At convention this year, our bishop (she’s our bishop for 6 months more!) spoke to the difference between a homily and a sermon. There is no “official” difference between the two. There are no experts to tell us such things anymore, not in this age when truth is so refuted and facts are indeed a fiction.
But this wise woman told her people a homily is tied to the text and a sermon is not. So then you well know how much I preach homilies for I bind myself to the text. But today, I’m hearing the words of another wise Episcopalian woman. The esteemed, Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney says our lectionary choices this week might too tempt us to cheap grace. So a sermon it is.
We have work to do, Brothers and Sisters. Real work. Kin-dom work.
As we prayed for unity together on Monday and on our own throughout the week; praying for our nation at the noon service on Thursday; it is unity that Episcopalians offer.
Unity. A form of solidarity under the big tent. Different voices, full of passion can remain here as long as we maintain the most treasured of values:
All are welcome here.
All are protected here.
The only one we should feel no dishonor in expelling is the one who deprives the welcome. Because that common mission of welcome, hospitality, inclusion is our lifeblood. From the Elizabethan Settlement to our consistent support and protection for the dignity of LGBTQ members.
For our church to maintain its Anglican identity today, it must stand with those who struggle, wrestle, reason out what it means to be people of faith in community today. In this community.
So we must wrestle.
We are at one of those moments when our resolve is tested and our willingness to wrestle with hard things goes on vacation. Or at least it starts planning that trip to Mexico in say, February. Our nerves are shot. We’re ready to move on. We want 2016 to be over already.
Some of us are celebrating and some of us grieving. And some of us are genuinely frightened. Not abstractly, but personally. Physically. Or frightened for their marriage. Employment status. Healthcare. One of my good friends wrote that she would be unable to finish her cancer treatments if her healthcare goes away next year.
It’s a time of pain. And while we may feel the urgency to rush to reconciliation, I invite us to remember what our tradition teaches us about peace, forgiveness, and mercy.
That it first goes through prayer.
We pray for other people. Not just ourselves. Other people. People hurting and abused. People who are being mistreated and oppressed. We pray.
Then we confess.
We forget that as Episcopalians we have confession. That it is sacramental and our obligation. We don’t get to forgiveness straight out. Not when we haven’t dealt with what we’ve done. Or not done. Or benefitted from someone else doing.
We confess that we have sinned. Against God and our neighbor. We haven’t loved enough. Believed in them enough. Respected them enough. Listened to them enough. Our black friends and our white friends and all our friends of color. Our native friends and our immigrant friends. We have hurt our friends, Brothers and Sisters.
We have hurt each other. Every day. And we continue to hurt them by turning a blind eye to injustice and a closed hand to their need.
To get to forgiveness, we need to confess. So we confess. We confess on Sunday and in private with a priest.
Then we’re blessed.
All of us.
It seems fitting that our election this year would land so close to the 11th. The holiday formerly known as Armistice Day. One more suitable to our need than its 1954 replacement.
My friend Chris shared a piece with me this week by the late political writer Douglas Case aka Doghouse Riley who captures this need so well. It’s called “The Old Lie“. And it begins with the poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen, a poet and British soldier whose poetry helped transform not only how people saw The Great War (World War I) but modern poetry itself.
The Old Lie
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
[On November 11, 1918, Wilfred Owen’s parents were listening to the cathedral bells ringing in celebration of the war’s end when a telegram arrived informing them of their son’s death seven days earlier, at Ors.]
Return Armistice Day. Even at the expense of taking it off the Federal calendar and creating a Veterans’ Day somewhere else, if Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, and the individual services’ days aren’t enough to amortize our bunting expenses.
Return it to the solemn remembrance of The Great War and all who died, on both sides. Let us have one day to remember the horror, the futility, the enormity of War, and the human vanity which tries to cover the suffering with Glory, and swears in the aftermath it will never make the same mistakes again.
Return to us the memory of a conflict which gave us the tank, the military use of air power, and modern infantry strategy, which gave us mass-market propaganda and mass starvation. Let us remember, despite the efforts of those who would have us forget, just Who we bleed and die for, and not just What. Let us remember–even those who would have us remember Munich and forget Verdun and Ypres–that it was the insistence on Honor above Humanity, on Spoils which no one had won, which brought the guns back just twenty years later.
Safe for Democracy! Give back the Armistice, even if it finds a rank grave in a lost and forgotten field. The bells of 11/11 belong to her dead, as surely as the Arizona belongs to hers. If we cannot set aside a Day, even a sacred Hour, to remind ourselves that not all the madness is on the other side, that Glory will not feed the dead nor comfort the living, then we are cowards unworthy of honoring the Brave whose graves we festoon, deaf to what they might tell us if they still could.
Little has spoken to me about our need as people of faith, as Christians, as Episcopalians, as this reflection on the Armistice, a memory that Glory would paper over our pain without dealing with our wounds.
We’re called to work together.
Never in my life have I heard this call more thoroughly and clearly. That it is to our carnage and apocalyptic pain that we refuse to embody the Christ for one another, picking and choosing who gets to see the Christ within us.
But it doesn’t come easily. It doesn’t come in peace treaties with native peoples we feel so compelled to break. Treaties they take as akin to a covenant with God. To us–the kind of agreement as inconvenient as a bill we crumple into a ball and shoot up and into the trash can, imagining the swisssshhhhh!
As easy as it is for us to pray and confess and receive absolution each week, it is such a harder thing to do with one another. To look the other in the face and confess. That we are responsible for their pain. And we can’t truly reconcile as a country until we wrestle with our confessions.
It takes more than listening to each other. That’s a great first step. Listening to the voices of those who are in pain.
But we also confess. Not because our pains are the same or equal. Or that I am directly responsible for your pain. That’s the ridiculousness that has gotten us to where we are now. We confess because we’re all in this thing together. And when I start to sink and you’re swimming next to me, GOD’s trying to get you to notice.
We have Jesus to teach us that and Christ to show us that. That we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. Absolutely. Despite what our leaders tells us. And despite what we want to hear.
This is where the church stands.
Today. And despite our rose-colored glasses from decades ago, this is where the church has been in history. And where she’ll be tomorrow. Maybe not on this spot in this building, but in this community as long as there are children who live here.
We stand here today because this is our work. To stand in the breach. To bridge the gaps and bring peace to a people at war.
Not with false offerings of unjust silence, but in waging reconciliation.
This is where the church stands.
Not with ignorance and political victories, but in standing up for the weakest souls in our community.
This is where the church stands.
Not in the seat of power or in total certainty of our election to heights of heaven, but in sitting with our poor, the threatened, the poor in spirit, down here in the dirt.
We stand here. Because GOD stands here. And if we aren’t up to the task, GOD can bring this whole building down because I hear from a good source that GOD can even get these stones to speak.
This is where the church stands. So stand with the church. Not with ideologies and political parties. With xenophobia or hate groups. Stand with the church.
We are a sanctuary to the sojourner and the oppressed. But we’re also a catalyst for Kin-dom ministry in our community. A rest stop for the worker. A sanctifier of the sacramental life. A people of hope with work to do now.
Stand with us. And keep standing. For as strong or frail as you may feel, there is someone who needs to lean on you. And be loved by you.
Stand with us. And love.
*Dulce et decorum est (“it is sweet and honorable…)
Pro patria mori. (“to die for one’s country”)
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