Friday, September 25, 2020

Life & Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg - Sermon for Week Ending September 26, 2020


“When Great Trees Fall,”  a poem by Maya Angelou


When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,


gnaws on kind words


promised walks

never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their


now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed
and informed by their

all away.
We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance

of dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period, peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.


I think all liberal, progressive people will remember what we were doing and what we felt when we heard the news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. My first reaction was shock. Of course I knew she had been battling cancer, but she had been battling and beating it for 20 years. I guess I thought she would do it again. Then came deep sadness ,that her beautiful bright light had been extinguished. I retreated for some alone time, and read the many tributes already being posted. And it was only a while after, that, like you I’m sure,  I began to think about what her death would mean for our country, the real possibility of a conservative court for the next 50 years, where our children and grandchildren will not have the rights that we do now. And then, the hateful, political rhetoric and maneuvering began.

But I want to ignore that part today to lift up the life and legacy of this woman who devoted herself to fighting for equal rights for women and minorities. A first generation American on her father’s side and second generation on her mother’s, she said that the three most important lessons her parents taught her were to love learning, to care about other people, and to work hard for what she believed in, and that’s  what she spent her life doing. One of only 9 women in her class at Harvard Law School, in 1956, she found barriers everywhere. But in her second year, as the mother of a 2-year-old, and with a husband fighting cancer, she was among the top 25 of over 500 students, the criteria to make Law Review, which she did. While her husband Marty was ill, she attended his classes and her own, organized his friends to help, and typed all his assignments. That, she said, is when she learned to burn the candle at both ends, which she continued doing for the rest of her life. Unable to find a job in a law firm after graduation,

because she was a woman, she began teaching women’s studies and taking on sex discrimination cases. When she first started arguing before the Supreme Court, she said she saw herself as a kindergarten teacher, educating privileged male justices about issues they had never even questioned. And with the landmark cases that she won as general counsel to the ACLU, she became the leading gender rights lawyer of her generation. We are all familiar with her record as the 107th justice of the US Supreme Court, where she freely exercised her dissenting voice. And where she joined the majority in cases of discrimination, legalizing same- sex marriage and allowing dreamers, immigrants brought here as children, to remain and go to school. Ruth also loved the opera, the only place, she said, where her mind was completely clear of work and she was immersed in beauty. Although she was considered the somber one in her marriage, Marty being the gregarious life of the party, she had great wit and humor. One of my favorite stories, which you might have heard, was about her son, James. She said that when he was young, she considered him a lively boy, but the school psychologist called him hyper-active. She was always being called away from work to go to the school to hear about something he had done. Then one day, when they called, she said, “James has two parents, and it is his father’s turn.” And after that, although James’ behavior did not improve, they seldom called because they didn’t like taking a man away from his job. Then, she added with a twinkle in her eye, “and probably because when Marty was told that James’ latest offense was stealing the elevator, he replied, ‘How far could he have taken it?’”  Ruth taught us so much. The importance of hard work, commitment, and civility; She taught us that change doesn’t happen overnight; that dissent is patriotic;  that women belong in all places where decisions are made. She taught us to speak truth to power; to appreciate the joy of being alive; and to help keep our country in tune  with its most basic values.  

While watching her Service of Remembrance at the Supreme Court, seeing all 120 of her former law clerks, spread out across the front, to welcome and guard her casket, all the young people there, who referred to her as the Notorious RBG, and were trying hard to follow in her footsteps, and a little girl in a Supergirl costume saluting her casket, gave me hope that her legacy will be fulfilled. Someone called her a prophet, one who imagined a new world and then worked to make it a reality. I agree. And just as Elisha took up the mantle from the prophet Elijah, it is now our turn to take up her mantle and carry it forward. Yes, these are hard times,  but we can’t give up. When we get weary, we can look to Ruth as a model of how to keep fighting to make the world better. And perhaps we can become a part of the peace that blooms when great souls, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, die.








Friday, September 18, 2020

Stick To The Basics - Sermon for Week Ending September 19, 2020

Micah 6:8  The Message 
It is already plain how to live, what to do, and what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor. Be compassionate and loyal in your love. And lastly, don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.


We often hear people say, “We live in unprecedented times.” If you are like me, you long for precedented times! You know, plain old, average boring, normal days without fires or floods! Without horrifying news, political or otherwise.  We want a day when we are not fearful for the future of our fragile democracy. A day when we don't have to hear about Black men dying in the street or Black women dying in their beds or  immigrant children in cages in detention. We long for a day when we don't have to cringe when we hear health statistics of new infections and death from a global pandemic. 

Is it wrong to want life to be simpler and more predictable? Not at all! Our collective stress levels are off the charts. Zooming was a novelty at first but the shine has worn off . Now there is such a thing as “zoom fatigue" from too much screen time. The freedom of having more time at home has also gotten stale, even for many introverts. We want to go shopping or out to eat without fearing that we are taking unnecessary risk.

The number of things that concern us and yes, I am going to say it, are unprecedented!! 

For me personally, the last several months have been incredibly stressful. My husband Harry has gone through a health crisis with several twists and turns. He's much more stable now but our daily lives have changed.

 I have had to learn new medical language, argue with insurance companies and take up new family responsibilities. Recently, my sister-in-law asked me how I was doing and I replied, “I didn't cry today.”

That reply came from a person who is not usually a fountain of tears.  I imagine you have shed more than your usual number of tears too, whether they have been from sadness or fear or frustration.

What helps us cope in times like these is resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover from difficult experiences and setbacks and to move forward, adapt and maybe even grow.  Many of you already have a great deal of resilience from your life experiences as you have admirably shown. I am preaching to myself here! 

I hope something I say might give your own resilience a boost. 

 The good news is that resilience is a learned skill.  We can all benefit from having more tools in our toolbox.  Yes, your temperament and your early life experiences play a part in shaping how you handle things. Experts who study resilience have noted three personal traits which help us through difficult times:  Having core spiritual beliefs, a moral compass and social connectedness are the foundational tools of resilience

And We can also cope better if we narrow our focus. What? Aren't we supposed to be global citizens? Knowledgeable about all pertinent topics? Able to comment widely on Facebook? Not necessarily. A narrower focus helps reign in our worries. Living in the here and now allows us to better appreciate what is immediately around us. In such stressful times, it's perfectly ok to not read everything that comes across your newsfeed.

 A friend recently told me she now has to sleep with a mouth guard to stop grinding her teeth.  I suggested a little less news binging might also help.

Reflecting with a narrower focus reminded me of a song that has stuck with me over the years. It's by Tracy Chapman who is a Black singer songwriter of folk and blues who is active in human rights advocacy. She was raised by her single mom in Cleveland, OH. It tells of her mother's hard-won life advice to her daughter. It's called “All that you have is your soul.”

 This song was on her Grammy winning debut album in 1987:

Oh my mama told me

'Cause she say she learned the hard way

Say she want to spare the children

She say don't give or sell your soul away

'Cause all that you have is your soul.

Don't be tempted by the shiny apple

Don't you eat of a bitter fruit

Hunger only for a taste of justice

Hunger only for a world of truth

'Cause all that you have is your soul.


And if all that we have is our soul, what are we do to with that precious gift? 

We get advice on that from today's verse from Micah, who is called a minor prophet with a major message. At the time of his writing, the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians. The southern kingdom was not learning very well from history. They were sitting fat and happy and dare I say self- righteous. They were pretty confident that the fate of their northern neighbors would never happen to them. The prophets' job at that time was to call Israel to account and tell them they were whistling in the dark. It was not a popular message.

Micah spoke not only words of judgment but also words of mercy. He tried to show Israel a way out of its predicament. 

God has already made it plain, says Micah. Keep a narrow focus. Don't get swallowed up in the trappings of religion, doing the right things for the wrong reasons. What God wants from us is really quite simple.

 It's three things:

Treat our neighbors justly and fairly;

Be compassionate;

 and take God much more seriously than you take yourself.

Remarkable that this minor prophet was also a mental health expert for those of us stressed out in 2020!

It's also remarkable to me how squarely the three things this verse describe line up with the three skills most basic to resilience!

Have core spiritual beliefs- take God seriously

Have a moral compass-treat your neighbors justly and fairly

Be socially connected-be compassionate and kind. 

In these difficult times, We can find small manageable things to do among these three things in our pandemic daily lives.

We can smile with our eyes over our masks and thank the grocery store clerk.

We can call to check on a neighbor we haven’t seen at their mailbox.

We can take a few moments to write in a journal or simply admire the plants in our yard. One of my art friends in NJ has taken to photographing the insects he finds on his small farm. He is up to 67 different kinds! 

When all that we have is our soul, we don't want to risk tarnishing that precious gift with worry about things over which we have no control.

Certainly, a pandemic is one of those things. Is it Possible that we will come through this stronger? Yes, because resilience is a learned and we can stay open to learning.  

