glory of god

glory of god

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My House Shall be Called a House of Prayer for All Peoples: A Sermon after Terrorist Attacks

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs. 

 Never have Jesus’ words felt more true. And honestly, it is hard to know what to say, with the world in such turmoil and crisis. The Paris terrorist attacks took so many innocent lives—people just doing what people do, attending a concert, a football game, and dining in restaurants, bars, and cafes. They were sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents, aunts and uncles. They were ordinary people, like you and me, who deserve to mourned, loved, and upheld in our prayer. Not in a flimsy way—with simply words or Facebook posts, but in a real and deep way. Because they were real people. They were people who were beloved by their families and friends, people who were and are beloved by God. 

 It hasn’t registered as much in the news, but there was an attack this week in Beirut, Lebanon, too. Forty-one people were killed and more than 200 wounded by suicide bombers. In recent months major attacks also have been perpetrated in Turkey—100 were killed by two suicide bombers; and in July in Egypt as well. That’s to say nothing of the on-going crisis in Syria, where people live in daily fear for their lives, whether from ISIS or their own government. It is this crisis that leads people to flood into Europe, in search of refuge, safety, and a possibility for peaceful lives for themselves, for their children, and their children’s children. 

We should be clear that what happened in Paris on Friday night could happen anywhere that people live and move and associate freely. And we should emphasize that the vast majority of those killed by ISIS-related terrorist attacks are not Westerners, not Christians or Jews, but Muslims. It’s just that our press seems to focus on the events in countries most like ours. It’s not a plot to keep other news from us, I think, or I hope. It’s just that it’s hard for people with busy lives to focus on happenings everywhere. The world is clearly a mess. But, I believe, it is also in search of some glimmer of hope, some sense of possibility for a better future. That’s true for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and also for Hindus and Buddhists, and people who don’t profess any kind of religious faith, but who want nothing more than to see the world embrace a vision of peace. And not just a vision of peace. But also a reality of peace. 

Most of you know that this summer my family and I took a trip to Sweden. Our plans were that we would stay in Stockholm for a few days, sighting-see and such, until my friend Anders met us several days later for the remainder of our trek across Sweden and into Norway. Before heading out on our trip I researched options for how to get from the airport to the hotel, and learned that the cheapest way, given we were four people, was to take a cab. So, after landing and getting our luggage, I hailed a cab at the airport. Because there were four of us, I had to sit up front with the driver, and everyone else was in the back. At first I spoke to the driver in English, but soon I thought I would try out my rusty Swedish on him. That surprised and delighted him, as his English wasn’t that strong. It was good enough to get people where they need to go, but maybe not so strong for a 40 minute drive. 

It turns out that the driver is from Syria and I think finds Sweden a challenge sometimes—they are very distant and different countries after all. At one point, he asked me about my occupation. After wondering what I should say for a moment, I gave in and told him I am a priest. That led, rather predictably, to a somewhat uncomfortable conversation about religion—I’m a liberal Christian, and he seemed to be a more conservative Muslim. But then, somewhat out of the blue, he started fiddling with his smart phone, until he pressed play on a video file. He held the phone over his shoulder and turned it up as loud as he could, so everyone in the back could hear. Speaking on the video was a Muslim Imam, in Jordan I think, speaking about how faithful Muslims are expected to work for justice and peace, not only for fellow Muslims, but also for Christians and Jews. On the video he also said that faithful Muslims are called to condemn violence and do whatever they can to bring people together. 

Suffice it to say, it was not the cab ride to downtown Stockholm I expected. It might even be the weirdest cab ride ever—probably especially for my family in the back seat, who didn’t have a clue what we were talking about, in Swedish, and why this video was being played at them. But it testifies to the fact that people everywhere, of every religion and race and background are longing for a more peaceful and less divided, violent, and warring world. Even Syrian cab drivers in Stockholm. Maybe especially them. 

