The Episcopal Church at Yale

Inspiring Worship, A Transforming Community, A Passion for Justice

Category: Sermons (page 1 of 4)

“A Tiny Seed” | Sermon by the Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D. | December 20, 2015

Micah 5: 2 – 5a | Psalm 80: 1 – 7 | Hebrews 10: 5 – 10 | Luke 1:39 – 55

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

One thing I really love about this extended fall we’re having is that I can spend more time in the garden. Several years ago, Cherise and I moved into a house in Bridgeport with amazing perennial gardens. The problem was that, as a kid who grew up in Manhattan, I had absolutely zero experience – I couldn’t tell the difference between a weed and a flower. So I either had to hire a gardener I couldn’t afford… or learn how to do it myself.

As grace would have it, a parishioner in her 80’s volunteered to teach me. And the first lesson had to do with the fact that there is no consistent relationship between the size of a seed, and the plant it eventually produces. In fact, some of the tiniest seeds can produce the most extravagant vegetation. Remember Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed?

It’s a seed like this that makes its appearance at the end of today’s gospel, arguably the most beautiful canticle in the entire Bible, The Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord;” Mary says, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior… Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed…

And we have. Generations of the world’s greatest artists and musicians have tried to capture Mary’s powerful and prophetic words in gorgeous paintings and exquisite musical compositions, but in the end, the words themselves carry the starkest beauty. And the fact that these words are spoken by one of the few women prophets who survived generations of mostly male scriptural editing, makes them even more extraordinary.

Because the words carry such power, such confidence, it’s easy to forget Mary’s actual circumstance – a very ordinary young teen, betrothed to an older man, who experiences some kind of other worldly encounter with a frightening creature full of light, who gives her what only an extraterrestrial could call good news: “You’re going to get pregnant by some spirit, and have a baby you’ll call Jeshua – he who saves. But don’t worry, I’ll send another extraterrestrial to your fiancée in his sleep to break the news. What do you think? Are you game?”

Well, I’d like you to remember back to your early teen years, and imagine yourself in whichever role would fit best – Mary or her fiancée. Really, how do you think you might respond?

Mary must have felt the same range of emotions we would – including panic. But rather than take one look at this awesome creature and bolt, she apparently focuses not outside, but inside. She accesses some inner wisdom, some strength that allows her to say the words that always send a chill down my spine –
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Because we know the rest of the story, we know what that “Yes” will cost Mary.

The power and inspiration that Mary accesses is the tiny seed of faith, a modest share of divinity planted deep within each of us. That’s part of what it means to be made in the “image of God,” the ability to overcome our egos and the rest of our human limitations, and actually try to make decisions as if we had something in common with God.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t scary for Mary to say “Yes” to God, just like it’s scary for us. French abbot and poet Michel Quiost puts it beautifully,

“I am afraid of saying ‘Yes,’ Lord.
Where will you take me?
I am afraid of drawing the longer straw,
I am afraid of signing my name to an unread agreement,
I am afraid of the ‘yes’ that entails other ‘yeses.’

Mostly we’re unaware of this tiny seed, but it’s there. And because it’s there, it allows us to consider saying “Yes” to the most outrageous invitations God offers.

When have you found yourself, against all odds, able to say “Yes?” Maybe it was the decision to believe in yourself enough to apply to Yale. Or maybe, after a really tough first year, it was the decision to stay. For some of you, it meant coming out to those closest to you, about who you really are. For others, it was standing up for someone or some cause that was really unpopular with your peers. For many of us, it’s when we choose to enter into the chaotic life of someone we care about, no matter how disruptive to our own lives. simply because they needed us.

In those tough moments, how did you find the courage to rise above your fear and do the right thing? Well, maybe the answer lies in the fact that God, knowing we are human, doesn’t stop by simply planting the seed of divinity within us. God also provides the continuous loving encouragement of the Holy Spirit to water and nurture that seed so that it grows and spreads, so that it will be as strong and courageous as we need it to be when the going gets tough.

And the Holy Spirit has lots to work with. For example, she offers you any number of wonderful individuals to be friends with, people who will respect you, support you, and encourage you to make healthy choices. She deepens your faith by giving you the wisdom to choose from among the incredible multiplicity of activities Yale offers, and to pick the ones that will strengthen you emotionally and spiritually. She does it by planting within you a yearning, a kind of unsettledness that neither human relationships nor all kinds of busyness can ever fill. “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord…” St. Augustine famously said, “…and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

And finally, she does it by inviting you into a community like ECY, fragile, flawed, funny, and foolish, a motley group of souls who commit to loving each other as God loves us, to picking each other up when we stumble, and to helping water that tiny seed of our faith during the times when we feel bone dry.

Face it, we’re all worriers. We especially worry whether we will have enough faith, enough courage to do the right thing when the going gets really tough. But don’t worry, here’s the real miracle of God’s gift of that tiny seed. All we need to do is to develop the habit of looking around every day, seeing all the resources God provides us, take a deep breath, and say “Yes,” to all the little choices we are faced with. That way, when the really tough ones come along, we may just find that they’re a piece of cake.

“John’s Good News?” | Sermon by Erin Flinn, YDS ’17 | December 13, 2015

“…and with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people.”

Erin Flinn, YDS '17

Episcopal Church at Yale Seminarian Erin Flinn, YDS class of 2017

The Gospel this week requires a bit of wrestling with scripture. How are we to approach John’s strong text that begins with the words, “You brood of vipers!” and ends with Christ carrying a winnowing fork? Sure, I could stand here like a street corner evangelist, shaking the bible and telling you that God’s wrath is coming—so prepare, stay awake, be vigilant. Do good, or else. But for those who know me, you know that is the very last thing I would ever do. So, in truth, this passage in the Gospel left me wondering, in all his zealousness for justice, did John the Baptist miss the mark?

Sure, John seemed right on track when he told the crowd that he was not the Messiah and that one who is more powerful than him was coming, but then he keeps going, and he paints an image that is nothing short of a nightmare. He tells his audience that Jesus will one day come with a winnowing fork to sift through humanity, separating the wheat from the chaff. The good from the bad, and the chaff will then be burned with unquenchable fire. Not to mention he says that an ax is waiting at the foot of the tree to cut down any branches that do not bear good fruits. This is John’s good news? Really? What do we do with this text? Do we simply write it off as metaphor? Well, yes and no.

