My name is Sara, and I’m an adulterer. I’m an adulterer because I was divorced in 1989, and in 1997 I married another. I think I even did some dating in between. Those of you who have been divorced know it is an occasion of great grief and loss on both sides, regardless of who instigated it. My own experience was that moving through this grief, this brokenness turned out to be a huge part of my story of God’s grace and renewal that kept me moving more deeply into my Christian life, closer to an experience of the holy. I was forced, through a lot of pain, to learn about God’s design for human community, and God’s design for me.
God’s design, God’s order for us who are a little lower than the angels, includes marriage. Human marriage, the solemn union that goes beyond procreation, is common to every culture, every religious tradition. And lest there be any doubt, to say that marriage is intended by God to be heterosexual is to limit God’s design, to limit the potential for human union, human community. (You all know this.) Similarly, the assumption that every person has the vocation of marriage is also to limit the potential for human union and human community. For those who are called into marriage, it is symbolic of the union God longs to have with us and has created for us to have with one another, symbolic of community life. For us who are created in God’s likeness, marriage between two people who make a lifelong covenant points to a bigger covenant that we make with God and with each other. In baptism we enter into that lifelong covenant and seal our commitment to being, as a people, a light to the nations, a sign of God’s victory, God’s abiding presence in the world. When marriage breaks, when it ends, this larger lifelong covenant does not end.
Last week I talked about our baptism, our presence in this place, as conscription into the fight of mopping up the war in heaven. The war in heaven was won but the struggle here where we are, a little lower than the angels, continues. We are reminded of this all the time, in small ways and in headlines. God’s design for humanity is much bigger than one leader or one political process or one vote. Those things we will always have with us. Sometimes we interpret them as signs that the kingdom of God has come near; sometimes as reminders of the dragon that fell to earth, the injustice that we must always fight. We cannot ignore the pain of injustice—whether it’s this week’s injustice against women or last summer’s injustice against immigrant families or the racial injustice of centuries that never ends.
But God is greater than this and we can be greater than this. God who makes two humans one flesh surely can make many humans one body in Christ. As one body, we cannot and we will not tolerate the injustices of our time. A friend sent me an article over the weekend in which I read: “Our job is to stay angry, perhaps for a very long time….that it will take a long time shouldn’t scare us, it should fortify us. To be angry at injustice is to be human.”1
And I would add, to be angry at injustice is to be one flesh with all the citizens of God’s kingdom. And I would also add that to be angry at injustice and to respond to injustice as the Body of Christ is our Christian stewardship.
Stewardship is the spiritual practice through which we enact our understanding that everything we have and everything we are comes from God, is on loan to us from God, for God’s purpose. We can use the voices God gives us to speak up. We can use the money God gives us to support organizations that empower to the powerless. We can use the time that God gives us to be present for people who hurt. If our privilege, or our complacency, or our anxiety gets in the way of being salt and light in the world, I hope we will engage the spiritual practice of self-examination.
Stewardship is our embrace of God’s extravagant generosity and making it our own. My favorite example of this is the Holy Eucharist. The way we worship here in this place is extravagant, a sign of God’s abundance. It is, as Howard always says, a dress rehearsal for the heavenly banquet. Let us embrace God’s extravagant generosity in using all of our resources—including our outrage—to proclaim God’s justice.
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And speaking of stewardship of one’s voice… We are moving through this season, in which each Sunday holds within it a pointer to our All Saints pledge ingathering. This pledge ingathering is in turn a sign of something greater: our constant practice of stewardship, I’m delighted to invite this year’s stewardship chair, Heidi McElrath, up here to finish today’s sermon.
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Stewardship does not begin or end with money. We are asked to steward everything around us and everything in us. So instead of coming up as the stewardship chair to talk about money, I’m going to talk about being part of the St Paul’s choir. But I’m not here to talk about music. I think choir is much more about the people singing to your left and your right. It’s about long rehearsals on a Thursday or Friday evening and very groggy ones on a Sunday morning. It’s giggling quietly (or not so quietly) in the choir loft during the liturgy. It’s knowing who likes a hug and who likes a handshake when we are passing the peace.
Psychologists have studied what communal singing does to our brains and our bodies. It forges social bonds remarkably quickly. It’s beneficial for your breathing and your posture and is an effective pain killer. It reduces your body’s stress hormone and boosts its antibodies. It improves memory, even in people suffering from dementia. It also activates your brain’s reward system, so you’ll keep coming back for more.
And I don’t think it’s just about the music. It’s about people coming together to create, which we here at St Paul's do constantly--musically or not. It’s about focusing together, observing the silences between the notes. It’s about hunger; always wanting to come back. It’s God’s design for more—more intimacy, more communal creation, more heaven on earth.
At the end of today’s gospel passage, Jesus takes the children in his arms, lays his hands on them, and blesses them. It’s so physical, so bodily. He doesn’t silently pray from a distance or waive his hands over them. He pulls them close and holds them. That’s what we do in the choir. That’s what we do when we gather for Mass. That’s what we do when we gather for morning and evening prayer. We take each other in our arms, lay our hands on one another, and bless each other. We listen to one another’s bodies, one another’s breath. We speak or sing in careful unison, healing from the War in Heaven, becoming in every second a clearer reflection of the one body of Christ, a sweeter reflection of our Trinity – a united, communal, creative being, holding together and singing creation into being.
The world prefers isolation, fear, and destruction. It offers scarcity and injustice. Yesterday I went to a rally where we mourned the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the Supreme Court. Right near the end, one of the speakers asked this angry, hurting crowd to walk two steps closer to the stage, then link arms with the people standing next to us, and spend a moment feeling what it means to journey somewhere together. That was beautiful stewardship.
Here at St Paul’s I enjoy the unique opportunity to gather with you, with this specific manifestation of Christ’s body that can't be found anywhere else in the universe. And because I hunger always for a more intimate reflection of Christ - I don’t just give my time and my voice. I give my money. Money I spend most of my waking hours trying to get, money I’ve trained to earn, money that the world tells me is the entire value of my life. When I give my money, more and lavishly, and I intertwine more of my time and identity and efforts in this community, God gives it back a hundredfold, in the peace and love that overflows abundantly when we gather together.
I have heard that anything too silly to be spoken can be sung. I have also heard that anything too subtle, too deeply felt, too revealing, or too mysterious can also be sung, in fact it can only be sung. What is overflow and abundant, what is lavish, cannot be expressed in our typical way. That's why I sing in the choir and that's why I make a pledge to St. Paul's.
1From Rebecca Traister, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, quoted by Emma Gray in Huffington Post, October 2, 2018