Over a year ago, a global coalition of Muslim scholars and leaders—over 120 of them—came together to offer a refutation of the so-called Islamic State. They wrote a letter to ISIS leaders, arguing point by point that their actions are a perversion of the Islamic faith and sacred text, the Qur’an. In fact, what they said sounds a lot like Imam in the video in the Stockhom taxi ride. Here is some: 

  • It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know. 
  • It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings. 
  • It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent. 
  • It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers. 
  • Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct. 
  • It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’. 
  • The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus. 
  • It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert. 
  • It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights. 
  • It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights. 
  • It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct procedures that ensure justice and mercy. 
  • It is forbidden in Islam to torture people. Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.
  • Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.”  

These teachings tell us that what we see in the news around the world is a perversion of Islam, an ancient religion that unfortunately most of us here probably don’t know all that well. In fact, that’s exactly what I said to the taxi driver in Stockholm: many of us in the United States don’t know many or even any Muslims, which makes it all the harder to understand their tradition, and to make the necessary distinction between radical extremists and terrorists and those who are our neighbors. But, I believe, whatever we can do to deepen understanding will benefit not only us, but our whole society and world. 

A powerful example of this deepening understanding, mutuality, and relationship was made manifest over the past few days in Boston. Just as we were learning of the terrorist attacks in Paris, hundreds of Massachusetts Episcopalians gathered for our diocesan convention. On Friday night St. Paul’s Cathedral was rededicated after over a year of renovation, and Bishop Gates officially took his seat. Then, on Saturday, we undertook the business of the convention, including an introduction to the several faith communities that are housed at the cathedral, which in 1913 Bishop William Lawrence called a “House of Prayer for All People.” 

In his time, Bishop Lawrence likely meant all colors and economic backgrounds. Today, it also includes a community of homeless or recently housed residents of Boston who worship alongside the more affluent cathedral parishioners on Sunday mornings, and then have their own service and lunch on Monday afternoons. It also includes a vibrant Chinese congregation that meets for worship on Sunday afternoons and programs on Friday evenings. There’s an inclusive and unusual community of young adults who gather at the cathedral for non-traditional worship on Thursday evenings. And finally, on Friday afternoons as many as 500 Muslims who work downtown flood into the cathedral for their obligatory noon-day prayers. They’ve been coming to St. Paul’s Cathedral to pray every week for 15 years, since 2000. 

A beautiful feature of the cathedral renovation is a foot-washing station downstairs, for the Muslims to use before their prayers. Chiselled in granite above the faucets are the words: “A house of prayer for all people.” Bishop Lawrence brought forward that idea in 1913, but he didn’t make it up. It’s directly from the Bible—Isaiah 56:7. At Saturday’s convention a member of the Muslim community spoke to us of how significant the cathedral, our cathedral, has been in providing welcome in the midst of downtown Boston. With the news of the Paris attacks so much in the forefront of our minds, his testimony was a sign that people of faith can overcome fear and distrust. We can stand together and pray together—for peace, reconciliation, and understanding. Praying together doesn’t mean that they will become Christians or that we will become Muslims, but rather that we will all deepen in our understanding that we are one, we are united, as beloved children of God. 

Politicians will do whatever they can to keep us safe in the face of global violence and religious extremism—doubtless debating, fighting and disagreeing on the best ways to do that. Our job, as Christians, is to pray—for our leaders, for our communities, and for our world. And then, once we’ve prayed, and as we are praying, our job is to do whatever we can to break down the barriers that separate us. We Christians have a model for how to do that in Jesus Christ. Jesus, whose whole life was about drawing people together, in faith and understanding. Jesus, who made himself vulnerable, even to death on the cross, so that we might live barrier free lives. That’s our model. That’s who we are as Christians and what our faith calls us to. 

It’s not assigned for today, but I thought I would close by sharing a passage from the Letter to the Ephesians. To me it’s one of the most powerful and profound passages in scripture, and can perhaps be a guiding influence to us, who follow Jesus, as we work to bring reconciliation in our broken and violent world. 

“So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles by birth, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near... For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near…. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.” 

 May we be that peace, that reconciliation, that holy temple, and that house of prayer, for all people. 

 To God be the glory: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 © The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, PhD

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Singing a Song of the Saints of God: A Sermon for All Saints Day

Despite the autumnal colors outside, with you all here, with the church so full, so buzzing with life, it looks and feels a lot like Easter. But then, today really is a lot like Easter, as we celebrate life, and in particular, the new, abundant, and eternal life in Christ that God offers us all in the power of the resurrection, and today, especially, the abundant, eternal life Wendy and Tristan will be drawn into through baptism. Today they sacramentally join the mystical Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints.

