Psalm 67 Deus misereatur (p. 675 BCP)
1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, * show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2 Let your ways be known upon earth, * your saving health among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; * let all the peoples praise you.
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, * for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; * let all the peoples praise you.
6 The earth has brought forth her increase; * may God, our own God, give us his blessing.
7 May God give us his blessing, * and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.
God’s grace and peace be with you. Welcome to the 190th Annual Meeting of the congregation of St. Paul’s, Detroit.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve turned to my computer on several occasions to begin this address. It went something like this: Open the word processor, pick the document format I’ve created for sermons, blank page appears along with a much unanticipated pop-up. The before my eyes the pop-up reads: “You wanna a dance with me?” The first couple of times I wiped my eyes and looked back at the screen. Nothing. I reached for the keyboard, and much to my dismay, nothing came through my fingers. Off to pray and ponder the Scriptures and our life together some more. Another day, same drill: computer on, double click, template, pop-up: “You really wanna dance with me?” Shut down, walk away. Pray. Reflect some more. Agh, so much to say; so little time.
With a nod to Henry V, “Once more into the breach.” Computer on, double click, template, pop-up: “So, you really wanna dance with me?” No. No I don’t, I reply. I want to write an Annual Address. I want no part of a blank screen, you electronic piece of blank paper. The only dance I want is with the Holy Spirit.
So the music for our first dance is this: Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.
The peoples praise you, O God, because the financial operations of the Cathedral look good. Our faithful Treasurer, Chuck Squires, will report on that later, but we finished the year with revenues well better than expenses. That’s good, but it also means we left some opportunities for ministry “on the table” as they say. We did well. We will do better.
Praise God, you have a very dedicated staff:
Canon Tarrant, with the help of lots of others, did what has not been done in fifty years: a very successful Choir Tour overseas. The residency in England was outstanding – not without some colorful challenges – but in all the ways that matter it was exceptional. It was outstanding. It changed lives – some on the trip, and some at our destinations. And, just for fun, the Choir recorded a fabulous CD (since they had all that spare time after rehearsing for the England trip).
Thank you. Canon Alltop, Father Nestrock, and the Cathedral and Chapter staffs, along with your Vestry and a host of other leaders made it possible for me to engage in the first sabbatical I’ve had in over a quarter century of ordained ministry. (Before I post this I need to change that: it makes me sound way too old.) It was an amazing gift. I am grateful to them, to each of you, and to my family for making that possible. Thank you! I need to thank the Graduate Theological Foundation as well, for the Oxford Foundation Fellowship that made study at Oxford University possible.
In that same vein, but under the heading of “nothing remains the same,” we miss Richard Newman, but his departure for Grace Church, Alexandria, to be their Organist & Choirmaster is witness to the growth available through the mentorship and opportunities of Cathedral. For that, we praise you, O God.
There is more change ahead in the coming year. A predictable part is that Jim Hooker, now some sixteen years leading the daily operations of the Cathedral Chapter, will be retiring at the end of this year. His faithfulness and his love of all things old and mechanical have been a blessings in so many ways. The process has begun in the seeking of his successor. I’m pleased to share with you that Bishop Gibbs has named three very talented people so define the position and start that work: Canon Jo Ann Hardy, Br. John Brendan, and Dr. George Swan – each have great skills, and each happen to have a cathedral connection.
We have welcomed new folk into the Cathedral Community. Some of them have come to us in atypical ways – reminding us that we MUST ALWAYS show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. To all who have come to us in the past year, one more time we say, welcome. We praise you, O God, for their presence. That said, we must continue to grow.
The music for the second dance: Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity.
But, sadly, we don’t. The past year has revealed challenges, horrors, too long existent, in a stark new way. We must address them now, and in the year head. Incidences in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Cleveland, and right here at home demand that we examine and address the things which cause us to live in such gripping fear. Fear of losing privilege and positions, gained at times at the expense of others. Fear of government and societal structures whose very existence is to offer justice, safety, equal protection, and to promote the common good, but which fail and fail badly due to fear. Fear of one another, of people that do not look, act, talk or pray like us. As I remind myself, I remind you, all, ALL, people are created in the image of God.
Our common conversation has been challenged, and we must change the imprecision of our words. Extremists are exactly that: extremists. There is no modifier needed. ISOL and Boko Haram are no more representative of Islam than the KKK is representative of Christianity.
The music for the third dance: Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations.
That will happen only when the each of us, individually, share those ways. The judgmentalism and vitriol of those who claim themselves to be Christians while disparaging those whose orientation, gender or religious identity, ethnic heritage, relationship choices, and those who desire to make their own choice about their own bodies, must be eclipsed by the voices of that echo the words of the prophet Isaiah: the Kingdom of God is big enough for anyone, any one, who loves God. Our proclamation, by word and action, must speak the truth that 1) we are all sinners; 2) that God will not allow that sin, that brokenness, to shut down God’s love for each of us; and 3) that we are called to be, and be known, to the world as the bearers of the cooling water of reconciliation, of hope, of trust, of justice, of peace, and of love. We are to be the purveyors of forgiveness, not the pronouncers of judgment. The world will never know what Christianity is really about unless we speak up and act (up) accordingly.
As the choir belted in Canterbury Cathedral – yes, I said belted ‘cause anything else would have been lost – “Let your little light shine!”
Before I close today, there is one more song. It is tinged with bittersweet: May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
This is the song we long for in our times of woundedness, confusion, loss, and grief. This year, as every year it is a reality. I stand before with you today because I cannot be two places at once. If I could I would be at the graveside of the man, Grahame, for whom our daughter is named. His earthly journey ended this week. Stark is the reality that our earthly journey is finite. The notion that “we live and we die and that is it” is unacceptable to me. It is unacceptable to our faith.
Those who departed this life in the cathedral community will be remembered in Barth Hall in just a little while. Those who live in the community of your own heart, I invite you to remember now. In a different way, we walk with those of our Cathedral and broader community from Nigeria – who worry and pray for their families in their native land after the Boko Haram massacre (a second one reported this very day). We are planning a vigil to life them in prayer. More details are to come. Lord, have mercy.
“So, you really wanna dance with me?” No. No I don’t. I want to write an Annual Address. I want no part of a blank screen, techno blank piece of paper. I want to dance with the Holy Spirit. You silly boy, the screen said, you and the Cathedral already are.
May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him. Most assuredly, God already has, and the dance goes on. Amen.