Friday, October 30, 2020

All Saints Day - Sermon for Week Ended October 31, 2020

Sermon: 

All Saints Day is November 1st, and All Souls Day begins November 1st and ends November 2nd .

The difference between them only matters if you are Catholic, so today, we celebrate and honor all those who have gone before us, whom the Bible calls “so great a cloud of witnesses.” The influence of those who have come before us is, of course, a major theme of the Bible. The ancestors introduced in Genesis and Exodus continue to be remembered and honored throughout. Abraham and Sarah. Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob and Joseph. Moses and Miriam.

The covenant God makes with the people of Israel extends to their descendants. As Yahweh said to Abraham, “In your seed, the families of the earth shall be blessed. There is a familiar passage in Deuteronomy, used in the Passover Seder, hat says, in part, “A wandering Aramean was my father. He went down to Egypt and sojourned there. And God took us out of Egypt and  brought us to this place, gave us this land flowing with milk and honey, so here I am. I’ve brought the first fruits of what I have grown on this ground you gave me, O God.” These verses are a reminder to the people to honor what their ancestors experienced, and to look to them as examples of faithful living. All Saints and All Souls Day are personal to each of us, as we have all lost loved ones, whose presence in our lives meant more than we can even say. And whom we miss more than we can sometimes bear. They are still with us though, in spirit, in our hearts.

And through what we have inherited from them. I see my mother in the mirror more and more as I get older. And they are with us through our memories of them. In the tradition of Day of the Dead, our memories are what keep our ancestors from fading away. As long as we remember them, they will be with us. As a teenager and young adult, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, whom we called Bonky.  She loved to fish, in her high heels and white gloves with the fingertips cut out so she could bait the hook. She needed quite a bit of assistance with things like getting her line out of the trees after a particularly wild cast, and a general looking after, because she was frail. So we spent many days together on the creek bank. She told me stories about growing up, life on the farm, the untimely death of her own young daughter and the little pink tombstone they chose for her. She told me stories about fun times with siblings and cousins. And she and I made memories of our own. One time, we were fishing and talking and we heard a loud crack, looked up, and saw a tree falling in our direction. She was a tiny woman, so I picked her up and ran with her until we were out of the way. We watched it fall, then we laughed until we cried. That’s one of my greatest memories. I think we sometimes forget that our parents and grandparents were so much more than our parents and grandparents. I recently discovered a wonderfully sweet series on Netflix called Derek, about patients and caretakers in an elder care home. The caretakers only know the patients for the few years they are there, but whenever someone dies, the screen becomes a scrapbook of their whole lives, pictures of them as children playing, young men and women being silly and enjoying life. Their wedding day. We get to see the whole sum of who they were.  

Just as our ancestors have left a legacy, we will one day leave ours. Will it be a legacy of courage and strength and kindness and mercy? Will they remember us as the ones who loved fiercely and welcomed radically? Who tended to the needs of their neighbors?  Who reached out to the lost and the lonely and brought them comfort and companionship?  Will they remember us as those who did all that we could to make a better world for them? At one of my former churches, we sang a song on All Saints Day called, May all who come behind us find us Faithful, which I think expresses beautifully what we have gained from those who have gone on before us, and what we hope to leave to the ones who come behind us. I’ll close with the lyrics.

“We’re pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road. And those who’ve gone before us light the way. Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary, their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace. May all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them every day. After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone. And our children sift through all we’ve left behind. May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover.  Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.


Litany Of The Saints: 

Lyle EveRette Olson and Janet Edith Spalding           Stay with us.

George and Isabel Hammel and Dennis Feest           Stay with us.

Ray and June and Rebecca Quint                               Stay with us.

Susan Ryan and Dave Shaver                                     Stay with us.

Peg Mansfield and Ethan Douglass Fredericks          Stay with us.

Pat Thompson and Audrey Carter Walker                 Stay with us.

Kathy Ross and Glenn Sheiderer                                Stay with us.

Margaret, Donald, and Douglas Wiest                       Stay with us.

Palmyra and Timothy King                                         Stay with us.

Ida and Dan Nystrand                                                Stay with us.