 Many today are once again finding peace in the words of a prayer, written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr between 1932-33 in the midst of the Great Depression. It was widely adapted by the 12 - step recovery movement and called the Serenity Prayer.

 We don't often hear it in its entirety but when we do, we know that Reinhold Niebuhr knew something about the three basic skills of resilience. I hope it speaks again to you today:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.






Friday, September 11, 2020

Remembering 9/11 - Sermon for week ending September 12, 2020

Our reading for this week is by Albert Camus.

In the midst of hate, I found there was within me, an invincible love.  In the midst of tears, I found there was within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was within me, an invincible calm. I realized through it all, that in the midst of winter, I found there was within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there is something stronger, something better, pushing right back.


This week is the nineteenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and I know all of us can remember where we were and what we were doing that day. I had stayed home from work because I had 2 doctor’s appointments. A little before 9, Cathy, who was at work, called to tell me that an airplane had hit the North tower of the World Trade Center, and the news was calling it terrorism. I stayed glued to the TV all morning. I watched the towers fall, and heard about the attack on the Pentagon and the crash in Shanksville. Over the next few days, we learned that 343 firefighters, just doing their job, running into a burning building, were killed. Many stayed over after finishing their 24-hour shift, and went back out.  A total of 2,977 people were killed that day. I know that lots of folks were angry. I wasn’t. I was sad. And grateful to be able to hug my children. We put our flags up, to say that we might be down, but we were not out. We were still here. And nothing could crush our spirit. As the days went on, we began hearing more and more about the helpers, as Fred Rogers called them. He said that when he was little, when something bad happened, he would be afraid, and his mother told him to look for the helpers, which made him feel better. There were so many helpers. The group of strangers who joined together to take back Flight 93, preventing it from reaching its target and causing more death. Rick Riscorla, Morgan Stanley’s security director, who ignored the announcement to shelter in place in the South Tower and evacuated all but 13 of the 2,700 Morgan Stanley employees from the building. And Welles Crowder, known as the man in the red bandana, a 24-year- old equities trader who helped dozens get out, then went back in with firefighters to save more. His body was later found on one of the stairwells. When those seeking refuge ran south to the water, they were met by hundreds of boats, that had arrived despite the smoke-filled air and the real possibility that another attack might happen at any moment.  Over 9 hours, they evacuated over 500,000 people from lower Manhattan. Volunteer firefighters showed up to staff the fire stations and take care of all the other emergencies while the New York firefighters were at the World Trade Center. When the attacks forced all planes to land, the folks of Gander, Newfoundland, took in 6700 people, nearly doubling its population. They gave them food, water, and shelter. Pharmacists worked round the clock to make sure prescriptions were filled. Bus drivers in the middle of a strike went back to work. They treated the stranded passengers and crews as their own. At the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham palace, the queen broke with the tradition and ordered our National Anthem to be played, followed by 2 minutes of silence. People all around the world grieved with us. And in every major city in the US, folks stood in line for hours to give blood. Everywhere, there was a spirit of compassion, as we realized that we were all in this together. So many of our fellow humans had died. Their friends and their families were suffering such grief.  And we wanted to do something, anything to help. Humans are naturally good and loving and kind. That’s what our reading for today reflects. In the midst of hate, we have, within us, love. In the midst of darkness, we have within us light. The teachings of Jesus tell us that there is light in every darkness. And the darkness doesn’t overcome it. The light shines through the darkness. It did on that darkest of days. We saw the very best of humanity. A spirit of unity and a desire to make the world better in whatever way we could, to take care of one another.

To embrace the good. A group of children who were born on that day started a campaign to do good deeds on 911 anniversaries, “To keep alive the spirit of unity and compassion, to pay tribute to the victims and honor those who rose in service.” One of the children, now 19, said,
“Doing something good makes me realize that I have the power to change things and there is nothing stopping me.” The 911 attacks were the worst thing to ever happen to us, yet we pulled together. I long for that. I want it today, when our world is so divided. I believe that light shines through the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. I believe that inside of all of us, we have love and goodness. So do an extra good deed this week. I promise to. And let’s remind ourselves that love always has the power to change the world.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Elijah - Sermon for Week Ending September 5, 2020


Our reading for today is from 1 Kings 19: 4-10.

Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” Exhausted, he fell asleep under the lone broom bush.

An angel shook him awake and said, “Get up and eat.”

He looked, and to his surprise, right by his head were a loaf of bread baked on some coals and a jug of water. He ate the meal and went back to sleep.

