Julia Macy Stroud
All Saints' Park Slope
November 20, 2016
In the name of one God, our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Amen.
Last Thursday, Father Steve and I were working in the office and a reporter called. He asked if the church was planning to hold a vigil in response to the election.
In fact, we had had an evening prayer service and town hall the night before -- the day after the election. But in terms of future vigils, as Father Steve explained to him, we do them every week. Every Sunday. And we have been holding them continuously for 149 years.
At a vigil, we keep watch. We keep watch for God breaking in. And we do it together, for which I am very glad this morning, because it can be hard to see where God is when we are trying to do it on our own.
And I loved Father Steve’s response to the reporter -- we do a vigil every week at All Saints’ Church -- because it calls attention to the ways in which church is specifically suited to the times when the world feels it needs to come together.
But I think his response points to something else that church is good at, as well, which is living in contradiction, in paradox -- living in the reality of what we can call BOTH/AND thinking as opposed to EITHER/OR thinking.
Because we are here to keep vigil and we are also here to celebrate. Today we celebrate the harvest -- the abundance in the world that surrounds us -- food from the ground, beauty in the skies, the abundance that keeps peeking through no matter the despair or fear we feel at the hand of stately authority. And on Harvest Sunday we celebrate the stewardship campaign at All Saints’ Church. Stewardship is, by definition, "the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something."
At times when we feel that we need to come together -- when the world feels very broken, we are stewards of our own spiritual selves. So when you put your pledge card into the plate today as we celebrate the harvest, you are pledging to care for yourself through this unending vigil.
And today we also celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a paradox in itself, at the very core of the religion we practice -- that God is both King -- a divine and perfect ruler -- and also Christ -- anointed to save us through death. Our God is both supreme and entirely vulnerable. Thus we do both: We keep vigil AND we celebrate.
This is the paradox of the cross -- the both/and of God’s death and resurrection. The very story that we hear this morning when we celebrate both Harvest and also Christ the King is of Jesus’s crucifixion: Jesus, put to death by the state, surrounded by criminals, promising to the lowliest person not ONLY that there will be paradise but that in paradise there will be reunion and that it will be TODAY. “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus promises this to us.
It is absurd. What is this paradise that Jesus promises to a people who continue to murder each other through political power? Where is this paradise? It is a question you can certainly ask yourself today.
And you would not be the first to wonder. The philosopher Nietzsche could not understand a religion that elevated the weak over the strong, exalting pitied and poor people at the expense of vitality, of life, of success.
Nietzsche’s disdain for weakness as embodied in Christianity has been picked up today by the amorphous mob that reporters are calling the Alt Right -- but which is more accurately an underground network of white supremacist men who use the internet to organize their hatred against women, against people of color, immigrants, Jewish people, and Muslim people, and who distort Christianity into a religion of political power. They are currently sniffing out weakness in order to grab this power, including power in the highest offices of our country, where self-identified leaders of this movement have now gotten jobs in the president-elect’s incoming administration.
This is frightening. I know that whatever our own skin tones or families of origin or political proclivities, we all share fear at the prospect of white supremacists in charge of our country’s legislation. As Father Steve said last week, in our vigil at All Saints’ Church: “We will be watching. We will be vigilant. And if we see harm, abuse, or intimidation of ANY of God’s children, All Saints’ Church will be a point of resistance.”
But we have to come together in order to do this. You, every single one of you here today, is the All Saints’ Church that will be this beacon in the midst of fear.
And we absolutely cannot keep our vigil and celebration each week without being careful stewards of its building, of its finances, and of its people, of ourselves.
Before the election, we had an Evensong with music by our parishioner Arturo O’Farrill, and he talked about how coming to church is like the practice of playing scales. You play scales every day and you don’t necessarily see a change, but you practice anyway. And then you are ready for making music.
We are blessed to have kept the practice of vigil and celebration for all of these years in order to come together in these moments -- when we are confronted not yet with resurrection, but only with the cross, only with Jesus’s execution.