Sheila and Donna and Cheryl                                     Stay with us.  

Nancy Brown and Phil Scanland                                Stay with us.

Sally Winston and Kathy Brooks                                Stay with us.

Brenda’s mom and Evi’s mom                                    Stay with us.

Debbie’s mom and Sarah’s mother in law                 Stay with us.

Lynne Lindsay’s friend in Italy                                    Stay with us.

Leslie’s husband and Becky’s husband                      Stay with us.

All you holy people                                                     Stay with us.


Friday, October 23, 2020

Caste 2 - Sermon for week ending October 24, 2020


Reading 

From Caste: The Origin of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

When people have lived with assumptions long enough, passed down through the generations as incontrovertible fact, they are as accepted as the truths of physics. They are as true and as unremarkable as the air that we breathe. In a caste system, the abiding faith in the entitlement of birth becomes enmeshed in the minds of the dominant caste, so that if a lower caste person rises, the response by the dominant caste person is to perceive a threat to their existence, a heightened sense of unease, of displacement, of fear for their very survival. 

Sermon

I’m devoting a second week to this book, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. If you are reading it and want to delve more deeply, since it is an Oprah Book Club pick, there are lots of good resources online, including a podcast, with Oprah and the author, Isabel Wilkerson talking about the book with a panel of folks from different places in the caste hierarchy. And filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who brought us When they See Us, 13th, and Selma is making it into a film for Netflix. There is so much in this book that is relevant to everything we have been talking about this summer and fall. The topic of Chapter 11, for example, is being played out these very days.  It is called “Dominant group Status Threat,” and it is at the root of so much of the hatred and vitriol coming from white people aimed at black people. Wilkerson notes in the chapter that working class white people need the demarcation of caste the most because they have relied on the illusion, perpetuated in the Jim Crowe South, that no matter what downward social mobility they experienced, they would never be on the bottom. They would always be above black people. She quotes historian David Roediger, who said about this group,“They might lose everything, but not their whiteness. Psychologically, this gave them a since of safety.” But they saw things beginning to change with the Civil Rights movement, which opened up the job market to African Americans. People that they had viewed as inherently inferior were now in the mainstream, which left them with the fear that their white skin might be losing the value it had had in the past. Black people became a threat to their place in the hierarchy. During the 8 years of an African American president, these working class white people began to feel more and more threatened, and the fear that their standing was losing ground became worse. By 2016, they were proclaiming that they were more discriminated against than black people, who were taking their jobs away from them. These fears and resentments made them receptive to the racist and xenophobic messages of the white supremacy movement. Attaching themselves to politicians who voiced white supremacist views, they were even willing to vote against their own interests, healthcare and the government programs they were benefitting from, because of their greater need to maintain their status as members of the dominant caste. Wilkerson says there is no greater motivator than the belief that undeserving groups are getting ahead while your group is left behind. A recent PRRI survey revealed that 65% of white working-class Americans believe that American culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950’s. They report feeling like strangers in their own country, and they are doing whatever they have to do to protect the caste hierarchy. We are seeing this in action every day, across our country, our state, and our town. White people mock the murders of black people by police, and celebrate when the police aren’t held accountable. They vilify the Black Lives Matter movement, and venerate the armed white supremacists who show up at protests and shoot unarmed black Americans at will. Those in the dominant caste who fear their demise have always reacted by seeking to destroy those in subordinate castes. It’s the cause of most wars. Someone fears that someone else might take away what they believe is rightfully theirs. So they eliminate them to maintain their superiority. We see it in the church, as we learned more about from the book White Too Long .And we see it throughout the Bible, in the persecution of the Jews, by higher castes, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians. It’s in all the prophetic books and the Psalms. It’s in the gospels, from the Romans, and throughout the New Testament. The caste system, the belief that it is ordained by God and necessary for society that certain groups are below others has been around for so long, and is so deeply ingrained in the human mind that it seems almost impossible to be free from it. But it isn’t impossible. What humans built, humans can dismantle. In the last paragraph of the book, Wilkerson gives us a view of what our world could be if we were to free ourselves from the illusion of caste. She says, “In a world without caste, instead of a false swagger over our own tribe or family or ascribed community, we would look upon all humanity with wonderment, astonished at what our species is capable of and grateful to be alive to experience it. In a world without caste, being male or female, light or dark, immigrant or native-born would have no bearing on what anyone was perceived as capable of. We would recognize that we are in need of one another more than we have been led to believe. A world without caste would set everyone free.” May we continue to do all that we can to help dismantle this system, this mindset, that keeps us so separated from one another and replace it with one that brings us together.

