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Sunday, July 5
Independence in our Interdependence
Preacher: The Rev. Heather Erickson
Read sermon

Independence in our Interdependence

 

Last week I was on the phone with my grandmother. She’s 93. She’s lived alone since my grandfather died a couple of years ago, and in the past 3 and a half months I’m pretty sure she’s only left her house once. I’m grateful she’s safe. I’m grateful for her friend who’s been bringing her groceries. I’m grateful for my family who have been by for physically distanced porch visits. My grandmother asked me, “When will this all end?” And I wanted to be there with her, to see her in real life and give her a hug. When will this all end?

It’s been 112 days, I think, since I left my office on a Monday afternoon for what I thought would be 3 weeks of working at home. Back in March I remember talking with a friend about how resilient human beings are, and that we can do anything for a short period of time. The next few months are kind of a blur of emails, zoom meetings, distance learning schedules, some complicated art and engineering projects, lots of hand-washing and a drive-through preschool graduation. Right now, in my household it feels like things are on hold – there are promises that playdates and birthday parties and piano lessons will happen at some point when it’s “safe” – when will this all end?

It seems like something has recently shifted, though. I’m still confident in our resilience. And now I’m even more grateful for our ability to adapt and endure. And I’m frustrated with our short-sightedness and inability to take responsibility, to work together. The work of endurance is hard, though, especially amidst the uncertainty and the absence of predictability.

We’re also in this constant process of letting go – of plans, of hopes, of assumptions and expectations, of the illusion of control, of a naïveté about the systems of dominance that have shaped our modern world and perpetuated horrendous oppression and injustice.

Yesterday was Independence Day, a 4th of July unlike any other, where many of us held the celebration of the Declaration of Independence and its promises of equality, and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, alongside the hypocrisy and abomination of chattel slavery and its effects which continue to reverberate today.

Frederick Douglass’ gave an important speech in Corinthian Hall to white members of the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on this day in 1852, 168 years ago, in which he says, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” These words were offered about a decade before the Civil War, and as the Black Lives Matter Movement reminds us, are still relevant today.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, in an article published in The Atlantic last year, offers a lens through which to honor the 4th of July. He writes, “We should be celebrating our disobedience, turbulence, insolence and discontent about inequities and injustices in all forms.”

In her book, Disunity in Christ, Dr. Christena Cleveland writes about power and privilege and she offers an insightful reminder of “Christ’s cross-cultural, privilege-abdicating example in the incarnation.”

The incarnation. The Holy One, birthed into this world through Mary, the Theotokos, the God-bearer.

I keep thinking that we are in the midst of birthing something new. I have hope that we are in the process of shaping a new way of being a country, and a new way of understanding and sharing power. I believe the church is being transformed as we discover new ways of connecting with each other and expressing our life in Christ. Education is changing. For many the way in which we work is changing. Our world has fundamentally shifted, and – we’re not quite there yet. The future is not quite clear. The process of laboring a new creation into the world is not usually easy, either. From my experience, there’s an intensity to it, and uncertainty. Each labor unfolds in its own way and there’s an ease that comes with working with it, responding to it and following its rhythms. During my first experience of labor, I remember reaching a point and thinking – I can’t take much more. I’m not going to be able to sustain this. The intensity is too much, and it’s constant, and I need a break but there’s no way to pause this process. It was happening whether I was ready for it or not. And just when it felt like more than I could bear, it was over. And my life has never been the same since. During my second experience of labor I remember all of a sudden realizing that I was holding back, I was fighting against it and while the intensity didn’t diminish, once I chose to work with it, there was an ease, an acceptance of the unfolding experience and once again, my life has never been the same since.

Imagine this new creation. What does it look like to you? Jesus saw a world where the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Imagine a world where everyone has enough food to eat and a bed to sleep in every night. Imagine a world where we recognize our interdependence and put our neighbors’ needs ahead of our own. Imagine a world where everyone has enough. Imagine a world where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

We have a responsibility to each other, and we’re in this for the long-haul. Leaning into the discomfort, renewing our minds, opening our hearts, taking action that makes our interconnectedness – our interdependence – visible, this work is tremendous and important. It is holy. And I believe that this work will change us, it will transform us, and we will become a new creation, a beloved community. This work will also exhaust us and deplete us if we approach it alone. Jesus invites us: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Years ago, when I first started paying attention to this invitation, I imagined picking up a harness of sorts that I expected to be heavy, only to discover it became lighter as I lifted it up onto my shoulders. Then at some point, I began imagining a yoke built for two, with Jesus shouldering one side as I took my place next to him, teammates working together side by side, knowing that when I grew tired, he would be there to support the weight and carry me through. Recently I’ve been imagining a different kind of yoke – one that doesn’t make any sense or seem in the least bit practical – it extends out in every direction connecting person to person – a bit like how I’ve been envisioning church during these last few months of virtual gathering –  a network of sorts, each of us connected to each other. An interdependent chosen family of people linked together. There are so many of us, connected in all directions, the yoke stretching beyond the limits of our vision. It’s massive and yet there’s a lightness, an ease and flexibility to it, because it’s the body of Christ. The church – where together, with Christ moving in us and through us and among us, we can do far more than we could imagine.

