Make Your Offering

Tri-School/Cathedral Close Service
Washington National Cathedral
September 1, 2016
The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde  

Listen to the sermon online.

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” John 6:9

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Where there is injury, pardon; where the doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sorrow, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Good morning. I’m very happy to add my welcome to Kathy Jamieson’s, especially to those who are new to the Close community. We’re glad that you’re here and I, among many, pray that this first year is both affirming and exciting, challenging in all the right ways. Welcome back to the seasoned leaders among us. I pray that the summer has afforded all a bit of respite and renewal. I know from experience that when someone who hasn’t seen you for awhile comes up and asks, “How was your summer?” it can be a complicated question to answer. The summer is a long time; a lot can happen in a season, personally, communally, and certainly in our world.  

I’d also like to acknowledge those from the schools, the Foundation, and Cathedral staff for whom the arrival of students is not a new beginning in your work. Indeed, for most, work continues throughout the summer, if at a different rhythm. On behalf of all who benefit from your year-round labors, thank you for all that you do behind the scenes, without which nothing we do and offer here would be possible.

We’re grateful to the National Cathedral School for hosting this annual event, which allows us to gather for a time of prayer before the students arrive. It reminds us what we already know, that our three schools and this cathedral and foundation are, at heart, spiritual institutions, rooted in the Christian faith, in the life and teachings of Jesus, whom Christians experience not only as a source of wisdom from the past, but a living presence in our life and in the world. And as you know from the way that we pray, we’re on the sacramental end of the Christian faith, which means we love our ancient rituals and experience God’s grace moving through them. We’re pretty formal in the way we pray, most of the time, because we have a lot respect for the traditions that have been handed down to us.

But we also share certain universal spiritual values with all people of enlightened faith: we have deep appreciation for mystery, a commitment to intellectual rigor, and openness to truth wherever truth is revealed to us–in science, other academic disciplines, and from the wisdom and experiences of other faith traditions and from those who have no faith. We believe that doubt and serious inquiry are essential to a lively faith, and that faith, in the end, is a gift and a mystery. We believe that diversity is a gift from God.

So we live these truths in this educational and faith setting, in a spirit of respect and curiosity and welcome, sharing a calling to educate the children and young people that come to us to the best of their God-given potential, wherever that may lead them; teaching them, also, to value truth, knowledge, and respect for the dignity of every human being.  

One of my favorite experiences as a leader here is when a Jewish or Muslim parent comes to me and says that their children’s experience here has helped them grow deeper in their own faith tradition. I just want to say to you that as a Christian leader, I believe that is the essence of what it means to be a Christian in an educational setting. Our task is to welcome children from where they come, allow them to grow, and equip them for the unique path to which God calls them. To do so is not a watering down of our faith; it is the fullest expression of it.

And we are bound to one another. We share the ground beneath us, this Cathedral in which we worship, and the rhythms of a common life. We are meant to be a blessing to one another. How we live these traditions informs everything about us, from the Beauvoir Life Rules–may I hear them please? Respect, Responsibility, Honesty and Kindness–to the honor codes and high expectations of St Albans and NCS, and prayers and rituals of this Cathedral. This is how we are formed into persons of substance, through the deep practices of life, learning and faith.  

Let me say something about the times we live in now, and in particular the season ahead of us, which is cause for some concern:

Chaplain Eva Cavaleri of NCS wrote me about that concern as we communicated about the plans for this service:

We’re preparing ourselves to be present this fall to our communities in the face of the intense political atmosphere and general sense of anxiety that surrounds us. We’re planning conversations with faculty about how to engage with students and families, reminding all how to have civil discourse, with careful listening and respect for difference; and how to be present to the sense of anxiety and fear that the political rhetoric is causing both children and parents.

Amy Vorenberg, Head of Beauvoir, wrote with similar sentiments:

We are very concerned about the current political situation and the heightened intensity of race and police relations – never before has the world seemed so very unsettled in my lifetime. A group of us met recently, including our parent diversity group leaders – and there is concern about how this will seep into our school life when we return – worries, fears, anger, etc. … And we wish, bishop, that you would talk to us about these matters: what it means to teach and to parent through these difficult times.  

Well, let me tell you what I know, and that is that you already know.     