This story is full of metaphor that speaks of the day of judgement, but I am not here to tell you what that day will look like, mostly because I do not know, and that is not my message today anyway. Furthermore, even if we accept John’s words as a metaphor, that does not dismiss the fact that his words are harsh and violent. After three weeks of opening to this text, and hoping that John’s message would have miraculously changed, the conclusion I have come to is this:

John, being mere mortal like us, could not imagine that judgement could come any other way than through a violent separating of good and bad, just and unjust. He could not image salvation without damnation, or peace without violence. For you see, we humans have a tendency to be violent creatures.

Think about it. Even when we are doing good we say that ‘we are fighting for what is right.’ Or, ‘we are fighting for peace.’ Or, ‘we are fighting for justice.’ We wage wars to bring peace to our nations and the world. But, peace in our time, and in our way, means that there is a winner who lives happily ever after, and a loser who is punished if not eliminated entirely. We are so quick to raise up arms against our enemies and in the moments of uncertain fear, but at what cost? To what ends? More destruction? More pain? We know full well that violence begets violence, maybe not right away, but if you look at history there is a pattern.

We as humans are so used to violence and it is so much a part of existence that even when Jesus came 2000 years ago people did not think he was the Messiah. They expected a great king to come and turn over thrones, and cast out rulers. They expected a great general to lead them into battle. This was not the Messiah that they got. Instead the one who came was the Prince of Peace. I do not mean this to say that Jesus was weak or always pleasant. He was neither, but his message was one of love, hope, and charity.

If we only anticipate one who will come to judge, than we risk the potential of seeing punishment as God’s ultimate goal. This sort of anticipation provides us with justification to enact God’s judgement by taking matters into our own hands. It gives us the power to go after those who are not living up to our expectations of what it means to be Christian. Even worse, it give us the power to choose who is good and who is bad, right and wrong. This mentality justifies violence because we imagine that if the violence leads to peace it is somehow permissible. A few weeks ago a man walked into Planned Parenthood, opened fire, and killed three people. This man was clearly deranged, but his motivations were not isolated. They came from people who openly proclaim that the murder of these doctors was justified because of the procedures they perform. They believe that humans are allowed to enact the judgement that belongs to God alone.

Furthermore, if we believe that we have the power to identify who will be saved and who will be damned, we are at risk of ourselves on a pedestal as somehow better than our neighbor, and not equal to our neighbor. In this country there are people who are crying out for religious freedoms while at the same time demanding that our Muslim brothers and sisters carry an ID and wear identification, or not be permitted into this country at all. We have been there before folks. It did not end well.

It is not our job to separate the wheat from the chaff because we as humans will never know who is truly good and who is truly bad in the eyes of God. But I will tell you this, gender, race, sexuality, or religious affiliation can never be the dividing line. There is no religion in this world that truly promotes violence at its core. Violence is a human invention; it was never God’s desire for us.

God gave us two commandments. We are to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s it. Love God. Love our neighbors. Nowhere in there does it say that we should judge our neighbor. It does not say that we should grab our weapons and enact God’s judgement. There will be time for judgement and it will come through God’s hands alone, not ours.

John the Baptist could not imagine that peace would come through any other means than through violence. He believed that Christ would be the judge who punished those who did not live up to the laws. But this message was not what the one who came after him actually proclaimed. In the Gospel of John 12:47, Christ tells his people, “I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” Rather than living out our faith through violent judgement and hate speech. I ask you to choose love and mercy. Make this your New Year’s resolution on January 1st.

Last Tuesday, December 8th, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church ushered in an Extraordinary Jubilee Year. It is extraordinary because this jubilee year is being brought about because of a necessity and not because of an anniversary. For this Jubilee year, the Pope has challenged Catholics to find new ways of building community. He wants them to be open, and to accept the change and vulnerability that comes with living a life guided by mercy. Most of all, he has invited his church to truly see the face of God and mercy in the people who stand in front of them. This is an idea of radical love. We may not be Catholic, that is true, but I would challenge each and every one of you to live out this jubilee year. Choose mercy over fear, love over violence, and be open to the change that will come in your life when you partake in the radical love of Christ.

This Advent season, when we look to the already not yet, I ask you to imagine a love beyond all measure. We already live in a world that is hurting. We already experience daily violence on the news and in our own lives. Violence is not God’s message; it is not what we wait for with great anticipation. So, rather than quake in fear at the words of John the Baptist, I invite you to sit and rest in the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always… Let your gentleness be known to everyone… and let the PEACE, which surpasses ALL understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
This is the good news my friends. Christ will come again not in judgement, but to usher in a new peace which surpasses the imagination of John the Baptist. And we will rejoice! For when God comes again, he will restore his creation to good.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” Amen.

“Birth Pangs” | Sermon by the Rev. Paul J. Carling, PhD | November 15, 2015

Mark 13: 1 – 8

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

If you’re looking for the most powerful metaphor about life, death and salvation, you might try childbirth. Unless of course you’re a man. In the Ancient Near East and today, real men don’t dare talk about “women’s problems.” They’re too messy.

Except… How on earth do we have new life without birth pangs? It’s the 21st-century and life feels pretty messy. Maybe that’s because we find ourselves in the deepest throes of a new kind of childbirth today, the birthing of a new way of living with each other, which bridges the great divides of wealth, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and culture, of dying to a world in which certain flavors of people get to judge others as less valuable or necessary for our common salvation. It’s messy and it’s exhausting.

Sounds like Jesus’ world, huh? But our hope is that, over the millennia, we’ve grown a new consciousness, so that you, along with your older allies, and with your faith, may just be ready to change the world. But, my oh my, isn’t it a bumpy road?

I remember a vacation with my college age son in Florida, driving through the beautiful islands of Sanibel and Captiva. As I looked out over the seascape, I spied the most magnificent sunset. I turned to Oliver and said, “Isn’t that extraordinarily beautiful?”

But in the moment it took me to view that scene, turn my head, and report it to him, we were already passing a new scene – a beach completely devastated by the most recent tropical storm. Without missing a beat, Oliver looked and replied, “Yeah Dad, it is beautiful… in an apocalyptic sort of way!”

