Isaiah 1:10-20; Luke 19:1-10

Dear Friends: Our worship today comes in the midst of a great big traffic jam. No, not on the streets of Washington, DC, this day of the Marine Corps Marathon. Rather, a colossal jam in our religious life and our national life and our international life.

This Sabbath day is overloaded with so many, many goings-on! There’s the fun and foolishness of an old folk holiday: ghosts and goblins and witches and stuff. But remember: this spooky day always comes on the very eve of solemnly celebrating the blessed memories of our faithful Christian forebears, our Saints.

And today also marks the celebration of our Protestant heritage, inaugurated by Martin Luther – and we shall sing his great hymn.

But we gather today amid high anxieties over our nation’s security and our safety in this city.

And our worship this day can hardly proceed in disregard of the feverish escalation of political passions at the end of a season of fratricidal rhetoric and, shall we say, hooligan shenanigans with voter registration records and campaign paraphernalia – and massed legions of lawyers ready to challenge any and all election returns.

So what’s a poor preacher to do and say today?

Then you turn to today’s Bible readings for help, and – oops! There’s the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah! And there’s that rich tax collector up there in the sycamore tree! Shenanigans, again, right there in the Scriptures!

Which brings us right back to Hallowe’en. So the message for today might simply be: May your treats be greater than your tricks.

And tomorrow is indeed All Saints Day when, in Anglican tradition, all the saints “in communion and fellowship” are honored and celebrated together.

And, yes, day after tomorrow is General Election Day — at a time when this nation’s political strife is particularly bitter, not least in its heavy religious artillery — all in the shadows of a particularly horrid, chaotic and costly and ceaseless war in Iraq, and a much wider so-called “war against terrorism” which either is, or is not, one and the same war – a very big issue in this campaign. This reference to “religious artillery” is not simply poetic license on my part. The Reverend Jerry Falwell’s newspaper ad this weekend reads: “BLOW THEM AWAY IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!”

In recent days, two grim statistics have been marked:

1. American military deaths in Iraq have now exceeded 1,000. And

2. Iraqi civilian deaths have now exceeded 100,000.

Over here, we have been trying to cope with heightened apprehensions that our very elections might be the occasion for additional attacks on our own homeland. So just ten days ago, the hospitals in this area staged a mass casualty drill as part of their preparation for the possibility of a “dirty bomb” (a radiological bomb) attack. And two days ago, Osama bin Laden resurfaced from some “undisclosed location” to threaten America once again.

Enough, already! – we want to say. But then our church calendar reminds us that today, throughout our churches, is our annual Reformation Day. And so this afternoon, in this place, Lutherans and Episcopalians — now into their fourth year of celebrating “Full Communion” since enacting their historic document Called to Common Mission — will gather right here with other worshippers in a service of ecumenical solidarity. And what’s more, in a service graced by the presence and preaching of, yes! DC’s Roman Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. And we remember today his predecessor, Cardinal James Hickey, who died this very week, and who graced this community with great passion and compassion for the poor and marginalized people of this city and of the whole world.

All of which means, of course, that Reformation Day ain’t what it used to be for some Protestants: those who made it an occasion for beating up on the Catholics.

More than a half-century ago, one of my predecessors as Editor of The Christian Century magazine, wrote a book titled The Coming Great Reformation suggesting that the Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ is not just an ancient chapter of our 500-year old history, but an absolute imperative or our churches’ present and our faith’s future. His vision was of a great day when we Christians would at last make peace among ourselves, and would become united in our mission and ministries, and would then become a more redemptive and healing power for peace among the nations.

Friends: It was also a long, long time ago when I was a very young seminary student (if you can imagine that!) — and I was a mere Methodist studying at a mere Methodist seminary — that I learned some good things about Episcopalians and other Anglicans. In particular, I learned that there was once a brilliant and prophetic Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple by name, perhaps the greatest of 20th century archbishops — but whose term at Canterbury was cut short by death in 1944, after only a couple of years in that highest Anglican office.

