6 September 2020
Sermon preached by The Rev. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
That’s how long it’s been since we last gathered together as a whole community in this space.
26 weeks. That’s half a year. “The beginning of months” for us started in early Lent. We wondered if this would all pass by Easter. We hoped maybe it would. It didn’t. We began gathering together online. We learned how to navigate Zoom…we prayed together during the week. Checked-in on Sundays. We called and emailed one another…trying our best to make sure we were still connected…that we didn’t leave anyone behind…as we began our exodus from the world we knew. We learned quickly how Livestream, and we were able to do some pretty cool things for Holy Week, which helped, but it wasn’t the same…there was no packed church resounding with people singing “Jesus Christ is risen today…alleluia!” At times we had to pause and mourn what we had lost…what we were losing…what we are losing.
As Pentecost neared, George Floyd was murdered, and the ever-smoldering embers of injustice burst into a new conflagration…the Holy Spirit fanned the flames of racial justice and we gathered together…online…and out in the streets…and, as tired as we were, we recommitted ourselves to the hard, vital, humbling work of becoming more anti-racist. We continued our Courageous Conversations…many of us attended workshops and additional trainings over the summer…and next week after church you’ll be able to hear more about those.
The pandemic necessitated the shut down of business which devastated the unhoused community and our food-insecure neighbors…and so we got creative, and found new ways of continuing to provide meals for our blessed and resilient siblings in the MANNA community. We discovered new ways of supporting the work of B-Ready through St. Stephen’s in the South End in July. And a new partnership with Church of the Redeemer providing groceries to school-aged kids and their families in the area.
We responded with donations from our Outreach fund to Episcopal City Mission’s Rapid Response Grants, to The Greater Boston Food Bank, The Brookline Food Pantry. We helped out the Evergreen Korean Church in assisting members of their congregation who are suffering because of COVID. And many of you have been incredibly generous and donated to the rector’s discretionary fund, and I am able to help parishioners and others who have been significantly affected the pandemic.
26 weeks…still the pandemic goes on.
We are so incredibly blessed with creative and committed lay leaders who have risen to every challenge. The executive committee, faithfully guiding us through rough financial waters…the vestry and regathering committee providing calm guidance and setting a prudent direction as we continue to cautiously re-open our spaces…the staff who have stepped in to do a variety of different tasks. The Facility Use Committee, who has maintained vital connections with all of the groups who call All Saints home. The Daughters of the King learned how to do Zoom centering prayer, and online prayer vigils, and continue week by week to give voice to all of our prayers…lectors mastered the art of video recording and uploading…teenagers stepped up to help with the livestream…Book groups continue to meet, and now a new spirituality book group and a new bible study are about to start online.
Stephan, and Tammy—gifts from God—who have been working throughout the summer to make sure we have vital, and variable programming for children, youth, and adults. If you want a dose of hope…I encourage all of you to take a look at the new children and youth page on our website. Or to tune into the live-streamed Compline this evening with 6 actual singers….you can look forward to more robust music next week when our full complement of our section leaders return.
And as long as the health metrics remain positive, you can look forward to small, communion services continuing probably twice a week…these are opportunities to see one another face to face (masked), and to share in the sacrament. No, it’s not the same. None of this is the same…It can’t be. But we’ve made it this far…and we will continue this journey.
Does it sound like I’m cheerleading? Maybe? But it’s not because I want us to deny reality…far from it. The road ahead is not going to get easier…and there is a lot that will be hard…and much we will have to let go of…We won’t have our regular parish picnic (we are planning a welcome back “picnic”—an outdoor service on the lawn, that you’ll hear more about soon)…we won’t have schola or choir rehearsals for…no one knows how long…At this point, I can’t imagine gathering to celebrate All Saints, or make pies for Thanksgiving, or sharing a glass of smoking bishop in the Rectory after Lessons and Carols…Christmas is probably going to be a lot like Easter this year? The literal and metaphoric fires in our world will continue and winter is coming. It does no good to deny reality.
The pre-COVID night is gone…the new day is dawning. We’ve known for a long time, that this is the “moment for us to wake from sleep”… but embracing and holding fast to that which is good is not denying reality. It’s remembering the fullness of it.
See, we all have a negativity bias…we all latch onto the negative faster and more easily than the positive. I heard somewhere that we have to hear a positive message at least three times before it will stick, but a negative message only once. Maybe this is why, next week, when asked how many times one has to forgive, Jesus says, “not seven but seventy-seven”…maybe it takes that many times for a positive message to get through.
So, yes, I’m accentuating the positive…and I’m urging you to hang on to that as well. Not because I’m a pollyanna, with rose-tinted glasses and “everything’s going to be just fine,”—we’ve seen too much in the past 26 weeks…we know too much is coming in the next several weeks… I’m highlighting the positive because “The night is far gone…” the day is here and we need to “live honorably” in it—we need our loins girded, we need a tenacious, faithful, eyes-wide-open hope. The chaos of fear and suspicion and broken trust is surging…the waters of rage are rising…the plagues are multiplying…
But with clear-eyed hope…with deep-rooted faith…with open-hearted humility…maybe…just maybe…we can look back to 26 weeks ago and see it as a kind of Exodus…The beginning of months…the moment when God reached down and ripped us away from the deadly, blind, all-consuming path we were on…and pointed us back toward the mountain of God…where, in just a few weeks, Jesus will stand and proclaim…”blessed are the poor, the meek, the humble, those hungering and thirsting for justice.”
26 weeks ago was a kind of exodus for us, and—spoiler alert—the story of the Israelites after the Exodus…the story we’re going to hear in some detail the next 8 weeks…it’s not all sunshine and rainbows…It’s hard. It’s difficult. It’s LONG. But you know what? No matter how long or difficult…no matter how many trials and tribulations they have…God never leaves them. God guides them. God feeds them. God remains faithful to them.
26 weeks. We have so much to be thankful for…so much to reflect on…so much to repent of…so much to grieve. We’re not at the end of the journey…I don’t even know if we’re halfway…but I know we are still walking together. We are still the church. We are still the body of Christ in the world. We are still charged with carrying out God’s mission of reconciliation. We are still loving, and forgiving, and abiding with one another. And God is still leading us all along the way. Amen.