The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
O Lord, uphold Thou me that I may uplift Thee. Amen.
Good morning! What a joy it is for me to be here with you this morning, my first Sunday, in this storied cathedral. My thanks to everyone who has reached out to welcome us. Thank you for the nice notes, emails and phone calls. My family and I are so glad to be with you. My wife, Melissa, and my daughter, Eliza, are here this morning. Eliza leaves next week to begin her Freshman year at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. Keep her in your prayers. My son Marshall could not be with us today; he is a rising senior at Washington & Lee University and in the middle of two-a-day football practices. God bless him in all this heat. Now, some of you might be wondering if I am nervous standing up here in this famous and imposing Canterbury Pulpit, looking out over this grand nave. Well, I have to admit part of me was hoping that if my first Sunday was in the middle of August and people were on vacation, I might be able to have a soft opening. No such luck! Am I nervous? Yes, I am nervous, but if you think I’m nervous, just imagine what the Search Committee is feeling right about now!
In all honesty, what I am feeling most this morning is grateful. I am grateful to Bishop Mariann, the Chapter, and the Search Committee for the honor of serving amongst you. I feel humbled by the task and blessed by the opportunity.
As we begin this journey together this morning, let’s take a look at the words of Isaiah. Isaiah writes, “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. . . Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” I believe these words touch the heart of the Gospel, they point to the essence of what it means to be a faithful Christian. Let me share a story with you that I hope illustrates this truth. In 1987, during my first year at Yale Divinity School, I interned for an unusual woman named Betsy who spent her life doing street ministry. Betsy was an upper middle class white lady in her late sixties. She was happily married, lived in a good neighborhood, and had a bunch of grandchildren. At a time when many people in her situation were playing more golf, growing a garden, or traveling on weekends, Betsy was busy repairing the breach, determined to help the homeless on the streets of New Haven. She spent her days in the alleys and abandoned buildings of the city reaching out to the addicted, the destitute, and the often mentally ill homeless men and women of the city. She was passionate about their welfare. She spent all her money on them and gave them all her time. She was determined to get as many people as possible off the street and into a better life.
I ended up as her intern because her husband and her children were worried about her. They did not want her doing this work. They worried for her safety and as a result they demanded that she not undertake her ministry alone. When she worked on the streets, she had to have someone with her. So, she applied to the Divinity School for an intern assistant and she wound up with me. For a year, I followed behind her in awe, marveling at her faith and her determination, marveling at her willingness to love and to risk for the sake of the Gospel. Her family thought she was unnecessarily placing her life in danger. I learned that she was one of those beloved souls St. Paul would proudly call a fool for Christ. I am not sure I was much help during that year, but being a part of her ministry changed my life.
“You shall be called repairers of the breach, the restorer of the streets to live in.” If you pressed me for four words that describe what it means to be part of the Jesus movement, four words that describe what it means to build the Kingdom of God, four words that exemplify the Christian life, it would be – repairers of the breach. This is what Isaiah makes clear this morning as he speaks to the people of Israel who have just returned from exile. If you want to know what God wants from you, he tells them, then quit your bickering, your finger pointing, your slandering of others and offer your food to the hungry, satisfy the needs of the afflicted – work to repair that which is broken in your own lives and in the lives of those around you. I believe that this is our calling, and it is the reason I am so excited to share in ministry with you, because this cathedral has been a repairer of the breach for many, many years.
Some of you know this, but as a child growing up in Alexandria, I used to come to the Cathedral to watch the stone carvers work and to attend services. I had three great aunts who lived on 29th Street in Georgetown. Those ladies along with my mother, grandmother, and godparents, were passionate about this cathedral and its mission to be a house of prayer for all people. For decades they were proud to contribute to the work of the NCA and to play some small role in the cathedral’s creation. As a result, this place has always been a beacon for me – a cathedral that not only points to the glory of God in its grandeur and beauty, but a community of people dedicated to sharing the love of God within this city and across our nation. Leaders like Bishop Walker inspired me during some very formative years in my life. You have a powerful legacy as repairers of the breach and I am proud to be a part of this community and its mission.
Yes, this cathedral, like any cathedral, indeed like any Christian community in this day and age of rapid cultural change, has its fair share of challenges – financial and otherwise. But we should never forget that we are also immeasurably blessed. We are blessed with talented and gifted people who are willing to share their gifts and talents here. We are blessed with vibrant ministries and an important mission. We are blessed to worship in this space of unparalleled beauty that touches so many who enter these doors. Yes, we have much work to do, but we should never forget that our God has given us so many good gifts with which to do that work.
Now, in closing, our Gospel for this morning reminds us to keep central that which is central, to stay focused on the core of our faith. In our passage from Luke, Jesus is attacked for healing a woman on the Sabbath, a woman crippled for 18 years. Life has literally bent her over and she is unable to stand upright. Jesus in his compassion lays hands on her and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” However, the leader of the synagogue sees Jesus’ act of healing as work and work was forbidden on the Sabbath. In his zeal for the law, this leader allows legalism to trump grace, tradition to trump love, doctrine to trump compassion. He misses the entire point of God’s law and Jesus calls him on it.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus calls to us today and reminds us to never lose sight of what is central to our faith. He reminds us to never let anything distract us from the healing and reconciling work of God’s Kingdom. He reminds us to be careful not to let the trappings of our faith divert us from the heart of our faith. As the body of Christ, as the hands and feet of Christ in the world, we are to be repairers of the breach in everything we do. We are to be healers, reconcilers, peacemakers, seekers of justice, and builders of bridges between people, races, and religions. The Washington National Cathedral is perfectly positioned for this kind of work. It is work that has been a powerful part of our history and God willing it will be a powerful part of our future. Thank you for the opportunity to serve amongst you, to share in this ministry with you. I am honored to be here and excited for the future. Amen.