yell out my window, or say unkind things under my breath, without taking into account the full humanity and dignity of the other person. I simply make my judgment and move one. And even if no one else hears what I say, my unkind response coarsens me inside, and I get better at being mean, feeling perfectly justified in doing so.

Let me ask, have you been on the other side of such blatant unkindness, in word or deed, the intent of which was to shame you for what you did, or the positions you hold, or worst of all, simply for who you are? If so, what did that do to you?

To humiliate someone, according to one dictionary, is “to make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect, especially publicly,” or “to cause someone to a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity.”2

Humility, in contrast, is defined as “freedom from pride or arrogance” or “having a modest or low view of one’s own importance.”3 Humility is sometimes considered a weakness, for it seems to downplay our gifts and give permission for others to trample upon us. But, in fact, genuine humility is testimony to strength of character and wisdom. For when we are humble, we have both a reasonable assessment of ourselves–neither grandiose nor self-deprecating–and less need to bring others down in order to feel good about ourselves. When we’re practicing humility in our relationships, as Micah’s says, we are walking with another. We are walking humbly with God, with other people.

Now some people are born genuinely humble, with an innate appreciation of their place in the human family and are genuinely curious about and kind to other people. For most of us, however, humility is something we learn through the harder lessons in life–when we are humbled by our failings or vulnerabilities. We can also be humbled by undeserved grace, forgiveness, and the loving kindness of another.

The first story we heard from Scripture this morning, and that you have printed in your bulletin, is a classic one of genuine humility.

The scene we have before us is the reunion and reconciliation between two estranged brothers–Jacob and Esau. You may remember their story, as told in the book of Genesis. From birth (they were twins), they had been fierce competitors for their father Isaac’s affection, and due to his conniving and their mother’s favoritism, Jacob always managed to come out ahead. More than once Jacob stole precious things that belonged to Esau–and I’m not talking about possessions, but his birthright and their father’s blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau. The tension between them got so bad that their mother advised Jacob to move to another country to escape his brother’s wrath, which he did.

Fast forward many years when life eventually catches up with Jacob in that new country, and he is compelled to flee again, with all his household and possessions in tow. With some fear and trepidation, he turns his face toward home, knowing that his brother’s wrath awaits him there.

Along the way, Jacob has the most transformative spiritual experience of his life. Again, we may remember this story, which tells of Jacob sleeping alone by a riverbank, a stranger accosts him, and the two men wrestle all night. At early dawn, the man suggests that they stop fighting, but Jacob, in his pain and exhaustion, says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” For Jacob realizes that this is not just a man, but an angel sent from God. And Jacob receives the angel’s blessing–his own blessing, not the one he stole from his brother. He is also wounded by this encounter, and will forever walk with a limp.

Truly humbled by this experience, Jacob realizes that he must make peace with his brother Esau. Still fearing Esau’s anger, he decides, in a lavish gesture of restitution, to give Esau nearly all of his household wealth and place himself under his authority.

But in the intervening years Esau’s heart has softened. When he sees Jacob coming from a distance, he runs to him, throws his arms around him and welcomes him home (in language reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son). When Jacob makes his offering, Esau protests that he wants nothing from Jacob, that having him back is gift enough. But Jacob, as you heard, insists. “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God.” Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.” Both men had been humbled by life, and in humility, reached out to the other with openness. One was in need of forgiveness that the other was able to offer, and they could walk humbly with one another.

As with the two reconciled brothers, when we walk with humility, there is space for others to walk alongside us, no matter who they are. In humility, as the Apostle Paul writes beautifully in the passage we heard this morning, we are more ready to listen than to speak; more ready to ask questions than to argue our point. When we are humbled, we are more likely to extend compassion and empathy to others. “Those who practice humility are more likely to consider others’ beliefs and opinions,” writes social researcher Tiara Blain. “Humility offers the opportunity to become less self-involved and more attuned with the feelings of others.”4

But to be clear, being humble does not mean that we abandon what we believe to be true, avoid challenging conversations, or abdicate our place in the arenas in which important issues and contentious issues are decided. As the passage from Micah and other mandates from Scriptures make clear, that we show up where we are needed, where justice and fairness are lacking, where people are being hurt or abused, is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

This week I received an invitation for the Diocese to co-sponsor an event at Georgetown University at which our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is a keynote speaker. The event is called: How White Christian Nationalism Threatens Our Democracy. To be honest, I would have said no were not our Presiding Bishop part of the event, because it’s such a painful and yes–divisive–topic. Some are likely to say, as they have told me in the past, that engaging in such events is counter to building up an inclusive community in our churches where all are welcome, and that as a church leader I should stay away from politics.