Where is God breaking through today? I urge you to look around you, to look at the faces that surround you. Please take a moment to notice the children in our church -- squawking a bit during the sermon, perhaps, and racing up in a few moments with their abundant offerings. God breaks through in us, in each one of us.
There is another promise in Christ the King, this weird holiday we celebrate every year: it is always the last Sunday before Advent starts, the four weeks we wait for the birth of Jesus at Christmas. These two truths of Jesus always rub up against each other at this time of year -- Jesus on the cross and Jesus as a baby -- the tiniest and most vulnerable creature, yet full of all of our hopes and possibilities.
It is in this way that year after year when we turn from the last page of the book to the first page of the book -- from Christ the King to the first Sunday of Advent -- we mix up the tragedy of death with the promise of life. The blood and water of Jesus’s wounds mix with the blood and water of birth. Both are painful. And both are sacrificial.
But still we celebrate. Because we do not let despair change us.
On the day after the election, faith leaders gathered in prayer. A sikh lawyer and activist named Valarie Kaur gave a benediction which I would like to share with you today:
“In our tears and agony, we hold our children close and confront the truth: The future is dark.
But my faith dares me to ask: What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?
What if our America is not dead but a country still waiting to be born?
What if the story of America is one long labor?
What if all the mothers who came before us, who survived genocide and occupation, slavery and Jim Crow, racism and xenophobia, political oppression and sexual assault, are standing behind us now, whispering in our ear: You are brave!
What if this is our Great Contraction before we birth a new future?
Remember the wisdom of the midwife: "Breathe," she says. Then: "Push."
Now it is time to breathe. But soon it will be time to push; soon it will be time to fight - for those we love -- Muslim father, Sikh son, trans daughter, indigenous brother, immigrant sister, white worker, the poor and forgotten, and the ones who cast their vote out of resentment and fear.
Let us make an oath to fight for the soul of America with Love and Optimism:
As Langston Hughes called it: "The land that never has been yet- And yet must be" (Langston Hughes)
And so I pray this Sikh prayer:
"In the name of the Divine within us and around us, we find everlasting optimism.””
We Christians are not alone in our optimism when we believe Jesus when he says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Though we may find ourselves at the place of the skull, still we keep watch. And still, we celebrate. Amen.
The Rev. Steven D. Paulikas
All Saints' Church
November 13, 2016
The day before the election, Jesse--my husband--and I went to Pennsylvania to canvass for Hillary. I did so not as your priest, but as a citizen. Shortly before nightfall, we went to a neighborhood that was mixed politically. Our job was to knock on doors and encourage likely Clinton voters to get to the polls the next day. We were instructed not to engage with people not likely to vote for her, and later I understood why. As it got dark, I had a strange sense of tension and unease in that place. At one point, two young people approached Jesse and asked what he was doing in their neighborhood, then started chanting, Trump, Trump Trump.
I went to a house that was surrounded by other houses with Trump lawn signs. The house was modest and neat, and certainly not fancy. There was an old van parked in the driveway. The woman who opened the door was white, in her late 70’s, and disabled. It was obvious she lived alone. She was cheerful and enthusiastic with me and obviously wanted me to linger. She said she already had a plan for how to get to her polling station. Then she got just a notch more solemn and pointed to her neighbors. “I’ve got Trump on one side, Trump on the other, and Trump across the street. I’m in a U of Trump.”
Friends, today, we are all in a U of Trump. Like many, if not most, of you, I’m anxious. The upsetting thing about this election is the same reason that neighborhood was blanketed in Trump lawn signs but the Hillary supporters were hiding. They were afraid. We have a president-elect who has come to power through fear. I’m afraid for that woman; I wonder if she feels safe in her own home, all alone. I’m anxious for my sisters and brothers of color as we prepare for a president who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. I’m anxious for our planet, which has only a few years left before the change in climate cannot be stopped. I’m anxious for our world order, which will depend on a man who said he doesn’t understand why we don’t use nuclear weapons.