I think that’s exactly the kind of birth pangs Jesus is talking about. In a kind of whiplash, one moment we witness the sea change of marriage equality becoming the law of the land, and in the next, the pain and anger of so many of our sisters and brothers of color, or our LGBTQ friends at Yale, or women experiencing sexual harassment, testifying to their continuing experience of exclusion and disrespect.

The foundational assumptions we hold dear begin crumbling, just like the beloved Temple of Jesus’ contemporaries. What we thought were the ultimate tools of polite discourse – civility, carefully crafted arguments and counter arguments – fall apart in a deep rift of mutual misunderstanding. It’s like trying to manage a transaction with totally unfamiliar currency, and the result is defensiveness and anger. What seemed placid relationships, well – ordered by a mutual acceptance of relative authority, break down, revealing the underbelly of all the suffering this civility has covered up.

Birth pangs are the messiest and most disorienting moments of creation, even as they’re often the only path to the in – breaking of God’s dream of shalom. Moments before Jesus predicts the Temple’s destruction, he overturns the moneychangers’ tables, showing how corrupt institutional religion had become. People want to kill him, not for upsetting tables, but the whole natural order. Remember that when we blithely say, “What would Jesus do?”

Watch for the birth pangs all around us. Like the long string of posters on the High Street gate last week, reading – “Sisters of Color. We’re Here, We’re Loved, We’re Home.” If anything echoes Jesus’ Good News, it’s that – We’re here. We’re loved. We’re home – whether or not particular leaders or peers accept it.

The old Yale of expressing ourselves cerebrally, with nothing relevant below our necks, is fading. The timeless assumption that we’re all white, English – speaking, heterosexual, Christian “Yale Men” barely represented reality 50 years ago, and it completely misses the miracle of who we’ve become in 2015.

Over those decades, our community has given birth to a wonderfully life – giving expression of the Body of Christ. Step by difficult step, we’ve become a university of every nation, tribe and people, blessed with a wealth of gifts that are meant not to be tolerated, but to be celebrated as vital and necessary sources of learning and transformation for all of us.

  • Watch for the birth pangs, and watch also for the signs of hope.
  • Hope, as the faculty of disparate disciplines weave conversations about the tumult on campus into their classes.
  • Hope, in the massive outpouring of solidarity from students, faculty, chaplains, and staff.
  • Hope, in ECY, as members who may have started on the sidelines, end up marching, talking deep into the night, changing and being changed.
  • The hope Jesus provides in the incarnation, that once birth pangs begin, the proverbial cat has been let out of the bag, and there is no turning back.

Watch for the birth pangs. Watch for the signs of hope. And nourish your faith. Our faith gives us extraordinary gifts to navigate these turbulent times.

  • The gift of knowing that every one of us – those we like, and those we don’t like – are all equally beloved by God.
  • The gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us, between us, among us –– that’s where we find the courage to speak our truth with love and respect, to listen to others’ truths, knowing God is doing God’s job, working to transform each of our hearts.
  • And finally, the gift of this amazing oasis that is ECY – a place, wherever you are on your journey, where you can listen, be heard, and be loved.

So, my sisters and brother, before you re – enter the fray, come apart and rest awhile, be fed by the word, be fed at the table, be fed by your community. And be fed by the words of the great Sufi poet, Rumi:

“The clearest sign of grace,” Rumi writes, “is that dung becomes flowers. The ground’s generosity takes in our compost and returns beauty. The world is saturated, wet with love. Be ground. Be crumbled. So that you will grow wildflowers where you are. You have been too strong for too long. Try something different. …Surrender.”

“Behold I Make All Things New” | Sermon by Kathryn Greene-McCreight | November 1, 2015

Revelation 21:1-6a

The Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Ph.D., Associate Chaplain

The Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Ph.D., Associate Chaplain

I speak to you today in the name of the One who is, who was, and who is to come.

Today is the Feast of All Saints. I suppose I could just tell you that you and I all are saints along with all the saints venerated by the Church, which of course is true, and then I could just sit down. But I am not going to do that. Because our Scripture texts for the day are just too beautiful, too rich, for us to ignore.

The text that most grabs me is our second reading, from the Revelation to John. We often think of the Revelation as foreign, wild, impenetrable, even horrifying. Some of us may have heard it interpreted so as to scare the pants off of us. Read that way, it is not very welcoming, and avoiding it would be the better part of valor. But I myself like the hard parts of the Bible. They are the juicy bits, because they pose a challenge for interpretation.

But today’s lesson from the Revelation is not horrifying, not off-putting, not scary. It is comforting. It is the Balm that indeed there is in Gliead. It is about saints long ago and far away, and saints here and now, up close and personal. About all those throughout time and space, including of course you and me, and all who confess the Name of Jesus.

So here are some of the themes in the text I want us to think about this evening. You might want to look at the passage as it is printed in your bulletin. Here we find three promises: the promise of a new creation that brackets the whole passage [v 1: “a new heaven and a new earth”; again in v 5: “See, I am making all things new.”]; the promise of God’s presence [the first half of the voice from the throne, v 3: “God will dwell with them…”); and the promise of suffering overcome [the second half of the voice from the throne v 4: God will “wipe every tear away…and death will be no more…”].

The first promise: God is doing a new thing. Sounds great. We like new and improved things. The ancient world did not. A long-standing pedigree was important. So notice: the new thing God does here does not contradict the former thing God did in the past. It is the city of Jerusalem, not some other city in the Ancient Near East. It could have been, I suppose, but God recreates the people He already has chosen. And along the same line, the New Testament does not outrank, stifle, or abrogate the Old Testament. After all, the message that God is doing a new thing runs throughout the Scriptures of the people of Israel. Even if we look only to the prophets: Is 42:9; 43:19; 48:6; 65:17; 66:22; Jer 31:31; Ezek 11:19; 36:26, etc.

The second promise is that God is with us. Sometimes our world, indeed our hearts, can in fact be frightened and frightening, full of pain, afflicted by suffering. To the casual reader of any world newspaper, violence appears to reign. It seems that at every turn we hear of another mass shooting, or African Americans being beaten and killed by those who are meant to protect us all. I could go on, as you know, but I won’t. You know the tragedies as well as I. Sometimes it seems that God is NOT with us. Nevertheless that is the promise of God through Scripture: God is with us.

