A sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
about the Parable of the Landowner
preached on September 24, 2017
at First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons (especially with Yumi Wada solos) are better heard.
There is an episode of the Simpsons in which Homer goes to anger management because he’s a Rage-o-holic. “I’m Homer Simpson, he says. And I’m addicted to Rage-a-hol.”
We are a culture addicted to outrage-a-hol. Moral outrage has become our modus operandi.
It is costing us our heart.
Despite what you may believe, liberals and conservatives: outrage addiction doesn’t know a political party, an ideology, or a religion. It is equal opportunity. For every liberal snowflake member of the PC police, I can show you a person who is outraged about the generic holiday greeting they received at Walmart.
News media outlets capitalize on it by using click bait catered to our particular tribal instincts and triggers.
They do this to titillate us into buying what they are selling, and we fall for it, every time.
Slate.com says that “following the news is a bit like flying a kite in flat country during tornado season. Every so often, a whirlwind of outrage touches down, sowing destruction and chaos before disappearing into the sky.”
There are infinite reasons to be outraged at any given time in this broken world we live in, don’t get me wrong. And good people must stand for justice.
But our way of fighting for it is to pick the current issue du jour from our couches, opine on the topic with the appropriate amount of rage and virtue-signaling on Facebook, get a bunch of likes from all the friends who agree with us, get in a few ad hominem arguments with the friends who disagree with us, until the issue itself disappears into the sky 24 hours later. Then the cycle starts again.
Political or moral outrage effects our brains like a drug. We can’t get enough of it. The perpetuation and spread of outrage has overridden things like fact-checking, debate, humor and reasonable conversation with people who disagree with us.
While it is absolutely true that good folks must stand against evil, our addiction to outrage has a numbing effect. It is ironically leading to a kind of moral fatigue, cynicism and apathy. Virtue signaling has started to stand in for true virtue. Our addiction to angry moral righteousness has also exacerbated our ideological differences with one another such that we no longer just disagree with the other “side,” we believe one another to be evil.
Our outrage-a-holism is destroying our relationships with each other, and with the living God.
God is a God of justice, yes. But Jesus tries to teach us a better way to fight against injustice: with revolutionary Love. And God’s justice does not always look like yours’ and mine.
This is why I love the parable of the landowner. It makes almost everyone mad, from liberals to conservatives, from young children to hard-working adults, from organists, to ministers…which means it’s probably a good parable to pay extra special attention to.
Jesus always tries to tell us what earth as it is in heaven might look like, feel like, sound like, BE like-- by telling us stories called parables. In the parable we heard this morning, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner.
And he tells this story:
At sun up, a landowner employs a bunch of workers to work his fields. They agree to the amount they are going to be paid at the beginning of the day, and they get to work. The workers work from sun up to sun down doing manual labor, sowing seeds, picking crops, sweating in the hot desert sun.
Meanwhile, the landowner keeps going back to the marketplace to find more workers. Some he finds at 9:00 am, some at noon, and yet some more at 3:00 pm. When he finds them, he just keeps sending them all into his field to work.
Then the landowner goes to the market place at 5:00 pm, and finds a bunch of people just hanging out, playing video games on their iPhones, wearing pajama pants in public, and shooting the breeze.
“Why aren’t you working?” He asks them.
“No one hired us,” they said.
“Well, go and work in my vineyard then,” the landowner says.
“Great,” they say, and they start their work for the day at 5:00 pm.
An hour later, all of the workers finish the day’s work. The landowner starts with the workers who just began working, and pays them. Right on down the line, from the last to the first, he pays everyone the exact same amount of money.
The workers that worked all day long did far more work, for far longer, and in much harder conditions, sweating in the noonday sun.
They are MORALLY OUTRAGED!
The scripture says they “grumbled” against the landowner, which is a Bible word for creating a shareable social media meme I saw recently that says: “stupid me! So that’s why I work so many hours so you can collect welfare, wear pajamas in public and have an iPhone!”
They grumble to the landowner: “This is outrageous,” they say. “These guys only worked for an hour! And we worked all day long in the scorching heat. You are giving them the same amount of money?!”
The landowner says this: ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Jesus is delivering the sting of the Gospel: God’s love is just like that. God’s love is generous without merit. It is showered on the least, the last, the lost, the tax collector and religious hypocrite; the sinner and the saint; the just and unjust; the lazy and the hard working. It is given to the last first.