But, this is not always an easy life you are joining, Wendy and Tristan, being united in such a powerful way to people you love. Because on this side of eternity life is transitory, even as it is forever and lasting in God. During our baptismal preparation, Jason—Tristan’s dad—shared that when he and his brother Adam were young they came to the realization that the older ladies here who hosted coffee hour probably wouldn’t live for ever. They wondered, after these ladies died, who would make the delicious lemon cakes they so much enjoyed? That’s why parish cookbooks are important, and even more so, sharing stories and recipes and most of all love, so that it all lives on, even after we have been drawn deeper into God’s life and heart.

Today, we get to share some of those stories. In the last year, 10 Emmanuel parishioners have been drawn into the deeper life of God. I’m not sure if any made lemon cakes, but they were wonderful people: Barbara Smith, Joyce McLeod, Bill Hausrath, Brian Dale, Eveline and Burl Whelchel, Edie Coflan, Bob Bent, Olga Packard, and Ginny Climo. We also said goodbye to John Cook, son of Wallie and Cindy, and we celebrated the life of Bob Russo, husband of Linda.

I wish there were time to reflect on all of them, to remember Edie’s art, Brian’s scientific brilliance, and Ginny’s service as parish secretary. But that would take all day, with so many stories. So for now, I’ll focus on the four I knew best—Barbara and Bill, Olga and Bob—who were most active in the church’s life lately, and were lifted to heaven by the prayers of this community that they so loved, and that so loved them in return.

Sunday mornings always began with Barbara Smith. She was a fixture at the 8:00 am service, sitting in the second row, alongside Midge Roberts. Barbara was part of a group of ladies called “the church mice.” They were behind the scenes leaders, serving on altar guild and Sunday school, hosting events and the like. Her friend Midge’s death was hard on Barbara—even more were those of her daughter Karen and her husband Tom. But, she kept these cherished family and friends, saints of God, alive in pictures and memories all around. On her den wall was a photo of Tom, dashing in his merchant marine uniform, and on the side table a photo of herself and Midge in lawn chairs, smiling just as on Sunday mornings. Most poignantly, a beautiful tree was planted in the backyard to the memory of her daughter Karen, who died so young in an automobile accident.

Unfortunately, the last years were hard for Barbara. She lacked energy and was in and out of the hospital. On one of my hospital visits she really wasn’t having a good day. To help her perk up a little she had a few sips of her favorite beverage: Fresca. She said it was what gave her pep. (I had no idea that at home Barbara actually enjoyed Fresca with vodka!, as her daughter Janet shared at her memorial service). Then we talked some about her life. I asked her specifically about her life as a kindergarten teacher. She so much loved those children—when they were young, and when she ran into them after they had grown. Nothing delighted her more, knowing that she had a lasting and positive impact in people’s lives.

So I asked, “Barbara, did you ever have disciplinary problems with the kids?” “Oh yes,” she said. “If they were misbehaving, they had to leave the fun table, and go read quietly by themselves.” Then she said, “That probably wasn’t such a good idea. Because I wouldn’t want children to think of reading as a punishment.” So many years later, Barbara was still reflecting on how we learn and grow. How wonderful it must have been to have Mrs. Smith not only as a teacher, but as your very first teacher setting you on the path of a lifetime of learning and growing.

Anyone who knew Bill Hausrath, even just a little, soon became aware that he was a product of a bygone era. Bill read, usually history, far more than he watched TV. He walked pretty much everywhere, usually dressed in a jacket and tie, and he understood that we don’t really need to spend each and every minute checking our smart phones. In fact, he probably didn’t know what a smart phone was, since he didn’t even have an answering machine.

Over about 50 years as a parishioner Bill served in nearly every major leadership position here, except, directress of the altar guild. He was superintendent of the Church School, then a vestry member, Senior Warden, treasurer, vestry member again, junior warden, and finally vestry member yet again. Eventually, he retired from the vestry service after 30 years. But only for one year. Because after a few months he missed it so much that wanted back on again. So, we elected him at our first opportunity. Balance returned to the Force (the obligatory Star Wars reference for this sermon).

None of us had even an inkling of Bill’s extraordinary contributions beyond Emmanuel. I knew that he was a faithful alumnus of Clark University in Worcester. But not that he had donated $500,000 to fund a doctoral fellowship for students studying the Armenian genocide, in memory of his beloved wife Agnes, and her family that suffered during the genocide. And although we knew that he occasionally went to the Armenian church in Chelmsford, we definitely had no idea that he was, as the priest there said at Bill’s funeral, “an ABC—Armenian By Choice.” And that when he went to services he took part in processions dressed in fancy vestments. I so much wish we had known, I wish we could have talked to Bill about it, or even gone with him. 

I always felt that Bill was my quiet, wise adviser, a Jedi master of sorts helping me grow into my job, and helping us all grow into the parish that God wants us to be. The latest of Bill’s contributions shine down on us at this very moment, quite literally, in the fancy new lights that now grace the church. He never saw them first hand, but I like to think that through them Bill is still giving us light and helping us to see the possibilities that God holds out before us.

Bob Bent was among the first parishioners I met, as he was on the search committee that called me here—so he’s partly to blame. Once, in my first few months, Bob mustered the courage to tell me that my sermons were too long. (This one probably falls into that category, too—sorry Bob). That was bold, and kind of funny, coming from a guy raised as a Baptist! Sue told me that after several years of attending both Episcopal and Baptist services after they were married, one really long Baptist service—at least two hours long—convinced him that the Episcopal service was where he needed to be.

Bob was never confirmed in the Episcopal Church, though. I suspect so that he couldn’t be elected senior warden (he did serve as Junior Warden, which had fewer requirements). But Bob didn’t need the hands of a bishop to demonstrate the depth of his faith and dedication—not only to Emmanuel, but to the whole people of God—serving meals at the Reading Senior Center and Bread of Life dinners in Malden, and as a crossing guard, helping kids make their way to school. How special to start your school day with a greeting from Bob—a guy whose heart was so big.

On days when Emmanuel hosted the Bread of Life dinner, Bob used to take his truck to a bakery in Woburn to pick up mountains of baked goods—it had to be the truck, because a car would require two trips. That’s, of course, before he got down to the real work making shepherd’s pie for over 100 guests. If you figure that Bob cooked every other month, for thirty years, that’s 180 dinners. Then multiply by 100 people served, and you get to 18,000 meals. What a life of faithful discipleship.

Bob was the general of the Bread of Life kitchen. And his field marshal was most certainly Olga Packard, keeping things organized, assigning tasks and making sure the dinners moved along. In fact, even in the hospital, having just come out of brain surgery hours earlier, Olga was planning new recipes for Bread of Life dinners, while also thinking of the kids in parish, wanting to make this year’s gingerbread house party even more special.

One of the first things I learned about Olga was that she was the first woman to serve as Senior Warden, from 1979 to 1981. And so in the parish archives we have lots of old photographs and many of them include Olga, almost always she surrounded by men in suits—never with the ladies of the parish. Whether it’s pictures of building projects, fundraising committees, or the vestry, Olga is there as a lone, strong woman—one who paved the way for so many others, and always in her signature high heels. 

The night before Olga died I went to her house at about midnight. Tobey, Kimball, Neysa, and I gathered in her bedroom. Olga was unconscious, but surrounded by stories of her life, by Big Band music, and by lots of prayer. After a while, I said, “I think Olga would want us to have tea.” So, we went downstairs, pulled every kind of baked good from the fridge, and at 2:30 am, for about 45 minutes we enjoyed tea, celebrating Olga’s long and wonderful life, and entrusting her into God’s heart. But, you know, Olga always wanted to be in charge. So she waited until about 10:30 in the morning, after church had ended and the congregation she had loved had a chance to lift her up in prayer one last time, finally sending her into God’s arms.

In school, in church, in shops and at tea we meet the saints of God. Nowhere is that more true than right here at Emmanuel. Nowhere more so than in these saints we remember and celebrate this morning, whom we miss, but who are shining on us, as we, like them, strive to be saints of God ourselves—not only in ages past—but here and now, today and always. How fortunate we have been, how blessed to have known them, and to have been loved by them.

