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Sermons and Speeches

Unlocking Doors

Bishop Lee gave this sermon on November 19 at Diocesan Convention 2016:

At my house, we’ve got the coolest front door. As some of you may know, Lisa and I and our son Jonathan moved this summer into a house in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. As part of the move we had the front door outfitted with this high tech locking mechanism. We did it partly because Lisa teaches voice students in a studio on the second floor and the students needed a way to get in between lessons. And partly because I run most days early in the morning and I was interested in having a way to let myself in and out of the house without carrying a bunch of jangling keys. Actually, what we installed isn’t really all that high tech, lots of people have it – I’m just easily impressed with stuff like this. You just punch in a code on the outside of the door and a little battery operated motor locks and unlocks it. The super-cool thing I guess is that you can even do it remotely from your iPhone – not sure why you’d want to do that exactly, but it’s cool.

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about doors. Doors opening and doors closing. Doors slamming and doors flung wide. Doors you have to stoop to get through, even crawl, and doors wide enough, tall enough to let in the world. Doors have been on my mind through the days of the campaign and in these opening days of the transition to new presidential and congressional leadership. There are so many questions about entrances and exits, access and exclusion, who gets in and who will be kept out or sent there. Those are questions we will need to confront and answer in this country. Christians, people of all faiths will need to take their part in the debates, the political process, the protests, the dialogues that will contribute to answering those questions. Episcopalians, we need to be right there adding our voices. And our baptismal promises must guide what we have to say. As our Presiding Bishop put it so eloquently this last week. Let me quote him:

“… we maintain our longstanding commitment to support and welcome refugees and immigrants, and to stand with those who live in our midst without documentation.  We reaffirm that like all people LGBT persons are entitled to full civil rights and protection under the law. We reaffirm and renew the principles of inclusion and the protection of the civil rights of all persons with disabilities. We commit to the honor and dignity of women and speak out against sexual or gender-based violence.  We express solidarity with and honor the Indigenous Peoples of the world. We affirm the right to freedom of religious expression and vibrant presence of different religious communities, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers. We acknowledge our responsibility in stewardship of creation and all that God has given into our hands. We do so because God is the Creator. We are all God’s children, created equally in God’s image. And if we are God’s children we are all brothers and sisters.”

This describes for me so much of what it means to follow Jesus. For the Risen Jesus, locked doors mean very little. You may know that one of my favorite images from the tradition of Christian art is the icon of the Risen Lord standing astride the gates of hell. He is hauling up out of their tombs Adam and Eve, to reintroduce them to one another, to reconcile everything that has been disfigured, dis-eased, disintegrated by sin and death. If you look closely at Jesus’ feet on those open doors you will see not only that the doors are flung wide, they have been blown off their hinges.

The gospel we’ve heard today makes the same point with the story of Jesus’ encounter with his first friends – there they are, holed up in that little house by a force stronger than any lock and key. They’re held there by fear, maybe by their own guilt that they had failed him, betrayed him, fled for their lives in the face of evil. The locked doors though do about as much good at keeping Jesus out as do their locked up hearts. “Peace,” he says to them. Peace. Look at my wounded hands and feet, this is the cost, this is what love looks like. He is not really interested in their shortcomings, in their own sinful participation in what brought him to the cross – he forgives them. Without a single recrimination or consequence, he forgives them. He loves them. It’s the only code that will ever unlock the doors that matter ultimately. Jesus loves them, he breaths new life into them, he bathes them in the Holy Spirit. He sets them free. He unlocks their doors. And he sends them out into this fearful world to do the same thing.

He sends us to do the same thing.

Sitting on my desk is a small framed piece of calligraphy. It was a gift from the Presiding Bishop at my ordination to serve this diocese as its bishop. It’s a quotation from a great Roman Catholic bishop who served the church in Brazil during a tumultuous time of military rule in that country from 1964 to 1981. Helder Camara was a stalwart defender of the poor and the powerless in the face of rampant injustice. He called on young people in particular to break the cycles of violence that reinforce each other from both the right and the left. The quotation on my desk says this: “The bishop belongs to all…. Let no one be alarmed if I am seen with compromised and dangerous people on the left or the right. Let no one bind me to a group. My door, my heart, must be open to everyone — absolutely everyone.” I believe that’s true. Not just for the bishop, God help us, but for all of us who bear the name, Christian.

Now, that doesn’t mean we are not called to take positions for what we prayerfully believe to be right. It doesn’t mean we do not critique the misuse of power or that we do not advocate for or defend those who have no help. But our motivation, our reason for doing those things must be aligned with Christ. They must be rooted in love. Even crucified love, fierce love.  With God’s help. In response to my letter to the diocese after the presidential election, a man emailed me and said, “Please stop telling us to admire Donald Trump.” I was a little startled that that’s what he thought I was telling him to do. I wrote back and said “I wasn’t asking you to admire the president-elect; I was asking you to pray for him.” I have to confess to you that I am not very good at manufacturing feelings I don’t feel. But I am committed to practicing the faith we share whether I feel like it or not. Our hearts must be open to everyone. Even in our disagreements. Even and especially when it costs us.

So dear friends, let us continue to unlock doors. Let’s reach right through them, like the Lord we follow. Just as we reach across continents and oceans to our sisters and brothers in Southeast Mexico and South Sudan. Across the the boundaries of race and class and culture that do not need to threaten us, but enrich us. Even as we repent of the ways privilege for many of us keep others of us from realizing the fullness of our human dignity. Let us hear the Word of God, treasure it, believe it, practice it. All our days. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us … to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty and release. The doors to God’s love are wide open – no one, no one can shut them. Alleluia.