August 18, 2019

Sermon by Rev. Don Ludwig

(Text Only. No Audio)

Order of Worship, August 18, 2019

Excerpts from the Jewish Talmud

And Albert Einstein
We all have reasons why we don’t do the things we say we want to.
Our minds and hearts know the person we want to be and the life we want to live, but it seems awesomely difficult sometimes to put that knowledge into practice.
If you want to see a change, there is no substitute for action.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s problems.
Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
You have to color outside of the box once in a while if you want to make your life a masterpiece.

“Prayer for Justice” Rebecca Sutton, Program Coordinator of Global Women’s Exchange, 2013.

Pray for those who are hungry.
Pray harder for those who will not feed them.
Pray for those who struggle each week to pay their bills.
Pray harder for the wealthy who do not care.
Pray for those who are homeless.
Pray harder for those who deny them shelter.
Pray for the sick and lonely.
Pray harder for those who will not give them comfort.
Pray for those who cry out for dignity.
Pray harder for those who will not listen.
Pray for those oppressed by unjust wages.
Pray harder for those who exploit them.
Pray for those who bear the yoke of prejudice.
Pray harder for those who discriminate against them.
Pray for those whose basic needs are denied.
Pray harder for public officials who cater to the greedy and ignore those bound unjustly.
Let us remain always in prayer as we recommit ourselves to works of compassion and justice

Trevor Noah, 2019
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

“We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others because we don’t live with them. It would be a whole lot harder for an investment banker to rip off people with subprime mortgages if he actually had to live with the people he was ripping off. If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.”

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you

“History Has Its Eyes On Us”
Matthew 5:1-12; Excerpt from Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

Introduction: An Oasis in New York City
On Monday evening, I returned from a week of Study Leave in New York City where I attended a Social Justice conference. I love the City. I remember when Kathy and I lived in Princeton and then in Trenton, New Jersey, we would always find a way to go into the city. We never dared to drive. I did have a friend of mine from New York encourage me to drive into the city “just for the experience of it”. He started mumbling some ancient Chinese Zen philosopher, who was confusing and yet confounding at the same time. He told me: Do you notice the way water moves around any obstacle and floods into an open space? So you must stream into an open space in the traffic and pour around the other vehicles incessantly impeding your progress. The best way to drive in Manhattan, he concluded, is to flow with the traffic like water. I have come to conclude that the best way to drive in Manhattan is to take a cab or Uber it. Cars cutting in. Buses everywhere. Bikes speeding past. People racing on motorized skateboards. Pedestrians talking on the phones and jaywalking. Motorcycles screaming by. Police on horseback like this is Wyoming. It is maddening. And yet for me, I love it – I love urban life.

They say that New York is the city that never sleeps. That is accurate, except, I discovered, on Sunday mornings. It seems that New Yorkers party so hard on Saturday nights that everybody except the Christians stay in bed on Sunday mornings. As I would do every morning, I was able to walk 8 blocks to Central Park, without delay, and find solitude and time to reflect. Central park is certainly an Oasis in the midst of chaos – a place to slow down and reflect on the sometimes maddening and cage-like world around.

At session meeting on Thursday, I shared that the Ludwig’s are just now putting our summer furniture out in our yard and ore bringing our BBQ out of storage. We have been so busy, so focused on camps and mission trips and bike trips and God’s great (forsaken) rummage sales, and vacation, that we have not had a moment to slow down and find our center as a family. While I was in New York, I took an old favorite book of mine written by Henri Nouwen called Reaching Out. It was actually one of the first books I read in Seminary.

Nouwen writes: So we can see that creating space is far from easy in our occupied and preoccupied society. And still, if we expect any salvation, redemption, healing and new life, the first thing we need is an open receptive place where something can happen in us. We cannot change the world by a new plan, project or idea. We cannot even change other people by our convictions, stories, advice and proposals, but we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center.

My time in Central Park helped me to find my center. Perhaps that is a challenge for many of us and certainly for the collective at Southminster. We become so mired in activity, so preoccupied with our busyness, all good things, but the result is that we sometimes lose touch with our inner selves. We need to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in our own center.

Now back to the hustle and bustle of New work, the conference on social justice was empowering and incredible on so many levels. I met people from all over the United States that are concerned and working on the same issues that tug at my heart. But it was another experience that also had an incredible impact on me that I want to share a bit with you today. And the impact was more than just to my pocketbook – to the $400 it cost for my ticket to Hamilton – To be honest, I just wanted to see what the hype was all about. Now I know. And now I am a believer and fully understand why it receive 11 Tony awards and is on the path to become a billion dollar Broadway show. It was an experience of a life-time. I have never laughed so hard and sobbed so much in one play. “Hamilton” has ignited a fascination with a period of U.S. history that remains largely unknown and continues to inspire conversations about the broad range of people who get to call this American founding narrative our own. Hamilton isn’t just a play to see, it is an experience – and a needed reminder to all Americans, especially in these times – he was an immigrant who fought for the revolution, becoming one of Washington’s most trusted aides, rising to one of the highest positions in our military and later our government.

