A Welcoming And Nurturing Community |
Last Sunday's Sermon
October 7, 2018
For This Reason
Rev. Jeffrey Cheifetz
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Genesis 2 describes the divine creation of relationship, of community, of
intimate communication, of sharing. May the time come when we look at one
another and at our world community and say that we together are the body of
Christ, "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!"
Genesis 2 describes the divine creation of relationship, of community, of intimate communication, of sharing. May the time come when we look at one another and at our world community and say that we together are the body of Christ, "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!"
18 Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken." 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
In this situation, Jesus makes a statement about the kind of community we
will be. He is inviting us to imagine communities centered in and on real
relationships; relationships founded on love and mutual dependence,
fostered by respect and dignity, and pursued for the sake of the health of
the community and the protection of the vulnerable.
In this situation, Jesus makes a statement about the kind of community we will be. He is inviting us to imagine communities centered in and on real relationships; relationships founded on love and mutual dependence, fostered by respect and dignity, and pursued for the sake of the health of the community and the protection of the vulnerable.
2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" 3He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" 4They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." 5But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.11He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Genesis 2 describes the divine creation of relationship, of community, of intimate communication, of sharing. Each of these are also meanings of the word we use to describe the sacred meal we celebrate this week: communion. It is the moment in which we look at one another and at our world community and say that we together are the body of Christ, "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!"
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For This Reason
These two texts speak about the complexities of being in relationship, in community. Though these particular passages have given rise to doctrines about the place of men and women, and marriage, and divorce, and endless questions about what the kingdom of God is about, what comes through is the beating heart of day-to-day being in contact, willingly or not, with other people, whether in family or other contexts.
So I want to share experiences of community out of my own life, and out of our national life, in an attempt to illustrate what the texts we heard read might mean for us today. Perhaps one or more of them will stand out for you because they feel like something we have also experienced. After each little story we will have a few seconds of silence, to give time for heart and mind to settle on what life-giving community might look like.
- Last weekend we attended Diana's nephew's wedding. The wedding itself was very nice, but what will stay with me is what happened during the reception. I do not remember another time when 10 or more of us in Diana's family found ourselves in a circle, dancing. One of the dancers was a young woman who is transitioning from female to male, and who is in conflict with her parents over this decision. She is rather uncertain about how to relate both to them and to the rest of us, so I made sure she was in the circle.
And oh, did we dance! It was a do-it-yourself dance, to extremely loud music - sometimes just over 100 decibels - but it was a wonderful, connecting, freeing, boogieing-to-the-max dance. It was wonderful because Diana's family has gathered for a number of funerals over the last 10 years or so, but not for any weddings. Did we ever need to dance!
- (from https://www.newyorker.com/news/current/the-ongoing-avoidable-horror-of-the-trump-administrations-texas-tent-camp-for-migrant-kids ; the New Yorker, October 2, 2018, Erich Lach) The detention camp for migrant kids in Tornillo, Texas, was supposed to be gone by now. Set up as a temporary "emergency influx shelter" in June, ….But the government kept pushing back the deadline, in thirty-day increments, until recently disclosing that the facility will remain open at least through the end of the year.
[Now the camp can] accommodate up to thirty-eight hundred kids-some ten times as many kids as it was housing in June. …. there are now more than thirteen thousand migrant kids in government facilities, five times more than a year ago, and those kids are spending an average of fifty-nine days in custody, twice as long as a year ago. While Tornillo was set up to make room for kids who had been taken from parents, most of the kids there now crossed the border alone. ….. The goal was to place the kids with relatives or other sponsors around the country. ….
[The] work of processing kids out of government custody has begun to slow significantly. That's reflected in the longer amount of time that the kids are spending in government facilities. "They're treating these kids like criminals," [one] official [said]. "That comes at a significant cost to the kids, to their mental health." Part of the issue is that the government has given potential sponsors, who are often undocumented themselves, a real reason to fear coming forward to claim the kids. …. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has acknowledged arresting dozens of people who came forward to be sponsors. With the way the numbers are trending, it's hard to see how the need for the tent camp at Tornillo will end."