Like many of you, I am anxious to the point of feeling physically sick. At the same time, I am hearing the Word of God anew. The Gospel passage we hear this morning had a different meaning for me just a few days ago. Jesus has always been telling us like it is. There is a sinful and destructive side to the human condition. It can cause untold violence and suffering. But that’s why he came. He knows we can do better. He practiced love, not hate. He saw that the way for us to live together is accept each other as our own, just as he accepted us. There is no place for fear in God’s house. Fear will never help you, and there is no reason to be afraid. Jesus says, not a hair of your head will perish. For by your endurance you will gain your souls.
The Spirit of truth has already shown us the way forward. It will replace our fear with faith. We must continue to love God with all we have and love our neighbor as ourselves. We must continue to serve the most vulnerable and treat them as the greatest among us, just as Jesus did. We must continue to welcome all people with prejudice toward none. We must BE the beloved community God has called into being. In other words, we must continue to be the church.
So on that note, let me offer a word of welcome on behalf of this gathering and in Jesus’ name.
Welcome, all you who are disheartened. Your tears will water the crop of righteousness.
Welcome, all you who are afraid. God will lift up your hearts, and we will be your support.
Welcome, all those ready to stand up for themselves and their neighbors. You will receive the power of the Most High.
Welcome, all who are not Christians. We repent on behalf of those who use Jesus to make you feel unsafe, and perhaps you will find it in your heart to forgive us.
And most importantly, welcome Trump supporters. If you voted for our president-elect or wanted him in power, that does not make you the enemy of anyone here. We understand you have fears of your own. We will listen to you and pray for you. We only ask that you listen to us, too, and try to understand why we are so scared.
Our strength is unshakable because we refuse to think of any person as outside the circle of love that God has placed around this church. Let our souls all ring together today, for this is the day that the Lord has made. This day, like all days, was made so that we would love one another. If you are here to do that, you belong here. And what everyone needs right now is love.
In contrast to the fear so many of us feel, there has been an unprecedented outpouring of love in this country this week. We have awoken to the realization that we need one another, that we cannot take belief in our common humanity for granted. I think that is why so many of you are here today, many for the first time.
And yet, now is the time to heed the one who says, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We may hope for the best, but we must prepare for the worst. And the preparation begins now.
President Obama wished Mr. Trump success because, he said, America’s success depends on his. I disagree. There is no evidence that the president-elect’s success has ever benefitted anyone but himself. The reason we are so anxious is because of his success thus far. We can wish him success—but only on the condition that his success benefit the country as a whole, and that we are all made to understand that we are respected, that our liberties will be protected by the state, and that America will continue to enjoy the benefits of the democratic rule that has served us so well for the last 240 years.
We will be watching. We will be vigilant. And let me proclaim it here and now: if we see harm, abuse, or intimidation of ANY of God’s children, All Saints’ Church will be a point of resistance.
If they come for the people of color, we are all people of color.
If they come for the disabled, we are all disabled.
If they come for immigrants, they will find only immigrants in this place.
If they come for the trans people, we are all trans.
If they come for Muslims, they will find one family under one God.
If they come for the lesbians and gays, well, I know you are with me and my family.
Look around you: look at the different faces, hear the different stories. This is the beloved community. It is a gift from God, who called it into being. It cannot be destroyed. Our strength is our unity. If the forces of darkness are given power, they will search for any crack in our resolve. They will not stop until they divide us against one another. But we are stronger, because God has brought us together.
Our president-elect is a real estate guy. So maybe he’ll understand this: we’re building a house. Our house will stretch up to heaven, and it will be guarded by the angels. But the purpose of our house won’t be to keep people out, our house will keep everyone inside safe, and every person of good will is welcome. As St. Paul says, this will not be a house built with human hands, but will be a building from God, an eternal house in heaven where each of us has a dwelling place. God builds this house, but we maintain it—with our prayers, our service, our resources. We maintain it with acts of kindness and good deeds, and above all with our faith.
Look at the front door of this house: it is open, and you are invited to enter. There is room for everyone. Bring your whole selves—your fears and your hopes, your weaknesses and your strengths. Bring your family. Bring your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers. Bring strangers, and bring your enemies. All are welcome, and the table is set. Let us feast at the heavenly banquet--and be filled. Amen.