The Rev. Canon Barbara T. Duncan, D.Min.
During this past week, the Smithsonian Institute with the Cathedral launched a book entitled The Stone Carvers by Marjorie Hunt. It tells the story of the master craftsmen who came from Italy to Washington, D.C., bringing with them their craft. This craft was passed down to them by their fathers, grandfathers and a community of carvers who shared their knowledge and provided opportunity for those coming along to learn the skill. The names Morigi, Zic and Palumbo head the list of master stone carvers who have helped to bring this magnificent house of worship to life. From the inanimate object of stone have come marvelous forms for the eyes to behold telling God’s story. We remember those men and women who discerned and planned those symbols that would be crafted and placed throughout this Cathedral to tell the story of God in the world and in our lives—the simple message, “God loves us.” Some are large, some small, and many that are in between—all telling the story of God’s relationship to us and to the world.
But it’s the carvings that are not so obvious that truly expresses the love and praise to God by the carvers. Shortly after I arrived at the Cathedral, I had the occasion to climb the scaffolding in the north balcony to make a pastoral visit to Mr. Palumbo. It was an interesting climb, my first on scaffolding, in a long skirt. (You see, one never knows where God will send you, and this certainly was not in the job description.) What I discovered were beautiful long stemmed roses, delicate birds and other figures that are exquisite. When I asked Mr. Palumbo why his best work, in my humble opinion, was not at eye level, he simply replied, “Here, I can make my personal offering to God in thanksgiving.” What I saw was the love of life and of God. These beautiful carvings translated into a sacramental offering from a legacy handed down through generations.
The largest carving on the reredos behind the high altar and the six next largest flanking it, three on either side, depict the Gospel lesson of today. On this last Sunday in Pentecost, our attention is called once again to the glory, power and majesty of God. That this is indeed our Lord’s world and one day we, as individuals and as nations, will stand in judgment. We will give an accounting of ourselves and what it was that we did to glorify God while here on earth.
This has been the basic theme for the past few Sundays of Pentecost. However, this is not the end of the story nor are we off the hook. To his disciples and to all nations, Jesus teaches us about the principles that will be applied. It will not be a capricious act but one that measures how we have lived our lives. It would do us well to listen. How comfortable it would be for us to enter denial about this matter. But how can we when the messages of Jesus are both abundant and clear?
Nations dropping bombs on each other is not a Christ response; watching the great divide grow between the rich and the poor is not justice for all; nor does forgiving world debt for poor nations resolve the causes or include individuals who are already trying to survive with so little. In this parable, Jesus was speaking to the nations—calling them to justice and mercy for God’s people. For as we sit here, the disparity between the rich and poor grows, not only in this nation but also around the world. The inhumanity grows even as we content ourselves with a nominal peace and false sense of well being.
But you and I are unlikely to change the course of world events. For most of us do not operate daily on the world stage. But we do have daily opportunities to carve out beauty in relationships in our homes, at work and in our communities.
This is where the “rubber meets the road.” We have been given unconditional love and are expected to do the same. The ultimate truth is that we find God in and through each other.
The symbols of the imprisoned, the naked, the hungry and thirsty, the sick and the stranger are only a few representations of the human condition. But they remind us to be in relationship with one another. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them.”
As a nation, we are most generous in our corporate response to tragedy among our sisters and brothers. One of the most recent responses and continues to be our neighbors in Virginia and North Carolina who lost all that they had, including their towns, during hurricane Floyd. No state was more responsive to these needs than the people of South Carolina, of which more than 400 are present today. Their generosity of spirit helped to clothe, feed, water and care for the sick. Most of the victims were strangers, yet they were welcomed into homes and shelters. As some of the victims told their stories, the most poignant are those of one-on-one encounters with people who stepped forward to lift a burden without fanfare or counting the cost.
Today’s Gospel calls us to take a hard look at who it is that we serve each day by the small things that we do. In his poem “Jerusalem,” William Blake writes, “He who would be good to another must do it in minute particulars.”
Our Lord’s teachings and the way he lived his life reveal that he sought the chances of lessening the burdens of people everywhere. He truly saw people who were lonely, sick, who carried guilt and remorse. Jesus continues to look upon them as well as the hungry, not for physical food only, but for a message that says they are loved and valued by God.
A wonderful story is told of a pastor who visited Mary’s family. As Mary was being introduced, the pastor said, “My what a pretty little girl. And how old are you?” “Three,” was Mary’s response. “And when will you be four?” asked the pastor. Mary thought for a while and said: “When I’m through being three.”
We are not done here on earth until we have offered ourselves as partners with our Lord as servants every day of our lives. Like the stone carvers of this Cathedral, we are called to offer the gifts that we have to the glory of God in the “minute particulars.” And on that day of judgment when we ask, “Lord, when did we see you?” God is likely to say, ‘When I was illiterate, you taught me to read and write; when I was jobless, you encouraged me and gave me hope; when I was abused, you gave me shelter and safety; when I became violent, your responses were ways of peace; when I was persecuted because of my race, religion or sexual preference, you accepted me as your brother and friend.
Each day is gift from God to extend ourselves to someone in need. We have been carved from the image of God as living witnesses to shine for the world. The gift of offering ourselves in service has been passed from generation to generation by the faithful people of God. It is through you and me that the love of God and God’s presence will be felt and known.