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

A couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany, an ah-ha moment if you will, which seems rather fitting since we are in the season of Epiphany. It happened two Sundays ago during our service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. If you weren’t here that Sunday, it was a special day. Ambassador Andrew Young was our preacher for the morning. A truly remarkable man, Andrew Young was an early leader of the civil rights movement. A close friend and confidant of Dr. King’s, Rev. Young stood by King from the beginning to the end. He was there in Birmingham and Selma; he was there on that April day in 1968 when James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. King.

Now 91 years old, Andrew Young moves slowly. His mind is as sharp as a tack, but his body is beginning to fail him. As a result, he preached from a chair at the front of the platform because climbing into this pulpit was much too difficult. Rev. Young preached for forty minutes. Now, an Episcopal priest who preaches for more and 15 minutes will just about get hung in effigy, but the entire time Andrew Young spoke you could hear a pin drop in this place.

My epiphany came when Rev. Young sat down and began his sermon. Settling into his chair he said, “I love to tell the story, the story of a friend of mine.” And for the next 40 minutes he told us, with the kind of authority that can only come from first-hand experience, the story of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. For me, it was an historic moment. And as I sat there listening to him, I realized what it must have felt like for an early Christian at worship before there were texts, before the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were ever written. I realized what it must have felt like to sit on the ground gathered around an aging disciple like Peter, James, or John, and hear them say, “I love to tell the story, the story of a friend of mine, the story of Jesus.”

Now, if you listen to the story of Martin Luther King and the story of Jesus of Nazareth, one of the things you realize is that both of these men answered to a higher authority. Each of them bucked against an oppressive system, each of them gave their lives because God’s truth was their highest authority, not the laws of segregation, the governor of Alabama, the Scribes and Pharisees, or the despotic rule of Caesar. They were guided by God’s ways of love, justice, and freedom, not the world’s ways of domination, power, and greed. In our Gospel reading for this morning, the people of Capernaum remarked that Jesus spoke as one having authority, the authority that comes from a commitment to God and God’s ways and not to the ways of the world.

What holds authority for us these days? I must admit that I am concerned about the year ahead of us. As we all know, we have entered an election year, and I am more concerned about this election year than any other I can remember in my 60 years on this earth. I am concerned because we are already so fractured as a nation. Many Democrats won’t talk to Republicans and many Republicans want nothing to do with Democrats. Too often these days it seems like the algorithms that mathematically select the stories that flow by us on our social media feed are the real authority in our culture. They tell us things we want to hear; they show us what we want to see, they trap us in a fishbowl of people who think just like us. As a result, we live in our own bubbles where we don’t often hear alternative points of view, and many Americans really can’t begin to understand why people on the other side of the aisle think the way they do. As a result, what we hold to be authoritative is limited by our rather narrow world view and consequently, everything becomes intensely personal, and it becomes too easy to demonize and belittle one another.

Just a few days ago, as an example, I read an article by Peter Baker in the NY Times that I found quite disturbing. Mr. Baker wrote, “In an increasingly tribal society, Americans describe their differences more personally. Since . . . 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, the share of Democrats who see Republicans as immoral has grown from 35 percent to 63 percent while 72 percent of Republicans say the same about Democrats. . . In 1960, about 4 percent of Americans said they would be displeased if their child married someone from the other party. By 2020, that (number) had grown to nearly 4 in 10 (40%). Indeed, only about 4 percent of all marriages today are between a Republican and a Democrat.”1 That’s just crazy.

As I think about the year ahead, I ask myself – What should this Cathedral be doing to help hold us together during this election season and what follows? (I think the program on civility that I mentioned this morning is one good example) But beyond that, how can this Cathedral use its voice, not to enter into partisan politics, but to help mitigate the forces that want to pull us apart as a nation? And for those of us who strive individually to live as faithful Christians, what should we be doing?

Well, first and foremost, I think we must be clear about what is authoritative for us and what isn’t. What is the authority in our lives that guides and shapes our decisions and actions? Is it a party platform or a specific candidate? There is an old saying that a politician will never save you and boy isn’t that the truth. But Christ and his ways can save you, and I think the best thing we can do in the months to come is to lift up and double down on those ways, on those values. Do we demonize those we disagree with? No, instead we strive to love our enemies. Do we belittle the people who think very differently than we do? No, we treat them with compassion because they are our neighbors and so we strive to love them as we love ourselves. As Bishop Andy Doyle writes in his book Citizen, “The difference between Christian and non-Christian ways of being American ought to come down to compassion. Compassion is a fundamental virtue, rooted throughout the scripture, and especially in the Old Testament as hesed. As Christian citizens . . . we receive compassion from God, and we are to have compassion and live compassionate lives with kin, strangers, and neighbors alike. This is not a contract. For the Christian citizen compassion is a governing virtue of life.”2

Do you remember back in 2008 that rally in Minnesota where then-candidate for President, John McCain, firmly shut down a questioner who brought up a conspiracy theory about then-candidate Barack Obama. During a town hall meeting a woman was handed the microphone and said, “I just can’t trust that Obama, he’s not, he’s not, he’s an Arab.” Immediately McCain took back the microphone and said, “No mam, no mam, he’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” That was a moment I will never forget. John McCain’s bravery and clear sense of values would not let such a lie stand, even if ignoring it or agreeing with it might have gained him a few more votes.

We need more people like John McCain, we need to be more like John McCain. As Arthur Brooks once said some years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast, “Courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree — on behalf of those with whom you disagree. Are you strong enough to do that? That, I believe, is one way we can live up to Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies.”3

My friends, the good news for those of us who call ourselves Christians is that we answer to a higher authority than any politician or political platform. In the end, it isn’t who becomes president that matters most, rather it is the imperative to follow the way of Jesus so that we can build the Kingdom of God. As Bishop Curry said, “As Jesus’ followers, we understand that the work of the gospel, the core of discipleship, is to follow our Savior . . . breaking down dividing walls and divisive barriers and building up bridges of reconciliation that lead to a new humanity, a new creation, a new heaven, and a new earth.”
My brothers, sisters, and siblings, we have a lot to do this year, so we better get to work. Amen.4

1 Peter Baker, The New York Times, January 25, 2024.
2 Doyle, C. Andrew. Citizen (p. 107). Church Publishing Incorporated. Kindle Edition.
3 Arthur Brooks, “America’s Crisis of Contempt”, The Washington Post, February 7th, 2020.
4 “The World Council of Churches”, from Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus by Michael Curry, Katharine Jefferts Schori


The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith