Sunday, March 25, 2018: A Theological Wobble

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

Covenants are intentional.

Covenants are audacious.

Covenants are a promise that we can

change our lives together in this faith

(by Janice Marie Johnson) ( * )

PRELUDE

WELCOMING WORDS: Lauren F.

CALL TO WORSHIP:

Come in,

from wherever you have come,

and know welcome.

Come in,

with what joys and sorrows you carry

and feel the comfort of community.

Come in,

To be alone with your thoughts,

Yet together with others

Come with us,

From isolation to connection,

From distraction, to intention

From fragmentation, to wholeness.

Come, let us honor together what is sacred in our lives.

(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

INTROIT

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Slate and Colt M.

Let this Chalice be a light

That opens our hearts

And lifts our spirits

This day and every day.

(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: “Make Channels for the Streams of Love” (#299)

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: Katie Camire, RE Professional

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

THE TOPIC OF MONEY: “Why It Matters to Me” (by Carolyn B.)

OFFERTORY

ANTHEM

READING: from “Class Action, the struggle with class in Unitarian Universalism”, by the Commission on Appraisal, June, 2017

Some Unitarian Universalist congregations are wealthy and some are not. We must make equal note of the sixty-member congregation that struggles to help a member attend General Assembly and the wealthy congregation that gives $5 million to our faith. We must make sure at the national level that we don’t give credence and legitimization to the wealthy congregations at the expense of paying heed to the poor congregations in the Association. Doing otherwise would be a clear example of classism.

Class also affects how congregations and others participate in our Association. We suspect that most congregational delegates to General Assembly pay their own way and are selected as delegates on the basis of their ability to do so. …The tendency for GA delegates to be people with significant financial resources has been mitigated slightly by the recent introduction of remote, electronic participation and voting, the availability of scholarships for congregational presidents, and an emphasis on delegates representing congregational positions rather than their own….we are making progress.

HYMN: “From the Crush of Wealth and Power” (#125)

SERMON:

A Theological Wobble?

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (c)

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year. …

One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class. They had journeyed to Jerusalem from Galilee, about a hundred miles to the north…

On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion….[1]

We just heard Katie describe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the children. Now,

Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival (on the other side of) the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold…

Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power; but also, Roman imperial theology…the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God….[2]

It is important to heed the warnings of the two biblical scholars, Borg and Crossan, members of the Jesus Seminar who write:

We must guard against some possible misunderstandings of the conflict that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. It was not Jesus against Judaism…. Jesus was a part of Judaism…The conflict was also not about priests and sacrifice…Rather, his protest was against a domination system legitimated in the name of God., a domination system radically different from what the already present and coming kingdom of God, the dream of God would be like.[3]

When the Transition Team looked at the information gathered at the house meetings most of you attended last year, they saw that in every house meeting the topic of diversity came up and the expressed desire for more of it. But no suggestions were forthcoming on how to achieve that, nor was there any refining of what kind of diversity it was that you desired.

Pondering this, the Transition Team inferred that while you desired diversity neither you nor they knew what that meant, what kind of diversity you wanted, nor how to get there. Out of that conundrum was born the suggestion of devoting this year to exploring diversity together, the whole church, young and old, so that we could learn together, and hopefully dream and then plan together in a meaningful way.

With that intention the Transition Team brainstormed the many kinds of diversity that a congregation might include, and to which it might aspire. These were many, and they were gathered and categorized under broader topic themes, the ones we have come to know and love as our exploration goes forward.

They were “Ability”, “Age”, “Race, Power and Privilege”, “Money” and “Gender”.

We are all learning together as each of the topic teams guides us in exploration. But while we expected that all of these topics would be challenging and would raise some questions or issues that some would find uncomfortable, there was one thing we learned that we had not expected. Money is the most scary and uncomfortable topic of them all. Money, a significant way in which power and privilege has been consolidated, protected and perpetuated since the times of Jesus and before, money, is our secret sacred cow.

Every other topic was able to attract significant interest from the congregation either through volunteering to participate on the topic team, or by volunteering to offer a testimony on why that topic matters to you. For most topics we had more people volunteering to offer testimonies than we had Sundays in which they could be offered. Except Money. Money has been the only topic during which we actually had a Sunday without a testimony – this despite the fact that every time we conduct a forum, or survey, you report that your favorite part of the experiment with topics, is the testimony part of the service. You love testimonies. You love to hear them, and you love to give them, unless it is about Money and why that topic matters to you.

Maybe it is because you never learned to talk about money. Your parents didn’t talk about it with you, or in front of you. Or you were told not to talk about it. Maybe because you had too much. Or because you had too little. It may be that dark secret, kind of like abuse that happens behind closed doors – polite people do not let it see the light of day – the reality of money – how money shapes our private lives.

This cultural collusion lets us all live a lie, pretending that we are not concerned about money, pretending that we do not notice money – kind of like pretending we do not notice race.

And why would that be? Why would we be embarrassed to have it be known that we had too much money, or too little?

The uncomfortable truth I think, my friends, is because we, you and I, have a little secret theological wobble. For all of our affirmation of the worth and dignity of every person, there is a wobble. As my father used to be fond of saying, “All people are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”

With money comes power and privilege. Witness Pontius Pilate. With the lack of it comes vulnerability, lesser status and limited access to power or even self-determination. Witness Jesus.

Power and privilege are important factors to recognize and acknowledge. Let’s face it – any poor kid in this country can grow up to be President if they can recruit sufficiently wealthy sponsors, backers and donors. Money talks. It always has. That’s why the prophets railed against its inequitable distribution. That’s why Jesus warned that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. Money talks. That’s why there are more privately-owned guns than we have adults in this country.[4] Because the money of the gun manufacturing lobby talks. That’s why when President Trump talks about executing drug pushers and drug dealers to deal with the opioid crises he is talking about executing brown people, not the executives of Purdue Pharma that produced and pushed and bribed doctors to overprescribe the drugs, the real drug pushers. Money talks, in this country, as it did in Jerusalem.

What an interesting turn of phrase, how even our language makes the conversation we need, invisible. We know the phase “Money Talks”, but we lack the capacity to talk about money. Interesting…

I think it is because we do not completely believe in our principles, totally trust them to be true, true enough for us to stand with them, and have them define us, rather than letting the culture define us.

Inherent worth and dignity. That means it is a part of you, like your skin and your heart and your DNA. It cannot be taken, stolen, or given away. Others can disrespect it, ignore it, act as though it were not there. People do that all the time in cultures of dominance and repression. But that does not diminish you. Because your worth and dignity are inherent. Even if you are poor. Even if you are unemployed. Even if you have a boss who treats you like dirt, or a spouse who treats you like dirt. You are somebody. Your inherent worth and dignity cannot be removed. And neither can your neighbor’s inherent worth and dignity be removed, or that of the homeless family in a motel room, or especially the drug addict trying to survive – maybe badly, maybe making poor decisions, maybe needing help, but a somebody, with inherent worth and dignity.

Maybe, when we really believe that, we will be able to talk about money, be able to talk about how it feels to be out of work, when work was your source of identity, or when it provided your social location, or a validation of worth; or, how it feels to have more money than most, and unsure of how that changes how people relate to you, are they really your friends, or only friendly because of your money? How does it feel to be part of a congregation that engages in activities that cost money – retreats, denominational programs, auctions, charitable giving – when you do not have that extra discretionary income? Or when you have more than enough and could be helping pay for others, if it did not imply somehow a diminishing of them, a jeopardizing of your relationship as equals because, in the final analysis, your theology, or theirs wobbles, not solidly grounded in inherent worth and dignity?

We, like Jesus are bucking the system, or trying to; the system of domination and oppression. But unlike Jesus, most of us have some skin in the game of dominance, as this study of diversity topics reminds us. “Ability”, “Age”, “Race, Power, and Privilege”, “Money”, and our last one, “Gender”. In some of those we are on top, beneficiaries of the dominance, in others not. And with money, it seems, our personal placement is the most precarious and anxiety ridden of all. It is our theological wobble.

This may be our “come to Jesus” moment. The moment when we face the question of our authentic theological truth, grasp it and trust it enough to look at the two processions entering Jerusalem, the one of the dominant oppressor class, and the one of the oppressed, consider in which procession we have marched, and know that the time has come decide anew to which procession we will choose to belong. The decision is ours, yours and mine.

Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: “How Could Anyone?” (#1053)

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

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

[1] Marcus J Borg & Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, What the Gospels really teach bout Jesus’s final days in Jerusalem. Harper One, 2007, p.2.

[2] Op cit p. 3

[3] Op cit p. 30

[4] Max Fischer, Washington Post, cited by German Lopez, Vox, February 21, 2018