Sermon Archive

A sermon preached at Grace Church, Silver Spring, MD, for the Great Vigil of Easter, 2013.  The lectionary readings are Romans 6:3-11 ,  Psalm 114, and Luke 24:1-12.

In the name of our risen Lord.  Alleluia, alleluia.

There is a tradition dating from the Byzantine Church of late antiquity and continuing in most contemporary Orthodox Churches for hearing a particular sort of homily at the Great Vigil of Easter.  It’s called in Greek the Hieratikon or Catechetical Homily.  And usually the congregation stands during its delivery.  Relax, you may remain seated, but should you feel moved at some point to stand, do not let our customs inhibit you.

This is the night. This is the night when the resurrection is proclaimed not once but over and over again.

  • Resurrection is proclaimed by the night itself, for it was in the night, through an act of God beyond our understanding, that Jesus was raised from the dead.
  • Resurrection is proclaimed in the paschal fire and the spreading of the light through the lighting of each of our candles, and in that ancient hymn that Marilyn chanted so beautifully.
  • Resurrection is proclaimed through our stories of God’s saving acts throughout human history.
  • Resurrection is proclaimed by the welcoming of new members through Holy Baptism, where – as Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans – we are baptized into Christ’s death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead so we, too, might share in his resurrection and walk in newness of life.
  • Resurrection is proclaimed as we share in the peace of the Risen One, share in the holy supper that makes Christ present and active in us.
  • Resurrection is proclaimed as we are sent forth to bear witness to this great Paschal mystery to the world outside these doors.

This is the night and all of it is about the resurrection.  This is the night when we gather as we have ever since Palm Sunday not as observers but as participants.

  • Last Sunday we followed the cross in procession
  • On Maundy Thursday we washed each other’s feet, joining in Christ’s vulnerability and in sharing his love with one another.
  • On Friday we knelt at the foot of the cross, giving over to God our regrets and losses – our “would-a, could-a, should-a’s” in the hope that we, too, be transformed into that deeper love
  • And this night.  This is the night we celebrate the great paschal mystery even as we become part of it.

This night,

Let no one lament their poverty, for the riches of the universal kingdom are now revealed
Let no one mourn their transgressions, because forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.

Death can no longer be a final end because we know in Christ there is more.  He is but the first fruits of them that slept.  His resurrection is promised to us, too.

And so, my friends,

  • If you were recently baptized, I invite you to stand now and claim your inheritance as a child of God and Christ’s own forever.
  • If you kept a Holy Lent and spent your 40 days with fasting, stand now for your reward is at hand.
  • If you have spent the last 40 days praying on your knees, stand now because in Christ we are now able to stand before God.
  • If you kept no fast, spent no time on your knees and embraced no spiritual discipline, up, up on your feet, celebrate the night for God glories in your intention by being with us now.

All of us here – rich and poor, old and young, devout and doubtful, please stand

For the feast is prepared and the table is ready: Partake of the feast of faith.

Alleluia, alleluia!  Amen.

 

A sermon preached at Grace Church, Silver Spring, MD, for Advent 4 Year C.  The lectionary readings are 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26Romans 16: 25-27 and Luke 1: 26-38.

Over the past several months I’ve been doing some concentrated reading of children’s literature: stories, verse, picture books.   Here and at the Day School librarians, parents and I’ve the children themselves have given me their favorites and I’ve been working my way through them.

Near or at the top of almost every child’s list are works by Margaret Wise Brown.  (If there’s a Grace bestseller it must be Goodnight, Moon.)  But it has been another one of her books, perhaps a lesser known one, that has been floating through my head for the past several weeks.  It’s called Home for a Bunny.    Maybe you know it.

It’s very simple, with a rhythm to the prose that repeats in a very winning way without actually being intentional rhyme.  And the drawings by Garth Williams are beautiful and lovingly rendered with magnificent detail, so that you can see almost each hair in the rabbit’s fur, the many different grasses and clover, wildflowers and vetch, along with sweet butterflies among which the rabbit frolics.  All in soft and welcoming colors for a child.

