Thursday, July 08, 2021

Independence Day Sermon at Christ Church

Text of Sermon preached Sunday, July 4th 2021
at Christ Episcopal Church, Alameda 

Old Testament:
 Deuteronomy 10:17-21

17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.


Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48

43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


Happy Independence Day! 


Growing up, my first recollection of celebrating the Fourth of July was at a local park, waiting on a blanket eagerly for the fireworks to begin. I was six years old. As I recall, there was some mention that 210 years had passed since 1776. I also remember probably most of all the tension in the air, as sitting near us in the large field was a group of loud and intoxicated people who instead of waving an American flag were waving a Confederate battle flag. My father was agitated, and as I learned was his custom, felt the need to politely alert these folks that whatever their intentions, the flag they were waving wasn’t patriotic at all, but actually seditious. This was of course not taken kindly, and we may have left earlyI don’t remember the fireworks that day.


The Fourth of July, of course, commemorates the Declaration of Independence when the thirteen colonies expressed their desire to govern themselves, free from the tyranny of Great Britain. Ever since, Independence Day, has been a day of celebration, but also struggle. Each generation has wrestled with the meaning of liberty and the unfolding story of these United States. 


The sacred texts appointed for this day, remind us that the God of scripture, and of Jesus, longs for people to live in ways that provide justice for orphans, widows and strangers --- to love neighbors and enemies. Over the centuries, people of faith in this nation have struggled with love for country and love for God. I remember one of my relations giving me this somewhat jingoistic definition of patriotism “my country, right or wrong. Later I came to learn more about that quote, and this adapted and improved version,


“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.


In eighth grade, I remember standing with my best friend in the cold along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC for a Presidential inaugurationWe heard the newly sworn in President say these optimistic words “there’s nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” 


We’re living in a time of profound anxiety, fear and despairCongregations like this one, through our quest to follow Jesus,have a vital role to play in helping cure the ills of our society. But to do that we cannot ignore the wrongs of the past or be na├»ve about the consequences of failing to address contemporary systemic injustices now.


Last year, Christ Church youth and adults participated in Sacred Ground, a curriculum that helps shed light on the violent and exploitative evils that are part of our nation’s story from colonialism, slavery, genocide, xenophobia, brutal labor practices and the prison industrial complex. There will be opportunities this Fall for those who weren’t able to participate to take the course, and of course there are numerous other ways both to celebrate our country’s beauty and its successes, and also to confront America’s ills.

Some might say that this latter type of exploration is unpatriotic, but I would argue the opposite. Learning more about the history of our nation, especially through the perspectives of those whose family histories, cultures, religions, and beliefs differ most from me or who have been on the receiving end of systemic injustice,has helped me find a love for this country that is deeper and wider. 


Now when I celebrate the Fourth of July, I don’t just think of a group of white gentlemen in a room in PhiladelphiaI think of the enslaved people, indentured servants, women, and indigenous people whose longings for liberty would take many decades, even hundreds of years to be realized. I think of immigrants who, filled with hope, fled violence and poverty in their homeland to find often the same on these shores, but also advocates, allies, activists and friends whose compassion was often motivated by their spiritual values. Like many of you in this room and watching online, my American family history and present includes stories of refugees, teachers, nurses, and farmers whose own struggles did not keep them from offering care, help or support to those worse off.


Indeed, this country is one made up of orphans, widows, strangers and former enemies turned friends. We are a better, more just, and faithful country because of the persistence, diligence, resilience of people from every gender, race, class and culture who resisted tyranny, jingoism, nativism, xenophobia, white supremacy, and patriarchy. Let us pray that in 2021 and beyond, was a nation will seek higher ground, and a more perfect union.


God bless America.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

moves to make

Sermon preached on Sunday, June 20, 2021 at Christ Episcopal Church, Alameda
by Rev. Will Scott, Associate Rector 

Luke 4:14-21

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’


Today’s service is adapted from a liturgy compiled by the Vivian Traylor Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians and is part of a larger effort in our Diocese and throughout the Episcopal Church to add Juneteenth to our official calendar of feast days. The lessons from Amos, Galatians and Luke all speak to what Verna Dozier called God’s dream, “that all creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment. All parts of creation. And the dream of God is that the good creation that God created -- what the refrain says, 'and God saw that it was good' -- be restored.”

