by the Rev. James B. Craven III

In the name of God-Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen

            There is a god, for the voting is at last over.  No more endless emails soliciting contributions to candidates around the country who I have never heard of.  The 2024 campaign will of course begin soon, but maybe we will have a few days off.  At times like these, I often think of how the eleven remaining disciples, as Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, chose a successor to Judas Iscariot, who “was numbered among us and was allotted his share of this ministry,” and for his treachery, died in the Field of Blood. So they said “His office let another take.” So the Eleven, with Mary and the women who had followed Jesus from the baptism of John until the resurrection and ascension, said that “one of these men must become with us as a witness to his resurrection.” There were two candidates, Joseph Barsabas, called Justus, and Matthias.  How did the Eleven make that choice?  Not with paper ballots or Dominion voting machines.  No, they cast lots, “and the lot fell on Matthias.”  I don’t know whether one of them had a pair of dice, or they drew straws, cut cards, or went to rock, paper, scissors, or what, but it worked, with no negative political ads at all.  And prayer of course was a big part of it.

            Well, we thought we were done with the voting, but we aren’t, for today we elect this year’s class of new vestry members, to aid in the governance of this parish church.  And the outgoing members we have come up with an outstanding list for you to make your choice from.  I say you, because neither Rhonda nor I have a vote.  As much as we love this holy place, we aren’t members of St. Luke’s.  As Bishop Sam will tell you, we are his.  So stay around after the service and vote.  Only then may you go forth into the world in peace, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

            Brooks Hayes helped me understand all this.  He was a Congressman from Arkansas and the President of the Southern Baptist Convention maybe 65 years ago.  He was one of a small minority of southern Congressmen who proudly declined to sign the Southern Manifesto, an attempt to nullify Supreme Court decisions against school segregation, and it cost him his seat in the House of Representatives.  He liked to tell about a woman in Arkansas when he asked her how she was going to vote.  “Vote”, she said, “Why vote?  It only encourages ‘em.”

            It has been said that the only population in North Carolina which exceeds the number of Baptists is the English sparrow. From the early days in Rhode Island in the 17th century, the Baptists have done so much good in this country, but the Southern Baptist Convention, which grew out of the Civil War split over slavery, is a far cry from that of Brooks Hayes’ day or that of Roger Williams 300 years ago.  Like most other churches in this country, indeed the world, Southern Baptists have had their share of child sex abuse, much of which has only recently come to light.  And again, no church is immune from that evil, though the Roman Catholics have perhaps had the most of it.  Francis, the Bishop of Rome, has unequivocally condemned such behavior, as have our bishops, Sam and Anne, and Michael Curry.  The “Me too” movement is very real, and appropriately so. Would I want my mother, my wife, my sisters, nieces, or granddaughter victimized like that?  Of course not, and we won’t even bring up Iran and the Taliban in this discussion.

            Enter, from stage right, the Reverend August Boto, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.  Brother Boto had noticed the number of Christian advocates on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse as “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism”, adding that “it is not the gospel. It is not even a part of the gospel.  It is a socialistic murder play.” Say what?  This is of course nothing sort of horrific.  Silencing and vilifying survivors of sexual abuse and their advocates in the name of Christ does damage to the faith of survivors and the soul of the church, it has been said.  Why must there be a distinction drawn between the gospel and advocacy for justice?  A pastor recently derided “wokeness, critical race theory, and social justice activism” as “gospel compromise.”  I have, in response, to turn to my favorite  radio station, WWJD, what would Jesus do? Or Paul, or Isaiah?   Is too much attention to racism somehow a distraction from the gospel?  Of course not.

            This is not new.  Before the Civil War, the remnants of which are still  with us in too many ways, church leaders thought the South denounced abolitionists as opponents of American salvation, whatever that is. I have long felt this rift tangibly.  Not to date myself, but in my childhood I knew one old Confederate soldier and at least one person born into African slavery.

            Much of the same can be said of Holocaust survivors.  In his great ecumenical painting The Exodus, Marc Chagal teaches and shows us that you can’t say you love Christ with your lips and then hate Jewish people with your actions.  And, alas, anti-Semitism is really a growth stock these days, worldwide. 