 

 



Friday, October 16, 2020

Caste - Sermon for Week Ending October 17, 2020


Readings:

From Caste: The Origins of our Discontents

Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy. It is the warm grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things. Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, and keep others beneath you.

From Matthew 15: 21-28.

Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me Lord! My daughter is being tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer at all, and the disciples came and urged him saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered, “Great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


Sermon: 

I have just finished this very interesting book, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson. She defines caste as “an artificial ranking of human value that uses rigid boundaries to keep the ranked groups apart and in their assigned places.” She expands on that definition throughout the book, as we heard in our reading. And she looks at 3 different caste systems: India, Nazi Germany, and America, saying that, in India, the Dalits were the untouchables. In Nazi Germany, it was the Jews. And in the United States, it is black people.

Caste, she says, is the underlying structure of race and class. Someone of any race can rise in class through hard work and ingenuity, but caste is fixed at birth, and those who are at the bottom will remain at the bottom. She quotes NBA star LeBron James, who says, “No matter how great you become in life, no matter how wealthy you become, how people worship you or what you do, if you are an African-American man or an African-American woman, you will always be that.” Her research led her to identify the pillars of belief that caste rests on, like divine will and heredity. One of the strangest ones to me is the belief in the purity of the dominant caste and the fear of pollution from the castes beneath it, which is where ‘untouchable’ originated. This belief has been on display here in the U.S throughout history,  in the supposed sanctity of water. Even as late as the 1970’s when I was a teenager, African-Americans were banned from white beaches, lakes, and pools, lest they pollute them.

And the white dominant caste went to great lengths to enforce the bans. When St. Louis attempted to open their public pools to black people, white mobs chased, kicked, and beat any black person they saw coming to the pool, including children on bicycles. In Cincinnati, whites threw nails and broken glass into the water. When a civil rights activist attempted to integrate a public pool by diving in and swimming a lap, the pool was drained and filled with fresh water. White people would not go into water that had touched black skin. On the PBS show, Tell Me More, lawyer and Justice advocate Bryan Stevenson recently shared a personal experience about a pool that has stayed with him his whole life. When he was a kid, their family was traveling from their home in Delaware to South Carolina, and they spent the first night in a hotel. When they saw the pool, he and his sister couldn’t wait to get in. They stood at the edge.

He held her, and they jumped in, and it was glorious. Then he noticed that all the white parents “were going crazy,” shouting to their children, “get out of the pool, get out of the pool,” and children were scrambling to get out. Finally there was one little boy left. His father came and grabbed him by the arm and yanked him out. Bryan asked the man, “What’s wrong?” And he said, “You are wrong, followed by a racial epithet.” Stevenson said that black people have so many of these memories that they have to find a way to navigate them so they can stay healthy. He said, when they were teens, he and his sister told a different version of this story to their friends, that she stood on the side and said, “All white people out. I’m coming in.” They all knew it wasn’t true, but it was a way to carry the story, he said, so they could hold onto their humanity. How did humans get to the place of believing that they could be polluted by other humans? Wilkerson says that the caste system was created and is maintained by continually persuading a majority of people that it is ordained by God for certain people to be lower than others, some even subhuman. I don’t think those white children in the pool believed that they would be polluted by the black children. But their parents did. And soon enough, they would too. Caste is a state of mind that holds everyone captive. Even Jesus wasn’t immune.  In our gospel reading, Jesus, who was of higher rank than the Canaanite woman, first ignored her plea to heal her daughter, then said he didn’t heal her kind, and drove the point home by calling her a derogatory name. It took her prodding to get him to take a look at what he is doing and ask himself why? To take off his cultural blinders and awaken to the tyranny of the caste system.

