I have three things to tell you about, or as we say in the preaching business, three false starts and then a homily.
Thing number one: World Voices is THIS week. For those of you who are new, you may not know that two years ago we began working on creating a program that combined singing with art and leadership that is explicitly and unabashedly inclusive and anti-racist, that embraces multi-cultural and multi-faith perspectives, that not only prepares young people to live in a multi-cultural and multi-faith world but to LEAD – to be a leader in such a world as that.
It starts tomorrow and we’re expecting some 40 girls, grades 6-10, to come and create a better world that is radically inclusive and superbly strong. What a great thing! Last year we had an absolutely fabulous time with participants and staff giving it the highest of ratings. Last year we had the world premier of a song written by Stephen Feigenbaum using words from the young Nobel Prize winner Malala: “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful – I am stronger than fear.”
In the twelve months since the last WOVOS we have raised money for this, the second WOVOS Winter Intensive through your contributions to the special Café-Latte Sunday coffee hours, through Katrina Clinton’s 70th birthday concert with Bill Staines, and through individual contributions to sponsor a student. AND we got an even bigger grant from the Brockton Cultural Council, $3500.00, enough to sponsor almost half the group. It is all very exciting.
Murray and Lisa have planned out the curriculum, there will be a lot of glorious music made, including another world premier piece by Stephen Feigenbaum – this one based on Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” -- and on Friday an incredible concert at 3 in the afternoon. If you can possibly come, please do for two reasons: first, it will be wonderful, and second, we need an audience! Every person’s presence matter enormously. Please come.
Thing number two: You may know that we study together here – that in addition to Bible Studies, the Old Testament lecture and discussion series, and the upcoming study on Sabbath Economics, we read books about diversity and inclusion and living as faithful Christians.
Don’t understand me too quickly – not all of us attend Bible Studies, not all of us read the diversity books, but those who do are doing so not for their own edification but as participants in this church whose mission is creating beloved community.
We read and we study and we discuss in the name of Jesus, being the church in the 21st century, connecting to our world with our beloved community. We’ve read books about gender identity and racism in America, about special needs and disabilities and immigration – and I’m very excited to announce our next book, written by Arlie Russell Hochshild, a sociologist and National Book Award Finalist called: Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right – a Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide.
I began reading this book last week on the airplane on my way home from visiting my family in Louisiana, and because the author interviews people in Louisiana her words were particularly fresh to me, but it is a book very much worth our time and consideration. Here is the description from the cover flap:
In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey, traveling from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into arch-conservative Louisiana bayou country—an area in environmental crisis, where many people suffer from poor health and widespread poverty, enduring rates of education and life expectancy that are among the country’s lowest.
Her mission is to do what so few of us are able to do: truly listen to the other side in order to understand why hey believe and feel the way they do.
Over the course of five years, Hoschschild befriends pipefitters, plant operators, an auto mechanic, a truck driver, telephone repairmen, accountants, salesmen, building contractors, a postal worker, a school custodian and a gospel singer – and she attends fish fries, gumbo cook-offs, Pentecostal church services, and Trump rallies; visits schools, political party groups, and oil-soaked wetlands; and engages in long conversations over cookies at kitchen tables and while looking through photo albums.
She meets a Tea Party supporter whose town was swallowed by a sinkhole created by a drilling disaster, a pastor’s wife who call Rush Limbaugh “my brave heart”, and a homemaker who sees pollution as “the price we pay for capitalism.”
Strangers in Their Own Land goes beyond the commonplace liberal idea that many on the political right have been duped into voting against their interests. In the right-wing world she explores, Hochschild discovers powerful forces—fear of cultural eclipse, economic decline, a deep resentment of the scorn of coastal liberals, and a perceived betrayal by the federal government—that override self-interest, as liberals see it, and help explain the emotional appeal of a candidate like Donald Trump.
What emerges is a remarkable portrait of the country’s deep political divide and profound thoughts about a way forward for us all.
I’ll be ordering books on Monday, so sign up today (or get your own copy) and don’t miss this conversation. We’ll read in March and talk about it in early April, on a couple of Saturday and Sunday dates in that time frame.
The third thing that I have to share is a continuation of last Sunday’s sermon.
Last week I talked about the importance of engaging in beloved community, and as an example of that engagement I talked about the importance of baking and showing up for funerals. Well, mercy me, let me say thank you to the dozens of you who did just that. This is an amazing, wonderful and compassionate church and I am so very proud of what you all do. It is counter-cultural – in a time when people watch TV in isolation, we are eating dinner together on Wednesday nights and coming together in times of loss and death and crisis.
In the midst of the two funerals last week we had another call for a third funeral, this one from a young woman who came to Sunday School and youth groups at this church, who calls this church home. When her full-term baby apparently got tangled in his umbilical cord on the very day he was due to be born and died, Jennifer knew immediately that she wanted to bring him home, here, to the church of her childhood for a funeral.
