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3-17-19 - Becoming a Living Servant

Becoming a Living Sacrament

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

March 17, 2019

 

Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)

 

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

 

Back before I was a Quaker, and when I was first working on becoming ordained as an Anglican Priest, I was encouraged to read a short little book by a Roman Catholic Priest, Michael Scanlan, who at the time was both the president of a college and a nationally known leader in the Charismatic Renewal Movement happening throughout the United States. Since I had grown up in liturgical and sacramental churches, I thought the subtitle of the book wasn’t that interesting, “Encountering Jesus in the Sacraments.”  But that subtitle and ultimately the book ended up becoming rather key to my spiritual growth and development. And to this day, yes, even as a Quaker, this 119 page book, that centers around the story Eric just read, still speaks deeply to my soul.

 

Now, you are probably wondering, “Why is this the case when Quakers/Friends seem to have issues with Sacraments – at least those with physical elements?”  Well, in all reality, I believe there are some common misconceptions about Quakers and Sacraments.  One of our own Quaker theologians, Paul Anderson, points this out in a pamphlet called, “Meet the Friends” that was one of my earliest introductions to Quakerdom. It reads,

 

“Friends believe in the sacramental work of the Present Christ so strongly that they refuse to reduce it to an outward symbol or ceremony.  Sacramental reality is incarnational, not formalistic, and this is a Christian testimony the world still needs to hear.”

 

Anderson goes on to give a very popular definition of the word “sacrament” which you may have heard in Sunday School or when studying this concept on your own.  I heard, all the time growing up, that a sacrament is…

 

“an outward and visible sign of an invisible and spiritual reality.”

 

Anderson added, “A Sacrament is not that spiritual reality, but it points to it.”

 

In Scanlan’s book he gives a fuller definition that I think speaks even more to us as Quakers. He says,

 

“A Sacrament is a visible sign of God’s desire and pledge to deepen his relationship with us. It promises the gift of grace we seek: healing, nourishing, cleansing, freeing, consecrating, blessing, empowering us to accept his reign in our lives and deepen our covenant with him and his people.”

 

For many people moving away from physical elements like bread and wine, water and oil, may seem radical or even heretical (that would have been the case for me growing up).  But as Anderson and Scanlan  are helping us see, sacraments are much deeper than the symbols that we use to represent them.

 

I can say for me personally, the experience of the sacraments came in phases.  I often explain my journey to Quakerism by saying, “As a Lutheran, I grew up with two sacraments – The Lord’s Supper and Baptism, when I became an Anglican I had seven – adding Confession, Holy Matrimony, Confirmation, Ordination, and the Annointing of the Sick, and now as a Quaker, well, everything has the potential of becoming a sacrament.  It really comes down to what Anderson says,

 

“The root of the matter involves identifying the most effective means of communicating the grace and power of the Present Christ.”

 

And I believe that starts with our very lives being a sacrament – the visible sign God is deepening his relationship with us and that we are bringing healing, nourishment, cleansing, freeing, blessing, and empowerment to those around us in our world. That is why as followers of Christ we talk about being “Living Sacraments” – meaning we live our life as though it is a sacrament.

 

To me this makes “meeting Christ in the sacraments” very personal.  As Quakers, we often speak of “that of God in everyone.” George Fox said it this way,

 

“And this is the word of the Lord God to you all…be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, island, nations, wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that God in everyone.”

 

  I believe George Fox was calling the early Quakers as well as us today, to be “living sacraments” in our world – so not only could they meet the God in us, but we as well meet the God in them.  Ponder this query…

 

What if we approached our neighbors, friends, and even family as if they were sacraments? 

That their lives would bring healing, nourishment, cleansing, freeing, blessing, and empowerment. 

 

And what if we thought of ourselves as Living Sacraments to our neighbors

 

Author and teacher Henri Nouwen began to recognize this tension in his own life. Listen as I read what he wrote in his Latin American journal and book, “Gracias!”

 

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.” 

 

 

To me, that is living sacramentally.  And that is exactly what we see Jesus doing in our text for today.  Jesus was “Living Sacramentally” on that road to Emmaus.  Just look at Jesus’ actions:

 

1.     Jesus came up and walked beside them – joined them right where they were. Jesus was physically joining them on the Road to Emmaus.

2.     Jesus asked a question, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” He joined them on the road and then joined their conversation.

3.     Jesus even let the fellow travelers share their grief – he heard them out.

4.     Jesus even askes some tougher questions which lead to him teaching and helping them understand. So much so, Jesus – a complete stranger to them on that road to Emmaus – is requested to stay with them.  This is a huge indicator that Jesus had gained their trust. 

5.     Finally, Jesus begins to eat with the travelers. It harkens me back to what I just read from Henri Nouwen,

 

“But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.” 

 

This was Jesus’ way of being a “living sacrament” to them.  He was giving grace and bringing healing through the way he presented himself to them. He allowed them to come to the knowledge of who he was for their benefit – to bestow an extra grace on them.  He wanted them to have “their eyes opened” not just physically, but spiritually, and emotionally as well.  He used ordinary ways – just as he call us to do, today.

 

I can’t speak for you, but I have on many occasions been walking, talking, eating, fellowshipping with someone when all of a sudden I sensed my eyes were opened to something greater.  Some call those “God moments” or “God encounters” but the reality is that when we engage each other – each and every time we have the potential of having our eyes opened and meeting God.

 

·        Maybe that conversation with your neighbor will lead to some healing in your life – that is a living sacrament.

·        Maybe that hug from your parent or child will be the blessing after a long day or week – that is a living sacrament.

·        Maybe that book your friend suggested you read will give you the empowerment to stand up to abuse or neglect – that is a living sacrament.

·        Maybe that friendly greeting you gave the checkout person at Kroger will give them hope – that is a living sacrament.

·        Maybe that phone call just to say “hi” to a distant relative or friend will make someone’s day – that is a living sacrament.

 

And the list could go on…

 

But the reality is that conversations, hugs, books, dinner parties, friendly greetings, phone calls, all can be visible signs of what God is doing through you – as well as to you through others.

 

So that leaves us with some queries to ponder this morning, ask yourself:

 

·        Are my eyes open to what God is doing in and around me?

·        Do I recognize the “Living Sacraments” around me all the time?

·        How am I being a “Living Sacrament” to those in my midst?

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3-10-19 - Hold in the Light

Hold in the Light

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

March 10, 2019

 

I have had several things on my mind this week.  As we concluded our busy weekend last weekend and were just about heading to the store to get our week’s groceries on Sunday evening, Sue and I were stopped in our tracks reading a very difficult Facebook post about a dear friend and member of our former meeting in Silverton, OR.  She had recently just retired to begin traveling with her husband but had not been able to beat some sickness that she was currently fighting. She thought it was related to her asthma. But after going to the doctor, she was put in the hospital with Stage Four cancer and a grim outcome.  Her cancer had already spread quickly from her uterus, to lymph nodes, and even to her lungs. Sue and I were in shock to say the least. This woman has been part of our lives in profound ways and we have been part of her life in so many ways, as well.

 

Then on Friday morning, my day off, I read another Facebook post that our friend Joe Lynne passed away.  Only 6 days from going into the hospital.

 

Sometimes life doesn’t make sense.  A Facebook post announces a fatal diagnosis and people (including me) begin to post about “thoughts and prayers.” 

 

I need to be honest, I have come to prefer the Quaker phrase “holding you in the Light.” It seems to command more substance than just sending “thoughts and prayers” which often seems to lack sincerity or at least sound hollow in our current day and age. No words fully grasp what you are trying to say in these moments.

 

Now, for many, “holding someone or some situation in the Light” is simply keeping it in their thoughts and prayers, but when looking deeper at the meaning of this phrase, I found it to resonate in my own soul and cause me a deeper spiritual exploration.  

 

The New York Monthly Meeting writes this about the phrase, “Hold in the Light.”    

 

To “Hold in the Light” means to ask for God’s presence to illumine a person, situation, or problem, whether in concern or thanksgiving.

 

I spent several days this week trying to find the history behind this Quaker phrase, but I came up empty handed. I even asked a couple weighty Friends and professors I know, and they are now on the search to find it’s origin. The closest I came was in an article from Friends Journal which stated,

 

“The metaphorical image of ‘holding’ someone ‘in the light’ didn’t appear until a 1969 poem by Barbara Reynolds which included the couplet: ‘First take your thought, this baby thing/ And hold it to the Light.” (it wouldn’t become common in prose for another decade).”

 

Even my weighty Friends were not sure if that late of a date is correct, but I have learned in the research that many of our Quaker phrases are modern additions but sound as though they could be foundational. 

 

I remember when I first had someone tell me they were “holding me in the light,”  it honestly took me back to when our oldest son, Alex was born.  When we brought him home from the hospital he was a bit jaundice and the doctor recommended we, “hold him in the light” to allow the light to heal him. I didn’t get that beautiful metaphor for this spiritual principle as a young parent, but I am starting to now.   

 

I find for someone unfamiliar with this Quaker terminology, it causes them to wonder or even try and imagine this Divine Light. 

 

If you look at early Quaker spirituality, you find that the image of light often represents the mysterious presence of God (much like it often does in Scripture.)

 

Like Quaker Edward Burrough (one of the Valient Sixty) who said,

 

“All that dwell in the light, their habitation is in God, and they know a hiding place in the day of storm; and those who dwell in the light, are built upon the rock, and cannot be moved, for who are moved or shaken, goes from the light, and so goes from their strength, and from the power of God, and loses the peace and the enjoyment of the presence of God.”

 

Or George Fox, himself, who said simply,

“The first step of peace is to stand still in the Light.”

John 1:15 actually says, “God is Light.” And there are verses that describe God as the “Father of Lights” and “Light of the World,” or even God as a sun and shield.” Quakers have multiple ways to describe this light – everything from the Holy Spirit, the Inward Light, the Spiritual Christ in You to even “That of God in Everyone.”

 

Yet, to hold someone or a situation in the light, I believe is to seek to bring that person into deeper contact with the Divine Presence or Present Teacher. Some Quakers imagine the person for whom they are holding in the light to actually be bathed in a beautiful, gentle light, or picture them surrounded with a halo-like quality or aura.

 

Obviously as followers of Christ, the scriptures use the illustration that Jesus is the Light of the World and that his Spirit “illumines” our lives and brings us into Truth.

 

So, for me personally, when I hold someone or a specific situation in the Light, I imagine God’s grace, love, joy, wisdom and peace engulfing and surrounding their life and situation.  That is what I thought last Sunday evening when I was reading the Facebook post about our friend from Oregon.

 

A Quaker from Ann Arbor Friends Meeting put it this way,

 

“I like to think of ‘holding in the light’ as being ‘holding in Love.’  The Light to me represents God’s love and some of its qualities, and so when I think of holding someone in the Light, I picture them surrounded by visual, bright Light, but also surrounded by something with warmth and a soft texture. In the Psalms there is reference to being born up on the wings of an eagle, and I like the image of an eagle’s wings as part of God’s love. The wing can be powerful, strong, and uplifting, but on the ground the wing can encircle us in a warm and comforting way. Thus, I envision someone being held in brightness, warmth and softness.”     

 

As an artist who sees painting as a spiritual discipline and form of prayer, I can really relate to the visual nature of holding someone in the Light or in Love – the colors, the textures, the images all speak to how I sense that “holding” taking place. It also reminds me of this beautiful poem by Rumi:

 

“I know you're tired but come, this is the way...

In your light, I learn how to love.

In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you,

but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”  ― Rumi

 

 

This morning, I want to pause a couple of times in my sermon to give us an opportunity to practice this:  Let’s take a moment right now and practice holding some people or groups in the Light or in Love. Close your eyes and allow yourself to imagine…  

 

·        Someone that you know who needs to sense or feel the presence of God in their life right now.  (Like our friend in Oregon.)

·        Or maybe you want to hold a group or a specific ministry or service organization in the Light – maybe our gathered meeting this morning..

·        Or maybe you want to consider holding yourself in the Light.     

 

[Pause]

 

I don’t know about you, but often holding oneself in the Light is the hardest to imagine or even do.  As I facilitated the conversation for the pastor’s last week at our WYM Pastor’s Conference, I mentioned how we often do not take the time we need to inwardly process our own thoughts and beliefs. And that means we probably don’t take much time to hold ourselves in the Light – to be held in Love – to ask God to illumine our own lives, problems, and situations.  Please understand this is not a selfish act – no, rather I believe it is an essential act.  

