Grace and peace to each of you. What follows is a posting of my sermon on Annual Meeting Sunday 2017, so it now has a year behind it. I’m sharing it here as a way to encourage the Cathedral community into a thoughtful and prayerful place as we anticipate our 2018 Annual Meeting of the Congregation on Sunday, January 28, 2018 at 11:00 am. I thank you in advance for your time spent with what follows. SSH+ 1/23/2018
Ten. Ten years. Wow. Who would have thought it? Ten times I have come to this pulpit on the occasion of our Annual Meeting. It is hard for me to imagine. Every time I step into this pulpit my breath catches. Every time I step down from here to go back over to my seat, I am quite confident that I have received more from you than you from me. Thank you for the journey; thank you for your prayers during some challenging times I went through just about a year ago. Most of all, thank you for the honor of serving as your dean. I can already say, that with God’s grace and blessing, I look forward to doing this with you again next year.
Normally when I am up here I touch on several things –
- Our financial picture: It is pretty good. New pledges are up. Annual giving is up. We have challenges. To whom much is given, from them much is expected. We will have to stretch. Gary Wood, our treasurer will tell you more.
- I talk about the year past in the life of the Cathedral: It has been a year of loss and welcome. Beloved souls have departed this life, others have moved to distant places. We miss them both. We miss them differently. Deacon Shaffer will remember those in the nearer presence of God in prayer as we close our time together. We have welcomed wonderful new souls to the parish family. In your annual report you will see many of them, but joyfully not all, as God continues to bless us with many opportunities to show hospitality to others – thereby allowing us to entertain angels unawares. Let us not forget that we welcomed our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev’d Michael Curry, not once, but twice into these prayer-worn walls.
- I talk about the year ahead: You hear some form of, “There is lots of ministry to do, because Jesus staffed out some stuff to us. We don’t have everything wrapped up yet, so let’s get on with it.
Well, that didn’t take too long. So let me share some dreams with you – not wishes-type dreams, but godly ones like Joseph’s.
Many of you know I was schooled in Economics, and I was particularly fascinated by the economics of business. Today, in any gathering of economic scholars I would know just about enough to embarrass myself, but, not as much as I think the business world embarrasses itself. The bottom line, the profit, the increase of shareholder wealth, drive everything. It is sought at the expense of the rights and dignity of workers, at the expense of our environment, and at the expense the truth.
I bristle at that. The business philosopher, professor, economist, and father of modern management was a man named Peter Drucker. He was Austrian-born and a naturalized American citizen (so an immigrant), and generally more popular in Japan than the US for most of his career.
I think of him for two reasons: he maintained that businesses were too short sighted, and in his work, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices said, “The fact is that in modern society there is no other leadership group but managers. If the managers of our major institutions, and especially of business, do not take responsibility for the common good, no one else can or will.” He also believed strongly that all institutions, including those in the private sector, have a responsibility to the whole of society. This, amongst other things, ticked off Alfred Sloan, one-time head of GM.
Drucker’s expectations of business and business leaders quickens my heart. I would raise great shouts of joy if it were ever a general reality. Today any sort of hope for such a business world seems to be a huge dream. I dream it, but I have to also say the putting faith in the business sector in general is faith misplaced.
One cannot study economics, particularly in this country without engaging in the study of the other great juggernaut – that of government. For that matter, one cannot, I think, be a part of leadership in a religious community in this country without some study of government. For all the shouts of “separation of church and state,” which may structurally be the goal, the influence and impact of one on the other is undeniable and on-going. Any sort of hope for government as an instrument of good for all people seems a huge dream. Again, I dream it, but have to say that putting faith in the government sector is misplaced.
Let me stop here for a moment and say that there are some businesses, small and large, and some business leaders, that strive for a reality such as Drucker envisioned. There are public servants and government officials who seek for government to be an instrument of good for all people. But as in the time of Samuel and Eli, the lamp, while not out, flickers dimly.
As one of the baptized, as a believer, as a person of faith, now more than ever I believe I am called to audacious dreams, and not just me alone. All of us.
