Worship leader: Yuki Schwartz
Call to Worship
(inspired by Psalm 105, adapted from “A Psalm on Naming God”by Miriam Therese Winter)
One: O give thanks to God, and call on God by name, and make known God’s deeds among the people.
ALL: Encircling One, Who encircles all in a love that lasts forever
One: Breasted One, Who lavishly feeds all those who hunger,
ALL: Strengthening One, Whose hand supports us as we fall
One: Remembering One, Who never forgets us,
ALL: We know You are with us when we call You by Your Name.
ALL: Let us sing to the One we know by many Names!
Call to Confession
Please take a rock from the basket. I’ll get to it in a minute.
This week on the Wellington group Facebook page, I asked you to tell me about the things that are going on in the world that are laying heavy on your hearts. I received responses from some of you, and you can see images of some of them up on the screens behind me. They include: the airstrikes in Gaza; the shutoff and attempted privatization of water in Detroit; Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over the Ukraine; migrant children fleeing military and drug violence in Latin America who are being held in deportation centers in the US; the eviction of people in Venezuela by military and police from the home they had claimed in a half-built, abandoned skyscraper called the “Tower of David”; and the desperate scramble of migrants from African nations trying to get through the militarized borders of Spain.
As impressive a list as this is, this is just the stuff you’ve shared with me, out of all the other things that are happening in the world. And this is all just stuff from this week.
I know that this is an incomplete list, because the hearts of everyone in this sanctuary are heavy because of something. Whether it’s the harassment of queer youth in our neighborhood; gun violence in our city; the fracking wounding of our earth; the loss of affordable housing; the state-sanctioned murder that we call execution; the continual erosion of women’s reproductive rights; the criminalization of … well, everyone — black and brown bodies, queer bodies, poor bodies, young bodies, old bodies, mothers, fathers, and children –– all sacrificed to money-making gods of profit –– our hearts are heavy with something.
So this is part one of our confession, which has three parts. Part one: We confess that there is sin in the world. This is something we commonly do at Wellington, we confess there is sin in the world, because we understand that sin is systemic, institutionalized, corporatized and globalized. And at first glance, this confession might look like we’re simply displacing the sin from ourselves onto others who are doing the evil. But just wait, there’s a part two to this confession: When folks forwarded me news stories about injustices that are going on in the world, they also confessed their heartbreak. So part two of our confession: We confess that we are angry at those in Gaza and Latin America who kill children, whether in military air strikes or as a result of U.S. drug war that was deported south. We confess that we feel hatred toward those who would punish or deport even one of the 52,000 children who have risked their lives to migrate to the U.S., in search of their families or safety. We confess that we feel outrage at people who would deprive people of life-sustaining water, whether in Detroit or in the desert. We confess that we feel bitterness toward those who would evict people from their homes. We confess that we feel profound sadness that national borders around the world are closed to migrants who are fleeing the economic and natural destruction of their homelands.
In short, what we are confessing is that we are human beings and we are broken. In our relationships with one another, in our abilities to see each other as human, in our ability to follow Jesus’ call to love our enemies and not just our friends, we confess that we have failed to love each other as God loves us, and has asked us to love each other. We confess that we have fallen short.
Just one part of this confession is as burdensome a weight on our hearts as a mountain. Add the other and add the weight of another mountain. Add each sin confessed here, and add another mountain. Not to mention if we reflected upon the myriad ways that we are all implicated in each and every one of these sins, through our privilege, through our security, through our economic luck, through our parents’ choices, through our government’s decisions. Add another mountain.
So here is part three of this confession, which is my confession: That under the weight of all this mountain of sin, I feel despair. I confess that there are moments where cannot remain steadfast in the promise of God that the arc of the universe really bends toward justice. I confess that there are days when I am suspicious that love isn’t a strong enough force to change the world. I confess that I have lost hope and trust in God and my community. And most of all: I confess that under the weight of this mountain of sin, my words of confession are mere sound and fury that ultimately signify nothing.