That second to last line kills me. “Are you envious because I am generous?”
Dear God, if I answer honestly: most days, the answer is yes. When I look around at what other people have and compare it to what I have, the answer is yes, Jesus, I am envious. I work hard, and I am in debt up to my eyeballs. I don’t want to just “take what belongs to me and go,” because it’s not fair. I am stacking up what I have next to what other people have. And I’m wishing I was richer and thinner and younger and a better preschool parent who picks her kid up on time instead of a half an hour late even though I work in the same building as the preschool. I’m wishing I was someone who makes the perfect pasta salad to bring to the potluck instead of just a bag of chips that I purchased at Appletown market. Don’t I deserve this, God? I’ve been toiling in your vineyard for YEARS.
The problem with us is that we have the tendency to believe we deserve what we have.
Glennon Doyle says this” Some people understand the “kingdom of God” as a place for “believers” and “the kingdom of hell” as a place for “non-believers.” Maybe. But I also think that those boundaries can’t be hard and fast. Because I believe till the cows come home. But I still find myself, quite often actually, feeling jealous and afraid and suspicious and isolated and angry and hopeless. Which feels a little hellish. And other times I feel loving and fearless and hopeful and connected and generous, which feels quite heavenly. So it seems to me that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of hell might also be places I shift between throughout my day, depending upon my attitude, where my heart is, how I’m looking at the world and at other people. And which kingdom I’m currently in depends on whether I’ve got my Jesus glasses on or not.
When I’m wearing my Jesus glasses, I see other people how Jesus sees them. Through my Jesus glasses, it becomes crystal clear that every person is my equal, and so confidence and humility come easy. Through my Jesus glasses, I see, laid out in front of me, ridiculous abundance. Through my Jesus glasses, I see that there is enough, that I am enough, and so is everyone else.”
An episode of one of my favorite television shows, Louie, features Louis CK talking to his 5 year old daughter. When her older sister gets a cookie she wants:
Why does she get one and not me? It’s not fair.
And Louie says: You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s never gonna happen ever in your life, so you need to learn that now, OK? And then he says:
The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to make sure you have as much as them.”
The problem with us is that we tend to believe we deserve what we have.
But just the fact that we are here on this planet is a result of grace far beyond our knowing. We have received grace upon grace after that if we have a roof over our head, food in our bellies, a family to love, meaningful work, a community like this one.
And so Jesus reminds us it is far above our pay grade to judge who is deserving of God’s grace and who isn’t. Our job description is simply this: be grateful for what we have, see one another through Jesus glasses, and treat one another accordingly.
If we are going to cooperate with God’s grace, we are going to need to subvert our moral outrage, and get back in touch with each other’s humanity. We need to find the people you and I believe should be taken care of last, and put them first.
You know I love these stories about crossing tribal boundaries with Love, so I hope you don’t mind I keep bringing you new ones. But I was listening to an interview with Al Letson on NPR, a liberal black journalist, about why he stepped in to protect a right wing protestor at a rally in Berkeley as he was being beaten by enraged anarchist leftists.
“What came to me was that he was a human being, and I didn't want to see anybody die. And, you know, I've been thinking a lot about the events in Charlottesville, and I remember seeing the pictures of a young (black) man being brutally beaten by these guys with poles, and when I saw that I thought, "why didn't anybody step in?" And you know, in retrospect, it doesn't matter if he doesn't see my humanity, what matters to me is that I see his.……
……I mean this sounds really high-minded and maybe a little nutty, but I am a huge NPR nerd, and many years ago I was listening to Terry Gross and Father Greg Boyle was on there, and he gave this quote that has just stuck with me ever since. He said, "I want to live like the truth is true, and go where love has not been found." And it's how I want to govern myself in the world.”
We talk a lot in this church about what it means to create the kingdom of heaven on earth. Well, heaven is just like that. Heaven is just a new pair of glasses. Heaven is seeing the humanity in others, even if they don’t see yours’. Heaven is looking around and seeing not scarcity, but abundance. Heaven is looking in our neighbor’s bowl only to make sure they have enough, and fighting like hell for them if they don’t. Heaven is stepping in. Heaven is crossing boundaries. Heaven is seeing even the people we feel are the least deserving as beloved by God. Heaven replaces our addiction to outrage with an insatiable desire to love wastefully and extravagantly, the way God loves us.
