Sunday, February 25, 2018: A Prayer Worth Praying

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

(Margaret Mead)

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS: Wendy M.

CALL TO WORSHIP:

All that we have ever loved

and all that we have ever been

stands with us on the brink of all that we aspire to create:

a deeper peace,

a larger love,

a more embracing hope,

a greater generosity of spirit,

a deeper joy in this life we share.

(On the Brink”, by Leslie Takahashi) ( * )

Come then, my friends, as we enter this time on the brink,

Creating this morning, a deeper love, a more embracing hope, a greater spirit of generosity, and a deeper joy in the life we share.

Come, let us worship together.

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Anna R.

That all might be cherished

A chalice of love

That all might be healthy

A chalice of care

That all might know justice

A chalice of courage

Today and tomorrow and the days ever after.

(Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: “Though I May Speak With Bravest Fire” (#34)

OUR COVENANT:

Love is the doctrine of this church,

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

To the end that all souls

Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.

This is our great covenant,

One with another, and with our God.

SONG OF ASPIRATION:

From all that dwell below the skies,

Let songs of hope and faith arise,

Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,

Through every land, by every tongue.

Amen.

CHILDREN’S TIME: Rev. Anita

How do you know when you are cared for? How can you tell?

What does that feel like? Maybe you look for things that give you a clue.

I had a second grade teacher who would give me the extra milk on weeks when I’d forgotten my milk money, or go next door and ask the other teacher if there was extra milk in her class, if there was not any in ours. I felt cared for (if a little foolish that I’d forgotten my milk money).

(Rev. Anita told the story about her parents arriving late for visiting day at camp.)

I later learned, as I got older, they were always late for everything. And maybe it wasn’t that they didn’t care, but that they didn’t understand the impact it had on me, the meaning I made of it.

I needed to tell them that even if they didn’t mean to, they hurt me.

That doesn’t change that it hurt, does it? Sometimes we can forgive people who hurt us when they didn’t mean to. And sometimes we really need to speak up and let them know they hurt us, or they will never learn.

SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:

Go now in peace, go now in peace;

may the love of God surround you,

everywhere,

everywhere

you may go.

CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

MUSICAL MEDITATION

OFFERTORY

READING: “Shoulders” (by Naomi Shihab Nye)

A man crosses a street in the rain,

stepping gently, looking two times north and south,

because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.

No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo

but he’s not marked.

Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.

He hears the hum of a boy’s dream

deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able

To live in this world

If we’re not willing to do what he’s doing

with one another..

The road will only be wide.

The rain will never stop falling.

ANTHEM: “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”

HYMN: “Comfort Me” (#1002)

SERMON:

A Prayer Worth Praying ( # )

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson

Wendy M., reader of the embedded poem, “A Prayer for Children”, in italics,

David Leonhardt writes:

In a Sandy Hook Connecticut firehouse in 2012, not long after another school shooting, a group of terrified parents was waiting for news about their children. Connecticut’s governor, Dan Malloy, then walked into the room and quietly told them, “If you haven’t been reunited with your loved one by now, that is not going to happen.” The room convulsed in grief.[1]

Marian Wright Edelman prays for children.

We pray for children
Who sneak popsicles before supper,
Who erase holes in math workbooks,
Who can never find their shoes.[2]

Surely we do too. We pray for children. This week several of you in this congregation worked to create vacation food boxes for children who would not have breakfast or lunch on weeks when school is closed. Service is our prayer. We pray for children when we prepare packages of food for them.

And we note that it is sad that children in the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, sends children home for school vacation, to a week without sufficient food. Maybe sad is not the best word for this situation.

In this country, we are not very good at taking care of our children. That may sound shocking, or just plain wrong. After all, we probably all know one or two helicopter parents, people who hover over their children protecting them from any negative experience from which it is possible to protect them. Maybe you have even tried to do that yourself, for your own children. But that is a culturally created behavior within the affluent white community. It basically is a concern for our particular child or children, not for the village of children, the nation of children who go unprotected and undefended and live in our country at risk of dying before their time.

And we pray for those
Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
Who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
Who never “counted potatoes,”
Who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead,
Who never go to the circus,
Who live in an X-rated world.[3]

In Japan the annual deaths of children is 2.5 thousand per one million children. In the 20 high income countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Development (O.E.C.D.) the average annual deaths of children is 3.8 thousand per one million children, higher than Japan’s. In the United States the annual deaths of children is 6.5 thousand per million, or nearly double the average. Our kids are dying at an exponentially higher rate than in other comparable countries, and not just from guns. The three factors that contribute to this high rate of death for our children are guns, motor vehicle accidents, and infant mortality, which is essentially health care. It doesn’t need to be this way.[4]

Our roads were once average in safety and now are the most dangerous in the affluent world. Our infant mortality goes up as the expansion of Medicaid benefits goes down. And the more prevalent our guns, the more they kill our children. It doesn’t need to be this way.