And, it is into this very same call to sainthood, into this same life infused in Christ, that we will baptize Wendy and Tristan in a few moments. They are joining their lives to Bill’s and Olga’s, to Bob’s and Barbara’s, to Brian’s, Joyce’s, Edie’s and Ginny’s. They are joining the whole Communion of Saints across time and space, those sitting next us this morning, those we hold in our hearts, and those whose stories we don’t know.

Because in baptism, we are all saints of God—sealed as Christ’s own forever. Not without our mistakes, failings, and limitations, for sure. But, always drawn together into a new, resurrection, Easter life. What’s more, as we have heard this morning in the stories of the saints we have known, there’s no one right way to live into this life. It can be through making dinners or teaching school, through business acumen put in service of others or as a school crossing guard. It can even, as the song says, be as a soldier, a doctor, or a shepherdess on the green. There is room, and a role, for each and everyone of us. What we do is not nearly so important as how we do it—filled with the grace, the love, and the song of God.

They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.  

May we all be those saints, today and always, and for all eternity. 

To God be the glory: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, PhD

Friday, May 8, 2015

Celebrating the Rev. David J Siegenthaler

On May 7, 2015 Episcopal Divinity School's Alumni/ae Association bestowed its highest honor--the Jean Steele Award--on the Rev. Dr. David J. Siegenthaler, Tutor Emeritus in History. I was privileged to write and deliver the citation. Friday, May 8, the School dedicated the Rev. Dr. David J. Siegenthaler '55 Library Atrium in his honor. Both events were moving and inspiring. Here is the citation for the Alumni/ae Award.

Episcopal Divinity School 

Jean Steele ’68 Award 

The Reverend David J. Siegenthaler, D.D. ’55, ’95 

In an essay on spirituality David Siegenthaler wrote: “The Book of Common Prayer is informative for Anglicans not only for definition of doctrine and polity but as well for the content and style of spirituality. That book is the matrix. The concerns and consequences of corporate worship are the concerns and consequences of personal worship. In its simplest terms this means that Anglican spirituality is personal but never private, never detached from an individual’s engagement with the community and with the world. Anglican spirituality seems always—as do the services of the Book of Common Prayer—to compel the individual back into the world….The individual is empowered to rejoin the ranks of the larger company, to go forth in concert with others, ‘to continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as God has prepared for us to walk in.’”

This is precisely what theological education is meant to do as well. Students come for a time, enriched and shaped by teaching, worship, and community life and then, empowered by our formation and training, we are sent back into the wider church and world, among that holy fellowship, as we together in concert, laity and clergy alike, undertake the work that God has prepared for us to walk in. For generations of students, staff, faculty, and alumni/æ at Episcopal Theological School and Episcopal Divinity School, the Reverend David Siegenthaler has played a vital and integral role in this particular matrix of theological, spiritual, and liturgical formation, refreshment, and empowerment.

It might surprise some to know that David Siegenthaler, who seems so much the quintessential Anglican, started life as a Lutheran. His father was the pastor of churches in Buffalo and Baltimore. Nor did David initially pursue his own theological education here on Brattle Street. Rather, that was in New Haven at the Yale Divinity School. In God’s good time, however, David was lured into the Episcopal Church by the richness of Anglican spirituality and the Prayer Book tradition he describes so eloquently. He found his way here to Brattle Street and into our lives initially to pursue graduate studies before being ordained in June of 1955 by Bishop Norman Burdett Nash (ETS 1915).

David returned to ETS in 1969, a well-seasoned priest, to serve on the faculty as a tutor in church history and as librarian in the then-new Sherrill Library. He has been a constant and gracious presence ever since—46 years, so far. In the Library David has cared for the School’s archives and special collections with particular dedication and devotion. In the classroom and as a senior tutor David inspired generations of students to read the texts of history carefully and deeply. Katharine C. Black ’86 recalled especially a course titled “Hearth and Altar—Christian Nurture in England on the Eve of the Reformation.” It ended with students recreating an authentic 14th century feast, including some kind of whole beast roasted over an open fire in the back campus parking lot. Only a lover of history, like David, could inspire his students to bring the middle ages to life with such powerful, if smoky, effect. But, lest we imagine, falsely, that David actually lives in the middle ages, we shouldn’t forget that he also proudly served as a concelebrant for the consecration eucharist of Bishop Barbara Harris in 1989—remembering and cherishing our sacred past, while standing firmly in the present, much like EDS itself.

