Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Homily: Ben Bradlee Funeral [October 29, 2014] Washington National Cathedral

I cannot hope to add to the moving chorus of remembrance and praise we have heard this morning in memory of Ben Bradlee.  The range and depth of the remarks offered show the extent to which the nation, the world, his family, his friends loved, admired, and valued this remarkable man. In the role of preacher, there is not a lot I can add to these tributes.

But because I am a preacher, it falls to me to say a brief word about what Christian faith proclaims in regard to such a long, blessed, and accomplished life.  We heard three readings from scripture today.  We heard the words of Ecclesiastes telling us there is a season and a time for everything.  We heard from Psalm 23 the assurance of God's presence with us as we make our ways through life-- the valley of the shadow of death. We heard Paul's famous discourse to the Corinthians on the nature of love. Each one of these passages reminds us of the final assurance of Biblical religion--Judaism and Christianity in particular, but Islam, too--that human beings matter, that our lives and experiences, our joys and our struggles, are written on the heart of the one at the center of creation.

As I listened to these readings, though, a single phrase caught my ear.  Near the end of Paul's words on love, we heard this:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. [I Corinthians 13:12]

Most of us in this room are knowing, worldly types, and we live our lives thinking that we know what’s really going on.  But Paul suggests a deeper mystery about human experience:  in our earthly state, we only see "through a glass darkly".  We know the part, not the whole.  Our day-to-day lives are spent focused on the claims that tell us they are urgent.  We do not normally attend to the things that actually matter.

So we see things through a glass darkly.  But every once in a while, a person appears among us who allows us to see things more clearly.  In the dim light of day-to-day life, we don't see very well at all.  But then people come along, not very often but just enough, to point us toward what really counts.  These people are not usually conventionally pious, but they help us see things from God’s point of view.  They point us toward justice.  They point us toward compassion.  They point us toward truth.  They point us toward the sheer exuberance of being alive, of the breadth and depth of human existence and all its possibilities.

Without trying to sound sentimental in a way he would have found painful, I want to suggest that Ben Bradlee was one of these people. In his professional life, in his family life, in his friendships, in his role as a public figure and citizen, Ben Bradlee’s work and values and commitments helped us see through the dim darkness of our present moment into a glimpse of what life is finally all about.  For people of faith, the final truth about life and God and the universe and every one of us is embodied in the word love.  Love is acted out in close relationships as affection and in our social relationships as justice.  When we see through that dark glass we see a universe where power and violence and selfishness will always give way to love and justice and hope.

In his poem "Blizzard of One", the great American poet (and former Poet Laureate) Mark Strand says this:
From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed. That's all
There was to it. [Mark Strand, “Blizzard of One”]

When I heard of Ben Bradlee's passing I thought immediately of this poem--not only because it enacts an experience of plainspoken grace in an everyday moment.  I thought of it because, frankly, Ben Bradlee was a blizzard of one. A single human being, like a snowflake precious in his uniqueness, who went through life generating the energy of a snowstorm.  A human blizzard of life, love, energy, work, and charm.

I thank God for making, redeeming, and sustaining a universe in which love, justice, and compassion are finally the things that matter.  I thank God for sending us messengers who help us see through the dark glass of life into the luminous truth at the heart of the cosmos.  I thank God that our personal, public, and spiritual lives are knit together  in a single continuous fabric of love and justice and hope. In other words, I thank God for Ben Bradlee.  Amen.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Homily: The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost [October 19, 2014] Washington Natinal Cathedral

            Several years ago I drove with my friend Bruce Bayne from upstate New York to Indiana.  It was pretty much toll roads and turnpikes the whole way.  This was in the pre-Easy Pass days, so at each state line we would have to stop and pay the toll in cash.  Every time we did this, Bruce would say, Gosh, I dont seem to have any cash on me.  Would you get the toll? I didnt wise up to this practice until we got through Ohio, and by then it was almost too late.

            In all other respects, Bruce is a generous and thoughtful guy.  But to this day he never carries cash. I couldnt help thinking of him when I read todays Gospel [Matthew 22:15-22] in which Jesus is asked about paying ones taxes. He doesnt seem to have any cash on him either and says, according to Matthew, “’Show me the coin used for the tax.’” And then Matthew tells us, They brought him a denarius, the Roman coin bearing the image of Caesar.  Hence the famous saying, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. [Matthew 22.21]

October is the time when we tend to talk about supporting the church through stewardship, so I can't help being a little suspicious that this teaching about money finds its way into our readings smack in the middle of the month.  Luckily for you, the money in this story is more symbolic than real.  So relax: I will not be putting the bite on you this morning. You can ease yourselves out of the spirit of pocketbook protection. But something important is going on here.

When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus in a logical error, they did well to use tax money as their example.  Remember that Jewish Palestine was a Roman occupied territory.  Taxes were odious not only because they were expensive but also because they continually reminded the Jews that they were paying tribute to a foreign power.  So the question, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not" is not an innocent question.  It is loaded.  If Jesus says yes, he's endorsing Roman occupation.  If he says no, he's inciting sedition.  What do do?

We all know what Jesus does.  He asks to see the coin used for the tax.  Pointing to Caesar's image on the denarius, Jesus famously splits the difference: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. Countless generations of Christian preachers have seen this saying as a warrant for Christian obedience to civil authority. But before we go there, I do find it interesting that Jesus has to ask somebody to bring him some money.  Indeed, the great New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan says thats the most important feature of the story:  Jesus has to ask for a coin. 

We are so used to projecting our own values and habits onto Jesus that sometimes we need to step back and see just how different from us he is. He was, as Crossan reminds us, a Palestinian Jewish peasant.  He did not live in affluent Western culture.  Life in Roman occupied Jewish Palestine was hard.  Taxes were high, food was scarce, and the state was not your friend.  Survival in that world required a measure of shrewdness that most of us dont have to exercise on a daily level.  Keeping going from day to day was in itself a kind of victory.

"Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?  Should I cooperate with established authority or resist it?  For first century Palestinian Jews, this was a serious and vexing question.  In traditional Jewish thought, there was no separation of church and state.  The religious and political establishments were supposed to be one and the same, and so the question of paying taxes to Caesar never raised itself when Israel was ruled by a Jewish king.  But now the Jews found themselves in a new world:  the political and religious establishments were under separate authority.  Should I give money to support a non-Jewish occupying power?  The Torah teaches that everything belongs to God.  Is it right to give some of Gods money to those who worship somebody other than Israels God?

These questions are neither innocent nor easy.  And when we translate them into our own moment they dont lighten up much. As a Christian, just how much allegiance do I owe the state?  The easy answer is to read Jesus literally and see him as providing an early version of the First Amendment.  But Jesuss teachings are never innocent or easy either, and this one outlines the dilemmas for us fairly starkly.

Most of us unthinkingly say that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes the principle of the separation of church and state.  Here is what it actually says:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  When the U.S. Constitution separates church and state it says that our nation will have no one, official religion.  It does not say that religion has no role in public life. Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.  The radical thing in Jesuss teaching this morning is not that he endorses allegiance to civil authority.  The radical thing in this statement is that he gives us a way to be both citizens and people of faith.

Some people do not find the citizen-faith tension a problem.  They say, America was founded as a Christian nation. Well, not precisely.  Half of those guys were Deists, a group who denied both the divinity of Jesus and the reliability of scripture.  Others solve this tension by going the other direction, arguing that the founders wanted preachers to stay away from politics. Why, then, do we have chaplains in the House and Senate?  Why, indeed, do we have a national cathedral?

When Jesus tells us that we must render to God and Caesar the things that are their own, he is offering us the opportunity to be faithful citizens.  Given the great prophetic traditions of Christian witness, being a citizen of faith means neither unthinking obedience nor hermetic detachment.  A faithful citizen is one who holds both God and Caesar in critical tension with each other.  The best way for me, as a Christian, to render unto Caesar is not only to pay my taxes but also to hold Caesar accountable to God.

The First Amendment does not absolve us from caring about the nation. It is not a free pass out of the obligations of citizenship.  And if it does nothing else, our baptism impels us toward engagement with the Gospel dimension of public life.  Separation of church and state does not mean that people of faith have nothing to say about public policy.  It means that you and I, as followers of Jesus, dont have a special privilege when we come to the table. But come to the table we must, if we are to render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. 

