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A Dispatch From the Hospital Room: an Update on the Reverend Rob Lee

“Make it your business to lead a quiet life.”

Dear friends,

As I write this, I’m sitting in the emergency room at Davis Hospital in Statesville. It’s been one year almost to the day since I was thrust into a national conversation surrounding race and Christian thought. It has been one of the most challenging and gratifying years of my life.

Today I’m writing about my health and some concerns that we have regarding my travel. I’ve been nonstop for the past year, traveling from California to Massachusetts to New York City to Washington DC. We have made some progress with things and for that I am proud. But that isn’t to say it hasn’t taken a toll on me.

My breathing capacity is compromised due to a recent tear in my lungs and honestly I am at my whit’s end. My wife and I, in consultation with a myriad of doctors feel it’s best if I start practicing self-care. Frank the poodle agrees too.

To further this, I have been receiving nasty emails from people whom I once respected and people I don’t even know about my comments surrounding Duke Divinity School in my last blog post. This has taken a toll on me as well. This isn’t to say I can’t “take the heat” from my friends and foes, “but after a while you get tired of the bull” as my mom eloquently put it. I have lost friends and colleagues who all thought I was grandstanding on my views about race, a friend I love dearly doesn’t talk to me anymore because of this past year.

It’s with all this in mind, and in an effort to be transparent, I will not be taking any more speaking engagements or interview requests beyond that which is already on my calendar for the foreseeable future.

I am pursuing a PhD, teaching my classes at Appalachian, and working on marketing strategies for my book. I am also discerning my place in a denomination for continued practice of my ordained ministry— that list alone would make anyone tired and I’m starting to feel the side effects of that.

So, I’m going to borrow from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians and “make it my business to lead a quiet life” for the time being. I will continue to pursue book endeavors and hope to be preaching again in pulpits across this country in the new year. I hope that we will continue the good work started and I will continue to share book news, life news, and my thoughts from this platform. I just won’t be traveling to do it.

I hope you will understand and find some sense of empathy for my situation. I am forever grateful for your continued support and I look forward to fulfilling everything that I love doing most. The book will be released April 2, 2019, and we will be pursuing with a full tank on the beauty of what God has in store.

Please pray for me.

With every good wish,

Rob

The Rev. Robert W. Lee, IV

A Portrait of Elaine Heath

I WORK REALLY HARD to recognize my place in this world. I am a white, cis-gender male with an interesting connection to history. But before all that came to light I was at a student at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. That’s why I’m writing today, out of great concern for the institution where I laughed with friends, I cried over papers, and ultimately found God amidst the mess. To say that any divinity school experience is easy is a frivolous pursuit, but to say that Duke’s engagement with theology is easy is absurd. You see Duke Divinity has always been a place of diversity of thought, culture, and personalities. As far back as I can remember I have always seen Duke as a place where this was addressed in healthy, and sometimes not so healthy ways. I was excited when Dean Elaine Heath took the helm when I was in seminary, I thought it would be a chance for progression of thought and forward momentum for an institution I deeply love.

Now we’re here, two years since taking the helm at Duke Divinity School she is being replaced by Greg Jones, a former dean who prides himself on “traditioned innovation.” While I reached out to Dean Jones and committed to pray for his success and for the success of Duke, I feel like we are either going back to the future or forward to the past. For those who claimed Elaine was “a puppet for white males to control” I can assure you that was not the case. In fact, those who sought protection for themselves and other groups might soon find it worse off than where we once were. Just ask LGBTQ graduates who studied during 1997-2010.

Elaine Heath was a Godsend to Duke and we didn’t know how to handle it. We did not know how to receive the gifts and graces she had because we were guilty of being a complacent institution with poor dynamics of communication and transparency. These facts are not Elaine’s fault, and to suggest they are part of her doing is preposterous.

Out of all this, none of us, alumni, students, faculty, and staff win in this debacle. We may find ourselves deeper in the hole of institutional decline because we failed to recognize the gifts of someone who wanted to help us be better. That’s the problem with Duke University Divinity School: We live in our own bubble.

Let me tell you a story about Elaine Heath. It was a year ago this month that I turned my resignation in to a North Carolina church and found myself at the center of a firestorm of epic proportions. Elaine was the first from Duke Divinity’s faculty to reach out to me and offer support and prayers. I will never forget sitting in the entryway of my condo in Boone where I lived at the time with tears streaming down my face as she prayed for my wife and I as we navigated new and uncertain territory.

She endorsed my book, she listened carefully to people, and most importantly she fought for the wellbeing of students whether those students know it or not. She did so much “behind the scenes” work that wasn’t appreciated. After a hospital stay for my bipolar disorder she was instrumental in re-integrating me to the community with prayers and fervent support. For that I will be forever grateful.

I didn’t always agree with her, but I trusted that the God who called her was completing a good work in her and with our institution. It’s sad to see that Duke didn’t recognize that as well. It’s sad to see that we are moving away from a beloved albeit shattered community and further toward institutional brokenness that so many places of higher learning have succumb to. We can and must be better. We can and should be more careful to place blame without knowing the facts behind the walls of the ivory tower. We are Duke after all, and lest we become another historical site for those who wish to study the history of religion, we must trust that God was working through Elaine Heath for a better and more brighter future. On behalf of a broken body of alumni, students, faculty, and staff, I’d like to echo the refrain I’ve heard time and time again from countless places: Thank you Dean Heath, you have no idea the difference you made.

Dusty Bulletins and the Grace of God

God of dust and rainbows, help us to see without dust the rainbows would not be.- Langston Hughes

I CLEANED OUT our study today. It’s a task that I’ve been meaning to do for some time now but never really got around to doing it. You could say this year has been something of a whirlwind for me, but I poured through each piece of paper on my desk and went through it. Most of the paper went in the trash. Other treasures, I found were tax documents I’ve been looking for since last tax season, bills that still need to be paid (Public theology can be quite feast and famine for our family) and finally something that I think I’ll treasure most: Church bulletins.

There’s the bulletin from Madison Avenue Baptist Church and The Church of the Epiphany in Tempe, Arizona. (Who would of thought that Tempe would have a rocking Episcopal community?) There’s the MLK bulletin from the King Center and the bulletin from a friend’s wedding whom I love dearly. But I came across the bulletin that haunts me most: the bulletin from the Sunday after Charlottesville, where I preached at the church of my childhood. It gained national attention and eventually led to my resignation at a parish in North Carolina. Who would have thought that a sermon titled “The Providence of a Silent God” would garner such attention?

We live our lives by these bulletins, at least preachers do. We spend our time and effort making sure there are NO errors in grammar, spacing, and hymn numbers. We spend countless dollars on ink and paper to make sure the people of God in a gathered community have the opportunity to worship faithfully and effectively with the bulletin as our guides. Quite literally you can chart a church’s history by their bulletins. You can see what potluck was up on the calendar, or who the rose on the altar was dedicated to that day. It made me wonder what in the world am I going to do with these bulletins.

I think I’ll hold onto them for a while, I’ll put them in a box and put them away. I’ll pull them out and show my future children and grandchildren that their father/grandfather was a public theologian who had the opportunity to preach from some pretty incredible places, but most importantly he learned the value of trusting in a God who inspired authentic worship across the North American continent and beyond. I will tell that old, old story of Jesus and his love with these bulletins. I will tell everyone that will listen that God was our help in ages past and is in fact our hope for years to come, and I will hold nothing back.

These days have been hard, but by the grace of God I came out on the other side with my wife and poodle intact and found God there in the daylight. I was in the belly of the whale and found that the altar of God is found in these pages of bulletin paper, some are well done, some well… could use some work. But ultimately, I have found in these pages that the people of God are a restless and rambunctious bunch, ready for the hope of tomorrow, ready for the next bulletin to hastily discard on their way out of worship. Perhaps now you’ll appreciate a bulletin, perhaps now you might hold onto one that means something to you. They are, after all, the record of God’s people working in the world. Thanks be to God that by that incredible grace we are still working.

