An Endangering Naiveté – The Rev. Morgan Allen – Church Building

As anticipated in Morgan’s message to the congregation on Monday, October 29, Good Shepherd was honored to host Rabbi Neil Blumofe, Senior Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim, and Michael Whellan, Austin Civil Rights Co-Chair of the Anti-Defamation League, for a forum-style conversation at the Windsor Campus on Sunday, November 4.  Parishioners and members of the wider community filled the Parish Hall and were moved by the reflections shared, reaching an emotional crescendo when Rabbi Blumofe sang the program’s concluding blessing.

Reflecting on the nation’s recent violence, following on these collaborations with the Jewish community, and looking forward to the Annual Interfaith Day of Thanks Service and Celebration on November 18, Morgan preached this All Saints sermon, entitled, “An Endangering Naieveté.”

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Who can ascend the hill of the Lord?
and who can stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
They shall receive a blessing from the Lord
and a just reward from the God of their salvation.

Come Holy Spirit, and enkindle in the hearts of your faithful, the fire of your Love.  Amen.

Persistent rains during the last month and torrential downpours during the week-before-last conspired to unleash 500-year[i] floodwaters into the Austin-area water supply.  The muddy runoff prompted our city’s first ever “boil order,” which lasted for seven full days before finally coming to an end last Sunday afternoon.  As Missy and I awoke to the initial news of the notice, I drove to the Randall’s on the corner of Lake Austin.  Noting its full parking lot, I was immediately doubtful that there would be any bottled water available, and, indeed, before I could even enter the grocery, a harried parishioner stopped me to confirm my concerns, declaring, “It’s no use!There is no water!  It’s already gone!”

Pirouetting back toward my car, then, I decided to drive caddy-corner to the CVS and stand outside its doors for the twenty-five minutes before it opened.  About fifteen minutes into my wait, a second, water-savvy neighbor joined me.  A big dude wearing a Gold’s Gym jumpsuit, he said in a low voice, “I hope people don’t get crazy about this water.”  I seconded his hopefulness, and we passed the time with an easy exchange about the weather and the week ahead.

By the time the drugstore manager finally opened the sliding glass doors, our queue had grown to seven or nine.  My fellow advocate for sanity promptly hustled by me with a red shopping cart and checked out with eight cases of water in his basket and two more across his broad shoulders.  As we walked together to the register, he shook his head at my more modest cache (I had efforted to balance necessity and neighborliness), and, smiling toward his own load, he announced, “Might as well be crazy like a fox.”

Despite my compatriot’s cunning, by the next day most shopping markets had successfully supplemented their stocks of water, and the city could supply free cases to those in need, leaning the whole experience more toward inconvenience than disaster.  Like most in the capital city, I suspect, we Allens ate on paper plates, we showered with our mouths closed, and we made coffee, ice, and macaroni-and-cheese from gallon jugs.  Even so, the disruption effectively pointed toward our interdependence and the remarkable fragility of our common welfare.

With this failure of a basic system we can so easily take for granted, one photograph has lingered with me: an aerial shot, the photo captures the silty, brown waters of Lady Bird Lake meeting the clear, spring-fed, waters of Barton Creek, the toxic gravy of the Colorado River backwashing into its tributary.[ii]  The image calls to mind a familiar passage from Ezekiel, when the prophet announces, “As for you, my flock … I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down [the rest of the grass?  And] When you drink of clear water, must you foul [what flows downstream from your muddy feet]?”[iii]

Ezekiel appeals to Israel’s privileged, asking, Are your good fortunes not enough?  Is it not enough for you to graze this field first, that you ruin the rest by your disregard for those who follow you?  Is it not enough that you drink the cleanest water, that you selfishly pollute the rest for those who must drink after you?  The prophet’s vision challenges us to consider into which waters we baptize our children – to choose whether we cast ourselves as the disadvantaged sheep drinking downstream of the careless, greedy few, or whether we are the self-absorbed.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, when we, as the old prayer reads, “yield unto [God] most high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all [the] saints, who have been the choice vessels of [God’s] grace, and the lights of the world in their several generations; most humbly beseeching [God] to give us grace so to follow [their examples] … ”[iv]  That is, we recall the past lives of the faithful, in order that we might be more faithful ourselves.

On this occasion, we express this aspiration when we share this call to fidelity with the newest members of our community, and, in so doing, we keep our promises.  In this liturgy, we renew our Baptismal Covenant, beginning with a dialogical affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed: “Do you believe in God the Father?” the presiders asks.  “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth,” we respond.[v]

In the same question-and-answer format, the Covenant continues with our affirmation of five baptismal promises.  While the first two focus more on our interior life, the evangelical call of the third – “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”[vi] – turns us toward the world in witness to God’s love and our love of God.  Then, the final pair comprise an ethical couplet, focusing on our individual behaviors, and, finally, the systems and structures to which we and our neighbors are necessarily subject.

