Sermon: St. Peter’s is Not for Sale

IMG_1878Sermon by Denise Griebler,
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, November 17, 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25
Malachi 4:1-2a
Luke 21:5-19

May we see like God sees and hope like God hopes.  And may we not be afraid to live by that sight and that love in the meantime. Amen.

These scripture passages each get us thinking about the end. Nothing like beginning with the end.  But since we are dealing with these readings so rooted in apocalypse, maybe we are on the right track.

Imagine this community, this city, this country, this world that is going to pieces in so many places – whether by poverty or war or climate reckoning – and hear the words of Isaiah again: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the holy city as a joy and a place where I will rejoice in my people the way they take care of each other – no more inconsolable weeping, no body in distress, babies get to live and old people get to  live our their days.  People enjoy the fruits of their labor, have homes to live in, food to eat.  Predators will cease terrorizing of the vulnerable and they will eat side by side. Healing and peace will come to the whole community.

Now we are starting to see what God has in mind, what God hopes, and what God is doing.

Apocalypse isn’t something that God is going to do to us – or for us.  When the disciples are awed by the Temple Jesus says, don’t be too impressed and don’t get too attached: it’s all coming down.  The question is, what will you see? More importantly, who will you see?  And how will you live when the world goes to pieces all around you?

The word “apocalypse” doesn’t mean “the end”.  It means “to uncover” or “to unveil what was hidden”.  To experience apocalypse is to experience new sight.  Apocalypse knows that nothing is permanent, that this whole thing is in motion all the time.  And that the only thing that we can count on is God’s steadfast love for all, and that we are invited into that love and called to share it with our neighbors and kin in a way that both proclaims and gives ourselves over to the healing and wholeness that God intends for us all. That’s a mouthful and a headful, but really it’s about how we live into the Way of Jesus, which is always the way of justice, mercy and love, humbly, day by day.  And we do this best we can in our own lives.  And we do it best we can as a community of faith.  We help each other understand what it means to follow and live in the Way.

The world needs people and communities who can see things going to pieces and who are willing to live by love anyway.

A little over a week ago some of us were at the Michigan Interfaith Power and Light conference. The day began with one of the keynoters, Frank Ettawageshik, an internationally-recognized leader on climate, tribal sovereignty and cultural preservation.  Frank shared an idea that I had not heard before – though I’ve since learned it’s been floating around out there for a number of years – but it helped me to see and to name what is happening and how human beings, creatures and even the trees – are experiencing the  rapid changes that are coming through climate reckoning.

He talked about the word: Solistalgia.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  I had never heard it before but here’s what it means – It sounds like nostalgia – and the longing of nostalgia is a clue – but it is a word that comes from three different words:

  1. Solace – which means comfort in the face of distressing forces.
  2. Desolation – which means the feeling of abandment/extreme loneness
  3. The Greek root, “Algia” – which means pain, suffering or sickness.

Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher made up this new word in order to help us have the words to describe how climate change is experienced by human beings.  A way of naming our grief.  Here’s how Albrecht describes this word:

Solistalgia is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or ack of solace and the sense of isolation connected to the present state of one’s home territory.

Solistalgia is the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault.  It is manifest in an attack on one’s sense of pplace, in the erosion of the sense of belonging to a particular place and a feeling of distress about its transformation.”

In his talk, Frank Ettawageshik described it as being homesick while still at home.  He went on to say that the Sugar Maple trees are feeling this too as they are having to leave the lands they have known for generations and having to move north in search of real winter they can count on.

And I see how this term also fits for us here in this community where the market forces are forcing out poor and working class people from this community in favor of young mostly White professionals with big salaries. Or suburbanites who want to come into the city to spend money and play.

A number of years back Bill Wylie-Kellerman received a cold call from a developer in Farmington Hills.  He wanted to know if St. Peter’s would consider selling the corner to him.  He had big plans.  The corner could anchor them.  He said that he was in the business of kissing frogs and that sometimes they turned into princes.  For the next few years leaders of St. Peter’s received phone   call after phone call to just sit down and talk with a developer who had his sights fixed on this corner.  He called me soon after I began serving here – he wanted to know who had the power to decide to sell, as he called it, our property.  I thought for a minute and responded, “God?”.  He never called me back.

