Come Together. Right Now.: My Sermon at the Interfaith Ministries Community Thanksgiving Service

Scripture: Micah 6:1-8, I Cor 12:1-2, 4-20, Koran 14:31-34 “Abraham”


Let me first extend the spirit of Thankfulness that permeates this room and this service to my good friend April LaFollette for asking me to offer a brief message at this gathering of religious leaders, followers, and people who genuinely desire to change the world for the better. In the year and a half that I have been here I have called April more times than I can count—times when I had someone in my office who didn’t know how he was going to keep Alabama Power from turning his lights off, times when a woman had tearfully called me to say that she didn’t know how she was going to feed her children, times when a person, caught in the cycles of poverty that so often are allowed to move through our society unchallenged, just needed to catch that one break. Having both April and Interfaith Ministries here are truly signs of God’s love for us in this community and our community’s efforts to respond to that love. And as we gather here, may we acknowledge that all the major religious traditions of the world recognize the importance of the practice of thankfulness—thankfulness for the things of this life, for the relationships that we share, for the infinite number of opportunities we have to just stop and breathe and be in the midst of the Holy One. And we have much for which to be thankful on this evening. For we in the United States, we are about to commence a series of holy days in which we will give thanks for the season’s bounty. For the food that has arisen from the earth, for the hands that have picked it, prepared it, shipped it. For the work that we do, or have done, that allows us the ability to feed our families, to gather around table with kith and kin, to stand around a hearth and warm ourselves by the fire. In my tradition, we are about to enter a period of watchful waiting. Believing that never being relegated to a manger in a far off country in an equally far off time, that he will be born in our midst again and anew, even as the spirit that unites us all is birthed into each new moment uniting all people in all places now and always. But, we know, that is not always how the world works. The unity of which he hope and believe in the Christian tradition and that is shared in the other great religious traditions of the world stands in stark contrast to the world that most of us occupy. A world where we, too often, ignore our shared lineage, in order to elevate our own people, our own tribe. A world where the individualism of the moment declares that there is little to no shared reality and instead a billion little slivers of creation instead of creation recognizing a common creator. A world where live in our own little enclaves of security and homogeneity, while we ignore those who don’t look like us, or speak like us, or come from the same place, or worship in the same manner. So, on this night, as we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, may we not lose sight of the absolutely radical thing that we do here in coming together as a singular group. Let us not lose sight that this is not how many in the contemporary moment would have us act. Let us not lose sight that for some in our own religious traditions, to sit in solidarity in this place is understood as a betrayal to our faith. For many in our society, to set aside our differences and celebrate our commonalities, is to powerfully declare unity in a time in which schisms threaten a growing number of our faith traditions and divide and conquer seems the preeminent strategy for gaining political and cultural strength. But here in this time and this place, where ministers, priests, imams, elders, deacons leaders and followers all share scripture and hymnals, we each can declare with one voice that the forces that seek to separate us will never be able to overcome that singular shared reality, that singular shared belief, that singular shared foundation—that we are all from the beginning of time to the end, the beloved children of God, beloved from before one cosmic stone was placed on another, and beloved until all of creation and time and space returns to the God who first birthed it. And there is too much work to be done in this world and in this life with which each of us has been blessed to waste time fostering division and discontent, we must figure out a way to come together, right now.  In our passages for this afternoon, we see this old order of the world become challenged by the new order. In both passages we see people of God, Micah, the prophet, and Paul, the apostle, cast their visions over the society in which each finds themselves and really call their followers, all who could hear the sound of their voices, to challenge the powers, the principalities of their day. And in each, we hear words that continue to challenge our own way of thinking. In each, we hear words that guarantee that, if we follow them, will place us in the role of challenger, in the role of prophet, in the role of outcast in our own world. Because in this world, it takes moving outside the bounds of proper behavior to do justice. It takes forgoing our own safety and security to be meek and peacemakers. It take faith and faith in abundance to walk humbly with God. To believe that in all things and at all times God walks beside you. It takes faith to be speak words of unity in the face of discord. It takes a belief in the ever present and loving hand of God to act as the people of God.    In Micah, we see the struggle between the old way and the prophetic way. The old way and the holy way. The old way, the way that things have always been done, the way that leads to the same, safe results, and the new way, the way of God, the walk of God. We see in the prophet Micah, a shaking of the foundations of the earth and of Israelite society. As is oft the case in the Hebrew scriptures, the Israelites find themselves in some amount of struggle. They find themselves in a struggle to maintain their connection to God, their sovereignty as a state, and their religious traditions. And so the wise of their time, the religious leaders of their time ask what they are to do in the midst of strife. “How shall we come to God?” they ask through the voice of Micah. “Shall we come with burnt offerings? That has always seemed to work in the past. With Calves a year old? Will God be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? My own first born? Maybe that will bring about the connection with God that we are desperately seeking. That is always how it has been done in the past. But, Micah, the great prophet of God, rejects the