We are in the midst of a 5-week sermon series on “who we are” as a faith community. What is God’s Love in Action in our midst today? Publically we proclaim this loud and clear on our website, on a page entitled “a bit of who we are.” On that page are 5 paragraphs, which we are taking time savor, a paragraph at a time, over 5 weeks.
This week’s reflection begins with the heading “nurturing spirituality.” Listen to what we proclaim on our website: “We are a community that tries to take the spiritual lives of people seriously. Our Sunday worship strives to create a place where people can experience a connection to God as well as to each other. We look for opportunities to help people individually deepen their connection to God and to tap the spiritual resources they have within them. All of this fosters our growing together in Christ.”
I stand before you today with a pastoral confession. Now, before I tell you what it is, know that my confession doesn’t stem from anything anyone here did, or didn’t do (and that this story ends with good news). But by the middle of the week, I was not feeling “it” – that spiritual “woo hoo.” I do not need to go into detail about what threw me into a funk (but I will note that it has to do with a certain nationally televised event earlier in the week—and I am NOT referring to the Super Bowl…), but I was definitely in a funk by the middle of the week as I reflected on the focus word “Renew” and reread the next header of “who we are.”
What does “renew” mean, when an apocalyptic ground scorching is going on all around? Politics aside, in all of the divisions, all of the negative rhetoric, all of the people… all of the children… hurt, imprisoned, tossed aside, by multiple, rigid systemic injustices, how do we nurture spirituality?
Part of my personal faith journey is a passion for “contemplative advocacy,” or “healing justice.” I define this as purposeful pausing and engagement with God and scripture that inform for me the community actions to which Jesus calls on me to respond. To show up. Speak up. For me, contemplation and action, pausing and response, are important for remaining spiritually healthy, especially in times that challenge our understanding of who we are as followers of Jesus. Thus, is it particularly important to me to nurture my own spirituality, and that of this community.
There I was. In a funk. Feeling pulled, tattered, and torn. I wanted to get out on the streets and do something… to say something… yet there was also an overwhelming feeling that the world is too out of control. What impact would anything that I could do, or say, make in the multiple layers of disfunction?
The words from the psalm echoed in my mind: “If I walk into the thick of my sorrow, you keep me alive- against the wrath of my fears.” Where was God in the thick of my discomfort?
I turned to the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, a black theologian who was a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. In his book, Meditations of the Heart, first published in 1953, and read:
“During these turbulent times we must remind ourselves repeatedly that life goes on. This we are apt to forget. The wisdom of life transcends our wisdoms; the purpose of life outlasts our purposes… The mass attack of disillusion and despair, distilled out of the collapse of hope, has so invaded our thoughts that what we know to be true and valid seems unreal…
Let us not be deceived. It is just as important as ever to attend to the little graces by which the dignity of our lives is maintained and sustained… There is no need to fear evil. There is every need to understand what it does, how it operates in the world, what it draws upon to sustain itself. We must not shrink from the knowledge of the evilness of evil… (the) target of evil is to corrupt the spirit of (people) and to give (our) soul the contagion of inner disintegration… Therefore the evil in the world around us must not be allowed to move from without to within. This would be to be overcome by evil. To drink in the beauty that is within reach, to clothe one’s life with simple deeds of kindness, to keep alive a sensitiveness to the movement of the spirit of God in the quietness of the human heart and in the workings of the human mind—this is always the ultimate answer to (evil).”
Then I looked at my schedule for the rest of the week. Suddenly, I saw others with whom we as a church partner: The Wisconsin Council of Churches, Wisconsin Faith Voice for Justice, Worker Justice Wisconsin, and We are Many United Against Hate. I popped onto FaceBook and saw this:
And felt this:
I took a look at the prayers that this community shared online:
And felt this:
Then… I got it. Little graces. The blessing of this community, in all of its ever-widening circles. John Dorhauer, who is the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, encourages congregations to begin every meeting with “one simple question: since last we met, how has this church blessed you. It is a way (for us) to reclaim (our) missional grounding as a people of blessing. It is a way of reminding (ourselves) that those who experience blessing can be a blessing to another.” Our connection to God as well as to each other.
So I offer you this question: Since last we met, how has this church blessed you?
Pastor Kris provided an opportunity for those gathered in worship to respond. A sampling of their responses is posted below:
- “During last week’s record cold, when I mentioned that people at the Beacon in Madison needed warm winter clothes, people from Memorial UCC brought in so many items, it filled a large box!”
- “Following J’s cancer diagnosis, we have received so much support – meals, well wishes, and cards – from people at church.”
- “Last Monday night was my first experience participating in the dinner at Luke House. I did not anticipate what a powerful experience that would be for me.”
Little graces. O God, if I walk into the thick of my sorrow, you keep me alive- against the wrath of my fears. In this place, this community, I am renewed.
We are a community that takes the spiritual lives of people seriously. Not only in worship, but beyond, we look to develop the faith tools that we each need to navigate our lives in times of brokenness. Despair. Loss. Brokenness. Pain. Anxiety. Fear. We are also a community that comes together in times of celebration, great joy, and new life. Memorial UCC, this is “who we are.”
It is here, that Jesus turns once again to Simon Peter, who had cried out: “Go away from me Jesus! I am a sinful person!” and says, “Do not be afraid. For no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. From now on, you… we… I… will be catching people.”
ALL of this fosters our growing together in Christ.
So, Memorial UCC – renew. Take time to nurture your spirituality. Your relationship with God, and with one another.
“In the mass attack of disillusion and despair…”
Be not afraid.
Reflection on Psalm 138 and Luke 5:1-11 offered February 10, 2019
 Thurman, Howard. Life Goes On, in Meditations of the Heart. Boston: Beacon Press, 1953. 110.
 Dorhauer, John. Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World. Chicago, IL: Exploration Press, 2015. 85.