You already know how to teach, and how to live and to teach the children well. Because in times like these we are called to go deeper into the core values and practices that sustain us, not move away from them. We learn how much our principles and values matter precisely when they are tested. Practices of faith, insights of traditions are here for us when we need them most. They are trustworthy. We can rest upon them. We can lives our lives from them, and we can hold steady.

Let me share an example of this from another time and place when steadfast courage was needed. It took my breath away when I first heard of it this summer on a podcast.   

In 1942, shortly after invasion of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invasion of China intensified. Among those caught up in the invasion were 150 American, British, and European girls–daughters of missionaries–attending a boarding school in Chefoo, a coastal city in China. The Japanese took the girls and their teachers–mostly young women in their 20s–to one of the many concentration camps they had built, where the 150 girls and their teachers lived and worked for four years in the harshest conditions.

Imagine that: being taken up from Beauvoir or NCS or St Albans and taken to a concentration camp. Sensibly, the teachers had taken with them books, teaching materials, and musical instruments to keep the children occupied, and they also took with them–and this was the best part– all the uniforms, materials, badges needed to continue the British version of the Girl Scouts, which were, and are, known as Girl Guides. A woman interviewed for this story, named Mary, now in her 80s, remembers being a Brown Owl, the Girl Guide equivalent of a Brownie, in a Japanese concentration camp in China.  

Their teachers insisted that girls maintain the disciplines of school and the protocol required of Girl Guides, including good table manners, no matter how terrible or insufficient the food. The food they ate was often the same food fed to the animals, and they ate out of old cans and soap dishes. “But there would come Miss Stark up behind us,” Mary recalled, “one of our teachers. ‘Mary Taylor,’ she would say to me. ‘Do not slouch over your food while you are eating. Do not talk while you have food in your mouth. There are not two sets of manners, one set of manners for the princesses in Buckingham Palace and another set of manners for the Weihsien concentration camp.’”

In the winter, it would get freezing cold. No heat was provided to the prisoners by the guards. Instead, Mary and her friends had to go collect leftover coal shavings from the guards’ quarters to make coal bricks for their fire. It was like making a new pencil from pencil shavings, except that coal was heavy. It had to be passed bucket by bucket in a line of Girl Guides. Then the shavings were mixed with dust and water and dried in the sun. It was long, hard work. When it was done they would use that recycled coal in a pot-bellied stove, keeping the stove lit so that everybody would be warm. It sounded horrible, like a childhood from a Charles Dickens novel.

But what Mary remembers are the badges she and her friends could earn by doing the work well. She remembers it as a game she could win.

Mary was separated from her parents, unsure of when she’d be released, surrounded by pack dogs and men with guns. She says that she spent a lot of her time just thinking about earning merit badges.

They would sing songs. They had a Christmas pageant that they performed for the other prisoners. Their singing and their cheerful discipline animated the spirit of other adults in the camp.

Now, was this fun? Of course not. Was it not terribly difficult for the teachers to keep up their routine in the midst of terror? Of course it was. “When you had guard dogs, bayonet drills, electrified wires, barrier walls, you knew that you weren’t in a summer camp,” Mary said. Don’t misunderstand me. But what I’m telling you is that in spite of all that, we lived a miracle where grownups preserved our childhood.”

Every night they would sing:

Day is done. Gone the sun from the sea, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest. God is nigh.

“How could you be afraid” Mary asked, “when every night you sing that all is well?”

So remember that what you have to offer, what you have to teach and to give, is precisely what is needed now. We have what we need to live and lead in anxious time.

One final word, and this taken from the wonderful story we heard read from John’s Gospel–that of a young boy offering his bread and fish to Jesus.

Never forget that in times like these, we are called to make our offering. Our children are called to make their offering, no matter how small, for the good of the world. In the face of vast need, that young boy brought what he had to Jesus, and because of his offering, a miracle of abundance was possible. And that’s our call as well. It doesn’t matter how small our offering is–this is the age of loaves and fishes, and our offering can help transform a dire situation into a banquet.

You have all you need to teach the children well. Make your offering, and teach them to do the same.

For when the need is great, God’s simple request and humanity’s plea is that we make our offering, no matter how small. From that offering, through God’s grace, miracles may happen.

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