 

Our scripture text for this morning is what I consider a verbal expression of what may go through one’s mind as we hold ourselves in the Light.  The text is a Psalm of David.  Many times, I find David’s writing as though he is holding himself in the Light and seeking the presence, attributes, and love of God.  As David often does, he shows us just how hard it is to enter the presence of God and get our own selfish thoughts and needs out of the way, so we can truly enter into the presence and hear the voice of God.

 

In the Matthew Henry Commentary it says,

 

“It is probably that David penned this psalm [31] when he was persecuted by Saul; some passages in it agree particularly to the narrow escapes he had at Keilah (1  Sa. 23:13), then in the wilderness of Maon, when Saul marched on one side of the hill and he on the other, and, soon after, in the cave in the wilderness of En-gedi; but that it was penned upon any of those occasions we are not told.  It is a mixture of prayers, and praises, and professions of confidence in God, all which do well together and are helpful to one another.” [and that sounds like David is trying hard to hold himself in the Light.]

 

Now, holding yourself, someone else, or a situation in the Light is more than utilizing a wrote prayer or formula.  Sometimes those are helpful when we don’t have words, but often when we don’t have words we need simply to hold that situation in the presence of God until something further is revealed.  When I consider holding someone/thing in the Light it is (just as Matthew Henry put it) a mixture of all sorts of things - of prayers, praises, and professions of confidence in God and I don’t know about you, but for me there is often some doubt, frustration, even first shaking at God and big questions from the depths of my soul. 

 

Let’s take a look at one of David’s moments of holding himself in the Light – I think you will see his interesting “mixture” coming forth. 

 

To make it a bit more personal or relatable, I would like to read Psalm 31 from a modern translation titled Psalms/Now by Leslie F. Brandt.

 

As I read this, try and imagine holding yourself in the Light and allowing these words to express or bring to the surface your own personal feelings, images, or thoughts – if it helps, close your eyes.  I have included in your bulletin a copy of this Psalm that I will have you look at in a minute.  For now, just listen to the words and let them speak to your condition.

 

Psalm 31

 

I am up a blind alley, Lord.

The props have been knocked out beneath me.

I feel as if I’m grappling with the wind.

            for some support or security.

I’ve been pulled up short, Lord.

Now, I realize how much I need

            something or someone

            beyond and above myself.

            To give stability to my tenuous existence.

Maybe it was Your doing, Lord.

It is Your way of bringing me back to home port,

of correcting my focus

and reassessing my goals.

 

I return to You with empty hands, Lord.

You know well, my sorry plight.

I did not find that secret treasure,

            that pearl of great price.

The bright lights that beckoned

            only led me astray.

I became entangled in the bonds of self-service.

Everything I touched turned to dust in my hands.

 

I despise myself today, Lord.

Even those I thought my friends

            Turn their faces from me.

There is no place to go, nothing to cling to.

I can only come back to You

            and cast myself on Your loving mercy.

You are my God.

You have never let me out of Your sight.

Even when I strike out on my own,

            You pursue me and hold on to me.

 

I’ve stopped running, Lord.

From this point on

            I will dedicate my hours and days

            into Your loving hands.

 I seek only Your guidance

            and the grace and strength

            to carry out Your purposes.

Restore me, O God,

            To Your program and design for my life.

 

Thank You for taking me back, Lord,

            for renewing my relationship with You.

I seek now to walk in Your course for me.

I shall abide forever in Your steadfast love.

I will proclaim Your praises

            and live out Your Purposes.

Enable me to be faithful to You.

            whatever the consequences,

            and to celebrate Your love

                        and communicate it to everyone around me.

 

 

As I said before reading this Psalm, there is a copy of it in your bulletin this morning.  I would like you to take it out now, read over it to yourselves. Take a moment to further process and hold yourself in the Light in lieu of these words. 

 

Ask yourself…

What speaks to me?

What is God trying to say to me?

How am I entering the presence of God and holding myself in the Light?

 

[Pause]

 

Now that you have had some time to process this, I would like us to look at the last section of this Psalm.  Just as we seek to reflect and hold ourselves in the Light.  I want to encourage you to do the same for First Friends. We are a Beloved Community – a people trying hard to seek awareness both personally and spiritually.  I have said this on several occasions lately, “I believe something special is happening at First Friends.” And I sense more than ever we need to hold First Friends in the Light and Love of God as we go forth with those purposes. 

 

To help us do that, I have changed the last section of Psalm 31 to be from us as a gathered body.  Yes, we need to do some personal work to be brought into the presence of God, but we also need to do some communal work as well.

 

Think about this, what if these words were our commitment to holding First Friends in the Light through the coming months and years, as we grow and learn, and continue to be a solid voice and face of Quakerism in Indiana?  

 

Just listen again as I read…

 

We’ve stopped running, Lord.

From this point on

            We will dedicate our hours and days

            Into Your loving hands.

We seek only Your guidance

            and the grace and strength

            to carry out Your purposes.

Restore us, O God,

            to Your program and design for First Friends.

 

Thank You for taking us back, Lord,

            For renewing our relationship with You.

We seek now to walk in Your course for us.

We shall abide forever in Your steadfast love.

We will proclaim Your praises

            and live out Your purposes.

Enable First Friends to be faithful to You,

            whatever the consequences,

            and to celebrate Your love

            and to communicate it to everyone around us.

 

 

Will you stand and join me in reading this together aloud. 

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3-3-19 - Scout Sunday

Scout Sunday: A Scout: A Friend

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

March 3, 2019

 

(Please Note: This Sunday, Pastor Bob received permission from Steve Chase to share the following letter which appeared in both Friends Journal on Nov. 25, 2012 and is “Letter 1” in Steve’s book, “Letters to a Fellow Seeker: A Short Introduction To The Quaker Way.” Steve makes a connection to his Scouting Days, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Beloved Community and wraps it into a beautiful way of introducing one to the Quaker Way. After Pastor Bob read the letter, he introduced the “That of God” Medal from the Friends Commission on Scouting which was then presented to one of our Scouts – Adam Cordray.)    

Letters: My Journey to the Quaker Movement

By Steve Chase

Dear Pat,

It was great to bump into you last week at Union Station in D.C. What a happy surprise after all these years. I also loved our talk. As brief as it was, I was touched by how quickly we started speaking about the deeper spiritual concerns and yearnings in our hearts these days. I am very happy to answer your questions about the Quaker movement, which has been my primary spiritual home for over 40 years now.

To begin, let me share a little about how I first started attending Quaker meeting as a teenager. I was not born into a Quaker family. As a child, I sometimes attended local Episcopal church services with my mom, and I also occasionally went to other churches and synagogues with various friends and neighbors. None of these religious services or communities ever fully engaged me, however. My strongest spiritual identity growing up was as a Scout. You may laugh, but for many years the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts were the closest things I had to an ongoing spiritual community.

I loved the weekly Scout meetings, the simple rituals, the service projects in between meetings, the time spent camping outdoors, and the regular fellowship and fun I had with other Scouts and with the volunteer Scout leaders who guided us. I also loved the Boy Scouts’ core values; they mattered to me. Being a Scout meant that I had pledged to be trustworthy, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, thrifty, brave, moral, and reverent. It also meant doing my duty to God and country. Those were things I took very seriously and still do.

By 1968, I was 13 and, through my mother’s encouragement, I had already found a model in Martin Luther King Jr. with his call for a nonviolent revolution to end racism, materialism, and militarism in our nation. As I saw it, my duty to God and country was to help our nation become what King called a “Beloved Community” of peace, justice, and equality. It turned out that my scoutmaster did not see it that way.

Our difference of opinion came to a head one hot summer day when our troop was in the town square of Galesburg, Illinois, for our annual Boy Scout Jamboree. As I finished my scheduled tasks that morning, I noticed a small, silent peace vigil at the edge of the square with folks holding up signs opposing the ongoing U.S. invasion and occupation of Vietnam. I had never before seen anyone stand up against the war in my town and I was torn. I wanted to join them, yet I also felt some fear and hesitation about walking over and taking a public stand smack dab in the middle of my town.

In that moment of indecision, I thought of King’s daring speech at the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. In that fateful speech, which I heard about from my college‐age brother, King first voiced in public his opposition to this unjust war. He called on all hesitant people to follow him now and end their own silence about the war. Given that King was my hero, I decided to follow his example on that hot summer day in Galesburg. So, I screwed up my courage to walk across the town square and join the silent peace vigil. It was my first overt act of social activism, and I was glad to have taken this step. I was no longer just admiring King; I was following him. This felt good and right to me.

My sense of inner peace was short lived, though. Almost instantly, my scoutmaster spotted me standing in my uniform as part of this silent peace vigil, and he was furious. He ran over, grabbed me, and physically dragged me out of the vigil line. He started shaking me by the shoulders and yelling at me that I was a “communist,” a “traitor,” and a “disgrace to the Boy Scout uniform.” He shouted that I was no longer welcome in his troop and that he would make sure no other troop in town would ever let me join. He then abruptly pushed me away and stormed off. I don’t think now that his action represented the views of the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America, but I had no way to know that then. I stood there stunned and abandoned. Blessedly, an elderly woman from the vigil came up to me, put her hand on my arm, and said, “Young man, I’m sorry that happened to you. Just know that you will always be welcome at a Quaker Meeting.”

At home, later that same day, I asked my mom about the Quakers and she shared with me what she knew about the Religious Society of Friends. She also told me that as much as my Dad disapproved of religion, he was a financial contributor to the American Friends Service Committee. She said he admired both their peace advocacy and their international relief work. My mom also said that it would be fine with her if I wanted to attend a Quaker “meeting for worship” instead of going with her to our regular church services the next day.

Later that night, I worked up my courage for the second time that day and called the number in the phone book under the listing “Galesburg Friends Meeting (Quakers).” I was touched that the woman who answered the phone was as welcoming as the woman at the vigil—even though I was a 13‐year‐old kid! I asked her where and when they held their services and what to expect. She gave me the address and said that the Quakers in Galesburg sat silently in a circle expectantly waiting to be touched and guided by the Spirit of God, which many of them often called the Seed, the Light Within, the Inward Christ, or the Inward Teacher.

This woman also said that their worship started when the first person sat down in the room and “centered down” into silence. The rest of the worshipers joined this person in silence until all were assembled. She added that anyone who felt moved by the Spirit during the meeting would stand up and offer a vocal message or a song to the whole group, then sit back down, and the group would return to silence. She said there was no pastor or priest, and anyone could be moved to give ministry, including men, women, and children. I had never heard of a worship service like this before, and I loved the sound of it.

I also asked this woman what Quakers believe. She answered that the core Quaker belief was that every man, woman, and child on this planet has the spiritual capacity to experience directly God’s love, presence, and guidance in their lives, and that if we open our hearts to this sacred Light Within it can transform our personal lives, our families, our communities, and our world. She said that over three hundred years experience of attending to the Light Within had taught Quakers the value of encouraging each other to lead lives of integrity, simplicity, equality, compassion, stewardship, and community activism for peace and social justice. She called these the “Quaker testimonies.” I loved that answer, too.

Well, the next day I went to my first Quaker meeting for worship with a group of seventeen or so Galesburg Quakers. We sat together in a big living room belonging to one of the local members. It was odd at first, but I found it both challenging and exhilarating to sit quietly in the deepening silence, open to the touch of Divine Presence. Sure, my mind wandered a bit, and I was not really sure what I was “supposed” to be doing, but pretty soon I actually felt something happening inside of me that I had never experienced in any religious service before.

I felt actively engaged in deep spiritual seeking, and sometime during that very first meeting for worship—and many times since—I felt as if I was directly breathing Spirit in and out, directly breathing compassion and wisdom in and out, directly breathing love and justice in and out. This experience was immediate and powerful. I was not just thinking about what other people in the past had said about God or religion. Instead, I felt profoundly moved by glimmers of direct connection and attunement to the Spirit, the Inward Teacher that the woman on the phone had mentioned.

As we all sat together in the prayerful silence, a few worshipers stood up at different times and offered brief spoken ministry. I particularly remember that the woman who talked to me at the peace vigil spoke haltingly, but movingly, about how the call to defend the Vietnamese people nonviolently from our government’s violence was an outward expression of our deep inner faith as Quakers. She felt it was God’s will that all the faithful in our country should take up this task even more strongly than we had to date. I felt particularly stirred by her heartfelt ministry and loved the fact that in the Quaker movement, women were encouraged to be ministers. I knew my mom would approve.

After a little over an hour of silence and short vocal ministry, the Galesburg Quakers closed their meeting for worship by shaking hands. I was welcomed as a newcomer and one person, who described himself as the clerk of the meeting, made a few announcements. We then got up and talked informally over snacks in the dining room. Somebody mentioned to me that not all Quakers met in people’s houses and that most Quaker meetings around the world had built simple meeting houses for their congregations. Another woman spoke up and said that she had worshipped both in meeting houses and living rooms, and she most enjoyed the intimacy of the small “house meetings.” Another Quaker said her favorite meetings for worship were the ones she had attended that were held outdoors.

I asked my new acquaintances if there was anything I could read to learn more about the Quaker movement. One man took me to the meeting’s “library,” which was a couple of shelves in the living room. He pulled out a copy of a book called Faith and Practice. He explained that it was an anthology of many different statements about the Quaker movement written by different Quakers throughout history, and that it also included a lot of recent material about Quaker practice written by a committee of the Illinois Yearly Meeting, the regional association of Quakers that included the Galesburg Friends Meeting. He explained that most yearly meetings around the world create their own guidebooks, which are reviewed and updated every twenty to thirty years as part of a spiritual consensus‐building process within each yearly meeting. As he put it, “We believe in continuing revelation.”

While reading this book at home later, I found a particularly interesting section called “Advices and Queries,” which included a list of questions designed to help Quakers think more deeply about their own day‐to‐day faith and practice. It addressed personal conduct, home and family, environmental stewardship, vocational choices, social responsibility and community engagement, and peace and reconciliation. It also addressed how we prepare for meeting for worship and how we engage in the spiritual life of the meeting community. To me, all these questions seemed like some of the most important questions we could possibly ask ourselves.

The “Advices and Queries” also included a set of questions about personal spiritual life that went something like the passage below, which is taken from my current yearly meeting’s book of Faith and Practice:

Do you live in thankful awareness of God’s constant presence in your life? Are you sensitive and obedient to leadings of the Holy Spirit? Do you seek to follow Jesus, who shows us the way? Do you nurture your spiritual life with prayer and silent waiting and with regular study of the Bible and other devotional literature?

Now, I did not yet know what my own answers to these questions were, but I was intrigued about reflecting on each of them as part of my spiritual journey.

I was particularly struck by the query about following Jesus. I had always thought that being a Christian meant believing a specific set of doctrinal beliefs about Jesus so you could go to heaven after you died. But all these Quaker questions focused on our lives here and now, and none of them mentioned any specific belief that you had to hold about Jesus to be a Quaker, except that his life “shows us the way” and it is wise to follow in his footsteps.

Just a few days earlier, I had followed in Martin Luther King’s footsteps, and King, in turn, was certainly following in the footsteps of Jesus in his work for peace and justice. I now felt somehow closer to the source of something wonderful and powerful, something I could read and think about, but also something I could now directly experience, just as I seemed to do in my very first Quaker meeting for worship.

While there was much more to think about and to learn, of course, I already knew that I loved the experience of Quaker worship, of sitting in silence with other seekers trying to be open to wonder, possibility, love, challenge, guidance, and deep inner peace. Returning to this little band of Galesburg Quakers each week for group worship was a spiritual practice that nourished and excited me. A couple of years later, when I read a book by Robert Barclay, an early British Quaker theologian, I found that people had been having experiences like mine for over three hundred years. As Barclay put it:

When I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart, and as I gave way unto it, I found the evil weakening in me, and the good raised up, and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life, whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed.

While I might have said it a little differently in 1968, my first experience of Quaker worship was astonishingly similar to Barclay’s.

I now look back on my first Quaker meeting for worship with deep gratitude. It felt like coming home. This, I said to myself early on, is my spiritual community and this is my spiritual path. Today, as a member of the Putney Friends Meeting in Vermont, I still feel the same. In my decades of participating in silent Quaker worship, I have found that it is often possible for those present to become aware of a divine love and spiritual fullness that far transcends ordinary existence. This sense of living communion, in turn, has a way of healing, transforming, and guiding our daily lives.

The intimacy, openness, and mutual responsibility of our way of worship also influences our character as a spiritual community. We regularly come together for more than meeting for worship, as powerful and as central as that is in our spiritual lives. For example, at Putney Friends Meeting, we describe ourselves on our website as “a Quaker congregation that meets in Putney, Vermont, for worship, fellowship, education, and activist support.”

We eat potlucks together, delight in our kids, offer them creative religious education, have intimate conversations that matter, share our faith journeys, read and discuss books together, watch movies or bring in speakers, organize healing circles, and go together to larger Quaker gatherings. Some of us join nonviolent action trainings to prepare to commit civil disobedience in an attempt to persuade the State of Vermont to close an aging and leaking nuclear reactor nearby. We cry and laugh together, share our joys and concerns, rent out our meeting house at very low rates to a network of home schoolers and AA groups, and at our business meetings, we discuss if, when, and how we should put solar panels on our meeting house roof.

Quaker congregations like Putney Friends Meeting are participatory, volunteer‐run, spiritual communities led by committees and coordinated by rotating officers as well as by our monthly business meetings. These meetings are open to the entire community and are held to discern together the will of God in our affairs. Our decisions reflect a spiritual unity that we can all acknowledge, rather than a count of votes. This radical approach to “church government” is very common in the Quaker movement. Ours is a first‐hand, do‐it‐yourself faith community. This is something I have long treasured about the Quaker way.

I hope this helps answer your question about how and why I began my spiritual journey to the Quaker movement. Is there anything else you are wondering about? Does any of this resonate with you?

Affectionately,

Steve

 

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2-24-19 - Becoming a Beloved Community

Becoming a Beloved Community

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

February 24, 2019

 

Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV)

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 

 

Last week during Waiting Worship, our Friend Mary Blackburn mentioned something that I have been considering for quite some time. The query that I have wrestled with is “How can we build the “Beloved Community” in our midst? 

 

Now, if you are unfamiliar with the term “Beloved Community” it is part of the greater dream or vision that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught and spoke of until his death. 

 

At the King Center in Atlanta in the plaza where Martin and Coretta are buried the wall declares this vision, it states:

 

“The Beloved Community is a realistic vision of an achievable society, one in which problems and conflict exist, but are resolved peacefully and without bitterness.  In the Beloved Community, caring and compassion drive political policies that support the worldwide elimination of poverty and hunger and all forms of bigotry and violence.  The Beloved Community is a state of the heart and mind, a spirit of hope and goodwill that transcends all boundaries and barriers and embraces all creation. At its core, the Beloved Community is an engine of reconciliation. This way of living seems a long way from the kind of world we have now, but I do believe it is a goal to accomplish through courage and determination, and through education and training, if enough people are willing to make the necessary commitment.”

 

As Mary shared last week, for her and David experiencing the Beloved Community has come over time.  It is not something automatic, it takes work, it takes being willing to get out of our boxes, to educate ourselves, and seek community together with others who may be different than us. That is not easy. We like our comforts. 

 

It is easy to become myopic in our world, to focus on our own success, and miss those around us.  Technology ever increases this polarization and unawareness of those around us – not just the African American community, but anyone outside of our boxes. Our history, both American and in the Church, shows we have neglected many different groups of people over the years from Native and African Americans, to Women, to LGBTQ, to people with AIDS, to different ethnicities, religions, ages, and even people with physical disabilities and special needs.  

 

As I started to really ponder the query, “How can we build the Beloved Community in our midst? I started to realize this concept was not something new for Quakers.  The Beloved Community has and continues to develop among us as Quakers today in many and various forms.

 

That may be because back in 1681, Quaker William Penn had a similar vision. One that many debated and some thought was elitist, but just maybe it was a manifestation of what we would call the Beloved Community today. 

 

King thought of his as a “realistic vision of an achievable society” where Penn considered his an “Holy Experiment.”  Now, I think you can see by what I read regarding King’s vision, and how I mentioned before that King was heavily influenced by his right-hand man, Bayard Rustin’s Quaker faith and belief in nonviolence, where King’s understanding of the Beloved Community developed. Whether or not King admitted this, I believe the Beloved Community was very much based on Quaker principles.  Actually, I might even go as far as to say the Beloved Community is a concept who’s foundation is built on the Quaker S.P.I.C.E.S. of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship.

 

Penn’s Holy Experiment, on the other hand, which I remember in my history books was presented as idealistic, is not much different than how some people treat King’s Beloved Community, today.  Actually, if you study Penn’s Holy Experiment in Pennsylvania, you will find a lot of similarities to King.  Penn may have been the Martin Luther King Jr. of his day.

   

·        Penn was all about fair treatment of people, especially the Native Americans and the land that belonged to them.  

 

·        Penn was for religious freedom as well. Penn wanted everyone to worship as they chose. Pennsylvania drew a variety of people of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds together for the first time in America.

 

·        Penn also wanted to reform the prisons of his day, just as King’s legacy has taken up this mantle in our day and age to end mass incarceration and the death penalty.        

 

·        Penn, like King, believed everyone needs to be educated – girls and boys alike.  For Penn, in his day, most children were illiterate, especially girls.  This was a radical step to educate everyone.

 

·        Penn wanted work for everyone.  At one point, Pennsylvania became known as “the best poor man’s country” because of the accessibility of occupations and jobs for all people.  When King was assassinated he had just launched his “Poor People’s Campaign” working to eliminate poverty and hunger in our country.  

 

In 2018 for the 50 anniversary of King’s death, Rev. William Barber picked up the mantle of the Poor People’s Campaign and relaunched it. Interestingly enough, the campaign was a national call for moral revival to unite tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemics racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation, and the nations distorted morality.  This sounds very familiar to what Penn had set out to do in his day as well as the continued legacy of King. 

 

But if we are going to really get back to our roots, we have to see both Penn and King’s experiments and visions as coming out of another vision. This was a vision that the Early Quakers, especially George Fox, wanted to see recovered. Fox called this the “original Christianity.”  It was a return to the Apostle’s teachings (which were directly drafted from the life and teaching of Christ) and often emphasized our text for this morning from Acts. What I believe is one of the earliest manifestations of the Beloved Community that both Penn and King would have known and referenced.  Just listen again to these scriptural foundations:

 

All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

 

This vision of the early church would lay a foundation that we would continue to hone and wrestle with for centuries to come.  We would even call it by multiple names, from the Kingdom of God, to the Peaceable Commonwealth, to the Peaceable Kingdom, to the Beloved Community. 

 

Quaker Catherin Whitmire, one of my favorite Quaker Writers, points out that a

“central piece to the gospel is that of the Commonwealth (traditionally called Kingdom) of God. Jesus refers repeatedly to this peaceable Commonwealth as being near and even says that it lies within us. Most of us have already experienced the immediate presence and peace of God’s Commonwealth at the most human and personal level when holding a newborn child, watching a seed sprout from the earth, or looking into the calm immensity of a starry sky.  In addition to our personal experiences in families, neighborhoods, and communities, we are aware of that peaceable Commonwealth when responding to a neighbor’s call for help, receiving consolation from a friend, supporting a colleague, or settling a serious disagreement through open and loving dialogue…Jesus says that while this Commonwealth is present now, it is also part of the future and still needs to be built.  So the paradoxical truth of the peaceable Commonwealth of God is that it is both here now – and it is our life’s work to create it! “

 

So if building this peaceable Commonwealth or Beloved Community is our life’s work as Catherine has pointed out, what are some specific things we can do to build this type of community in our midst.  I turn at this point to Greg Elliott, who serves as the Friends Relations Associate for American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia. He has wrestled with how we are to be about creating the Beloved Community, today.  He points out that…

 

”when we first come together, we carry with us our conditioning about race, gender, class, truth, God, peace, and so much more. This conditioning has been passed down for generations.  Our conditioning is so deep within us that we are often unaware of it. If we wish to acknowledge and free ourselves from the myths, lies, and toxic beliefs that plague us, we need a community to help us do it.”  

 

To build the Beloved Community we need to start with a smaller community to help us build it.  I believe that community for us is First Friends. 

 

Elliot also points out that to build this community we must deal with our past and current need to colonize and build empires. Something Jesus sought to bring liberation from.  He says, “The historian William Appleman Williams defines empire as

 

“the use and abuse, and the ignoring, of other people for one’s own welfare and convenience.” 

