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 Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
You know what’s amazing? I mean other than the fact that we’re 125 years old and we look this good.
Surviving and thriving for 125 years is amazing, but that’s not what I’m thinking about.
Nor is it all of the things that have changed over the past 125 years, although that is pretty amazing too. There have been a lot of changes, in 1894 when this parish was founded women didn’t have the right to vote; there were no cars on the road…Karl Benz had only just that year received a patent for a gasoline powered automobile; Coca-Cola was a product known only in Georgia (they just started bottling and advertising it in 1894). No movies or movie theatres….Thomas Edison was working something called a Kinestoscope which would lead to the development of motion pictures…None of the current professional sports teams in Boston existed…no Red Sox, no Fenway Park, no Patriots, Celtics, or Bruins…Boston College was still in the South End…and BU was still scattered around Beacon Hill… there was a Green Line, but only down Beacon Street, and it was practically brand new…it was a very different world. You can read about many of the changes here at All Saints, and get a wonderful window into our history by reading the wonderful Saints Alive—do you all have a copy of this?—(many thanks to Marianne and Page Evett, and all who contributed to it). I hope all of you have had a chance to read it.
The changes over the past 125 years have been amazing, but that’s not what I’m thinking of either. History is always a combination of change and continuity. Of course, things change…sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly…but things also stay the same—sometimes tenaciously, sometimes more fluidly. It’s the continuity that I find amazing…how we are more similar to our ancestors in faith than we are often aware of…
The week All Saints officially joined the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and was “received into convention,” (May 1896) our first rector, Daniel Addison, preached a sermon that Sunday that is remarkably resonant today (Addison, The Parish and the Diocese, a sermon preached 10 May 1896, All Saints Archives)
First of all, did you know there were disagreements over liturgy, and polity back then, just like there are now…Parishes that were “too radical,” and others that are “too medieval.” Parishes that balked at episcopal authority, and those, like All Saints, that tried to be a team player…
That’s one thing…but it is his description of our context that is remarkable…“Massachusetts,” he said, “is a centre of great intellectual activity.” Then as now. “Its schools and colleges are easily the foremost in the land, and the questionings that result from a stimulated inquiry are more difficult to meet here.” We often like to imagine that our ancestors lived in a world where faith came more easily, the church was more deeply embedded in daily life, and they weren’t so troubled by the questioning and doubt that we often have…but it wasn’t so…Addison says, “the doubt and open skepticism of the people must here be dealt with boldly, and the reasonableness of our faith must be constantly proved.” As it was in 1896 so it is today…there is plenty of doubt about the validity and reasonableness of our faith, and our public witness must constantly be borne out and our faith given a voice…
He goes on…“Massachusetts is a centre of great commercial activity.” Then as now. “It becomes therefore the duty of the church to seek to influence the complicated life of a people who are seeking material success.” We know a thing or two about that…the complicated lives of people seeking material success, but also the complicated lives of people just trying to get by… In this context, the churches voice, he says, “must be lifted, in the haunts of trade; its ideals must be kept before the eyes of the wage-earner and the employer, the banker, the professional […] the merchant, and the statesman. It is the church’s duty to face the philanthropic and social problems of the time, and to take the lead in all reforms.” Aren’t we still trying to make our voice heard…our authentic voice…that proclaims God’s love, and backs that proclamation up with actions that are genuinely loving and humble and just?
[…] “America,” he says, “needs more religion and more reverence; more [people] who are not actuated by selfish motives.” It’s like he wrote this last week. We might quibble about what he means by needing more religion, and whether and what kind we actually need, but I think we’d all agree that more reverence and fewer people motived by purely selfish motives would be a huge step in the right direction.
Then as now…our world is full of doubt, and skepticism, and avarice and greed and people trying hard to live lives of simple faith in a complicated world. The more things change the more they stay the same.
The women and men who founded this parish certainly had hopes and dreams but in looking through the archives, I haven’t come across any grand vision that they proclaimed…what they had was faith in God, and according to Daniel Addison, a tremendous “faith in the future.” They had a powerful sense that the church has a place in contemporary life…that in the midst of doubt and significant challenges the church has to be part of contemporary life…because the church (at it’s best) is a place of hope, a place of community…a place of transformation.
The vision of the church is the vision of Revelation 21, that we heard this evening. It is a prophetic vision, but not simply because it proclaims where we’re going and what’s to come…it’s prophetic because it is a real and compelling description of how the reign of God unfolds here and now…any time, and every time we become aware that God has come to live and work among us…
Our ancestors in the faith knew that churches are more than beautiful heaps of stone…they are tangible symbols of God’s abiding presence here and now…they are potent, visible promises that the way of love, and life, and peace, and grace…are always available…that the river of life, and the healing of nations…is not just possible someday but active and accessible now, always breaking in.
Generations before us have been fed and nurtured and sent forth from this place…just as we are fed, and nurtured and empowered to live out our ministries in the world. And it is through our lives and our ministries that the church continues to fulfill its duty of keeping before the eyes of all the ideals of peace and justice, facing the philanthropic and social problems of our time, and taking the lead in reforming them.
It’s amazing how much has and hasn’t changed in the past century and a quarter. As we give thanks this evening for this place and for the many, many faithful witnesses it has produced, let us also be encouraged and strengthened to carry on this work…“Let us never lose sight,” Addison concluded, “of the pure spiritual ideal of our holy vocation as servants to the community in which we live, and to the Church of which we are members…[aiding] those in need, [speaking] words of sympathy, [using] our minds for seeking the truth […] [giving] our thought and our time to the world that sadly needs all that we can do for it; [our] reward is the joy of duty fulfilled, and the blessed promises of God which we have learned to trust.” Amen.