Beloved, live like the truth is true, and go where love has not been found. The kingdom of heaven is governing ourselves in the world that way.
A sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
delivered on September 17, 2017 at
First Church in Sterling, MA
“The earth is a forgiveness school,” Anne Lamott says. “You might as well start at the dinner table, that way you can do this work in comfortable pants. I really believe that’s why they brought us here, and then left us without any owner’s manual. I think we’re here to learn forgiveness. For me, it all begins with the hardest work of all, of being so crazily imperfect, and so sensitive and thin-skinned, and looking the way I look instead of like Cate Blanchett, which is disappointing. And all of the things we internalize in our younger years that other people might have said or hinted or even bullied us for.”
The earth is a forgiveness school.
Marriage is a lab to learn this truth intimately, with varying results.
I had the great honor yesterday afternoon of marrying Pam and John Clark’s son, Gordon, to his new wife Liz. It was a beautiful, beautiful day for a simply wonderful couple. They are musical, and smart, and funny, and deep, and they are truly friends. They love each other’s families. A wedding is such a celebration of audacious hope, and I have such great hope for their life together.
I also got to help celebrate the love of Jim and Judy Conway as they said their marriage vows again on their 31st anniversary--with their four adult children, two grandchildren, Judy’s parents and a slew of other family--all present at their Wednesday night Conway family dinner. I have been itching for an invitation to Conway family dinner since I arrived here in 2014. That weekly family dinner is the stuff of legends. Jim was actually worried that I would be offended by the things that people said and did there, which of course made me want to come even MORE. So this invitation to create a ceremony to honor their marriage was a thrill for me in more ways than one.
I know we were already pushing it in terms of “extended family” invited, but I really wished that Gordon Clark and his new wife Liz Quinn could have gone with me to that Conway marriage celebration. I can’t think of a better way to prepare for their wedding weekend than to participate in an auspicious event like that.
I got to tell the story of the thirty-one years of the Conway’s life together—which is full of twists and turns and sickness and health, and tragedy and heartbreak, and so much love and self-sacrifice, and hard, honest conversations, deep multigenerational family and community ties, and stick-to-itive-ness. The whole story, of course, wasn’t always romantic and easy. But it is a real love story.
A wedding is such a beautiful and exciting and carefree day in one’s life, and a marriage is a tour de force of joy and suffering and banality and loss and beauty and boredom, and acknowledgment of imperfection and frailty and just plain old perseverance and faith.
I almost think that we should have one of those $30,000 catered extravaganzas with the $10,000 dress and all the opulence on our 30th wedding anniversaries instead of on our wedding day. The wedding day should be some Ritz crackers and squeeze cheese, and maybe a cake. The REAL celebration should be decades later when you really know what you have gotten yourself into, and you are still at it anyway. (The problem is, we are too smart and practical to spend $30,000 on one day in our lives by the time we are middle aged.)
Anyway, the Conways gave us all a master class in how to stay married on Wednesday night. Every new couple about to embark on the part crap-shoot luck/part devastatingly hard work of marriage should take the Conway class. My track record for marriage isn’t so good, as most of you know, so I was taking notes.
Whenever I marry people, I tell them that their vows are aspirational, and they will fail to live up to them sometimes. I tell them that when they do, they will have to get really good at saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.” And mean it. To infinity and beyond. Robert Quillan calls a happy marriage a union of two good forgivers.
The same is true of the church. A happy church consists of an entire congregation of good forgivers.
Forgiveness is the hardest of the spiritual practices for some of us, and it is the foundation of the faith we practice. Said simply: forgiveness is the way God Loves. It is Jesus’ lesson on the cross. “Forgive them, Father,” he says of his murderers, deniers, betrayers. Some of us have trouble forgiving family members for leaving the toilet seat up, much less forgiving murderers and betrayers. No wonder this forgiveness project is so hard. (Now you and I know that there are some things that are absolutely unforgivable by we humans, so I am not asking you to forgive people who victimize you. That kind of forgiveness we sometimes just have to leave to Jesus.)