 

 

The Story of Tonight: Easter Vigil 2018

The story of tonight is the story of all of us.

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Easter Vigil 2018

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wilmington

May I speak in the name of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

For those of you who may not know my connection to St. Paul’s or why I’m preaching tonight, I have known Ronnie Wise, your choirmaster, since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. And one of the things that Ronnie has always instilled in everyone he has come in contact with is a love of the arts, and we can all thank him for helping to make this week truly holy. That being said, I love musical theater and I’ve had the opportunity to see Hamilton on Broadway twice now—I think Ronnie would be proud. For those of you who haven’t heard of this Tony Award winning musical you must have been in the tomb with Jesus for the past few years. Because truly it has taken the scene of our cultural landscape by storm. The musical chronicles the story of our 10-dollar founding father, Alexander Hamilton from his earliest beginnings to his demise at the hands of Vice-President Aaron Burr. But one particular song caught my attention the last time I saw the musical. The song is called, “The Story of Tonight.” In the song, Alexander and his comrades are preparing for the inevitable conflict with the British and they sit in a bar. They talk about how freedom is something the British could never take away, no matter what they are told. They remark in the song that the story of tonight is the story that will be told by their children and their children’s children into posterity.

I tell you this story of Alexander Hamilton and the American Revolution because I feel like we have found ourselves telling the ultimate story tonight. Where we left off yesterday all hopes had been dashed and all life from the body of our Lord had been taken. We had been left feeling written out of salvation’s script with nails piercing our God’s hands and a spear in his side. And yet, for some reason, for love so deep and so divine God came back. God chose to be reconciled to humanity through Christ by re-writing the story of tonight to make it the story of salvation. A story we will tell our children and our children’s children into posterity. This story so amazing, so divine, requires us to take stock in the moments and glimpses of salvation we have heard tonight.

My mother-in-law, the good Catholic lady that she is remarked that Easter Vigil isn’t for the faint of heart, and it isn’t. We have ran a marathon of Scripture and at the finish line we see the story isn’t over, for when all had been lost and all had been taken we found God there. We found the heart of Easter and the heart of faith in the tension between despair and hope… We found God in the heart of the cross and empty tomb because Christ is alive, Christ is alive forevermore, and in that abundance Christ offers abundance of life to us as well. The story of tonight is amazing grace made incarnate—It is that  indescribable feeling of hearing the first hymn of Easter and knowing deep down that resurrection happened in the first century and happens in the twenty-first century.

The beauty of Easter is that the story of tonight is also the story of tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow. We are met with Christ’s triumphant victory over death, and the Eucharist at the table to remember that reality, and we find ourselves in communion with the saints of glory and the Triune God. But this Easter I am left with the reminder that Jesus did not tell Mary to stay at the tomb, but to go forth for God in the hope of telling others about what she had seen. The first preacher was a woman in whom the world saw nothing, but Christ saw hope. I wonder if perhaps that’s you, that you feel like Mary coming to the tomb tonight, not out of hope but out of despair and doubt.

If that is the case then you only need to find your Bible when you get home and flip to the stories we read, because these stories show us that God chose a people and God does not give up on the chosen of Israel. Through Christ’s blessing of resurrection we are made part of that covenant for the sake of a better world. Abram’s faith and Sarah’s story show us that through Christ the first Adam is redeemed and so are we. That’s always been the beauty of Scripture for me, that it’s not only the source of our knowledge of God but the source of our knowledge of each other. We see ourselves in Adam’s fall, in Moses’ call, in Ruth’s faith, in David’s song, in the prophet’s weeping, the sage’s keeping, the hope of time fulfilled in Mary and the fellowship of bread and wine. These stories are not just fairy tales but the story of all of us. The story of God come near and made known to ordinary and common folk. People who thought differently, crazy enough to believe that God could and would make a way. And the even crazier reality is that God did make a way—through the Christ we now call risen.