old way. With words of simplicity and depth. Words of hope and encouragement. Words of love and peace. “Mortal, do justice.” Do justice? Do justice? It is pretty easy in this age in which we live where the word justice has become used a lot to miss the power that the word contains. Do justice. That suggests an action. To do justice, you have to do something. We cannot be satisfied with simply praying for those who suffer though that is certainly important. We cannot be satisfied with just giving money to our causes of choice though that is essential. We have to do something. Do justice. We live in a time in which the gap between the haves and the have nots continues to swell as do the numbers of those who lack the basic necessities of life. A time in which our technological accomplishments have far outpaced our ability to figure out how to share within one another so that children, mothers, fathers, don’t go to bed hungry or die from preventable diseases. A time in which there are still too many walls the separate us, one from another and leave us with an ever increasingly alone to face the uncertainty of the future. We live in a time in which children are abused. The poor are abused. A time in which women are abused and are standing up and courageously declaring that to be so. Where we are turning a blind and bitter eye towards those from other lands so that they, too, can be abused and so the clarion call comes from the prophet, do Justice. “Mortal, love kindness.” Again kindness seems so simple. It is easy to be kind to our families. It is easy to be kind to our friends when they call and need our help. It is easy to be kind to our significant others when they have had a bad day and just need to vent. But what of the person who cuts us off in line at the grocery or in traffic. What of the person who lies in the hospital bed or in prison needing to feel the balm of kindness on the wounds of her life? What of the children, no different than my children who go to bed hungry and sick, who die from preventable disease and lack of clean water? Is it just as simple to be kind to them? And it is not just that we must attempt in those trying times to be kind to one another, we must love kindness. It must become like the air we breathe or the way we feel about those closest to us. It must become our defining action in the world, our one spiritual grain on the scale of humanity. We must love kindness so that when we see it is not present, we ache with spiritual sadness and angst. When we see it called for in response to the brokenness we encounter we must make our stand here and not be able to do any other. We must love kindness. “Mortal, walk humbly with God.” This is Micah’s word of challenge and comfort to those with ears to hear. It is his affirmation that the people of this world do not struggle against the old order of things alone. We do not challenge sitting powers by ourselves. We do not struggle for justice and kindness in a singular effort. We, the people of this world, the beloved of God, the children of God, walk with God. In this simple turn of phrase, “walk humbly with God,” Micah reminds us that the spirit of God moves through the world. The spirit of God moves through time, bringing about the reconciliation of creation with God. The spirit of God advances ultimately making all things, all people, all creation beautiful and whole and new. “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.” And this is echoed by my sisters and brothers in the Islamic tradition, a tradition in which their scriptures warn both against believing that we can do anything without God, warning us that we are two quick to not fear the amazing power of God and yet we can gain some degree of comfort and assurance because God alone knows what every womb contains, God alone sends down the rains, God alone is wise and all-knowing, God alone has the power. And when we walk with God we share in that power and when we walk separately we are separated from God.  But it’s not easy to do justice. It’s not easy to love kindness. It’s not easy to walk humbly with God.  It’s not easy to push against the systems of oppression and dehumanization that exist in our country and our world. It’s not easy to challenge the cycles of poverty and addiction that trap far too many of our brothers and our sisters. It is not easy to work for peace in a time and a land that feels far too comfortable simply crying havoc while we let slip the dogs of war. It’s not easy to struggle for kindness, for equanimity, for hope. It’s not easy to allow ourselves the blessing of walking with God. It is far easier to run up ahead believing that we know best or falling far behind and saying this is all yours to deal with God. It is far more challenging to place ourselves in the muck and the mire of the world with God, with the spirit of hope and reconciliation between one another and God, with the spirit that is deeply imbued in each of our souls and called to by the one God and master of all.  And we are not called to go alone, either from God or from one another. We are not called to simply gather ourselves together in small groups of like-minded persons We are not called to bring together just the leaders of a single faith tradition or church or synagogue or mosque. We are called to realize our shared abilities, our shared opportunities, our shared vision. We are called to, as the great letter writer Paul said, to recognize the gifts each one possesses that we might share with one another and for one another. That we might see that for some regardless of faith tradition comes the ability to prophesy. That we might have awareness that for some regardless of spoken language is the ability to teach and open up vast arrays of God’s holy mystery and creation. That we might believe that all persons have something to contribute to the struggles for dignity, for humanity, for grace. That never would we look at one and say I am a hand and you are a foot and therefore we have nothing in common, for all are called together in God. That we would never look down upon eyes from our perch as ears and say we don’t need you. That we would never, ever, ever turn anyone away from any of our holy spaces because they do not fit it. We are all called together to be the beloved community, the divine family of God. And we do so with thankful hearts. Thankful for one another. Thankful for the space that we have to worship together. Thankful for the town in which we live and the community that we inhabit. Thankful because every moment is a gift from God, not earned, yet, freely given. Now and always. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, amen.

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