The prophet Isaiah is speaking to us when he says (Isaiah 58:9b-12):
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 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.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 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.
Isaiah’s words are elegant, beautifully compelling, and harder than we can imagine – well at least harder than we have been able to make a reality in the 2600 or so years since he prophesied them. They are, for Christians, a call to live boldly the baptismal life, the Christ-life.
Now, as much as I dream, and I’ll share some of that in a minute, I also need to be inspired by real incarnate glimpses of such baptismal living. Dr. King did and does that for me. But here is another witness, from a couple of hundred years ago, that witnesses in a personal way that challenges and inspires me to examine my daily actions and being.
On the night of May10, 1775, Alexander Hamilton was rousted from his sleep in his room at King’s College in New York City. As one writer tells it, “Hundreds of protesters armed with clubs and heated by a heady brew of political rhetoric and strong drink descended on [the college] ready to inflict rough justice on Myles Cooper [the college president].” Cooper was, according to one source, “a Tory and an obnoxious man, and the mob went to the college with the intention of tarring and feathering him or riding him upon a rail.” One Nicholas Ogden raced ahead of the crowd to warn Cooper. Hamilton’s room being nearby, he was alerted too. “Whereupon Hamilton instantly resolved to take his stand on the stairs (the outer stoop) and there to detain the mob as long as he could by a harangue in order to gain the Doctor more time for his escape.”
Hamilton likely knew he couldn’t stop the intruders, but he won vital minutes for Cooper to clamber over the back fence and rush down to the Hudson. He did so at the risk of a terrible beating, and the potential loss of his considerable stature among the Sons of Liberty. As one writer shares, [this] episode “captures the contradictory impulses struggling inside this complex young man, a committed revolutionary with a profound dread that popular sentiment would boil over into dangerous excess.”
Of all the incidents in Hamilton’s early life in America, one author writes, his spontaneous defense of Myles Cooper was probably the most telling. It showed that he could separate personal honor from political convictions and presaged a recurring theme of his career: the superiority of forgiveness over revolutionary vengeance.”
Hamilton was about rebuilding the ruins of government, and Drucker was about rebuilding the ruins of business. Neither had a short term vision of anything – they sought something that was more than generational. But, they are nothing compared with God’s vision. We are not called to raise the ruins or rebuild the foundations of governments and business – institutions of the world.
We are called to raise the lives of people – even if it be one at a time. God calls us to be repairers of the breach, the restorers of the streets to live in.
Years ago, in the 1950’s this cathedral was packed four times a day on Sundays: three morning services and an afternoon one wherein a new cantata was sung each week. There was talk about how one might move the walls of the cathedral out so a make space for more people. Why so many back then, and not now? There were different social expectations. There were fewer Sunday options – couldn’t shop, no internet, movie houses were not open on Sunday. Perhaps we drifted from the Isaiah God-given directive….
Right now we don’t have that challenge of moving walls. But … I have the dream of people seeking this place because it speaks truth: truth that God loves us – every shape, size, color, gender identity, age, culture of heritage and culture of origin; truth that neither business nor government will bring forth the change that respects and empowers the dignity of every human being. God staffed that out … to us – to you, to me, to the person next us, behind us, across the aisle from us.
For me Hamilton and Drucker witness to this very real challenge and expectation of living a baptismal life. For each of them, at the heart of it was “the other person.” It raises the bar on everything. Loving neighbor as self.
I dream we are filled because people find here healing, inspiration, nurture, community, and sacramental sustenance that sets you, me, them, each of us, free to recognize, embrace, and celebrate this call to be repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in … for all of God’s people.
Your cathedral leadership is going to stretch itself and call you to stretch as well. We are going to take steps to expand and empower God’s children, increase and empower pastoral ministry, reach outside our doors to share God’s love with our community in new and adventuresome ways. It will be as compelling as it is challenging. It will invite us to give more, gather more, pray more, risk more, trust more, love more, engage more, and be more baptismal every day.
Almighty and ever-living God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in this Annual Meeting of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.