Sermon Archives

Hidden Figures

One of the most profound blessings of being a pastor is that I have gotten to learn some of your backstories. That is the blessing of Christian community – we step out of the shadows and share our lives. We work together, and pray together, and serve together, and laugh together and cry together – we are illumined by the light of one another and we walk into the light of God’s kingdom; in short we “let our light shine!”

Over the years I have heard your stories of bravery and brokenness, of adventure, of tragedy, of strength. Your stories shine light on my life, and stretch me to see a larger horizon.

This well known hymn says it best:

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

We share our mutual woes; our mutual burdens bear.
And often for each other flows a sympathizing tear

When we are called to part it gives us inward pain
but we shall still be joined in heart and hope to meet again.

We can get mad each other and disagree with each other, and yet we remind ourselves that we are together in Jesus Christ. In this time we need to remind ourselves of this daily!

When we are hidden from each other it is easy to judge, dismiss, disregard.

When we don’t know each other’s stories and don’t claim each other’s pain and victories as our own – we remain hidden figures.

I was reading an article by Rebekah Simon-Peter entitled “7 Counterintuitive Resolutions for Growing Churches.” One of the 7 resolutions is: “Practice Heaven.”
She writes: “Make friends with someone you are afraid of or someone who angers you. Don’t try to fix or change them. Instead, find the best in them as they are right now. “

Another resolution is: “Get the Backstory.” “People’s theologies, politics, and life choices make a heck of a lot more sense when we know the backstory…share your stories with each other.”

When hidden figures express themselves they can become powerful. We learned this in this last election. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis told a story about the despair that turned a lot of people living in poverty into Republicans, a story that most of us didn’t know. When we do not listen, we can easily pre-judge – when we place the bushel basket over someone’s light, let alone when we hide our own light – we all are diminished!

But when we share our stories, and become vulnerable to one another something profound happens and we get ‘salty’, tasty – we feel as if we belong and our gift is worth giving and our story has meaning – it is powerful.

I am excited to welcome some new people into leadership of this church and to ordain and install them. We were on retreat yesterday and we learned a lot about each other. New experiences, new stories, new visions – together discerning God’s desire for this congregation at this time – this will be a tasty and illuminating Session!

When we break bread together it is funny what happens: things get revealed and new relationships are formed – you see that person on Sunday that you had dinner with on Thursday – and there is a tenderness and a twinkle – and there is a new light in the world.

This is, I believe, a part of what Jesus was talking about when he gathered his disciples and the crowd on the side of the mountain and called them “Blessed.”

Despite everything that is going on in our world today – you and I need to witness to the blessedness of community – the welcoming community – not where we agree on everything, but where we share mutual concern.

We are not a city, only a church family, nevertheless we might as well shine our light for all to see. Folks are looking for places like this. I have received so many positive reactions to our LGBTQ flag outside.

I got in trouble a few weeks for spoiling the ending of the Star Wars movie “Rogue One.” So I am feeling a little bit sensitive for referencing yet another movie. This time it is “Hidden Figures.” The story of three African-American women mathematicians, who worked for NASA and are the reason NASA even got into space in the first place.

Now, I hope I didn’t spoil this movie for anybody.

I appreciate the play on words of the movie’s title “Hidden Figures.” It alludes both to math figures and to the story that many of us never knew – Kathryn Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – were hidden to most of us, their story not told – and it is a really good, uplifting story. Let your light shine!

I really didn’t know much about the Tuskegee Airmen until the movie came out.

I never heard of Henrietta Lax until we read the book about her a couple of years ago.

I know Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Larry Doby and Jackie Robinson but not Rube Foster, Pop Lloyd, Cool Papa Bell.

I never learned of Paul Robeson or Sojourner Truth in school.

Alice Walker, sure! But I didn’t know Zora Neale Hurston until just a little bit ago.

What other names and stories don’t I know? What other hidden figures should be brought to light – removed from under the bushel basket of history and culture and put up on the lampstand?

Jesus said: “Let your light shine, so that people can see and know and give glory to your Father in heaven.” This is what it is about: telling stories, shining lights, giving glory!

Jesus was telling his first disciples that they should not be passive about living their faith and proclaiming their faith. Which says to me that Jesus Christ wants you to tell your stories, allow everyone to tell their stories – this is freedom and power.

And that is why I am so thankful to the Black History Month committee – because since we got more serious about Black History Month – I have learned so much. And I have begun to get a new world-view – that Black History matters in church. It matters because it is my history too. I too can be liberated.

And I think it is right and proper for a predominantly white church to support and celebrate Black History. Just as Jesus said: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fill them full of new meaning, re-interpret them.” So too the celebrating of Black History is not seeking to abolish other stories or simply judge the past harshly (although we know the past is harsh at points) but to fill our lives full of new stories, of heroes, of courage, of hope – stretching us to glimpse a new horizon; to hold us all accountable to a broader, richer, more wondrous understanding of God’s kingdom in all its various hues, and textures and colors.

I need to hear and tell stories of past wrongs so I can be reconciled and set free.

I need to hear and tell stories so I get the full story – not just one side of it.

I need to hear the stories of others – and expand my understanding and get out of my bubble. Muslim stories, Jewish stories, Conservative stories, Liberal stories.

We need to tell our stories, claim our voices, and shine our lights.

Jesus told his disciples that righteousness of the disciples needed to exceed that of the scribe (conservatives) and Pharisees (liberals) – the scribes and Pharisees were good righteous people, seeking to please God – their problem was that they were narrow – thought their story and their interpretation was the only right one to have. They didn’t listen to the people Jesus was listening to. Didn’t want to, so they missed the kingdom that was right there!

Let your light shine! Tell your stories – step out of the shadows; hidden figures no more! Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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