Sunday, June 28
Pride Sunday
Preacher: The Rev. Altagracia Perez-Bullard, PhD
Read sermon

From today’s Psalm:

1  I will sing of your steadfast love, My God [O Lord], forever;

with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.

2  I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;

your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.  AMEN.

 

Good Morning and Happy Pride Day!

If this were any other Pride Day, this would be the point where we would have hooting and hollering, we’d be cheering with the festiveness this day has come to represent for the community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and other sexual minorities, also known as the LGBTQIA+ community.  I trust some of you are shouting in your homes, and I know that my heart is filled with memories of Pride Days gone by…especially my first Pride March: the beauty and the spectacle, the empowerment and of course, the music and dancing.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, held on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City. And although for all of our well-beings, we are not having Pride Marches, we are indeed witnessing, and some of us participating in various ways, in the ongoing struggle, the ongoing movement for human rights, as people march in the streets across the nation and the world, demanding that black and brown bodies be treated with the dignity and respect that is the right of every person.

And for those who know history, we understand that the demand for equal rights and protection under the law being made today is another manifestation of that demand made in the Village 51 years ago. The Stonewall Inn catered to the most marginalized in the gay community, a description that sounds painfully familiar: people of color, gender non-conforming folks, homeless youth and transgender people, who survived on the streets hustling what they could, even their own bodies. Faced with yet another violent police raid, where the primary transgression was their very existence as LGBTQ persons, the queens rose up, as others before them sat-in, and fought back, leading to three days of rioting, which galvanized and organized LGBT societies into activists. Today we remember and celebrate Marsha P. Johnson, who was part of the Stonewall Riots, an advocate for justice and equal rights, and Sylvia Rivera who together with Marsha established STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) to help homeless young drag queens, gay youth and trans women.

They represent a prophetic move embodying God’s truth, a self-evident truth declared although not yet realized in this nation’s founding documents, that all “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  And as Jeremiah attests to, and we ourselves have witnessed, a prophetic word is not welcome when it calls us to account for our transgressions against each other, when it calls out injustice and unfaithfulness to God’s word and will for us. False prophets may declare prosperity and peace, but while God’s children, and especially the least of these, the marginalized and the oppressed, are crushed with reckless disregard for the sanctity of their lives, we will know no peace. No justice, no peace.

For those of us who believe, who know and understand the wisdom and the power of Jesus, who seek to live in a Kin-dom of abundant and everlasting life, where justice and righteousness are the watch words and peace and love are enjoyed, we have our marching orders here in the 10th chapter of Matthew. I invite you to read it to understand the times in which we are living and the call of God to live as faithful disciples, students of the Good News.

In today’s gospel reading we are both encouraged and challenged. Jesus after describing the hard road that awaits those who follow him, encourages them, reminding them that as they seek to speak and practice justice, heal and care for the wounded, be and learn from the marginalized, they will be a blessing and they will be blessed. They will be blessed by those who welcome them, providing hospitality, however basic, even offering them a drink of water, which in the desert is no small thing.

The gospel lists this triad: the prophets, the righteous and the little ones, and they can describe different members of the community, but they also describe the interrelated aspects of our discipleship. One scholar describes them this way: the prophets bring “proclamation and miraculous demonstrations of divine power,” the righteous demonstrate an “enduring pursuit of justice and of the healing and restoration of relationships,” and the little ones, the vulnerable, discounted, devalued, show that this whole enterprise is God’s mission, we are “wholly dependent on God’s power and presence.” (Saunders)

That last group, the little ones, might come as a surprise. We might have expected “the wise ones,” or “the holy ones,” (Saunders) but instead it reflects reality, how God’s mission is lived out in the world: change does not, and never has come from some hero, some eloquent speaker, some person in power. What was true in 1857 is true in 2020, in the words of Frederick Douglass: “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.” Or in the words of June Jordan, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Here lies the encouragement and the challenge. Reading this gospel in today’s context, we are invited to understand that this is about us coming and going. That we are to live into our call to be prophets, speak truth, show miraculous power, what God can do through us; to be righteous and give ourselves to the enduring pursuit of justice and healing; to be the little ones, vulnerable, learning, growing. And that although it will not be easy we will be welcomed and refreshed, those who will minister to us will be blessed as we are blessed by their ministrations.

But we are also invited to understand that we are called to welcome and minister to the prophets, the righteous and the little ones. Those who have felt the movement of the Spirit and are encouraged and bold, demanding their humanity be recognized and accorded the dignity and justice that are their inalienable right as the children of God.

Welcome those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, who seek justice from the systems that are sworn to serve and protect, welcome those involved in the Poor People’s Movement, who seek to unite us across lines of difference as we demand good and just salaries, health care, education, environmental care from institutions created to serve the common good, welcome those who continue the fight for LGBTQ rights, because the right to marry, and now, thank God, the right to work without suffering discrimination, is only the beginning of insuring equal rights.