Jesus was open to being awakened. And he made a choice to see past artificial boundaries. He and the Canaanite woman reached across caste and made a connection as two humans. We can do that too. We must do it if we want a world of justice and equality. But it will take work. It will take rejecting the myth that we always took for truth. For those of us in the dominate caste, it will take owning our responsibility for helping to maintain the system which benefits us to the detriment of others. And it will take radical empathy, to listen to and work to understand other folks’ lived experience. We can change our mindsets so that we who in the dominant caste can choose not to dominate. And we who are in a subordinate caste can resist the box others try to force on us. We can become invested in the well-being of all our fellow humans, and join together to help solve the problems of our world.

 


Friday, October 9, 2020

Blessing of the Animals - Worship service for week ending October 10, 2020


Readings: 

St. Francis of Assisi born into a wealthy family, but he renounced his wealth and devoted his life to God. An Italian Catholic friar, mystic, and preacher, he founded the Men’s Franciscan order and the Women’s Order of St. Clare. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in Christian history. He is remembered for his generosity to the poor, caring for the sick, and his love and reverence for nature and animals. Francis is known as the patron saint of animals, birds, and the environment.  

 

“Luke,” a poem by Mary Oliver

I had a dog who loved flowers.
    Briskly she went through the fields,

yet paused for the honeysuckle
    or the rose,
        her dark head and her wet nose
  touching  the face of every one

with its petals  of silk,
    with its fragrance

  rising into the air
  where the bees,
    their bodies
        heavy with pollen,

hovered—
  and easily
     she adored every blossom,

not in the serious, careful way
    that we choose this blossom or that blossom—

the way we praise or don’t praise—
  the way we love or don’t love—
        but the way we long to be—

  that happy
    in the heaven of earth—
        that wild, that loving.

 

 

A prayer for Animal friends, By Kim Harvie

Great Spirit of life, 
We pray today for our animal friends, 
Grateful for their companionship and devotion. 
By our kindness to them, 
May we be worthy of their love. 

We pray also for pets who are gone from us, 
But who brighten our days 
And who comforted us by night. 

We pray for animals unknown to us 
Who are suffering, 
For many that are hunted or deserted or tortured. 
We ask for them pity and mercy. 
And for those who handle them 
We ask a heart of compassion, gentle hands, and kind words. 

Help us to be true friends to the animals 
And love them and keep them and bless them 
All the days of our lives. Amen.

 

Blessing: 

As the patron saint of the environment, St. Francis would be disappointed in how we humans have been treating it. Global destruction of forests, oceans filled with plastic, carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels that melts our icecaps, causing sea levels to rise, and the destruction of habitats and ecosystems. As the patron saint of animals, he would be disappointed in how we treat them. There are over 70 million homeless pets in the United States. Only around 7 million dogs and cats enter shelters. And almost half of those are euthanized. We have to do better.

Lobby for no-kill shelters and for spay and neuter programs, educate people that pet ownership is for life, and continue to donate money and food and supplies to organizations that are doing what they can to help. Thank you for all that you do.

 

Today we honor those pets who loved us their whole lives but are no longer with us, especially Ming, Smudge, Watson, and Penny. And we bless those that are still here with us: Zeke, Rosie June, Chartwell, Amigo, Poncho, Alfa, Oliver, Malcom, Charlie, Drifter, Romeo, Elvis, Tab, Tango, Lizzie, Biscuit, Sir Hugo, Hansel, Bella, Polson, Bear, Oreo, Rose, TJ, Esme, Violet, Little Grey, Moses, Sophie, Jitters, Honey, Bucky, Wiz, Blu, Abby, Tux, Tiara, Trevor, Poco, KJ, Riley, Rusty, Toby, Jack, Duffy, Maggie May, Cleo, and Sox. To all of you wonderful pets, thank you for your unconditional love, for your comfort when we need it most, for teaching us patience and relieving our stress, and for helping us see the world through your eyes and your spirit of adventure and wonder. May you have a long, healthy life, filled with love and happiness and tasty treats. May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and give you peace all your days.  Amen.