At ECY we are trying to grapple with the issue of our culture’s thirst for violence. We have begun to organize a project that I hope all of you will participate in. We will be trying to have a conversation about our nation’s bent towards violence. Think about it: we spend huge amounts of money and time indulging in it. We watch it on TV; we play it out in electronic games; we perpetrate it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways in our relationships. And as we struggle with the matter of violence in our own country, we find that it is tied to the very grave injustices of poverty and racism. This we cannot turn away from. As Christians we are called to expose to light the evil that lies hidden in the shadows.

The third promise here is that even our pain, our tears, our sorrows will be wiped away. It is not for nothing that today’s reading from the Revelation to John is one of the Scripture texts in the Burial Service in our Book of Common Prayer. Mourners at the funeral of a loved one hear this:

“[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away…Behold, I am making all things new”.

Part of God’s recreating is overcoming all violence, all sorrow, even the places in us that we would prefer to hide from everyone, even ourselves. God is recreating not just the heavens and the earth, but also the saints, and we know that means all of us too. We are being changed from glory into glory (a phrase from 2 Cor 3:18). Being changed from glory into glory is the only way we can shed God’s light into the “Dark Side”.

We are indeed changed from glory into glory. But the new things God does are never detachable from the former things God did. And that is true of us, also. In our transformed identity we will still be recognizable as us in God’s future. God doesn’t want to turn us into somebody else, into someone we are not. God just wants to transform us. We are most truly ourselves when we are most truly God’s. When our life is hidden with Christ in God.

And that recreation begins to happen here at the altar. We eat of the Body of Christ and so are nourished in His love. We drink the Blood of the Lamb and so are empowered in His life. We are able to confront the devils of our world, like violence and oppression, in the might of Jesus’ cross and in the promise of the empty tomb. We can, as saints, shed the rays of light that come forth from that empty tomb. We can speak a word of hope into a world torn by violence. “Behold, I make all things new.”

In the Name of the one God who promises that healing presence always, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Sermon by Pauline Samuel, YDS | November 8, 2015

Pauline Samuel YDS '17

Episcopal Church at Yale Seminarian Pauline Samuel, YDS Class of 2017

The gospel reading for today highlights the story of the widow’s offering. Many of us may be familiar with this story and the messages of stewardship, charitable giving as well as sacrifice to God that can and have been interpreted from it. And while these are great interpretations, today I challenge us to go deeper. Jesus was in the Temple teaching earlier on in this 12th chapter of Mark. When he was finished teaching, he sat down across from the treasury and he watched the crowd as they put money into the treasury. Then Jesus called his disciples and drew their attention to a woman who Mark describes as a poor widow. He called attention to this widow and said to the disciples that she gave more than just two copper coins, she gave all that she had to live on.

What’s even more significant than the poor widow’s sacrifice is what Jesus does. He sits down and he watches. He watches the crowd. He watches the crowd of people as they move about depositing their money into the treasury. Jesus is watching, he’s being observant. He sees something. He notices what the others around him are oblivious to. He sees the shenanigans and opulence of the wealthy, their posturing and pretentiousness, making a show of dropping their large sums of money into the treasury. He sees their arrogance, exclusion and insensitivity to the poor. Conversely, he sees this woman, an impoverished widow, a woman living on the margins of society solely dependent on the grace God to take care of her. Could she be a victim of the injustice Jesus had just described when he denounced those scribes that devour widow’s houses, forced out of her home with nowhere to go? She makes her way forward and Jesus watches as she quietly drops her two coins into the treasury. Jesus doesn’t just see the obvious; he sees things from a different perspective, at a deeper level. Jesus sees people beyond the labels of rich or poor, of race, gender, sexuality, and other manmade limitations. Jesus also sees the inequalities, the injustices, the hypocrisy and the hurtful actions that cause pain and division. Then Jesus calls attention to all that he is witnessing. He calls his disciples to open their eyes and see it all for themselves.

My friends, Jesus is calling us to see what is going on around us, to pay attention to all that is happening in our communities. To be aware of our actions or inactions and how they affect others. Jesus is calling us to see and love our neighbors. Our neighbors are more than just the persons who live next door to us. They are more than our families and friends. Our neighbors are our classmates, professors, co-workers, the persons sitting in the pew next to us on Sundays; and even the displaced and the destitute. Our neighbors are racially, culturally, economically and socially diverse. When we love our neighbors we are in fact loving the beauty, the richness and the diversity that God created. When we love our neighbors we love and value all that they are and we are able to see the image of the divine, the image of the one who created us.

Like the disciples, Jesus is calling us to look deeper, look beyond the surface, beyond the obvious, beyond the material and see the inequalities, see beyond our own prejudices and instead see the best in humanity. Jesus is calling us to a heightened sense of awareness. Jesus is calling us to be aware that our words and actions have the power to hurt, divide and destroy. But our words and actions also have the power to give life, to heal and to restore.

When Jesus pointed out the widow to his disciples, he told them that she had put in more than all those who were contributing to the treasury. But Jesus was not focusing on the monetary amount of her contribution. The widow emptied her livelihood but more than that she emptied herself. When you empty something in essence you are making space. When we empty ourselves of the non-essential things in life we make space for God to move in our lives. We also make space to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. When we empty ourselves we make space to widen our circles of fellowship welcoming and loving the other. As we read in First Corinthians 13:4-7, it says that Love is patient and kind, love endures all things and hopes all things. But we must remember that love is not self-centered, rude or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrong doing but it does rejoice in the truth.

And the truth my friends is that Jesus is asking is us to empty ourselves, just like the widow at the treasury. We are called to empty ourselves to make space for love and to love. A few weeks our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke up the hill at YDS during Convocation. He said, “The way of Jesus is the way of the cross and the way of the cross is love, and the way of love is the way of life.” Love has the power to stamp out all evil, division, malice, prejudice and hate. Let us empty ourselves so that we may be full of love, able to love God with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds and with all our strength. And let us love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. Amen.

