Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Prayer: “May the words I speak, oh God, be yours, and only yours. Amen.”
There are times when being a preacher is very difficult. I have had some difficult times to preach, and today is one of those times. Last night, I sat and watched Facebook Live videos of protesting crowds at JFK International Airport, where foreign nationals were detained. Separated from families. One mother separated from her child. People who—two days ago—would have gotten back to America safely. Now, because of an order signed by the new President, they have been detained, and thousands of people have shown up to chant, to hold signs, to protest.
I watched what was going on, and I wept.
This morning, I got up, poured a cup of coffee, sat down, and scanned the news online. Then I put my head in my hands. What would I say to you today? As a Christian pastor, what can I say? I am going to throw out what I will call a patchwork quilt of reflective thoughts, and I hope the Holy Spirit will take up her needle and thread these pieces into something that makes a difference to you today.
One piece of the quilt: yesterday, at the Diocese of Washington, we debated a rather controversial resolution. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde had already addressed the recent controversy over the Washington National Cathedral hosting the prayer service for the new president. Bishop Budde had spoken in other places about this, including her saying that “in times of national division, the Episcopal Church is called to be a place where those who disagree can gather for prayer and learning and to work for the good of all.” What she said yesterday was that either the WNC is “a house of prayer for the nation” or it is not. As a leader in Washington, she will go to whatever table she is welcomed at, and she will do the same—offering the chance for reconciliation and listening. (Note: she also made it clear that she does not agree with many things the new president says or does, and that “there may come a time for civil disobedience.”)
The controversial resolution was about St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square for hosting the prayer service before the Inauguration, with the evangelical pastor preaching. This pastor opposes GLBT persons, and has other viewpoints with which Episcopalians disagree—including the idea of a leader being divinely ordained. However, the convention got caught up in quibbling over language of this resolution and proposed amendments. Thankfully, someone finally moved to table this resolution, effectively making it null and void. I must tell you that I would have voted against the resolution. Why? Not because I disagreed with its position. But every Episcopal priest does ministry under the authority of our bishops. If the Rev. Dr. Luis Leon invited someone to speak in his pulpit, I assume that he had the latitude to do that, under the authority of Bishop Budde. And I would not want anyone telling me how I could invite into this pulpit. So I respect my brother, I know he has good sense, and know that he had his reasons for doing this. I trust him.
But here is what I thought of yesterday: Here we are, quibbling over one word in a resolution. (Should we leave it in, or take it out, or change it?) And I am sitting there thinking, “Really, people? Really? No wonder the culture thinks the Church is out of touch. Good grief!”
What is relevant? As we sat at diocesan convention and argued about words in a piece of legislation, human beings’ lives were on the line in airports all over this country. From JFK International to Newark to Dulles to Chicago to San Francisco. . .people from seven different countries on the president’s list were detained and denied entrance to the United States.
There were real consequences. According to the BBC online this morning, and Fortune magazine, Google has called all of its employees home who were traveling overseas. They do not want all of their highly skilled people to get trapped outside the United States. An Iranian scientist, who lives in Switzerland, who was preparing to come to the United States to do a postdoctoral fellowship in Boston, had to return to Switzerland—not able to enter this country simply because she was born in Iran.
How do we live our lives as faithful followers of Jesus? Where are we in all this chaos and upheaval?
A third image: Last week, I gave you all thirteen suggestions for ways to live out our faith in real ways, in real ways. Was that challenging? (I see heads nodding.) Especially that “pray every day for someone you dislike—or even despise. Yes, that was the hardest for me, too. It’s easy to go in and pay forward $5.00. But to pray for a human being whom you dislike, or do not respect? Tough.
Today, I have brought props with me. Last Sunday, if you were here, you know that I had a pair of Chucks, my Birkenstock sandals, and a Bible up here.Today, I have more. I have a backpack. Birkenstocks. Hiking boots & socks.
It occurred to me that Birkenstocks are usually worn in warm weather, often when we are schlepping about the house, or on the beach, or doing leisurely type things. So maybe we have reached a time in history when following Jesus of Nazareth requires hardier footwear. Maybe it is time for hiking socks and hiking boots. Serious footwear. And for those of us—like me—with weak ankles, laces that lace up around the ankle. The kind of shoe that makes people know you are serious about walking.
I have also put some other things in this backpack. Here is a Bible. You need the Word of God to go with you when you walk the way of Jesus. Here is a Book of Common Prayer. Because this book is where we Episcopalians focus our worship. Some of the most beautiful prayers and language in the English language are in this book—and if you want to take one home and look through it for some prayers, go ahead. The other thing you might want to take is something like this little devotional prayer book—it is one I give to our young people when they are confirmed. Or maybe a picture of someone you love—or maybe a picture of someone you despise—so you can pray for that person. Who knows?
Another piece of the quilt: Last night and this morning, I had faces in front of me. I thought about some of our folks—including college students—who have come to the United States from other countries. Some have grandparents, aunts, uncles, who still live in other countries in the world. What if those folks were trapped in airports today, unable to enter this country? I thought about a family here whose son is a submariner. I thought about some of you who are military—perhaps to be deployed soon. Many people in this parish work for government agencies—Department of Justice, NASA, NOAA. You may work for companies who contract with government. Some of you work for agencies you cannot talk about. We have old and young, many colors, Democrats & Republicans (& Independents). So how does our Christian faith work for us, together?
Another piece: In the 1980’s, then-rector Jane Holmes Dixon and her husband did not agree about the Gulf War. Jane admitted this to the St. Philip’s congregation. She noted that she and Dixie were on opposing sides about the war. So were many people here. But what mattered? Jane said—and I agree—that here is what matters. (I turn and point to the cross on the altar.)
THAT matters. That cross. Our worship together. Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead for us. We come together, regardless of our political viewpoints to worship that Christ. We put aside our political affiliations, and we worship.
Another piece of this: the prophet Micah was right. That prophet lived in a time when people said, “Well, if sacrificing one ram is good, then how about a lot of rams? If a little oil on the altar means something to God, then maybe a lot of oil is better. And if things get really bad, well, maybe I should think about sacrificing my firstborn.” Micah says no. No. Micah says, “God does not care about your worship, people. God doesn’t care about your worship, your historic churches and buildings. Here is what God cares about. Do justice. Love kindness—or goodness. Walk humbly with God. Humility matters.
Micah lived according to the Two Great Commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Then Jesus lived the same way. Loving God. Loving your neighbor.
Here is how we are to still live today, in the 21st century. We are to love God first. Then, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we don’t love ourselves, get some therapy, people! Because if we do not love ourselves, we live in a land of shadows. We project our stuff out onto other people, and blame them for our problems. This is part of the problem today.
So what? So what? I want you to keep doing your homework from last week. Keep praying for someone you dislike. Do an anonymous good deed. Pay something forward. Send a card to someone. Encourage your brothers and sisters. Put a little extra something in the collection plate.
And let’s hold each other accountable. I don’t care who you are, what political party you are with, what position you hold. Each of us must be held accountable–especially leaders. I have to be held accountable. So every now and then, you can ask me, “Sheila, how are you doing on this walk with Jesus?”
We need boots on the ground for Jesus. Today. In real time, in real ways, with real people.
And here is the truth. The Being who matters most to me, the Being for whom I would die, is not affiliated with any earthly power or earthly political party. That Being is God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. That Being is the only one I follow. That Holy One is the only one before whom I kneel in worship, this day and every day of my life. Amen.