Where is our stable? Where is our manger?

Sermon from Christmas Eve at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo

In the name of our loving God who on this holy night bring us to the miracle of Christ’s birth.  Amen.

Merry Christmas!

Every Christmas Eve when I come to the Cathedral for this service I am amazed at the beauty of this place.  Thank you to all who have worked hart do make this possible – the flowers, the tree, the candles, the music the welcome and hospitality.

Whether you come here every Sunday, or come here once a year, tonight this is everyone’s spiritual home.

And it is nice to come home for Christmas.

When I was a child, growing up in Mississippi, I knew that there would always be a tangerine in the toe of my Christmas stocking.

This year I think we’re all hoping that someone will find a way to fill the hole in our hearts of a rough year, 2016.  Our nation is about equally divided over whether to rejoice at the election results of 2016 or to regret them.  So is our Episcopal Diocese equally divided.

Those who are unhappy about the election results ton’s want to hear the Christmas carol reminding them that, “’tis the season to be jolly.” They’re more in tune with Elvis Presley, who sang: “You’ll be doin’ all right with your Christmas of white, but I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.”

Many people can barely manage a fa or a la, let alone a full fa-la-la-la-la.

Some Americans are experiencing a collective trauma as we realize that our nation is more divided than most of us knew or were willing to admit.  Some people feel that their most deeply held beliefs about what America stands for have been rejected.

Others are delighted with the results of the election. They’re saying, “It’s about time,” and for them this IS a season to be jolly, as hope is renewed.  They cast a vote for change, for relief, for the restoration of a world they had lost.

They have their own trauma to deal with – one they have been suffering far longer.  I am speaking of people who, over the last decade or so, saw their jobs and their savings and their futures and their dignity disappear.  No one was listening as Buffalo was hollowed out, when manufacturing jobs went away.  It is a story we’ve lived out right here all over Western New York.  Those are voice we are called to listen to now.

In the City of Buffalo we point to our economic recovery and creation of lots of new jobs, but that recovery, those good times, have yet to spread to the small industrial towns around us.  We know that an island of prosperity in Buffalo surrounded by a sea of despair is not a description of a healthy region.

So one way or another we are all a nation traumatized, a nation for whom the America dream has been diminished.  A week from tonight we may all be crossing our fingers when we tell each other, “Happy New Year,” desperately hoping that it might be so.

All of us are looking for a place of comfort, security and safety.  We’re like the Holy Family; Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as they made their way to Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay in a dark and uncertain time of Roman occupation.  For them it was a stable and a manger – a place of protection, a place where new life could be born.

Where is our stable tonight?  Where is our manger?

For us as Christians, it lies in our commitment that the values of our Christian faith override political concerns and we will continue to care for God’s people regardless of who is in the White House.  We will stand with immigrants and refugees, with LGBT youth, with those who fear that their health insurance or their right to marry the person they love will be taken away.

Where is our stable? Where is our manger?  It is in the Garden of Love outside, just outside this Cathedral wall, where warm coats and gloves are available to anyone who needs them, and where the Homeless Jesus statue there reminds us that what we do to others, we do to him.  And it is the work of every congregation in this diocese that offers food and clothing and shelter and support and hope, not just one night a year but every day.  Where others are at each other’s throats, we are touching each other’s hearts.

So, where is our stable? Where is our manger?  It needs to be among desperate refugees who are seeking stability, but who are often reviled and threatened.  The refugees we read about on the front page of the newspaper every day bear a strong resemblance to the Holy Family in the crèche just over there.  Like them, the infant Jesus and his parents were homeless Middle Eastern asylum seekers who fled death threats in a nation occupied by a hated, murderous invading force.

So where is our stable? Where is our manger? It is in the future of this Cathedral, where a search process is already under way for the position of a permanent dean.  It will be a high point of my time as your bishop to install as permanent dean, one who will welcome everyone, as we welcome everyone tonight – who will make this Cathedral a crossroads of the city for worship and the arts and for important conversations about our region’s future with voices from all sides – and a place of sanctuary and hope for everyone.

bishop-acolytes

With some acolytes at Feast of Lights at the Cathedral

Where is our stable? Where is our manger?  It is in making not a bigger church but a better world as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, describes it – a son of this diocese who was ordained right over there – our mandate is to create a world “saturated in love.” Where there is always room at the inn or around the table, where the lost and the lonely find a welcome, where those whose lives are rich and full of stuff but empty, at the core, find what they are looking for.

