Sermon, Sunday, October 11, 2015
I want to begin by welcoming Muslim friends from Turkey who are with us this morning. Some two weeks ago I was invited by these friends to celebrate the Day of Sacrifice which remembers the willingness of Ibrahim/Abraham and Ishmael to sacrifice their whole selves to God. I did know prior to the luncheon that in Muslim tradition it was Ishmael who was considered the one taken up to Mt. Moriah rather than Isaac as is our Jewish/Christian tradition.?? In either case I think it long overdue that we parents stop sacrificing our children to any number of our world?s dilemmas that could be solved with diligent acts of love, education, and sharing of resources. Following brief remarks, we ate extremely well and sat and talked at length. It was and always is so delightful to be invited to know more about others around shared religious traditions and phenomenal food. I came away knowing that there is so much I don?t know, and I found the conversations invigorating and challenging and I look forward to learning more from one another.
Obviously, yesterday was a horrible and tragic day in Ankara, Turkey, as explosions during a Peace March killed at least 95 and injured nearly 250 others. I know that I express the deepest sympathy to our guests in the wake of this terrorist activity.
Sadly we are no strangers, ourselves, to tragedy. In fact, we are intimately concerned about the ongoing turmoil in our own society that continues to remind all of us that the peace that passes all understanding continues to elude us.
Here in Bloomington it has been sad, ugly, and embarrassing. We have suffered two more deaths of IU students. A young woman was murdered and a young man was found floating in Lake Griffy and I have not heard the details of his death.?? And, yesterday, we learned of the plane crash taking yet two more of our community?s finest, William and Abbey Gibbons. I know that you extend with me the greatest of sympathies to all the associated families and the many places where their deaths impact our world. We are a small town with huge worldwide connections, and therefore the ability to make a difference through our thoughtful and loving actions.
And then, there is the ugly and embarrassing reality that a fraternity on campus continued to hold hazing events in which some of the most base sexual activities were propagated as normal, ?men will be men? social rites and then passed off as the price of admission to a brotherhood that demeans both women and men.
And, we have had two more shootings on college campuses in which two have died and many are injured, in both Arizona and Texas. Neither event will get listed as a ?mass shooting? because ?only two? have died?rather than the requisite eight deaths, to be so defined.
President Obama visited Oregon at the end of this last week to offer the nation?s condolences to the families of those nine killed, and he was greeted in the streets by hundreds of legally armed and angry civilians protesting his presence. There are huge numbers of people who know there should not be as many guns carried in our society as there are, and still they fear that someone in our government, if not a black president then a woman president, is somehow going to take their guns away from them. If only it were so easy. We are living in the midst of greatest absurdities and their accompanying dangers.
I just wanted to preach a nice little sermon about how giving, about how a financial commitment to First United Church, can and does make our world a safer and saner place. And it does, but it is not as easy to make the case for such a statement in the light of just one week?s terror and losses and stupidity in our midst.
Friday night was our First United Family night. It is an open invitation to our wider Bloomington community to come here and celebrate diverse and fun families. We invite sort-of strangers into our Fellowship Hall and provide a simple dinner and craft activities, along with smiles and open arms. It can be a bit noisy, but all in great fun. No Family night happens without some tears. Someone falls down, somebody else gets tired or separated from a mom or a dad. It is always a delightful evening that includes religious, economic, social and personal diversity as wide as our world is round. It is organized and orchestrated by our Family Life Coordinator, April Hennessey. We hired April for many reasons, but chief among them is her dedication to diversity, and the joy she expresses through her relationships with hundreds and hundreds of her Bloomington acquaintances.
I hear, so do you, folks saying, ?If only we had known sooner that First United existed as such an honest-to-God open, welcoming, and affirming church!? And, they mean that not only with regards to those in the GLBTQ community, but we mean it in regard to the totality of the people in the world.
Now you and I both know that there are a lot of people that I could not get along with. But, I believe in the deepest recesses of my being, right alongside some the ugliest parts of me, are also parts of me that even if you are mean-spirited, cruel, devisive and vindictive, that you still deserve to experience a place that is not that way. I would rather have a congregation that loves a racist toward wholeness rather than acts as if racism does not exist. I would rather have a room full of religious fundamentalists to love than live in a congregation that simply segregates into our own private parties of religious sameness.
I trust that I am not alone when I say, I will never stand idly by while one of my flock gets abused. I am there to stand by you and in front of you and behind you, I?ve got your back. While I will not stand anyone being cruel to those I love, nor will I ever accept cruelty to even our worst enemies. This religious, spiritual reality of seeking to model our lives after Jesus of Nazareth has some most demanding aspects to it.
Was Jesus serious this morning about this rich young man, this powerful and privileged person, needing to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor and then to come follow him? This young dude was perfect in every way. He was probably even good looking. He honored the commandments, every one of them, meticulously.?? And yet, something was wrong. This story is so foundational to our faith history that it is told and repeated in all three of our Gospels. It said to our spiritual ancestors something essential about the Way of Jesus of Nazareth that they wanted to pass forward.
The Gospel writer of Mark has many people come and bow before Jesus asking for healing. It is the primary method. This young man comes to be healed from what? He knows that he is missing the mark with all his perfections, with all his wealth, with all of his right living. He still feels empty on the inside. He does not feel close to God. He is confused because he has lived according to the rules and he has been rewarded with everything, but what ultimately matters?oneness, wholeness with God and the world. His privileges are a barrier. He is part of the 1 percent. Jesus is luring a movement forward?religiously, economically, politically?of the 99 percent.
He does not tell the young person to go and give your money to your parents, to your siblings or your grandparents or even to some worthwhile organization like First United Church. (Infamous church TV evangelists should take note, Jesus does not say, ?Give me your money, I?ll take care of it for you.?) He is told to go and give the money directly to the poor. Jesus knows, every one of us who works the homeless shelters know, there is blessing in coming face to face with the poor. Blessings.?? And once that is done, the young man is to come and follow Jesus where only the wind knows where it is blowing. He is asked to get rid of every security and to place his trust in the way Jesus lives.
There are so many people who follow Jesus so well.
Oseola McCarty (1908?1999) of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was one of those rare individuals who subverted social expectations and disciplined her desires. After dropping out of school in the sixth grade, for the next 78 years she washed and ironed the dirty laundry of white people. She never left the home where she was raised, she never married, never had any children, and never drove. Her TV got one channel, but that didn’t matter because she rarely watched it. Late in life she bought a window air-conditioner, but only used it when guests visited. She always lived alone after her aunt died in 1967.?On July 26, 1995, when she was 87, McCarty gave $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi to endow scholarships for black students. Thirty years earlier, USM didn’t even admit black students.
“I would go to school and come home and iron. I’d put the money away and save it. When I got enough, I went to First Mississippi Bank and put it in. The teller told me it would be best to put it in a savings account. I didn’t know. I just kept on saving.”
After her aunt died in 1967, she made a plan to give away her life savings. She contacted an attorney, then went to her bank. An official laid out ten dimes on a table. He explained that she could indicate how much she wanted to leave to various people by placing the appropriate number of dimes on each of their names that were written on scraps of paper. She gave three “dimes” to her cousin, one to her Friendship Baptist Church, and six to USM.
“I live where I want to live, and I live the way I want to live. I couldn’t drive a car if I had one. I’m too old to go to college. So I planned to do this. I planned it myself,” she told the New York Times.
Oseola McCarty reminds me of what Jesus asks. She followed in the footsteps of Peter, who after hearing Jesus’s words to the rich young ruler said, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you.”
The way of Jesus is tough. But with God everything is possible. Dare we trust in living the way of Jesus? With God everything is possible.