But Michael Curry’s courage inspires me to step into a very painful space, and learn all that I can. I believe that the danger of White Christian Nationalism is real, and that some so-called Christian views in this country are not, in fact, consistent with Jesus’ teachings and witness. Those who hold those views are, at the moment, very loud–so loud, in fact, that it can seem to outsiders as if theirs was the prominent Christian view. If other Christians don’t speak up, it is, and that is worrisome.

So the diocese is co-sponsoring the event, which you can participate in, either in person or online for free. (Here is the registration link).

What Micah’s words on kindness and humility say to us is that how we show up matters, too–how we engage, how we speak to one another, how we listen and acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and we have things to learn from those who see the world differently. For as the Christian author Andy Stanley writes in his book, Not In It to Win It, it’s “in the messy middle where problems are solved, rather than capitulating to divisive broad-brush political talking points.” That’s true in our families; in our churches, in our neighborhoods, and in our country.

We can’t control or predict the reactions of other people when we move toward them in a spirit of openness. The woman from the Frederick County Fair took a risk of kindness with someone from the other political party and was rebuked. That can happen to us too; we can be attacked with the meanspiritedness that sadly passes for public discourse. But Jesus would say to us, take the risk anyway. Treat all people with love and kindness. Be willing to listen and learn, but speak the truth as you see it and stand up for what you believe.

So I leave you with a few questions to ponder in the quiet of your heart or in conversation with one another: Rest assured that every question I am asking you, I am asking myself:

  • Where in your life, and in mine, is God calling us to act and speak with greater humility?
  • To dig a bit further, where in your life have you experienced humiliation, and how have those experiences shaped your sense of yourself and your worldview? Might Jesus be inviting you now to release the shame and perhaps anger caused by those experiences, in recognition of your worth and dignity as a child of God?
  • Finally, consider, when you have experienced being humbled, in the best sense of that word, by your own vulnerabilities or failures, and the loving-kindness of another?

I’d love to pray for us:
Lord, you know us through and through, and how much we all stand in the need of your grace and love. We know the pain of humiliation. We have also humiliated others. Please forgive us. Help us to learn true humility, to see our place amidst and alongside other equally wounded, equally beloved human beings, so that we might bring our full selves into the spaces where we are most needed and be part of the solutions we need to make this world a better place for all. In Jesus name, Amen.

___________
1“Trump, election denial, QAnon and Dan Cox: In Maryland, the GOP marginalizes itself”, The Washington Post, October 7, 2022
2Dictionary.com: humiliate
3Merriam-Webster.com: humility
4“Why is it important to stay humble?”, Very Well Mind, April 13, 2022

Be Kind

Be Kind

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:12-17

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!’ Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.
Matthew 20:29-34

You have told us what is good, O Lord, and what you require of us–to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you, our God. Help us with your grace and courage to be just, kind, and humble. Amen.

Good morning. It is always a joy for me to be with you in worship, Cathedral community and along with Dean Hollerith, to welcome our guests. I pray that you feel God’s love and kindness for you in this place.

From the poem, “Compassion” by Miller Williams:

Have compassion for everyone you meet
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down where the spirit meets the bone.1

And from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s last book before her death, entitled Fascism: A Warning:

The wise response to intolerance is not more intolerance or self-righteousness. It is a coming together across the ideological spectrum of people who want to make their countries better. We should remember that the heroes we cherish–Lincoln, King, Gandhi, Mandela–spoke to the best within us. The crops we’ll harvest depend on the seeds we sow.2

The crops we’ll harvest depend on the seeds we sow.