“Identity Crisis” | Sermon by the Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D. | October 11, 2015

Hebrews 1: 1-4; 2: 5-12 | Psalm 8: 1-2, 5-8, 10 | Mark 10: 2-6

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

Ever since I was a child, I’ve struggled with the question, “Who am I?” Partly it’s rooted in my experience in Catholic school, when three of us Carling boys wound up in the same fourth grade class – me, my twin Frank, and my older brother Richard. You see Richard was a truant, and was held back from the fifth grade. He’d attend school very occasionally, but more often than not, he’d “play hooky,” standing outside our first floor classroom window, making rude gestures toward the teacher, then running away. The class would collapse into hysterics, and either my twin or I would end up in the principal’s office – Sister Bernadette, who steadfastly refused to learn any of our names. Try as I might to say “I’m not Richard,” she’d simply mete out punishments to whoever was available. When we’re kids, people knowing our name is important.

But as we grow up, this question of “Who am I?” becomes much more complicated, doesn’t it? We’ve become so many different people – a child of certain parents, a sibling, a soccer player, a tenor, a physics major. Eventually, our various identities span our family histories, our ethnicity, our faith tradition, our sexual orientations, our passions and aspirations, and so much more.

In all this confusion, it’s hard to remember, when we strip away all of our roles, our activities, our achievements, what’s left? At our core, who are we really?

Which is actually what’s behind the rich young man’s question to Jesus in today’s gospel, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” You see, Jesus has been preaching that eternal life is not just a distant dream we hope to attain, but rather a matter of whether we’re truly alive in the here and now; whether the choices we make every day, create either a kind of heaven or hell for ourselves, for others, and for our world. Jesus has been teaching that our deepest attachments are actually our idols, and that they’re the true test of whether we’re spiritually alive or dead, the true test of who we really are. Jesus’ answer was simply too hard a choice for the rich young man, and he knew it, which is why he went away grieving.

The great Christian thinker Henri Nouwen once said, actually while teaching at Yale, that if you asked someone today this question, “Who are you?” you’d inevitably hear a three – part answer: “I am what I do.” “I am what others say about me.” “I am what I have.”

Apparently, 2000 years after Satan drove Jesus into the wilderness to present him with the three greatest temptations known to humanity, very little has changed. “Turn these stones into bread” the devil says, “and prove you’re a miracle worker. After all, you are what you do. Climb to the pinnacle of the Temple, throw yourself down, then land unharmed, and everyone will say you’re the Messiah, because you are what people think of you. Ascend the highest mountain, look all around, and I’ll give you everything you can see. You are what you have.”

Jesus replies that these are all bald – faced lies, derived from the common human hunger to be valued in the eyes of others, to be loved. He knows there’s a better way to nurture that hunger. You see, Jesus has just come from his own baptism by John, and he’s heard from his own Father who he is – “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”

If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, in word or in deed, make sure you’re basing it on what you know first – hand, not just on what some smart person has told you. Jesus only proclaims what he himself has experienced – that God sees us, God knows us, and God loves us – just as we are – you, me, and everyone in this church, at Yale, in New Haven and beyond. Because we are all God’s beloved, Jesus calls us his sisters and brothers, which means we are siblings of every human being in this hurting and violent world.

It’s like Jesus is saying to the rich young man, “You can choose whether to live into the amazing love affair I’m offering you – with yourself, with others, with my precious creation, and with me, your God – or you can choose other gods to love – what you do, what people say about you, what you have.”

I especially love the fact that Jesus, looking at the rich young man, loved him. He didn’t judge him, and he doesn’t judge us. Jesus lived and preached among an amazing diversity of people, and the last thing he expects is that we will all make the same choices about our lives. He’s not saying that what we do, or what people say about us, or what we have aren’t important, he’s asking how attached we are to any of them. How distracted we are by them from the work of God’s kingdom?

Jesus knows the cost if we’re not careful. We become workaholics, and stop caring for our families, friends and communities. We become so imprisoned by the expectations of others, we commit our lives to vocations that have nothing to do with making this world a better place, with developing all our gifts and talents in a way that brings us true joy. We become so attached to what we have, we protect it at any cost, whether that’s war, or a country that’s become awash in guns.

It’s not enough, Jesus tells this young man, to avoid the big sins, to do what’s expected. No, we’re called to a radical re-ordering of our lives to make them consistent with God’s purposes in the world, to assure that our life, well – lived, actually makes a difference.

So the next time someone asks you, “Who are you?” remember the choice that God gives us. Are you what you do, what people think of you, what you have? Or are you the best and brightest gift that God could ever imagine, a companion of Jesus in the creation of a new world? Which will it be? Careful… how you answer is guaranteed to change your life.

St. Francis Day | Sermon by Angela Shelly Wiggins | October 4, 2015

Matthew 11:25-30

When we commemorate St. Francis’ Day, we often think about creation, animals wild and domestic, and about the beauty of nature. One of my favorite natural places in north Florida was Wakulla Springs, a 6000-acre wildlife refuge surrounding an underground system of caves and springs pumping millions of gallons of cold water every day. It’s a beautiful place, so lush and wild that several Tarzan movies were filmed there. The wildlife is abundant – Great Blue Herons, Anhinga, Egrets, all sorts of ducks, plus deer on the shore. And of course, many large alligators. Ubiquitous alligators, says the website.

I never realized just how ubiquitous until we went canoeing in the river fed by the springs. We were hoping to see manatees swimming alongside us, a peaceful day enjoying nature on the river.

Thirty seconds after we launched the canoe, however, I realized this might not be a peaceful encounter with nature. There was a sign warning motorboats, “NO WAKE – Canoes and Alligators in the area” – complete with stick figure drawings of a canoe-er being ejected into the waiting jaws of an alligator. We could be an alligator’s next meal.

So my beloved thought he should test the canoe, to see how steady it was, and how it would react if we did encounter a wake. So he began gently rocking the canoe.

That’s when I discovered I was much more terrified of alligators than I had ever imagined. I don’t have words to describe the depth of my terror – well, not words we use in church. Just imagine the music from the Psycho shower scene.

The spouse asked if I wanted to go back, but I didn’t want to give up.

It’s hard to paddle straight when you’re inexperienced, especially when you’re screaming. So we kept drifting off-course, toward the grass where the alligators lurked. And I would scream again.

