The Rev. Canon Dr. William J. Danaher Jr.
This sermon has been transcribed from live video. To view a video of his sermon, please click here.
There is not a day that passes when I am not profoundly humbled to be the rector of Christ Church Cranbrook. This is something that I say at funerals and weddings and times when we have a lot of visitors. Because being the rector of Christ Church Cranbrook is an awesome responsibility. It’s an opportunity for me to carry on one of the great traditions of the church that is here. And Christianity is a place of great traditions. In fact, we have traditions that are major that are overarching traditions that hold and keep us in place like the Eucharist or baptism. And we call those sacraments.
We have, there you go, another tradition. Just messing with the rector while he preaches. That’s tradition. Venerated. It’s been ongoing. We have not only large traditions and overarching traditions, we also have particular traditions to a place and a time and a people. And then we have new traditions. As strange as that may seem, a tradition is not nearly something that exists in the past. A tradition is the presence of the past in our present through our memories, and actions and values, and what we believe in.
So traditions are not merely artifacts of the past. Actually a tradition is always looking forward. A tradition is always trying to reach beyond itself into the future. What is a tradition? How do we have these traditions? Tevye the dairyman in Fiddler on the Roof said, “I don’t know. But we’ve always done it that way.” And then he shouts, “Again tradition.” What is a tradition? A tradition is an embodied argument that gives you a sense of place and identity. And Christianity has large traditions, and Christian churches have particular traditions, and they even have new traditions. Let me give you an example of each this morning.
The large tradition of Christianity is connected to what we celebrate today, which is the ascension. The ascension is not merely a doctrine or a belief, or a part of the story. The ascension actually witnesses to the fact that we are now in the time in which Christ has not only been raised from the dead, but Christ has ascended to God’s right hand, and is praying for us. Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father in every – each of us today is firmly in His mind as He prays to God, which is why we have that line in the hymn, “Intercessor, friend of sinners, earth’s redeemer plead for me.” So the Ascension tells us that Christ is now at God’s right hand. And there’s nothing that isn’t happening to you today, or tomorrow, or nothing that has happened to you, no matter how heartbreaking, no matter how joyous, where Christ has not lifted that up to God, and said, “On behalf of you, His beloved, that God would grant you His prayer for you as God’s beloved.”
And also the Ascension teaches us that you and I are now the presence of Christ in this world. Our hands, and our hearts, our feet, our eyes, our ears, our mouths, all of these are the ways in which Christ is present now. And so everything that you might do today, every person you might see, every action you take, all of that needs to go with the grain of Christ in you, and you in Christ. That’s part of what it means to believe in an ascended Lord.
So that’s an example of a major tradition. And major traditions are a little bit like nesting dolls. They hold the whole of it together. But there are also new traditions that happened. And one of them is this wonderful service we’re doing today, Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans. It came out as an instant tradition in the early 1940s. Peter Marshall, who was then a minister of a Presbyterian Church and later on Chaplain to the Congress, Peter Marshall to somehow counter the area and ideology of Nazi Germany came up with this particular tradition of Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans. Which said that you could have an ethnicity, but that ethnicity didn’t have to be superior to anyone. And in fact, your ethnicity that is precious to you has a place in this world.
And also in that one, that little moment, that little ritual we did with the sword, that was meant to celebrate the moment in which the clansmen would take all of their swords out and leave them outside the church, or surrender them to the priest, so that they could worship together. And that was meant to be a new tradition, so that we could see how different ethnicities in this world could get along. There didn’t need to be a master race. We actually just needed to be a community united by our common love. So Peter Marshall does this beautiful, wonderful tradition, Kirk’ o’ the Tartans. And we’re doing that today. And as soon as it was founded, it became a new tradition.
And so one of the things you and I have to ask ourselves is, what kind of swords do we have to put down to meet God? What do we have to surrender to place on the altar of God’s reconciliation in Christ, so that we can experience some of the benefits of what it means to be a Christian?
And finally, we have a tradition that is special to this place. And that tradition has been one that attracted me to this parish five-and-a-half years ago, when I was going through the discernment, and deciding whether or not God was calling me here. And it was a tradition of generosity. It was the fact that the founders of this parish was not a bishop, it was not a – it wasn’t a priest, it wasn’t a rector. It was actually some people came together who were blessed with means, and they decided to build a church that would be open to all, and that would continue from generation to generation as a place where the Christian tradition was proclaimed, and lived out in its fullest. And that history, and that tradition is profound.
If you are to experience it, here during your time today, if you are a visitor, I can tell you the more time you spend here is the more time that that tradition will go deeper and deeper as you meet other people. And you’ll see, I think, why I consider myself so humbled to be the rector of this magnificent parish.
I want to give you one more image today, and to drive home this point of the particular tradition of Christ Church Cranbrook. And it’s because this is an incredible moment in the life of this church in which after about two years of planning and some advanced work, we’re ready to announce a capital campaign. The first time, we’re going to do a public capital campaign, which is going to be open to the entire congregation in many, many years. Probably 30 years.
And capital campaigns are the kind of things that don’t always inspire the highest ideals in people because no one likes to talk about money. And I get that. But how we deal with the things that are material in our world is central to the tradition of Christ Church Cranbrook. And how we somehow find our way to be generous is one of the ways in which we carry on the tradition of this parish into the future.
So I want to give you one example, and it’s from the tapestry that is on the cover of your bulletins. If you’ll take a moment to look at it, this tapestry was done by Edward Burne-Jones who was from England. He was a member of a movement called the Early Arts and Crafts Movement, and he wanted to somehow capture some of the beauty and simplicity, and yet the intricacy of the Medieval practices in the 19th century. And the belief animating this movement was not to create great works of luxury, but actually to somehow create works that would humanize us.
So Burne-Jones did a cartoon for this tapestry in the late 1870s. And it was initially commissioned as a stain-glass window, which is in Trinity Church in Boston. And then an Australian patron had a tapestry composed in 1900, and then he found out that he didn’t want it because he couldn’t afford it maybe, and he sold it back to the William Morris & Company, and then it came to Detroit. And then George and Ellen Booth, who got to know May Morris, the descendent of William Morris, they decided to purchase this tapestry and it’s now inside our library. And it is magnificent.
There is embedded in this tapestry more than the transactions that took place to get it into this church. I want to suggest to you that this tapestry is one of our main witnesses to the tradition of generosity that comes from the Booths. Because in the center of it, we have this depiction from 1 Chronicles, in which David is giving the plans to the temple to Solomon. David, King David, who has defeated Goliath, who has beaten back lions, who has done amazing things, King David, who unites the kingdom, who is a great and fierce warrior, is told by God that he is unworthy to build the temple because we read He has shed too much blood.
And so we see in the center of this, you see King David looking old and wearing armor, and in front of them, he has the boy king, Solomon, his designate, and he’s handing over a little image of the temple, which will be built. And all around him, you have on the upper right-hand corner of this tapestry, some banners with David’s exploits, and then you have the soldiers that are standing by a guard, and you have the wise men, and the accountants counting the money, and then you have the maidens, all the way around, and finally even the angels, and they are all mourning because they realize that they will not live to see the temple built.
And David tells Solomon a couple of things in 1 Chronicles. And you see David with his hand up. You could see him actually saying this. “Be strong and of good courage in act. Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord God, my God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.”
So David, in this tapestry, is giving over the plans of the temple to his son. He’s giving up and being generous with everything he has done because he knows that the only way that his legacy will live on is if his son can take it, and walk with it, and build the temple that he has been called to build.
And George and Ellen Booth placed this tapestry in our library as the first moment. And that is to create a kind of double-moment, a double-tradition of generosity. Because not only is the tapestry itself speaking about the gift of the temple to Solomon, but the tapestry itself bears witness to the way in which George and Ellen Booth gave of their own blessings, so that this church might be here. And that’s a tradition that I’m proud to be part of at Christ Church at Cranbrook. Because I believe that the strength of this place lies in its ability to live into not just its founding, but its future.
So this capital campaign is not merely about money. It’s about building for our future, and be in a place where our whole community could gather, and that we can continue to keep up with the growth that God is doing in our midst, and that we can start to make sure that everybody is welcome to this place, and people have the means and accessibility to get in, and that all of us can be transformed. Because this church is an engine of generosity, and it creates through this tradition of generosity people who make a difference in the world around us.
So today for those of you who are visiting, I know this might feel like you have stumbled upon a Thanksgiving dinner that suddenly got serious. And I’m willing to keep the door open because I believe that each of us, no matter where we are from, and no matter what we are called to, we are called to this kind of tradition because this tradition of generosity, it goes with the grain of the Ascension because this is just the work God has given us to do. That is, as his eyes and ears, and mouth, and hands, and feet, and heart in this world today.
So I ask you to do three things as we contemplate this capital campaign. I ask you first and foremost to pray because everything begins and ends in prayer for this congregation. And there’s nothing we can do unless God wants us to do it, and putting all of these things in God’s hands, that’s the best advice any of us could follow. So please pray.
The second thing I want you to do is, I want you to consider participating. We are trying something different. We’re going to announce this campaign today, and we’re going to finish this campaign by September 30th. And in between that time, we have some leaders in the church, who just like George and Ellen Booth are going to come and call you up on the phone, and ask you to support them, and maybe listen to them, and maybe participate in the campaign. And my hope and request of you is that you receive those phone calls, and contact non-reactively. These are volunteers, they have stepped forward because they love this church, they have worked hard to be here, and just like meeting an animal in the wild, they are more afraid of you than you are of them. So be nice, and keep your hand open and no one gets bitten.
The third thing I want you to do is to consider pledging. And that is between you and God. My goal for this campaign is not so much to reach a number, but to have as much participation as possible because this campaign is not my campaign. This campaign is our campaign. We all share in this. And in order for us to do this well, each of us is going to have to give proportionately what God has given to us, and what God has enabled us to do. And rest assured, I could never ask you for anything unless I’d not already given a self-sacrificial gift. Claire and I did that already as part of the leadership.
Traditions stay alive because people are willing to keep that bodied memory from the past alive in the present and the future. No matter how much one generation learns from another, Soren Kierkegaard writes at the end of the book, “In each respect, every generation starts afresh, and from the beginning. And that missing human element,” he writes, “Is passion.”
May God give us passion for this church as he gave it to our founders. May we be blessed in this time. May we know Him as He is revealed through each of our hands and faces and hearts. Amen.