August 25, 2019

Music by Chancel Choir: Two Shaker Canons, “Love” and “Humility”

Order of Service 2019 August 25

“Dare to be a non-violent poetic guerilla, an anti-hero.
Temper your most intemperate voice with compassion.
Make new wine out of the grapes of wrath.
Remember that men and women are infinitely ecstatic, infinitely suffering beings.”
–Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poetry As Insurgent Art

Psalm 71:1-6
In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge,
a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak,
for I am only a boy.’
But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

Qur’an 99:1-8
When the earth is shaken with her shaking, and the earth yields up her burdens, and someone says, “What ails her?” That Day she shall convey her chronicles; for thy Lord inspired her. That Day humankind shall issue forth upon diverse paths to witness their deeds. So whosoever does a mote’s weight of good shall see it. And whosoever does a mote’s weight of evil shall see it.

Luke 13:10-17
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Things that Grow, Caitlin Johnstone
Walk with me into the Garden wearing living clothes,
away from the dead ideas of smarmy brainiacs,
the dead towers built of Earth’s last bones,
the dead machines manufacturing bullets and poison,
the dead streets paved with dead dreamguides,
and the dead voices of the death gods on television.

Walk with me into the Garden wearing living clothes,
away from moaning clerics and the books of dead men,
the mud farms and stump orchards and gargoyle gardens,
the Cyber Valley where they digitize dead minds,
the think tanks where they make our eyes turn gray,
and come play in the Garden full of things that grow.

Walk with me into the Garden wearing living clothes,
and I’ll show you how deeply cherished you are,
how the wind rejoices at the touch of your flesh,
how your mind floats in a sea of undiscovered leviathans,
how plants have voices and trees are buddhas,
your infinite significance and eternal irrelevance.

Walk with me into the Garden wearing living clothes,
and get pregnant with me full of things that grow,
with baby rainforests and schools of whales,
with dragon poets forbidden from history,
with the pulsing of the Earth and the pulsing of our hearts
as we merge our cells with the Unborn.

Come with me into the Garden wearing living clothes,
and let us kneel at the feet of the things that grow.

Sermon: Dare to Speak and Heal

“No good deed goes unpunished.”

You have heard that anti-proverb, right?

“No good deed goes unpunished.”

According to Wiktionary that phrase means,
“Beneficial actions often go unappreciated or are met with outright hostility.”

Jesus ran into that often.

In fact, his whole life could be summed up with that phrase.
Jesus comes into the world to tell people good news about themselves, life, and God.

“You are the light of the world!” he says to whoever will listen.
“You are the salt of the earth!
“Yes, you! God loves you. God cares for you.
“You matter. You count. Consider the birds. Look at the flowers.
“Wake up. I come to give abundant life.”

He heals. He teaches. He liberates.
He reminds us to be kind to each other.
He tells the truth about the lure of possessions.
He reminds people to forgive rather than hold grudges.
He feeds those who are hungry.
Heals the sick.
He welcomes outcasts.
He says it is a good idea to love God and to love others.

Good deeds all.

So he gets tortured and executed.

“No good deed goes unpunished.”

The story from today’s lectionary reading is typical.
Jesus stumbles upon a woman who has been crippled for 18 years.
He lays hands on her and speaks and she is healed.
Jesus’s opposition sees what Jesus is doing as work, which it is,
and accuses him of violating the Sabbath.
Jesus comes back with,

“Hey you untie your mule to give it water on the Sabbath. Lighten up, here is a human being freed from a curse she has been under for 18 years!”

The crowd loves it. The opposition? Not so much.

But Jesus won that round.

Nobody hassles him further.

At least for the moment.

The punishers will be back.

Here is the deal.
We should never expect it to be any different.

It is a lesson best learned early rather than late.
Those who enter helping professions learn this early and find ways to cope or they burn out.
Because it doesn’t work like it should.
One would think that helping others, doing good, would result in praise and appreciation.
But often, the result is the opposite.

So, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 5:11-12:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

That is Jesus’s version of “no good deed goes unpunished.”

The Qur’an has a similar version is Surah 29 verse 2:

“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?”

We learn in life to survive. To keep our heads low.
We learn to go along with our pack, our tribe, our group.
And we don’t do or say anything we don’t think the tribe, group, or pack will approve.
We learn the rules of the pack, spoken and unspoken.
We learn what beliefs and actions are out of bounds and taboo.
Confronted with something new, something compelling,
something dare I say, true, we don’t ask ourselves if it is true, but we ask ourselves,

“What will the pack do to me if I explore and share what I have learned with an open mind?”

