You told us what is good, O Lord, and what you require of us: to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you, our God. So help us with your grace and courage that we might be just, kind and humble. Amen. Please be seated.
Good morning. It is always a joy for me to be in worship with you, Cathedral Community. And along with Dean Randy to welcome our guests. And I just want to commend you on the singing of Amazing Grace. I think we could have been heard all the way through the city. It was just wonderful to hear so many of you singing that glorious hymn from your hearts. And I pray that you feel something of that grace and God’s love and kindness for you in the time and space that we share.
This is from the poem Compassion by Miller Williams:
“Have compassion on everyone you meet even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners or cynicism is often a sign. A sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down where the spirit meets bone”.
And this is from the late Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s last book entitled Fascism: A Warning:
“The wise response to intolerance is not more intolerance and self-righteousness. It is a coming together of people across the ideological spectrum who want to make their countries better. We should remember that the heroes we cherish, Lincoln, King, Gandhi, Mandela, they spoke to the best within us. The crops we harvest depend upon the seeds we sow.”
The crops we harvest depend upon the seeds we sow.
So as Dean Randy said, this is the second sermon in a series taking its inspiration from that beloved and compelling passage from the prophet Micah, written 800 years before the birth of Jesus. And we at Washington National Cathedral and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington are part of this larger effort among Christians, Christians across the country, dedicating ourselves to Micah’s call, as our Lord himself did, to be people of justice and kindness and humility. And we’re doing so, as Dean Randy said, with particular attention, intention, in this last month before the mid-term elections because it is arguably the month when as a nation we are the most polarized. Or at the very least we know that we are being bombarded with billions of dollars worth of political advertising, specifically intended to inflame our differences, exploit our worst fears, dehumanize those with whom we disagree, make false promises and simplify the complex problems we face as a nation that require a unified nation to address.
And the idea behind The Micah 6:8 Pledge is simply for us to do whatever we can, whatever we can, to narrow the gap and tone down the rhetoric. And imagine, imagine what would happen if every Christian committed ourselves to do this. And in all of our relationships to show up in those places where there is injustice, where people are being treated unfairly, unkindly, to add our voices and our resources to make this world a better place. And to do so in a spirit and posture of kindness, respect and humility. Especially when dealing with issues around which there is not consensus, and with those who do not share our point of view.
Now, in fairness and in all honesty, political advertising, social media and the more divisive forces that dominate public discourse that we all might lament, they don’t create polarization. They amplify what already exists. And the seeds of social polarization, they lie beneath every human community on the planet. And if we’re honest, they lie within ourselves. And for years, those seeds may lie fallow and we don’t realize that they’re there. Because we are paying attention to other seeds. We’re letting other forces of life take root. But when those seeds are watered, when they’re watered with fear and resentment, they grow. They grow. And they threaten to choke everything around them.
Now I have no doubt that I am not the only person in this Cathedral Community concerned about how those seeds are being methodically cultivated in our country. But we all have difficulty, and I include myself here, we have difficulty recognizing how we have, or can become part of, or contribute to the very conditions we lament. Through our actions and our speech or what we choose not to do, not to say. And hence the need to look at ourselves. And our own behavior which is what The Pledgeinvites us to do. And to commit ourselves, I mean truly commit ourselves, every day to the highest ideals as human beings. And for those of us who want to be followers of Jesus, to commit ourselves to his way, his way of love.
Now, I took the initiative to make these little cards and to give one to each one of you I hope as you were coming into the Cathedral. And if not, you can pick one up on the way out. There’s also a pledge on the back of your bulletin and Matt, I was wondering if you could put the screen up so those at home can look at The Pledge. Let’s just take a look at this, right? Let’s imagine what it would be like if we pledged together to do these things in all aspects of our life. To act justly and pursue justice. By standing with and speaking out for those who are vulnerable, mistreated, in need or exploited.
If we pledge, I pledge, to practice kindness and mercy in every interaction. Lord have mercy. That means in the traffic line in front of my house, right? As we are all trying to make our way to work, okay Lord, practice kindness and mercy in every interaction. Even with those with whom I disagree. To act with humility. Surrendering my will to God’s. Acknowledging that I may not always be right. And should listen more and speak less. Because, you see, that we disagree isn’t a problem. It’s to be expected. And in a democracy and in a lively church community we needs lots of points of view, lots of perspective.
The issue now, increasingly, is how we do. How we treat one another. And we’ve all been affected by this. Consciously or not, by the increasing coarseness, and intolerance and petty cruelty that is normative in human discourse. Especially with people we don’t recognize in ourselves.
And so today’s focus is that call to kindness. In the spirit of a Twelve-Step moral inventory, let’s take stock, shall we? How we doing? In our actions and in our speech. How do we talk to one another? And even more telling, how do we talk about one another? You may remember the story that Jesus told about a man who actually began his prayer by thanking God that he was not like other people, Do you remember that? Listing all the miserable sinners that he was not at all like. God was not impressed.
There’s a great passage in a book written by the British comedian Tony Hendra. And in it he is trying to explain to his spiritual mentor, who’s this very gentle Benedictine monk named Father Joe. He’s trying to explain to him the function of satire–which is of course humor told at another person’s expense.
And Father Joe is genuinely confused about this. “Satire,” he says, “must divide people into two groups?”
“Yes,” Tony replied.
“Is that a good thing?”
“It’s the way the world works, Father Joe. You know, people, we think in teams. We’re good; you’re evil; we’re right; you’re wrong. we’re smart; you’re dumb. Most humor works that way, even the most basic jokes. The English tell Irish jokes. Americans tell Polish jokes, because the Poles have been stereotyped as stupid.”