In our gospel today, we have what some scholars describe as Jesus’ mission statement, we don’t know for sure whether Jesus chose the section of Isaiah or if it was the portion of the text appointed for that day. Luke describes the scene almost like stage directions, and places an emphasis on physical actions. Jesus arrives in Nazareth, he went to the synagogue, he stood up, he unrolled the scroll…and after the quote from the prophet, Luke says Jesus “rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the person who’d given it to him, and sat down.” Then Jesus gives a very brief but powerful sermon, “today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Perhaps like many of you over the course of this week, I have learned more about Juneteenth which marks the day more than two years after the emancipation proclamation that enslaved people in Texas learned that they were free and the celebrations that began and have been passed down ever since. Perhaps like you I have been moved by the voices and persistence of activists and organizers who for years and years have worked to make this day a national holiday. The walking, speaking and organizing done by 94 year-old Opal Lee is a reminder to that for the dream of God to be realized requires physical actions. We must like Jesus in today’s gospel, be on the move, get up, unroll sacred texts, and speak up.

But perhaps above all, we must find a way, like those learning of their freedom 156 years ago in TX after more than 240 years of slavery in the American colonies, and as Jesus preached, find a way to hear, to really listen and take in the good news of God for those in poverty, bondage, or suffering any form of oppression.

Like the saying, it is always darkest before the dawn, in order to recognize, comprehend, hear and fulfill God’s dream for all creation, we must be honest about the realities of our nation’s historic and present systemic injustice, racism, and violence. Earlier this week I heard an interview with Clint Smith, author of the recently published, “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of SlaveryAcross America.” He described visiting the largest maximum-security prison in the United States located in Louisiana and called Angola. This giant prison isbuilt on the site of a former plantation given that name because so many of the enslaved there originated from that region of Africa. Over 70 percent of current inmates at Angola Prison are black, and like many of those suffering behind bars and within our nation’s criminal justice system are forced to labor for relatively no pay. But systemic racism and injustice isn’t just happening far away in Louisiana, a few weeks ago a member of Christ Church brought my attention to a recent article by Rasheed Shabazz in the San Francisco Chronicle with the headline “For more than a century, Alameda has been the Bay Area's island of racism and police violence.”

For today’s gospel to mean anything, for the powerful joy of Juneteenth to be heard, requires repentance, a turning around, a revolution.

So we have work to do, we have moves to make, stands to take and voices to hear Christ Church, Alameda. We have work to do on ourselves, and work to do within and around us. In closing I’m going to share another quote from the late great Episcopal theologian Verna Dozier who wrote,

"We have lost the capacity to dream great dreams. We reduce God to the personal, private, ’spiritual’ sphere of our lives, and ministry to personal, private, ’spiritual’ acts - a good deed here, a good deed there, a cup of cold water here, a loaf of freshly baked bread there, a prison visit here, a hospital call there, a night in a shelter here, a time with a troubled friend there. We see no need to challenge the systems that make these ‘ministries’ necessary.

The call to ministry is the call to be a citizen of the kingdom of God in a new way, the daring, free, accepting, compassionate way Jesus modeled. It means being bound by no yesterday, fearing no tomorrow, drawing no lines between friend and foe, the acceptable ones and the outcasts. Ministry is commitment to the dream of God."


Sunday, September 30, 2018

"let my life be given me, and the lives of my people"

Sermon Preached September 30, 2018 at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA
Proper 21, Year B, RCL

“let my life be given me-- that is my petition-- and the lives of my people-- that is my request.”

This morning our first appointed reading is from one of the few books in the entire bible named for and starring a woman, the book or scroll of Esther. The text tells the story of a strong and beautiful woman who stands up for herself and her oppressed people, saving their lives and overcoming their enemies.