But they didn’t budge. No matter how loudly you scream and no matter what you yell, you cannot scare away alligators. They have nothing to fear, and nothing to do but wait for food to swim past. We must have seen 50 that day; some close enough to touch with our paddles.

This was NOT what I had imagined. It was not peaceful or beautiful or fun. It was just misery. But I wouldn’t quit – I wanted to see the manatees. I didn’t want to be defeated by the river or the alligators, but mostly I didn’t want my fear to win. We were going to finish.

That day I needed Kenny Rogers singing in my ear, “You gotta know when to walk away; know when to run.”

Or maybe I needed to remember these words of Jesus, “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Jesus invites us to live in a relationship of grace, not of striving. But it’s not easy to break the habit of constant striving.

I suspect I’m not the only one here who’s been canoeing with alligators. This room is filled with achievers, people who work hard and strive for excellence. But that inner drive can become a tyrant and lead us to focus so much on competing, on winning, that we miss out on the joy and wonder of the adventure we’ve undertaken. Then suddenly we realize the river’s full of alligators. And we need to hear Jesus’ invitation.

The Message paraphrases it, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out?….Walk with me and work with me; watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I’m not advocating that you not study for midterms. Instead I’m thinking of how healthy impulses can become distorted, drowning out the impulse to embrace life. The habit of striving and never giving out can block even the invitation of Jesus, “Come to me…I will give you rest…Take my yoke…Learn from me…Find rest for your souls.”

This call from Jesus is not the loudest message out there; we have to practice hearing it. Just as musicians train their ears, and artists train their eyes, we need to train our hearts to listen for the voice of God calling us to a life of grace, love, and deep joy.

You see, there’s another way of being in the water. Just a few mile away was the Ichitucknee River, also spring-fed with beautiful waterfowl, but no alligators. The water is always 70 degrees, and giant oak trees shade the river. Instead of paddling upstream, you float downstream in an inner tube. The river does all the work.

The Ichitucknee flows so gently that you can leave your inner tube with a friend and swim for a few minutes, down into the cold water to explore the sandy white riverbed. It is beautiful, relaxing, and peaceful. A true respite.

That’s the respite Jesus invites us to find in him. As the Body of Christ in this place, we’re part of that respite. In offering ourselves and in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we’re transformed into the Body of Christ for the world and for each other.

As the Body of Christ, we offer each other respite, a place of deep welcome and belonging, a rest from striving and competition, from always trying to be our best selves. Offering instead our authentic selves – our joys, fears, hopes, and even our defeats. And in that sharing, there is grace. We experience grace like cool, gently flowing water on a hot day. In the embrace of Christ and community, we’re made free.

Amen.

“Beyond Nice” | Sermon by the Rev. Paul Carling, September 27, 2015

James 5:13-20  |  Mark 9:38-50

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D., ECY Chaplain

A dear monk friend of mine from the Midwest, once told me the defining characteristic of Christians in the heartland. “Be nice to others,” he said, “and they will be nice to you.” If that’s all there is to being a Christian, talk about “salt losing its saltiness!”

This week belongs to Pope Francis. More than any predecessor, you simply never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. And you never know what kind of t-shirt he’ll be wearing when he says it – a “Stop Global Warning,” or a “I’m one of the 99%.” Here are a few of his gems:

  • It’s not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. Traditional religion is outdated – you CAN be spiritual and not religious.
  • I believe in God, not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God.
  • All religions are true. Proselytism is solemn nonsense.
  • The internet is truly a… gift from God.
  • One day we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is for all creatures.
  • Evolution and big bang theory are right – God’s not a magician with a magic wand.

Since his election, Francis has an opinion on everything, and they’re mostly surprises. We each have our favorites. Personally I’d like a few more related to women, and to human sexuality, but no one can deny he’s been a breath of fresh air.

Francis’ words today are as radical as Jesus’ were in his time, a time when life was all about sect and tribe, who you belonged to. So when his disciples say someone’s healing in Jesus’ name, but is “not one of us,” they expect Jesus to retaliate and condemn these amateurs. But Jesus understands the complexity of faith AND the political realities of his day. “Don’t stop him,” Jesus says. The world desperately needs good works; don’t stop him.

But Jesus goes on, “No one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.” This practical politician, knows how divided the world will soon become over his mission. He wants to gather as much company around his beloved friends as he can.

Within all the hoopla, somehow I find Pope Francis’ words on economics and politics most courageous. To those who say priests shouldn’t meddle in politics, Francis responds:

Politics is an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the common good… a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.” He sees politics as sacred, in that they are the major vehicle for promoting God’s dream of shalom in this weary and troubled world. “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person,” he concludes, “it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and to finance.” Cleverly, rather than condemn both politics and economics, he says a new politics is responsible for building a new economic order.

This was a bad week for those who believe in the impenetrable firewall between religion and politics. One prominent journalist quipped, “I guess that means that if he could vote, Pope Francis would choose Bernie Sanders.”

What struck me most about Francis’ words was the rare combination of faith, political and economic sophistication, the same that we heard in Jesus’ words today. Listen:

  • “We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise, in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
  • “While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies of the absolute autonomy of markets and of financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to states which are themselves charged with the providing for the common good. Such an economy kills… our souls and lays waste to the lives of the poor… This inequality is the source of most violence in the world today.”
  • “Some people continue to defend trickle down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile the excluded are still waiting. We can no longer trust in these unseen forces and in the invisible hand of the market. We must attack the structural biases of inequality in society.”

The Pope’s words grate against the conventional wisdom about what is possible, against the paralysis and polarization that has become our national political scene, and they are easy to dismiss as unrealistic, unattainable, too contrary to our own varieties of self – interest.

But isn’t that exactly what Jesus suggests in his hyperbole about cutting off our hands and feet, and plucking out our eyes – that we need to cast away those parts of ourselves that separate us from God and from our neighbors.

Which is why I am so deeply grateful that we have ECY. As the letter of James suggests, we cannot do any part of this business of following Jesus, of being disciples, in the absence of a community like ECY, where we create a safe space – without shame or blame – to grapple with the meaning of the gospel and how to live it out in each of our very different lives. “I need a community,” Pope Francis says. And so do we.