Like my friend Bruce, Jesus did not carry money.  Bruce is not poor, but Jesus was, and his poverty reminds us what we who follow him must first demand of our governments. What are we doing collectively to serve and help the poor? And, beyond the poor, what are we doing to serve and help all those Jesus publicly and privately consorted with: the sorrowful, the sick, the oppressed, those at the margins of society? How are we bringing Gospel values to bear on the concerns of our common life? How can we work together, in the interests of the common good, to make the blessings and opportunities of our shared heritage available to all? These are the concerns of the faithful citizen.  They were the concerns of Jesus. And even though all of them were not Christian, I believe they were on the minds and hearts of the Founders, too. They should be ours as we enter the voting booth next month.

Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.  What would Jesus tell us about income inequality? About the war against ISIS? About Ebola?  What would Jesus think about urban policing, public education policy, and yesterdays the Supreme Court ruling on the Texas Voter I.D. Law? The Gospel calls us neither to unquestioning obedience nor cynical disregard.  There is no one Christian position on these issues, but they are all of concern to those who follow Jesus.  The Gospel calls us to stand where he stood, in the hard tension between faith and freedom.  Its a tricky and difficult place to beboth a Christian and an Americanbut the Gospel allows us no other.

So if you do carry cash, when the collection plate comes your way take out that dollar bill and look at the picture of George Washington (or Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant) and ask yourself the question they put to Jesus. God or Caesar? Jesus or the state? We are tied inexorably to both. There is no easy answer. Thats why following Jesus is never dull.  Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Homily: The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost [October 12, 2014] Washington National Cathedral

            Whenever clergy get together, the talk (sooner or later) turns to weddings. Every priest I know has at least four or five hilarious wedding stories.  I think we enjoy the stories so much partly because none of us has ever done a wedding where everything went exactly as planned.  Something always goes either slightly or massively wrong, and these are events where so much energy has gone into getting everything exactly right.  The great weddings we remember are the ones where everyone approached the occasion in a spirit of joy and let the celebration be less than perfect.  The funny ones are those that seemed vexed from the start.

            Weddings are often emotionally laden affairs. Part of the reason they can be tense is that our culture puts so much pressure on the idea of the “perfect” wedding. Another explanation lies in the way weddings really signify the final leaving of home.  We don’t grieve well in America, and so instead of crying with each other about our kids leaving home and the end of the old chapter, we ring in the new era with pitched battles about seating arrangements, flowers, and what’s printed on the napkins. One long-time priest friend of mine vowed that henceforth he would do weddings only for those who could prove they had no living relatives.

            Just imagine the consternation in the household whose wedding Jesus depicts in the Gospel for today. A king puts on a wedding banquet for his son, and no one shows up. Having no guests at your wedding is probably not as bad as being stood up at the altar, but it’s a close second. It’s easy to understand the king’s rage. It’s also easy to understand why, in exasperation at the continued refusal of the guests to respond, he sends his servants out with these words:  “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.”  If you’ve paid a year’s salary to the caterer, the florist, the dressmaker, and the stretch limo driver, you don’t want everything to go to waste.

            Jesus’s wedding tale [Matthew 22: 1-14] is, of course, not a clerical wedding story.  It is a parable, a teaching that tells us something about the nature of God and God’s reign.  As Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” This story uses the analogue of a wedding which the invited guests blew off as a way of describing the action of God.  Let’s think about it together for a few minutes.

            The traditional way scholars and preachers have interpreted the parable of the wedding guests is to see a parallel between the old and new wedding guests and Judaism and Christianity.  In this interpretation, the original invited guests are the Jews. What we might call the “second seating”—those brought in from the streets—are the gentile Christians.  In many ways this is an obvious way to read the story:  Jesus came to the Jews, they rejected him, and so the church was opened up to the non-Jewish world.  It makes sense except for two things:  first, Jesus was executed by Rome, the gentile power par excellance.   Second, the Christian trajectory away from Judaism toward the gentile world took place in the time of Paul, not Jesus.  So reading this parable as a story of Jewish rejection and gentile acceptance of Jesus is at once neat and easy and wrong.  It’s anachronistic to project post-Jesus experience back onto the teaching itself.  We’ve read the parable that way because it seems to explain why the Jews did not sign up to follow Jesus en masse. But such a reading gets in the way of our hearing what Jesus might actually be trying to say.