I arrived at EDS in 1995 after David had “officially” retired from teaching—so there was no “Hearth and Altar” or roasted beast for me. But, of course, a teacher like David never truly stops teaching—whether in the classroom, chapel, or refectory. A particular recollection of those years is David’s annual historical tour for new students, highlighting points of interest on the EDS campus—the Flemish inspired architecture, the chapel windows, and even the conspicuous presence of the Partridge Parchment in the stained glass window of the Tyler Room. Some of us who were no longer new students took the tour every year, just to absorb as much lore from David as we could.

The same was true when one year David co-taught Liturgical Practicum with Lloyd Patterson and John Hooker, regaling us with tales of his curacy in Boston and rectorship in Duxbury. A particular story that comes to mind is of a baptism early in his curacy at Emmanuel Church on Newbury Street. The baby was wearing a slippery gown and David said that it was touch and go for a while, worrying that the child might slip right out of his arms. My favorite moment, though, was David’s tutorial on liturgical haberdashery. After explaining that the tippet is worn over the hood, what exactly an amice is, and how to tie a cincture, David offered us his general philosophy of liturgical attire, which is fairly easy to remember: “the more fabric the better!” He probably should have received a commission from Almy’s and Wipple’s after his impressionable students, like me, rushed out to order the longest and flowiest surplices possible. I think of David every time I wear it.

Most of all David has been a friend and inspiration to generations of students and alumni/ae, to say nothing of faculty colleagues and staff. Whether in the refectory, out on the campus quadrangle, or in Harvard Square along Brattle Street, David has a unique ability to forge friendships, bringing to nearly every conversation his extraordinary grace and wit, to say nothing of his wry smile. What day isn’t made better by breakfast or lunch with David Siegenthaler, or even just a tip of his hat?

There is no way that we could even begin to count the number of lives David has touched and the ministries he has shaped in nearly fifty years of ministry on this campus. There is no way we could count the number of hearts that are warmed simply by the thought of this gentle, caring, and witty man, who has devoted his life to this school and to the training of clergy and laity for ministry in the church and the world.

No one epitomizes what EDS is and can be when it is at its best than the Reverend David Siegenthaler. Twenty years ago the faculty honored David upon his “official” retirement with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. Tomorrow, the School will honor him by dedicating the Library Atrium in his name. Tonight, it is the Alumni/æ Association’s turn.

Therefore, in recognition of his faithful, dedicated and inspiring ministry in and to this School, I am extraordinarily pleased to present the Reverend David J. Siegenthaler ’55, ’95 with the Alumni/ae Association’s Jean Steele Award, our highest honor and given now for only the fourth time, for exemplary service to Episcopal Divinity School and in thanksgiving for all the ways that he has inspired and empowered generations of students and alumni/æ to do all of the good works that God has prepared for us to walk in.

Matthew P. Cadwell ’99
Co-President, Alumni/ æ Executive Committee

Sunday, March 8, 2015

On Jesus, Justice, and Selma: A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent

I don’t know how you feel, but I think this morning’s gospel story of the Jesus overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the Jerusalem temple must be one of the most dramatic passages in the Bible. Probably because it seems so un-Jesus like. After all, this isn’t Jesus at his softest or kindliest, there’s no little lamb over his shoulders or children gathered around. It’s definitely not the Jesus of stained glass windows or chipper Sunday school songs.

So, every time this reading comes up in our lectionary, as it does in Lent, I find myself feeling a little nervous—not quite sure what I should say. Because, of course, this Jesus swinging his whip and over turning tables, maybe shouting, definitely angry, is hard to talk about. He’s not the Jesus I talk about every other Sunday of the year. But, this story occurs in all four gospels, which is rare and suggests that this is an event that really did happen. Jesus really did this. He really got this angry.