The show is not only about writing as a way to survive or escape or revolution .. (Hamilton found his oasis and space in writing), & Miranda’s multi-racial casting is not just about opening up ownership of the American story – but given the casting and the modern idiom of hip hop, it is story of modern revolution and both the love it cultivates and the cost it extracts. // CHANGE is not easy. It takes hard work. We will have to persevere and overcome challenges to keep the dream alive. But, at the end of the day, it is always worth fighting for.

We are all Immigrants
New York City and the Hamilton are a reminder that we were all immigrants at one time. For Christians, Jews, Muslims: ours is the God of the immigrant – those who come here seeking refuge. Our God is with the lonely and the broken and the suffering. And on a hillside, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus, preaching about the love of God, turning our power structures upside down and blessing those who are powerless – gives us both the vision and capacity to change the world.

While there are those who want to change the meaning of the Statue of Liberty to provide qualifications for acceptance into our land – there are more of us who fight for justice and understand the foundations of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and WILL NOT LET THAT HAPPEN. Alexander Hamilton fought against these kinds of sentiment and injustices on all sides – he knew what was at stake – he understood the threats – and he still believed that America’s strength is in our diversity. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus is calling the church and you and me to see the humanity of the immigrant in each other – to challenge the power structures that want to only benefit the powerful. Jesus calls us to see ourselves as poor and meek – to feel the pain of being an outcast – and as a result to become peacemakers and merciful to everyone we meet.

Social Change: Go at it Slow or Scrappy?
Hamilton can teach us about the pace of social change and social justice. Last Spring, Tony came home from school and was singing a song called “My Shot” from Hamilton which they had been rehearsing in Choir. I asked him what the song meant to him and he declared “it means that no matter if your poor or adopted or homeless, you should never throw away your chance to change the world”. The words of a 12 year-old boy (Now 13). In my view, one of the main social justice themes of the play is revealed in the rivalry and friendship between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton: the pace and manner in which social change can and should happen and the personal and political consequences of these approaches to change could not be more starkly opposite. Here, “Young scrappy and hungry” Hamilton keeps bumping against cautious and opportunistic Burr’s willingness to “wait for it….and to talk less and smile more.”

When it comes to change, what kind of person are you? What kind of congregation are we? Are you – are we more like Burr or Hamilton? Do you wait cautiously for just the right opportunity …. Or do you leap in head first and deal with the consequences later? As much negativity and criticisms that we have for the current president, he is certainly more like Alexander Hamilton than Aaron Burr. Perhaps, if we are going to win this cultural and political war that we are in, we progressives need to change our tactic, be less like Aaron Burr and more like Alexander Hamilton – and yes, that means we need to be more like Trump (I can’t believe I just said that). But if we want to be a part of the justice revolution, we need to be less cautious – smile less often – and raise our voices – we need to rise up! As Hamilton decries: “Rise Up! When you’re living on your knees, you rise up. Tell your bother that he’s gotta rise up. Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up.” // I am not going to throw away my shot – because I am going to rise up!

Friends, if we believe in possibility then change is inevitable and if we believe in change, there is going to be possibility. In the history of this country, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – these are values that we have fought over time and time again – so we shouldn’t settle for anything less. In the midst of all that is out of my control, the one thing I know – is that I am the one thing in my life that I can control, and I am not going to give away my shot with what life can and should be.

Change is scary. There is safety and security in the status quo….it can be uncomfortable to move forward, when comfort beckons us back to the Oasis of Central Park. It can be easier to play it safe…., as Aaron Burr would say, “don’t let them know what your against or what you’re for….talk less and smile more” – but really, is this the way to go through life, just sitting on the edge looking in? … If you stand for nothing, you will surely fall for anything.

This is our shot! History Matters
As I sat in the oasis of central park on the last morning of my stay, it occurred to me: one of the profound themes of Hamilton about social change is that we must be committed to learning from history and acting as if history matters. History can help us find the thing we are most passionate about and empower us to go out into the world and act on that thing – to “act” with wisdom – and “act” as if history is watching.

At session meeting on Thursday, we planned our Welcome Back Sunday for September 8. As always, we will have a potluck and celebrate the beginning of a new year. We hope you can join us. We will also have the opportunity to discuss the six Social Justice issues that the mission committee have facilitated dialogues on over the summer and we will begin deciding what area or areas we as a congregation we want to “focus on and become activists for” in the next chapter of our life together. Friends, let’s not throw away our shot. It is time to rise up!

Over the years, I have found much comfort and purpose in the words of Historian & Social Activist, Howard Zinn: To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

Closing: History Has Its Eyes On Us
As George Washington, talking to Alexander Hamilton, boldly sings: “I know that we can win. I know that greatness lies in you. But remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you.” If you believe in possibility then change is inevitable and if you believe in change, there is going to be possibility. Are you playing it safe? Or are you scrappy and hungry for more?

WHATEVER YOU DO….History has its eyes on you!