            Even though I speak as a representative of organized religion, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of Jesus’s teaching was actually a critique of what people like me do for a living. We set up systems that claim to organize and broker the holy. When I read the New Testament and hear the way Jesus argues with the Pharisees, it’s hard for me not to see myself as one of them.  The Pharisees, like the Episcopalians, are good people who are trying their best to follow the rules and do things right.  They are respectable in all senses of the word.  The only problem is that, over time, they have begun to equate respectability and rule-following with holiness.

            When you read the stories about Jesus in the Bible, you can’t help but notice how much time Jesus spends with people whom you and I would not consider respectable.  He dines with sinners, consorts with lepers, the demon-possessed, and prostitutes.  He does so for many reasons, but at least partially because the respectable will have nothing to do with him.  Like the king in the wedding story, he has no choice but to take his message someplace else.

            So when we read the parable of the wedding guests alongside the larger story of Jesus, we see a different parallel and discover that he’s telling us a story not about Jews and gentiles but about himself and the religious establishment.  Simply put, the church ladies will not hang out with him.  So he takes his message to the streets. This is not a triumphalistic story about Christians and Jews.  This is a self-critical story about what it means to be holy.

            You and I live in a world where increasing numbers of people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”.  When people ask me what I think of those people, I often respond that I’m religious but not particularly spiritual.  What I mean is that I find the worshipping life of the church and its rituals a deeply satisfying way to be open to the presence of God.  I do not now or ever want to imagine myself walking on the beach with Jesus. But the older I get the more I have to acknowledge that the church I love speaks decreasingly to the men, women, and children of the world I live in.  It’s not that those people don’t want to love and follow God as I do.  It’s that the system, the structure I serve no longer speaks of God to them in language they understand.  The ritual we observe this morning is for them something beautiful but opaque, sung and spoken in a kind of code.

            To use the terms of the parable, the action has moved from the invited guests (the Pharisees, the respectable Episcopalians) to the people in the street (the gentiles, the SBNRs).  The question for you and me church-goers is, are we going to follow God out into the streets, or are we going to insist on our own priority as the originally-invited guests?  Are we going to find ways to speak about and worship God that are coherent with the language and idioms of the 21st century, or are we going to persist in practices that speak to us but nobody else? Is church a living, evolving practice or a seemingly endless Civil War re-enactment?

            Again, I speak as someone whose roots are Pharisaic and Episcopalian.  I love what we do and how we do it. But I do note with some fear the nationally and internationally and even locally declining numbers of church membership, attendance, and giving.  Nevertheless, I am strangely comforted by the last bit of today’s parable, the part that people find puzzling and preachers don’t usually talk about. One of the street people shows up to the wedding not wearing the proper garment.  The king asks, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” and has him thrown out.  Isn’t this a story about God’s inclusive love?  How did it turn into a tale about many being called but few being chosen?  This is parabolic whiplash!

            Back to the wedding stories:  many years ago I did a wedding at a banquet hall.  When I arrived, most of the guests (and the wedding party itself) were already drunk.  As I tried to lead the assembly through the Prayer Book marriage service, I kept being interrupted by wedding guests making jokes and catcalls and salacious remarks from the seats.  Because of my affection for the bride and groom, I persevered and got through it, but in that moment I realized that there are times in life when the decorum appropriate to the situation matters.  We should try to make Christianity relevant and accessible to the world outside our doors.  But we should not be Romantic about those who stay home on Sundays.  Many of them don’t come because they’ve been alienated or wounded by the so-called respectable people.  Many of them stay home because they can’t be bothered. To the alienated and wounded, you and I in here need to repent and change.  But some of them don’t come because they wouldn’t come anyway.  Like the man in the wrong garment at the wedding, they don’t really care.  We need to wish them well and get on with following Jesus.