So this Easter, as you go from this place, as you take with you the Body and Blood of our Savior and the light of Christ that could not be overcome by death, may you also find anew the hope that God is not done with this world… A new day is coming, a new day is dawning, a new hope has been born out of death, that even amidst the tombs of our existence something new is happening. This hope, renewed through the beauty of the story of tonight tells us God has not given up and will never give up on the chosen people of God, from Genesis to the culmination of all things in time and space we know that God is with us and God is for us.

Take heart, because the story of tonight is the story of all of us, brought near to Christ and to the new creation of salvation through him. Take his body and his blood and find that in that story you who have been lost have been found, those of you who have been blind in the doubt and despair of Good Friday have found Jesus saying to you, “Greetings!” and in that Easter word of hope, we see the resurrection and life of the world to come forever and in abundance.

The story of tonight, is the story of life everlasting. So take, eat, remember and look forward. For both then and there, here and now, and there and then we will find Christ alive. Behold he is alive and alive forevermore, bringing to those who long for freedom the hope of resurrection. That’s the greatest hope, that despite everything going on in our world the future is redeemed and restored. So let us work to make this place and space in Wilmington North Carolina a story of resurrection. We have work to do, but may we do so in the livelihood of resurrection.

When I was little, I remember the first time I had a realization that I was going to die. I was in the back of my mom’s green minivan and had what later we would diagnose as my first bipolar panic attack. I was so scared of dying that I was screaming and whaling in the van and my mom, not knowing what was going on pulled off and held me close. She told me that though the world seem oft so wrong, God is the ruler yet. That though I would one day face death I could have hope that Jesus faced death too.

Years later I was driving here to preach to you, and my wife Stephanie and I were talking theology. She remarked, “Isn’t it worth preaching that Jesus experienced the fullness of everything we could ever experience?” Let those words be your story tonight: That Christ would go to Hell and back to retrieve you and me, and in so doing the whole of Creation was reconciled to God.

This is the hope of our eternal story—We will face tragedy and despair, and in that tension we will even face death. But Christ’s victory this night shows us that nothing at all can keep us from the love of God made evident in the empty tomb. The story of tonight can be found in the words of John 1: The light shined in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. It tried, but it failed. “Where O death is thy victory? Where O death is thy sting?”—Paul would later write, and thanks be to God, that is the story we can tell the world. Amen, and Amen.

Harvard Faith and Life Lecture: The Sound of Silence

Harvard’s Faith and Life Lecture February 11th, 2018

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FOR A TIME, in the 1950’s the story goes—you could not go through the town in which I grew up without humming the Kingston Trio’s hit, “Tom Dooley.” The song has lyrics such as these: “Hang your down your head Tom Dooley, poor boy you’re bound to die, Hang down your head Tom Dooley, you killed poor Laura Foster and now you’re bound to die.” I’ve heard that song since I was a child and even the great late folk legend Doc Watson covered the song. What’s fascinating is that this song encapsulates a story of Tom Dulah, a 19th century Confederate veteran caught in a love triangle who was hung for the murder of Laura Foster on Depot Hill in Statesville.

Permit me, if you will, to take you to Depot Hill in Statesville, North Carolina. It’s May 1st, 1868 and this former Wilkes county native had been tried in Wilkes County and convicted of murder in the 1st degree. The art of capital punishment in the 1860’s was nothing short of a spectacle to behold. The town lore of my hometown states that the streets were filled with men, women, and children of all ages ready to behold the site of Tom Dulah taking his final walk up the hill to be hanged by the court’s order.

I’ve been fascinated with this story since I first heard it on the ghost tours around Halloween as a child. But I’ve become more fascinated with the spectacle witnessed at his execution sine I was in undergraduate school and studying prison literature. We certainly have come to a different understanding of capital punishment since the 1860’s, and though we haven’t abolished it as we should, we have a deeper willingness to keep those matters private to the courts and the state.