The story begins by noting that it is spring.  The bunny hops, “It’s spring!”  “It’s spring,” answers a frog.  “It’s spring,” calls a robin with her chicks in a nest up high in a tree.  The bunny is looking for a home:

He was going to find a home of his own.
A home for a bunny,
A home of his own,
Under a rock,
Under a stone,
Under a log
Or under the ground.
Where would a bunny find a home?

He asks the robin in the tree where he lives, and learns that a nest is not a good place for a bunny.  He asks the frog and learns that’s not such a great place for him either: “under the water, down in the bog…. under the water, I would drown in a bog.”

Eventually, it comes upon another rabbit (not an identical rabbit but one that is similar – drawn, if you will, in the image and likeness of our bunny) and asks where it’s home is.

Here, said the bunny.
Here is my home.
Under this rock,
Under this stone,
Down under the ground,
Here is my home.

Home for a bunny.  Now this may seem an odd introduction to the 4th Sunday of Advent, but it seems to me there’s a similar theme of house-hunting to our lections.

No, says God to the prophet Nathan, I do not need David to build me a house of cedar.

have I not tabernacled with you since Egypt?  God asks.
happy to be in my tent
I came and went with you
easy to pick up and move
I like being with you, says God, don’t fix me in one place, even a place made of cedar.
You might need to get up someday and move or make a run for it
and I want to go with you

 And David, satisfied for the time being that a house made of cedar or anything else was okay to forego, presses the relationship with God to extract a deeper promise: be with me and mine forever, says David.

And God says, “yes, I will make you a house.
Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever.”

They’re talking about a lineage.  A lineage that will endure forever – not just, “I will be your God and you will be my people if you follow my commandments,” but forever

regardless
always
a royal lineage from David forever
a promise that lent particular power to the notion that the messiah would come from David’s line
one that Luke’s Gospel underscores: Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, because, as Luke explains, Joseph was of the house and lineage of David.  Jesus’ lineage was royal

 But the phrase that the prophet Nathan attributes to God, “I will make you a house” has a pun in it.  An intentional one probably.  It’s meaning is unclear in Hebrew, amusingly ambiguous in Greek and – delightfully for us – in English, too.

I will make you a house.
I will build a house for you to live in.
Or, I will, presto-chango, turn you into a house w/in which I can live
I will not dwell in a house of cedar, says God.
I will dwell in you.
You shall be my house.

more portable even than a tent
I will make you a house
I will make my home in you.

This is the background, the context and the language for Luke’s annunciation passage we hear this 4th week in Advent, this week before Christmas.

We are all about to share in an event which has about it such mystery and majesty that Luke himself moves into language that is both poetical and mystical.

God is about to find a home in humanity
not just in a metaphorical sense
but in the deepest, truest most real sense.

In our Gospel for today, God’s messenger announces that God will make his home here.

in the flesh and blood of this girl
Mary
Greetings, favored one.  The Lord is with you.

Home for a bunny, indeed.
Not a tabernacle
Not a tent
Not a house of cedar
Not a magnificent temple on Mt. Zion.  Built once.  Twice.
Not lineage even

 It is not enough that I dwell near you, says God

I must be in you.
I must be you.

It is unfathomable.  It is extraordinary.  It is so weird and so totally outside our understanding that it is easy to hear this passage as one describing a time and a world immensely distanced from us.

But that is precisely what we must not do, for we are all meant to be mothers of God….

What good is it to me, writes one medieval theologian, if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself?

And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and I am not also full of grace?

What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to His son if I do not also give birth to him in my time?

Think you are too puny, too fragile, too flawed to bear God to the world?  Are you, too, wondering with Mary, “how can this be?”

Fear not.  For with God nothing is impossible.

So, take courage.  Prepare yourself in this final week of Advent for God to dwell in you anew to make you a house for the Lord.