The angel came back, shook him awake again, and said, “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.”

He got up, ate and drank his fill, and set out. Nourished by that meal, he walked forty days and nights, all the way to the mountain of God, to Horeb. When he got there, he crawled into a cave and went to sleep.

Then the word of God came to him:   “Elijah, what are you doing here?”


In the book of 1 Kings is the story of Elijah the prophet and Ahab, the king of Israel.

Ahab was a bad king, and his wife, Jezebel, was worse. They used their power to promote the Canaanite God, Baal over the Hebrew God, Yahweh. When drought and famine came to the land, Ahab blamed Elijah and Yahweh, and Elijah blamed Ahab and  Baal. So they set up a contest to see whose God was the best. Elijah told Baal’s priests to cut up a bull for an offering, place it on the wood, and pray to their God to light it with fire. They did, and nothing happened. Then Elijah did the same, even drenching the wood and the meat with water. He prayed to Yahweh, and fire came from heaven and consumed everything, including the stones beneath the wood. Elijah then made it rain, ending the drought. But he didn’t stop there. In his fervor, he killed all the Baal’s priests. Thinking that the war was over, he went to the palace of Ahab and Jezebel to gloat, but Jezebel promised him that it was not over, and that she would kill as many of his people as he had hers. As we heard in our reading, Elijah then walked deep into the wilderness, sat down under a tree, and asked Yahweh to take his life. Like most biblical stories, this one has almost as many interpretations as there are interpreters. Some say that Elijah didn’t have enough faith in God. Others say that he was wallowing in self-pity. I don’t agree with either of those. I chose this passage because September is suicide prevention month. And I believe Elijah was suffering depression, so deep that he couldn’t find a way out except to die. When Elijah left Jezebel, It wasn’t just fear that sent him to the wilderness. It was despair, maybe a result of the shame he felt for killing the priests when the war was already won, together with his thought that no matter what he did, the Israelites were abandoning their faith in Yahweh. The text doesn’t say what brought him to this place of hopelessness. And that’s how depression is. You can’t just point to one thing and say that was the final straw. But it does say that he lay down and slept. And those of us who suffer with it know that depression is mentally and emotionally exhausting. But the response to Elijah’s depression is what kept him alive that day. An angel came, gave him nourishment, and let him go back to sleep. Then Yahweh came and asked him gently, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Yahweh didn’t judge him, or tell him to snap out of it, or remind him of all he had to be grateful for. Yahweh invited him to look inward. Elijah, what has brought you to the point that you want to die? and then listened to him. And that gentle caring gave Elijah the strength to decide to live another day. He continued on his journey to do the work God chose him for. And that journey led him to meet the prophet, Elisha, who became his dearest friend and his constant companion, so that he didn’t have to face the dark times alone. We know that depression, left untreated, can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. In a recent survey, young adults reported 4 times more depression since the pandemic began.  A quarter of those have increased their abuse of alcohol and drugs.

At the same time, access to mental health treatment has dropped because of the pandemic. 132 Americans die by suicide every day, and the suicide rate has increased every year for the last 13 years. For veterans, it is 1 and a half times higher than for non-veterans. We still don’t know enough about depression to completely understand it. We know there is no cure, although there are treatments.

But there are things we can do when someone that we love is in the throes of it.  And the most important one is to be the friend, the companion that they need so they don’t have to face the darkness alone. Pastor and author John Pavlovitz, who suffers from depression, shares some of what he was feeling on a day that he came very close to taking his own life. He said, “Depression brings a heavy and hovering despair. After months of a slow and steady slide into a now lingering sadness, all my exhausted mind could process was, I’m done. It didn’t matter that the objective evidence of my lifesaid that I should be happy. That I had much to be grateful for, to live for. None of that registered in the moment. I somehow stepped back that day. I had just enough of my reserves of energy, to realize that I needed to stay. I needed to keep going. Then I let a few people into the hell I was walking through so that I wasn’t walking it alone. I try to hide my depression, because I feel like a burden. There are likely people around you who you love dearly who are also hiding it. Do your best to see them and to step into their lives and let them know that they matter and that you want them to stay.”

That is something we can do for those we love.  And maybe, hopefully, it will be enough to give them the energy to keep going a little longer, so that we can gather resources to help them find the treatment that they need.

New Vision and Progressive Christianity

 New Vision is a Progressive church. That doesn’t mean that you must be progressive to be a member here. It mainly means that your pastor an...