 

This is what the early church, William Penn, and Martin Luther King Jr. were addressing.    

 

So how do we begin?  Elliot says our work is three-fold. He says it starts with…

 

1.     Decolonizing the self – We engage in the ongoing process of transforming the poison of our imperial, oppressive society into medicine. We learn about our country’s oppressive past and present, acknowledging our relationship to the matrix of domination, grounding our sense of self in non-colonial identities. We rediscover an Inner Light/Spirit that cannot be colonized, embracing liberation histories, realities, and theologies, and finding the courage to do the work that is ours to do.

 

Decolonizing the Self is exactly what I talked about last week when I gave my own personal journey.  I have had to and continue to decolonize myself and seek ways of liberation from my history, my reality, and my own understandings of theology. And that has led me to see the work I and I believe we need to do.

 

2.     Decolonizing our communities – We engage in the ongoing process of healing together with like-minded, like-hearted souls, always widening the circle, inviting people in, and transforming our communities. We move from explicitly or tacitly supporting systems of domination to actively healing from their negative effects and supporting alternatives and movements led by communities most impacted by injustice.

 

Once we take our own personal inventory and begin the process of decolonizing ourselves, then we can move our efforts into community.  First Friends is a place where this can happen.  We can engage in an ongoing process of healing together by dealing with our past and moving into our future. Folks, we are like-minded (not cookie-cutter people of faith), we are like-hearted souls, and we are always working to widen our circle of influence. Over the past few years we have opened our doors wider in this place and learned to embrace more of the community – and I believe that is transforming, healing and changing us for the better.  And lastly… 

 

3.     Co-creating the Beloved Community – We engage in the ongoing process of re-building our relationship to all of life around us, fostering trust and accountability with communities most impacted by injustice. To accomplish this we commit to accompaniment and followership, staying in it for the long haul, getting out of our meetinghouses and our comfort zones, and co-creating the Beloved Community...

 

You and I, and First Friends for that matter is a place that is Co-creating the Beloved Community. This is why I am wanting to partner with other organizations, connect to other faith communities, even become a Meetingplace where we are sent into our neighborhoods, workplaces, and such, with the needed tools to make an impact. 

 

My hope for First Friends is that we simply don’t become a place of comfort for people to gather and socialize, but it becomes a place to re-energize, refill, and prepare ourselves for engaging this world.  It’s a difficult journey, but as history has shown, it continues to be our destiny. 

 

So whether we call it a Peaceable Commonwealth, the Kingdom of God, a Holy Experiment, or the Beloved Community.  The truth is, we have work to do.  Work I believe our world and country desperately need. 

 

 

What decolonizing work do I need to do in myself?

What decolonizing work do we need to do at First Friends?

 

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2-17-19 - Opening My Eyes

 

Opening My Eyes

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

February 16, 2019

 

Mark 8:22-26

22 They came to Bethsaida. Some people[d] brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24 And the man[e] looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus[f] laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”[g]

 

Mark 10:46-52

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher,[g] let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

 

 

 

Please Note: The following contains my own personal story.  Each of us has our own story that we need to process, especially as it pertains to race. My intent in sharing was to help us be more open to tell our stories and begin to dialogue around issues of race in our own communities, families, and at First Friends.  This is not an easy conversation and remember that one sermon does solve or conclude the conversation.  This is a conversation starter if anything. Read it or listen to it with grace.

This has been a very full week. I have had an overwhelming amount of positive conversations, discussions and dialogue about last week’s celebration of Black History Month and the racial tensions in our country. As well, I have sensed a deep desire from so many of you that the race conversation must continue at First Friends.  As part of my exchanges this week, I was asked several questions, but one had me really processing.

 

How as a white man did you become so passionate

about racial issues in America?

 

I know many of you have heard bits and pieces of my story, but this morning, I am going to be vulnerable and open another window into my own personal journey. I believe it is important to share our stories to give permission and help each other process our stuff.  Back on Friends Education Fund Sunday last year, I openly shared a bit of my “coming to racial awareness” story. There I talked about my profound experience at the King Center in Atlanta in 1998 and my realization that I had not been taught the full picture of history especially as it pertained to African Americans in our country.  But as I have continued to unpack my story, I have realized the Holy Spirit was preparing my heart for that moment from my earliest days.

 

Let me return once again to when I was about 5 years old.  If you remember from a previous sermon, my mom was in charge of our church’s Vacation Bible School program.  It was at that summer’s VBS that I had played “what do you want to be when you grow up” charades and let everyone know that I wanted to be a pastor for the first time.  But even before I had that experience that week of VBS, I took a bus ride with my mom to pick up some children in a place called, “Riverhaven” on the outskirts of my hometown of New Haven, Indiana.  I remember my mom being a bit uncomfortable with us going to this neighborhood. I, on the other hand, was just excited that I was getting to ride the bus, since morning Kindergarten students didn’t ride the bus.

 

The bus driver drove us out of town to this unmarked neighborhood. As the children who lived there heard the bus, they came running knowing we were going to take them to VBS.  It wasn’t just their excitement that was burnt into my young mind, it was something else.  Today, I would call it the deplorable conditions that these children and their families were living in.  Most houses had no front doors and their foundations were made of mud and dirt. Many of the children were white, but some were brown skinned.  I think this may have been my first experience seeing a person of color in my very white small town. 

 

I don’t think my little mind could wrap itself around the fact that most of these kids would hop on a bus for a momentary reprieve from the hard life they lived.  These kids did not go to school, they did not have cars, and the way they took cookies and Kool-Aid at our snack break was as if they had not eaten all week – which today I realize was probably true. 

 

Growing up, I heard often of “those people” in Riverhaven. 

 

I also heard often of those type people possibly making it out and moving into another neighborhood in my town. That would often be vocalized, “those people are going to bring the property values down.”  I heard this so many times growing up that at times I was worried that one of these “outsiders” would actually move into our neighborhood.  For some reason these “outsiders” were introduced to me as bad. 

 

If you were a person of color, or a person of extremely low means, or if you had a mental disability, and were walking around my hometown, you were labeled, watched, and people talked about you. This was before official Neighborhood Crime Watch Programs were enforced, but believe me, they were happening.

 

In my own neighborhood or subdivision (what I grew up calling “the addition”), which I am pretty sure was 100% white, we talked about “the bachelor” that probably was gay, the white trash who needed to clean up the cars in their yard, and the lady we called, Old Gypsy.  What I realized over time was that you don’t need to have persons of color in your neighborhood to be racist. 

 

As with most people in my small town, we had relatives and friends who lived close enough that I could ride my bike to their houses.  There were determined ways for me and my friends to go to avoid certain houses with questionable people.  Even though our small town was almost 100% white, when the doorbell would ring at my grandma’s house, she would use the phrase that combined the n-word and “knocking” together.  I always quickly looked out to see if there were actually black children outside running – there never were.  As I grew older, I met some of those kids on her block and yes, I did some ringing and running as well.   

 

Grandma also used the n-word to describe any car with curb feelers or loud radios.  On many occasions when traveling through certain parts of town, we had to lock our doors and roll up our windows.  Sometimes, we even went out of our way to avoid certain parts of town that were deemed dangerous or where “those people” lived.

 

I stayed pretty sheltered throughout grade school having little to no interaction with people of color.  Actually, it was almost impossible with the systems that was set up, both in my neighborhoods and my Christian School.  

 

I was taught to see people of color as entertainers and athletes.  And as I have said before, I did not know their history because my books – even those at the Christian school avoided talking about it. 

 

It wasn’t until my high school days that I would again be presented with another issue directly related to race.  My family and I had started to attend a different and much larger and affluent church. They had a large youth group that went on big trips during the summer.  On one of the trips, I met a young woman of color and we became friends. I did not see her as any different from any of my other friends.  We talked a lot even though she was a bit shy.  Actually, on the way home from our destination we sat together and talked the entire time.  As with all fun youth group trips, there were lots of photos taken (even though this was pre-smart phones).  After returning, I was sharing with my grandmother the photos of the trip.  I will never forget her words as she looked at my photos.  “Who is the colored girl?” I said it was a friend.  Then she said to me, “You aren’t interested in a colored girl, are you?”  I didn’t show it, but I was shocked, but also confused.  Why was that an issue.  It must have bothered me enough that I really didn’t pursue the friendship, but what it did do was cause a new tension in my heart and soul. 

 

For numerous reasons, I ended up leaving that church, and started attending a church on the Southside of Fort Wayne.  Ironically, in a neighborhood where if I was driving through, we most likely would have locked the doors and rolled up the windows.  I was introduced by some friends to a much more diverse group of peers.  Soon, they became my new youth group and often I would have this new group of youth over to my house. I didn’t worry about what my neighbors thought. But I am sure they were talking.

 

Even though I was experiencing more diversity, it was causing me as a high schooler to deal with more than just issues of race. For the first time, I was even questioning some of the beliefs about my church.  

 

·        Why didn’t my church ordain women? Weren’t we created equal? 

·        Why did my church seem to be Republican? Wasn’t God neither Democrat or Republican? 

·        Why were people who believed differently than my church seen as wrong? or unacceptable? especially people from other factions of our denomination.

·        And why did it seem everything was focused on purity?

 

There were other questions, but I think you get the point. 

 

By this time, I had heard the call of God and was heading to college to study for the ministry.  At the time, my theology had taught me that people needed to be “saved” (and that I was part of the work) …being saved from what though, that was the question?  All my past experiences left a division in my soul and I was feeling torn in so many ways.  I was being called into a ministry that seemingly was out to give people answers, to tell them their place, and ultimately help them know if they were in or out, accepted or not, heaven or hell bound.  Forgiveness and grace had kind of taken a back seat. 

 

I went off to college with this all swirling in my head.  Knowing what little I knew about what then was called, “Inner City Ministry.”  I just assumed that was something that I would be called to and told my program director that is what I wanted to focus on at college.  With much grace and a smile on his face, he said, well Bob you might want to get involved with a church in the “inner city” before you make that decision. 

 

So in my naivete that is what I did.  I contacted the only African American pastor, I knew at the time, Pastor Russell Belisle. He had been a teacher at my high school, but I had never had him for a class. He had just started pastoring St. Philip Lutheran Church on the south side of Chicago.  I called him and told him my hopes.  And he agreed to a plan where I would bring a group of students from the college to his church once a month on a Saturday for a neighborhood children’s ministry.  My thought was that we 10 or so white students were bringing hope and help and salvation to this Black “inner-city” congregation. 

 

Boy, was I so very wrong.  Everything I was taught growing up was being shaken at its core.  Nobody was talking about who was in or out.  We were welcomed with open arms by the black community.  I remember distinctly, Pastor Belisle asking me one Saturday to help him teach a lesson on Philip and the Eunuch.  His church was named after St. Philip but more importantly I was to focus on the Eunuch from Ethiopia.  First of all, I wasn’t too familiar with this story, and second of all, I thought what an unusual story for us to teach kids.  How about Noah and the Ark or Jesus feeding the Five Thousand?  No, it would be Philip and the Eunuch.  Then Pastor Belisle brought out a painting of Philip and the Eunuch to help illustrate the story.  The painting depicted the Eunuch rightly as a black man from Ethiopia. Quickly I glanced around the fellowship hall to find I was surrounded also by a Black Jesus, and a Black Lord’s Supper.  This was the first time I had experienced Black Religious Art and it had a profound experience on me and continues to be reflected in my own art today.

 

My eyes were beginning to open to much more than bringing hope, and help, and salvation. I was being invited to become a student and I was the one receiving hope, help, and a new sense of salvation that was helping me deconstruct what I had been taught, seen, and had experienced.  I realized more than anything I had so much more to learn. 

 

Now folks, it would still be almost 10 years before I would find myself standing in the King Center Museum in Atlanta, GA listening to Dr. King’s “I Have Been To The Mountaintop” speech the night before his assassination, wiping away tears and being overcome with the realization that I am just as guilty of the attrocities against African Americans in this country as those spoken of in that museum.  Whether by my unawareness or my compliance, I have to admit I have racism in me. I was raised with it all around me. This realization has left me uncomfortable for quite some time.  I think it is as writer Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove says, “I am a man torn in two.”  

 

What I have come to realize is that not only do I live in an ever-more polarized world, but I also have a polarized heart.  And I would go one step further an agree with Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, the gospel of Jesus Christ that we follow is divided and polarizing in our country, as well.  At times it has been used to teach freedom and at other times it as kept people in bondage – or as Jonathan Wilson Heartgrove calls it, “Slaveholder Religion.”

 

Even though I don’t completely know his reasoning, maybe actor Liam Neeson is to be more of our example than our whipping boy.  He too seems to be a man torn in two by his own racism.  But I can relate and maybe you can, too.  I have to admit that I have had racist thoughts or wanted to harm people that have hurt people close to me. The truth is we have to deal with our own stuff and confess and even repent of our unawareness and compliance to make a change.  It starts with me.

 

As Pastor Belisle told me on the phone this week, after he called me in response to an email I sent him to catch up since our days working together at St. Philips in Chicago. He said, “Liam Neeson’s comments bring hurt feelings, especially to those of the black community.  But our job is to work on moving from hurt feelings to embracing grace.”  He also added, “Never forget, forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t happen over night. But it is what the church has to offer the world right now.”  

 

As an article that was shared with me this week about the polarization in our world concluded,

 

“A world with no mercy or grace is an ugly world indeed.

And we’re building that world for ourselves, brick for crick.”

 

To me that is just the juncture where we as Quakers and Followers of Christ have something to say and live out. But like my own journey has proven over and over. Often I am BLIND to what is really going on.  I am missing the bigger picture.  I am stuck in the polarization.  I am worked up on being a “savior” when I actually need one.  

 

That is when I read a short section in Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove’s new book, “Reconstructing the Gospel” titled “You have to Want to See.” 

 

I would like to end with reading this to you.

 

At the center of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ message is framed by two stories about blind men receiving their sight.  These stories serve as a window through which Jesus’ healing and teaching are revealed.  Like a refrain in a well-crafted poem, they sum up the heart of Jesus’ message.

 

Through these stories, Mark asserts that the gospel is about learning to see, which, in its own way, speaks to our most basic problem.  Sin is a kind of blindness.  In order to show us, his readers, what we cannot see on our own, Mark invites us to observe how Jesus restores sight to two blind men. 

 

The first man is led by the hand, as blind people often are, to Jesus. Word has gotten out. Jesus can make the blind to see again.  Taking this unnamed man by the hand, Jesus becomes his guide. He walks him to the edge of town, spits on his eyes, and asks, “Do you see anything?” (Mark 8:23).

 

Yes, the man can see people.  But by his own account “they look like trees walking around.” (Mark 8:24)  His sight is blurry. So Jesus touches him a second time, and he sees everything clearly. 

 

Two chapters later, Mark introduces a second blind man, Bartimaeus. This time, the one who cannot see is shouting, “Have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). Because he cannot see, he is willing to break protocol – to face the rebukes of those who tell him to sit down and shut up – because he wants to see. No one leads Bartimaeus to Jesus.  He throws off his cloak and runs to him. 

 

And there before the crowd – before the whole audience of Mark’s life work and the good news about Jesus – Jesus askes Bartimaeus the most basic questions of the human heart: “What do you want?” (Mark 10:51). This is the question Jesus has been trying to get his disciples to grapple with. They’ve seen his power.  They’ve believed his message.  They’ve left everything to follow him.  But “what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Jesus asks them (Mark 8:36).

 

What do you really want?

 

Before encountering Bartimaeus, Jesus has responded to a rich young ruler.  After the tragic encounter with the young ruler Jesus tells the disciples, “Many who are first will be last, and the last share be first” (Mark 10:31). And then, when they think they’ve turned from worldly success to pursue a seat beside their Lord in his coming kingdom, Jesus challenges them again: “Whoever want to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:44)

 

            What do you really want?

 

Baritmaeus isn’t just answering this question for himself.  As Mark tells it, he’s answering for the disciples and the crowds and the religious leaders – for all of us who are blind, even if we don’t know we cannot see. 

 

What do you want? Jesus asks him.

 

“Rabbi, I want to see” (Mark 10:51).

 

Of all the prophetic words in Scripture, Bartimaeus’s simple confession may be the most damning of slaveholder religion and its habits, which have been passed down to us.  If we are honest to God and ourselves, we have not wanted to see.  Far too often, we have chosen blindness, even refusing the hands of friends who reached out and tried to lead us to the one who could restore our sight. 

 

Our racial blindness is generational and multilayered, folded in among all that is true and good about our faith.  There is no easy way to be freed from it….I cannot autocorrect in real time for the very blindness I’m trying to recover from.  I’m like Bartimaeus, running toward Jesus, hands out to catch me if I trip and fall in the darkness that surrounds me.  Still, I find hope in the way this gospel story shows us that all freedom begins with us wanting it. 

 

You have to want to see. 

 

The desire itself is the interruption that can save us.  As long as we sacrifice ourselves to a false sense of duty – fighting for what we already know to be good and true – we are captive to the spirit of men who help keep other people captive.  But if we let our guard down – if we can but allow ourselves to be present with the real people in our lives, we can learn to want new things.  All desire is bodily.  If we can sit down to eat together, we can take in not only the food we long for but also fellowship we so deeply need.

 

In the early 1800s…a young white boy named Levi Coffin watched people who looked like him march enslaved African Americans down the road in front of his house.  These men had run away to freedom, Coffin later learned, but the laws of the United States allowed slave catchers to capture and return them to bondage.  Coffin was troubled by what he saw, and he never forgot it.  Following the Jesus he first met in a Quaker meeting house outside of Greensboro, North Carolina, Coffin went on to devote his life to abolition, becoming the unofficial “President of the Underground Railroad” before his death in 1877.  By grace, Coffin learned to see. 

 

What I am saying to us this morning, is I am still learning to see.  Each day opens up my eyes to more of the story and my place in it. I need forgiveness. I need to repent. And I need to admit I have often been blind and I continually need to learn to see better. How about you?   

  

What do you really want?

Do you want to see?

What can you do to learn to see better?

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2-10-19 - Lasting Impact of Quakers of Color

 

Lasting Impact of Quakers of Color

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

February 10, 2019

 

Romans 12:15-18 (NRSV)

 

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

 

 

I have to say, this has been a full week of racial tensions and some difficult remembrances in our country.

 

Starting last Sunday evening with a rather boring Superbowl filled with all types of racial tensions and controversies - everything from the halftime show to the national anthem.

 

Then on Tuesday, we were reminded of the death of Trayvon Martin who would have turned 24 yrs. old that day. The anniversary of his unnecessary death in 2012 sparked a new level of racial tension in America that continues today. The anniversary of his death will be later this month on Feb. 26. 

 

And then on this same day acclaimed and beloved actor Liam Neeson appeared on Good Morning America and shockingly confessed to anchor Robin Roberts that 40 years ago he had sought to confront and commit violence against random black men after learning that someone close to him had been raped. This bringing the cancellation of his red-carpet event for his upcoming movie and many people asking for him to be removed from current movie rolls and past work.

 

On top of these issues, we have endured a non-stop barrage of breaking news all week about white leaders in prominent positions of our government wearing blackface and KKK hoods and dressing as black entertainers in their younger years. 

 

What a week, as we are to be celebrating Black History Month. To me it simply shows why we have such a need to educate ourselves and take time to remember and celebrate our African American sisters and brothers.  If you weren’t aware (or did not read my “As Way Opens” this week,

 

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history. (History Channel)

 

Also, this week, Progressive Christian writer, speaker, and coach Kerry Connelly got my attention when she posted a photo of her “Top Ten Ways White People Can Celebrate Black History Month.”  All ten were convicting, but number 7 really hit me,

“Ask your faith community to stop ignoring race.”

 

Race is not an easy issue to address – just look at this week’s news if you don’t believe me. But as Quakers, a fundamental tenant of our faith is the equality of ALL people.  As many of you in this room know, we at First Friends have some “skeletons in our closet” from our history that at some point we are going to need to address and finally reconcile - and that will not be easy.  We cannot simply continue to tell our versions of our tainted history in private thinking they do not hinder our relationship with people of color within and outside of our Meeting. Simply put, we have work to do.

 

So, as for today, we are supposed to be celebrating our black sisters and brothers and learning about and from their stories.  That is why today, I have chosen to introduce us to six significant African American Quakers in American history. 

 

A few weeks ago, when I was teaching our Affirmation students, I asked for them to share with me the names of historic Quakers who embraced their inner lights and lived out an understanding of “that of God in everyone.” After many of the famous names (George Fox, Lucretia Mott, Levi Coffin, Margaret Fell) were shared, one student exclaimed, “How about Martin Luther King Jr.?”  Even though we included King because he embraced many Quaker values, it caused me to recognize how significantly our list was lacking color.  Ironically, one of my favorite Quaker’s of color was Bayard Rustin who was Dr. King’s righthand man.  You may have heard his name, but today, I will be introducing you to Quakers Cyrus Bustill, Paul Cuffe, Bayard Rustin, Barrington Dunbar, and Vera Green. All Quakers of color who have made an impact on our world.  Let’s begin with…

 

Cyrus Bustill (info from https://www.fgcquaker.org/resources/african-american-quaker-profiles)

Cyrus Bustill was born enslaved in Burlington, New Jersey in 1732.  His father sold him to Quaker Thomas Prior, a baker who taught Cyrus his trade. Cyrus was one of 104 Africans liberated by Friends in Burlington Quarterly Meeting from 1763-1793.

 

Cyrus became a successful baker and operated his own baking business for many years.  In 1787 after moving to Philadelphia, Cyrus became a founder of Philadelphia’s Free African Society. His entire family was actively involved in the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia. After building his own home, he also created a school for African American children in 1803.  

 

Under the care of Friends at Arch Street Meeting where they attended, Cyrus married Elizabeth Morrey, the daughter of Satterhwait, a Delaware Indian, and Richard Morrey, the son of the first mayor of Philadelphia.  They had eight children together.

 

On April 29, 2000, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated a state historical marker on the site of Bustill’s neighborhood at Third and Green to commemorate the Underground Railroad.  The Bustill family is one of the oldest African American families in the United States, and members of the family still live in Philadelphia.  We hope to visit the neighborhood and marker while in Philadelphia with our Affirmation Students this summer.

 

Paul Cuffe (info from https://www.fgcquaker.org/resources/african-american-quaker-profiles)

Paul Cuffe was born in Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts in a family of ten.  He taught himself mathematics, navigation, and other seafaring skills.  He became wealthy through whaling and trade in the Americas and Europe. He started his shipping business at the age of 16 during the Revolutionary War.  He also built boats during the war with his brother, David. Together, they smuggled merchandise through British blockades. 

 

Paul saw education as a means of liberation and began fighting for equal rights in many ways.  He taught other young black men the science of navigation and skills of a merchantman.  In 1800, he bought his own gristmill and a century and a half before his time urged mills to include African Americans in the planning stages of organizations.  He and other black men protested taxation on his father’s estate on the grounds of no taxation without representation. 

 

Even though he had a long involvement with Friends, Paul did not join Westport Monthly Meeting until 1806 when he was 49.  He dressed in the manner of Friends, wearing gray along with the wide-brimmed black hat.  In 1810 Paul shared a leading he had to establish a trading community in Sierra Leone that focused on trading goods instead of humans.  The Meeting approved his journeys and helped him establish this system of commerce in Sierra Leone.  Paul became well respected among Friends and became a leader at Westport Monthly Meeting.

 

Bayard Rustin (info from www.afsc.org/story/bayard-rustin)

Bayard Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 1912. He had been raised to believe that his parents were Julia and Janifer Rustin, when in fact they were his grandparents. He discovered the truth before adolescence, that the woman he thought was his sibling, Florence, was in fact his mother, who'd had Rustin with West Indian immigrant Archie Hopkins. 

 

Throughout his early years, Bayard became more and more engaged in the plight of African Americans in America. He found ways to combine the pacifism of his Quaker faith, the non-violent resistance taught by Mahatma Gandhi, and the socialism espoused by African-American labor leader A. Philip Randolph to get the attention of many people. During World War II he worked for Randolph, fighting against racial discrimination in war-related hiring.

Throughout the 30, 40’s and 50’s Bayard, as a Quaker, worked with American Friends Service Committee. It all started with a training AFSC put on at Cheyney State Teachers College that he attended while a student at the historic black college. By 1941 he was the sole black member of the AFSC delegation.  Together with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and AFSC, Bayard traveled around the country to address racism, colonialism, and conflict resolution.  Bayard was even among a group of men who authored AFSC’s influential document “Speak Truth to Power” which called for nonviolent alternatives to end the Cold War (which was a major part of my doctoral dissertation).