And so in the middle of World Voices rehearsals and program on Wednesday at noon we will shuffle World Voices to the upstairs of the wing and have a funeral for Duncan Arthur Fraser, son of Jennifer Deyoe and Corey Fraser, and we will pray for this young couple in their great loss. We have enough baked goods from this week – thanks to all of you - to more than feed them, and the collation team will reassemble – it is yet again creating beloved community.
I sat planning with Jennifer and Corey on Friday, hearing their story and their grief for three hours. They asked for various hymns and scripture – and wanted Psalm 23 - “the King James Version”, said Corey, my grandfather used to read that version. Do you hear the fullness of being the church? Do you hear the importance of passing on the traditions from grandfather to grandson?Do you heart the impact a person can have being a teacher in the Sunday School or a youth group leader so that these things exist for our young people, so that in what might be the most terrible moment in their lives they feel the pull to church community? Join us on Wednesday at noon if you can.
So that is it - World Voices, the next book group, and the next funeral - my three false starts, but they are tied to this morning’s scripture, which is a story about recognizing God’s love.
Let’s remember the story: Jesus goes to dinner in another example of his mingling with the “wrong” people, of his downward mobility and has his feet washed by a sinner of the city. In other gospels this story, often called “the anointing”, is placed just before his arrest, but in the gospel according to Luke the story is placed right in the midst of his ministry.Here, the story is not anointing for burial, it is for an understanding of forgiveness and God’s mercy.
The woman has shown great love – is it in response to forgiveness or simply understanding who Jesus is… either way, Jesus says “your faith has saved you, go in peace.” Who can be forgiven? Jesus goes into a parable about debts being canceled and asks Simon who is more grateful…. Simon seems to know he is being trapped, being made a fool, and says “well, I suppose the one with the greater debt” – and Jesus says “right the first time!”
Who is forgiven? Who is loved by God? The woman who came with oil to anoint Jesus’ feet, in a whacky exchange, is forgiven because of God’s love and mercy.
My colleague Angie Ballou on the Cape, shared this story on Facebook this week:
An exchange during the Passing of Peace at my nursing home service this morning with the Cantankerous Curmudgeon (CC). The CC usually yells generally and directly at me throughout the service. Today she (mostly) slept through the service. At the end I greet each person with the Peace of Christ individually and try to look them in the eye, until they recognize that I see them.
Angie: Peace of Christ be with you.
Angie: Peace of God be with you.
Angie: God is with you.
Angie (shouting): God loves you!
CC (incredulous): He loves me?!?
Angie: Yes. God loves you.
Angie: You are God's child and God loves you.
CC (Smiling. Seriously I've never seen CC smile) Well, you're God's child too.
Angie: Yup, God loves me too. And all our friends, who are here, God loves them. There's a lot of love in the room.
CC (positively beaming with joy)
Angie: Feels good doesn't it?
CC: Yes! It feels good. I feel good.
You may know how Facebook goes – people proceeded to “Like” Angie’s story and put smiley faces – but one person wrote “I know exactly who you are talking about and THAT is simply amazing.” The Cantankerous Curmudgeon opened her heart in that whacky exchange. She came to understand something about God’s love in that moment, came to know her abiding status – in spite of all her yelling, in spite of anything that separated her from the love of God that she, was, nonetheless, a child of God worthy of God’s love. Forgiven by God. Loved by God.
The Pope this week also talked about this very thing. He said:
“Christians must never lose hope and should remind themselves that God loves them even at their worst. God’s love provides “security” both in difficult moments and even when I have done something terrible and evil. No one can take this security from us. We must repeat it like a prayer: God loves me. I am sure that God loves me!” he said.
Imagine saying that: God loves me. I am sure that God loves me. I am a child of God and God loves me. Imagine repeating it in your car, stuck in traffic, in the shower, in your chemistry exam, when you are mourning, when you are abandoned. Imagine repeating it when you listen to the nightly news. Imagine repeating it when you are at dinner with other children of God – imperfect children, well-loved children, lost children – I am a child of God and God loves me.
We are all children of God and God loves us and wants us at the table. We are all children of God and God loves us and wants us at the table in harmony. We are all children of God and God loves us and wants us at the table in harmony to do the work of love and inclusion, of making peace and striving for justice. We are all children of God and God loves us and wants us at the table and we do not need to be afraid that we have not been perfect, we are still invited.
We do not need to be afraid that we have some changing to do, some opening of our hearts to do, some caring about others to do…. Because we are all children of God and God’s love will see us through any change, through any next step, through any time of tragedy and loss.
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake…
Who talks like that? But in all the tradition, in all the words ending in “th” we hear the mantra: God loves me. I am sure that God loves me.
So we gather teenage girls to sing and learn about inclusion and we study about people who seem to live in a different world and we help people remember their roots, their foundation, their faith - and we mourn together and we ARE the church in our imperfection, in our brokenness, in our effort to take in God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness.
We ARE the church, knowing that God loves us. We are sure that God loves us. YOU are a child of God. God loves you- and that changes everything. Amen.
Sermon Topics: Love