In fact, my third sermon ever was on this very gospel passage. That was all the way back in 1997 and I was just 24 years old—a second year seminarian at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, doing my internship at St. John’s Church in Jamaica Plain. Now, like Emmanuel, St. John’s is a wonderful parish, but it’s also very different. It’s definitely more urban. Jamaica Plain, at the time, was less the chic place to live that it is today, more transient, and the vast majority of parishioners, I’d say, were newer to the parish. There weren’t too many who had been there 30, 40, or 50 years as we have here at Emmanuel: a few, but not many. At the time, it also didn’t have many children. It was known especially as a place that was leading the charge in our diocese on inclusiveness for gay and lesbian people. That’s not such a big deal today, but 18 years ago it was still a struggle, even in the Episcopal Church, and even in Massachusetts.

In that sermon I praised the parish and parishioners for their advocacy for LGBT persons, comparing them to Jesus in the Temple, getting angry over injustice and working to overthrow the status quo—both political and spiritual. I also think I said, which I still believe to be true, that it was this very act on Jesus’ part, overthrowing the moneychangers’ tables, and creating chaos in the temple, that led ultimately to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Remember, I was 24 and a brazen young guy, still with a thick Minnesota accent, preaching what I thought was a strong but not particularly controversial sermon for that urban community.

Unfortunately, some in the congregation took offence: older ladies mostly, the few who had been in the parish a long time. Only, they didn’t tell me. They talked to the senior warden and the rector to express their displeasure. So, I didn’t actually know about it until the rector wrote about the sermon and their reaction in her final evaluation for my internship. Actually, the rector was quite supportive of the sermon, but she wanted me to be aware of the power of the pulpit and how we don’t always know the effect that our words will have on others.

Ever since, I have found myself being far more careful when I preach, always asking myself: How will people hear this? Might someone be offended? Is it worth offending, or is there a way I could say what I want to say or need to say in a less threatening manner? And, likely, lots of times I haven’t taken risks that I might have—not always because I was worried about how people would react to me (though, I like to be liked as much as anyone), but also because I wouldn’t want the greater message to be lost.

The downside of this caution, of course, is that what may need to be said isn’t, in favor of a safer, nicer, more neutral message. But if we learn anything from today’s gospel story, it is that Jesus wasn’t always safe or nice. He definitely wasn’t neutral, and I don’t think he expects or calls us to be either, at least not all the time. So, that’s how and why this passage is hard for me—because it challenges me, and us all, to stand up for what is right, and to stand against what is wrong, even if it means discomfort and disruption. This is a preface to saying that what follows may be difficult to hear. It may cause discomfort or disruption. But it’s important to stand up for what’s right and against what’s wrong.

Fifty years ago yesterday, nearly 600 brave Americans did the same: they stood up for what’s right and against what’s wrong, as they attempted a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest their treatment as African Americans, and in particular that state’s restrictions which prevented them from registering to vote. However, when the marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge—ironically named for a Confederate army general, US senator, and grand dragon of the Klu Klux Klan—they encountered police and white civilians determined to stop them, determined quite literally to keep them in their place: with nightsticks, horses, whips, and tear gas. “Bloody Sunday” it was called. 17 were hospitalized and far more injured—age, gender, race, it made no difference.

The police and white citizens of Dallas County, Alabama had hoped that their violent show of force would halt the march to permanently. Only it was televised, demonstrating to the nation and to the world the bravery of the marchers and the depth of racism that infected our nation. Following Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon Johnson promised to forward to Congress the Voting Rights Act, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. appealed to whites and blacks, and especially clergy, to come to Selma to march in solidarity. And they did. Thousands arrived, and two days later—50 years from tomorrow—2,500 marchers set out to cross the bridge and to walk from Selma to Montgomery. Only, half way across the bridge Dr. King stopped, knelt to pray, and then had them turn back, both to comply with a court order and because he wasn’t convinced of their safety or preparedness to walk the 50 mile journey. “Turn-back Tuesday” it was called. And indeed, they likely weren’t safe: later that night a white marcher was attacked and killed by local Klan members—he was a Unitarian minister from Boston named James Reeb. Those murders were eventually acquitted by an all-white jury.