One of Archbishop Temple’s most memorable sayings, among many, was that, thanks to the Christian missionary movement, he worldwide, global fellowship of Christianity had become “ the great new fact of our era” – global Christianity. And he said that right away on his very inaugural day, in his enthronement sermon at Canterbury Cathedral on St. George’s Day in 1942. And he said that in the midst of the world’s most ghastly war. This worldwide unity of Christians, above and around and beneath all our denominational differences, and all our national and political conflicts, and all our wars, was especially sacred to William Temple. In fact, he was a towering figure in the ecumenical conferences and planning that led to the formation of the World Council of Churches — consummated at last at Amsterdam in 1948 — but four years after Archbishop Temple’s death.

I suspect that, were William Temple alive today, he might especially emphasize that “the great new fact” of this era, this young 21st Century, is that global Christianity and global Islam now confront each other on every one of the world’s continents. The two billion Christians and one-and-a-half billion Muslims are the world’s most populous and most universal religions.

Friends, it may not be entirely helpful to say that Christianity and Islam are “the superpowers of the world’s religions” – but their great size and scope, along with their mutual implication in the world’s most bitter conflicts, suggest that, for us Christians, seeking to reconcile our relationships with Muslims in this country and around the world has become a very, very high missional priority.

Since 1998, that priority has been at least partly upheld at this Cathedral by…

  • A conference on the theme, “Two Sacred paths: Christianity and Islam” – attended by a thousand people.
  • Three days after September 11, 2001, an interfaith service of prayer and remembrance, with prominent Muslim and Jewish leaders there.
  • Muslim and Jewish preachers at Evensong services, followed by talk-back discussions.
  • Welcoming a delegation from the Muslim World league for richly thoughtful conversations.

Something more than the niceties of inter-religious dialogue is at stake in such encounters. It is the certain knowledge that peace among the nations of the world now, more than ever, requires peace among the religions of the world.

Well before 9/11, this Cathedral decided to establish an interfaith National Advisory Group to help guide our long-range program planning. Wonderfully helpful since 9/11 have been the contributions of our three Muslim members: Dr. Azizah al-Hibri of the University of Richmond Law School; Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University; and Professor (and former Ambassador) Sulayman Nyang of Howard University. They have done much to help this Cathedral be more faithful in living out our own claim to be a National House of Prayer for All People.” “For All People.”

Last June, our Cathedral College hosted three Abrahamic Fellows here in residence for two weeks of intensive study and trialogue: Christian, Muslim, and Jew. Those who shared in the treasures of their gracious and powerful time together were deeply touched by their own comradeship – and freshly persuaded of the urgency of their faith-filled testimony for justice and peace.

Soon we shall be singing the powerful words of Martin Luther’s great hymn. We must pray that a new “Great Reformation” will construct a “mighty fortress” of both diverse and common faith: “a bulwark never failing” to protect the whole human family of God’s own children from the “mortal ills” and the “cruel hate” which so bedevil the nations, the races, and yes, the religions of the world.

Today’s reading from Isaiah turns our faith inside out. It invokes God’s own wrath against those perpetrators of religious ceremonies who fail to become activists for justice and peace, whose religious style begins and ends with pious rituals – but who do not act to overcome oppression and violence.

In two days, many of us will share in the great public sacrament of a free and democratic nation. At its best, voting is the “Amen” of an active, continuous, vocational involvement in the responsibilities of Christian citizenship. But if you have waited four years until Election Day to express your faith on the most momentous issues of justice and peace, you have increased the risk of forfeiting the election to those who do not care as much as you think you do about those very issues.

Christian citizenship is the discipleship of sustained engagement in the politics of our common good. Paul praised the Thessalonians for their steadfastness.

Dear Friends: As you contemplate Tuesday’s sacramental act of voting, think about, and pray about, the well being of Muslim girls, and Hindu men, and Buddhist boys, and Jewish women. And yes, it’s quite all right to pray for Christians, and for your own loved ones, and even for yourself. And pray that these next several days may pass without violent disruptions of our public life. And pray that this nation may more truly become “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” And commit yourself to steadfast public discipleship beyond Tuesday, when all the voting and all the counting are done – or so we hope and fervently pray!

Now, therefore, all you Saints: Happy Hallowe’en, a Rousing Reformation Day, Blessed All Saints Day, and may you all be winners on Election Day! And may the peace and security, that God alone can give, be yours, now and forever.

In the name of him whom Isaiah called “Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace” – long centuries before he actually came. Yes! Even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.