This is the second sermon in a series that takes its inspiration from one of the most compelling passages in all the Bible, written 800 years before the birth of Jesus by the prophet Micah:

What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

We at Washington National Cathedral and in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington are part of a larger effort among Christians across the country dedicating ourselves to Micah’s call to be just, kind, and humble. And we’re doing so with particular intention in these last weeks before the midterm elections because October is arguably the month when, as a nation, we are our most polarized. We are bombarded with billions of dollars worth in political advertising intended to inflame our differences, exploit our worst fears, dehumanize those with whom we disagree, make false promises, and simplify the complex problems we face that require a unified nation to address.

The idea behind the Micah 6:8 pledge is for Christians to do whatever we can to narrow the gap between us and to tone down the rhetoric of public discourse. Imagine what would happen if all Christians committed ourselves to be just, kind and humble in all our relationships? If we all committed to show up in the places where people are treated unfairly, adding our voices and our resources to the efforts that make for a better world, and doing so with kindness and humility, especially with those who do not share our point of view?

In fairness, political advertising, social media, and the more divisive forces that can dominate public discourse advertising don’t create polarization–they amplify what already exists. The seeds of societal polarization lie within every human community, and–let’s be honest–within each of us. For years the seeds may lie fallow, and we may not realize that they’re there. But when they are watered with fear and resentment, they grow and threaten to choke everything around them.

I doubt that I’m the only person in this Cathedral concerned about how those seeds have been methodically cultivated in our country. What we all have trouble recognizing, myself included, is how we contribute to the social conditions we lament through our actions and speech, or what we choose not to do or say.

Hence, the need to look to ourselves and our own behavior, which the Micah 6:8 pledge invites us to do, and commit ourselves, daily, to our highest ideals as human beings. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, this isn’t optional. It is what is required to follow in His way of love.

In the words of Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, “True spiritual action (as opposed to reaction) demands our own ongoing and radical transformation. It often requires us to change sides so we can be where pain is. It even requires a new identity, as Jesus exemplified in his great self-emptying. It feels like weakness, but it finally changes things in very creative, patient, and humble ways.”3

I’ve given you all in the Cathedral a small card with the Micah 6:8 pledge, and it is also printed on the back of your bulletin. Will you read it with me?

I pledge to strive to follow Micah 6:8 in all aspects of my life:

  • To act justly and pursue justice by standing with and speaking out for those who are vulnerable, mistreated, in need or exploited
  • To practice kindness and mercy in every interaction, even with those with whom I disagree;
  • To act with humility, surrendering my will to God’s will, acknowledging that I may not always be right and should listen more and speak less.

Today our focus is on Micah’s exhortation to kindness, and our pledge to practice kindness and mercy in every interaction, even with those with whom we disagree.

In the spirit of a Twelve-Step moral inventory, I invite us all, myself included, to take stock–not only of our actions, but our speech. How does kindness inform what we do and how we do it? How do we talk to one another? Even more telling, how do we talk about one another? When we aren’t kind when speaking to or about another, what rationale do we give? We’ve all been influenced, consciously or not, by the increasing coarseness, intolerance, and cruelty that is now normative in human discourse, especially across lines of difference.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t call out egregious behavior, only that we guard against becoming the mirror image of that which we rightfully critique, or worse, imagine that the righteousness of our position justifies or rationalizes similar behavior on our part.

You may remember the story that Jesus told about a man who began his prayer by thanking God that he was not like other people, listing all the miserable sinners not at all like him. God was not impressed.

-The wise response to intolerance is not more intolerance or self-righteousness.
-The crops we’ll harvest depend on the seeds we sow.

The British comedian Tony Hendra once tried to describe to his spiritual mentor, a gentle Benedictine monk named Father Joe, the function of satire–humor told at the expense of another person.