Fix your sights on the promise to come that, in the beautiful, exaggerated words of our collect, God will find in us not just a house but a mansion prepared himself.  Amen.


A sermon for Good Friday, 2011.  The lectionary readings are Isaiah 52:13-53:12Psalm 22Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 and  John 18:1-19:42 .

When I was 8 or 9 my younger brother Paul and I began taking tennis lessons and, though we played for many years and enjoyed proper tennis, we developed a favorite game of our own that we played almost every summer evening after supper for years.  We called it, not very creatively, “mini tennis”.

This game was played with standard tennis rackets and regulation balls but at home in a straightish part of our mostly curving driveway.  Our makeshift court was about 2/3 the size of standard.  There was no net; the midpoint was a crack where a buried root had split the surface of the asphalt.  It was bounded on one side by an ivy-covered stone wall against which we would throw ourselves in the most amazing “saves” and a high curb on the other against which we would mostly trip.

The game grew out of simple play; we began by just wanting to hit the ball back and forth. Over time, though, we noticed that spot in the middle that could mark where a net might be.  We discovered that we could wail at the ball but the most fun shots were subtle drop shots or the punchy volley.  Within a few weeks we had developed boundaries, a series of shots, ways of handicapping the person serving from the top of the slope – if you hit a successful smash, for example, you had to retrieve the ball.  Over time, our game grew complex and intricate, requiring intense physical effort to control the ball in that confined space.

At some point that first summer, somewhere between making up most of the major rules but before we’d gotten really good at it, Paul and I discovered the immense, nearly sacred value of the do-over.

It is hard to underestimate its importance.  Without it, I’m sure we’d have given up on the game entirely.

And the concept of the do-over, especially as we used it in its most radical form, felt entirely foreign and deliriously new: anyone can demand a do-over for any shot at any time for any reason, no questions asked.

I don’t remember which one of us came up with it.  Surely, we both might have wanted it but were ordinarily so competitive we’d never have given our opponent any sort of “unfair” advantage.  I remember, we were very keen on “fairness” at that age.

The do-over, though, was not about fairness.  It was about keeping the game going, about not giving up.  Sure, we had games that came to resemble cricket matches (days would go by and, though we played for hours every evening, the score would not change).  Our method was an extreme form of love – the extension of unconditional, undeserved mercy always and in a way that honored your opponent’s terms and not one’s own.

The extension of unconditional, undeserved mercy always and in a way that honored your opponent’s terms and not one’s own.  I think this is the first time that I experienced in myself and in my own way something of the saving, self-giving love of God.  This is cross love.  It is irrational, unfair and totally transforming.

The radical do-over reached deep into who we were becoming, changing how we were with each other.

This is the message of the cross:

Lose your life in God’s self-giving love, and nothing else will matter much, including death itself.
God’s self-giving will change your life, change your death, change your very being.
It will accompany you beyond the grave
It will forgive your most grievous sins
If you let it, it will change your life even here.  Even now.

What the evangelist John and the other Gospel writers wanted us to know was that something utterly life-changing had happened to them.  And the same was available to all people.  The Gospel writers wanted us to know they had discovered their own Calvary.

They looked on this cross and found they, too, could “forget themselves”, “lose themselves”

  • lose their worries, fears, anxieties and dreads
  • they could breathe their last of self-recrimination, contempt and shame

they had discovered that dying to self and trusting in Jesus’ cross led to new life

The Gospel writers wanted us to know about their spiritual journey, so that we would make it our own.  This is Good News on a Good Friday.

Let us go, my friends, to Calvary’s Hill and gazing at the cross lose our false livesso that we may claim our truest self, the self made in the image and likeness of God the self made new through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Amen.

 

A sermon for Epiphany 7 Year A, 2011.  The lectionary readings are Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18Psalm 119:33-401 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23 and Matthew 5:38-48.