Ken Burns, the great documentary filmmaker, commented recently that “those people who did not vote as we did are not our enemy.” All of us who are traumatized – left and right, red and blue – need to engage with one another, he said, “offering shared stories and real solution rather than narratives that are calculated to divide, offering fellowship and unity where fake news has helped stoke tribal angers.”

We engage each other when we speak to and about each other with language of respect and dignity – and when we refuse to tolerate insulting language and racist epithets.  These are not jokes.  There is nothing to laugh at.  Language can hurt and language can heal and we will speak up when anyone – particularly those in positions of leadership – uses vile language to attack and demean others, who are, after all, created in the image of God.

We will heal that hole in our hearts when we become Believers without Borders, proving that our faith can succeed where all else fails to transform this world from a nightmare of such insults, a broken American dream, into the dream of God for justice, for dignity and peace for all.

Henry Lebedinsky has written a new Christmas carol for the end of 2016 and it ends with these words:

“Now, as we wait yet again for his coming, may we remember that, when first he came, we were afraid; we cried out “Crucify him!” Thus those in power used our fear for their gain.

When we are anxious and hope seems audacious, anger and hatred clang loud in our ears, over the tumult, a still, small voice, is still ringing, challenging, strengthening, casting out our fear.

Come let us work for a new world of justice.  Let us build bridges.  So through our lives, we may echo the angels; ‘Glory to God, peace and goodwill to all.’”

This is good news for all tonight.  And that good news is God is in charge.  Love will ultimately triumph.  In the name of that loving God.  Amen.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Believers Without Boarders

 

new-deacons

In the name of our God who waits for us, calls to us in the wilderness, and builds a highway to lead us home: Amen.

Well, don’t we look festive today!

With all this red everywhere, I don’t need a calendar to know that it is two weeks before Christmas Eve.  Thanks to all who have made this a beautiful space for this joyous occasion, the ordination of the two newest deacons in the Episcopal Church.

After all this time of waiting, calling, and building, Susan and Diana, beloved sisters of this Diocese, this is your special day.

This great Cathedral offers us an opportunity to see the extremes of our faith.

Just over here to my left we honor Charles Henry Brent, the great missionary bishop of the church, founder of what became the World Council of Churches, senior chaplain to the American Forces in Europe in World War I, and my predecessor as bishop of this diocese, a towering figure in Christianity whose accomplishments shape our church to this very day.

Just outside, over there, is the Garden of Love, where we hang jackets and scarves and mittens for anyone who needs them.  Where we pay special attention to the needs of the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.

And we are in the in-between space, which seems a perfect place for the ordination of our new deacons, whose job, after all, is to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world.  And we gather in and in between the election of our new President and the inauguration of that President.  We are aware that many people are still depressed, and some are scared by the results of the election and we also have had brought home to us that there are many people who feel that they have not been heard, who are being left behind, who were depressed and scared before the election.

Our job is to bring those needs before us here in the church, where it might be easy to ignore them amid the grandeur of this historic building and the accomplishments of our great leaders … and to lead us out into the world to minister to its needs, reminding all of Christ’s people that in serving the depressed, the angry, the people who haven’t been heard, they are serving Christ himself.

Susan and Diana, you have been walking all your lives on God’s highway that brings you here today, to this place, this moment.  Whether you knew it or not.

Susan has been running on that highway since she was a little girl.  She tells me, “My earliest memories of attending church are from age 4 or 5 in Lancaster.  I would run down Central Avenue and over Broadway to Trinity Episcopal Church.  I don’t remember much about being in Sunday school, but I do remember being in a hurry to get there.  I guess that urgency has stayed with me most of my life, the wanting to get to church!”

Susan was sidetracked for a while when her father had to take the family’s only car to get to work on Sunday.  But no worries, her mother walked the children to a nearby Methodist church where Susan learned to sing all those great Methodist hymns.

Susan’s mother served as an acolyte at her church at the age of 83.  Her parents read daily Bible lessons, which Susan admits she often interrupted with very important questions about “Where is the Scotch tape?” or “Can I go over to Sharon’s house?”  Those were early lessons about the importance of daily devotions and the value of scripture.

Susan tells me that twice she and her husband Robert have tried to visit Chartres Cathedral in France.  Once they were deterred when Robert injured his foot; a second time when his travel documents and money were stolen.  They are determined to get there yet.  “Never give up!  That must be our motto!” she says.

That, of course, is an excellent motto for a deacon.

Diana recalls her family story:  There is Diana nursing a baby with one hand, stirring a pot of soup with the other, children playing at her feet, while construction workers were tearing down one wall of her kitchen to build on an addition to the house.

That also sounds like excellent preparation for life as a deacon.

Despite a satisfying life as a stay-at-home mother of five for 12 years, and then a 27-year career as an art teacher, Diana kept feeling the pull.  “The more I tried to ignore the pull, the louder the voices grew in my head,” she said.  “I would say, ‘Yes, Lord,’ and feel peace for a short time, then second-guess my intentions.  After 40 years of struggling I was ready to find out if it was God calling me, or if it was just my ego calling.”

Diana, it sounds as if God finally won.

Diana tells me that as a teenager, “I knew I was called to something in the church, but I had no idea what it was because females couldn’t even be acolytes in those days.”  One of my biggest regrets for our beloved church is how long it has taken us to acknowledge the fullness of women’s ministry as lay people, bishops, priests and deacons.  How many years of their wisdom and service did we lose because we did not recognize their gifts? Thanks be to God that has changed.  We are a richer church because women are part of the leadership and councils of the church.  On this 40th anniversary year of the ordination of women, and on this day when we do indeed ordain two women, I hope every little girl and young woman in this church hears that loud and clear.  The Episcopal Church needs you!

The ministry of the diaconate is only going to become more important in the future we are moving into now.

In this post-election season, all of us as Christians can show the world that the values of our faith override political concerns and we will continue to care for God’s people regardless of who is in the White House.  We will stand for immigrants and refugees, with LGBT youth, with prisoners and captives, with those who fear that their health insurance or their right to marry the person they love will be taken away.  We will listen to the people in our small towns who are crying out for change, for a chance to be heard and have a future for their children.  How fortunate that our two new deacons will be serving in the Genesee region, exactly where we need to be listening.  I look forward to working with our deacons to make that happen.

But what is our mission now?

We can stop keeping our faith the best-kept secret in town.  As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, said recently, our goal is not to make a bigger church.  What we are about is making a better world, one that is “saturated in love.” And our Presiding Bishop was himself ordained deacon right here in this space.  He has never lost his sense of his diaconal ministry.  He says, “We do that by being out in the world, reaching out to those who are yearning for something they can’t define, letting them know that God loves them and longs for them and is desperate to welcome them home.”

Bishop Curry suggests that we think of ourselves as the church version of Doctors Without Borders.  We marshal our resources and go wherever there is a need.  That is the future of the church, and our two new deacons are going to lead the way.

Susan and Diana show us the pattern of all our ministries in this new time after the recent Presidential election.  We must all be Believers Without Borders, proving that our faith and our good works can succeed when all else fails to transform this world from the nightmare it often is into the dream of God; for justice, dignity and peace.  I look to our deacons, Susan, Diana, all our deacons, to make that dream come true.

God bless the diaconate and today in a special way, God bless Susan and Diana.

Posted in Hope for Future, Leadership, Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Advent Reflections

advent-wreath

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit, he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Collect for the Nativity of Our Lord – Book of Common Prayer

 As we have moved through the season of Advent this year, I have been struck again by the call on all of us as followers of Jesus Christ to bring light to dark places, to prepare the way for the kingdom of God.

The true Light, Jesus Christ, is coming into the world.  We who are followers of that Light are called to take that light into the places in our world that are dark.

We are called to do this, because we have caught a glimpse of that Light, and we are promised that we will live in that Light forever.  We are called to make our world a better place by seeking out dark places and bringing the Light of the World to them.

The Light that we bring is joy and peace and hope and love.  It is the knowledge that we are loved by God and that we belong to Jesus Christ forever.

We must take that Light to places where there is no hope, no joy, no peace, no love.  We must show the love that God has shown to us and the belonging that we have found in Jesus Christ to those who don’t feel they belong, to those who have no one who loves them.  That is what it means to bring Light to the darkness.

My prayer this Christmas is that each of you will find the Light in your own life and find ways to share that Light with our world.

May the blessings of Christ be with you all this Christmas and all through the year.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment