The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio.
Please pray with me. Lord, 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.
In reflecting on the past few days and past few weeks in our country and abroad, I’m reminded of Charles Dickens’ famous words at the beginning of a Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I would posit the view that we are in the most interesting of times, to put it mildly. It seems as if seismic shifts are happening in this country and abroad. And as we gather as a community of faith and would-be followers of Jesus Christ, the question is, how are we to respond? What is ours to do? What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Last Sunday the Rev. Dr. Frank Wade preached an incredibly thoughtful sermon based on the gospel reading of the Gerasene Demoniac. The sermon is available online. Part of what Dr. Wade said is that in the midst of these seismic shifts in the world around us we, too, have to struggle with our own demons: demons of fear, hatred, presumption, obstinance, freedom, at least as some would define that. He made the point that the only thing that can overcome those demons is the gospel love: the love of Christ that surpasses all our understanding. We know from 1 John that perfect love casts out fear. And in the reading you heard from Galatians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. But it’s a challenge.
In today’s gospel reading we hit a major pivot point as Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem. For the next 10 chapters of Luke—the next 19 Sundays in the church—we will be journeying with Jesus and the disciples to learn exactly what it means, what the cost of discipleship is. And if you look for the theme in the Scriptures appointed for today there’s a certain passing of the mantle. In that passage from 1 Kings, Elijah is passing the mantle on to Elisha who will carry on that ministry. In the gospel reading, Jesus is mentoring the disciples and you and me to pass the mantle of ministry for us to carry forward. In this Cathedral community today, we have a passing of the mantle, as well, as my beloved clergy colleagues Stuart Kenworthy and Preston Hannibal pass along a mantle. And what a privilege it has been to be in ministry with these two servants of God who manifest the love of the Lord in all that they do and all that they are. We thank you.
Looking more deeply at the gospel appointed for today, you’ll recall that heretofore Jesus has been in the Galilee with the disciples healing, teaching, feeding—teaching them the enduring things that he wants them to carry on. Earlier in the ninth chapter of Luke he tells them that when they are sent out, when they go forth to proclaim the kingdom of God, if they encounter resistance or a household or village doesn’t receive them, they’re to shake the dust off their feet and move on. What happens in today’s gospel as the disciples go forth into Samaria—and this is a very important point, I don’t want you to miss it—they are not received.
And you’ll recall that in those days, Jews and Samaritans didn’t mix. Although they had a common heritage, they were alienated from one another. Each considered the other, well, “other.” They were foreigners. They were strangers. They were other; it was a “we” and “them” sort of situation. And when they are rebuffed, James and John, in their great humanity, asked Jesus, well, should we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? He told them not long ago that you’re to shake the dust off your feet. I can only imagine that Jesus had to say, when are you going to get it? I’m trying to teach you a different way of being in relationship with one another. You have heard it said an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth, but I tell you turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. What a message for you and me today!
As we look at the things going on in our own country and abroad, Jesus teaches us a different way. And I know that sometimes the problems seem so enormous that they are overwhelming and we ask ourselves, how can one person, how can I make a difference? What is really mine to do? And that’s understandable because these are huge issues.
There is a sociopsychological phenomenon called diffusion of responsibility, whereby a person is less likely to respond to an action or inaction if there are others present. If you’re on a beach and you are the only one on the beach and you see someone struggling in the water you immediately sense some sense of responsibility because there’s no one else there to respond. If the beach is full of people it’s very easy to sit back and say, well, I’m sure someone else is going to take care of that, someone else is better equipped to take care of that. Diffusion of responsibility, otherwise known as the bystander effect.
My friends, Jesus asks us, invites us, that if we are going to follow him, we are about building relationships. We are about loving our neighbors as ourselves. No exceptions. And I can assure you that one person can make a difference. If you think historically of any movement that set out to make a change it always started with one person or a few people who dared to dream that they could make a difference.
This morning I want to share one with you. Someone from this Cathedral community. Her name is Kate Eberstadt. She graduated from the National Cathedral School in 2009, went on to Columbia and studied music. When she was 14, a shy 14-year-old, Ben Hutto, the beloved choir director of the National Cathedral School and St. Albans School for Boys, took her under wing, believed in her, helped her build self-confidence and to develop a voice: bringing an opportunity for her to be better in touch with the light and the life and the love that was embodied within her.
As Kate was looking at the situation of the humanitarian crisis of the refugees in Europe she felt compelled to respond and didn’t know how to go about that. And then when her beloved choir director Ben Hutto died she knew what she was called to do. She founded The Hutto Project; was accepted as a visiting fellow of the American Academy in Berlin. And with a dream and drive to bring it to reality she recruited some friends to help. She has formed a refugee children’s choir in Berlin, drawing from children who are from war-torn countries: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria—at least eight different languages, and many different countries. Children who are the victims of a conflict not of their own making who are housed in a gym, all on top of one another, with no schooling, no outings, no real life outside of where they are housed.
And she went in and started recruiting them one by one. Three days a week, for two hours each time, she gathers up those children, ages three into their teens, and gives them voice, gives them an identity, gives them light and life and hope. Does she speak all those languages? Of course not. She’s using the universal language of music to help these children come alive, to stand up, to be touched and transformed. She is, in her own way, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, no exceptions, loving her neighbor as herself.
This coming Wednesday those children will stand up and sing in their very first public concert—testimony to the difference that one person who dares to dream, to make a difference, can do so. My brothers and sisters, Jesus invites us to follow him. Jesus invites us to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus invites us to love our neighbors as ourselves—no exceptions, to respond to the difficulties of our day by reaching out in relationship. The invitation is yours and mine. Jesus invites us, “Will you follow me?” What will your response be? Amen.