It wasn’t until March 21 that the ultimately successful march began, permitted by the courts and with the promise of the protection by President Johnson and the National Guard. 8,000 marchers participated—mostly black, but some whites, some Asians and Latinos. Dr. King led the way, joined by the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, Jewish rabbis, Catholic nuns, and of course thousands of ordinary people. People who were convinced, many through their faith, that they and their neighbors deserve to be treated as human beings—human beings with the same unalienable rights as everyone else. It’s hard to believe that was actually a question, but it was, and still sometimes is.

 Some of you may remember these events first hand. Others like me, have only read about them, or maybe saw them depicted in video footage or in the recent movie Selma. (Which I would highly recommend). Yesterday, to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Pres. Obama spoke on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Our nation’s first African American President speaking on a bridge named for a member of KKK. There is a certain justice in that. By the way, George W. Bush was there, too, and hundreds of members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike. Because it wasn’t a political event; rather, it was an American event. In fact, it was a human event.

However, as inspiring as it must have been to be there yesterday, hearing the President in that historic place and contemplating how far we’ve come, in less than a lifetime for many, the work for justice, equality, and human understanding is far from finished. So, also yesterday, 10 of us from Emmanuel joined 150 other Episcopalians from around the diocese to learn how we could inspire and mobilize ourselves for the ongoing work of justice in our time and place, just as the marchers from Selma did in their's. Yesterday we heard of the ministries of amazing people and amazing organizations: struggling on behalf of low-income workers, against racism, and for affordable housing. And we also heard painful stories of injustice in our midst. Among the most moving, for me, was Bishop Gayle Harris telling of her personal experiences of racism.

Publicly, she shared a powerful story of horrible racist acts against her as a young child in Chicago, and then more hopefully of marching with Dr. King as a teenager. After lunch I went over to say hello (we share a special bond since she ordained me), and Bishop Gayle told me other stories—stories of life today, right here in Massachusetts. For example, that she is routinely followed by store security when she goes shopping. And once, in her home city of Lexington, upon leaving a store she was physically grabbed by members of the staff and told that she’s not allowed to leave before her shift was done. They assumed she worked there, and apparently couldn’t imagine that an African American woman would actually be a customer.

Horrified, I suggested in response that she should share these experiences with anyone who will listen, so that those of us who don’t face daily discrimination, just for being alive, can start to understand how ingrained this reality is in our society—whether in Alabama or here in Massachusetts. I thought that as a woman and a bishop people might be more likely to listen to her. And she agreed, but then she also said that it’s important for white people to share these stories as well, in the same way that she works for LGBT inclusion in church and society, even though they aren’t her stories.

So, I’m telling you now, sharing Bishop Gayle’s story. Racism and discrimination are reality in our midst, even here in the north, even in Massachusetts. It is important that we tell stories of injustice, whenever we hear them, so that we can confront it, in our society and also in ourselves, hard as that can be. Because if we don’t, we will allow it to continue, and even grow. In fact, we will allow it to win. Sometimes, hard as it is, we are called to be like Jesus in the temple—overturning the tables of injustice and inequality, so that new life and, indeed, the kingdom of God, can flourish in their place.

Of course, it’s not easy, because we want to be nice, and polite, and socially proper. We are Episcopalians after all--we know which fork to use at dinner. But far more important than being polite and proper Episcopalians, using the right fork, we are called to be Christians, we are called to be disciples of Jesus, and we are called to be human beings, each and every one of us created in the image and likeness of God, whatever our color, gender, background, orientation, whatever and whoever we are. And we are called to stand and sometimes to march beside one another.

So, I thought I would close this morning with some of the speech Martin Luther King, Jr. gave after the march from Selma arrived in Montgomery, unfortunately in my Minnesota accent, rather than his strong voice. He addressed the marchers and the crowds and country and world, saying: 

I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?’ I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’ How long? Not long, because ‘you shall reap what you sow.’… “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

50 years later, the arc of the moral universe is still bending toward justice, and our job, our responsibility, and our calling, with God’s assistance and God’s blessing, is to work together, whoever we are, whatever our color or background, side by side, with each other, and with Christ, to bring that justice fully to life, and with it God’s kingdom. Amen.

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, PhD