Friday, October 2, 2020

For Such A Time As This - Sermon for Week Ending October 3, 2020

Reading: 

Our reading is from Chapter 2 of the book of Esther. Esther becomes the new queen.

After Queen Vashti was dethroned, the king’s attendants said to him, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king, and let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This pleased the king, and he did so. There was a Jew whose name was Mordecai, who had brought up Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother.  The girl was fair and beautiful, and she was taken into the king’s palace with the other girls. The turn came for each girl to go to King Ahasuerus. The king loved Esther more than all the other women. Of all the virgins, she won his favor and devotion, so that he sat the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Esther did not reveal her kindred or her people.


Sermon: 

“For just such a time as this” is one of my favorite lines in the Bible. It comes from the book of Esther, a book that many fundamentalists believe should not have even been included in the Bible, as it has no mention of God. In Judaism, though, the book of Esther is the basis for the Festival of Purim, celebrating the deliverance of Jews in the diaspora, in this case, Persia.

Although Esther is the main character in the story, most folks favorite is Queen Vashti, a hero to feminists everywhere, because when her husband, King Ahasuerus, was giving a banquet for the nobles of the Persian provinces, and she was holding one for the wives, he demanded that she come to his banquet so that he could show off her physical beauty to the men. And she refused. Humiliated, the King dethroned her and made a degree throughout the land that the husband is the master of the house. After that, a haram of beautiful women was gathered so that the King could choose his next queen. And he chose Esther, who, as we heard in the reading, was not Persian, but Jewish. Her cousin Mordecai warned her not to reveal that fact to the king or anyone else, because the Jews were persecuted in Persia. But when the king’s top official, who hated Mordecai because he ‘didn’t know his place, convinced the king that all the Jews in the Kingdom should be killed, young and old, women and children, Mordecai went to Esther to ask her to plead for her people before the king. Ever since Vashti’s offense, anyone, including the queen, could be put to death for even entering the King’s inner court. And even if she did get in, and stay alive, the king would know the truth she had been hiding, that she was a member of the group of people he had just ordered killed. Mordecai convinced her to do it anyway by appealing to her big heart and to her responsibility as a person of privilege, saying, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Esther was privileged among her people because she was the queen of Persia. And she got that position by “passing” for Persian.  Passing is as old as human civilization itself.  In order to have more opportunities in a society ruled by white supremacy, or in some cases just to stay alive, light-skinned African Americans have passed for white. Jews in Nazi Germany bleached their hair and passed. Gay people pass all the time. Mordecai asked Esther to use the privilege she had gained by passing to save the lives of her people who couldn’t, including him. It is a profound question that he asked her to consider: “Who knows? Perhaps you are here in this place for just such a time as this.” Maybe God put you here. Maybe fate. Maybe it was just a random confluence of events. But here, you are. And here, you have the opportunity to do something great for your people. You are the only one who can. It is a question that we can ask ourselves. Are we in a place or a position that we haven’t been in before to do something for someone else? Something that will make a real difference?  Are we prepared to do it now, where we weren’t before? Is this a time where we can use our privilege to help our fellow humans who don’t have it? How important are they to us?  Are they worth our making sacrifices for? John Lewis was born into a family of sharecroppers. When his life-long commitment to fighting discrimination gave him privilege, gave him a voice that people listened to, he used it to lift up others. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the daughter of immigrants and grew up in Flatbush. When her life-long commitment to fighting discrimination gave her privilege, gave her a voice that people listened to, she used it to lift up others. Jimmy Carter has said more than once that he believes that he won the presidency so that he could get to know leaders around the world and make the connections that allowed him to accomplish everything that the Carter Center, created after his presidency has done and continues to do, to save and improve the lives of people all over the world. Like Esther, this might be our crucible moment. Being stuck at home during Covid is a good time to think about what this question might mean for us, personally and as a church.  What are we able to do now that we might not have had the finances or the direction or the information to do before?

How have events in our world in the last few months ignited a new spark in us to do something to contribute, to make a difference? Are we in this particular place for just such a time as this?

What new vision can we help to make a reality? Let’s think about it.







Jesus Walks on Water - Sermon for week ending May 8, 2021

Gospel Reading   John 6: 16-21 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to...