You may be wondering why I’m telling  you the story of Tom Dulah today. I feel as if clergy including myself, across this country  are speaking up on issues that matter. We are modern day Tom Dulahs. Sure we committed the crime of proclaiming love triumphant, no matter the cost, but we do not deserve the spectacle of hanging we are receiving in the court of pubic opinion by modern-day witch hunters.

But I don’t come today as a Tom Dulah saying the sacrifice of love wasn’t worth the cost of losing my job and my livelihood. It was, in fact, quite the opposite. The modern day church has become purveyors and spectators of the hanging of clergy. We are hanging our clergy out to dry. My Depot Hill was saying “Black Lives Matter” to millions of people on MTV as a pastor. My congregation thought I had endorsed a terrorist organization by saying those words and no longer wanted to be associated with me.

This has caused traumatic strife in my life. Professor Walton asked me to speak in this forum and lecture to the cost of speaking up and it is evident: I’m exhausted, I’m never home as a newlywed, and my health has had its rough patches. But in spite of it all, in spite of the realities of what I have faced. I look to Mark’s Gospel—For Mark’s Gospel makes it clear what good is it to gain the world and lose your soul?

73849_488724496041_7554491_nWHEN I FIRST MET the Reverend Professor Peter J. Gomes I had him sign my books and I made a statement that I knew in my heart to be true: One day I will preach from your pulpit at Harvard. Every preacher worth their weight looks to that pulpit for strength, sustenance, and hope. For years it has been a place of innovation and creativity in homiletics, and I knew even in high school that I wanted to be a part of it.

Whether a preacher will tell you this or not, we all have a list. There are certain churches that we’d just love to preach from. For me, Harvard’s Memorial Church is at the top of that list. So when Peter Gomes’ successor at the Church Professor Jonathan L. Walton called me and invited me to preach I was in tears. I called my wife and my mom and I proclaimed that dreams do come true.

But then I had this sinking feeling, getting to this place had cost so much. I’ve lost friends who don’t even recognize my presence anymore, I’ve lost the respect of seminary classmates, I’ve lost faith (sometimes in God, sometimes in myself). I know that for these reasons, the pulpit of Memorial Church doesn’t look like it did when I was in high school. It’s now a sign of the cost of discipleship.

You see I thought I’d ride in here one day as a professor of homiletics on a white horse and tell Harvard what they could do better to save their souls. Now I’m more riding in on a donkey telling them that I’m lucky to have made it out of this part of life alive. But maybe that’s the lesson I’m supposed to take from such an auspicious pulpit: God doesn’t like preachers arriving on white horses with their swords drawn, God prefers them arriving on asses and sometimes being so foolish they are the ass. Because God does God’s best work when all hope is lost, when it’s early on a Sunday morning and the tomb seems insurmountable.

This hope for me is the same hope God offers all of us. We are meant to shine just as Christ did on the mount of Transfiguration. We are meant to show the world that it may be cruel but God is good. The cancer may return, the job may be lost, the child may never make it out of the womb but God’s kingdom is coming near and I am filled with certainty that it will be made right in our world. I know that doesn’t answer grave theological questions of theodicy but it gives me hope for the future and the future of the coming kingdom is that God draws near. God made us for resiliency and that resiliency will see us through to the last and final breath.

THE COST OF SACRIFICE is great but the sound of silence is worse than speaking up and failing miserably. Will we speak up when the moment is costly and the cost of discipleship is looming over us? Will we enable spectators and Twitter trolls to have the last word as they did with Tom Dulah? I’m not making excuses for a murderer, but I am not going to condone spectacular acts of execution for anyone whether figuratively or literally. We must all be called to act. We must all be called to speak up and speak out in God’s name. It may not be from Harvard’s pulpit but it will be from places that change who we are and make us into the people that God intended for us to be.