It is how you survive in a pack-dominated world.
As we move into adulthood and become even more identified with our pack,
not less as is often the case, we learn to defend the pack, to attack others who
dare to “color outside the lines” to use a phrase from the hymn we sang last week in church. We become the pack’s police,
often without even being conscious of what we are doing.

‘Don’t challenge this belief.
Don’t think like that.
Don’t associate with those people.
Don’t read that book.
Don’t do that.
It is against the rules.’

The pack, and its leaders, the leader of the synagogue, in today’s story,
wants to keep Jesus on message, the pack’s message.

But, of course, Jesus is a problem.
Jesus is a prophet.

A prophet is not beholden to any pack.

Jesus will tell the truth and heal regardless of what the pack says.
He doesn’t whine about it.
He doesn’t expect any different treatment than the prophets before him.
He simply exposes it.
He tells those with ears to hear, do good and heal anyway.
Your reward is in heaven.
In other words, your reward isn’t in this world—
in this pack-dominated world that is headed for destruction.
Your reward is on the other side,
to which you are being led and you are leading others.

Every prophet in every religious tradition does the same thing.
They dare to heal and they dare to speak and they are punished for it.

No good deed goes unpunished.

They do it anyway.
That is why they are spiritual leaders, heroes, prophets what have you.

Jeremiah was such a prophet.
The weeping prophet.
We get the word, “Jeremiad” from him.
A Jeremiad is a stream of bad news and doom.
But that is not fair to the Prophet Jeremiah.
That is not all he had.
He actually had words of truth and healing.
It was just that the pack didn’t want to hear it.
What Jeremiah said went against their beliefs.
One of those beliefs was that the temple was forever.
As long as they kept believing in and servicing the temple, they would be safe from enemies. Jeremiah called them out on that nonsense.

Americans have similar beliefs.
The American pack punishes anyone who challenges the war machine.
The belief in American exceptionalism,
that we engage in no war except for humanitarian reasons or for some noble cause,
like freedom or democracy, is a powerful pack belief.

The grand illusion of a war on terror is in actually a war of terror.
But, of course, to say that obvious truth results in punishment from the pack.

So we spend a trillion dollars a year on this belief, bombing, destroying, poisoning.
The pack’s propaganda machine, our media, cheer it on with lie after lie after lie.

So what is to become of us?

How does this story end?

I ask myself that question every day.

Are Americans simply too stubborn, or afraid, or distracted, or asleep, to survive, to heal?
Does this end in a fireball?
Because that is where the pack is taking us.

If so, if that is true, then why do we have these people who give us hope?

Why do we have these stories about Jeremiah, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mohammad, Hussain?

Why do we have these stories about spiritual leaders who told the truth and who healed people?

Are they real? Are they just stories? Stories to dismiss? Stories to explain away?
Fictions for those who can’t face reality,
in which case reality is what the pack tells you it is?

And why is it, that now and then, rarely, too rarely, but surely still,
now and then, you do find someone who tells the damn truth?
Why are there people out there, who against the odds,
amidst the abuse, say what is real and heal what ails us?

The very presence of prophets,
the very presence of those who have discovered truth and healing and have shared it, demonstrate to me that there is a reality that has summoned them forth,
in the words of the Lord that came to Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you.”

The prophets who speak words of healing,
who do good deeds and face punishment for them, are not alone.

They may have no peers.
They may look alone, act alone, but they are not alone.
They are summoned by a Reality that knows them by name.

This task of truth and healing is not futile.

This good work of dismantling the pack and its pack of lies will result in great hardship.
It must because the pack is powerful.
That is why Jesus warned of it more than once in both his teaching and in his example.

But the pack is not all-powerful.

If you have ears to hear, know that you, like the prophets, have been known.
You, like Jeremiah, were consecrated in the womb.
You have a truth to tell.
When fear of the pack is trying to silence and shame what you suspect is true,
you can discern that. You can know that.

All you need to do is trust the divine voice.
Trust what is true because it is true.
Discover what is true by seeking, asking, knocking.
Don’t let anyone shame you for the truth you seek and share.

The pack is not all-powerful.
In fact, compared to divine truth, it is weak.
The pack depends on people obeying it.
When people stop obeying, it will die.

Then, as now, people can begin to rub the sleep from their eyes.
Then, as now, people can dismiss the lies of the death heads on the death screens.
Then, as now, people can experience healing, encouragement, and love.
Then, as now, people will dare to speak and to heal.
Then, as now, there is and will be, life abundant. Amen.