13 November 2016


(The sermon from Sam G. Candler on 13 November 2016)

In scripture, we hear the hopeful words of Isaiah repeated forever: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” and “Behold, I am about to do a new thing. From Psalm 98, we hear, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” And from Saint Paul, we hear, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians  5:17). Even in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, we hear the words, “See! I am making all things new!” (Revelation 21:5).

I have been inspired by these words, even though I know they are also the most difficult words in the Bible. The most neglected commandment in the Bible – the least followed commandment in the Bible! – is that seemingly innocuous repeated commandment in the Psalms “Sing to the Lord a new song!”

“Sing to the Lord a new song!”  we smile to each other. But we rarely, very rarely, actually enjoy any new song (especially in church!). The old ones are just fine by us! In fact, we get angry at the new songs. Why can’t we just sing the same old stuff? We get angry at those bringing us new songs, and we fire them.

The reason is this. For almost everything new coming into our lives, something old has to depart. Something old has to pass away. Leonard Cohen sang about it like this: “It looks like freedom, but it feels like death. It’s something in between, I guess. It’s closing time.” Those departures, those deaths, are not pleasant. They are painful. They make us sad; and sometimes the deaths make us angry.

What a week this has been. On this particular Sunday of the year, a lot of people have been wondering what I would say in today’ sermon  -- including me.

If this week is what new life is like, I admit it has not been pleasant. Our country has lived through a tumultuous national election, when, once again, more popular votes were cast for the loser than were cast for the winner. Yes, the loser of the popular vote won.

On the day after the election, I wrote that this past year’s campaign has been about feeling: the lack of it, on one hand, and especially the anger of it on the other hand. That anger, so incessantly inflamed and exploited, will not go away soon. It is arising anew within allies now, and even friends and colleagues are turning against each other. Anger, and downright meanness have somehow been endorsed in this election. Racist comment and misogynist comment, and fear-of-the-foreigner comment, have been loosely and wickedly strewn all over the country.

People have said that they take the comments and character of our president-elect “seriously but not literally.” Well, that’s a phrase I usually like. I say that about the Bible a lot: “take it seriously but not always literally.” But words matter. One cannot throw words into the public arena and then pretend they don’t exist, or pretend they were a joke. It takes a long time to repair mean words.

I do not think that such behavior is the new heaven and the new earth that God is talking about in the Bible. Biblical virtues take a long time to develop. Character takes a long time to build.

Yes, what a week. I understand that new life always seems to involve something old passing away. But I would rather be preaching about the death of my hero, Leonard Cohen, the poet and musician who died this past week. He was able somehow to communicate the deep light of life that appears even in deep darkness. God resides in the darkness, in the cracks, in the beautiful losers. He sang, “Everybody knows the war is over; everybody knows the good guys lost. Everybody knows the fight is fixed; the poor stay poor, the rich get rich. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.”

Cohen’s words were the most humble, the most lowly of words. People considered him despondent, but he knew how to dance, he knew how to dance to the end of love. So long, Marianne. So long, Leonard, a sportsman and a shepherd. “Hineni, hineni,” he sang, in Hebrew. “Here I am; I am ready, Lord,” he sang, just days before his death.

Yes, I would rather be preaching about other deaths.  Like the death of our dear, dear parishioner, Ruth Vaught, another one of God’s humble and serving saints. She was about service, she was about grace and hospitality. She insisted that she be called “Old Woman,” and I admit I could never call her that. But today, in the kingdom of heaven, she is a New Woman. She is a new creation in Christ.

I would rather be preaching about the honor of military veterans, on this Sunday after Veterans Day, remembering faithful men and women who served our country, often without accolades or applause at all. I salute the service of my own father, who served in the United States Air Force, and who is the reason I myself was born on an Air Force Base.

Yes, I do realize that old things have to die as new things are born. This is actually the reason I could never support the slogan, “Make America Great Again.” I can’t go back to the 1950’s, the decade in which I was born, or even to the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, when I was growing up. Hey! I love those old songs, too! But the phrase of Thomas Wolfe rings much truer to me: “You Can’t Go Home Again.” The world changes, the world evolves; and with the grace and love of God, the world usually, over time, changes for the better.

This week demands that we be on record, that we witness for what we believe, as individuals and as the Christian Church. My witness is that most of the changes in this country have been for the better, not for the worse. The United States of America is a strong country because we are against racism, and we are against using racism to advance popularity. We are against the abuse and ill treatment of women. We are against the mis-trust of foreigners. And this is the claim of the Christian Church, too. We are against accusations without evidence; we call that false witness.