May we be bold in our resolve and in our resolutions of faith. May we be willing to walk away if it’s going to cost us our souls. I’m proud to be preaching today but I know as my confirmation mentor said when you pray to God for something you need to be specific. Sure it has been my prayer to preach from this place but it is not how I intended. But maybe that is the greatest gift of all.

Thank You.

The Art of Praying With People

Praying is an opportunity to be awakened to possibility

The other night I was tired, more tired than I have ever been. Shaking hands, taking pictures, celebrating the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is no small task at the King Center, and I found myself working hard to even stay awake. So when my friend Britney asked, “Can I pray for you?” I wanted to reply, “Why? I need a nap more than I need prayer.”

But being a good friend I allowed her to pray. She put her hand on my shoulder and prayed that God might provide rest and quiet-filled moments for me in the days ahead. She prayed that I wouldn’t feel alone and instead feel empowered to do the work ahead of me. She said amen, and I knew that those moments were some of the most holy of the day, and let me say all in all it was a holy day in general.

There is a value in praying with people. I’m going to hope that I start the practice of praying with people instead of just praying for people. I hope that I can intercede on others’ behalf just as Britney did for me. The great gift of praying with someone provides for us the opportunity to connect with each other and realize that God is working even when we don’t see it or can’t see it because of our blindness to the world around us.

Ultimately, praying is an opportunity to be awakened to possibility; The possibility that God might actually be listening, and hearing, and acting on our behalf. And if God is listening then God is keeping us close at hand and heart. These acts of prayer are more than just a heavenly phone call. For all of us, they should be life-lines of grace and hope for a better situation and peace in our lives.

