Called to the Middle Way

Sermon by the Rev. Marek Zabriskie on Sunday, January 10, 2021.

This is past week we witnessed one of the most trying moments in our nation’s history. I’m sure that the events that unfolded on our screens were as troubling for you as they were for me. The question this morning is how do we as a people of faith move forward from here? How do we offer comfort and healing, grace and hope in such a dark and wounded world?

As so often happens, God gives us clues. In Genesis this morning, we read how God created light to divide the day from the night, and it was good. Today, unfortunately, we have created a world where so much is now divided – Republican vs Democrat, Red State vs Blue State, conservative vs liberal, black and white, male/female, gay/straight. And it is not good.

None of us sees the truth unfiltered. It’s become more complicated with social media, the internet, and an enormous array of new sources that cater to all sorts of biases. And just as social media and the internet have been used to radicalize Islamic extremists, these tools are now being used to turn us on each other. I urge all of us to be careful.

Some books of the Bible, like John’s Gospel, promote dualistic thinking. The author of the Fourth Gospel intentionally divides the world into light and dark, good and evil, spirit and flesh, God and Satan, Jew and Gentile, life and death to force readers to make stark choices and to choose the light, the good, the spirit and life itself.

But this binary world of thinking, where, “In the beginning God created the light… and there was day and night,” can be dangerous. It is quickly becoming a world where cherished friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors tell us, “Please unfriend me,” because we are growing dangerously divided as a nation. The time has come to heal and to stop drifting apart.

God invites us to a middle way – between our increasing divisions. Anglicanism finds its roots in Benedictine spirituality. Founded around 500 A.D., St. Benedict called for all things in moderation, nothing in extreme. What he prescribed for his monks is vital for us today – get adequate sleep, eat healthily, and have time each day for work, rest, study and prayer. Develop a healthy rhythm of life. Allocate time each day for fellowship and solitude, silence and conversation. Balance is key for it produces healthy individuals and an enduring civil community.

In 1352 A.D. the English Commons began meeting in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey in London. They adopted the Benedictine principle of one person, one vote. Hence, the sacred gift of democracy was born in a Benedictine Abbey.

When Henry VIII, king of England, dissolved the monasteries in 1536, the English transformed venerable Catholic monasteries into Anglican cathedrals and adopted Benedict’s spiritual concept of the via media or middle way. It implies that truth is never found in the extremes, but always in the center between the polarities. Take any polarized issue, note the extreme views, then find the middle ground. That is where Christians and reconcilers are called to be – to maintain the center and not to side with extremists.

I suspect that God is calling us as a nation to renounce our increasing “us against them outlook” and to reclaim a more generous-spirited way of seeing the world, something that Anglicans have been adept at doing for centuries. The most beautiful time is neither the night or the day, but rather the rising and setting of the sun – the middle ground between night and day.

There is sin and evil resident in each of us. We are capable of great harm, malicious words, anger and indifference. Hence, the events that transpired on Wednesday in our Capitol as well as at state houses across our nation are an invitation for us to move from our increasingly dualistic view of life and return to the middle way, the via media, where we can unite and heal our nation. This may mean that we have to forgo social media, conspiracy spreading news outlets and the talking-heads who inspire us to become what the English call “barking mad.”

The insurrection in Washington took place on the Feast of the Epiphany – one of the holiest days of the year – where we celebrate three Kings, Magi or Wise Men, who followed a star that led them to the Prince of Peace lying in a manger. We, of course, do not have a king. We have a President and a democratic election every four years, and for 220 years the peaceful transfer of power has been the hallmark of our democracy.

Now more than ever, we need Wise Men and Wise Women, people of faith who put Christ first in their lives and not their political careers or their selfish desires to destroy and pillage. As Abby so eloquently noted last week, like the Wise Men, who when they learned of Herod’s evil intent, chose to “go home by a different way,” we, too, must not trifle with evil.

Wednesday gave our nation and our world an epiphany. We saw what could happen if we do not unite, seek to heal and mend our differences. We saw what it looks like when we move to the extremes and the center does not hold. Fortunately, the center held. Democracy prevailed. But Democracy is fragile. It has been gravely threatened, and if we permit the spread of lies, misinformation and malicious attacks, it can be destroyed. William Sloan Coffin once said:

The world swings on an ethical hinge. Loosen that hinge and all of history and even nature will feel the shock. Individuals and nations do not break the ten commandments so much as they are broken on them.

Yet, out of the wilderness – like Jesus’ baptism – comes hope. Today, we find ourselves in a political and social wilderness. It’s not where we want to be. The good news is that God often appears in the wilderness. Those of you who have carefully read through the Bible know how God appeared to Sarah and Abraham, Hagar, David, Elijah, Isaiah, John the Baptist and Jesus in the wilderness. It’s in the barren places of life where God is most clearly revealed and where we have our epiphanies. Rest assured that God will guide our nation through this wilderness.

In the wilderness, John the Baptist displayed humility, pointing towards Jesus and saying, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” Every true leader needs humility. St. Benedict made humility the spiritual centerpiece of our Christian community, because pride corrupts and humility is the cure. Without humility there can be no civil society, no healthy marriage, no true friendship, family, civil discourse or democracy. We cannot lead unless we have the ability to learn from our mistakes. Humility means that we are always learning, growing and gleaning wisdom. We have some answers, but not all the answers. Only God possesses the whole truth.

Wednesday was a day of clarification. It will take time to unfold. My hope is that when our elected officials fled down secret corridors in fear for their lives surrounded by heavily armed SWAT teams, they had an epiphany and realized that the time has come to avoid polarization and humbly reclaim the middle ground.

Jesus chose the way of love, summarized in his Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers.” Ultimately, it is when we relinquish our pride and submit to God that we become disciples of Christ, ambassadors of God, reconcilers of humanity, set forth into a broken world to make disciples, bearing gifts of truth, grace and hope. Amen.