We are to welcome these prophets, these righteous, these little ones:  Not tolerate, and not suspect, or judge, or fear, but welcome, because we who seek to live into God’s will understand that by welcoming these strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware. (Hebrews 13:2)

In these welcoming and refreshing encounters we, “us and them,” we, will be blessed and we will be a blessing. These relationships will strengthen us, feed us, and help us to grow. Together we will learn to live more fully into God’s call for us, that we would be fully human, humane in our treatment of one another and of all God’s creation, that we might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10).

So today we remember and celebrate those who have gone before us and all those who journey with us in seeking justice. Let us remember and celebrate our call to be righteous and prophetic little ones, relying on the power of God to transform us and through us the world. Let us welcome one another, and keep the feast. May the party begin!

Sermons from the last six months are available below. You can also listen to our sermons as a podcast, Sermons from Grace, wherever you get your podcasts!

 

Sunday, July 5
Independence in our Interdependence
Preacher: The Rev. Heather Erickson
Read sermon

Independence in our Interdependence

 

Last week I was on the phone with my grandmother. She’s 93. She’s lived alone since my grandfather died a couple of years ago, and in the past 3 and a half months I’m pretty sure she’s only left her house once. I’m grateful she’s safe. I’m grateful for her friend who’s been bringing her groceries. I’m grateful for my family who have been by for physically distanced porch visits. My grandmother asked me, “When will this all end?” And I wanted to be there with her, to see her in real life and give her a hug. When will this all end?

It’s been 112 days, I think, since I left my office on a Monday afternoon for what I thought would be 3 weeks of working at home. Back in March I remember talking with a friend about how resilient human beings are, and that we can do anything for a short period of time. The next few months are kind of a blur of emails, zoom meetings, distance learning schedules, some complicated art and engineering projects, lots of hand-washing and a drive-through preschool graduation. Right now, in my household it feels like things are on hold – there are promises that playdates and birthday parties and piano lessons will happen at some point when it’s “safe” – when will this all end?

It seems like something has recently shifted, though. I’m still confident in our resilience. And now I’m even more grateful for our ability to adapt and endure. And I’m frustrated with our short-sightedness and inability to take responsibility, to work together. The work of endurance is hard, though, especially amidst the uncertainty and the absence of predictability.

We’re also in this constant process of letting go – of plans, of hopes, of assumptions and expectations, of the illusion of control, of a naïveté about the systems of dominance that have shaped our modern world and perpetuated horrendous oppression and injustice.

Yesterday was Independence Day, a 4th of July unlike any other, where many of us held the celebration of the Declaration of Independence and its promises of equality, and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, alongside the hypocrisy and abomination of chattel slavery and its effects which continue to reverberate today.

Frederick Douglass’ gave an important speech in Corinthian Hall to white members of the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on this day in 1852, 168 years ago, in which he says, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” These words were offered about a decade before the Civil War, and as the Black Lives Matter Movement reminds us, are still relevant today.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, in an article published in The Atlantic last year, offers a lens through which to honor the 4th of July. He writes, “We should be celebrating our disobedience, turbulence, insolence and discontent about inequities and injustices in all forms.”

In her book, Disunity in Christ, Dr. Christena Cleveland writes about power and privilege and she offers an insightful reminder of “Christ’s cross-cultural, privilege-abdicating example in the incarnation.”

The incarnation. The Holy One, birthed into this world through Mary, the Theotokos, the God-bearer.

I keep thinking that we are in the midst of birthing something new. I have hope that we are in the process of shaping a new way of being a country, and a new way of understanding and sharing power. I believe the church is being transformed as we discover new ways of connecting with each other and expressing our life in Christ. Education is changing. For many the way in which we work is changing. Our world has fundamentally shifted, and – we’re not quite there yet. The future is not quite clear. The process of laboring a new creation into the world is not usually easy, either. From my experience, there’s an intensity to it, and uncertainty. Each labor unfolds in its own way and there’s an ease that comes with working with it, responding to it and following its rhythms. During my first experience of labor, I remember reaching a point and thinking – I can’t take much more. I’m not going to be able to sustain this. The intensity is too much, and it’s constant, and I need a break but there’s no way to pause this process. It was happening whether I was ready for it or not. And just when it felt like more than I could bear, it was over. And my life has never been the same since. During my second experience of labor I remember all of a sudden realizing that I was holding back, I was fighting against it and while the intensity didn’t diminish, once I chose to work with it, there was an ease, an acceptance of the unfolding experience and once again, my life has never been the same since.

Imagine this new creation. What does it look like to you? Jesus saw a world where the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Imagine a world where everyone has enough food to eat and a bed to sleep in every night. Imagine a world where we recognize our interdependence and put our neighbors’ needs ahead of our own. Imagine a world where everyone has enough. Imagine a world where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

We have a responsibility to each other, and we’re in this for the long-haul. Leaning into the discomfort, renewing our minds, opening our hearts, taking action that makes our interconnectedness – our interdependence – visible, this work is tremendous and important. It is holy. And I believe that this work will change us, it will transform us, and we will become a new creation, a beloved community. This work will also exhaust us and deplete us if we approach it alone. Jesus invites us: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Years ago, when I first started paying attention to this invitation, I imagined picking up a harness of sorts that I expected to be heavy, only to discover it became lighter as I lifted it up onto my shoulders. Then at some point, I began imagining a yoke built for two, with Jesus shouldering one side as I took my place next to him, teammates working together side by side, knowing that when I grew tired, he would be there to support the weight and carry me through. Recently I’ve been imagining a different kind of yoke – one that doesn’t make any sense or seem in the least bit practical – it extends out in every direction connecting person to person – a bit like how I’ve been envisioning church during these last few months of virtual gathering –  a network of sorts, each of us connected to each other. An interdependent chosen family of people linked together. There are so many of us, connected in all directions, the yoke stretching beyond the limits of our vision. It’s massive and yet there’s a lightness, an ease and flexibility to it, because it’s the body of Christ. The church – where together, with Christ moving in us and through us and among us, we can do far more than we could imagine.

Sunday, June 28
Pride Sunday
Preacher: The Rev. Altagracia Perez-Bullard, PhD
Read sermon

From today’s Psalm:

1  I will sing of your steadfast love, My God [O Lord], forever;

with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.

2  I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;

your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.  AMEN.

 

Good Morning and Happy Pride Day!

If this were any other Pride Day, this would be the point where we would have hooting and hollering, we’d be cheering with the festiveness this day has come to represent for the community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and other sexual minorities, also known as the LGBTQIA+ community.  I trust some of you are shouting in your homes, and I know that my heart is filled with memories of Pride Days gone by…especially my first Pride March: the beauty and the spectacle, the empowerment and of course, the music and dancing.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, held on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City. And although for all of our well-beings, we are not having Pride Marches, we are indeed witnessing, and some of us participating in various ways, in the ongoing struggle, the ongoing movement for human rights, as people march in the streets across the nation and the world, demanding that black and brown bodies be treated with the dignity and respect that is the right of every person.

And for those who know history, we understand that the demand for equal rights and protection under the law being made today is another manifestation of that demand made in the Village 51 years ago. The Stonewall Inn catered to the most marginalized in the gay community, a description that sounds painfully familiar: people of color, gender non-conforming folks, homeless youth and transgender people, who survived on the streets hustling what they could, even their own bodies. Faced with yet another violent police raid, where the primary transgression was their very existence as LGBTQ persons, the queens rose up, as others before them sat-in, and fought back, leading to three days of rioting, which galvanized and organized LGBT societies into activists. Today we remember and celebrate Marsha P. Johnson, who was part of the Stonewall Riots, an advocate for justice and equal rights, and Sylvia Rivera who together with Marsha established STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) to help homeless young drag queens, gay youth and trans women.

They represent a prophetic move embodying God’s truth, a self-evident truth declared although not yet realized in this nation’s founding documents, that all “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  And as Jeremiah attests to, and we ourselves have witnessed, a prophetic word is not welcome when it calls us to account for our transgressions against each other, when it calls out injustice and unfaithfulness to God’s word and will for us. False prophets may declare prosperity and peace, but while God’s children, and especially the least of these, the marginalized and the oppressed, are crushed with reckless disregard for the sanctity of their lives, we will know no peace. No justice, no peace.

For those of us who believe, who know and understand the wisdom and the power of Jesus, who seek to live in a Kin-dom of abundant and everlasting life, where justice and righteousness are the watch words and peace and love are enjoyed, we have our marching orders here in the 10th chapter of Matthew. I invite you to read it to understand the times in which we are living and the call of God to live as faithful disciples, students of the Good News.

In today’s gospel reading we are both encouraged and challenged. Jesus after describing the hard road that awaits those who follow him, encourages them, reminding them that as they seek to speak and practice justice, heal and care for the wounded, be and learn from the marginalized, they will be a blessing and they will be blessed. They will be blessed by those who welcome them, providing hospitality, however basic, even offering them a drink of water, which in the desert is no small thing.

The gospel lists this triad: the prophets, the righteous and the little ones, and they can describe different members of the community, but they also describe the interrelated aspects of our discipleship. One scholar describes them this way: the prophets bring “proclamation and miraculous demonstrations of divine power,” the righteous demonstrate an “enduring pursuit of justice and of the healing and restoration of relationships,” and the little ones, the vulnerable, discounted, devalued, show that this whole enterprise is God’s mission, we are “wholly dependent on God’s power and presence.” (Saunders)

That last group, the little ones, might come as a surprise. We might have expected “the wise ones,” or “the holy ones,” (Saunders) but instead it reflects reality, how God’s mission is lived out in the world: change does not, and never has come from some hero, some eloquent speaker, some person in power. What was true in 1857 is true in 2020, in the words of Frederick Douglass: “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.” Or in the words of June Jordan, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Here lies the encouragement and the challenge. Reading this gospel in today’s context, we are invited to understand that this is about us coming and going. That we are to live into our call to be prophets, speak truth, show miraculous power, what God can do through us; to be righteous and give ourselves to the enduring pursuit of justice and healing; to be the little ones, vulnerable, learning, growing. And that although it will not be easy we will be welcomed and refreshed, those who will minister to us will be blessed as we are blessed by their ministrations.

But we are also invited to understand that we are called to welcome and minister to the prophets, the righteous and the little ones. Those who have felt the movement of the Spirit and are encouraged and bold, demanding their humanity be recognized and accorded the dignity and justice that are their inalienable right as the children of God.

Welcome those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, who seek justice from the systems that are sworn to serve and protect, welcome those involved in the Poor People’s Movement, who seek to unite us across lines of difference as we demand good and just salaries, health care, education, environmental care from institutions created to serve the common good, welcome those who continue the fight for LGBTQ rights, because the right to marry, and now, thank God, the right to work without suffering discrimination, is only the beginning of insuring equal rights.

We are to welcome these prophets, these righteous, these little ones:  Not tolerate, and not suspect, or judge, or fear, but welcome, because we who seek to live into God’s will understand that by welcoming these strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware. (Hebrews 13:2)

In these welcoming and refreshing encounters we, “us and them,” we, will be blessed and we will be a blessing. These relationships will strengthen us, feed us, and help us to grow. Together we will learn to live more fully into God’s call for us, that we would be fully human, humane in our treatment of one another and of all God’s creation, that we might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10).

So today we remember and celebrate those who have gone before us and all those who journey with us in seeking justice. Let us remember and celebrate our call to be righteous and prophetic little ones, relying on the power of God to transform us and through us the world. Let us welcome one another, and keep the feast. May the party begin!

Sunday, June 21
Pentecost 3
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Read sermon

The week before lockdown began, the first week of March, I was in Montgomery Alabama. I was there for the annual Glide pilgrimage that addresses the legacy of slavery and America’s enduring racial inequality. It was a mixed pilgrim group – racially, religiously, some very middle class, some unhoused. We visited museums, talked about our experiences, sang together, wept together, and got completely soaked in a classic southern thunderstorm together.

The place we visited that hammered at my heart most was Bryan Stevenson’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This is a memorial to every person killed by lynching in the United States – over 4000 people, children as well as adults. It is both a beautiful and a gut-wrenching place, lives remembered and honoured with a beauty that condemns the ugliness of their deaths. And what hit me hardest was reading some of the names – the ones whose surname was the same as mine at birth – Clark. Not because I could claim them as my kin but because these were people who had been owned by those who shared my name. My Clark ancestors were white working and servant class, not slave owners, but that does not absolve me from my guilt in being part of a system that said that White lives matter and that Black lives don’t.

Sarah said to Abraham: ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ Here, the Sunday after Juneteenth, we are confronted with the reality of slavery at the heart of our sacred scripture. Here Sarah, herself part of a people who were liberated from slavery, stands on the other side. Here she speaks for slave owners across the centuries who have failed to see that other mother’s children are as valuable as their own. Here Sarah is part of my story – part of the story of privilege that belongs to women as well as men because of their race and economic status.

But I don’t want to focus on Sarah today. I want to focus on the other woman in the story – Hagar the Egyptian, the one who was cast out into the wilderness, the one who lifts up her voice and weeps in despair. Hagar was the slave woman purchased by Abraham and Sarah to bear children for Abraham when Sarah was believed to be barren. She was, in other words, trafficked and sold as a sex slave. Her very name shouts out her ‘otherness’ and lack of value – Hagar in Biblical Hebrew means ‘alien’ or ‘foreigner’. This is a name given to her by those who own her not by the mother who bore her.

The wonderful Biblical scholar Wilda Gafney in her book Womanist Midrash – a source this sermon draws on strongly – tells us that this is not the only tradition of Hagar’s name. She figures prominently in the Islamic tradition and there her name is given as Hajar. This name has beautiful potential meanings from ‘Splendid’ to ‘Nourishing’. Here is a name that speaks of the worth that belongs to each human creature. Here is a name that says this woman is her own person, a beloved daughter of God, not a possession. This is what I will call her in this sermon from now on.

I want to take us back a few chapters in Genesis to the place where we first encounter Hajar. At this point Sarah is angry with Hajar because she feels insulted by her attitude – she expects her slave to treat her with respect – and so she beats her viciously causing Hajar to flee to the wilderness. Here Hajar is again at the point of despair and here again God comes to her. God tells her that she and her son are in his care, that she will be the mother of a great nation – the first divine annunciation in the entire Bible. And even more extraordinarily than that – Hajar is the first human being allowed to name God. The first human being in the whole of our scripture who names God is a slave woman – the most powerless of human beings in every hierarchy of the time.

And the name that Hajar gives to God is El Ro’i, God of seeing, interpreted by Gafney as meaning ‘Have I seen the one who sees me and lived to tell of it?’. God sees Hajar. God sees her as a human being of meaning and significance, as one who has the right to name the divine as it appears to her, as one strong enough to encounter the living God and to continue living. She is the one who is promised life not only for herself but for her children and her children’s children. And in the second encounter we heard today Hajar’s identity is affirmed as a beloved champion of God’s purposes: no one’s property, no one’s slave.

