It is always a privilege to preach the Gospel, and I am especially grateful to the Dean for the invitation to preach here as we celebrate Maryland Day. Might I be allowed to offer a personal note to say what a joy it is to have Dean Lloyd in this place now, and with what full and confident anticipation we greet his tenure as Dean of this great cathedral.
How good it is to celebrate Maryland Day. From all corners of the Free State Marylanders have come together. It is good to remember that we are all children of Maryland, even before there was a Diocese of Maryland or Easton or Washington. Even the remote and obstreperous corners of Maryland are part of this family. (I say that for the benefit of those of us from Montgomery County!).
Hear these words again from the book of Exodus: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” Time and time again, God summons us to remember our history, for our history defines not just who we have been, but who and what we are called to be now and into God’s future. We in Maryland understand that our history is not one of being borne on eagles’ wings but on the seas by an Ark and a Dove. Since 1634, the Anglican history of God’s people has unfolded in this land of pleasant living. It is a rich story that we should remember, and should tell to our children.
Indeed, Maryland’s legacy is rich, populated by faithful men and women who “loved their Lord, so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong.” [Hymn 295] We can begin in the beginning, with those intrepid souls on those two, tiny ships that arrived at St Mary’s City on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1634. We would do well to note the noble experiment of Lord Baltimore in which the seeds of religious toleration were planted among Roman Catholics and Anglicans and Dissenters, seeds that would not blossom fully until the 18th century and the American principle of religious freedom.
Surely, beyond reckoning is our debt to the great and good Thomas Bray, who worked indefatigably to promote Christian knowledge and propagate the Gospel in foreign parts, those foreign parts being our own state. (I have held in my hands volumes he gave to a parish in Anne Arundel County, veritable holy relics).
Closer to here, we might think of Francis Scott Key, well known for his authorship of our National Anthem. But did you also know he was a prominent vestry member of two parishes right down Wisconsin Avenue, and a leading trustee at the Virginia Theological Seminary? Not long after, Alexander Crummell graced the work of the church in this city and diocese in his pioneering work among African-American clergy. In our own day, this very cathedral was the direct beneficiary of the pastoral and efficient leadership of Theodore Eastman, 12th Bishop of Maryland, during his service as Vicar.
I could go on and on about the great names, but Maryland is also the heir to many quiet legacies. I served a parish in Calvert County twenty years ago, where two lovely sisters—Sadie and Marguerite Gray—were veritable pillars of the church. In a time when women’s leadership was not in the forefront, these two ladies quietly and resolutely went about their ministries, including building a parish house in which to house a Sunday school. They were in their 90’s when I knew them and Miss Sadie would tell me stories of entertaining Bishop Paret (1883–1911) in Prince Frederick. I might add that before the word “inclusive” was on the lips of anyone, Miss Sadie made sure that one of the few Jewish children in town was welcomed and included in the activities of the youth group. That child was Louis Goldstein, the venerable Comptroller of Maryland for many years. He never forgot that genuine kindness he received as a child, a kindness motivated not by political correctness, but by Christian love.
No doubt each Marylander here can add chapters to the story, and I hope no one will take offense that I have not listed more. In the quiet of your meditations, perhaps the Holy Spirit will call to remembrance those whom you know who have served the Lord, and for their witness and faithfulness you can give thanks to God.
“You have seen what I did…” is the refrain Marylanders should sound on this day, but not just to venerate the past. Rather, in a time when the Church is not at ease in Zion, the past serves to guide and encourage us.
Maryland has known times of great division. Indeed, civil war has been known in three of Maryland’s centuries, and each of those chapters impinged on the life of the Church. None was greater than in the time of the American Civil War, in the days of the great Maryland bishop William Rollinson Whittingham (1840–1879). A staunch Unionist, he oversaw a diocese and state deeply divided. It broke his heart when many of his clergy refused his instructions to pray for the President of the United States, since their secular loyalties lay elsewhere. Even within his diocese, church divisions were often acrid. Bishop Whittingham brought one of his priests to trial in a liturgical dispute (something perhaps tempting to latter day bishops!), and a few years later, a group tried to return the favor, seeking to memorialize General Convention to protest some of the Bishop’s actions.
Times of division must always be placed within the context of history. “You have seen what I did…” calls to mind our salvation history, and it should call to mind the foundations of our Faith. That is the antidote to the poison of division. Such was Bishop Whittingham’s thinking when he wrote these words in 1846: “We give the people scraps and shreds of doctrine…and exhort too much in general terms. Probably there has never been anywhere a population more generally and at the same time superficially acquainted with the outlines of the Gospel, than that in our country. What is wanting is depth, depth of knowledge; and still more depth of conviction.” [Whittingam, William R., The Work of the Ministry in a Day of Rebuke. (Baltimore, 1846)., quoted in Albright, Raymond W., A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1964.)]
Can this indictment be said of the Church in our time? It can indeed, if we do not remember and teach how we were borne on eagles’ wings, if we do not pass on what we in turn received, if we do not preach with conviction the marvelous deeds of God who is uniquely revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, the Church must be as bold in proclaiming that Jesus is Lord as it is in pronouncing on every known topic in current events. A church with Thomas Bray as a spiritual ancestor can do no less.
But some will say, times have changed, and what William Faulkner called the “old verities” do not hold. “You have seen what I did…” is our answer, offered in humility and gratitude that God continues to work out those divine purposes as year succeeds to year. [Hymn 534] Thirty years ago, one of my own Maryland heroes, the 11th Bishop of Maryland, David Keller Leighton, Sr., spoke to this very need in his Address to the 191st diocesan convention of Maryland. His words stand the test of time: “Everyone obviously doesn’t come to Christ in the same way. I know that, and you do, too. Many of us in the same Church, many of us who claim the same Lord, will find ourselves on opposite sides of this polarization that is constantly with us, but we can only give away what we have received. It is incumbent upon us to preach the truth as we have received it… We need to give to others what we have learned of our Lord. I think when we find a polarized Church in our decade as in any other decade there is one thing we need to remember above all: The world must see the Resurrected Lord in the life of the Church. The world must see that the Church can have differing opinions and polarization, like any other society on earth—the trauma of transition is the same in the Church as it is in the world, but our reaction must be different because we are children of the Resurrection. The World must see the living Lord in us.” [Leighton, David K., Journal of the 191st Convention of the Diocese of Maryland (1975), p. 101–02]
Bishop Leighton was right. Even as we are children of Maryland, so much more are we children of the Resurrection. The world must indeed see the living, risen Lord in us—the one who has wrought our salvation and is the pastor of our souls. His story is our history. In him is our light and our truth, our way and our life. To that great acclamation let the Church say, Amen.