God’s grace starts with the assumption that offering forgiveness and being forgiven is a necessary part of a faithful life. To be forgiven is to be loved. To forgive is to Love. Modern day psychology might say that forgiveness is necessary for psychic survival. Someone said once that holding on to resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. We forgive so that we might live a more abundant and free life.
In our scripture from the Gospels today, Jesus gives us this lesson about forgiveness. In this part of Matthew, we are still talking about church drama, just like we were last week. Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, if someone in the church is a total jerk to me, how much do I actually have to put up with that? How often must I forgive? As many as 7 times? When do I get to say ‘fool me once, shame on me. Fool me seven times, shame on you?”
And Jesus says to him: “not seven times, but seventy-seven times,” which biblical scholars say means “infinity” times to Jesus. Jesus said to Peter, in essence, “your job as a member of the church is to never stop forgiving from the moment you are born until the day you die.” Your and my life is a forgiveness project.
The earth is a forgiveness school from which there is no graduation. We might as well start right here at the dinner table, wearing comfortable pants.
And Jesus reminds us that’s because we are forgiven.
Jesus answers questions people have in our scriptures with somewhat confusing stories called parables, as you know. Sometimes they are confounding and so deeply outdated or culturally specific that we can’t make sense of them. Our story today is an example of that, so let’s talk about it.
Jesus tells us a story about slaves who owe debts to their master. The King, taking pity on one of his slaves who doesn’t have the money he owes, forgives his debt and lets him go.
He is forgiven.
And then that same forgiven slave turns right around, and demands money owed to him from someone else. When his peer couldn’t pay the debt, the forgiven slave orders that he be thrown in debtor’s prison. This, in turn, angers the King. If you’ve been forgiven yourself, why wouldn’t you forgive your fellow human being, especially since it is for the exact same offense?
This text is as much about forgiveness as it is a call to empathy.
Whenever I am tempted to blast my horn and flip off a fellow driver on the road for cutting me off at a traffic light, I try to remember all the times I, too, have been a distracted driver. When I am tempted to fume because someone didn’t answer an email I sent that I think was of utmost importance, I try to remember the hundreds of unanswered emails in my own inbox.
Forgive those who trespass against us because we have been forgiven of our trespasses. The earth is a forgiveness school and there is no graduation.
And here’s the most important thing: we cannot forgive other people unless we have worked first to forgive ourselves. Jesus says the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. And you cannot love your neighbor if you don’t love yourself first. You cannot love yourself unless you have forgiven yourself.
This is hard to do, folks, I’m not going to lie.
Paul Tillich’s definition of grace is accepting oneself as accepted even though oneself is unacceptable.
When I was going through a divorce six years ago to my first husband, the daily prayer I prayed was on my knees. It was more of a pleading to God than a prayer. Truthfully, I was not convinced God was listening, but I pled anyway. I sobbed “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, forgive me, forgive me, forgive me” over and over again. I think I was talking to myself as much as I was talking to God.
I went to a church every Sunday then, as a congregant, not the leader. Hope Central Church in Jamaica Plain has confession at the beginning of every service. I was expected to acknowledge the ways in which I had separated myself from other people and therefore from God. And every week I was told by the pastor that I was forgiven anyway: that nothing in heaven and nothing on earth could separate me from the love of God. Eventually I believed her.
And eventually, I was able to start the process of forgiving myself. After that, I was able to start the process of forgiving my first husband. One of the most powerful memories of my life consisted of both of us tenderly saying we were sorry to one other as we sat next to each other, hand in hand, in divorce court. He said it first, which I needed. And both of us--one after the other--said, “I forgive you.” I’m quite sure this doesn’t usually happen in divorce court, and it is the best and most hard-won grace I have ever received in my life.
Friday night I watched my son, Isaac, the product of my second marriage to my Andy, lay his head on the shoulder of my first husband as we all watched our daughter in Beauty and the Beast here in the parish hall.
The earth is a forgiveness school and there is no graduation.
The most faithful act we can participate in is forgiving ourselves. There is no other way to understand God’s forgiveness. So, if that is the thing you struggle most to do, let’s talk about how to do it.
