Isaiah 49:1-5, Psalm 40:1-11 and writings from Richard Rohr
I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
In any congregation, workplace or organization there are norms and there are rules. Rules are almost always written down, but norms are different. They are the unwritten guidelines- the unspoken expectations of how things are to be done. Households also have norms, like whether you take off your shoes or the level to which the dishes are to be rinsed. Norms are an invisible code that can only be made clear with either communicating about them by making them visible or by letting them be made known with time. Most of us end up learning norms with time because communicating about them requires being able to articulate them fully and those who have been around for a while don’t even necessarily know the norms of a particular place because it has just been the way it is done.
So, when someone is new, often the norms aren’t revealed until we bump up against them, by accidentally violating them. For example no one ever told our interim musician that we ring the chime before the musical meditation at the beginning of worship. Of course, now our incredible Deborah has written things down to offer a helpful introduction to Alaina. But ringing the prayer bowl or the chime is not in the Ten Commandments and it is not in our Bylaws. It is what has become normal for this worship service. But until someone said it out loud after it was missed, it wasn’t revealed fully.
This year has unveiled many norms for our congregation and maybe you are thinking of some right now- the use of green mugs for guests, which banners we hang up when, what music we use for the big celebrations. It is not a rule that have a gold cross and this Bible on the altar, but it is certainly a norm.
With our government and those around the globe too- these last few years have revealed the unwritten rules many of us thought we were bound by. But they weren’t rules, they were just norms. Like whether one releases their tax returns or how much public money should be used for the protection of family members or how one speaks about the free press or political opponents or the number of days one spends golfing. These are all norms that are being challenged and now, changed. But breaking norms doesn’t mean breaking laws.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”
The climate is rapidly changing, our appetite and willingness for endless wars has changed, technology has changed the pace of childhood and much of American culture feels as if it has changed, more isolated and less communal, socializing the losses and pain and privatizing the advancements and gains…among the few.
Many of us were sold hope and change, but from my point of view, these changes aren’t good ones. There are new norms for global temperature averages and new norms for the level of anxiety in youth and new norms for who is asked to carry the burden and blame for trillions in debt and despair.
It is a time of rapid change in our country and on our planet.
Philosopher Heraclitus said in “The only thing that is constant is change” but while than can be true, we know that not all change is good.
And in a time where so much is being disrupted and shifted, what does it mean to live with the truth of constant change? And how do we face this reality, while also holding on tight to that which we know should not change? What should we work and struggle to preserve?
I have been pondering this question as it relates to life on planet earth. Maybe you saw that headline asking recently: What animals should we save?
It is a sobering question, as it should be.
And I think we might ask these questions in our congregation and community as well. What do we believe should remain steadfast? What should remain no matter what? What might we fight to keep?
Jim Collins writes, “Enduring organizations have a strong conviction about core ideals that never change; purpose and values and a clear understanding that everything else must change in order to preserve the core.”
That means, people change, programs change, places change, but the core should be preserved, even while our government fails to do this, I believe we must do it here as a church and in our community. What is our core that must be preserved?
Over our time together I have seen that some of you seem wired to relish new things and you are eager to be a part greeting new people and new ideas with enthusiasm! Others of you seem to be designed to see all that could go wrong, with the precision of an engineer, like anticipating every possible problem will itself help to avoid a catastrophe. As if joining the Psalmist who begins with thanks to God for being rescued and ends with a plea for security, “let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe!”
Still others of you seem to simply like the idea that things will generally remain as they have been and knowing that offers a sense of security, both materially and spiritually speaking.
Maybe we all find ourselves in these roles at one time or another. Depending on the situation and the moment, we might default to caution or comfort, to reaching out and being open or somewhere in between.
But wherever we each land, I believe that change is not the only constant.
I believe that there is something woven through it all, something that lures, pulls, something remains through time, something we can tap into and hold onto and be held by… I really do believe there is a higher, steadier love, an energy that endures.
Whether we call it God, or the Divine or whether we have no name for what we sense, Love is steadfast. And part of the point of Jesus’ whole life is that Love has proven to be the most powerful force, the only thing guaranteed to disarm hate, to overcome cycles of violence in individuals and societies; Love is the way to start movements.
Because of what I shared in last week’s sermon about changing very little for the first twelve months, some of you followed up to ask something like, “Well you said you weren’t going to make many changes in the first year and now the first year is done so I kept waiting for a big announcement!” What’s the big change?
Here’s the news: there isn’t one, rather it is an evolution of steadfast love. We aren’t about what is trendy or short-term. Here we are committed to the gradual, long arc of being faithful and open to the possibilities presented to us at any given time.
You might have already heard that at our Annual Meeting next week everyone is invited to join in on our first big conversation about starting another worship service. This idea was in the Strategic Plan that preceded me and the timing seems right in this coming year. More people are showing up for what we are offering than we have room for and we feel moved to respond.
For some, this has brought immediate bliss, for others fear. Among us are both people who will first see pitfalls and people who will first see possibilities and we need all of these perspectives. We are bound together and we need one another, especially in this time of rapid change and challenging uncertainties.
Richard Rohr speaks of being able to stand in the unknown, to face mystery, when we “fall into the perfect love of God.” And falling into this love, in part means letting go.
This first year together has involved lots of experiments with events, with worship, on our site, in cafes, the streets and in the mountains. And in a time where so much is being disrupted and shifted, what is at the core of who we are? What do we want to remain in the face of so much change?
We had a really great social justice event on Wednesday and we asked some big questions together. As part of our time, we asked what it really means when we say that we are radically inclusive. Each week we say no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here…but do we really mean everyone? What about a white supremacist or a climate science denier? What about a new family with a young child who kicks the back of the seat? What about a marginalized person with bad hygiene who sat really close?
There is a hymn inspired by the text from the book of Lamentations chapter 3:22-23
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[a]
God’s mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
What does it mean for us to be kept, truly kept and guided by a steadfast love?
I think part of what this means for us now is to remain committed to offering steadfast love for one another, regardless of culture or creed or class. Regardless of how we look or how much we have. Because steadfast means unwavering. And I believe the Universe is asking us to be unwavering about steadfast love.
LGBTQ youth are dying because they don’t feel steadfast love from God’s hands, from us here on earth. And they aren’t the only ones. With whatever evolutions and expressions we explore as a church, let us remain unwavering in our effort to be human expression of this ancient and abiding hope- that steadfast love is the core, that all human beings are worthy of love, that is the very thing that holds us and keeps us. It is the very thing that should guide us…
In a time of heightened political divisions and dangerous violations of norms, in a time of rapid change, let us hold fast to the rule of love, to what is at the core of who we are.
Hear these words from the poem Welcome written by Stephen D. Brooks that I adapted for our community.
Brown, black, beige, pink, white, whatever color
All are precious in God’s sight -Welcome
Politicians and electricians
Beauticians and physicians -Welcome
Republicans, Independents, Democrats
If you’re skinny, pear-like, or fat -Welcome
Those who look real good,
Shiny, hub-cap, polished hood;
Those of you who’ve crashed;
Banged and battered, maimed and mashed-Welcome
Hopeless and helpless! -Welcome
Victors and victims, sinners and saints,
Those who sing and those who paint.
Hippies, handymen, hypocrites- -Welcome
Guys, gals, non-binary pals,
We welcome every face,
Bathe in God’s amazing grace! -Welcome
Whatever happens, whatever evolves from here, let us remain committed to the core and unwavering about this: no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here!
May it be so