Father Joe seemed confused. “Satire always divides people up into two groups?”
“Yes,” Tony replied.
“Is that a good thing?”
“It’s the way the world works, Father Joe. People think in teams. We’re good; you’re evil; we’re right; you’re wrong. we’re smart; you’re dumb. Most humor works that way, even the most basic jokes. The English tell Irish jokes. Americans tell Polish jokes, because the Poles have been stereotyped as stupid.”
“Oh tell me a Polish joke,” Father Joe said.
“Okay. What has an IQ of two hundred and twelve?”
“Well, I don’t know, dear.”
“Warsaw.”
Father Joe gazed up expectantly. “Is there a joke coming?”
“That’s it. The entire city of Warsaw has a combined IQ of two hundred twelve.”
“Oh,” Father Joe protested, “but the Poles are a rather sensitive people. Tragic and poetic and long-suffering. Look at Chopin. Or the Holy Father.”
“Okay, Chopin and John Paul the Second are not Polish jokes. But the dynamic holds for jokes about politicians, opposing political parties, or blondes, or the French.”
Father Joe looked puzzled. “To say that people are stupid when they’re not–isn’t that cruel?“ He was silent for a moment. “You see, dear, I think there are two types of people in the world. Those who divide the world into two types of people…and those who don’t.”4

What type of person do you and I want to be?
If we are Jesus followers, what type of person does he call us to be?

“The godly,” writes the Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, “are those who never talk destructively about another person–in anger, in spite, in vengefulness–and who can be counted on to bring an open heart to a closed and clawing world.” She goes on: “The holy ones are those who live well with those around them. They are just, they are upright, they are kind. The ecology of humankind is safe with them.”5

Is the ecology of humankind safe with us? If we’re honest–or speaking for myself, if I’m honest–not always. I can do better. Perhaps you can, too.

Now there is a temptation–an understandable one in polarized, divisive climates–to take the opposite approach and remain silent, on the assumption that saying or doing nothing is a form of kindness. In families and communities, the list can get quite long of all the things that we don’t talk about.

But is avoidance kind? And kind to whom?

Sociologist and author Brené Brown argues in her book, Dare to Lead, that clarity is kindness. Not speaking; not engaging is a deliberate effort not to be clear. And to be unclear–or to pretend that you aren’t clear when you are–while it may avoid tension, is in the end, Brown maintains, unkind.

I remember in 2003, when The Episcopal Church took its most public position to date on inclusion by officially the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay and partnered man, as bishop. The convention that made that momentous decision–and it was a big deal–took place in Minneapolis, where I was serving as a priest. One of my mentors at the time was a Lutheran pastor of a large church whose ministries I admired and sought to emulate. Shortly after the convention, he said to me, not realizing my position, or the make-up of the congregation I served, “I’m sympathetic to the cause. I really am. But The Episcopal Church is making a big mistake. We (meaning his church) are going to lay low on this issue. It’s far too divisive to take a stand on.”

To myself, I wondered what he would say to the gay and lesbian members of his church. But all I said was, “Someday, you may thank us.”

I believe that it is possible to be kind and also clear about what we believe and stand for in a contentious, even polarized climate. But it requires great care and intentionality. Here we can take inspiration from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Bishop Curry is never hesitant to speak the truth as he sees it. Yet he is among the most universally beloved religious leaders in the world, because he treats those who don’t share his view with kindness and humility, and he never stops searching for common ground across differences.

Bishop Curry calls his approach to engaging the work of justice as standing and kneeling at the same time. He stands in his convictions, speaking as clearly as he can what he believes and why. And he kneels before those who disagree with him, honoring them as beloved children of God, respecting their point of view, and being willing to truly listen in a spirit of humility.

“If we all do that and engage each other,” he says, “kneeling in real humility before each other and before God, and yet being honest and up front and clear about what we stand for, the fact that we have knelt before each other creates the space where we can stand together with our differences.”

If we don’t show up and don’t speak up in a contentious, polarized time, as tempting as that is, it is an abdication of moral ground. Yet how we act; how we speak, matters. It matters that we show up where Jesus calls us, standing firm in what we believe to be right and true and just, and yet stay in loving relationship with those who differ, refusing to meet intolerance with more intolerance, but with love.

