In the aftermath of a divisive election our congregation gathered this morning for the annual occasion of dedicating our financial, time, and talent pledges to the Church and God. This year, we went a step further. We pledged to take solid, progressive, steps toward a more just and generous world. Personally, I pledged to proclaim Love louder than ever in our community and in this world. For me, the first step of that is beginning to share my sermons, devotions, and reflections with a wider audience. I don’t always use a sermon manuscript, but when I do, from now on you will find it here. Beginning with today.
Our Sacred Texts:
Luke 10:25-37– The Parable of The Good Samaritan “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Extra Yarn – by Marc Barnett and Jon Klassen Annabelle finds a magic box of colorful yarn that never seems to run out. It seems the more she shares her knitted sweaters with friends, teachers, dogs, and even a pickup truck, the more yarn she has to give away.
Sermon/November 13, 2016/First Congregational UCC Platteville:
This morning during the offering, members of First Congregational UCC are being asked to make their annual financial pledges along with time and talent commitments to the church. I’m supposed to be preaching today about all the good we do, the needs that exist in our community and the ways we are responding as a congregation. I’m supposed to be making the good case for why you should up your pledge this year – if you are at all able.
So here goes: last year, I pledged and gave $125 a month to our local church. I pledged an additional $125 to other organizations that I support: the universities that educated me, and Family Promise of Grant County to name a few. My salary is public knowledge, you approve it every year at the annual meeting, so you know (or could figure out) that is about 6% of my cash income. On top of paying the student loans that allowed me to be here to today, I feel pretty good about that. This year, I will be upping my pledge to $160 month. Here’s why:
On Tuesday, our nation elected someone new to be the next president of the United States and it became more apparent than ever we live in a divided world. Half of eligible voters have grown so apathetic to American politics that they didn’t bother to show up at the polls. The other half were split – almost down the middle between two of the most controversial political figures of our time – though it should be noted that split happened glaringly along racial lines. Since Tuesday, there has been an outpouring of celebration and relief from one side of the isle, and dumfounded disbelief from the other. You can probably guess which side I was on.
And yet, our scripture for this Stewardship season is a clear call for us to cross the lines that divide us. The Samaritan who found himself face to face with someone from the opposite side of the isle, was moved by compassion and responsibility to love his neighbor, regardless of the fact that it meant crossing a street no one expected him to cross.
I’ve been struck this week by fact that Mr. Trump’s presidency will probably have little effect on my life. Yes, my taxes might go up a bit. But I already have good healthcare. I’m a white, Christian woman in a heterosexual relationship. I don’t have kids in the school system, or even parents on medicare at this point. While I’ve certainly experienced sexism, I’m lucky enough to serve a congregation that values women as leaders and I’ve never been the victim of overtly violent sexual assault. I could probably choose to continue walking down the road, largely untouched by hurt I see and hear being proclaimed around me. Well, I could, if I hadn’t already accepted the call to see those crying out as kin.
After the Brexit vote earlier this year, several Muslim British residents were targeted by folks who no longer saw their presence welcome or valued in British life. But Allies, who wanted to cross the road, make themselves known, started wearing Safety Pins in public to let those who were being targeted know that they would work to provide a safe space for them – that they believed Britain was better with the presence of diversity and that they would work to make that known loud and clear contrary to the public discourse.
Already this week, people of color, LGBTQ folk, immigrants and women have been targeted by the aftermath of our national division. I will not stand for it, and I will wear this pin as a symbol of love, acceptance, justice and safety for those who need it, and a reminder to myself that I have committed to crossing the road. And as a way of holding other straight, white folk responsible to the work we must do.
Here’s the thing: now that we are here, on this side of the election, sitting in these pews, it no longer matters who you voted for: democrat, republican, other or none. There is still darkness and division in the world. But there is also God. There is also God’s love and God’s call to us to share it with reckless abandon in this world.
Over the last few months, the church council, along with several other leaders have been going through a process of discernment, writing, and visioning in hopes of crafting a new Purpose, Mission and Values statement for our community. That is, we’ve been going through the process of nailing down exactly what does matter when we gather here each Sunday morning. The fruits of that work will go to the council this week in the form of a one page document naming who we are, what we do, and the values we hold as a community. I don’t want to share it all now – you will get to see it and offer input soon. But the writing group was able to sum up this community in three short phrases:
“Rooted in God. Reaching out in Love. Embracing All.”
Today, we are this church. Today we are a people bound together by our love for one another and our faith in God. We are a congregation not defined by political ideologies, but instead by our belief that all people are created in the image of God. Today is the day to be bold in love. Today is the day to answer our call that comes clearly through our scripture: to love God and neighbor with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength and all our souls. Today is the day to remember that we belong to God. That we are created for love. That we are a community that stands to say we are not only open to the presence of all people, but we affirm and seek to love all people who find themselves present in our midst.
You see, God’s love is the one thing we’ve got uniting us, and it’s the one thing we’ve got that will never run out. Like Annabelle’s yarn, the more we use it, the more we’ll find. And today we are being called to use it.
So, about those pledges. Here’s why I’m uping mine: I can’t think of a better time to rededicate ourselves the work and worship carried out by a radically inclusive community. I can’t think of a better national atmosphere in which to rededicate our selves to listening to one another and to the voice of a Still Speaking God in our midst. I can’t think of a better place, to come each week finding rest and respite, to rededicate ourselves to the ongoing transformational work of love in this world.
And… Church? this is how we rededicate ourselves to unity. We are united against injustice, against hatered. We are unified, maybe not with our public parties, but certainly with Love, with God, with God’s Love.
And so, I’ll make a suggestion. We’re going to take a few minutes in silence. I’ve given the ushers notecards and pens to be passed out – there should be enough to go around. Today, I challenge us to dedicate not just our financial gifts, or our time and talents, but our whole hearts, our minds, all our strength to the ongoing work of loving this world. In the next moments of silence, would you write down a way you will commit to showing love more fully in this world? Will you write down how you will go and do likewise? As the Good Samaritan went out of his way, making himself vulnerable on behalf of a stranger he recognized as neighbor? And will you offer these commitments of love to God and to our community? Because while financial gifts are appreciated, and oh so necessary to do the work we do, your active presence here is so much more valuable.
So here is my additional pledge to you: because Love really is still stronger than hate, I will commit to wearing this Pin in worship, and I commit to screaming love louder than ever before. For my LGBTQ friends and their growing families. For Black Lives. For forgotten rural communities. For Immigrants. For underserved veterans. For Muslim kin. For Natives. For girls and women, and daughters yet to be known. I will love… fiercely. And regardless of your political affiliation, I’d ask you to join me.
note: I went back and forth several times before I put on my safety pin this morning. Mostly due to this article – and others like it. But I also heard from several friends and colleagues who exist in marginalized communities expressing gratitude to white folk wearing such pins. In the end, I determined that it is important now more than ever for white people to “out” themselves to the process of trying… to say to the world with any voice they have, “I’m not okay with the status quo.” I urged the congregation to think seriously about the responsibility taken on whenever it is worn and to leave it behind if they don’t think they can follow through with the ongoing work of checking one’s privilege. I don’t know if that is the right answer. Maybe I’ll change my mind later. For now, I’m just trying to listen.