One day a speaker was introduced to his audience with these words: “Listen to this man. He is a most gifted person which is evidenced by the fact that he made a million dollars in California oil. So listen to him.” The speaker responded with thanks, but he was a little confused and embarrassed. Many items of his life were there, but a little misinterpreted. He said: “First, it wasn’t oil – it was coal. Second, it wasn’t California – it was Pennsylvania. Third, it was not a million dollars – it was $100,000. Fourth it was not me – but my brother. Fifth, he didn’t make it; he lost it. But facts aside, I’m glad to be here!”

Well, I am George Regas and I am happy to be here. I don’t know much about making a million dollars but I know Gary Hall. I know him up close and down deep, and he is a most remarkable person. During the 1970s in the Diocese of Los Angeles, I served as Chair of the Commission on Ministry. Every person seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church was required to be interviewed and approved by the Commission on Ministry in the diocese where the applicant lived. So, Gary Hall came before the Commission in 1974 for our endorsement before entering the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, and again in 1976 for the Commission’s approval of his ordinations as Deacon and Priest. Years later, it was my great privilege of working five beautiful, highly productive years with Gary in the 1990s when he was my Associate Rector at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California. And wonderful Kathy was right at his side cheering him on!

I am honored to be your preacher today as Dr. Gary Hall begins his ministry as the Dean of this magnificent and highly acclaimed Cathedral. I am very aware that many important sermons have been delivered from the Pulpit of the National Cathedral over the decades. I think especially of Martin Luther King, Jr. who preached his last sermon standing in this pulpit on March 31, 1968, and then he went to Memphis the next day to support the sanitation workers, who were on strike, calling for greater respect and adequate wages. Later in the week, Martin King was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.

I want to us to go back to that sermon Dr. King preached from the Cathedral pulpit, the last sermon of his life. That day he proclaimed these words: “God grant that this Cathedral will be a participant in this magnificent, life-giving ministry and will bring about a new day of justice, brotherhood, and peace. And that day, the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.”

Gary Hall is immensely privileged to have the honor and responsibility of being the dean and preacher of this grand Cathedral. I am confident Dr. Hall will fulfill this responsibility with wisdom and courage, faithfulness and imagination, and with the warmth of humor.

I

First, I want to say a few things about an authentic and healthy spiritual life.

God has made us for God’s self and our souls are restless until they rest in the sacred, the divine. There is restlessness and loneliness in each of us whatever our age. And that is a spiritual issue. It can’t be remedied by another person or another thousand persons. Nor is this longing satisfied by one more fabulous success story. Many of us have had moments of deep dissatisfaction, and a voice whispers from time to time: “A new fried, a new spouse, a new lover, a new job, a new city – maybe then you’ll find what you are looking for.” Such foolishness. No friend or lover, no husband or community will ever put to rest our deepest cravings for unity and wholeness. We long for the sacred, for the divine.

I believe the ultimate remedy for our restlessness and loneliness lies deep, deep within us; it may be found when our souls finally rest in the sacred, the holy one. That’s our deepest need—to belong to God, the sacred one, to be God’s forever, and to find the sacred in the midst of the struggles of daily life.

I’ll never forget how Maya Angelou, during a visit to All Saints in Pasadena, described her lonely childhood as a black girl in the Deep South. As she shuffled back and forth among several family units—parents, step-parents, grandparents, friends—she said, “Of all the needs a lonely girl has, the one that must be satisfied if there is to be any wholeness is the unshakable need of an unshakable God.” And with that incredible, incandescent smile, Maya Angelou said, “So preach that, George, preach it!” Yes, I long for the sacred, the eternal, the life giver in the deep places of my spirit.

II

I want to move on to a second point. The essential characteristic of an authentic spiritual life and so these words of Bill Moyers have been very helpful to me: “The best way to live out an authentic spiritual life is to imagine a more confident future and get up early every morning and do what you can to help bring it about.” He adds: “Don’t let the vast superstructures of civilization mislead you: Everything comes back to the talents, energy, and sense of purpose of human beings.”

Yes. We are one human family; live it out. We must share the insecurity of the least of our sisters and brothers, for we will not be secure until all are secure. Hear these words of Amos: “Seek good and not evil that you may live… Hate the evil and love the good and establish justice within the gate… Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5). And this is the moral vision of the Hebrew Christian Bible: affluent people tied to the poor, the secure ones bound together with the homeless. St. Paul writes: “If one part of the body suffers, all suffer together; if one flourishes, all rejoice together.”

I am 82 now and old enough to remember that there was a time in our life when that concept “the public” in America was no fiction and that word “public” was not a term of disgrace. Public schools, public libraries, public parks, public highways, public services were all means of creating a fair society, a just society for people who were not rich. At the heart of the great society is the strong affirmation that we are all family—one human family—all, all, rich and poor, black, brown, yellow and white, gay and straight, young and old, women and men, Iranians and Americans, Israelis and Palestinians—all, all… family.

Nothing in this country points more directly to our failure as one human family of God than the symptoms of our collective impoverishment: bankrupt cities, broken highways, collapsing bridges, failed schools, closed community hospitals. What has emerged from the last three decades is that public squalor once again is “the other face of private affluence.”

America, America the beautiful, was never intended to be a country where the winner takes all. The Jesus we encounter in the Christian Bible and the great Hebrew prophets challenge me—and I hope many of you—to change that; to continue efforts to create an America where all children have an equal chance of success regardless of the economic, racial and sexual families into which they are born. The pursuit of the common good, the reaffirmation of our human solidarity, and our inseparable destinies in one human family: I see this as a central issue in America, and the coming election in November cannot avoid it.