- A few months ago Diana and I went on retreat for a few days at the New Camaldoli Hermitage, which is located in the Santa Lucia Mountains, on the Big Sur coast. We were guided by the monks as they participated in their very traditional and beautiful liturgies. While we appreciated their singing, their dedication, and their devotion to their community and their faith, and while they allowed non-Catholics to take the communion elements with them, we were of course visitors, inexperienced and transient in their community. We remember that brief time with affection, but understand that they have their ongoing and in many ways hidden life within that community, and we can only imagine what their everyday life is like.
- I often take BART, and depending on the day and time and how crowded the train is, the feeling of community can vary tremendously. Sometimes, it is obvious that everyone wants to be alone with their cell phones. Sometimes I will look up and down the car and pray for the folks who are going on the same journey I am taking.
And once in a while there are moments of connection that lift the heart. The other day I boarded a BART train at the Civic Center station. The train was not yet packed to the max, but as soon as I found a place to stand, I was invited by a seated man to take his place, which was very nice of him - I guess I actually looked like a senior citizen and he was well trained to invite older folks to have a seat. I declined because I really wanted to stand up for a while, but the interchange was light-hearted, and fun.
- In August, Diana and I took part in a family pilgrimage to the Topaz Relocation Center site near Delta, Utah. The Center was a concentration camp where many of her relatives were imprisoned during World War II. 28 of us gathered from across the country for a memorable group experience. We did not know everyone very well, so we had fun making new connections as well as seeing again those we already knew. On Saturday, Jane Beckwith, the local teacher and historian who founded the Topaz Museum, showed us exactly where Diana's uncle and his family had lived in the camp itself, although only the scars on the earth itself, and the concrete slabs, show where the barracks and the laundry/toilet/bathing facility and mess hall used to stand. In that very hot, desolate, and isolated place, we wore these T-shirts, which show the family crest and the number the family was assigned by the War Relocation Authority. The experience itself, our reunion, and the thought that was expressed many times, that we can never again allow our government to put people away in places like this, created a very powerful bond between us.
- A few years back, Diana and I attended an Oakland A's baseball game. There is nothing quite like being part of a large crowd gathered around a sporting event, especially when the action is exciting, and your team is doing well, and people are high-fiving whoever is next to them. The roar of the crowd, the Wave as it comes and engulfs you and then moves on - it just cannot get much better than that, as we participate in a unifying universe.
At this particular game we were seated down the first base line high up in the third deck. Not many people were around. Closest to us were 4 or 5 white guys who were drinking beer and making fun of a black woman who was being honored on the field near home plate. It was obvious that their comments were very prejudiced in nature, which took us right out of the pleasure of watching the game, back into the brokenness of the world that is so much in evidence these days, especially that of the world of the white racist.
- While I was riding a bus the other day, a mother and child boarded the bus and found a seat. Repeatedly, the child said, "Mommy!", and his mother replied, "I'm here". Even when they were seated, the boy in his mother's arms, he keep saying, "Mommy", and she kept saying, "I'm here", until he calmed down, and settled in.
- One of my teachers, Cynthia Winton-Henry (October 3, 2018, FBook post) wrote these word on FaceBook a few days ago: "Change and challenge is such a norm this year. It's been in my home, family health, hospitalizations, deaths, and in the social complexities that demand the best from me as a leader. You? Small losses join the throng. Creativity confronts with constant Detours and construction. In the body politic I am aghast at changes I hate. I want to make it stop. It can be hard to sleep. I try to be my best self but I too fail publicly and in relationships. I want to do better but I also know that constant stress and change takes its toll. I forgive myself, my very human self, and I want to forgive others. So tonight I appeal to the better angel in me, and the angel of the world, the angel who buoys all of us as we encounter deep strain, "Take the lead! Breathe your wind of love on us. Gentle the soul of the world. Re-choreograph chaos into a dance of life where we might remember, dear angel, to love what we love."
If these vignettes have alternately unsettled and comforted you, then be assured that you are a normal thinking and feeling human being who is also trying to find a sane and balanced way forward during these tense and unsettled times. May our worship today, and our participation in the Lord's Supper, serve to sharpen our thinking, and lift up our hearts, in the work of building our souls, and the soul of this congregation, into places of residence for the holy Spirit of God, that we might bring more light into this complex, damaged, and beautiful world.
May it be so.