Sadly, Rustin was often punished for his beliefs. During the war, he was jailed for two years when he refused to register for the draft. When he took part in protests against the segregated public transit system in 1947, he was arrested in North Carolina and sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks. And because he was openly gay, he was arrested for practicing his sexuality in a public way – an issue that, at this time, sadly kept him in the background of the civil rights movement.  Later after the civil rights movement, he would become a strong voice for gay rights in America.

In 1947, Bayard organized the “First Freedom Ride” to challenge segregation, and by 1950 was seen as an expert organizer of human rights protests in America and England. Rustin met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and in 1955 began working with King as an organizer and strategist. He taught King about Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent resistance and advised him on the tactics of civil disobedience. He assisted King with the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956.

Most famously, Rustin was a key figure in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which King delivered his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963.

Throughout the decades, Bayard was a powerful voice for equality that moved audiences. His activism would remain inextricably linked to his Quaker values and upbringing.  Bayard believed as he said, “We are all one, and if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.”  To this day, I consider Bayard Rustin a “Triple Threat” fighting for civil rights, gay rights, and nonviolence.

Barrington Dunbar (info from https://www.afsc.org/blogs/acting-in-faith/black-power%E2%80%99s-challenge-to-quaker-power)

Barrington Dunbar was born in British Guyana and educated in the United States. He devoted his life to social work, as the director of settlement houses, camps for refugees, and other such services. He joined 57th Street Meeting in Chicago and later was active with 15th Street Meeting in New York City.

Much like Bayard Rustin, Barrington was committed to both black liberation and Quakerism. Yet he was on the other side of the movement.  Instead of the non-violent movement of King and Rustin, Barrington was on the Black Power side of the moment which was often associated with a violent rhetoric and alienated his pacifist friends. 

Barrington left his mark when he wrote an essay, “Black Power’s Challenge to Quaker Power” which was included in his book, “Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights” published by Quaker Press in 1968.

Barrington’s work challenged people to see the violence that operates in White Communities and highlighted the necessity of doing anti-racism and social justice work as an extension of the Quaker belief of that of God in everyone. 

Barrington believed that Quakers/Friends who have experienced love in the fellowship of the “gathered community” can demonstrate to the wider community what love can do in the following ways – these are just as relevant in our world and meeting today:

1.     We need to nurture the Inner Light—the source of the phenomenal power of the eighteenth-century Quakers. “Quaker Power” can be as effective as “Black Power” in speeding up revolutionary changes.

2.     We need to listen in love to the black people of America and to submit ourselves to the violence of their words and actions if we are to identify truly with their anguish and despair.

3.     We need to understand, to encourage, and to support the thrust of black people to achieve self-identity and power by sharing in the control of institutions in the community that affect their welfare and destiny.

4.     We must invest our resources—money and skill—to provide incentives for black people to develop and control economic, political, and social structures in the community.

5.     We must support the passage of antipoverty legislation leading to programs that will remedy the deplorable economic and social conditions existing in urban ghettos.

6.     We must oppose racial injustice wherever it is practiced: in the neighborhood where we live, in our places of business, and in our contacts with the wider community.

And finally…

Vera Green (info from https://www.fgcquaker.org/resources/african-american-quaker-profiles)

Vera Green was born in Chicago, Illinois and she too was a member of 57th Street Meeting of Friends (like Barrington Dunbar).  She attended William Penn College where she studied sociology and psychology.  She has a sociology degree from Roosevelt College in Chicago, a Master’s in anthropology from Columbia University, and in 1955 began work in international community development with the United Nations.  She had a passion for international human rights.

In 1969 at the height of the Civil rights movement, Vera, an educated black woman received a doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of Arizona. This degree took her on to fieldwork in the Caribbean Island of Aruba.  She was one of the first African American anthropologists to study ethnic relations in the Caribbean. 

Vera sensed a call to help people of Color around her disbelieve in their inequality that the world was telling them that they shouldn’t be allowed to hold important job titles or be scientifically inclined.  In 1973 Friends General Conference asked Vera to study “the problems of, and possible approaches for attracting more Black members” to the Religious Society of Friends.

Some of Greens observations were that African Americans knew little about Quakerism.  The attractions were patience, casual dress, lack of ceremony, and general Quaker understanding towards humanity.  “Peaceful,” “passive,” and “passive resistance” was less engaging as it was associated with submissive demands of enslaved people in order to survive.

After a long battle with cancer, Vera died on January 17, 1982 after making a lasting impact on the world on anthropology and the Religious Society of Friends.  She continues to encourage Black students and professionals today even though she is gone.

 

My hope is that this little history lesson introducing you to real Quakers of Color has helped us honor and remember the significant impact that African Americans (and especially these Quakers) have had on our society and world. 

I want to close this time and move into our time of Waiting Worship pondering the following queries posed by Barrington Dunbar to Friends Meetings (which you will find on the back of your bulletins this morning:  

·        How can “Quaker Power” speed up “revolutionary changes” in our community? How might it play a role in transforming systems of oppression?

·        How can we show “what love can do” for racial justice?

·        Is First Friends more than a “social club” for people with “common interests”? Who or what might be missing from our “beloved community”?

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2-3-19 - Destination or Journey?

Destination or Journey?

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

February 3, 2019

 

Luke 13:18-22

18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

20 And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with[a] three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

22 Jesus[b] went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.

 

My brother-in-law works in the motorcycle industry. He does not sell Harley Davidson motorcycles, but rather Triumph motorcycles. But one thing he knows is that the marketing managers at Harley Davidson do a really good job at what they do.  Harley has always been good about finding slogans that fit their style – like the famous, “Born to Ride.” But if you remember in the ‘80s, Harley became a bit more philosophical with their slogan, “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey” (which they would often change to, “It’s the journey, so just ride!”).  So true.  

The marketers were honest that there are more efficient ways to get from where you are to where you want to go, than on the back of a motorcycle. But they were also clear that they don’t ride just to “get there.” If we ride, as the commercials said, it is because of the journey.

I think Harley Davidson was on to something – not just for motorcycle riding, but for all of life.  Real life doesn’t happen on the straight line of the interstate. (That may seem backward to what often Christianity teaches).  But I believe the best of life happens in the twists and turns of the side roads, the back ways, off the beaten path – it is on those “scenic routes” that we stop in awe and wonder, and experience life  and our neighbors more fully!

In the Gospel of Luke, the writer makes it clear that Jesus had a destination in mind. What Judy just read today illustrates that point with the last verse:

“Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22).

 

Luke introduces the reader to the journey way back at the end of chapter 9 where in verse 51 we read that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Later in Luke 17:11 Jesus is described as “on the way to Jerusalem.” In 18:11 Jesus says, “we are going up to Jerusalem.” In Luke 19:28 we read, “After [Jesus] had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” I think it is clear – Jesus had a destination.  (Even Biblical scholars often call this section of Luke, 9:51 through 19:28 “Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem.”)  What is great, it that Luke invites us to come along for the ride.

In Luke 13:33 Jesus sums up well the purpose for his journey when he says,

“Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.”

 

Jesus has a specific destination and purpose in mind. He is marching to Jerusalem. He knows that what he is doing is getting the people upset and already death threats have come his way because of his message. Yet he doesn’t take the Interstate to Jerusalem. Jesus knows where he is going, but he knows that it is not about the destination. It is the journey that matters. There is much to be done along the way.

If you just flip through your Bible looking at the headings, you will notice that on his way to Jerusalem Jesus takes the time to teach along the way. He also sends out his disciples to share good news. He takes time to tell stories (parables) of the good Samaritan, the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. He shares the importance of meditation and prayer. He confronts the religious leaders, and talks about reconciliation with those who have hurt you. He heals people who are sick. He shares about the kingdom, and even takes time to have dinner with an enemy (a tax collector) named Zacchaeus. For that matter, he even takes time to bless little children – all on his way to Jerusalem.

It seems Jesus took every opportunity presented to him to teach, heal, welcome, bless, and reach out to the people he met along the way. He was going to Jerusalem, but he never lost sight of the work to which he was called. There was more to his journey than just making great time and getting the job done. There were people along the way. People in need of a comforting word from God, in need of a healing touch, needing to know that they were loved. And there were also people to be confronted and systemic issues to be addressed.

Jesus could have made better time. He didn’t have to stop all along the way. But for him it was not just about getting from point A to point B. Jesus is noticing things along the way that truly matter. For Jesus it became not about the destination; it became a journey.

Jesus had this mission he was to accomplish, but he never lost sight of the importance of the people in his life, those he encountered daily.

A great modern day parable of this for us would be one of my boy’s favorite movies.  A movie I have seen so many times, it begged me to see this connection.

That movie, is the Pixar movie, Cars. Probably most of us have seen it.

Lightning McQueen is an up and coming superstar in racing. He is very motivated, very self-focused, and very ready to become the celebrity he believes he deserves to be. Yet, we get glimpses in the movie of just how alone he has made himself, driving away anyone who might get in his way of getting to that Piston Cup.

When he gets stranded in Radiator Springs, that old town on Route 66, he learns about something more important – people. Well, in this case cars. Those around him who care about him for who he is, and not just what he can do. In the end, his heart softens and we see that for him the friends have become the central piece in his life. His presence brought a healing touch, he found love, and even confronted issues in the systems and lives of radiator springs.  Obviously, Lightening McQueen is not a Messiah figure, but he is an example for us.  Sometimes we focus on whatever is the “Piston Cup” of our lives and need to get off our usual beaten path to find our friends in Radiator Springs (which could mean in our families, in our workplaces, in our schools, wherever we interact with people).

 

 

In taking several driving trips across our beautiful country over the years, we have seen the valleys, the rivers, the animals, and the people.  Each trip became a unique journey.  I remember on our trip to Indianapolis a couple of summers ago, because we had sent all of our possessions by PODs, we took time to stop in many places, see the sites and experience the culture.  Sure we had a destination, but it became a journey!  Many of you followed us on that journey on Facebook and we started a relationship through that journey.  Isn’t it interesting how important taking time for the journey really is.    

Jesus seemed to have a similar sense as he walked the dusty streets to Jerusalem. He wasn’t just trying to get there. He was journeying.

I believe the passage we read this morning explains why he can do this. Jesus gives these two brief parables about the Kingdom of God – a mustard seed and yeast. There are several levels in which one could interpret these parables. Today I focus on just one of them.

Earlier in Luke 13 we find Jesus embroiled in another confrontation with a synagogue leader because, once again he brought healing on the Sabbath. In response to the indignation of this leader Jesus gives this great example pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He asks if they untie their oxen and donkeys to lead them to water on the Sabbath. If they think it is OK to do that “work” for animals on the Sabbath, how can they not see that it is OK for Jesus to do the “work” of healing real people on the Sabbath? So there is tension between those who put the rules over the people and Jesus putting the people over the rules. In the context of this conversation about the priority of rules and people Jesus gives these two, very short parables about yeast and a mustard seed.

One of the things that yeast and mustard seeds have in common in Jesus’ day was that they were small, ordinary, and easily overlooked. Yet in many ways they are miraculous. From the tiny mustard seed, an entire mustard tree is grown – large enough, Jesus says, that birds make nests in their branches. Yet if you are not looking for it, the seed is easily missed.

The same is true of the yeast. You cannot see the yeast in the dough, and yet when it is mixed in with the flour, it makes all the difference in the bread, causing it to rise. Everyday the people ate bread, not really thinking about the yeast and what it had done for the dough. It is easily overlooked, and yet it makes a great deal of difference.

Jesus took his time and was able to see what others often missed. One of the greatest was that Jesus saw people. I think of that line from the woman at the well who invites her friends to ““Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” (John 4:29). She knew that Jesus had seen her. He was aware of the Kingdom of God all around him in the people he met. On the interstate of life, it is easy to miss those kinds of things, the ordinary blessings of the everyday.

In the book of Acts we learn that the very first Christians didn’t call their new-found faith Christianity. Rather they called it The Way. They also didn’t call themselves Christians, but “followers of The Way.” They saw themselves on a journey, and invited others to join them. They told stories about Jesus interacting with real people just like them, which helped them receive a new awareness of mustard seeds and yeast.

