That’s How the Light Gets In

A sermon preached by The Right Reverend Leopold Frade, Bishop of Southeast Florida, at his Annual Visitation for Confirmation on Trinity Sunday, June 3, 2007, at Trinity Cathedral, Miami 

“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

Those words come from a poem by the Canadian poet and composer Leonard Cohen. I thought that they were an appropriate way for your Bishop to be able to make you aware of the different cracks that exist at present in your church.

I don’t know if you know that one of the hurricanes the year before last caused considerable damage to the roof of our Cathedral. Unfortunately, now we have a major crack in our roof where we can see not only the light, but even the stars and the moon.
 
But also you need to be aware of other cracks that at present exist in this Cathedral. That’s why it is important for you to be reminded of this poem:

“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

I am sure you know how imperative it is to take care of this unfortunate crack in the roof of our Cathedral. It must be fixed soon, and I know that your dean is working very hard to accomplish it, but he needs your help and your money to achieve it.

I know that we have an excellent dean--we chose right--but even if some of you tend to believe it, you have to be aware that he doesn’t walk on water. Yes, trust me on this--he really doesn’t walk on the water of Biscayne Bay to get to work and back home. The dean actually drives back and forth in his car across the bridge like the rest of us mortals. He needs your help and your money to fix that hole in the roof.

Now the crack in the roof we need to fix--patch it, cover it and block the light. But there are other cracks that exist in our church of which we must be aware. We must fix the crack in our roof, but let’s be careful to leave those other necessary cracks alone, so that through them light may get in and shine to banish the darkness of our world.

I am not only talking about this Cathedral, but also about the many cracks that the Episcopal Church seems to have--or as some may perceive it, the imperfections of our Episcopal Church.

Yes, we are a Church that has many cracks. We are an imperfect church, and there are many things that someone from the outside looking in may perceive to be flaws that need to be fixed.
I am sure that some may even think that we must be the craziest bunch of believers in all of Christendom.

But that is precisely why I became an Episcopalian. That is why I left a calm, cozy, culturally friendly Protestant denomination to belong to a church where priests were being put in jail, and where bishops dared to question many things that were considered as untouchable and not for discussion.

I must have been crazy, but I have no regrets. Many people can’t understand us. I just heard a comedian saying that Episcopalians are a kind of Cliff Notes of religion, or for the youngsters here the sparknotes.com of religion.

Some people, when they look at us from the outside, think that we are just “Catholic Light” and that instead of asking our penitents to say a couple of “Hail Marys,” we suggest that they should have a couple of Bloody Marys. I wish it were that easy to be an Episcopalian! So if you think that by being confirmed or received in our church this morning you have it made, I’ve got news for you. It is not that easy to be one of us.

So I say to all of the candidates for confirmation and reception and to all of you that will witness the vows that are going to be made:

“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

The current struggles that we are going through in our Anglican Communion are just an example of what I mean. We are being asked by our brothers and sisters of our Communion to patch the cracks that we have made. I won’t pretend that our actions have not affected the Communion as the British accented prelates stated: “The recent actions of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America have damaged the bonds of affection of the Anglican Communion.” There is no question about it, and for that we can be sorry and apologize. But the fact that we apologize doesn’t mean that we are about to fix that crack. You see, that’s how the light gets in.
 
Some may say that this newest crack is much worse than those that occurred in the past, but I am convinced that they are just trying to justify their prejudice. At the same time there are others that while they vilified this new group demanding their rights, they are jealous to protect their own rights and will scream holy hell if someone would treat them the same way that they treat others. 

Let me give you a little background of why I say this: I became an Episcopalian almost 40 years ago because I saw in this church a group of Christians that were willing to defend justice and the rights of those being abused. For me it truly reflected what I was reading that Jesus Christ was saying in the Gospels.

I had just been asked to leave a Methodist-affiliated college in the south because of my big mouth. After the forced integration of my college, I just couldn’t understand how people who seemed to be truly devoted and committed Christians were able to insult, discriminate and even persecute Americans who happened to be black. There were black persons from other countries in that college and I never heard a complaint about them, but when the first African-American student showed up all hell broke loose.

As a foreign student, I had been raised in a different culture and I lacked those chips of selective racial prejudice in my brain. So I decided that it was OK to challenge Southern white persons from Kentucky on issues of race. Big mistake!!

That’s how I ended up in New York, and it was there at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine that I became enamored by the beautiful liturgy of our church.

It was love at first sight and there I discovered a church that didn’t ask you to leave your brain at the door, but allowed you to come in with your brain in order for you to think and reason with it; a church that besides having a firm belief in the Scriptures and a willingness to be guided by tradition, also believed that reason is a gift of God for us to use.

You see, reason is what would not allow us over 400 years ago to accept the theory of “Limbo” that Rome so assiduously taught up to a few weeks ago. Also it didn’t allow us to insist that the sun rotated around planet earth and that our planet was the center of the universe. Now, reason was also a factor that prevented us from saying dumb things like that the Teletubbie Tinky Winky was gay because of his triangular antenna, his color purple and his handbag.

Reason has helped us to recognize that Blacks and Hispanics are not inferior, that men are not superior to women and that women can and are called by God--and ordained by the church--to be deacons, priests and bishops.

What is exciting is that the Spirit of God has been active during these days and is helping us to comprehend that human beings don’t end up being gay or lesbian because they are possessed by demons or have simply chosen an “unnatural” way of life.

It was that 3-legged stool of Anglican thought, Scriptures, Tradition and Reason, that moves the members of our church to be involved in bringing justice and peace and “to respect the dignity of every human being.”