As Margaret Mead observed years go:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Service is our prayer.

We pray for children
Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.
And we pray for those
Who never get dessert,
Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
Who watch their parents watch them die,
Who can’t find any bread to steal,
Who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
Whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
Whose monsters are real.[5]

We are dealing here with the intersectionality of all the ways in which there are people in this country who are valued, nurtured and cared for, and people who are not, who are marginalized, expendable, and sacrificed on the altar of the almighty dollar. Brown people. Black people. Poor people. Old People. Differently-abled people. Children.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Service is our prayer.

Service. Sometimes service is making up boxes of food so children won’t go hungry during school vacation. Sometimes service is feeding folks at Bread of Life. Sometimes service is making quilts for babies newly born into families of poverty or disarray. And sometimes service is writing letters to the editor. Sometimes it is calling or writing to your state representatives and senators, your federal congress people, your senators, your school boards and city councils and town planners. And sometimes service is showing up. Showing up at those hearings and meetings. Showing up at your elected officials offices. Showing up in the streets. Showing that it is not acceptable that our children are dying.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

We pray for children
Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
Who like ghost stories,
Who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub,
Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
Who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
Who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry. [6]

In the book beloved by many, by Dr. Seuss, “The Lorax”, a book that promotes protection of the environment, the frustrated Lorax bellows, “Mister! I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

I thought of his words as I listened to the teen survivors of the shootings at the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The young man I heard said ‘The children who were shot in Sandy Hook in 2012 were too young to speak for themselves. The children at Sandy Hook who saw their classmates killed were too young to speak for themselves.’ So nothing happened, he explained. ‘We are not too young to speak for ourselves. We can speak for ourselves, and for the children of Sandy Hook, and for all of the children who are not safe in their schools. And we are speaking now.’

Indeed. They are speaking. These kids who are affluent kids, with excellent education and public speaking skills, and those who are joining them from other schools, young people who are now pushed to the edge, are finding their voices. And it is our responsibility to listen. Sometimes listening is service. Sometimes listening is prayer.

And we pray for those
Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
Who will eat anything,
Who have never seen a dentist,
Who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
Who live and move, but have no being. [7]

Service is our prayer. Organizing is service.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”[8]

Today is the first week of our Money Topic. This service was to offer an overview of money on the macro-scale, the financial structures of our nation, and the world in which it is embedded and how that impacts us, and often holds us hostage. A big topic that sounds like the stuff for economists, not worship. And then this happened. Seventeen people shot and killed, their lives stolen, while they were at school. And it almost seemed like I had to abandon our plans for the introduction of the topic. Until I dug deeper. Until it became obvious that when we cry out in anguish because our children are dying, and we ask why, the answer is, “Follow the money.” Follow the money. Follow it to the gun manufacturers who funnel millions to the politician’s through the NRA. Follow the money that reaps tax cuts for the wealthy and cuts Medicaid for the poor. Follow the money that builds prisons for profit and uses public dollars of law enforcement to incarcerate people of color, rather than using our public dollars to monitor public safety on our roads, ensuring that people are driving sober, maintaining safe speeds, testing that car seats are safe, roadways are well lit and maintained, and that intersections are well designed.

We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must,
For those we never give up on and for those who don’t get a second chance.
For those we smother,
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.[9]

Service is our prayer. Sometimes service is offering the hand to help, and sometimes it is doing the work of following the money and challenging those who would line their pockets at the expense of our children. Challenging them in the courthouse and the statehouse, at the ballot box and the on the soapbox- in the public square and the virtual square of social media.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Service is our prayer. Saving our children. It is a prayer worth praying. Every day, in every way we can.

May it be so.

Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (#126)

EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):

We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community,

or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

BENEDICTION

CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE:

May the long time sun shine upon you,

all love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.

POSTLUDE

( # ) Part of this sermon is a poem by Marian Wright Edelman ( * )

A Prayer for Children

( * ) = indicates the author/composer is a person of color

[1] David Leonhardt, Letting American Kids Die, New York times, Sunday, February 18, 2018, Sunday Review section.

[2] Marian Wright Edelman, “A Prayer for Children,” in Guide My Feet.

[3] Ibid

[4] O.E.C.D. Source Ashish Thakyar, Alexandra D. Forrest, Mitchell G. Maltenfort and Christopher B. Forrest

[5] Marian Wright Edelman, “A Prayer for Children,” in Guide My Feet.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Margaret Mead

[9] Marian Wright Edelman, “A Prayer for Children,” in Guide My Feet.