Transcribed from the audio.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
What would you attempt if you knew you wouldn’t fail? In modern parlance, what BHAG—big, hairy, audacious goal—might God have placed on your heart, placed on our hearts as a community of faith? As we reflect on the Scriptures appointed for today and the fact that it is the 106th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of this Cathedral, it seems an apt question to explore this morning. And so I invite you to explore that with me.
Beginning with the story in Genesis, we encounter Jacob, and Jacob has a pretty amazing dream—with angels descending and ascending, bringing heaven and earth together. And then the Lord God, God’s self, appears and reaffirms a promise made generations ago. On the face of it, that dream is pretty extraordinary; but when you think of Jacob’s background, it is frankly unbelievable. You’ll recall, in the earlier part of Jacob’s life that Jacob has distinguished himself as a liar and a cheat. He managed to dupe his older brother Esau out of his birthright and then just before we pick up the story this morning, Jacob has lied to his father on his death bed and has stolen his older brother’s blessing. Well, as you might imagine, Esau was not too pleased with his younger brother and he vowed that he would kill him.
So we pick up the story with Jacob on the run. It’s the first time in the Jacob narrative that Jacob is alone. He’s alone; he’s terrified and he’s run as fast as his legs will take him until he can run no more. And he lays down his head to sleep. And it is in the midst of that that God appears and tells him: Jacob, the families of the earth will be blessed in you and your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth and I will be with you and I will not leave you until what I have promised has been done. Can you imagine? Jacob knew he was a liar and a cheat—I mean he was running as fast as he could—yet nevertheless, God stands up and says the promise is going to be fulfilled in you and furthermore, I will be with you. Jacob was not exactly an exemplar of moral fiber and fabric but God had made a promise and it was going to be fulfilled with God’s help—that gives me courage and hope; I hope it does you, too.
What would you attempt if you knew you wouldn’t fail? Going back 106 years ago on this day, this very day, around 10,000 people gathered on the space where we now stand and dared to dream something unbelievable—the big, hairy, audacious goal of their day—that a glorious Cathedral would rise from that foundation stone, to be a symbol to the city, to the nation, and the world, that Christ is alive and that all things are possible with God. On that day President Theodore Roosevelt said, “God speed the work begun this noon.” And those brave men and women gathered that day committed to a purpose. An architect from the twentieth century called medieval cathedrals an “act of optimism.” On that day I’d have to say it had to be an act of audacity because imagine building a cathedral like this in the twentieth century! And, of course, we know from the history of this Cathedral that it was not smooth sailing—that over the course of over eighty years, construction was started and stopped at least five times. A bishop died; a dean died; an architect died. Two world wars, a great depression, staggering inflation, and yet the people persevered. There were so many times when people felt it would not be accomplished, it couldn’t be accomplished, but they pushed forward, pursuing a goal that they believed God had placed on their hearts—not just for that generation, but for all generations to come.
And I believe the spirit of that day, the spirit of this day, is embodied in the very foundation stone that was laid that day. The foundation stone is actually two stones; the larger stone is a slab of American granite. Embedded within it is a rock that was quarried in Bethlehem, the very place of the incarnation, where Jesus, God incarnate, took on flesh and walked the face of the earth. Inscribed on the foundation stone is that passage from the gospel of John, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s the foundation stone that was laid below us, quite a few feet. That is the foundation stone upon which this Cathedral stands. That is the foundation stone upon which everything in this place rests—that God loved us enough to take on flesh and dwell among us.
What might you attempt if you knew you wouldn’t fail? From the very beginning, Bishop Satterlee, the first Bishop of Washington who was the spearhead of this Cathedral, envisioned this Cathedral being evangelistic in its nature. He reports in his book about the founding of the Cathedral that on the day that he picked up the pen to sign the contract purchasing this land he never before in his life had met and needed such nerve and courage as to sign that contract. But he did and here we are. I think that if we reflect on where we’ve come from and we look to the future we can see how we are living into Bishop Satterlee’s vision and dream.
You see, we come from a long line of dreamers. He envisioned that we would be a beacon and a light to the world. And if you look over even the past three years that I’ve had the privilege of serving as the vicar of this Cathedral, we’ve seen our own challenges and changes. In the three years I’ve been here we’ve had three deans. In the period of time that I’ve been here we had an earthquake and we were shuttered for three months. But even in the face of that we have grown and we have flourished. In three years, our congregation, year after year, our worshiping community has grown. We’ve grown by 400 members in those three years to the point that today we are more than 1,250 in number and growing by one percent a month. In 2006 just two young adults in their twenties and thirties said, we want to have a young adults group, will you support us? Today there are more than 500 young adults on the listserv.
You see, I believe we are a seekers’ Cathedral. This beacon sitting up on this hill invites all to come in and be a part and experience God in this place. There are so many people with whom I’ve had the conversation of why they came in, what they were seeking, why they decided to become a part of this community of faith. Their stories are not that different. People often were feeling alone, many were feeling afraid, most were looking for something larger than themselves in this life—something that would give their lives purpose and meaning, something larger, big to do on behalf of God. And I don’t believe for a second that God has blessed and flourished us to grow just for growth’s sake. I believe that we are in a time of preparation and purpose. I believe that God has something big in mind for us to do as community, as Cathedral community. We have enormous gifts together and on this day when we gather to celebrate what has been and to give thanks for those who made this possible, it is our time—it is our purpose—to pray and discern what big thing God has in store for us to do.
When we leave this service this morning we will gather as community to celebrate on that north lawn. I invite you to recommit yourself to prayer and discernment to seek God’s big goal for us as Cathedral community and let it begin today. In my lifetime one of the most effective dreamers and doers I know was Mother Teresa. One of her fundamental foundational prayers was, “Here I am, Lord—body, heart and soul. Grant that with your love I may be big enough to reach the world and small enough to be at one with you.” Let our prayer begin this day: Here we are, Lord—body, heart, and soul. Grant that with your love we may be big enough to reach the world and small enough to be at one with you. Amen.