The book begins with the King of Persia, in a scene reminiscent of the tv show Game of Thrones, throwing out his wife, Vashti, for disobeying his orders. Queen Vashti refused to be objectified and shown off at a 7-day men’s only drunken party the King was hosting. Harriet Beecher Stowe, called her action “the first stand for women’s rights”[i] and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote that Vashti "added new glory to [her] day and her disobedience; for "Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."[ii]
The king decides at the encouragement of his staff to host a Beauty Pageant of sorts in order to pick his next wife. Mordecai, who works in the King’s citadel and raised his cousin Esther after her parents had died, ensured that she was among the women competing to be the next Queen of Persia. She’s favored by the King and becomes Queen Esther. Meanwhile, a new official named Haman is placed in charge of the citadel and demands all who work for him to bow to him, but Mordecai due to his piety refuses to do so. When Haman discovers this, he vows to have all Mordecai’s people killed and gets the King to agree to and fund the genocide. Mordecai begs Esther to do something. She requests that Mordecai and their people fast for three days after which she will go to the King and plead for their lives. Which brings us to today’s passage in which Esther says, “let my life be given me – that is my petition – and the lives of my people – that is my request.” She saves the lives of her people and the man who had sought to destroy them is executed on the very contraption he was planning to use on Mordecai. 

Resistance to patriarchy and women standing up, confronting the powerful and bringing about a change of fortune for themselves and those they love is our tradition, not just a part of it. Reading the Book of Esther felt particularly meaningful this week as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford courageously spoke of the violence and suffering she experienced as a teenager and as Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila confronted Senator Flake in the Capitol elevator. Wealthy, powerful, drunken, xenophobic men ruled the roost in ancient Persia, and their contemporary counterparts in Washington thank God are being challenged by numerous Vashti’s and Esther’s.
That is good news.

In today’s passage from Mark, Jesus seems to be encouraging his followers to look inward within themselves rather than being overly concerned by the actions of others who are casting out demons in Jesus’ name. In this time of such profound consequence, for some of us it is easier to point out the wrongs and hypocrisy of others, and harder to look at the ways we ourselves have fallen short, failed to confront misogyny, been complicit in acts of violence or defended the powerful rather than the powerless. 

Esther said to the King, “let my life be given me-- that is my petition-- and the lives of my people-- that is my request.”

May we, like Esther and all those within the #metoo movement, find the courage and the voice to speak our truths and to stand up to those whose privilege and power keeps them and us from living into our fullness.

My husband Matt is visiting family in Virginia this weekend and when I shared today’s readings with him, he reminded me of what a hero Esther is for the Jewish people and how her triumph is celebrated at the spring festival of Purim. In Matt’s mind, Esther’s story is forever linked with that of a Holocaust survivor, Arie Torner, who volunteered as an usher at Matt’s synagogue until he passed away when Matt was 14. Out of a group of nearly 1000 young men subjected to horrific experimentation by the notorious Dr. Mengele during the Holocaust, Mr. Torner was one of fewer than 20 survivors. On the day of Matt’s bar mitzvah, Mr. Torner, who was by then 70 years old, advised Matt, “speak loud and clear, so everyone will hear you.” Matt wrote later in a poem for the temple newsletter, “I know why he wanted me to speak up.” People of goodwill of all faiths recognize the deep importance of the notions of speaking up for justice and compassion—of remembering the past, and celebrating unity and the dignity of every person.

A recent article explaining why a major company’s CEO banned PowerPoint and bullet points from meetings and instead had employees read lengthy narratives and customer reviews, reminds us why sharing our stories is so important, according to the article in Inc. magazine by Carmine Gallo:

Anthropologists say when humans gained control of fire, it marked a major milestone in human development. Our ancestors were able to cook food, which was a big plus. But it also had a second benefit. People sat around campfires swapping stories. Stories served as instruction, warning, and inspiration.

Recently, I've talked to prominent neuroscientists whose experiments confirm what we've known for centuries: The human brain is wired for story. We process our world in narrative, we talk in narrative and--most important for leadership--people recall and retain information more effectively when it's presented in the form of a story, not bullet points.

This Sunday may we deepen our appreciation for the transformative power of story, the stories of Vashti and Esther, and all those who bravely step forward to speak their difficult truths of past abuses and violence to save their lives and this nation’s.

Esther said to the King, “let my life be given me-- that is my petition-- and the lives of my people-- that is my request.”