“Oh”, Father Joe said, “tell me a Polish joke”.
“Okay. What has an IQ of two hundred and twelve?”
“Well, I don’t know, dear.”
Father Joe gazed up. “Is there a joke coming?”
“That’s it. The entire city of Warsaw has a combined IQ of a hundred and twelve.”
“Oh,” Father Joe protested, “but the Poles are such a sensitive people. Tragic and poetic and long-suffering. Think of Chopin. Or the Holy Father.”
“Okay, Chopin and John Paul aren’t Polish jokes. But the dynamic holds about jokes about politicians, opposing political parties, blonds, the French.”
Father Joe looked puzzled. “To say that people are stupid when they’re not–isn’t that cruel?“ And he was silent again . “You see, dear, I think there are two types of people in the world. Those who divide the world into two types of people…and those that don’t.”
What kind of person do you and I want to be? And if we are followers of Jesus, what kind of person does he call us to be?
“The godly,” writes Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, “the Godly are those who never talk destructively about another person–in anger, in spite, in vengefulness–and can be counted on, can be counted on, to bring an open heart to a closed and clawing world.” She goes on: “The holy ones are those who live well with those around them. They are just, they are upright, they are kind. The ecology of humankind is safe with them.”
Is the ecology of humankind safe with us? If I’m honest, speaking for myself, not always. I can do better. I can do better. And perhaps you can, too. Now there is a temptation – and it’s an understandable one given the climate we’re in and the desire to be kind – to take the opposite approach and a posture of silence and non-engagement, believing that saying or doing nothing is a form of kindness. In families and communities, the list can get rather long actually of all the things that we don’t talk about. But is avoidance kind? And kind to whom?
I remember back in 2003, that’s when The Episcopal Church really went out on a limb in its position on inclusion by the official endorsement of the election of Bishop Gene Robinson, who was in this pulpit last week, the first openly gay and partnered man, elected as a bishop. And the convention where that momentous decision was made –and it was a big deal–took place in Minneapolis, where I was living and serving as a priest. And one of my mentors at the time was a Lutheran pastor of one of the largest congregations in our area and whose ministries I admired and really sought to emulate. And we talked later that week and he said to me, not really knowing me , or the make-up of the congregation I served, he said, “Look, I’m sympathetic to the cause. I really am. But The Episcopal Church is making a huge mistake. I mean huge mistake. We (he was talking about his church) are gonna lay low on this one. It’s way too hot to take a stand on.” He took my breath away. And I thought to myself, I wondered what he would say to the gay and lesbian members of his own congregation. And all I could think of to say was, “Well someday, you might thank us.”
Sociologist and author Brené Brown argues in her book, Dare to Lead, that clarity is kindness. Not speaking; not engaging, even when we are trying to be kind, it’s not kind. But I believe, I sincerely believe, it’s possible to be kind and also clear about what we believe and stand for even in contentious, acrimonious situations. But it requires such care and commitment to relationship and intentionality.
And here, I think, we can all take inspiration from our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Because he is never hesitant to speak the truth as he sees it. Ever. And yet he is among the most universally beloved religious leaders in the world, because he treats people that don’t share his views with kindness and humility. And he never ceases in his effort to find common ground across difference. And he calls this approach to the work of justice, he calls it standing and kneeling at the same time. He stands for his convictions as clearly as he can. And he kneels before those who disagree with him, honoring them as beloved children of God, respecting that they have a different point of view, and being willing to listen in a spirit of humility.
“If we all do that,” he said, “and engage each other, kneel in real humility before one another and before God, yet being honest and up front and clear about what we stand for, the fact that we have knelt before each other creates space where we can stand together with our differences.”
In closing, let me say just one more word about kindness, and I’m drawing now intentionally from the inspiration, drawing inspiration from the story we heard Dana and Yoimel read about Jesus’ interactions with those two blind men who were yelling at him, asking for mercy, and the crowd was trying to shut them up. Last week, Bishop Robinson suggested from this pulpit that doing the work of justice invariably leads to kindness, which I think is true. But I think the reverse is also true, that when we choose the path of proximate kindness, that is, daring to show up where people are genuinely hurting, where people are bearing the brunt of the conditions that are true for all of us, when we get close, up close, and offer kindness there, we can’t help but be moved to act, and to act with justice. And when we show up, when all of us show up together, things change.
We saw an example of this just last Wednesday, October 5th, when the President of the United States, Joseph Biden, and the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, held a joint press conference. Both men praised each other, and the branches of government they represent, for their collaborative efforts to address the devastation that Hurricane Ian has caused in Florida.Two men, on the opposite sides of that enormous chasm that divides us went out of their way, in that moment, to be kind to one another, and more importantly, to be kind together to the people they spoke to who had lost so much. Because those people didn’t need to hear how they disagreed on anything. They needed to hear how they would work together to ease pain.
And we need more of this, more of this, because the challenges before us, just like the Hurricane, requires all of us. And we have an innate capacity to care for each other. Those seeds of polarization, they lie alongside seeds of empathy, empathy, and not just for our own tribe. No one is dividing the people in need of emergency shelter according to their political parties, or restoring electricity only with those who agree with them. Those of us writing checks to support relief efforts in Florida or anywhere else in the world aren’t insisting that our money only goes to people who share our worldview.
We can do this. We do it all the time. The seeds that we cultivate determines the harvest we will reap. And all of this is such a welcome respite in response of human suffering. And a reminder of what we are all capable of when we decide to show up where love is needed. Where love is needed.
Lord Jesus would you please help us all to be just, kind and humble. Amen.