All Saints’ 2017: The Christian General

All Saints’ 2017

In the town I live in, nestled in the mountains of North Carolina there is a Christian bookstore. This store is known for its artwork and one piece of cliché art makes me want to gag every time I see it. The picture is of Robert Edward Lee holding a small child in an arm chair reading them the Bible. It’s titled “the Christian General.” I’ve often wondered where Robert Lee of the Confederacy is right now and what he would think of the squabble we’ve found ourselves in during this particular moment in history. It would be easy for me to say that Robert E. Lee is in the bad place, being tormented for his sins, the great multitude that there were. But ultimately that is not my job to determine or judge Lee’s final destiny. And that’s not your job either. Today is a day that reminds us of that. Today is a day we call All Saints’ Sunday.
If you’re steeped in the low church tradition like I am we were taught that this is a day where we celebrate those who have finished their course before we have. We mark, and commemorate those people who have made a difference for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And while I simply cannot comment on my famous relative’s eternal resting place, I can say this: What we do today matters. Because, 200 years from now history will look back on our moment in time and judge us for how we handled post-Charlottesville America. If you don’t believe me, just look back at how we view things like the Civil War. I mean even in my hometown it is still sometimes called the War of Northern Aggression. This All Saints’ Sunday we have an opportunity to challenge those notions of our past and look to God’s unfolding future for the rest of us left here feebly struggling to make it by.
We continue to challenge and to struggle by engaging in the work of anti-racism, of LGBTQ inclusion, and welcoming the undocumented person in our midst. Simply and directly, we do what Jesus would have done. And I’m not talking about the white Liberty University Jesus that Jerry Falwell espouses, I’m talking about the first century Palestinian Jewish Rabbi who gave us an alternative way of looking at life. This Jesus fellow, the one we worship every Sunday has no place in his kingdom for words like white privilege and white supremacy. These things should and will pass away.
When I was at seminary in the land of the Blue Devils at Duke University, my professor Dr. Stanley Hauerwas taught this big 100-dollar phrase, “realized eschatology.” It is this theological concept that we, the people of God play a role in making sure that things like racism, homophobia, and xenophobia pass away so that God’s kingdom can be enacted here on earth as it is in heaven. I mean did you hear the text from Revelation today? Salvation belongs to God, and there are people in this country, the empire we have created that are most certainly going through a great ordeal.
We have only to look at Philando Castile, Michael Brown, or Eric Garner to see that there are people of color who are dying in this great ordeal. The great ordeal we have faced since that “Christian General” surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. We have not atoned for the sin of racism since America was conceived by our founding fathers. Sure we have made strides but this sin is now a festering sore, waiting to explode as Langston Hughes once wrote. So where do we go from here?
We stand. My great-grandmother used to remind me that a saint was a sinner who had fallen down and with God’s help had the courage to stand up again. We stand like the saints of old who had courage to believe that a nightmare could be a dream. We stand up for Jesus and for the sake of his coming kingdom. We say to this world that there is no place in God’s economy for what is going on right now in America. For in God’s economy there is hope for the hopeless, food for the hungry, and redemption and reconciliation for those bound by racism. We must address these issue of our time for the sake of the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Last night an interesting thing happened. A Muslim woman, a gay publicist, and a preacher from the Piedmont of North Carolina went to see the Book of Mormon at the Kennedy Center down the road from here. Now this sounds like the start of a bad joke but it wasn’t. The whole plot of the play for those of you who haven’t seen it revolves around conceptions of paradise and how to make it there. For all of us in that room, including my friend Ruwa and my friend Ory, we all have different conceptions of what the hereafter is about and what it means for the salvation of the world. But it didn’t matter in that moment and let me propose to you that in that particular moment we caught a glimpse at what the Almighty is after. Laying our swords and shields down by the riverside and seeing what might actually happen if we came together as Revelation foretells. In this particular instance the monikers and labels that society had given Ruwa, Ory, and myself didn’t matter because there is hope in the here and now and the then and there. We must make All Saints’ Sunday as much about the earthly plan God has for us as much as we make it about the heaven we all seek. Or, as Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you do no earthly good.”
In these instances of faith we see the saintly work ahead of us. We must dismantle racism, xenophobia, and homophobia in the church for the sake of the church’s future. If the church wishes to be an anchor of change in this world then we must be willing to move the dial on these issues in the days, weeks, and months to come. Because if you’re like me, you know that things can change drastically. The vision of Revelation is one we can have now as well as there. For we can gather around the table and sing the song in the heart of God. We can say Salvation belongs to God who is seated on the throne.
In these moments before we come to the Lord’s Supper may we be reminded that this holy meal may look odd on the outside but is the crux of our faith, especially on All Saints’ Sunday. It is where a piedmont preacher and a church on a mission can come together and find hope in a Eucharistic feast. We feast because we have hope. And if we have lost hope we are as Paul said a people most to be pitied.
This stuff we do and how we take the Eucharist into the world matters. When you leave this place after partaking of the body and blood of our Lord will you take that message to the streets? Will you show the people of Washington, D.C. that there is potential for us to come together in spite of our varied differences?
When I was 16 I lost a dear friend to a car accident the day before All Saints Day in 2009. That particular year my friend Abbey was supposed to come hear me preach because that is what she did oftentimes. She was so supportive. So every year I sing our closing hymn with a little more gusto for her and for her sainthood and I encourage you to do the same with the people in your life who you have lost. Let them be witnesses to justice and to faith. Let them be witnesses to hope and to grace… For we cannot finish the mission we have been given to end evil in this world without the saints cheering us on.
And while I said before I cannot tell you where Robert E. Lee is for his final destiny I can tell you now is a moment where we can all decide ours. Will we stand on the right side of history and speak for those who are oppressed? Or will we remain complicit in the silence or actions of our ancestors? We only have one time on this earth and we must make it holy. For in holiness a Muslim woman, a gay man, and a preacher whose ancestor is Robert E. Lee can come together and laugh like there is no tomorrow at a very inappropriate play. But in that moment we can know that it is holy and it is good. These are what saints are made of—so to future Saint Ory, and future Saint Ruwa, I give thanks that God did a mighty work last night to help us laugh in spite of what society would say divides us. I caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God and I hope you all will too in the table made ready since Jesus instituted this meal long ago—look for the holy moments friends, look for the moments of justice. It is between holiness and justice that we feast today. In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.