Sermon - Trinity, Washington, DC
Happy anniversary and welcome home! This celebration seems to have been as big an organizational problem and every bit as complex as a society wedding. A whole lot of guests have been invited, and I think almost every single one showed up at the feast on Friday night. There were no empty seats to be seen. I didn’t get the instructions about black tie and evening dress, but nobody threw me out into the darkness.
At that feast of friends and fellowship and prophecy on Friday night we noted that it was a pretty good image of the heavenly banquet that Isaiah sets out: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” We had a taste of that rich food and good wine, and Michael Blake’s prophetic words to us evoked more of Isaiah’s dream, that God will destroy the shroud of death spread over all people, wipe away the tears from every face, and swallow up death forever. Isaiah speaks to people who yearn for rebuilt cities, and homes where they can live in peace, with abundant hope – without any of the shame or disgrace that besets humanity.
This congregation is set in a community that was founded with similarly lofty aspirations. Takoma Park was named for the big mountain in the other Washington – the one in the upper left-hand corner of your map. Takoma is the Salish Indian name for Mt. Rainier, and the person who chose it for the local train stop thought it meant “high up” or “near heaven.” It’s a fitting dream for this part of the world – and every part of the world.
You claim Fr. James (C.) Dorsey as the founder of this congregation. He is the same James (Owen) Dorsey who learned a number of Native American dialects and became one of the first members of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian. His ill health repeatedly brought him back here from the Dakota Territory, to Takoma Park, after working with the Ponka and Omaha Indians. This missionary knew something of human injustice – and he, too, dreamed of building a community nearer heaven.
The congregation grew, and eventually Takoma Parish opened here in 1893 – and while it appears that “high up” still describes the worship here, the bigger dream is for a heavenly city, fit for all people to live in, where all God’s children might dwell in peace, and flourish.
How will you sing the dream song of that restored city? You have claimed this for your homecoming prayer, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, proclaim the good news of healing and wholeness every day of your lives.’ While this weekend has a lot to do with that great feast on the mountainside, we can’t simply stay here on the mountain and sing, expecting that city to appear like Brigadoon. We have to sing that song on our daily rounds in this city – on the bus and the Metro, driving across town, in the voting booth, while we’re drafting contracts, teaching children, healing wounds, and rebuilding the broken. That song has to penetrate our sometimes stony hearts, soak into us along with baptismal water, and become the bread of justice we share at this table and every table.
‘Sing to the Lord a new song, proclaim the good news of a heavenly city every day of your lives.’ That song is neither simple nor impossible to learn, but it does require all we are and all we have and the whole of our lives. It begins down by the riverside, ‘Ain’t gonna study war no more.’ It continues until ‘every voice is lifted to ring with the harmonies of liberty,’ to “sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, sing a song full of the hope the present has brought us.”
Sometimes it sounds like the blues, lamenting the brokenness around us and within us. It is also the sound of rejoicing, when we discover where God has set the table and invited the guests and shared a miraculous feast.
Will you sing the lament over Ferguson, and all the young black and brown men rotting in our prisons? Will you sing and grieve over those falling to Ebola, a virus born of poverty, and meager food supplies in Africa’s bush, that is now spreading in poor and crowded cities? Will you mourn and grieve and cry aloud over the increasing divide between rich and poor?
Will you sing with joy over every child who finds adults who care for his or her future? Will you raise loud hosannas for every woman who leaves the street to find wholeness and healing? Will you rejoice over ever human being who discovers the transforming power of meeting Jesus in the poor, starting right here?
We will continue to sing of possibility and dreams and the new thing God continues to do in our midst, even if we’ve never imagined doing it that way before. We will, with God’s help!
That parable of the wedding feast points us to the new things God is up to – and our reactions to the invitation to the feast of healing. The guests who don’t RSVP, the ones who opt for idle distractions or distracting idols, and the guests who respond to the invitation by snuffing the messenger all receive what they sowed. They find their cities destroyed. But others get invited, even dragged in, to the party. The host wants every seat and space to be filled with singers of that dream of restored cities.
But what of the unfortunate guest who comes without wedding garb? I cannot imagine that it is really about dressing up. I do believe that it’s about the state of one’s heart. Are you ready to rejoice at the feast? Or do you still have on your sour face, having been dragged in off the street to join a rowdy group of strangers who want you to sing a new song you’ve never heard before? That can be pretty tough, especially if the music is unfamiliar, or you don’t know any of those folks at the party.
I wandered into the hotel lobby last night, and found a pretty unusual scene. Mobs of young adults and not-so-young adults were on their way to the ballroom, most of them in costume, or something closer to suits worn in the Garden of Eden. I wasn’t invited, but they all looked like they were having a very good time. This morning there was a lot of glitter and sequins scattered around. I could just imagine hearing someone say, ‘well, if they’re in heaven, I’m not going!’ I asked the desk clerk this morning what was going on last night. It was a contest for “Miss Adams-Morgan,” and all about drag queens!
Well, our gospel host has invited all the usual suspects to the feast. You know who they are – everybody who’s ever been suspected of being unacceptable or inappropriate or beyond the pale. When no one else will come, the stewards and messengers are sent out to round up everyone they can find. Luke puts it this way: “go out into the streets and the lanes and compel them to come in.” The beggars of Jesus’ day, the homeless of our own day – particularly the women you are working with, the forgotten and ignored and unseen, the immigrants with papers and those without, the refugees who’ve come with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and even tipsy revelers.
Sing that song – come to the feast, sing a new world into being, rejoice at the wholeness of mercy and loving-kindness, and dwell in a city of peace. Keep building that city, one invitation at a time, with a homeless person housed, each child offered mentoring and companionship, and every city councilor or state assemblyman, mayor or president or police chief elected to do justice.
Come to the feast – you have most certainly been invited. Many are called, but few choose to answer. The reason that robeless guests get tossed out is that they are only prepared to hang out with the teeth gnashers, the ones who can only cry, “ain’t it awful what he/she/they have done,” “they’re beneath my notice,” or “see that scum of the earth!” Put on your robe of hope and possibility and help to make a feast for all God’s children. The teeth-gnashers are invited too, as soon as they’re ready.
Come to the feast, and lift your voices to sing it into being.
 Assemblyman-elect, New York 79th District; former member of the Obama administration
 Takoma actually means “snow-covered mountain” or “mother of waters.”
 Psalm 96:1-2, free translation.
 “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1928.