The first of these, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself,”[vii] calls us as individuals to follow “The Golden Rule” and to be kind to one another.  By this penultimate commission, we seek to be generous with the annoying, the frustrating, and the disagreeable, just as we would be with the gracious, the wise, and the enjoyable.  While this obligation can certainly feel demanding, I believe we at Good Shepherd generally meet its standard.  Our inclinations toward politeness and our desire to avoid conflict move us, in one-on-one settings, to treat our neighbors well, and, in the venerable Eucharistic words, it is “meet and right, so to do.”[viii]

However, the final call – “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”[ix] – proves more difficult for us.  See, with this promise, the Covenant charges us to consider not only our own behavior, but the “behaviors” of our society, of our culture, and of our governments, relentlessly challenging us to ask ourselves:

 

How do I benefit from the suffering of others?

How am I complicit in the violence of our age?

How does God call me as an agent of mercy, justice, and peace?

How does God call us as a community to reform our world?

 

In the fulfillment of this last commission, our etiquette and conflict avoidance prove to be obstacles to our fidelity, for whereas The Golden Rule does not demand we risk anything we hold precious (perhaps other than our patience), this final Baptismal promise jeopardizes our status, our situation, and our ease, challenging us to see the world as it is, and demanding we labor – individually and collectively – to renew it in the very hope of God.

Therefore, we must take seriously that thirteen days ago, authorities discovered the first of fourteen pipe bombs mailed to political opponents of the president, many of those he most often demonizes.  The politicians, activists, and media organizations to whom the terrorist – steeped in hateful ideology – sent these packages, were chosen for no reason other than their place in political polemics, and, had the bomber the chance, he would have sent more.

Two days later in Jefferstown, Kentucky, an armed man attempted to enter the predominantly African-American First Baptist Church, but, when he found the door locked, he went instead to a local Kroger where he shot and killed Maurice Stallard, who had taken his twelve-year-old grandson to buy poster board for a school project.  The gunman killed Stallard and a second victim, Vickie Jones, for no reason other than they were black, and, had he the chance, he would have killed more.

Then, eight days ago in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an armed man entered the Tree of Life synagogue.  Shouting hate – specifically, “All Jews must die!” – and carrying automatic weaponry, he shot and killed eleven who had come for worship that morning: Joyce Fienberg; Richard Gottfried; Rose Mallinger; Jerry Rabinowitz; Cecil Rosenthal; David Rosenthal; Bernice Simon; Sylvan Simon; Daniel Stein; Melvin Wax; and Irving Younger.  The gunman killed these eleven people for no reason other than because they were Jewish, and, had he the chance, he would have killed more.

At the end of that week, as drenched in our neighbors’ blood as any in American history, politicians were back on the stump by afternoon, complaining of lost campaign momentum and making clear that those of political power would not risk their standing for the sake of even these many dead and their grieving.

We in the Communion of All Saints … we of the Baptismal Covenant … we choose instead to recognize our interdependence and, taking nothing for granted, to nurture our fragile, common welfare.  For, friends, only the beneficiaries of privilege can view racism and anti-Semitism as problems of a different age or as the maniacal acts of a few.  That willful naiveté, even if insulated by individual adherence to The Golden Rule, actively endangers our brothers and sisters of different races and different faiths.  With such self-serving blindnesses, we wash our hands in the freshest social and financial springs, but we foul the waters for all those drinking downstream of our ease, backwashing our pride and our greed even into this font.

Let us see the world more clearly, refusing to “pledge ourselves to falsehood” … refusing to “swear by what is a fraud” … for we believe in the Good News!  Seeking “the hill of the Lord … to stand in his holy place,” let us covenant to seek “justice and peace among all people,” as we say we do; let us “respect the dignity of every human being,” as we say we do; and no matter the complexity of the challenges before us or the seeming meagerness of our efforts, we will do our part, all in service of that peaceable kingdom for which our Christ gave his life.

For this courage and for God’s Peace we pray,

Amen.

 

[i] I preached of “100-year” floods, only to be corrected by a parishioner who – rightly – named that the flooding was more on the 500-year level.
[ii] I saw the photograph, attributed to James Brownlow, on the KXAN boil-order blog.
[iii] Ezekiel 34:17-18.
[iv] From “The Burial of the Dead: Rite I” in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 487.
[v] From “The Baptismal Covenant,” in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 304.
[vi] Ibid, p. 305.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] From “The Holy Eucharist: Rite I,” in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 333.
[ix] Again from “The Baptismal Covenant,” p. 305.