As a Christian, I am for, I am for, so much more. I am for the equal treatment of God’s great diversity of people in this country, for the dignity of blacks and whites, Christians, Jews and Muslims. We call it dignity and respect for God’s creation. Christians are for other great new things in our country, too. I am for same-sex marriage. I am for women’s reproductive rights. I am for the welcome of immigrants.

This country has accomplished much in moving towards that new heaven and new earth that God has for us.

Another thing must be said today. I must speak to white men, in particular. Here is what I say to white men: Be a man. Be a man. A good man does not act crudely toward women, and a good man honors the power of women. I know many white men have lost jobs in the past twenty years. But so has everyone. Nothing makes you any more distinctive than other demographic groups. You will lose to women sometimes, and to black men sometimes. So goes life. I am a white man, and I myself have had those experiences. Usually that defeat has come fairly and evenly. So goes life.

I have learned – from Leonard Cohen maybe! – that it is loss, it is loss, that enables my new life to flourish. “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in,” he sang. Hey, wait! Those are the words of Jesus: “the person who loses their life, finds it.” And they are also the words of Saint Paul, who said that “God’s grace is made perfect in weakness.”

Here is the full quotation from Thomas Wolfe’s book: "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time." You can’t go home again.

The Christian claim is that God always calls us to the future: to new life, new heavens and a new earth.

Two weeks ago, I preached at a most sad service, the funeral of someone who had committed suicide. Most of us know that death is often incomprehensible. We can never answer the “Why” questions surrounding death. And deaths by suicide are even more incomprehensible. The more data we discover, the more we realize what we don’t know. We will never be able to analyze completely. We will never know.

The gist of what I said at that suicide funeral was this: God never puts things back together the way they were exactly. God never restores the old. Instead, God creates the new. We always want the old back. But we can’t go back. We can only go forward. Behold, says our God, I create the new.

Our call, our vocation, is to be part of what God is creating. That new creation is always bigger than any one person, no matter who that person is.

I am glad to be in church today. This particular parish, this Cathedral community, wants to be part of God’s new creation, but we know that God’s new creation is always about service. We are named for St. Philip, a deacon, one who serves. If there is any one Bible verse that should define us, that verse is Luke 22:27,  “I am among you as one who serves.” If we ever write any words on the front point of the Cathedral, the overlook,  I want the words to be those of Jesus: “I am among you as one who serves.”

Good government is about serving, too. At our best, the United States of America realizes this. Good government is not about winning. Good government is about serving. Good government is not about winning! Good government is about serving! That principle is God’s new thing in the world. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves.”

One might say that institutions are under severe critique and suspicion this week. Political institutions, government, the establishment, the church! In this day, however, I am glad, and proud, to be in a Christian Church, and in this particular church, the Cathedral Parish of St. Philip. We belong to a communion that is larger, and older, and more expansive even than our own country. We gather together because we know that God is faithful when we make the right choices, and God is faithful when we make the wrong choices.

We serve for the long term, because we know that virtue takes a lifetime to create. Good character is built over a lifetime. We are trying to be part of God’s new creation, long term. We do not shame people in this community. We do not intentionally embarrass people. We respect all of God’s creation here. We dignify all people. Like Cohen, “we tell the truth, we didn’t come to fool ya.” We know we have cracks. We know we are weak. But we know God is strong.

We allow many voices here, but we do not let people rest simply upon their own opinions.  We speak another opinion, too, the one that is for the common good, the long-term good, the virtuous good, the new creation good of God. We are the Body of Christ, the one who said, “I am among you as one who serves.” We want to be that light –the light of the world! – that is getting in through the cracks. That is why we sing our song. That is why, even at the grave, we make our song: “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”


09 November 2016


I was twenty-two years old when I presented myself, eager and earnest, to become a priest in The Episcopal Church. In those days, the pre-seminary discernment period lasted a full year and a half, and it was highly therapeutic. Over and over again, my supervisors  implored me to get in touch with my feelings. “What are you feeling?” they asked. “How do you feel?”  As someone who enjoyed using my head and thinking about things, I was startled to realize how little substance mattered.

I had thought my vocation to be a priest was about my belief, and about the substance of my character and history. But I got it. “Getting in touch with my feelings” was good for my young faith. I became far better able to acknowledge sadness and loss, confusion and pain, and the more embarrassing feelings of anger and fear. I realized how often anger and sadness were lying just under the surface of whatever I was saying. Acknowledging and expressing those feelings was messy, and scary, but it was good for me. I realized I could own my feelings, but still be bigger than they were.