First: Acknowledge your humanity. We are all clumsy in our relationships with each other and with God. We are not defined by our worst mistake. You are not your addiction, your affair, your divorce, your last fight with your spouse, your failure to parent well in all moments. You are not your depression, your anger, your unbelief, your spitefulness, your greed. You are defined not by your sins, but by the name that God gives all of us, which is Beloved.
Second: Acknowledge and accept responsibility for the mistake that you made, but don’t let it become who you understand yourself to be. Guilt is a reminder that you’ve done something wrong. Shame is the belief that you are bad because you’ve done something wrong. Guilt is a useful emotion, but shame is a poison. Recognize the value in your mistakes. Release their power over you by asking what you learned from them. Release yourself from the burden of the mistakes by finding the blessing in them.
Third: have empathy for yourself. You are only human and doing the best that you can, and you, too, deserve understanding. Have empathy for others so that you can have empathy for you. Build bridges between your own flawed humanity and others’ flawed humanity. Laugh at yourself. Engage yourself with curiosity and courage. Look for the gray areas in every situation that you are hoping to find black and white answers to. Stop looking for who’s right and who’s wrong. Believe that the more nuanced your habits of mind, the better you can love.
Fourth: Give it to God. Nothing can separate you from the Love of God. Nothing in heaven or on earth. Jesus says, “come, all of you who are weary and I will give you rest. My yoke is heavy and my burden is light.” Lay your burdens at the feet of the one who Loves without condition; without inquiring who is worthy of it.
Imagine what the world would be like if we all loved like that. Imagine if everyone in our community practiced these steps. Imagine if our world leaders practiced this humility. To be forgiven is to be loved. To forgive is to Love. To Love is to live an abundant and free life, starting with yourself and radiating out to others. The earth is a forgiveness school you can never graduate from. Start at your dinner table. Wear comfortable pants.
Sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached on September 10, 2018, Homecoming Sunday
at First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are better heard.
For those of you who don’t know: the term selfie, which was the Oxford Dictionary’s 2013 word of the year, refers to a photo taken of oneself, usually with a camera phone, and posted on a social media site.
We live in what various social commentators refer to as a “selfie culture.” By which they mean a culture that promotes a widespread obsession with self-expression, self-esteem, and self-promotion, evidenced by the proliferation of self-portraits on social media. Reams of articles have been written, and gallons of ink has been spilled on the downfall of our culture because of the prevalence of social media. Social media is turning us narcissistic, they say. It is allowing us to create a false self; to curate perfect lives for the titillation and jealousy of our so-called friends and followers. And increasingly, the research says that it is making us lonelier.
More and more, people are getting all of their social needs met on their computers, where the norms for interaction are different and create a generation of children who don’t know how to make eye contact, practice deep listening in a conversation with peers, or cultivate a firm handshake. And it’s not just young people who are saturated in selfie-culture perpetuated by social media: middle aged and elders are, too. We are staying home on our computers to talk to our “friends” rather than seeing, and touching, and interacting with them--with our bodies and our five senses-- in real time.
I am certainly not immune to the lure of selfie-culture, as those of you who follow me on Facebook are well aware.
So, I got really excited when I read the psalm text for this week.
Andy! I said to my husband, (from the comfort of my couch, on Facebook, even though he was in the next room):
Psalm 149 is in the lectionary this week, and it says this:
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches!
Andy replied, “The Bible says a lot of things. Spare me your proof texts, Reverend Couch-Robin.”
Andy’s right. The Bible says a lot of things. And we can proof text just about anything we want to hear in this book.
The truth is we need to get off of our couches if we are going to really exult the Lord in glory. We need to turn off our computers and get face to face with each other. We need to sing the Lord’s song in an assembly of the faithful, as psalm 149 also proclaims! There is no substitution for real, physical community in virtual community.
So I am so glad you came back to church on this homecoming Sunday. This place is your needed antidote for selfie-culture. This place defies selfie-culture with real time, no filter, love. With prayers for each other, with prayer shawls and casseroles for sick people and hugs in the receiving line and bouncy houses for the kids and lots of ice cream.