Juneteenth celebrates emancipation in the United States, and reminds us that none are free until all are free. It reminds us of a historical recognition then that no human being should be another person’s property. But the next step was never taken. The step of seeing the children of freed slaves as equal to the children of those who owned them. The step of hearing hard truths and seeking reconciliation through justice. The step of making Black Lives Matter a reality rather than an essential rallying call. The step of reparations.

And, especially among people of faith, the step of listening to the names that Black voices are giving to reality and to God. If all you read in theology or fiction or news articles are the writings of white men then you are not learning the full truth of our world or of God. If you are not hearing womanist voices naming God then you are not hearing a crucial part of how God names Godself. We need to know the God Hajar named – El Ro’i – the one who sees the reality of injustice and oppression; the one reveals divine reality most clearly to those on the underside of power.

There is work for us to do. To wrestle with the Biblical texts that speak casually of slavery and mastery as in our gospel reading. To wrestle with the parts of ourselves that would abuse any power we have been given. To wrestle with a system of endemic racism that still causes mothers to fear for their sons’ very survival. This is holy work, work given to us by God and breathed through with God’s Spirit. This is work we can do, aided and blessed and led by El R’oi, the God who sees.

Wilda C. Gafney, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.

Sunday, June 14
Too Wonderful
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord” (Gen. 18)?

God made you. In this vast expanding universe, in all time, you are utterly unique. So how do you understand the mysterious, unfolding creation that is you? What are you capable of?

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) compares our existence to waking up and finding ourselves on a vast staircase that goes upward and out of sight. We don’t know where we came from or where we are going. Two years before he had lost his five year old son and he reflects that even when we lose the ones who are most dear to us somehow we continue on, as “Ghostlike we glide through nature…”[1]

These days we have become less sure of where we stand. Originally we talked about COVID19 as if it were a short-term blizzard that we had to get through before things returned to normal. Now we wonder about the long winter ahead of us. Some worry that it might even be an ice age. In a heartbreaking moment an older friend asked me if I thought she would ever be able to come to Grace Cathedral again.

Since George Floyd’s crucifixion by a Minneapolis police officer we have continued a conversation that has been going on since the country first started. The question is easy to articulate: will this nation ever treat all citizens with equal dignity.

God sees our dreams and remembers them. After watching the movie Selma (2014) I’ve been dreaming about the young girls descending down the stairs of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in the instants before a white supremacist’s bomb killed them. I see the protesters being savagely beaten on Pettus bridge, mixed with images from today’s news.[2]

Friday was the 57th anniversary of Medgar Evers’ (1925-1963) murder. He said, “I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, die gladly, if that would make a better life for them.”[3] That day was also the 53rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that struck down state bans on interracial marriages. Mildred and Richard Loving lived in Caroline County, Virginia. They were arrested in the middle of the night. They were imprisoned for unlawful cohabitation and given the choice of leaving the state for twenty-five years or serving jail time.

This week two of the men in our Monday night Bible Study talked about having had police hold guns to their heads, about being thrown into the back of squad cars, about family and friends who had lost their lives. At the end of that conversation one of them said, “Expect people not to change, no matter what the consequences are.”[4]

What is the nature of our existence? Is it possible to change? What are we capable of? This morning I want to talk about two answers to these questions, two ways of looking at the world.

  1. The first comes from the nineteenth century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860).[5] Schopenhauer slept with a loaded pistol next to his bed. He took excessive precautions against disease. He talked about feeling uncomfortable when nothing alarmed him (because there must, “still be something of which I am ignorant for a time”). We remember him for believing in biological evolution before Charles Darwin, for his love of music and his pessimism.

At age 17 Schopenhauer hated his work as a clerk in the family business. But then his father took his own life and he inherited a large fortune. He dedicated himself completely to philosophy and at age 28 he published a book called The World as Will and Idea. Schopenhauer thought it deserved immortal fame and he spent his whole lifetime promoting it.

After tremendous advances in physics that led scientists like Isaac Newton (1642-1726) to be able to predict the motion of physical objects, philosophers like Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) worried that people might start to believe that humans were just determined by outside forces like billiard balls on a pool table. In contrast Kant asserted that while outside forces have a tremendous effect on us, it is possible to genuinely act freely, even against our own interest for the sake of a higher good.

Kant explained all this by distinguishing how: a. the world is in itself, from, b. how we perceive it through our senses and understanding. Schopenhauer extended this scheme. He believed that Kant was wrong to think that the world is a collection of separate objects. For Schopenhauer the thing itself, the primary reality behind everything is the will to live and dominate. We find this in every creature. There is no escape from this universal war of all against all. We are not mainly physical beings or rational beings – we are primarily will, each looking out for number one.

I most admire Schopenhauer for his acute sensitivity to suffering wherever he saw it in human beings and animals. He writes, “the world is Hell, and men are on the one hand the tormented souls and on the other the devils in it.” “As a reliable compass for orienting yourself in life nothing is more useful than to accustom yourself to regarding the world as a… sort of penal colony (prison)… each of us is being punished for his existence in his own particular way.”[6] On the basis of his conviction that people are merely egotistical and cruel, Schopenhauer found no comfort in this underlying power that animates all life.

