Good morning! It is good to be up here speaking to you all. I apologize for being seated. I hope most of you can see me and that all of you can hear me. I had knee surgery almost three months ago and I am still not fully recovered. I will do my best, I hope the chair doesn?t get in the way of my message!
I love the memories that pop up on Facebook of posts from the past. Memories of days and lives gone by. About a week ago such a post came up with a picture of me and my son. He was dressed in a tux, for his winter formal, and I was fussing with his collar. I was proud of him, looking so dapper in all of his finery, and wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted everyone to see him and recognize how special he is! In the picture, you can see that he is squirming and trying to get away from me, not understanding or appreciating my motherly zeal.
That is how I have always imagined Mary felt in today?s Gospel. Proud of her son, and wanting him to show the guests at the wedding how special he is. I wonder if she knew that this first miracle would be the start of a worldwide spiritual revolution. I wonder if she knew that it would be the beginning of her son dying on a cross to repent for the sins of an ungrateful world. I wonder if she knew that people would remember and honor her son more than two thousand years later. I wonder if she would have pushed him if she had known these things. I wonder? I love this story however, because as a mother I can see myself in it. I can see myself in the love and pride Mary has for her Son. Conversely, this, seeing myself in our church, is something that I sometimes have trouble with in the Episcopal church, a church that is built on whiteness as the norm. I do not see myself in its founding. I do not see my self in its pews and I do not see myself in its practices and leadership.
I know. I know that there are some of you who feel that I preach about politics too much. I know this because I have been told so. But I would be remiss on this the day after Martin Luther King Jr.?s birthday not to talk about his prophetic ministry, and its implications for the Episcopal church and St. Andrew?s. Besides, I submit that I don?t preach politics, I preach the Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And as MLK said himself, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.? It even says in the lesson from Isaiah, For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest? Preaching the Gospel is what I am called by God to do.
As today?s Gospel goes on the steward tells the groom that most people serve the good wine until the guests are drunk and then bring out the cheap stuff. The wine that Jesus makes is the good stuff. Just like Jesus? life is an example of the good stuff. I would suggest that so too was Martin Luther King Jr.?s ministry. “Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God.” In these words, Reverend King speaks of his deeply held conviction that love is what we are made for. In putting love at the center of the cosmos, he declares it as universal and essential. Love is of God. But what does it mean to love as Reverend King describes it? In our Gospel, it means to share what is good with others, the best we have available. This sharing comes from inside of us. It is a gift given to us by God through Jesus Christ. However, MLK said, ?If one loves an individual merely on account of his friendliness, he loves him for the sake of the benefits to be gained from the friendship, rather than for the friend?s own sake. Consequently, the best way to assure oneself that love is disinterested is to have love for the enemy-neighbor from whom you can expect no good in return, but only hostility and persecution.? He further said, ?That?s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There?s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So, love your enemies.? I would add to what King said by saying, love your neighbor, and everyone is your neighbor!
I do not consider anyone in the Episcopal church, St. Andrew?s or the larger national body to be my enemy. I am, however, keenly aware that this church was built by and for people of European descent. Afterall, the man who wrote the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace, was at one time a slave ship owner and earned his living trading in the bodies of African human beings. He repented and so must we all. My place in the Episcopal church is one I must forge with love, courage and tenacity in equal measure. In so doing, I ask that the church work to love me back. I ask the church to allow me access to the same opportunities as those of European descent, I ask the church to search for and hire clergy and seminary educators in my image. I ask the church to teach in its seminaries about the accomplishments and contributions of people of color.
Martin Luther King Jr.?s quote about loving your neighbor-enemy discusses the Christian dilemma. How do I love my neighbor really and truly? How do I know that my love is real? MLK suggests that you know that your love is real if you love your enemy as yourself. That is hard to do. But if we want the kind of world where the best wine is always given, we must do this work. Who, you ask is your enemy? Well I would say that it is anyone who you fear or do not understand.
Redemption is the key to what King says. The work of racial justice is about redemption. Redemption for the oppressor and the oppressed. Especially the oppressor who must work to recognize their part in the oppression. Belonging to a church that was openly a part of racial injustice for much of its existence is to be part of that oppression. Belonging to said church and not working to overturn the result of this sorry past is to be part of the oppression. The work of redemption will only be done when every member of the church recognizes this and lives into it.
Howard Thurman, a Black theologian and mystic wrote a book that Martin Luther King Jr. is said to have carried with him at all times. I mention Thurman here, because many of you have read his book, Jesus and the Disinherited in EFM. I also mention it because this book had a profound influence on my ability to answer my call. In this book Thurman says: ?There is a certain grandeur in administering to another?s need out of one?s fullness and plenty? It is certainly to the glory of Christianity that it has been more insistent on the point of responsibility to others whose only claim upon one is the height and depth of their need. ?But there is a lurking danger in this?It is exceedingly difficult to hold one-self free from a certain contempt for those whose predicament makes moral appeal for defense and succor.? In other words, the Church knows, you know, that making the changes to correct racial injustice is a necessary part of loving your neighbor. This is why King said to love your enemy. This would correct the racial injustice. We also know that to do this in an open, loving way is difficult; it is in fact, fraught with peril. Being what I call the comfortable church is much easier. What is needed is to be what I call the ?uncomfortable? church. We must make spaces and places for people of color to be and belong in this church, both the national body and St. Andrew?s. Uncomfortable church is where everyone is stretching to meet ALL who walk onto its campus with radical hospitality! Radical hospitality would include not just saying a warm hello, although this is a great start, but making one feel welcome with the sermons that are preached, the music that is sung, the words prayed in the liturgy, the language or languages that are spoken.
The work of Radical Hospitality starts with work on ourselves. There are programs in the diocese such as Sacred Ground, and My Work to Do that work to help Caucasian people become more comfortable with discussing and living into the ideals of racial justice, and how one can make oneself more responsive to the needs and concerns of people of color. These programs are designed to teach and to open hearts and minds to racial injustice. As in our epistle today, we each have gifts, and they should at least in part, be used to forward equality in the church. I recommend prayerfully committing to one, or both of these programs, in fulfillment of our call from God through Christ, to love our neighbors. This is the real work, the redemptive work that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of.
Tomorrow is a national holiday, The national Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Remembrance and Service. The federal legislation creating this holiday was signed into law by President Clinton on August 23, 1994, which is ironically and wonderfully, my son?s actual birthday. Let?s remember Dr. King today by remembering to love with all our hearts, minds and souls. Let?s remember him tomorrow as a beacon of love and hope. Let?s remember him always by working on the Church and the world to bring love into the mainstream. Let?s remember his prophetic vision of the world as we WORK to make the national church and our St Andrew?s home a place where Radical welcome is the norm. We still haven?t put up that Black Lives Matter sign. Perhaps 2022 is the year that we will put our love into visible action and serve the good wine at communion!