Now I don’t know what the developer had in mind exactly – but I am sure there is more than one developer out there who would come into this amazingly beautiful, unfinished, raw and holy space  – and what they would see is not a 40-year old soup kitchen community of vulnerable human beings, not a vision of a Corner Shower and Laundry, not a movement space, not a creative video and print production space, not a generator of solar power and vision for Earth healing.  I’m pretty sure they see something different.  A really cool new brew pub. Imagine the Hive as a boutique bed and breakfast.

I am mindful of Jesus telling the disciples to not be too enamored of the Temple.  It’s not about holding onto this holy place forever.  Or about anyone’s ego.  It’s about how we live as the whole thing is falling to pieces.  Who are we?  Who will we follow? With whom will we stand?  For whom, with whom, will we speak and serve and struggle?

Byron’s story:  Byron is a member of St. Peter’s and a consistent Manna Meal guest.  He’s been homeless for years, but he does feel at home at St. Peter’s.  One day I was giving him a ride downtown and I asked him what he thought about all of the development.  He said he thought it was beautiful – downtown used to be all boarded up and dead and now it’s like it’s come alive.  It’s beautiful.  But there’s no place for me here.

The center piece of the Zapatistas in Chiapas is that another world is possible.  A world were all worlds fit.  Can you imagine a neighborhood here where there is space – housing that includes low-income and actually affordable possibilities, gardens, food, community, home, dignity and even joy for all different kinds of people?  If you can see it in your mind’s eye (with the eyes of your heart), then you are starting to see and hope like God.

In the end, like Maria Yovanovich so simply said in her testimony– in the end all we have are our names, our reputations.  We know this place won’t last forever – no empire, community, building or human being ever does.  All we have is how we will live right now.  We’ve been spending time at St. Peter’s thinking about the values and vision that help us to know who we are and where and with whom and how we will stand. Because we know that that will be our testimony to what we believe, to the way we see, to what we hope for.

Thank you for the ways that each of you and those who have gone before us in this place have helped us to see and keep faith, one foot in front of the other, leading with love, taking steps toward healing and wholeness for ourselves, for each other, for our neighbors and relations, for Earth in this holy time and in this sacred place.

In a moment we will go outside and dedicate this new Not-for-sale sign.    I know it says we’re gonna pray and receive the offering gifts first – but let’s go now.  Let’s get our coats on and then join in this liturgy.  We’ll begin inside and then process outside.

Ritual of a Sign and a Blessing

At least since the Fourth Century churches have sold themselves and compromised the gospel in conformity to empire and its minions. Anglican priest, John Wesley wrote: Persecution never did, never could give any lasting wound to genuine Christianity. But the greatest it ever received, the grand blow was struck at the very root of humble, gentle, patient love … in the fourth Century by Constantine the Great, when he called himself a Christian, and poured in a flood of riches, honors, and power, upon the Christians; more especially upon the Clergy …

In the present moment, for the sake of contracts, charters, abatements, appointments, real estate offers, and more, churches are tempted to acquiesce in silence, abandon their neighborhoods, and especially the poor. With the help of God, St Peter’s prays to discern, to resist temptation and hold fast to the gospel. This morning we publicly mark our church and dedicate its Not for Sale sign. May it be a sign to our community and even to ourselves, of this commitment.

We’ll process outside to the West Wall (traditionally, the wall of judgement in a cathedral)

Friends, neighbors, today we bless this sign. Let it be a sign to all that in the midst of change that seeks, or just happens to, displace the poor, St. Peter’s isn’t going anywhere.  We bless this sign with water and recall our own baptismal promises.

WE ARE NOT FOR SALE. (At each refrain a member may bless the sign with the waters of holiness)

St. Peter’s will continue to welcome and serve people who have been made poor who are being made more vulnerable as shelters and services move out of our community.


Manna Community Meal isn’t going anywhere.


The Corner Shower and Laundry will open and serve people.


The Water Station will continue to flow for people and families who have been shut off


The St. Peter’s Hive will continue to buzz with organizations that work for justice and peace and the dignity and wholeness of human beings, and for the healing of Earth.


We will continue to make space for people planning and organizing and training to take big non-violent risks in pursuit of peace.


We will care for our neighbors. We will join with others to work for truly affordable and low-income housing in our neighborhood. We will welcome our neighbors and practice radical hospitality.


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