By daring to embrace a community which cares about our faith – as diverse as it is; which cares about our world’s problems, though we have a hundred different perspectives on what ought to be done about them; which cares about all of God’s beloved children, even when we often feel clueless about how to help them. It is in community, that we fulfill Jesus’ essential mandatum – to learn how to love. First to love ourselves, in spite of everything we may have been told to the contrary, then slowly but surely to dare to love others, so that our hearts, nourished by the most extraordinary gift God has to offer, begins to overflow so abundantly that we can’t help but share that love with the rest of the world.

Go,” says Pope Francis, “Go forth and love.”

“On Welcoming in Jesus’ Name” | Sermon by the Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, September 20, 2015

Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

– Mark 9:30-37

The Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Ph.D., Associate Chaplain

The Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Ph.D., Associate Chaplain

First in our Gospel we hear Jesus speaking further with his disciples about his own suffering to come. That he will be betrayed. And as if that is not bad enough, that he will be killed. But then he adds something: he will rise again. This whole speech seems so odd to them that they don’t understand. They are even too afraid to ask what it all really means.

I always used to think that the disciples were most confused by the third part of the message: that Jesus would rise again. Because that is an odd thought, rising from the dead. But for many Jews in Jesus’ day that was not such an outlandish idea.

But now when I read this, I hear something else. I think what really troubled them was that Jesus said he would have to suffer and be killed. How could it be that their friend, their wise rabbi, this gentle healer and wonder worker, how could this story end that way? This is madness. The disciples have already had a hard time hearing Jesus talk about his own suffering and torture yet to come.
So here, look what happens: the first thing they do is to start arguing among themselves over who is the most important. It seems they were they trying to one-up each other. Or even worse, were they jockeying for power over who would be head honcho after Jesus died?

And they are ashamed even to tell him what they had been talking about. He already knows, of course. And they know that he already knows, and that makes them all the more ashamed. This is not at all like last week’s Gospel reading where Jesus chewed Peter out for refusing to accept Jesus’ foretelling his own death. Last week Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” But here in this week’s lesson Jesus specifically does NOT chew them out.

Notice what Jesus does instead. He gently shows them who they are to be. Not power-hungry or self-centered. The opposite: caring, embracing, protecting. He picks up a little child, holds her in his arms, and says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” We, like those disciples, are to gather the little ones into our arms.

Clearly Jesus is telling us that the kind of greatness he calls us to embody does not rest on competition or coercion. The disciple of Jesus must show greatness through welcoming the weak. The cross of Jesus makes a flip-flop of weakness and strength, and Paul says “When I am weak, then I am strong.” We in Christ are called to embrace those who have no power, those who are vulnerable. The little ones.

But who are those little ones? Today when Jesus tells us to welcome little ones he means more than just children. In our day we might hear this as a call to welcome those with no voice, those with no home, those with no country, those with no next meal. We might think of the little ones as those who suffer because of others who have more than they need. And so our thoughts go to our work earlier today at Chapel on the Green: feeding the souls of the little ones n worship, and feeding their bodies with lunch afterward.

To say that this is crucial for Christian witness is an understatement. Or we wouldn’t have done what we did earlier today at Chapel on the Green. There is a but, though. I have also heard especially from young people how focusing on other’s poverty can lead to our despair. Surely we are those who have more than we need. Surely we are those who oppress the poor, simply by our privilege. Surely we fail to embrace the little ones as Christ would have us. And there is nothing we can do about that.

Here’s the thing, though. When Jesus says “little ones” he is referring to his own disciples as well. His own little ones, his own dear ones. So he means all of us as well, you and me. The disciples can’t jockey for power precisely because they are little ones themselves. And we too are included among those whom we are to welcome. An odd thought.

What would that mean for privileged folk like us? Here is an idea. I have been thinking a lot about the beginning of Genesis, how things were created to be so amazing at the beginning. And then in the following chapters we get a string of stories that show a deterioration in the quality of our relationship with God, and with each other.

The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 is one of these stories. Cain gets jealous of Abel and murders him. God notices Abel is missing. “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” And God asks Cain where his brother Abel is, and Cain’s response is: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In other words: “Leave me alone.” But the implicit answer to Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is, of course, yes. Yes, you are your brother’s and sister’s keeper. [The word here for keeper is also the biblical word for shepherd, and that was Abel’s profession, keeping sheep. The false prophets of Israel are described as shepherds who lead astray the sheep. The true prophets guard them in the path. Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd. In Ps 23, God is our shepherd, and we shall not want.] Shepherding, then, is not possessing, not controlling, but guarding and guiding and protecting.

Am I my brother’s and sister’s keeper? Yes, of course. And so with Chapel on the Green, we are their keeper, and they are ours. And so with ECY. This is what we are to be to each other in the Body of Christ, his little ones. Guarding, guiding, protecting each other. Because love of neighbor includes love of self (we forget this too easily), this means that we each must guard, guide, and protect ourselves, so that we can welcome each other.

Welcoming the little ones means welcoming all. And welcoming includes sharing. Notice I say sharing, not giving. When we give alms or charity or relief aid it is precisely NOT giving. It is sharing. It is welcoming. It is seeing in the other our own vulnerability, our own humanity, our own little one-ness in the Lord. But this can be hard. Seeringly hard. We often would prefer to be like the disciples in today’s Gospel lesson, grasping at control over the other, each of us in our own isolated sphere of independence.

I leave you with an example of how truly difficult it can be to welcome the little ones of Jesus. I rec’d on Friday an email from Grant LeMarquand. He is an Anglican Bishop in the Horn of Africa, an area which includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti. This area is part of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt, which itself is part of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
Bishop Grant’s flock have been having an exceedingly hard time this week welcoming each other as Jesus’ little ones. And true welcome of course involves reconciliation. Reconciliation is very easy to talk about but very hard to embrace in a meaningful way. And in their context reconciliation presents difficulties we can only imagine. Here is Bishop Grant’s email:

Although the Gambella Region of Ethiopia has been relatively free of violence since the war in South Sudan began in December 2013, the presence of hundreds of thousands of new refugees in an already underdeveloped area is bound to have some repercussions. We have seen a rise in theft and we have certainly seen shortages in everything from water and electricity to diesel fuel and cement. But little violence.