            Now, lest August Boto and Southern Baptists feel singled out, we must acknowledge the truly horrific violence of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, again worldwide.  It is simply mindboggling, and it is by no means confined to the Roman Catholic Church, though there does seem to be more of it there than elsewhere.  What would Jesus do?  I suggest he would not simply quietly transfer the fellow to a parish one county over.

            And, in the Episcopal Church, a higher up in the Clergy Assurance Fund (CAF) in Pennsylvania was recently caught with his hand in the till to the tune of $1.4 million.  Our own Anne Hodges-Copple told me something years ago that has really stayed with me, that we had certain human behavioral activity open to us before our ordinations that are no longer open to us.  Indeed so.

            There need not be any conflict between faithful adherence to the Gospel of Christ, and speaking out against evil done in his name, or supporting and comforting those injured and hurt by and in the Church.  Just for example, we cannot turn a blind eye toward child sexual abuse, any more to any other serious crime which hurts others.  We must always be on the alert to see Christ in others.  We are privileged to inhabit these new heavens and new earth of which Isaiah spoke.  God is creating the new Jerusalem as a joy and those of us in it as a delight.  No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in the new Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Kingdom of God in the here and now, on this earth and in this life, no more the cry of distress, as Isaiah tells us.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent – its food shall be dust!  They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

            Isaiah 65 is well worth a half hour when you get home today.

            And, in the canticle we read together, “the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

            Now, if you will let me, I want to shift gears here, and I have to tell you I ran this by Sara first.  In fact she actually suggested it.  Some of you may remember Prairie House Companion, on the radio on Saturday nights, with Garrison Keillor, who has now migrated to the Episcopal Church.  In his wonderful piece he extols the virtue of silence.  I think he would find himself at home in Kate Rademacher’s book Reclaiming Rest, in which she speaks of stillness in a restless world.  Hear Garrison Keillor speak to us, and may his words speak to you as they have to me:

            This love of silence may be a benefit of three years of

            pandemic isolation.  Or maybe it’s something that comes with

            being 80.  I don’t have a lot of spare time to read righteous writing

            about other people’s crises:  I have no time to spare, in fact, and want

            to enjoy what’s left to me.  I discover that I truly enjoy

            silence.  I know people who, when they have guests for dinner,

            like to play background music, and it drives me nuts.  I hear

            souped-up cars and Harleys sitting at a red light, revving their

            engines, and see porky men with thin gray ponytails at the

            wheel, and wish they could be locked up in a treatment center.

            I live in an apartment building that, because it’s expensive, has no

            residents under forty, so there aren’t loud parties on Saturday night.

            I went to loud parties fifty years ago and hosted some of my own,

            and now the thought of it strikes me as torture.

            My favorite social interaction is daily marital congeniality and

            my second favorite is when the phone rings and a friend is at the

            other end who is a good conversational partner and we do a

            very delightful verbal dance for half an hour and say goodbye.

            This to me, is one of the supreme pleasures of old age.

            In the course of living your confused and sometimes crazy life,

            you’ve managed to collect an assortment of people you love

            to talk with.

            Unfortunately, they die off, but others are waiting to be discovered.

            I don’t text, I don’t Tik Tok, because there is no feeling there, no

            meaning, it’s like waving from a passing car.

            In my life, I’ve tended to be a problem creator, but in my new

            octogenarian life I’m trying to atone for that.  It is never too late to

            made amends.

            I’ve lost weight lately and once, carrying groceries to the car, my

            jeans slipped down to my knees before I could set the groceries down.

            A woman whistled at me.  I did not respond, didn’t know how to.

            Less is more.  I went through some tumultuous years and don’t miss them.

            In this whole day, I only want to do a few things right. 

            Dive to my right, backhand the hard grounder, jump up, throw the

            runner out by half a step at first.  Know when to use a semicolon instead

            of a comma. Put my hand on her shoulder and tell her I love her.

            And, now since I still have the floor, Friday was Veterans Day, or Armistice Day as some of us knew it in our youth, or Remembrance Day, as it is known in the UK and the Commonwealth.  The day commemorating the armistice that brought the Great War to an end, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Let us pray:

            Lord, protect and watch over those who gave the last full

            measure of devotion.

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old,

            age shall not weary them nor the years condemn,

            at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall

            remember them.


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