In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A hundred and fourteen years ago, on September 29th, 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt and a crowd of 10,000 laid the cornerstone of this Cathedral. Every year, since on the Sunday closest to that date, we’ve celebrated Cathedral Day. A day when we not only give thanks to God for this magnificent place, but more importantly, a day when we remind ourselves of the work God is calling us to do. A day when we remind ourselves about why this Cathedral exists in the first place. And how it, and all of us, can make a difference in the building of God’s kingdom.

It’s a little strange to be celebrating Cathedral Day after more than 565 days of pandemic, during which this magnificent building sat empty much of the time. We are in a different place now than we were two years ago, all of us are. Our world has changed. And the truth is we are still in the midst of pandemic, it isn’t over. Moreover, we are only in the beginning stages of making sense of what we have experienced as we move forward into an unknown future. At the same time, I am immensely proud of what this Cathedral has been able to contribute during these days of pandemic. Purely by God’s grace, we were perfectly situated with our new video capabilities to reach out beyond our walls and to come directly into people’s homes. During a time when being at home was just about all any of us could do. Truth be told, I had always dreamed about building a digital Cathedral, and this dream was part of our long range plan, but it was a plan that I thought would take us five years, not a plan that we would need to hatch in five weeks. But through the efforts of the amazing people who serve on the staff of this Cathedral, we were able to do just that. To pivot this place from being a Cathedral where the building was often central, into a place where what is coming out of this building is central.

And I cannot tell you what it has meant to me, and to all of us at the Cathedral, to receive the many emails and letters from people around the country and around the world, thanking us for this ministry, which we are so pleased to be able to provide. Thanking us for helping them make it through these days of pandemic. Thanking us for providing daily, spiritual nourishment and programmatic enrichment. It has been and continues to be our honor to serve in this way and now that we are back open again, it’s a joy to see so many of you in person. Every Sunday since we reopened on July 4th, I’ve had the honor of meeting and speaking with people who found the Cathedral during the tough days of lockdown, and now feel compelled to come be with us in person. These are people who have never physically been in the Cathedral before and to have come from Kansas, and California, and Michigan, and Maine, and so many other places, just to be here for Sunday service. It’s such a pleasure to meet all these folks, all of these members of our online Cathedral family, and we are humbled by their presence.

So where do we go from here? As this Cathedral celebrates its 114th birthday, what is it being called to do? What are we being called to do? Many Americans don’t know what to make of a Cathedral like this, that’s because there aren’t many of them in this country. Far more common throughout Europe, the great cathedrals of the world by their very size and reach, have the capacity to appeal to so many different constituencies. Whether it’s 1500 people spread throughout this nave taking part in a special yoga class, or hundreds of people walking around the nave that’s filled with beautiful origami doves and bathed in colored light, or thousands of others gathered here for a state funeral, or interfaith voices all praising God in a beautiful collage of their various faith traditions, or the singing of the exalted. As the light of Christ breaks through the darkness during the Easter vigil, cathedrals have a unique and a special role to play. And this Cathedral in particular, situated in our nation’s capital, at the intersection of what I call the sacred and the civic, we have as our programmatic focus, the essential work of contributing to the healing of the soul of this nation. Of trying to stand up and speak out for what is good, and right, and holy. Trying to bridge the divides that separate us, all the while welcoming people of all faiths and no faith. To be, as the former Dean Gary Hall once said, “A Cathedral oriented to the world, proclaiming the gospel in the public square.” We seek to gather together the faithful, the skeptics, the spiritual but not religious, the curious, folks who might never consider entering a parish church, but who can find here the space and the room to encounter the holy in their own time and in their own way. We seek to confront the issues that drive us apart as a nation, the issues that diminish us as human beings, the issues that wound us as God’s beloved children. Our announcements in recent days of Elie Wiesel’s likeness being permanently added to the iconography of the Human Rights Porch, and the artists Kerry James Marshall and Elizabeth Alexander being chosen to create the new windows that will adorn this space in place of the Lee and Jackson windows, are two examples of the work that we feel called to do.

Now in our lesson from Genesis for this morning, Jacob has a vision where God tells him that he is blessed and that he will be the father of a great nation, a great people, and that he and his people will be a blessing to others. Indeed, to the whole world, he’s told. I find these verses so powerful, not only because of what they tell us about Jacob, but more importantly, because of what they tell us about God and all of us. You must remember that the Jacob being blessed in this passage, the Jacob chosen by God to be the father of a great people, this Jacob was a very imperfect human being. In fact, he was a cheat, and a sneak, and a liar. As Frederick Buechner once wrote about Jacob, “Twice, he cheated his lame brain brother Esau out of what was coming to him. At least once he took advantage of the blindness of his old father, Isaac, and played him for a sucker. He out did his double-crossing father-in-law, Laban, by conning him out of most of his livestock. And later on, when Laban was looking the other way, by sneaking off, not only with both the man’s daughters, but just about everything else that wasn’t nailed down.” Jacob was an imperfect person to say the least, but God still chose him. Still believed in him, still called him to do such an important thing. Despite all his faults and his failings, Jacob was chosen by God, along with his descendants after him. to be a blessing to others. And the truth is throughout the Bible, God often picks the most unlikely people to do his work. God uses the most fallible of human beings to complete God’s plans. And this fact always gives me great comfort as I think about how imperfect I am, how imperfect this place is, how imperfect all of us are, and yet how we are still, all of us, called to be instruments of God’s goodness in the world.

The great saints of the church aren’t saints because they were such good people. No, there are saints because they said yes to God. My friends, the truth is like Jacob, we too are being called both as an institution and as individuals, I think, to be in the way we live our lives a blessing to others. In spite of our own faults and failings, if we are people of faith, if this Cathedral is truly a house of prayer for all people, then we have a responsibility to answer God’s call. To be the hands and feet of God in the world. To be built into a spiritual house, as Peter reminds us. To proclaim the God who calls us out of darkness into light. Our political divides, our cultural divides, our economic divides, the wound of racism that still lies unhealed and festering in this nation, all of these issues and so many more are calling to be addressed. And who better than people of faith? Whatever that faith may be. People who believe in a God of justice and peace. People who believe in the reconciling and healing power of love. What better than those people to do this work? If we don’t do it, who will?

If we understand anything, we must understand that this place can’t just be a beautiful building, full of nice people who come to pray. We have to be kingdom builders. Builders of God’s kingdom, and a blessing to others. In closing on the cornerstone that was laid here in 1907, under what is now the altar of Bethlehem Chapel below us, a verse was inscribed in the stone from the gospel of John, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” It refers of course, to John’s description of the birth of Jesus. When the very word of God that was there at the instant of creation and brought the heavens and the earth out of nothingness, when that word became incarnate in a very finite and vulnerable child born in a stable in Bethlehem. But I believe that verse, I believe that it is a verse that points to the task placed in front of us. A task placed in front of us and this Cathedral to always make sure that the word continues to dwell among us by in fleshing it ourselves. Putting this Cathedral and our very lives on the line, proclaiming and living out the way. The only way that can bring about hope and healing and reconciliation, which is the way of love shown to us by Jesus Christ. Yes, this is a special place. And yes, this is a day worth celebrating. God has blessed the work of this Cathedral for 114 years, and it is my prayer that God will bless us for many years to come. So, let’s celebrate, but only for a little while, because there is still so much of God’s work left to be done.



The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith