Sunday, November 19, 2017

19 November 2017 ~ I want to walk as a child of the light

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
19 November 2017

“I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.  In him there is, no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike.”

When you walk around the side of the National Cathedral you come to stone stairs which lead down to the undercroft of the cathedral, where you can find some of the most beautiful chapels in that marvelous holy place.  As you descend the stairs, looking down to make sure that your feet do not slip, if you look up you see carved into the stone above the words, “A House of Prayer for All People.”  These words were carved there many decades ago, many decades before the Cathedral embarked on marketing plans, on catchy vision statements, visually arresting websites, and hundreds of marketing swag items sold in the cathedral bookshop.  “A House of Prayer for All People” is quite a remarkable statement of welcome for all of God’s people, not merely those who can recite the Ten Commandments, or the Nicene Creed, or the Episcopal Church’s Catechism printed in the back of our Book of Common Prayer.  

I have walked down those steps hundreds of times, and having lived on the Cathedral Close, I know many nooks and crannies of that building...I know a few places where you can sit and pray uninterrupted, where you can find a medieval monk’s bench where you can rest in the place where hundreds of monks have prayed.  For me, that “house of prayer” is, in so many ways, a home to me.  I used to attend the daily 7am Eucharist in the stunning Bethlehem Chapel where in the 90s only about 15 people attended the services, and my fellow worshipers included Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter, and the celebrant at least weekly was Senator and Priest John Danforth.  There, even amidst such notable heroes, I found a home for my soul, and was at rest.

“All People” signals to me the deep sense that we are all Children of God, and that we are each loved by God, blessed by God and gifted by God.  Each of us is special.  As my friend and chaplain colleague used to preach, with the style only a life-long Baptist can do, “You are special….you are loved by God...Just like everyone else.”  Of course, each of us are blessed by God, but then we have to remember that so is our neighbor, so is our colleague, so is our seatmate in the pew, so is our fellow vestry member, so is our fellow committee member, so is our fellow volunteer at the nonprofit, so is our fellow citizen who sees things politically just as we do, and so is our fellow citizen whose views we abhor and detest!  If you go online and look up “Washington National Cathedral” and scan around for awhile, you will see the range of people who worshipped there: Martin Luther King, Jr., Ravi Shankar, Princess Diana, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Noor of Jordan, Billy Graham, Thich Nhat Hanh, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Woodrow Wilson, … Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, Republicans, Democrats, Americans, Russians, Native Americans, ….and where Ronald Reagan, legendery baseball player Walter Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, “A House of Prayer for All People, indeed. “

This “House of Prayer” models for us the sense that our worship spaces are, at the same time, “houses of God” and also homes for us.  We are each the “children of the light” who come to these “houses of God” so that we might worship, that we might get “strength for the journey,” that we might experience some of the free-flowing gifts from God and from our neighbors.  

Here, in this house, this home, we receive blessing and love from God, and we strive to also give and receive love to each other.  No matter who we are, what number is at the bottom of our bank statements, no matter what color of skin, no matter our age numerically, our physical status, our mental state.  Here, this “house of prayer” just like the National Cathedral, becomes a home for us when we embrace the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  St. Mary’s is your church, your home, and also is the home for all those who enter our doors.  “A spiritual home for all people.”  

Here, we are reminded each week that we are all Children of God, and we are God’s beloved.  Because of this outpouring of love and compassion we are “children of the light,” here, I pray that we each receive the coziness of home.  Here, we experience a sense of home that we may not have always received in our own homes.  Here, we are God’s beloved, and we belong.  “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” perhaps should say, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You Home.”  We know that we cannot stay here in the cozy embrace forever, but we are empowered to be children of the light, and we are empowered to follow Jesus, and be the Church of Jesus Christ in the world.  We are given strength for the journey, in prayer, and song, and community, and sacrament, we are emboldened and given sustenance to face the world, and to not merely face the world, but transform the world.  

“I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.  In him there is, no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike.”

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