Sunday, November 5, 2023 – Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. 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 Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
You’ve no doubt heard the platitude, “When God closes one door, God always opens another one,”… A wise woman I knew years ago liked to amend that by adding, “When God closes one door, God always opens another…but it’s hell in the hallway.”
I know many of you have heard me say this…it’s one of my favorite go-to quotes when people express anxiety about change.
I think it often it helps…to inject a bit of humor…because humor can inoculate us from slipping too easily into that reptilian part of our brain where we take everything way too personally and so very seriously.
On the other hand, it can also remind us that everything is always in flux…that, in fact, even when we do walk through that next door that God is inevitably holding open for us…we will still find ourselves in yet another passageway…that it’s turtles all the way down…and we have always lived in the hallway.
The people who received the letter that we heard part of as our first reading this morning…they were in the hallway. We don’t know exactly what kind of hallway it was…we don’t know the communal shifts, or schisms, or upheavals that were going on…but we know that none of the letters which were eventually canonized into the New Testament were written because things were going swimmingly, and no one had any questions, and there was nothing to report.
All of the letters in the New Testament were written… because something was going on and people were “caring loudly” about it. They were in a period of transition and disruption…wrestling with feelings of dis-ease…and nostalgia…and even despair…and the authors of these letters are encouraging them to keep the faith…and reminding them that God loves them and is taking care of them, and that they are still…becoming…
“See what love God has given us, that we should be called children of God…[And], we are God’s children … [BUT] what we will be…has not yet been revealed.”
We are God’s children…AND…we are still becoming whatever it is that God needs us to be. Our transformation is not complete. That is as true today as it was in the first century.
We are in our own hallway…a time of massive change…everything from the macro to the micro—from the climate… to the ways in which we interact with each other…it is all shifting…familiar landmarks are disappearing, trusted institutions are evaporating…misinformation abounds…and everyone…everyone…business, schools, governments, and non-profit organizations are all trying to figure out what needs doing, and how to do it in this hallway we are in.
“What we will be has not yet been revealed.”
This is true at All Saints as well. We are not the same parish we were…even last year…let alone 5, 10, 50, 100 years ago. A parish like this…one that is vital… and alive…is always changing…because we are a living system…and constantly trying to adapt to the needs of the people within and around us.
This building is actually a beautiful metaphor for this…The cornerstone of this church was laid 125 years ago…but this building has never been finished…at least not in the way that the original designers envisioned it. And we are continuing to—not simply repair it, but to—actively reimagine how it can best serve God’s mission of reconciliation today and in the years to come.
I’m reminded of another quote, that is often attributed to Oscar Romero, the martyred bishop of El Salvador…it was actually written by another bishop in Saginaw, MI…It’s another reminder of what we are about, as children of God…
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. . . .
This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and to do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.” [source]
I invite you to take a moment … and let yourself become aware of everyone who has ever passed through this place…those you know…those you don’t know…the living, the deceased…the ancestors that we honor and remember today…and those we sadly no longer remember…Then go ahead and include all of the people who have inhabited this land…and all our ancestors in the faith…Give yourself permission to become aware of that great cloud of witnesses that always surrounds us.
With all of them around us, ponder these questions:
What was it that called all of them together…here? What continues to call us together? What do we believe is possible together that is not possible alone What do we hope to bring forth by joining with them and with others? [source]
When we can clearly articulate the answers to those questions…we’ll know which way to go…which door to walk through next…
Beloved, we are God’s children … [AND] we are still becoming the saints we have been called to be…and what we are becoming…and were we are going…is always just up ahead…down the hall and through the next door…and we will make it there…together…with all the saints…and with God’s help and guidance. Amen.