Rev. Dillenbeck’s sermon begins at the 27 minute mark.
A year ago this weekend the country was transfixed by the protests that rocked the town of Charlottesville, VA. The deadly violence there lifted the national consciousness and brought into focus in a broader way the nation’s struggle with white fragility and privilege.
In the year since those events, the man who organized the white supremacists and neo-nazis involved in that “Unite the Right” event has been busy: he has busy trying to portray himself as a victim to anyone who would listen; he has busy organizing the “Unite the Right 2” rally that is taking place today, right across the street from the White House in Washington, DC.
The vast majority of those who live in Charlottesville certainly did not start the divisions that were on display that day – in fact the majority of those protesting the removal of those confederate monuments were not from Charlottesville, but rather outsiders who came to make their displeasure heard.
Nevertheless, the divisions that led that protest have been present in our county and in our world for longer than any of us care to admit.
Anyone who has spent even the smallest amount of time reading scripture would agree.
The biblical witness is full of these divisions and the violence, both physical and emotional, that too easily occurs when we separate God’s children based on any perceived differences.
It was on full display in the passages Pastor Lois preached on last week. The way the Bible was used to diminish the important role of our sisters as God’s chosen leaders.
I deeply appreciated and was cheering as Pastor Lois reminded us what we should do when we encounter stories of scripture that are difficult to understand. She said what Shirley Guthrie, my Theology professor in seminary, said. Scripture interprets scripture.
The pervasive message running through God’s story is how God again and again confronts attitudes of divineness and separation with people and actions that point us towards a new way of life, a life lived in community where all God’s children are welcome and are necessary for the full expression of God’s love and compassion to be experienced.
We can see that message here today in King David’s words from Psalm 150. David calls all God’s people to praise God and give thanks using all that we are wherever we are.
Too often I have seen good church people lift up the harp and strings and flute, all the instruments you might associate with a quieter worship setting as the ones that are most appropriate for most beautiful to praise God.
But in Psalm 150, King David also talks about praising God with dancing and the trumpet, with loud cymbals and bass drums. I love the version we heard today from The Message because it includes the fiddle and banjo and mandolin.
In this Psalm, King David is creating space for all God’s children to offer our praise through our own uniqueness; He names these gifts and experiences of worship as necessary to know the fullness of God’s love in the world.
The Apostle Paul circles, underlines and highlights this theme again in his letter to the church in Corinth. In verses 12-31 of the 12th chapter, which we didn’t read this morning, Paul spends time reminding God’s people that we are One Body by the Spirit of God – and that for the body to function, we need each part because each part is indispensable to God’s plans for grace in the world.
Beyond that, Paul tells us to hush those voices within us that try to give greater value to one person over another. He reminds us that “If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.”
Paul says, “Y’all are Christ’ Body – That’s who you are! You must never forget this.”
Not long after the events in Charlottesville, a group of youth and adults gathered in Montreat, North Carolina to plan for this summer’s youth conferences. I was blessed to be included in that group and was blown away by the commitment in the room – the energy of youth and adults who centered our work around the theme: “Lift Every Voice.”
The conversations involved in planning for these conferences centered around this body of Christ language and how God calls us to recognize everyone around us as essential members of that body, even when we don’t understand.
I just returned from time in Montreat where together with a team of youth and adults we engaged in ministry with roughly 2300 youth and adults from all over the country over a two-week period. We talked about our own voices, about difficult voices, about silenced voices, and our united voices and how God works through all of these voices to express the fullness of God’s grace in the world.
In the same way, I read an article in the newest edition of the Presbyterians Today magazine about a campus ministry program at Cal Poly University called Front Porch. Their recent ministry has become shaped by very public incidents of racial insensitivity by other student groups on that campus. The Front Porch, which at its heart is a coffee shop and worshipping community, became a place “for students to process and grieve” those incidents.
The informal conversations in the coffee shop “spilled over into Wednesday night gatherings, where more than 250 students came together for a meal. The only requirement was that they get to know each other and discuss hard topics. As the conversations about race deepened, the students began to grasp that they wouldn’t truly be able to listen and celebrate each other, or their differences, until they recognized each other’s humanity.”
Those 2300 youth and adults in Montreat and those students at The Front Porch at Cal Poly University encountered what Paul was writing about.
They encountered UBUNTO (u-boon-too). Ubunto means I am because we are and we are because I am. It is a Zulu or Xhosa (pronouced Tossa) word and a traditional African concept.
I have found that most of us shaped by capitalism and the myth of American individualism have a hard time understanding this Christian ideal so let me tell you a story:
There was an anthropologist who had been studying the habits and customs of this tribe, and when he finished his work, he had to wait for transportation that would take him to the airport to return home.
He’d always been surrounded by the children of the tribe, so to help pass the time before he left, he proposed a game for the children to play.
He’d bought lots of candy and sweets in the city, so he put everything in a basket with a beautiful ribbon attached. He placed it a distance off under a solitary tree, and then he called the kids together.
He drew a line on the ground and explained that they should wait behind the line for his signal. And that when he said “Go!” they should rush over to the basket. The first to get to the basket would win all the candies.
So the children line up as the anthropologist directed and when he shouts “Go” the children take off running.
Can you picture that scene? Close your eyes and imagine it. Can you see their excitement? Can you feel their exuberance? Can you picture the kids running in your mind’s eye? Can you see them running as fast as they can towards that tree?
Now, can you see them reach out and grab one another’s hands as they race to that tree?
That my friends is what happened! That group of children linked hands and ran flat-out together to reach that tree. When one stumbled they all slowed down to allow that child to regain footing. And when they reached that tree they sat down together, sharing the abundance in that basket freely with one another.
The anthropologist was very surprised. He asked them why they had all gone together, especially if the first one to arrive at the tree could have won everything in the basket – all the sweets.
A young girl simply replied: “How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad? ”
I am because we are and we are because I am!
Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes UBUNTU in this way: “It is about the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours: I am human because I belong [to you].
“The solitary human is a contradiction in terms. Therefore we seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.
“We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
Y’all are Christ’s Body – That’s who you are! You must never forget this.
As Forest Hill moves into another new season of mission and ministry it is important that we not forget this message. It is crucial to the body of Christ in the place, in this city, in this world, that we not forget that I am because we are and we are because I am.
You are a crucial part of Christ’s body and God wants you to lift your praise with the harp and flute or with the trumpet and fiddle – with whatever gift or instrument that best fits you and allows you to express your love for God’s goodness in your life and in the world.
You are a crucial part of Christ’ body and we are not fully representing God’s plans for grace when we demean or belittle the gifts and voices of others; we are not fully who Christ intends us to be when we do not recognize our brothers’ and sisters’ humanity.
You are a crucial part of Christ’ body and we are not fully representing God’s plans for Grace in the world when you think less of the gifts you have been given or when you hold back, because you assume someone else could meet the need better or because you have been there and done that before.
Through his letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul is inviting every one of us to remember that I am because we are and we are because I am.
I cannot be fully who God has created me to be apart from the community of God’s people. I need your witness and love to help me better understand how God’s grace is working in my life. And the same is true for you. You cannot fully be who God created you to be if we hold back.
We are Christ’s Body. May we never forget it!
May we move out from this place knowing that we are connected and what we do affects the whole World.
May we live and move and have our being rooted in the knowledge that we belong to one another and that together our unity through our diversity speaks powerfully of God’s expansive love for the world.
Amen and Amen.