            “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” God invites everyone to the party. God invites us as we are to become who God made us to be.  God loves us both unconditionally and critically. The invitation is not to insider status but to a transformative process. As we feast at this banquet, we find ourselves over time renewed and changed into the image of the one who invites us here.  Let us embrace that one, each other, and the world in the work of giving thanks for the love that holds us and empowers us to be God’s people.  Amen.






Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Homily: Installation of Amy Butler as Senior Minister [October 5, 2014] The Riverside Church, New York

It is an enormous pleasure and great honor to stand in this pulpit today, both because of my high regard for the Riverside Church and your new Senior Minister, and because of the dazzling array of preachers who have spoken in this place. Over the course of my lifetime, The Riverside Church has stood as the preeminent social justice congregation in the United States. As a faith community, you are a beacon to the rest of us, calling our nation and our world to living out the implications of the Gospel in our public space. There is no place like this, and I am deeply grateful for you, your ministry, and your perseverance on the tough issues of peace and justice.
And I have a personal reason to regard this assignment with some awe. I am a Christian largely because of William Sloane Coffin, Jr., one of Amy's great predecessors, whose ministry beckoned me into the church when I was in college. I did not grow up in the church, but was attracted to it because of the involvement of Bill Coffin and other clergy in the leadership of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements of the 1960s. For many of my generation Bill Coffin was not only an early influence but also a lifelong model of faithful, prophetic Christian witness.
If you don't know it already, you will soon learn that you have in Amy Butler a worthy successor of the great Senior Ministers of The Riverside Church. Amy is a prophet-pastor in both senses of that term. Her tenure at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington was both prophetic and nurturing. She is one of the few clergy I know who can take on a hard issue and be both strong and loving as she does it. She cares about the world, yes, but she also cares about the real people with whom she lives and works. I don't know anybody else with precisely her mixture of gifts and skills. She can stand both for and with people. Many of us progressive Christians like to use the old Quaker phrase about “speaking truth to power”.  The great Noam Chomsky said "You don't have to speak truth to power, because they know it already. You don't speak truth to anybody. Join with people and try to find the truth." Amy speaks the truth with, not to, people. She is for me the model of emerging Christian leadership. We miss her in Washington already. And she's barely been gone a month.
Let's think together for the next few minutes about the scriptures we've been given as we celebrate your and Amy's new ministry. The opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-12] are commonly called "The Beatitudes" because of the repeated use of the word we translate as "blessed". That same word can also mean something like "happy". For many of us progressive Christians, The Beatitudes serve as a warrant for action. When Jesus says that the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are "blessed" or "happy", many of us hear those words as a to-do list for our ministries. If we want to follow Jesus, we need to be about serving the poor, being peacemakers, and hungering for righteousness.
That understanding is true as far as it goes. But let me suggest another that might stand beside it. Jesus's Beatitudes are not only, or even primarily, a set of marching orders for setting the world right. They are an announcement of what Christians have always called the gospel. They are a proclamation of the good news. In the Beatitudes Jesus is not so much telling us what we ought to do as he is telling us what God is already doing. These verses are an announcement of what God is up to in the world. This "kingdom of heaven" that Jesus talks about is not some future blessed state up in the clouds someplace. The kingdom of heaven is breaking in even now in the ministry of Jesus and in the community that gathers around him.
In Jesus’s day as now, human culture and human values were massively messed up. First century Jewish Palestine was an occupied territory, and people were taxed and starved beyond the breaking point to support the imperial Roman state. Into that culture of oppression and scarcity, Jesus came and announced that people could actually live lives that were both free and abundant if they would gather together in a community. People followed Jesus not because he was a great teacher but because he was a healer who embodied the freedom and generosity of God.
In other words, in stepping into the Jesus community, you stepped into a space or place or zone where life is lived as God intends that it be. Jesus did not come to found an institution called "the church". In fact, the word we render as church—ekklesia—is a Greek term which means "the called". It's a newly coined word for the New Testament because the older words-synagogue, assembly, temple— couldn't quite name the reality of what the Jesus movement was about. The church, the ekklesia, is the body of those called into the Jesus community to make real in their lives and the world what Jesus calls the reign of heaven. The church is the gathering of those who want to live life on God's, not Caesar's, terms.