Contrary to our travels across the country, interstates aren’t awful. They are actually quite helpful and useful. But life is much more memorable when from time to time you don’t go for a drive just to make good time, but rather to have a good time.

The queries I want us to ponder today are,

·        Do you need to get off the Interstate, and go and find the side roads or scenic paths?”

·        Are you missing important things along the way?

·        Are you so focused on the destination that you are missing the ride, the journey, the people in your life? Or to put it bluntly, are you missing God and God’s Kingdom on your way to your destination?

Maybe it’s time to take the next exit, slow down, and enjoy the ride.  Let’s make this time of waiting worship a time to take an exit and slow down, so we can again enjoy the ride of life.

Prayer:

Patient God, we are people in a hurry.

We confess that we value faster more than deeper, and getting there more than growing.

We miss the tiger lily on our way to the art museum, the wren’s song on our way to the concert. God, we even miss the child on the way to the adult.

We hurry to do things ourselves, God, because your steady, deliberate slowness irritates and scares us.

Teach us to trust you so we can simply wait. We only know how to wait with fingers tapping.

God, some days we don’t have any fun.

We don’t have the time or the energy for fun.

We’re too busy trying – trying to get caught up, trying to make sense of our lives, trying to be better people.

God, show us when we try too hard.

Teach us not to be afraid to let go. Teach us to trust you. Teach us to be gentle with ourselves.

We confess that we think we’ve done some things right.

But sometimes it all feels like a perpetual struggle – between fear and love, anger and love, pride and love, pain and love;

A struggle between foolishness and wisdom, individualism and responsibility, how others define us and how we define ourselves.

We commit ourselves to keep on, but we get tired, impatient, angry, and scared, so then we give up and give in, then we fail you, each other, and ourselves.

Have mercy on us, forgive us, free us, love us, we pray. Amen.

 

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1-27-19 - Revolutionary Love

Revolutionary Love

First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

Originally for January 20, 2019, but Meeting for Worship was cancelled due to bad weather. Sermon given January 27, 2019.

 

John 13:34—35

 

34 “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

 

Today, as we pause to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., I want to not just once again remember the man, but more the legacy that he has left us.  As I have studied and allowed Martin Luther King’s writings, speeches, and life to influence me, and have an impact on my ministry and activism, I have found one overly-consistent theme – that being LOVE. 

 

Now, it seems almost too simplistic to just pronounce “love” as a major theme for Martin Luther King Jr.  For some, claiming love may seem a way to water-down King’s words and action to rudimentary and feel-good aspects, so we don’t have to deal with the more difficult things he taught and lived.  

 

Yet, like many of us, King didn’t have love all figured out. For King, love and how we experienced, shared, and utilized it were an evolving process.

 

It actually took Mahatma Gandhi to open King’s eyes to a deeper understanding of love – an understanding that would ignite and give even greater weight to his teachings and the Civil Rights Movement in America.

 

In The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., King says,

 

“Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance…The whole concept of Satyagraha (satya is truth which equals love, and agrahah is force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth force or love force) was profoundly significant to me.  As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform.  Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships.  The “turn the other cheek” philosophy and the “love your enemies” philosophy, were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict a more realistic-approach seemed necessary.  But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.”

 

See, what Gandhi did for King and, I believe, for us, today, was to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a larger scale.  

 

Love became an effective instrument for social change

and collective transformation.

 

Let’s take a moment and go back and look at this.   

 

Jesus had summarized the ten commandments and the teaching of the law down to two phrases – and both were about LOVE.  Love God, and then he said, love your Neighbor as you love yourself.

 

 Jesus taught that the act of love comes from the core of our being.  For Jesus’ audience that meant it came from the soul (thus love is a soul force).  Jesus’ more Jewish audience would have used a metaphor of this love “extending from one’s heart” – where the Jewish faith centers life and considers love for our neighbors and world to spring forth.  

 

To Jesus, love was the most important habit of the heart or soul – it was what would define, shape, and grow one’s life, experience, social interaction, even some would say it would define his way of engaging the politics and societal issues of his day. It seems simple and rudimentary, but it was the essential element - the foundation block.   

 

Much like King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, When the Apostle Paul writes from jail to the people of Ephesis, he continues to translate what it takes to create “one new humanity” and again he focuses on that essential element – love. Paul says the following in his letter to the Ephesians (this is from chapter 4:1-7 MSG):

 

 1 In light of all this, here's what I want you to do. While I'm locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk - better yet, run! - on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. 2 And mark that you do this with humility and discipline - not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, 3 alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. 4 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. 5 You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. 7 But that doesn't mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.

    

Paul takes Jesus’ command to love and he puts it into action, and in much more palpable words.  Just notice the “action words” that Eugene Peterson translated in the Message version of this text to make it come alive.

 

Do, walk, run, travel, steady, pour out, acts of love, alert, quick at mending fences, together, outwardly and inwardly…oneness!

 

What I believe Paul is trying to convey is that, everything we ARE and THINK, and DO should be done in love for the benefit of our neighbors.  Yet it is going to look different for each of us.  We’re a diverse people.  We all have a completely different set of gifts, talents, qualities, abilities, and even unique personalities.

 

And that means we all give and receive love differently.  Maybe this is what complicates love and how we put it into action. In this room alone, we all love and receive love differently. Maybe you have read the book, “The Five Love Languages” and know all about this, but I would say over my years in ministry, I to have evolved to understand that there are more than just five love languages – those were just a primer that help define our different ways of love.

 

Our unique life circumstances, our unique friendships and relationships, our unique environments, our unique abilities…All create unique beings who are called to love and follow the example of Christ.    

 

Many don’t know this, but Gandhi spent a great deal of time reading the Bible – especially the Gospels and teachings of Jesus. Gandhi considered himself a follower of Christ. It was after reading the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ teachings on loving one’s enemies, he developed the concept of Satyagraha or Soul/Love Force.  He was so influenced that his first point to emphasize was Loving one’s enemies.  He outlined what that looked liked:

 

·        Harbor no anger towards your enemies.

·        Suffer the anger of the opponent.

·        Do not insult the opponent.

·        Do not trivialize the beliefs of intelligence of opponents.

·        Forgive as you wish to be forgiven.

·        Opponents are God’s children, made in His image and likeness.

·        Defend your opponent against insult or assault.

·        Look for God’s face in the face of others.

 

Now, adding those things to love makes it much harder to swallow. It is so much easier just saying Love God and Love your Neighbor.  That’s because this love goes beyond relationships, this is the love that, I believe, has the potential and power to change our world. 

 

This is how Martin Luther King could see the wealth and depth of Jesus’s teaching, Paul’s call to go forth, and Gandhi’s soul force to transform the world in such a powerful new way.  

 

King would explain his evolving view of love in an article titled, Nonviolence and Racial Justice, in Christian Century, February 1957. He said,   

 

“In speaking of love we are not referring to some sentimental emotion. It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense[…] When we speak of loving those who oppose us […] we speak of a love which is expressed in the Greek word Agape. Agape means nothing sentimental or basically affectionate; it means understanding, redeeming goodwill for all [sic] men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.”  (repeat that final line)

 

In Quaker Parker Palmer’s latest book, “On the Brink of Everything” he describes King’s love as “Revolutionary Love” instead of being romantic or emotional, it is embodied, courageous, and demanding.  Palmer says,

 

“Choosing to practice the love ethic can birth new possibilities. But to be revolutionary, love must be poured in three directions: toward others, toward our opponents, and toward ourselves.”

 

Let’s be honest, today, you and I are living in a time where instead of love, fear and anger are driving our world. We are seeing on a daily basis many of the same atrocities of Jim Crow, Slavery, discrimination, and injustice that King and Gandhi fought, alive and well in our world.

 

That essential element – love – of redeeming goodwill for all, that seeks nothing in return, and is poured in three directions – others, opponents, selves - has almost been replaced completely by fear mongering, cynical views, and extremely selfish and angered people.

 

Just look around at the road rage, cyber bullying, trash-talking, Jerry Springer-like brawls and antics in public forums, degradation of women, minorities, other cultures, and all the lying taking place.  It makes one ask – where is the love? 

 

What if we would choose to approach our neighbors, families, friends, and enemies with more grace, more care, more understanding, and more love? 

 

We just might prevent ourselves and those around us from getting swept away by the tide of anger and fear all around us. But folks, like a couple of weeks ago when I shared about rest, the choice is ours.  We can fluff it over or we can really seek to love in a transformational way. 

 

Parker Palmer summarized what I believe King and Gandhi and even Jesus and Paul were seeking for us to do.  Palmer broke it down to 5 habits of our heart that if we choose to discipline ourselves with, may just help change what is in and extending from our hearts.

 

Habit One: Develop an understanding that we are all in this together. We are dependent and accountable to one another, and yes, that includes the “alien” other.

 

Habit Two: Develop an appreciation of the values of “otherness.” This is a call to begin with hospitality before limiting ourselves with “us vs. them” catagories. 

 

Habit Three: Develop an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. If we fail to hold these tensions creatively, the contradictions of life will shut us down and take us out of the action, but the possibilities for the heart to extend love with energy and new life are limiteless.

 

Habit Four: Develop a sense of personal voice and agency.  It is possible for us, no matter young or old, to find our voices, and speak truth/love to power.  This is soul force (Satyagraha) at its best.  When we don’t speak up out of love and in truth, we can be hurting our neighbors and world.

 

Habit Five: Develop a capacity to create community.  King called this creating the “Beloved Community.” He said,

 

“Our Goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” 

 

So it is clear, that love is not as simple as we may want it to be.  Its not just a gushy feeling, a romantic moment, but it is what can actually change our world.  And I believe whether that call comes from Jesus, Paul, Gandhi, King, or Palmer, it is again being heralded in our world today.  

 

Let me close with these words of Martin Luther King Jr. before we enter our time of waiting worship.  This is from a sermon King gave at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama titled, “Loving Your Enemies.” He concludes: 

 

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

Let us now enter into a time of waiting worship. 

 

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1-20-19 - Christian Unity Prayer Service - Becoming Justice in our World

Becoming Justice in our World

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Service

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

January 20, 2019

 

Grace, mercy, peace and justice be to you all this evening as we gather to begin this week of prayer for Christian Unity. I want to thank Fr. Rick Ginthers and Wanda Coffin Baker for inviting me to share with you all tonight.

 

“Corruption is experienced in many forms…It infects politics and business, often with devastating consequences for the environment. In particular, corruption undermines justice and the implementation of law.  Too often those who are supposed to promote justice and protect the weak do the opposite. As a consequence, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened; and so, a country rich in resources has the scandal of many people living in poverty…Meanwhile, particular ethnic and religious groups are often associated with wealth in ways that have fed tensions.  Radicalization that pits one community against another has grown and is exacerbated by the misuse of social media that demonizes particular communities.”

 

When I read those words in the introduction to the theme for this year from the Christians of Indonesia, I couldn’t help thinking the description was of America not Indonesia.  It seemed to fit our current state, all too well.  I believe what this does is show us how clearly, we as American Christians, are becoming more and more able to relate to our neighbors throughout the world. Whether Indonesia or America, we all are in need of the balm of Christ’s healing in our fractured and broken world. 

 

The Indonesia Christians were moved by the concerns which I just read to seek justice. As well, we should be concerned for America and seeking justice ourselves. The Indonesia Christians clung to the words from Deuteronomy 16:20 which is our theme verse for this week, “Justice, and only justice you shall pursue.”  

 

Ironically, last week, I had the opportunity to teach Quaker Theology to our Youth Affirmation Students.  For those wondering Affirmation is our version of Confirmation – you confirm, and we affirm – it is a matter of semantics. 

 

We were playing a kind of educational exploratory game where the students would pick one of several questions we had prepared and read it to the group.  They would then write an answer to that question, pass it to me and I would read their answers.  They were to guess who they thought wrote the answers. (think like Apples to Apples). 

 

One of the students picked a question and read it aloud to the group, “What is life’s biggest question?”  Each student handed me their answers and I began to read.  Some of the answers were funny, like “Why do we park in a driveway and drive in a parkway?” and others were more serious.  But one caught my attention.  It was actually written by one of my own sons.  It read,

 

“What is justice?” And then in parentheses because I was not to read this out loud, he wrote, “(I learned this in English Dad)”. 