  1. But there is another understanding of the world. The way of Jesus. The way of love. Today we embark on an a six month journey of Sunday readings through the Gospel of Matthew. It all begins with Jesus seeing the crowds. These are not the good people or the holy ones, they are what we call “the public.” And he has profound compassion for all of them. The Greek word (splagxnon) means that from the very deepest part of himself he loved them in a visceral way. He wants to take away their pain.[7]

Jesus looks at this suffering world of isolation, brutality, arbitrary hatred, and he sees the opportunity for a harvest of goodness. We were made to do ministry. We were designed and created to love, to do good work to make the world better.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Mt. 9). The list of followers includes Peter and Judas who each betrayed Jesus. It includes Matthew the Tax Collector, a despised profession that involved collaborating with the occupying Roman army. It would be like listing your friends and saying, “Malcolm the arms dealer.”

Jesus sends out his friends to the suffering world, to our suffering world, to people of all nations (Mt. 18:19). Jesus says to them, “Preach the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt. 10).

This week our online forum guest was the New Testament professor Herman Waetjen.[8] He amazes me by boiling the entire Bible down to one simple idea. At birth we are at one with God and the world, but pretty much from that moment we begin to be indoctrinated into what he calls “the moral order of separation.” This is a world of dualisms: us versus them, liberal vs. conservative, mind vs. matter, culture vs. nature, identity vs. difference, subjective vs. objective. We are taught to define ourselves in opposition to an “other.”

Herman believes that when we are interpreting the Bible correctly, it moves us into what he calls “the moral order of integration” in which our differences between become far less important than what we share. For Herman faith is not belief, as if our work was evaluating the intellectual viability of ideas. Instead faith is trust, trust in God.

Making disciples of the world is not about recruiting people for a club. It means building a world based on the principle of love, for everyone without exception. I have particularly on my mind and in my prayer our trans siblings whose civil rights and physical safety are particularly threatened right now, and for people of color, those without a safe place to live.

Quoting Paul, Herman says, “the first man, Adam became a living being; the last Adam becomes a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). Through Christ we become life-giving spirits. According to Jonathan Sachs who used to be chief rabbi of Great Britain, the Hebrew Bible has only one commandment to love one’s neighbor and 36 commands to love the stranger.[9]

Listening to me you may think that Schopenhauer was right, that we should address each other as fellow prisoners and keep our heads down for our own safety. In the face of racism, violence and cruelty you may think that forces of the world are merely indifferent surges of power. And you may be right.

When heavenly messengers visited Abraham and Sarah and told the ninety year old woman that she was going to have a son she laughed. In response the angels said, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord” (Gen. 18)? This morning I ask you the same thing. Is anything too wonderful for the Lord.

We don’t know where we came from or where we are going. But see the reality of love at the heart of everything. Feel the compassion of Jesus for the crowds. Step into the oneness of God. Be a life-giving spirit. Let the world be your great harvest.

God made you. In this vast expanding universe, in all time, you are utterly unique.

______________________

Photographs:
Medgar Evers (Jami Floyd Instagram)

Mildred and Richard Loving (MCY FB)

Selma March

Arthur Schopenhauer?

Herman Waetjen?

[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience,” The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Hougton Mifflin, 1957) 254-5.

[2] After watching Just Mercy (2019) I’ve also been dreaming about voter suppression, police stops, false convictions and Southern prison.

[3] https://www.instagram.com/jamifloyd/

[4] Bible Study 8 June 2020.

[5] 4 Pent (6-16-02) 6A.

[6] In fact, we should greet each other saying, “Hail fellow prisoner.” Arthur Schopenhauer, “On the Suffering of the World,” in Essays and Aphorisms Tr. R. J. Hollingdale, (NY: Penguin, 1970).

[7] “He saw the oxloi, man in the mass, the multitude, the crowd, the “public,” “everyman”… He stood with them in an almost imperceptible but strong unity and solidarity: strong because it was grounded in his compassion, in the fact that His only desire for them was to take from them their misery and to take it on Himself.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV:2 The Doctrine of Reconciliation, tr. G.W. Bromiley (NY: T&T Clark, 2004) 185.

[8] Herman Waetjen Professor Emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary. “Grace Forum Online with Dr. Herman Waetjen: Re-Ordering the World,” Grace Cathedral 10 June 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=5I0jjTsMn6g&feature=emb_logo

[9] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Guest Appearance: The Grace of Being the Stranger,” The Christian Century, 20 September 2005. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2005-09/guest-appearance?code=dJZhlplzuDzKitFKBZ6Z&utm_campaign=2507a3adab-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_09_11_08_32_COPY_08&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Christian+Century+Newsletter&utm_term=0_b00cd618da-2507a3adab-86237307

Sunday, June 7
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: Anna Deavere Smith
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Watch:

Thank you, Dean Malcolm Clemens Young, for inviting me home to San Francisco

and Grace Cathedral to deliver this sermon.