III

I want to move to a third level, to the wars that now blight our world.

As I have worked in the peace movement over the decades, there has been intense controversy—but one element has emerged with clarity. What lies at the heart of so much conflict is this: the persistent failure to recognize the humanity of the other. Everyone, everyone is sacred to God and shares a common humanity. This reaffirmation of the dignity and sacredness of all—both friend and foe—is one crucial way into peace. Rabbi Abraham Heschel has written, “The sense of the sacredness of all life is the fragile thread upon which civilization hangs in our age.” God’s loving arms are outstretched to all, all sacred, loved, precious, all. Americans, Iraqis, Afghans, Palestinians, Iranians, Allied troops—all are sacred creatures of God. That’s at the heart of the biblical message. At the grave, we are all equal, and the suffering of one is not more important that the suffering of another. This reality is tragically missing from the American psyche. We see it clearly in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. An American death is not more tragic than an Afghan death.

I could hardly bear looking at those pictures of the women and children in Afghanistan caught between the deadly fire of the American soldiers and Afghan insurgents. A city was simply destroyed. Very clearly, modern war is total war. With the lethality of modern weapons, there can be no discrimination between combatants and civilians. More than 6,000 American soldiers have been killed in the Iraq and Afghan wars, but also hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been killed—many women and children.

We need to proclaim as loudly as possible that war with the face it wears today is sin itself. Looking at all of that, I think Jesus would bless Howard Zinn when he says: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” Oh the horror of war today that takes the resources that could be used to heal sick children, but instead uses them to destroy life. I hate war for that.

Nine years ago my daughter, Michelle, died suddenly and unexpectedly. The pain of that is beyond description. Her death made no sense. Our hearts have been numb, our days bleak, the reality of that loss excruciating. But then I think of all those children in Iraq and Afghanistan killed as a result of our war; I think of those 30,000 children across the globe every day who die of malnutrition and hunger—and my heart can hardly bear it. At the grave we are all equal! How such suffering must break the heart of God—for no one deserves it.

As I’ve struggled to find my way with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe the sin and evil at the heart of these wars is the belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life, than an American child, my child, is more precious than an Afghan baby. It is apparent to me that those who have planned and continue to execute this war believe an American death matters more so we destroy Iraq and Afghanistan to make me and you feel safer. Therefore, a reaffirmation of our common humanity and our equality in joy and in pain must be given primacy if there is ever to be peace in the world. Standing on sacred soil, I see this as one world with God’s arms of mercy outstretched to everyone across the planet—embracing friend and foe. And the first heart to break when we plundered Iraq and Afghanistan and killed the children and the mothers was God’s heart. That’s what the spirit of Jesus says to me today.

And I hope and pray that Gary Hall will continue to be a peacemaker as I have always known him. That is the bold mission for the church in the 21st Century. Jesus’ words ring in my ears: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Gary, I hope and trust that you and the National Cathedral will courageously be the healing hands of peace in this blood stained world. Religious communities of faith must stop blessing war and violence. Followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, must be the first and foremost peace advocates.

In the work I’ve done in South Africa over 35 years, I’ve come to love the term “Ubuntu.” It is the very core of the South African experience. “Ubuntu”—it means I cannot be “me” without “you.” Our human lives, our human destinies, are inextricably bound together. I’ve learned that we could not be peacemakers by ourselves. We need each other; we need a community to sustain Gary and the mission of peace and justice. Ubuntu—I need you if I am to be fully the person God has created me to be. Over all these years, I’ve needed my companions at All Saints in Pasadena, my friend Rabbi Beerman, and Islamic leader Maher Hathout with me in order to be me—Ubuntu. The word “religion” comes from the same Latin root as the word “ligament.” Religion’s essential meaning is to “bind.” Yes, I believe but also I belong. Ubuntu. We need each other if there is any hope of peace.

IV

In this fourth consideration, I want to move to a deeper level.

I believe the evil at the heart of our wars against Iraq and Afghanistan is the belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life. Therefore, a reaffirmation of our common humanity and our equality in joy and pain must be given primacy if there is ever to be peace.

A story is told of President Lincoln following the Battle of Shiloh. He was approached by the frantic brother and sister of General Lew Wallace. They had heard the General had been killed in the Battle of Shiloh, but President Lincoln assure them he had not. He was alive. It was not their Lew Wallace who had been killed. The people sighed with relief. But the President responded with the compassion that had so marked and distinguished his life, “Oh, but it was somebody’s Lew Wallace!”

So, standing on sacred soil of the great religious traditions and all this great Cathedral has built, I see this as one world with God’s arms of mercy outstretched to everyone across the planet—embracing friend and foe. And the first heart to break when we plunder the countries in the Middle East and kill the children and mothers is God’s heart. We just must prevent it.

War takes the financial resources that could create jobs, save lives, feed the hungry, heal the world’s suffering, address America’s deteriorating infrastructure, and uses these precious resources to destroy. I hate war for that.

Your challenge and mine: We must confront the greatest obscenity imaginable. The United States has spent more than four trillion dollars on these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we will spend trillions more with 40% of the soldiers coming home from the war wounded. Four trillion dollars for these wars and 40% of our children live in or at the edges of poverty in the United States. That is the greatest obscenity I can imagine. So many out of work. So many losing their homes, the rich get richer and so many remain poor. So much pain and suffering all around us, and four trillion dollars paid for wars. That is the greatest obscenity of our day. And God weeps. God weeps. God weeps at what God’s children are doing.

Amen.

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