I remember all this as I reflect upon the results of our country’s long presidential campaign, and this week’s election. My summary is this: We have had a campaign and election obsessed with expressing our feelings. Like many of us –democrats and republicans alike—I have been shocked by the coarse and crude, raging and rude, comments during our campaign. And I don’t mean just from one of our candidates, the one who is our president-elect. When I asked many a citizen about the campaign, I was likely to receive a torrent of anger or dismay from either side.

I could not believe how little substance mattered in this presidential campaign. I believe Donald Trump is our president-elect because he tapped into our country’s latent feelings of anger and loss, fear and dis-respect. Many of us Americans do feel those things, and some of us felt we had no other way to express those feelings except with a vote. Trump appealed to our inner anger and frustration, even to our envy and jealousy that –no matter who we are, rich or poor—things do not always go our way. Sufficient evidence or consistent substance were not necessary.

In an opposite way, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton seemed unable to tap into any feelings at all. She was often characterized as aloof and unapproachable. Again, the substance of what she was offering the country seemed to matter only secondarily to the way people felt. She seemed the most free and available a few days before the election when the rain began to pour during her speech. With wet hair and clothes, she raised her hands in a most emotionally available way; it was unusual. People just didn’t like her, in much the same degree that people just didn’t like Donald Trump.

But in a contest of free-flowing and ungoverned feelings across the country, and with erratic substance, Trump was elected. I admit that this entire campaign has saddened and angered me. I have especially been horrified by the ways that our country’s anger has been expressed by racism, and misogyny, and anti-immigration, and even violence. And I continue to lament the fundamentalism and absolutism I hear from both parties, fundamentalism of both the conservative and the liberal variety. Our country is better, much better, than that. For weeks, I have been looking forward to the days after November 8, 2016. Now they are here.

Like all of us, I have good friends who voted in different ways on November 8. Whether we voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, I pray that our country can be bigger than our feelings of anger, loss, and fear. As important as our feelings are, our country is bigger than our feelings. Indeed, our country is bigger than any one person. Our country, unified and loyal, is an amazing and diverse community of strength and hope. “You Can’t Go Home Again,” said Thomas Wolfe, and he was right. But, with God’s strength, we can always go forward; and we are always creating something new. In the grace and love of God, we can be faithful citizens in a country with liberty and justice for all, “pledging to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”

12 September 2016


“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? … Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” (Luke 15:4, 8)

What a bunch of losers.

Do any of you remember the 2006 movie, “Little Miss Sunshine”? It’s a black comedy, and often a rude and vulgar one; but it sounds some deep chords of truth about our human condition.

Little Miss Sunshine is a little girl named Olive, who, according to glossy Hollywood standards, is not a particularly attractive or even a particularly talented little girl. But she is determined to enter and to win a beauty pageant in California. The family has little money, and they are so wildly dysfunctional that no one can be left home alone; so they make the 800-mile to California crammed into an old Volkswagen van. Along the way, everything goes wrong.

Olive’s goofy father, Richard, is an aspiring motivational coach. For him, everything is positive, and he drives that point hard to the young Olive. At one point, little Olive is in tears, talking to her grandfather. “Grandpa?” she asks. “Yeah,” he replies. “I don’t wanna be a loser.” The grandpa replies, “You’re not a loser. Where’d you get the idea you’re a loser?” And then Olive breaks down in tears. “Because,” she says, “Daddy hates losers.”

Daddy hates losers.

Whether we are talented or not, beautiful or not, accomplished or not, most of us have heard those sad lines before. Daddy hates losers. Mommy hates losers. Our coach hates losers. Our world hates losers. Whatever you do, whatever you are, don’t be a loser!

During the recent Olympics in Brazil, there were eight sprinters lined up across eight lanes. Seven of them always lost. Seven of the best athletes in the world were losers. There are thirty major league baseball teams this year, but only one will win the World Series Twenty-nine of those teams will be losers.

There is no question, that when the United States was attacked on 9/11, fifteen years ago today, we lost something. We felt like losers. When a United States soldier is captured and held prisoner, I imagine he felt like a loser.

Daddy hates losers. What an insidious and poisonous statement! Because every single one of us has been a loser. Don’t let ignorant leaders and stupid pundits lie to you. Every single one of us has lost something, at some time, in life. Every single one of us is loser.

The parables of Jesus that we have just heard this morning, from the Gospel of Luke, chapter fifteen, are all about losing things. One time a shepherd with a hundred sheep lost one of them. A woman with ten silver coins lost one of them. A prodigal man with two sons lost one of them. What a bunch of losers.