 

Now, I don’t know my son’s High School English teacher yet, but I have a feeling my son is learning a lot more than how to diagram sentences in that class. 

 

What is justice? It is such an important question not only to ask, but to seek an answer to. 

 

It seems we are quick to quote a plethora of people who we believe have an answer to this question. Take for example this weekend as Facebook has already begun to explode with quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. such as:

 

“The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” or

 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” or

 

“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

 

Do we even understand what King was saying? Do we understand his context?  Or do we simply post because, well, that sounds good?

 

For about the past 10 years, my wife, Sue, and I have been diligent in taking our three boys on tours of Civil Rights sites in our country.  This past summer, we had the opportunity to return to the King Center in Atlanta, GA.  We also visited for the first time the New Peace and Justice Memorial, in Montgomery, AL, and we ended our time at the National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee – all in the year of the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.  Each site was powerful and gave new insight to the injustices we have produced and the people who have endured the consequences in our own country.

But it was a bonus experience while in Montgomery, that literally stopped me in my tracks. You may have read or at least are aware of the #1 New York Times Bestseller book, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. (If you have not read it, I highly recommend it.) Stevenson has an unforgettable story, but what you may not know is that as a young civil rights and public interest attorney he created and founded the Equal Justice Initiative. As it states on their website:

“The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

Not only did Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative create the National Memorial for Peace and Justice which remembers and acknowledges 4400 (and growing) African American victims of racial terror lynchings in our United States including two hanging monuments for Indiana victims alone, but they also created a museum, which is housed in a former slave warehouse in downtown Montgomery. 

 

We took our family into what they call The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.  Now, this is one of the first museums I have ever experienced that is solely focused on the injustices from our own history and injustices that still go on today. I don’t think I will ever forget this experience, because my eyes were opened to injustices that I had never imagined or understood.  It made me want to seek further an answer to my son’s great question, “What is Justice?”

 

Well, after our experience in Montgomery, I began to see with new eyes my world and much of that was due to the hard work and dedication of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. So, who better to ask life’s biggest question – What is Justice? – than Bryan Stevenson.  

 

Come to find out, we weren’t the only one asking that question to Bryan. In November of 2012, reporter Kyle Whitmire apologetically asked Bryan Stevenson that “big” question.  And this was his answer,

 

“I think justice is a constant struggle.  That’s as good a definition as I can come up with. I think that injustice is evident when people are not struggling to protect the norms, the values, the goals, the aspirations of the entire community – for fairness, equality and balance. I think we tend to measure justice with metrics that are not exactly right. We’re looking at a particular place, a particular situation, a particular end. It really is a struggle. You never get there, and you’re never done.  You have to keep at it…. When you can identify injustice, when you can identify inequality and unfairness, and you confront that, then in my mind you are doing justice. You are doing something corrective to the abuse of power that is at the heart of injustice, to the bigotry and bias that is often at the heart of injustice. So, in a lot of ways, identifying injustice, confronting it and challenging it is what justice is about.”

 

Let that sink in for a moment.  (Repeat the underlined above)

 

Now, let me bring into perspective that quote of Martin Luther King Jr. which I shared earlier.  In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King addressed the church and its leaders of his day, but I believe he is still addressing you and I gathered here tonight…

 

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

 

I cannot sit idly by as young men in Washington D.C. disrespect Omaha Nation elder Nathan Philips because we are tied by that “single garment of destiny.”

 

But too often for me it sounds a bit different.  It sounds more like this.

 

I can sit idly by in my office or home and not be concerned about what happens in other places.  Injustice is part of society and it’s simply the lot of those less fortunate or those lacking education or wealth to dig themselves out.  Each one to themselves, I have too much on my plate right now, I don’t have time to deal with their problems, too.  I have my future to worry about. You do what you need to do, but I probably am too busy to help. Let me post my thoughts on Facebook, that will make me feel better.   

 

Sadly, too often, you and I and our churches out of convenience or lack of making a statement or stand, allow unfairness to flourish. Sometimes we may even perpetuate it out of unawareness or simple laziness.  At times we see injustices happening and we turn the other cheek hoping “maybe I didn’t see that.”

 

It’s not comfortable to speak up and speak truth to power.  It’s a struggle to admit our privileges and how we came about them. It’s a struggle to work for fairness. It takes a lot of time to raise up a new generation of people that can identify injustice.

 

What is justice? – it’s a universal struggle. And as I started this sermon, it is because our world (whether in Indonesia, America, or elsewhere) is corrupt and infected with injustice, misuse, scandal, and at its core, what we would call downright sin. We are no better than those boys in Washington D.C.  

 

But when you and I admit that we are joined by that “single garment of destiny” which King so eloquently spoke of, we quickly become aware that we are in need of something more to keep us together. Something outside of ourselves that shows us a better way. 

 

One who will save us from the pain we inflict on each other. 

 

One who can show us by example a better way. 

 

One who is and embodies and takes up our struggle.

 

One who brings us together as sisters and brothers and calls us friends.

 

One who faced the corruption of power in the world, who reinterpreted and fulfilled the law, and who offers abundance, hope, and healing. 

 

One who doesn’t look at our skin color, our gender, our ethnic heritage, our family lineage, our sexual orientation, our educational experience, or denominational affiliation.     

 

One who said I have come to bring good news to the poor.

 

One who said I have come to set the captives free.

 

One who said I have come to restore sight to the blind.

 

One who said I have come to set the oppressed free.

 

Folks, Jesus became Justice He took up the struggle.  He died for the cause.  He spoke truth to power. He righted the wrongs.  And with compassion and love he looked the injustices of this world in the eyes and said no more. 

 

And now, he calls his church – each of us here tonight – to partner with him and go and do the same.  It is our turn to become Justice in our world. Each of us here tonight are opportunities for justice to be made manifest in our world.  We have the power to expose inequality and unfairness, correct the abuse of powers, and stop the bigotry and bias that tears us a part. We can be the corrective change.  

 

What is Justice?  It looks like you and me. 

 

With our sisters and brothers in Indonesia, I commend us… Justice and only Justice WE shall pursue!  And all of God’s people said, Amen.     

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1-13-19 - Rest: A Vital Spiritual Discipline

Rest: A Vital Spiritual Discipline

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

January 13, 2019

 

Mark 6:31

 

31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

 

Matthew 11:29

 

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

 

Psalm 127:2

 

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.

 

 

It is clear from our scriptures this morning that God is concerned about rest.  Actually, Jim Smith author of The Good and Beautiful God says, “The number one enemy to our spiritual formation is exhaustion.”  As one who has studied in depth spiritual formation from a variety of perspectives that bold proclamation got my attention.  Exhaustion is an enemy to our soul.  Let that sink in for a moment.

 

I think we have to start by admitting it. We are an exhausted people. And we live in exhausting times.

 

I hear it all too often.

 

“I am exhausted by listening to the news.” 

“I am exhausted by politics.”

“I am exhausted by this weather.”

“I am exhausted by my kids.” 

“I am exhausted by my work.”

“I am exhausted by other people’s issues and problems.”

“I am exhausted by my relatives.”

“I am exhausted by my medical condition.”

 

And the list goes on.  How do you fill in the blank…I am exhausted by ______________.

 

 

Honestly, in my tenure as a pastor I have even heard people say “I am exhausted by the church.”  Usually because of over-programming, abuse or lack of volunteers, and lack of vision for the future.

 

Many, especially in the helping professions, suffer from exhaustion and lack of rest.  Technology and social media have added to this exhaustion.  Today, we have to set limits for “screen time, reminders to exercise, interaction with human people to avoid isolation, and some are now suggesting to schedule naps into our work day. 

 

This is not something new for many cultures outside of the US.  People actually head home from work in Spain for a siesta. And in Italy they take a riposo. And in China workers break after lunch and put their heads on their desks for an hour-long nap (it is a protected right by their constitution).  Some major corporations in America have realized the benefit and have added Nap Rooms to their office space and tech companies like Google and Zappos have introduced what are called Nap Pods (just Google it and you probably will want to order one for your home or office).     

 

Sadly, I don’t think the need for rest is something new in our world, and it is evident from a simple glance at our bibles. Even people 2000+ years ago dealt with the lack of rest.  As I did my research for this sermon, I couldn’t believe how many times the bible talks about people needing rest.

 

Even when drafting the original 10 Commandments – rest was a key component.  “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.” (Exodus 20:9-10).

 

When I was in my doctoral work, I was challenged to find what our Jewish sisters and brothers consider sabbath rest.  Sabbath comes from the word shavat which means to “cease” or “desist.”  The main observance of shavat was from sunset on Friday to nightfall of the following day.

 

Now, Quakers consider all days equal which can mess with this needed opportunity to rest.  Thus, I like to consider rest not about a day but about a discipline.      

 

Richella Parham, in an article posted by Renovaré titled, “The Spiritual Discipline of Rest” points out,

 

“…the way the human body functions has not changed much in the years since God commanded his people to observe a day of rest. The amount of time generally set aside for sleep has shrunk, but the need for it has not. In these days filled with artificial light and late-night opportunities for work and play, we must now be very purposeful in the pursuit of physical rest.  

I think we often fail to consider that we must choose to rest or else we’re likely to have rest forced upon us when we are exhausted to the point of physical, mental, or emotional distress.”

Ask yourself this morning, Have I ever found myslef forced to my bed after pushing myself too hard?

I had a friend once who would say, “My getting sick is God’s way of slowing me down.”  I don’t think we need to blame this on God, but rather become more aware of our life, our body’s needs, and about how much we are able or trying to do. 

As followers of Christ, we look to Jesus as an example and there are plenty of places in scripture that show us his discipline of rest. Often, we get so caught up with other aspects of the stories that we quickly read over or completely miss the more human aspects to which we can relate that often speak directly to his need for down time. For example:

Mark 1:35 But after this one day, “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place and there he prayed.”  

 

In this moment Jesus secluded himself so much that his disciples could not find him and they had actually formed a search party. 

 

Or after John the Baptist’s death, Jesus said to the disciples,

 

’Come away by yourselves to a quiet place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” 

 

And in Matthew 11:28-30 it clearly shows that Jesus understood the importance of rest.  He incorporated rest into his life and his teaching.  I love how The Message translates Matthew 11:28-30,

 

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 

That is one of my favorite phrases: We need to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

 

But probably the story I love the most is found in Mark 4.  Most of us are probably familiar with this story.  Jesus and his closest followers set out across the Sea of Galilee by boat. Exhausted and spent from his day of ministry and teaching, Jesus falls fast asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat. While Jesus is “sawing logs,” major storms blow in and fear sets in on everyone else  aboard the boat.  Mark 4:38 finds everyone a bit upset at Jesus and they shake him awake saying angerly, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

 

Now, you must remember that many of Jesus’ disciples were fisherman and knew just how dangerous the Sea of Galilee could get. So if they were frantic during a squall or storm of this nature – that was a big problem. Yet Jesus shows us that even in the literal storms of life, rest is vital to building our trust, confidence, and definitely our peace.

 

The reason I love this story so much is because it is just how it seems to be. You finally decide to nap, rest, take a day off, or make some time in your schedule and then someone comes and says, “What are you doing? You don’t have time to rest.” 

 

Folks, there will always be another emergency, more work to do, someone to help, something to fix, but sometimes to help us be better people in our world, more understanding, more clear about our decisions, we are going to need to say, “I am taking a rest, because that is more important at this time.”   

 

And when you and I are in the thick of the storms of life, do we take Jesus’ advice or simply push on.  Do we find a quiet place to rest?  Do we intentionally find time to recover and renew our life?  Do we, while everyone else is frantic around us, have the personal awareness and fortitude it takes to find a place stop the madness around us and really rest? 

 

Are you in need of rest, today? Would your week start better if you rested today? If you allowed yourself to slow down and pause for a while might you be able to center down and worship in a more meaningful way?   

 

To help us begin to process our need for the discipline of rest.  I want to offer you  some queries to ponder this morning (you will find them on the back of the bulletin):

 

·        What exhausts you or keeps you working past your limits?

·        When and where do you most deeply rest?

·        Who helps you rest?

·        What is it like for you to set aside time to rest and recharge?

·        How regular and inviolable is that time?

 

After you have had a moment to look at those queries, Eric will come up and share a song to help lead us into waiting worship.  This morning, I hope our waiting worship will also be restful worship.  Imagine God saying to you this morning, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest” and then allow yourself to center down and enter into that space this morning.

 

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