In closing, let me say one more word about kindness, drawing inspiration from the story we just heard of Jesus’ interactions with the two blind men who yelled at him, asking for mercy, and with the crowd who tried to silence them. Last week, Bishop Robinson said from this pulpit that doing the work of justice invariably leads us to kindness, which for many is true. I believe the reverse is also true, that when we choose the path of proximate kindness, that is, daring to show up where people are hurting, where people are bearing the brunt of social inequity and injustice, when we get close and offer our kindness there, we will be moved to act with justice.

And when we show up, all of us together, our differences matter less. They just do.

We saw an example of this last Wednesday, October 5th, when the President of the United States, Joseph Biden, and the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, held a joint press conference in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Both men praised the other, and the branches of government they represent, for their collaborative efforts to address the devastation Hurricane Ian caused in Florida.

Two men on opposite ends of the chasm that divides us went out of their way to be kind to one another, and more importantly, to the people with whom they spoke who had lost so much. We need more of this, because the challenges before us as a nation, just like the Hurricane recovery effort, requires all of us.

Human beings have an innate capacity to care for one another, and not merely those of our own tribe. Alongside these seeds of human polarization are also seeds of empathy. And when we water and cultivate those seeds, a different kind of world is possible.
And it is possible. Think of it: No one is dividing the people in need of emergency shelter in Florida or elsewhere according to political parties, or only restoring electricity to people who agree with them on certain issues. Those of us writing checks to support relief efforts in Florida or elsewhere aren’t insisting that our money only goes to those who share our worldview.

Think of what we are capable of when we decide to show up–all of us–where love is needed. And keep the Micah pledge before you.

May Jesus help us all to be just, kind and humble. Amen.

1Miller Williams, “Compassion” in The Ways We Touch, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997) 55.
2Madeleine Albirght, Fascism: A Warning, (HarperCollins, Kindle ed.), xx
3Richard Rohr, “Jesus is Our Reference Point
4Tony Hendra, Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, (New York: Random House, 2004.)
5Joan Chittister, O.S.B, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), 24.

¿Cómo estamos presentes?

¿Cómo estamos presentes?

Ya se te ha dicho lo que de ti espera el Señor: Practicar la justicia, amar la misericordia, y humillarte ante tu Dios.
Miqueas 6:6-8 (Nueva Versión Internacional – NVI

El otoño llegó a nuestra región esta semana con los remanentes del huracán Ian dejándonos lluvia y frío. Como nación, estamos unidos en nuestra preocupación por aquellos cuyas vidas han sido cambiadas para siempre. A cualquier fuente que accedamos en las noticias, estamos llamados a responder al sufrimiento con compasión generosa.

Sin embargo, algunas fuentes y la publicidad que paga por ellas, nos recuerdan cada día que estamos en el último momento antes de las elecciones intermedias el 8 de noviembre. Estas pueden ser, como muchos han dicho, las elecciones más importantes en años. También será las más caras. Solo el gasto en publicidad política está estimado en 9 billones de dólares.

La mayoría del dinero será gastado para aumentar la ya peligrosa polarización en nuestra nación, utilizando nuestros peores miedos, deshumanizando a aquellos con quienes no estamos de acuerdo, haciendo falsas promesas y simplificando los complejos problemas que enfrentamos y que refieren a una nación unida para resolverlos.

Las semillas de nuestra polarización social radica en cada comunidad humana, y -seamos honestos- en cada uno de nosotros. Cuando estas son fertilizadas con miedo y resentimiento, estas semillas crecen y son un peligro para todo lo que está alrededor suyo.

Como cristianos bendecidos al vivir en una democracia, tenemos una responsabilidad círiva y moral de participar en los espacios donde se toman las decisiones que nos afectan a todos. Pero también importa cómo estamos presentes. Por eso estoy agradecida al aceptar la invitación de parte de la Diócesis de Washington a unirme al esfuerzo de la Campaña SÉ, organizado por la mayor Iglesia Metodista Unida en el país.