Genesis 4:9-10.

And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen, your brother’s blood is crying

out to me from the ground.”

The story of Cain and Abel. “What have you done? Listen, your brother’s blood is

crying out to me from the ground.”

When I look at the stopped frame on the video of George Floyd’s head and neck

pressed against the ground, and Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck and

a dispassionate gaze, even grin, on Chauvin’s face, I am reminded of images of

lynchings in the United States: lynchings of Native Americans, Latinx, and Asians

as well as Blacks, though predominately Blacks.

***

In 1900, George Henry White, a Black Republican from North Carolina,

introduced the first anti-lynching bill in Congress. It was defeated in committee. In

1918, the Dyer lynching bill was introduced. Dyer, a white republican from

Missouri, sponsored it. Its intention was to make lynching a federal crime. It

passed in the house. A filibuster by Southern senators stopped its passage.

From 1882 to 1968, two hundred anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress.

Three passed in the house. Seven presidents asked Congress to pass the bill into

federal law. One hundred years – the entire 20th century – and no bill was passed.

Senators Kamala Harris and Corey Booker have authored the Emmett Till Anti-

Lynching Act, which passed in the house this February, by a vote of 410 to 4.

However, on June 4th, while the family of George Floyd and mourners from across

the country gathered in Minneapolis for the first of three memorial services,

funerals for George Floyd, while a throng of international media lined up outside –

more media than at any funeral since Michael Jackson’s – Booker and Harris found

themselves in a hot debate with the one Senator who is holding up passage of the

bill in 2020 – Rand Paul. To date, we have no federal anti-lynching legislation in

the United States.

***

The late Reverend James Cone, as many of you know, coined the phrase, “Black

liberation theology” in the 1960s. When he was coming to the end of his life, he

wrote the following, in the conclusion of his book, Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell

Nobody: “As I come to the end of my theological journey, I can’t stop thinking

about black bodies. The blood of black people is crying out to God and to white

people from the ground in the United States of America… The blood of Sandra

Bland in Texas and Tamir Rice in Ohio, the blood of the Emanuel Nine in

Charleston, South Carolina and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, the blood

of nearly 5,000 lynched Blacks and the blood of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and

Gabriel Prosser, and the many thousands gone, millions gone on the auction block,

under the lash, and in the middle passage. Black blood calls out to God all over this

land. Is anybody listening,” he writes, “to the cries of black blood?” That strange

fruit that Billie Holiday sang about, “Blood on the leaves. Blood at the root.”

James Cone? To answer your question, people are listening all over the world.

During a worldwide pandemic, people are coming out into the streets: London,

Auckland. Amsterdam, Dublin, Nairobi, Berlin, chanting: “I Can’t Breathe,”

“Black Lives Matter!” “The People United will never be defeated.” You’d be

proud. Worldwide, calling out: THIS IS WRONG. Is the good news. The bad news

is that most recently, what called citizens into the streets, is the blood of Breonna

Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. Say their names.

***

Since I’m speaking in a church, I will ask, ‘What is the role of the church? What is

the potential of the church?’ I’m not a church lady. I was blessed to have been

invited to Grace Cathedral by former Dean Jane Shaw, as its first artist in residence

in 2012. She and I talked a lot about the need for a moral imagination. It is a

privilege to be a part of this community and to have been asked by Dean Young to

deliver this sermon, in these very unsettled times.

After my residency, I returned with violinist Bobby McDuffie, to recite Martin

Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” We only performed a part of that

text and I am not sure if I included this part, which is so important right now:

“There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early

Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In

those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and

principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of

society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became

disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of

the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction

that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man.”

What will it take to make this moment, sparked by yet more deaths of Blacks in the

hands of police, into more than entertainment or a distraction during the pandemic,

into more than a salve for anxieties about our unknown futures. What will it take to

make this more than a shaking of heads, and saying – sometimes – more of the

same words, over and over again? Legislation is essential. More human ideas about

the economy are essential. Broadening opportunity is essential. Universal

healthcare is essential. Attacking the social determinants of morbidity with new

strategies and medicine and public health is essential. The rehabilitation of our

public schools is essential. A thorough overhaul of the criminal justice system is

essential. The list is long.

But let us not underestimate the potential of moral energy; it could spark us to DO

what we need to do. What we see in the streets is, metaphorically, a grand opera

not yet written. It is real. Is this a prologue to a tragedy; is it the first act of a

tragedy, the second act of a tragedy, the dénouement of a tragedy? Is it the end of a

tragedy, the conclusion of a dark, bloody, cautionary tale? Where are we? In this

grand, dark drama? Will we move on or will we continue to watch this show, as if

it were a long running television series?

***

Rabbi David Wolpe told me of the story of the person who said, “I’m only making

a hole in my side of the boat.” “I’m only making a hole in my side of the boat.”

There is no “your side” of the boat.

I can’t tell you what to do. But I believe you can do something. Your way. In the

way how you do it. Imagine it. Think about it. Do it. Have courage.

Sunday, May 31
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
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The Right Rev. Dr. Marc Handley Andrus preaches extemporaneously.

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