I meet on occasion with youth ministers around the diocese and we’ve been talking and reading about the experiences of young people who make mission trips and pilgrimages, who spend some time away from home and come back seeing their own world with new eyes. Almost all of them recount a process of going through a disorienting dilemma.

Disorienting dilemmas are events, natural or constructed, that pull the rug out from under us far enough to make our existing cultural toolkits inoperable. They can be as ordinary as adjusting to a Mac after years of owning a pc or as profound as traversing a ropes course, adopting a child, changing jobs or going to therapy

Now, not every disorienting dilemma is positive:
a parent’s death or divorce
a friend’s drug use or suicide attempt
disorient us as well

Yet disorienting dilemmas go hand-in-hand w/ spiritual transformation.

And when I think about the Sermon on the Mount and especially today’s Gospel, with its mind-blowing, radical 3 word core: love your enemies, I think this is the kind of thing that gets written only AFTER someone has experienced a disorienting dilemma. Love your enemies is an ethical command but it is more than that, I think. It’s an invitation
an invitation to a deeper truth
an invitation to make our own spiritual journey
an invitation into a disorienting dilemma

Let me tell you about Gabrielle. (The story of Gabrielle is found in Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010: 157-84.)

After graduating from high school, in that summer between high school and college, Gabrielle went on a youth group trip for 5 days to Mexico.

During the trip, in one of the many discussions about the young ruler who must give up his possessions to follow Jesus, the youth group leader issued a challenge: give away your most prized possession – not necessarily the most expensive but the one with the most sentimental value and do it by the end of the summer:
there were sharp inhalations and an outbreak of mutterings
and, as G tells it, people began racking their brains
– some knew they couldn’t do it (wedding ring, something to pass down to daughter)
– but G wanted to accept the challenge but didn’t know what her most precious possession was

The story and her trip launched a disorienting dilemma for G, unmasking her identity as a consumer and achiever.

She’d gone to help build a school in rural Mexico and, though she felt like she knew the look of urban poverty, this was her first glimpse of rural poverty. One of the images, she said, that most struck her was that of an old woman who sold chewing gum sitting on a blanket:
The woman, the blanket and the gum were all dirty
It was unappetizing but this is the kind of thing poor people of pride do to earn an living
G felt bad for her but didn’t stop, didn’t buy any gum and wondered
What would I give up for her?

“Would I have given her my lunch of rice cakes and peanut butter? Probably, because I wasn’t too hungry that day. But would I have given away my dinner at the campsite? Would I have given up my sunshower had she needed it, and as a result been filthy overnight? I don’t know.”

The trip in the end changed G’s attitudes towards material possessions:

“It didn’t so much make me hate opulence as it made me realize how I don’t need material goods to be happy. It’s funny, that’s what [yg leader] has been trying to tell us with his Bible passage about the young ruler all week…. But it took this trip to make it real. I don’t feel repulsed by what I have. I feel sickened by how little it does and how long it took me to share.”

It’s hard not to compare G’s desire for generosity with a prayer attributed to St. Ignatius that begins as our psalm for today does:

“Lord, teach me your statutes. Teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not count the cost, to fight and not heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward…”

There is something here that speaks of what our Gospel command must mean. Love your enemies, says Jesus.

Love your enemies. Not just your kin, tribe, clan. Not just your
neighbors. Yr enemies.

Why? (You know, the gospel sometimes is really hard, really hard. This is one of those times.)
Jesus does not promise that love will turn your enemies into friends
Jesus does not pretend that turning the other cheek will save the wicked
Jesus does not say love is required because it’s the thing that will make the world right.
(We think this, don’t we; you expect me to say it. But J doesn’t promise this.)

Instead, Jesus is calling for a love that does not depend on some THING,
some particular outcome,
any particular goal.

“Love your enemy” seems to call for us to do good to the enemy
despite the circumstances
and without regard for any particular result.

“Lord, teach me your statutes. Teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not count the cost, to fight and not heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward…”

Turn the cheek, give the cloak, go the extra mile, lend, love the enemy. Why? Because this is how God loves. Full stop.

This is how God loves. “Be perfect.” “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”

“Be perfect” and Jesus and Gabrielle’s journal give us some hints. Gabrielle and we are works in progress, and her disorienting dilemma bore fruit, she says, because of two things:

1. The first is that she insists, without really understanding why, that it was the trip, the experience, the doing of the trip, that made all the difference for her. And that “just do it, Nike-like” response feels very much like gospel truth:
pick up your mat and walk
love your enemies: pray for them
do good to them
salute them

It’s action, not emotion, that Jesus calls for. And the action of her trip meant that she was
put in situations that disoriented and opened up new possibilities for her.

What did she see in the end?

“Boundaries. Boundaries between rich and poor, between comfort zones and courage, between old knowledge and new realizations, between Spanish and English, between Mexico and the US, between who you were and who have become. These boundaries were challenged and… broken – or, since broken is a negative-sounding word, how about transformed?”

The second important element is her own reflection. Her journal. Begin then with action, then reflect.

And, at the end of the summer – what did possession did she give up?
not her iPod – which though valuable could be replaced
not her class ring
not her photos
what was her greatest treasure?
it came to her one night, she woke with a start and a realization, “oh, no!” But she knew and she knew who to give it to…. who would know best what to do with it. She gave her journal to her youth leader, who shared it with other youth leaders, including this one.

This was her record of her own disorienting dilemma
an account of her own transformation

Doesn’t this sound like what St. Matthew will have done?

I can see Matthew working at his papyri:
I have been transformed by Jesus in ways I can barely articulate,
but will recount for others to experience in this shocking account
This was key to my spiritual journey, says St. Matthew, my
disorienting dilemma,
that it could be possible, one step at a time, to be confronted by
a love so outrageous it included his enemies –

If you want to follow this God, fleshed in Jesus, be prepared to make your own spiritual journey and know that it may well come with a disorienting dilemma. It’s okay. Let yourself be transformed.

Amen.

A Sermon for the Feast of All Saints, 2010.  Lectionary readings are Revelation7: 2-4, 9-17 and Matthew 5: 1-12.

Good morning and Happy Feast of All Saints! One of my very favorite feast days – a day when we lift up and remember ALL the saints – as Bruce reminded us in his Grace Notes reflection – a group of people that in the earliest church would have meant all the baptized faithful, all of us who are members in the Body of Christ, from the very beginning, now and into the future. Now, that’s a cloud of witnesses! And, as we’ll see, this is a feast day with cosmic proportion. So, welcome to All Saints’ Day!

My maternal grandmother, after whom I am named, was a collector of glass objects but the ones I liked best was a handsome collection of glass balls.
– Some were about the size of golf balls,
– others were bigger,
– some had objects embedded within them: butterflies or a flower –
whose delicate petals were forever preserved by the glass,
and in whose curve their details were magnified.
– There were colored glass balls
– and a great Murano glass ball from Italy with its brilliant, fun and
intricate multi-colored pattern.
– But my favorite was a clear ball of glass, about the size of a small
baseball or a field hockey ball, composed of crazed glass –
glass that was marked by fine, spider web like cracks all
through it.

It LOOKED like it could break apart at any moment, as if – if
you were but to touch it once in the wrong way, the whole
thing would shatter into a zillion pieces. But it was, in fact,
one of the sturdiest pieces.

My grandmother called this glass sort of crazed glass “saints’ glass”. It was an odd term for her – she was a good Yankee – a Congregationalist from Connecticut, which is to say, descended from Puritans, those dour Thanksgiving people whose notion of purity meant the ridding the Church of England of such popish notions as saints. Still, there it was in her collection, saints’ glass, and we both loved it. I wonder now if it didn’t have something to do with its seeming fragility that belied a true inner strength. A quality I recognized in her and one shared by all saints.

Our collect for today says that the saints bask continually in the presence of God and in so doing know “ineffable joys”. Ineffable joys. What a great word “ineffable”. It means incapable of being expressed in words. You gotta love a language with such a deep sense of irony that there is a word that means incapable of being described with words. Ineffable joy. Unspeakable joy.

Who wouldn’t want that?

Who wouldn’t want to count themselves among the saints?

Who wouldn’t want to sing out – as the kids in Sunday School soon will – of our longing to be counted in that number, when the saints go marching in?
– to count oneself as among the blessed
– to bask in the ineffable joy of God’s presence

To be remembered, as our reading from Ecclesiasticus puts it:
– remembered as having been apportioned glory
– remembered as having ruled with valor and wise counsel
– remembered for having had insight for prophetic oracle
– remembered for having been wise in instruction
– remembered for having composed musical tunes or written poetry
– remembered as having been endowed with resources and living
peacefully in our homes

THOSE were the marks of blessing:
– glory, wealth, valor, skill, accomplishment, wisdom

And, as Matthew tells it, that would have been what Jesus’ hearers expected when he began his Sermon on the Mount.

You can almost see the crowds in your minds eye, can’t you? Settling in to hear the familiar words, tuckin g in to their hampers for whatever was the first-century Judean equivalent was of fried chicken, deviled eggs and corn bread, with one eye on the kids and another on the Teacher himself.

And then the shock of the substance of Jesus’ list. Imagine the crowd, stopped in mid-mouthful, to hear:

instead of riches, the blessed are those who are POOR in spirit
instead of the powerful and mighty, Jesus says, “no, no – it is the
meek who will inherit”
instead of the happy, the blessed are those who mourn and know
deep, deep loss
instead of those who are fat and sleek, the blessed are those who
hunger and thirst for righteousness

The blessed, the holy ones, in short, are those who know they need God and who turn to him. Or, the list goes on, they are those who act as though they’ve already gone through that test of need, have come to know God’s grace and now have emerged, driven to holiness of life:
with their patient regard for one another
with their commitment in the face of persecution
with their willingness to strive for peace

In St. John the Divine’s outrageous Revelation, part of which we heard this morning, a group of people are standing in white amid angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Who are they, our narrator quizzes one of the angels. “They are those who have come out of the great ordeal,” is the reply.

Is it possible that Jesus is suggesting that life itself is that ordeal?

Could it be that to be a saint is to live and love amidst the ordeals of life?

Is it possible that saintliness is born at very those times we would just as soon avoid: times of poverty, confusion or doubt, times of emptiness, despair, pain or fear – in short, in times of ordeal? I think that’s exactly what Jesus is saying.

The psalmist sings to God, “you have tried us as silver is tried”. That is, you have put us through your refiner’s fires to mold and shape us. Or, as I began to think this week, you have put us—we fragile, glass-like creatures – into a great annealing fire until our faces are covered with fine, spider-like cracks. The faces of saints. The faces of those who know our deepest need for God and God’s deepest blessings.

*** *** ***

Today, we will baptize a new member into the Body of Christ, welcome a new saint into our midst. We will make the sign of the cross on his forehead with the cool waters of baptism, reminding him of the coolness of God’s hand amidst the refining fires of life. You know, we cannot prevent our children from ever knowing life’s ordeals or pain. But we can prepare them by bathing them in God’s own living water.

I was reminded this week at clergy convention that it was the earliest believers who came up with a set of particularly vivid images to try to capture something of the complexity of what goes on in the sacrament of baptism, most of which we will sing about shortly in a hymn to get us to the font and back and again:
– in baptism, early believers said, we are immersed in Jesus Christ
and washed clean
– in baptism, we are plunged into His death so that we might rise
from those waters clothed in his resurrection life
– in baptism, we are covered with the waters of holiness so that we
might be reborn as saints, part of God’s new creation.

Baptism, my friends, is one of the ways God makes the world new. And with every baptism, all of us, indeed, the entire universe, is made new. A single baptism, it turns out, has cosmic consequences.

Baptism changes us as individuals and changes the rest of us as the mystical body of Christ. It makes us new, until at length, we look on God not through the crazed glass of our lives but face-to-face and come to share in his ineffable joys.

Amen.

A sermon for the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, November 11, 2009. The lectionary readings are Neh. 7:73b-8:3,5-18 and Matt. 15:29-39.

On this day, this very day, 25 years ago, I was late. I was living in London and doing research on late medieval England. I’d spent the morning at home and was trying to get to the Public Record Office in central London by 11, so I could order the afternoon’s documents before meeting a friend for lunch. But it was already 10:30 and I was running late. Still, I might just make it if I hustled – and, what luck, the bus was right there and we made good time at this non-rush hour.

We’d made it through the East End and into the City, the heart of the financial district and the cite of commerce and trade since Anglo-Saxon times. We had passed the Bank of England and were approaching St. Paul’s cathedral, when we stopped. I took no notice, since there’s lots of stopping and starting through this part of town but then, I noticed, we didn’t move at all. Lights turned green and the bus didn’t move. The lights turned yellow, red and green again – through two full cycles and still we didn’t move.

“This is crazy, we need to get going,” I thought to myself. And as the lights began to change for a third cycle, I grabbed my bag and hopped off the bus. I can walk faster than this guy! I had taken 6, maybe 7 or 8 steps when I noticed a man ahead of me, looking at me in horror. I’m embarrassed to admit now, his horror didn’t stop me, but there was a woman behind him, who had been about to go into the Boots (drug store) who pursed her lips in disapproval. I stopped. Looked around and noticed that no one was moving. It wasn’t just my bus, it was all traffic – there was even a car in the middle of an intersection that had just stopped. People on the street – every last one of them – was stopped where they were.

The only sound I heard were the bells of St. Paul’s – and then I realized they were tolling the hour. I still hadn’t fully understood and looked ahead to a man behind the woman going into the Boots, who looked at me, smiled gently and tapped his finger on his lapel, twice. And I saw there the paper poppy. And then I knew: it was the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month. It was Armistice Day in Britain. When the bells stopped, we continued to stand where we were for a full minute of silence. In this great city, the heart of busiest commercial London, everyone was stopped. And silent. It was the largest, most arresting civic liturgy I’ve ever witnessed.

Our reading from Nehemiah recounts that period of rebuilding at the end of the Babylonian Exile. Under the scribe Ezra’s lead, the festival of booths was reestablished. In that festival, Israelites built temporary shelters to reenact their time in tents in a military-style camp and as a reminder of their total dependence on God, the God who created them, who had released them from bondage in Egypt, fed them with manna and had made them a covenant people. God tabernacled with them in their camp – and the festival of booths came then (as now) with the reading of the law as a reminder of God’s faithfulness and love.

Perhaps there is something about a soldier’s ethos that can bring one close to God. That is what Gregory, a later bishop of Tours, said about Martin. “Martin was a soldier and knew the difference between non-war and peace.” True peace was an inward thing that only God could accomplish – a purifying of the heart to a more complete life in Christ. It was Christ’s peace – the peace of God that passes understanding – that converted Martin, that turned his heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

May God today turn our hearts – that in caring for our veterans we do more than thank them for their service but recognize the debt we already owe to those who have risked their lives. Their selflessness binds our fates to theirs. Let us recognize those who were willing, in Lincoln’s words, to give the last full measure of devotion, for us.

Following Martin’s example, let us seek to care for our veterans. Let us clothe those who are naked, feed those who are hungry, release those who are bound by physical, mental and spiritual bonds.

Today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we should be exchanging the peace. May it stop us in our tracks. May that exchange of the peace turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. On this Veterans Day may we know and come to share Christ’s peace.

Amen.

 

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