La idea es que los cristianos hagan lo que podamos para acercarnos mutuamente mientras traemos a nuestros corazones las palabras de Miqueas. Imaginen lo que sucedería si todos los cristianos, sin importar sus diferencias, deciden comprometerse a ser justos, amables y humildes, tanto en sus vidas privadas como públicas.

Como dijo la ex Secretaria de Estado Madeleine Albright en su libro Fascismo: Una advertencia (Fascism: A Warning):

La respuesta sabia a la intolerancia no es más intolerancia o creernos más justos que otros. Por el contrario, es unirnos más allá de las diferencias ideológicas como personas que quieren hacer mejor su país. Debemos recordar que los héroes que apreciamos – Lincoln, King, Gandhi, Mandela – hablaron a lo mejor en nosotros. Las cosechas que cultivemos dependen de las semillas que sembremos.1/sup> (las cursivas son mías)

Esta es la promesa de la Campaña SÉ:

Yo me comprometo a seguir Miqueas 6:8 en todos los aspectos de mi vida:

    • Actuar justamente y buscar la justicia al solidarizarnos y denunciar en favor de las personas vulnerables, maltratadas, en necesidad o explotadas,
    • Practicar la bondad y la misericordia en cada interacción, incluso con aquellos con los que nos estamos de acuerdo;
    • Actuar con humildad, rindiendo nuestra voluntad a la de Dios, reconociendo que no siempre estoy en lo correcto y, por tanto, debo escuchar y hablar menos.

Hay una tentación, comprensible debido a cómo son de intensas las emociones, a hablar en absolutos sobre temas que nos importan. Y hay también una tentación igualmente fuerte a permanecer en silencio para no ofender a nadie.

Aquí podemos tomar inspiración del Obispo Presidente, Michael Curry. El Obispo Curry no es tímido en hablar la verdad. Él es uno de los líderes religiosos más amados universalmente en nuestra sociedad, porque él trata a los que no comparten sus puntos de vista con bondad y humildad, y él nunca se cansa de buscar los puntos comunes en medio de las diferencias.

El Obispo Curry llama su propuesta de involucrarse con el trabajo de la justicia como pararse y arrodillarse al mismo tiempo. Él es fiel a sus convicciones, habla tan claramente como puede sobre lo que él cree y por qué. Y él se arrodilla ante aquellos que no concuerdan con él, los honra como hijos amados de Dios y respeta sus puntos de vista.

Él dice: “Si todos hacemos esto y nos relacionamos mutuamente, arrodillarse en humildad real ante los demás y ante Dios, siendo honestos y claros sobre lo que creemos y defendemos, el hecho de arrodillarnos antes los otros crea un espacio en el que podemos estar juntos con nuestras diferencias”.2

Te invito a unirte a mí y a otros en este tranquilo pero poderoso llamado a estar presentes en todas las situaciones desafiantes en nuestra vida personal y en nuestra vida común, con justicia, amabilidad y humildad. A estar presentes donde Jesús nos llama a estar, a ser estar firme en lo que creemos que es lo correcto, verdadero y justo, y a la vez a estar en relación amorosa con aquellos con los que diferimos, evitando responder a la intolerancia con más intolerancia, y a responder con amor.

Piensa en las personas en Florida ahora mismo. Nadie está preguntando a otra persona por quién votó o por el partido político al que pertenece, antes de ofrecer ayuda en la crisi común producto del huracán Ian. Alrededor del país las personas se están movilizando para ayudar. Los colores azul y rojo son irrelevantes. El Presidente Biden y el Gobernador DeSantis están conversando entre sí, más allá de las diferencias políticas que los separan. El duelo tiene el poder de unirnos cuando ninguna otra cosa lo logra.

Que Jesús nos ayude a ser justos, amables y humildes.

Episcopal Relief and Development está con colaboración con las diócesis en Florida para determinar lo que estas necesitan para una recuperación sostenida. Si es posible para ti, por favor, considera hacer una donación a ERD’s Hurricane Relief Fund. Gracias.

1Madeleine Albirght, Facism: A Warning (HarperCollins, Kindle ed.), xx.
2Presiding Bishop Shares Stories from His Life and Ministry in New Book on Christian Love