There are lots of reasons I admire the parables of Jesus. Today, these parables remind us that the life of a normal human being involves losing things. There is no shame in such a condition. There is no shame. We lose things in life. We lose people in life. We are losers. It is part of the Christian life to realize loss, and it is part of the Christian discipline to acknowledge loss.

Loss. Jesus gets along much better in his ministry with those who have recognized loss in their lives. He eats with sinners and tax collectors. He seeks out those who have lost position in life, those who have lost status, those who have lost.

In the Bible, the people who grumble about Jesus –for instance, the Pharisees and scribes—are generally those who are thought to have achieved all they wanted. They have not had to lose anything. They are not losers. Yes, the only people around Jesus who are not losers are the scribes and the Pharisees.

In fact, the way I read these parables, it looks like Jesus does not simply associate with losers. It looks like Jesus, in fact, is a loser. It looks like God, God himself, God herself, is also a loser.

I remember one of the plaintive songs sung by the old rock band, “Emerson, Lake, and Palmer,” a song that seems to have been sung against God, blaming God. They sang,

Do you believe
God makes you breathe?
Why did he lose
Six million Jews?

It’s not just us who lose things. God loses people, too.

At the height of one of his more obnoxious stages in life, Ted Turner made headlines by claiming that Christianity is a religion for losers. The less obnoxious people around him later persuaded him to retract that statement, and he did. But he shouldn’t have, because he was right. Christianity is for losers.

Christianity is for losers, because God is for losers. It is one of the most important things we have to learn about God. God is for losers. It doesn’t matter how much you have, or think you have; if you don’t know what you have lost, then you are not ready for God.

A shepherd had a hundred sheep. He wasn’t poor. He had a lot of sheep. But he was concerned about the lost one. A woman had ten drachma. She wasn’t poor. She had lots of money. But she lost a tenth of it. A man had two sons, and he wasn’t poor. He had a son ready to inherit and lots of wealth. But he lost a son.

These parables of Jesus teach that all of us lose things. We lose things, and we lose people. It is sad. It is embarrassing. It makes us feel less than perfect.  We get sick. We even die. It makes us feel less than perfect. It makes us feel like a loser.

And we are. But if we do not know how to lose, then we do not know how to rejoice either. Only those who know how to lose know also how to richly rejoice.

It may be that the older we get in life, the more things we lose. If so, then finding things is also a part of life, and a part of the Christian life. It is why we sing, “I once was lost, but now am found!”

The shepherd found his lost sheep. The woman found her silver coin. The father in the parable of the prodigal son lost a younger son, lost his property, and then it looks like he may have lost an older son. But he gets them back. And he gets them back with a grace that defies explanation.

I am a loser today. And so are you. However, no matter where we are lost today, no matter what we have lost, God is seeking us out. Not to reprimand or admonish us. There is no shame in being a loser. God is seeking us out, like the shepherd, like the woman, like the prodigal father, because God is for losers. Because God loves. Because God wants to rejoice with us.

Yes, Jesus talked a lot about losing things. And, then, even he was lost. But in Christ, lost things are found. In Christ, those who lose even their life, find it.


(This was the sermon preached by Sam Candler on the morning of September 11, 2016. That afternoon, he offered an Evensong meditation of remembrance, for the 15th anniversary of 9/11. It can be found here, on the Cathedral of St. Philip web site.)

04 July 2016


(An Invocation delivered by the Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip, for the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia, 4 July 2016)

Blessings, Blessings, Blessings! From all over America, from all over the world, we gather this day for the blessings of running and rejoicing.

Most of us are runners, but some of us are not. Some of us are believers in God, but some of us are not. We are wheelchairs, we are walkers, we are runners, we are elite, we are not-so-elite, we are ordinary, and we are extraordinary.

But, today, we are One. We are One today, believers in the Peachtree Road Race, and its ability to gather all sorts and conditions of humanity in blessing America on this Fourth of July.

Blessings to Muslims: Asalamu Aleikum!
Blessings to Jews. Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu!
Blessings to Christians: Christ bless you! Benedicite Deus!
To Hindus, to Buddhists, to atheists, to agnostics!
God blesses each and every one of us.  Dios les bendiga!

May this Peachtree Road Race be safe and fun, may it be challenging and relaxing. May today be a holiday, a holy day, of blessing and grace, of vigor and energy!

In the Name of God, and in all the Names of God, the God above us and the God beside us, the God at the starting line and the God at the finish line, we bless each other.

We are One today, united in energy and peace, hope and freedom. In the running of the Peachtree Road Race today, in Atlanta, God bless all of America.


The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler