In general I don't like to preserve my sermons, either as text or as audio, for reasons that are mostly spiritual and a little bit theological and probably not very convincing to anyone besides me. But I've been recording my sermons lately mostly for the benefit of my parents, who just want to hear their son preach. And I recorded Sunday's sermon, too. I don't think it was one of my best sermons and the audio here is not great, but several people have asked to hear it, or to hear it again, or to share it with others. So here it is.
First, let me say that this article assumes your children are white. Parents with children of color in this country are simply not afforded the luxury of carefully planning the developmentally appropriate time to discuss this complicated topic. The occasion to discuss race seeks them out, ready or not. And rarely on a happy occasion.
A couple of years ago, attending the family service, I started to get a headache (I’m not ascribing causation) and stepped into the vestibule for some fresh air. While standing there, I heard one of the ushers murmur, “this service is always a zoo.” Last week, when Sue Davis asked if I could stand in for her as LEM, I said, only half-joking, “That’s the only way I’ll come to another family service.” (Fortunately, Sue laughed, as I’d meant her to.) Even with that joke, I went to serve today with some trepidation, with the sort of attitude you might have upon entering the yoga studio and discovering that there’s a substitute sitting where your favorite teacher should be. Would I get to have my regular, depended upon, looked for, anticipated pleasures? After the celebration ended today, I retired to a warm spot on the patio in back of Coffee Obsession. Over iced coffee and with the late October sun on my back feeling more like July, I found myself replaying various moments of the morning, and was then moved to put it all into words. In no particular order, here are all the things I loved about today’s Family Service: Matt’s reminder that the service is for all of us, because we are all children of God. The playfulness of it all, the joyous surprise of seeing Matt (the scholar who delivers those piercing sermons! The professor who facilitates our wonderful book group discussions! The beaming father and loving husband) navigating the altar step (and pulpit!) on his knees… (and talk about a committed performance…he stayed on his knees all the way back to the sacristy!) Patti’s attention to each moment, as when she took the opportunity to explain what the Gospel is, and to hold up the book. Because sometimes even we adults who are supposed to know and remember everything, even we overeducated adults are helped by these simple, tactile reminders. Oh, yeah. Right. The Gospel is Jesus’s words, his stories. Right. Patti’s entering into the playacting of the Gospel…at one point Matt gave her a stage direction and she said, “Oh, should I be Jesus walking up to you? Okay!” It was so perfect and spontaneous, just like kids playing make-believe. Do you know what you did for us, what you do for us so often, in just being yourselves, reminding us of our humanity, implicitly inviting us to just be ourselves, too? Reminding us that God loves us just as we are, as that gorgeous collect this morning reminded us. Today’s service was a visceral reminder of what you both create throughout the year, the container of generosity that you hold. It comes through in simple acts like Patti’s greeting of people before the service, Matt’s carrying of mugs to visitors and newcomers, the reminder of where we are in the church year, even the simple “Good morning” at the start of the service grounds us, gathers us. I loved the sweet invitation to all of us, after the children had shown us by example, to say aloud what we like about ourselves, what is special (how often do we call out in the nave—much less name aloud in the middle of church—our unique God-given loves?) – I heard Caleb say, “my strange sense of humor”; Rebecca in her choir robe, her face saying, “well, this is obvious” and her voice saying, “I like to sing!”; a male voice from the pews saying, “I like to fish!”; a quiet female voice, “I like to knit”; Matt:
We’ve had several difficult conversations in our house since the Orlando massacre earlier this month. Usually we shield the kids from the news after these events, and especially from our own emotional conversations about the senselessness of such tragedy.
Whatever you do, don't call me religious. Because I know what you're thinking. We all know what you're thinking. You're imagining that I quote scripture to prove arguments, that I'm judging others who swear, get divorced, or don’t go to church, that I'm proselytizing from the playground. If that's religious, then I'm definitely something else. Being religious doesn't sit well with the other parts of me I've come to appreciate: the critical thinker, the skeptic, the scientist, the I-can-decide-for-myself-thank-you-very-much part that definitely irritated my mom in my teens. As a kid, I liked church mainly for the donuts, my adolescence was littered with bad decisions and close-calls, and my 20s were absent of church-going. I just figured people like me were a bad match for church. That even if I were interested, no one would want me bringing down their average. When Matt and I got together, there were days when I thought I'd make a disaster of a priest's wife. In preparation, I was generating a perfectly crafted response to, "Tell me about your faith, Colette." I'm still working on it. So far, though, no one has ever asked me about my faith, my relationship with God, my biblical knowledge, my past experience with church. It's never come up. And I've grown to stop worrying about it. I don't think it's because no one cares, or worse, because they're making assumptions. It's because they're episcopalians. And being episcopalian has a lot less to do with the stuff that I’m unsure of, and more about the stuff I know for sure: that there is unquestionable value in being part of a community where everyone is constantly changing: sometimes celebrating, sometimes grieving, sometimes feeling there is indeed a God, and sometimes feeling unsure. We’re not there because we all agree -- on anything. But because we think God might be present when we all gather. And that feels special, maybe even holy. There is a welcoming and refreshing vulnerability that I feel at church, unlike anywhere else. It's okay to feel sad here, or proud, or depressed, or overwhelmingly joyful. At church, it's okay to miss those you love, and to talk about how much you wish they were still here. It's okay to be frustrated and impatient with people, with your children (guilty), with the injustice in the world. It's okay - and even welcomed - to share those things with the people around you in an authentic way that might feel out of place at preschool drop off, or school picnics, or recitals. A time and place where I can feel comfortable in my vulnerability is worth a lot to me. And that thing I was so afraid of? Whether someone like me - still questioning, still unsure, still a long ways from being a perfect human being - would be a good fit for church? Turns out, it makes me a perfect fit. Welcome to a place where brokenness is expected, and maybe even celebrated. And you feel loved, not despite these things, but because of these things. And if that’s religious, count me in.
If you’ve ever spent any time with our family, you might already know this: the Potts kids are super comfortable talking about death. Unsettlingly so, if you ask me. Sam routinely hands me pictures he’s drawn, telling me,
Matt and I often run into young families from St Barnabas in and around town; it’s one of the benefits of living on Main Street and we always enjoy these spontaneous meetings. Like other families, we spend our days shuttling kids to and from school and extracurricular activities, grocery shopping, taking kids to birthday parties, buying gifts, mailing packages, dropping off overdue books at the library.
A Word to the Church from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church
"We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”
On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.
In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.
In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.
We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.