This place defies selfie-culture with God. In direct opposition to our self-centered desires, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
I’m gonna be honest, though, our Gospel text from today kinda makes me never want to go to church again. It reads like an instruction book for those who love to create drama, and their victims:
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
I guess there’s some consolation that church drama is not just a thing in the 21st century. It was totally a Jesus-time thing, too. And he gives you very specific, laborious instructions about how to address it. He’s like “if someone makes you mad, don’t gossip to all of your friends in the church about it, go to the person directly, and not over email. If she doesn’t listen to you, take some friends along as witnesses. If she doesn’t listen to them either and keeps being a jerk, announce your grievances during prayers of the people. If that doesn’t work, de-friend her on Facebook like you would a gentile or a tax collector.”
I’m going to be honest. Just like in any human community, sometimes being a member of a church community is tiring, maddening and just takes a lot of emotional work. It’s a lot easier to stay on the couch.
And yet, two sentences later, Jesus gives us the whole reason why we should become a member of a faith community anyway, despite the fact that it is only human and certainly flawed. He says this: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Where two or more are gathered in Love’s name, God is there.
The reason why I can’t really glorify God from my couch on Twitter is because we have to be gathered in real time, even when the going gets hard. Even when face to face community takes work and emotional energy.
When two or more are gathered in Love’s name, God is there.
Jesus doesn’t say the people gathered have to be Holy or perfect or drama-free or saintly, thank God. Jesus did not choose men of perfect character to be his disciples. Every one of the Twelve had significant flaws. They were occasionally selfishly ambitious. They bickered with each other. They were slow learners. They often didn’t believe Jesus. Then they denied and betrayed him.
We don’t have to be perfect, beloved, just gathered.
Nadia Bolz Weber says, “where two or three screw ups are gathered, there I am among you.”
Dearly beloved fellow screw ups: I go to church because I can’t be a religious person all by myself. Being in flesh and blood relationship is what brings God into the mix.
I also come to church because I need to be reminded of Love’s promise. What is happening right now in the world this week is too much to even take in. It seems like the entire world is burning and flooded and that xenophobia and hatred and racism are winning.
And so I have been looking for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers reminds us to. That’s how I am finding hope in a hot mess time.
When two or more are gathered in Love’s name, God is there.
Two weeks ago, Don Wilson brought me a newspaper article about the so-called free speech rally in Boston that featured a few dozen alt-right enthusiasts, and forty thousand counter-protestors. It’s hard to believe that’s old news now, but since so much happens in a week around here, it really is. Many of you were there, I know! A mostly peaceful day with a large and loving crowd, violence broke out toward the end between Trump supporters and members of the anti-fascist groups gathered. One of the protestors against the alt-right, a black woman named Imami Williams, escorted a man with a “Make America Great Again” hat out of the crowd to boos and heckling and spit, helping him get to safety.
“Everybody clear the way!” “Clear the way!” She shouted, guiding him by the backpack. He thanked her.
“I saw the way that I could help and I did,” she told the Boston Globe. Despite the fact that we have different ideals, said Imami, “It’s the right thing to do and at the end of the day, we’re all a part of the same country.”
That’s the story of the Good Samaritan, right there. Look for the helpers.
When two or more are gathered in Love’s name, God is there.
I know you have all been watching the stories of heroism coming out of Texas in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, of people helping each other, and saving each other’s lives regardless of political affiliation or immigration status. People forming human chains; people carrying each other to safety. People bringing their boats into neighborhoods and guiding each other to shelter. There were so many stories of heroism, but one of my favorites was that one about Mattress Mack, opening his furniture stores to the flood victims. Everyone sleeping on his mattresses and pull out couches and recliners. He brought them food. He housed four hundred flood victims. Imagine if all business owners were like Mattress Mack.
And beloved, we are praying for Florida today, and for our people in La Romana and the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, and all those who are and will be affected by the devastation of Irma, and by the devastation of our warming oceans in the years to come. It is terrible. And people will show you who they are in the days and weeks following. They will show up. They will help one another. Race and class and politics and immigration status won’t matter. It is terrible and beautiful all at the same time.
We can still save one another from drowning. It’s not too late.
When two or more are gathered in Love’s name, God is there. So fellow beloved screw ups: Welcome home. You look great in your selfies, but we are so much better together than we are alone. Here we are gathered in Love’s name. Here we save one another from drowning; here we look for the helpers. Here we clear the way for love. Here we keep each other safe. Here we see a way we can help and then help. Keep showing up. Love one another, love the world: wastefully and extravagantly, the way God loves.
Welcome home. Amen.
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.