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“UNITY with Those People”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 62:5-12
Jonah 3:1-5, 10

 

Psalm 62:5-12

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us

Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work.

 

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

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As our nation has been reeling in the events of this presidential transition of power, our scripture from Jonah speaks more poignantly than ever.

 

Who are THOSE PEOPLE to you?

Who are the ones you prefer avoid, as Jonah preferred avoid Ninevah?

Who are those you struggle to understand?

…to respect?

 

Native American wisdom teaches us that all creation is family.  We are all related.  We are one family.
Jesus Christ earnestly prayed, just before his death, that we might be one as Christ is one with the Father.  THIS is how folks will know we are Christ’s disciples:

UNITY
Unity. 

 

Are we, as a nation, unified?

Do we claim and love one another,

As Christ has claimed and loved us…while instructing us to sin no more?

We seem sooner bent on surgically removing one another from among the living; removing folks from power; removing folks the body of Christ; removing others from this our own family of relations, kin as we are alike made by the hands of God…

Do we not? 

 

And when I say “we” I do not refer to you, individually.  I refer to us all, collectively.
For as individual as we want to believe we are, we are truly ALL CONNECTED, as so we are made to be.  “No man is an island” as John Donne famously wrote.  In fact, if we were each to be islands of autonomy, there’d be no story of Adam needing Eve, Moses wouldn’t have needed the help of Aaron, and you could chuck most of the New Testament Epistles – which spend a great deal of time addressing our interpersonal relationships.

It is this well-meaning but misguided individualism that has kept us so far from truth, time after time.

 

In self-defense, time after time, we claim not be to racists.
In self-defense, time after time, we claim not to be coercive or partial.
And yet, this defensive posture has blinded us all.  Has it not?
For in our eagerness to justify and excuse ourselves, we fail to see the larger arc of history, of the systems set up to protect some and not others, of the economic incentives and opportunities we have benefited from while others have been denied, simply because of the color of their skin…

And this is our house.  It matters not who nailed the board or shuttered the windows.  We live in this house, our nation.  It’s history is our reality.  We are responsible.

If we view confession as merely an individual, spiritual sport, we miss far too much.  We miss the big picture.  We miss the opportunity to pray with and for one another and the whole.  The WHOLE.  We confess together because we affect one another.  We confess together because we need one another.  We confess together because we have sinned together.  And our sins can be anything from action to inaction, from speaking to remaining silent.  We affect one another.  We struggle with these things collectively.  And so we confess together.

 

And this business of unity is not the responsibility of THOSE PEOPLE.
It is not merely the responsibility of our elected leaders.
It is not torn down only by those on the edges, in the extremes.
WE are responsible for unity.
ALL of us.

For as I have learned from our native brother, Edgar Villanueva, a healing circle is not complete until everyone is present. 

 

Have you heard that in some native tribes, when a member does something bad, they are brought into the circle, and for two days strait, everyone in the village  aloud every speaks good things about that person.  Two whole days.  Wow.

They were reminding that one who they are,
…beyond
what they’d done.

Edgar writes of a native mentor who told him the story of packing up to leave a community center for the night, when the elder at a table of youth said, “The problem was not the white man coming to America.”

The mentor was struck by this and quickly set down her things.  She had to.  This elder had been alive through so much atrocity.  How could HE say the problem wasn’t the white man coming to America?  Then the elder went on to say, “the problem was, they forgot their lessons.”

They forgot their lessons.

Not demonizing those who had demonized him.
Not returning terror for terror.
Not returning pain for violence.

This elder remembered that we are all one family,
We are all related. 

And he called attention to action, rather than person.
It wasn’t that the white men shouldn’t have come or shouldn’t exist.
It was WHAT THEY DID that mattered.
And what they did betrayed that they did not remember that we are all one family,
All kin,
All made by the hands of one God.

 

We can learn from these, our black and brown brothers and sisters.  They have endured things that so many of us of lighter skin have been sheltered from.

This elder was living the unity Christ prayed for his disciples.  

 Will we? 

 

Will we turn toward THOSE PEOPLE – as Jonah turned toward the people of Ninevah – speaking truth in love?
Will we go where we do not wish to go – as Christ went faithfully to the cross, after asking God that that cup might pass from him?

I am not proposing that we go and intentionally make martyrs of ourselves.
Rather, I am proposing, that we listen for God, as Samuel listened when God spoke to him in the early morning of his temple rest.

And when we hear God’s still small voice, instructing us where to go,
May we respond, not as Jonah did the first time – fleeing as fast as loose as we can in the other direction till he found himself in the belly of a whale with no other options but…well, God –
But rather as Jonah did the second time – obeying the Word of the Lord,
And watching as God redeems even those we have formerly despised. 

 

No one is too far from God’s reach.
And so it is that no one should be too far from ours.
For we are Christ’s body on earth,
Christ’s hands for serving,
Christ’s heart for loving,
Christ’s mind for teaching,
Christ’s arms for embracing.

 

 

 

PRAYERS

 

Leslie Weatherhead, England (1883-1975)

O suffering Christ, lay your hand in healing power upon those who feel they can bear no more, until their hearts are hushed and quieted, knowing that round about them and underneath them are the Everlasting Arms.

Amen.

 

Miriam Therese Winter

Life, spilling over the hills of our grief and filling the wells in our souls and our senses, come, lift us up into lighthearted laughter, so all the weight of our awareness does not overwhelm us.  Life of Our World, be life – in and through us, now and forever.

Amen

 

Kathleen Fischer

May you face life without illusion, but with gratitude.
Though you have known tragedy, may you nonetheless cherish laughter.
May you have an ever clearer sense of what is important and what is not.
May your encounters with evil heighten your appreciation of what is good.
May you learn to meet death in a way that leads you to celebrate life.

“Open, Empty, Humble”

Katherine Todd
John 9:24-41
Luke 1:26-38

John 9:24-41

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

 

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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For nothing will be impossible with God.

The angel Gabriel comes to Mary, and tells her crazy, wonderful, wild, and impossible things.  Few encounters are so entirely world-altering as this news would be to Mary’s entire life.  She will give birth to a child, who will be great and will reign on the throne of David…forever.

None of this message could be true.

Could it?

She, a virgin, pregnant?  Giving birth?
The child, with God – quite literally – as his father??
This child a King?
…to reign on the throne of Israel?
…forever??

Mary is being asked to believe in impossible things.
Mary is being asked to trust, beyond the boundaries of her mind and all her life experience.

 

What we view as possible is changing all the time.

I remember thinking as a child that the next invention would be a phone where you can see people as you speak.  And voila!  We have that and soooo much more!

Had you told the apostle Paul that you could communicate with peoples on the other side of the world, in minutes, or that you could go there in a day, he would have thought you mad.  It was impossible.

Flying was impossible…until it wasn’t.
Talking across miles was impossible…until it wasn’t.
Broadcasting your video to the world was impossible…until it wasn’t.
Making a video was impossible……..until it wasn’t.

Who are WE to say what IS and ISN’T possible?!?

 

All we have are the boundaries of our own experience, the limits of our understanding, the borders of our imagination and vision.  Thus, every time we pass judgement, we are incorrect.  We simply cannot perceive all that is or can be.

So when GOD says something, we do well to listen. 
When GOD guides our steps, we do well to follow.
When God makes a promise,
speaks a word,
makes a move,
you can believe it.  You can count on it.  You can build your house on it; it is solid.

 

The difficulty then is in the hearing.  Do we believe God still speaks at all?  If so, do we believe we have the capacity to hear God?  And if we hear God, who might rightly interpret what we hear?

So many questions – all understandable, all legit.

And yet Mary, with the faith of a child, accepts this word of Gabriel as from God. 
Mary, with the faith of a child, believes what she cannot see or understand.
Mary, with the faith of a child, opens herself – her mind, her heart, her body, and her entire life – to the will of God.

 

Can you imagine?

Quite often it is precisely because we’re so grown up that we cannot believe.
Most often, we grow to trust our own experiences more.
We learn things and therefore think we see and understand.
And what does scripture say about those who think they can see?  That they in fact are blind.  But about those who know they are blind, they can see!

Whatever our training and education,
Whatever our degrees and certifications,
Whatever our history and experience,
Whatever our vision and foresight,
WE cannot grasp the Truth.  We cannot capture the Way.  We cannot contain Life.

We
do not have
the capacity
to
behold
God. 

 

Children know this.
They are open.
They are curious.
They are humble.

Mary knew this
as she suspended her own understanding and imagination and experience
in order to make room for GOD. 

And so it is that Mary makes room for Christ. 

 

It isn’t about her decorating a baby room, buying baby insurance, diapers, or formula.
She makes room for Christ
by humbling herself.

In humbling herself, Mary makes room for the possibility of Christ. 

 

It can be tempting to compare ourselves to one another and then think better of ourselves when we “come out on top.”  It can be easy to look at the evening news and think, “I’m glad I’m not a person like THAT.”  We are always better at something, relative to someone else.

And this can woo us into an inflated sense of ego.

We might look around us in church and think, “I come more often than so & so” or “If only so & so would do things my way” or “wow, look at that sin!”  But in this case too, we are seduced into thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.

Any measurements we take of ourselves should be relative to God.
Do we know what God knows?
Have we experienced what God has experienced?
Who among us has made what God has made?
Who among us sees what God can see?

And if we come out lacking, we have every reason to humble ourselves, to lift the veils of our egos, and make ourselves open like an empty glass.

Are we empty, like a dry and ready sponge, to make room for Christ?
Are we open, like a covid-time social calendar, to make room for Christ?
Are we ready, like well-aged wine, having soaked ourselves in the yeast that is Christ?

Do we accept the twists and turns, as the ocean accepts all rivers?
Do we hunger, like a baby bird waiting for its mother?
Do we trust, like a child – gleefully squealing as his father throws him high into the air, begging him to do it “Again!”

 

May we be as Mary – open, accepting, obedient, humble –
for this is how we ready ourselves.
In acknowledging that we cannot see,
God gives us eyes to see,
…eyes
to BEhold
and BEheld
by Jesus Christ, Emmanuel!

 

In these words of Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) let us quiet our hearts and minds, praying together.

I keep projecting my present condition onto the future.  If I feel dark, the future looks dark; if I feel bright, the future looks bright.  But who am I to know what life will be like for me tomorrow, next week, next year, or ten years from now?  Even more, who am I to know who you will be for me in the year ahead?  O Lord, I will not bind you with my own limited and limiting ideas and feelings.  You can do so many things with me, things that might seem totally impossible to me.  I want at least to remain open to the free movement of your Spirit in my life. …O Lord, let me remain free to let you come whenever and however you desire.  Amen.

 

 

PRAYERS                                                         [Hildegard of Bingen, Germany (1098-1179)]

Holy Spirit – giving life to all life, moving all creatures, root of all things, washing them clean, wiping out their mistakes, healing their wounds – you are our true life:  luminous, wonderful, awaking the heart from its ancient sleep.

[George Appleton, England (1902-1993)]

Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the deeps of my being.  Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts.  Take me down to the spring of life and tell me my nature and my name.  Give me freedom to grow, so that I may become that self, the seed of which you planted in me at my making.  Out of the deeps I cry to you, O God.