Today as we look at the photographs of marches and demonstrations during the days of the Civil Rights movement in our country, you are bound to recognize in the crowd an Episcopal priest dressed in black with a round collar around his neck. When you go through the list of people jailed, attacked and even martyred, you will find many Episcopalians, including a seminarian named Jonathan Myrick Daniels who was killed in Alabama while saving the life of a young African-American woman.

It was through the cracks that were made with blood and sweat during those days that the light of justice and racial equality got through in America.

Now we are not totally perfect ourselves, and we need to sadly accept our own sins and remember with shame that even in this Cathedral black persons were not fully welcomed until a few decades ago. But there were those among us who were willing to create cracks and made it possible for the light to get in, and the changes began to happen--and they will continue to happen.

Some talk about the decrease in membership in our church as a symptom of our discussion on sexuality. But they forget to mention that the main exodus from our denomination was not because of Prayer Book changes or the ordination of women or the acceptance of gays and lesbians, but it was mainly due to the departure of white persons who refused to worship next to a black person who had dared to enter into their beloved homogeneous, culturally friendly environment through cracks that were being made by our clergy and laity to end segregation and discrimination.

There were other cracks in our church that were made, and through them other groups of persons that were being kept away were able to get in. It took a long time but I was there to witness it:  It was in 1976--a year when I was so handsome and slim and with lots of hair--at General Convention in Minneapolis when we voted to allow the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. Another crack was made, but you see that’s how the light gets in.

Then 27 years later I came back to Minneapolis, and by 2003 I was overweight and with very little hair. But at that General Convention another crack was made. That year the bishops and deputies consented to the election of 10 bishops, something that is a routine for us. However, one of those bishops was the Bishop of New Hampshire, who happens to be a gay man in a committed relationship. And that’s how the light of justice got in.

And now this American church is being told by a number of persons from other cultures and nations, as well as from a small group of our own members, that we must patch the crack that occurred due to our actions. That is very easy for them to say, but if we do that, how will the light of justice get in?

I know that by refusing to patch that crack our “bonds of affection” with some of our brothers and sisters are being strained or even broken. I know that there may even be other drastic consequences.

But every time I falter and begin to think that maybe we should compromise, I remember Jonathan Myrick Daniels.

He could have compromised and not bothered to try to register African-American voters in Alabama. He could have stayed home up north, but instead he chose to make a crack in the name of Christ at the boulders of injustice that blatantly existed in the South at that time.

Every time I falter I think of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who could have minded his own business and not bothered to challenge the boulder of apartheid in South Africa.

I am convinced that we must be willing to permit these cracks that have occurred in our church so that the light of justice can continue dwelling among us.

If we are not hypocrites and hold double standards, we must say that injustice is injustice in any way, shape or form that it may appear. As a Hispanic I say that if I want justice and equality for those like me, then I have no business whatsoever being part of anything that seeks to deny justice and equality for others, even if those others are gays and lesbians. You should not talk about equality on issues of race and culture if you at the same time--using selected verses from the Bible--refuse justice and the full participation in the life of our church to others with a lifestyle different from yours.

You see my dear candidates, it is not that easy to be an Episcopalian. My God, even our first American bishop was refused ordination by the British because he was not going to pledge allegiance to crazy king George that Americans had just defeated in our Independence War!

God bless those Scottish Jacobites who in Aberdeen, Scotland, dared to make a crack in the Anglican Communion and consecrated our first bishop, Samuel Seabury, against the will of the powers to be at the time. That’s how the light got in and we were able to have our first American bishop.

It didn’t take long for the Brits to realize that we were here to stay, and that we were not anymore the Church of England but the Episcopal Church of these United States of America.

Now, I know that you want to be confirmed and received by me this morning, but I want to make sure you know that we really mean for you to keep the promises that you are about to make.

We really mean it when we ask you to reaffirm your renunciation of evil and to commit to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Yes, my beloved candidates and all of you present this morning in this Cathedral, you need to be aware that we really mean it when we ask all of you if you are willing to persevere in resisting evil and also if you are willing to love your neighbor as yourself.

Not some neighbors but all neighbors. Not just those who talk like you, or cook like you, or vote like you, or pray like you, or those whose affections God has wired different from yours. We really mean all.

I also want to be sure that you know the consequences of responding to the last question of the Baptismal Covenant with, “I will, with God’s help.” It’s important, because with the condition of the world we live in today, it could really make a difference for good.

That final question is going to be this:

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people? Will you?

Will you respect the dignity of every human being? Will you really do that?
Do you realize how many cracks we will have to make to be able to achieve this?

I have to admit that if I say that I believe that we must strive for peace, then I must chisel hard and make a crack at that boulder of war brought to our nation through lies and deceit. A boulder of war that brushes aside the death of over 3,000 American youngsters and now insists on a surge that will only increase the number of those killed.

If I am to declare that I must strive for justice, then I must be willing to say stop the embargo against the people of Cuba. It has failed and it only punishes the poor and the weak and not those in power in that island.

If I believe in resisting evil, then I must do something to stop the exploitation of farmworkers taking place today in Immokalee, Florida.

I must also be willing to look at immigration issues with the eyes of the one who insisted in proclaiming that we must love our neighbors as ourselves.

There are other churches in our country where blacks and Hispanics are kept away. There are quite a few other churches out there where gays and lesbians are bashed and considered evil, where war is praised and encouraged, where women are kept in their place, churches where cracks are not allowed to happen. This Cathedral is not one of them.

Now if you really insist on becoming an Episcopalian, then welcome to this church and help us to make sure that we keep some of our cracks.  It’s important--you see, that’s how the light gets in.

AMEN.

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