Living life on God’s terms means, of course, that we will try to live out those Beatitude values in the world. Living life on God's terms means standing with the people Jesus names in these verses—the poor, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the mourners. Living life on God's terms means naming Caesar and all Caesar's successors as impostors, pretending to an authority that belongs only to God. But we will be neither authentic advocates for those up against it nor credible critics of empire if we can't love and accept and forgive and celebrate each other first.
As we gather this afternoon to celebrate a new covenant between a minister and a congregation, Jesus's Beatitudes call us to rekindle our awareness of what it is we're actually doing when we gather in church. We are coming together, as did those gathered around Jesus, to step into that zone where life is lived on God's terms. We are coming together, as did those gathered around Jesus, to share in the good news that we can critique and change the world only to the extent that we can love it and each other first.
You and I, Riverside and Amy, are, together, the church. We are the ekklesia, the called. We are, together, those who have been invited into the zone which Jesus calls the reign of heaven and we might call the place where life is lived on God's terms. We occupy the space where Jesus, not Caesar is in charge. We are, together, those who can find such depth and fulfillment of relationship inside these walls that we can reach out to extend God's reign of love and justice and peace to everyone else.
The world needs The Riverside Church. We face daunting struggles and challenges: global warming, income inequality, ongoing deportations of people at our borders, a legacy of systemic and institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia, shootings of African Americans by armed white people, 30,000 annual deaths by gun violence nationally, mass incarceration rates especially of young men of color, a rush to war that seems to me both hysterical and wrong-headed. The world needs The Riverside Church as a theological and policy leader to lead the faith community and our nation in prophetic action to address these crises. Only a church that is strong and united and grounded in the Gospel will be up to these 21st century challenges. But we don't need you to presume to speak truth to power. We need you to speak with others to find the truth. We do not need your ideological rage. We need your gospel compassion. We need you as you love and serve each other. We need you as you show forth God's healing and forgiveness in your common life. Power will hear you more clearly if you speak with them as those who have known God's grace from the inside out.
In the 1980s there was a time when I thought I was going to lose my job because of my involvement in the Nuclear Freeze movement. I asked Bill Coffin for advice. He said, "In my experience, clergy don't lose their jobs because they're prophets. They lose their jobs because they're not pastors. So by all means go out and be a prophet, but don't forget to be a pastor too." Words for us would-be truth-tellers to live by.
We could call the need for prophets to ground their ministries in pastoral love "Coffin's Law". In a spirit of Coffin-like audacity, I would like to offer “Hall's Corollary”: a church, even a great, historic church, will be a credible leader in peace and justice only as far as it can learn to bask in the grace and abundance of God's compassionate, transforming love. The world does not need more angry people with an agenda. The world needs a vital and engaged Jesus movement that embraces creation out of the fullness of our love for and acceptance of each other.
As Jesus tells us in today's Gospel, "You are the salt of the earth." What he means, I think, is that if we lose what makes us distinctive we lose what makes us useful. If salt is no longer salty, you wouldn't bring it to the dinner table. You and I are the salt of the earth. We are the ones who call ourselves "the called", who know ourselves to be loved and accepted by God and want to bring others into the embrace of that transforming love.
So, Amy and Riverside, my charge to you is this: be the salt of the earth!* Be edgy and prophetic. Keep our eyes focused on those who are the primary focus of God's concern—the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the dying, the marginalized. But while you are being salty, do not forget what it is that makes you that way. In the panoply of justice movements, what makes you distinctive is that your advocacy is grounded in the gospel love that you live out with each other in the hard, daily stuff of being a church. Be what Dr. King called "the beloved community". Be prophets, but also be pastors—to the world, each other, and yourselves.
The Gospel we proclaim is not about us. It is about the love and hope and justice and peace alive and at work in the universe, embodied in Jesus, and present now in our common life. We proclaim that Gospel when we speak and act with others to alleviate suffering, promote peace, and establish justice. This day Amy Butler and The Riverside Church embark on a new chapter pf ministry together. Speak truth with each other. Love each other. And then go out to love, challenge, and transform God's precious world. Amen.