Last night (Sept 17, 2015), however, fighting broke out between two rival Nuer clans over a disputed local election. Sadly, the families of two of our students at St Frumentius Anglican Theological College were involved, the relatives of one student killing two relatives of another student. To complicate matters, the two students are roommates. Quite a number of people were also injured in fighting. Order has been restored and the town is now calm.

This took place in the midst of a 5-day workshop on ‘Healing from Trauma’ being held at the Gambella Anglican Centre. One of the professors wrote: “the pain in our classroom this morning as one man prayed for the other and each other’s families has shaken us all. Weeping in this culture among men is not at all common, but there were tears shed this morning.”

Please pray that our church here can be a place of healing, reconciliation and peace.

We, too, my brothers and sisters, are called to healing, reconciliation, and peace. In every corner of our lives, throughout our days, this is who we are to be: agents of healing, reconciliation, and peace among the little ones in the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…”. AMEN.

“Getting God to Walk the Walk” | Sermon by the Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D. | September 6, 2015

Mark 7: 24-27

The Rev. Dr. Paul J. CarlingSome time ago, Cherise and I drove to Boston for a friend’s ordination. We were running late, and as we scurried toward the Cathedral with just minutes to spare, a woman stepped into our path – disheveled, filthy, with a desperate look in her eye. Without a conscious thought, I became an urban veteran, averted my eyes, and headed straight for those large Cathedral doors.

Cherise, of course, stopped to chat with the woman, so by the time we sat down, they were about to read the gospel. Catching my breath, I heard the same words Liz read moments ago, “Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre…” Listening to Jesus’ encounter with this Syrophoenician stranger – this three time loser – a woman, a Gentile, with a family member possessed by a demon – I found myself looking around the grand cathedral, full of well dressed, well fed people, gathering to hear God’s word, and to celebrate all of God’s blessings.

And I thought of that woman outside, and dozens like her we had passed that morning, surviving on the kindness of those few strangers who chose to notice them.

The gulf between those two worlds was painful and palpable, and I flinched as I heard Jesus’ cutting, dismissive words to the same kind of outcast, “Let the children of Israel be fed first, for it’s not fair to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.”

Here’s Jesus at his most human, meaning I suppose, most like us – exhausted, stressed, distracted, a prisoner of his own cultural and spiritual upbringing, oblivious to his own privilege. Many biblical scholars believe that Jesus only discovered his identity as Messiah gradually, through continuous experience and learning. If that’s the case, he’d just met his master teacher.

Because this nameless woman decides to tell God’s son it’s not good enough for him to talk the talk about loving your neighbor; he’s got to walk the walk. “Sir,” she responds, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” In other words, all of God’s creatures, even those reduced to the most destitute states by the fear and hatred of others, deserve God’s, and our love.

And the scales fall off Jesus eyes, and his ears become unplugged. It’s as if she, rather than he, utters the famous word, “Ephphatha!” – “Be opened!”

And my mind immediately went back to when I fell in love for the first time, and then became engaged, all at the tender age of 19, and how this experience opened me to a whole world I had no idea existed. The scales fell off my eyes, and my ears became unplugged. You see, my beloved fiancée, Michelle, was black. And while the two of us worked incredibly hard to navigate each others’ worlds, in the end, the forces of opposition were so powerful that our relationship could simply not bear it. As for me, my life was changed forever.

This has been an extraordinary year of growing awareness of racism in our country. From the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the riots that followed, to the public exposure of so many controversial police killings of young people of color, to mass demonstrations by our young people and the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Just this past week, two events have come particularly close to home for me.

At Yale, stimulated by the murders of nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina during a Bible Study, and the subsequent controversy over the use of the Confederate flag, President Salovey and Dean of Arts & Sciences Halloway challenged the university to begin a conversation about Yale’s history, the possible re – naming of Calhoun College, and the rightness of replacing a portrait of Elihu Yale accompanied by two collared slaves, with one in which he stands alone.

A few days later, our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, and the leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church asked us to focus this Sunday, September 6, on the theme of Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism.

Their request is not just a response to the events in South Carolina; or the growing awareness of police violence against people of color; or the mass incarceration, especially of young black men; but to an understanding that these realities are, in fact, the bitter fruit of our national history of slavery and racism that everyone in America, in one way or another has colluded with, and continues to collude with, unless we actively choose to be opened by God’s invitation to a new path, and a new future.

Confession and Repentance – this is why the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island just announced the opening of a new museum that documents the ways that Episcopalians and other Christian Rhode Islanders promoted and profited from the slave trade. They do this because they believe we cannot create a new future unless we acknowledge and repent for the ways we are all responsible for such a bitter past.

And today? Confession and Repentance acknowledges how so many of us choose to see racism as someone’ else’s problem, something we see on TV and are appalled by, but then turn to whatever it is that demands the next moment of our attention.

Whether or not we like to hear it, my sisters and brothers, that’s colluding with racism. As Eli Wiesel, the great student of the impact of the Holocaust on the human soul reminds us, “The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference.”

Which is where Commitment comes in. Our faith doesn’t call any of us to change the world – that’s beyond my power and yours, in fact we could argue that that’s God’s job. But what our baptism does call us to is first to be awake to reality – not just ours but that of all our sisters and brothers; to realize that simply by remaining unconscious, we are failing to respect the dignity of every human being.

As a young man of 19, I learned something which so many white people still fail to understand, that the experience of being black or brown or red or yellow in this country is fundamentally different than the experience of being white; that people of color do not have the luxury of not thinking about race; or the luxury of failing to be vigilant for behaviors and threats that most white people never need anticipate; people of color do not have the privilege of being colorblind.

Which means, if we are ever to even begin the great work of racial reconciliation, we must start by becoming anthropologists, not just of the mind, but of the heart – becoming students of very different worlds, and radically different experiences.
Today, our bishops, our church, and I dare say our God, calls each of us to begin again. To commit ourselves to God’s great dream of shalom, to the fact that there is hope for change, there is hope for justice and reconciliation, there is hope for unity in the Body of Christ. All it takes is to listen to what Jesus says today. After a down and out stranger exposes his own prejudice, Jesus’ life and ministry are transformed. And Jesus responds by saying, “If I can be opened, so can each of you. Ephphatha! Be opened!”

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