Jul 20, 2016

Unassuming Prophet

I rarely put sermons on Clergy Confidential. I do have a sermon blog titled @FatherTIm Sermon Vault where I warehouse them, but I generally only share those links with the parish I'm serving since a) preaching is all about context and b) no one needs more sermons clogging the internet. 

But I did want to share what I said at yesterday's funeral for the Rev. Ed Allen because his was an inspiring life, one that deserves to be shared. Ed was a parishioner at St. John's and a retired Episcopal priest and it was an honor to preach at his service -- I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever preached at the funeral of a fellow priest.

I hope you'll take a moment to read it and recognize that we need Ed's voice now more than ever. 

Funeral for the Rev. Edward P.  Allen
July 19, 2016

What a privilege to stand before you this afternoon and reflect upon the life of a fellow priest. A man I admired and was inspired by, a man known and loved by each one of you. But before I begin, I thought I’d share something Ed wrote 24 years ago; a note Alice gave me one day several years ago that she’d found in a file of his old sermons. 

It was titled, One of the Terrors of Preaching. “More often than not, after a week of meditating on the themes expressed in collect, Old Testament, psalm, epistle, Gospel and the life of the parish and the world — after mulling them over, twisting them this way and that, trying to find some connection between them and what was going on inside myself — and after finally putting something together  that I could pass off as a sermon, I would find myself in church on Sunday morning listening to readings that I would swear I had never heard before. I would ask the ceremonialist, ‘Is she reading the wrong lesson?’ or I would hastily check the lectionary, only to discover that what I was hearing was what I had been reading over and over all week, except that now it was coming to me from an entirely new angle. Then, with my confidence in my insight totally shaken, I would have to get up and preach. Sometimes it was disconcerting; at other times is was, ‘What the hell! Go for it.’ Anyway, it was never dull.”

There was a fullness to the life of Ed Allen that can’t be captured in just a few minutes. But, what the hell, go for it! 

Ed was a husband and father, of course, an Episcopal priest who served parishes in California and as college chaplain at the Interfaith Center at UC Irvine. A man of faith and compassion and humor; a storyteller and a gentle soul. But also a man of passionate conviction who stood up for right in the face of wrong; for love in the face of hate; for justice in the face of discrimination

If Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves, Ed Allen took that commandment and lived it, both in his personal and vocational lives. His words and deeds reminded us all that Jesus’ invitation to love one another was not optional. We can’t love our neighbors as ourselves on our terms or at our convenience. It just doesn’t work that way.

As Alice and her children were gathering stories in the days after Ed died, Norton forwarded me an article that his brother Ted had posted on Facebook. And I was amazed by a 1963 California newspaper clipping. The headline was “Corona del Mar Pastor Jailed in Sit-In” and there was a picture of a 35-year-old Ed Allen in his clerical collar — wearing a very stylish plaid blazer I might add. Ed had been arrested for protesting a new housing development that was discriminating against people of color. As the article reported, Ed was “carried bodily to a police car and spent six hours with 23 other pickets in a cell built for 12 persons before he was bailed out.” Presumably by Alice.

But what really stood out to me were some of Ed’s quotes. After his arrest, Ed was quoted as saying, “Segregation is a black mark against America. However, the challenge of integration is a frightening thing. There are those who are afraid of the changes that equal rights will bring. Through their fear, they either do nothing to ‘rock the boat’ or else they will campaign actively to keep things as they are. Those who want to see American freedom truly practiced are equally afraid. It takes guts to stick your neck out — especially for somebody else.” 

Yes. Yes, it does. And I’m particularly moved by Ed’s witness for two reasons. First, his
passionate stance for standing on the right side of racial justice during a seminal time in our nation’s history and second because, sadly, we still desperately need that voice today, 53 years later. 

It is precisely the fear about which Ed spoke that still confounds our efforts to seek reconciliation. It is our fear of change, our fear of those who differ from us, and our fear of giving up control. The gospel of Jesus, as Ed well knew, is all about driving out fear and breaking down barriers between and among people. Not everyone is willing to live that out in such a tangible way and for that we can all be inspired and encouraged to make a difference in our own day, in our own way.

I also love this part of the article: the reporter asked Ed how he felt about the prospect of arrest and “Father Allen admitted he was ‘scared’ to take part in a sit-in demonstration” and his wife, Alice was “‘pretty nervous at first’” (at the time, she did have two young children at home). But “‘She’s proud of me now,’ he added with a grin.’” And I think we can all spot that grin from a mile away. 

On the last day I saw Ed — near the end, I’d gone up to Linden Ponds to pray with him and with Alice — I made a point to wear two of Ed’s stoles Alice had recently given to the church. I wore a red one to do the monthly service at Allerton House, a nearby nursing home, and I wore a white one to do a committal service in the Memorial Garden — the same one I’m wearing right now.

And I intentionally wore them because I’m aware that the current generation of clergy has a mantle to take up. Courageous priests like Ed Allen, even in his gentle and self-effacing way, helped till the soil of racial reconciliation at a time when the harvest was plentiful but the laborers were few. And it is important for us to continue to nurture what was planted in Jesus’ name. Work that needs to continue, work that must continue if we are to be faithful to the ministry of our Lord.

Today as we remember Ed’s life and celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, we are once again reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God. In his letter to the Romans St. Paul writes that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

For everyone privileged enough to know and love Ed Allen, nothing can separate us from the memory of this unassuming prophet. Nothing can separate us from the influence he had and will continue to have upon us. And this is precisely why, even at the grave, we can make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

1 comment:

Dorothée said...

What a beautiful sermon. Thank you for sharing it. Wish I'd known him.