So I don’t want to speak a confession today. It is enough to confess this morning by just feeling the weight of all the Sin that hangs heavy on our hearts. So take the rock you received and hold it in your hand. Meditate upon its weight. Let it take on the weight that is burdening your heart at this moment. And when you are so moved, please come up and set it on the table. If you are so moved, you can write your brief reflection on it before you offer it up. Or you can demonstrate with your body, with a sign or a gesture, the anger, despair, sadness or outrage your feel.
I’m going to play a song for this meditation, it’s called Selah, by Lauryn Hill. Selah is a term from the psalms. It’s one of those words from ancient Hebrew that no one is sure how to translate, but some believe that it indicates a pause in the community’s prayer, an instruction to “stop and listen” or “to pause and think about that.” One interpretation suggests that the word Selah comes from the same word for the Hebrew word for “to weigh or measure.”
Selah. Stop and think about that. And bring the weight on your heart to the table of God.
Word of Assurance
Part of today’s reading from Scripture comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans, and a part of it stood out to me when I was thinking about this morning’s confession. Paul writes to the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” And I take assurance that even when my grief or anger or despair or bitterness is too deep for words, that we can emulate the Spirit with a sigh, too deep for words. Paul also writes that, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” So let us take assurance in that — and in this: That Jesus assured his followers that whenever two or three gather in his name, God is there in their midst. So let us pass the peace a good long while, as long as the hymn of assurance plays, and make the love of God visible in this place.
Sermon: God’s Hands
Scripture: Romans 8:26-39
Preaching: Esther Baruja
As Alexis Madrigal notes, “Glenn Fleishman explained in the Times back in 1998, ‘The modem works within…limits…creating sound waves to carry data across phone lines.’ What you’re hearing is the way 20th century technology tunneled through a 19th century network; what you’re hearing is how a network designed to send the noises made by your muscles as they pushed around air, came to transmit anything, or the almost-anything that can be coded in 0s and 1s.”
So in my remote landlocked country I suddenly had access to the world. Even though every time I used the internet, I blocked the access of everyone else in my house to the telephone since it was busy while I was using it!
Before that time, I had only had the opportunity to experience the virtual world from my office working for Intervarsity or I had to go to cyber cafes. One of the main reasons I wanted to have access to that “luxurious” service was that I had met this american missionary in Chile a few months before at a conference and I needed a way to communicate with her. Her name is Kati.
So—dial-up internet, problem solved, right? Geographical distance conquered. But of course, that wasn’t the only obstacle to our communication and relationship. At the same time it was constantly clear to me that any romantic relationship with a woman wouldn’t be able to prosper in my christian environment. It was obvious that it was hopeless right from the beginning. You know when you feel that something is going to go terribly and you just keep doing it because you want it so bad? Well, that was the case. And I was very scared of the consequences of my acts. I was so scared that I got my first tattoo because I desperately needed a a reminder of my trust in God. My tattoo is a verse of the bible, John 10:28, that reads:
10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
I did that because I felt I was indeed being snatched from God’s presence. In my mind my own existence and the choices I was making were to blame for that.
Amidst all these feelings of self blaming and imminent doom I still kept in electronic communication with Kati, and one day she sent me the link to a video. It was actually a commercial for the UCC! You may have seen it or heard of it? It was called Ejector.
The commercial lasts only 30 seconds but I couldn’t get it out of my head for days. I had never seen anything like that before. It showed people like me being accepted in that church. For the first time in my life I felt that there was a possibility of being happy just the way I was, without having to hide or escape from myself.
So that dial-up sound, the scientific and technological proof that humanity doesn’t have to allow physical limitations to keep it apart, also allowed me to see a Christian community that didn’t allow potential spiritual or societal limitations to keep it apart. It showed acceptance and hospitality to many kinds of people. It showed me that the Divine could accept me too.
Before seeing that video I wasn’t that sure about that. What that community showed me was a way through what I was going through; a way that I could know God’s unconditional love for me. Without that communal witness It would have been very difficult to be confident believing that it was ok to love a woman and still be a person who claims to be a Christian.
Now, saying this I don’t mean to say that other people outside the church don’t find peace with God. What I mean is that in my Christian context, and because of my personal history, what the community did and does is one of the way that I see God’s hand and hear God’s voice. It turned out I didn’t have to abandon my old means of communicating with the divine when it seemed like it wouldn’t work.
So going back to the text of the lectionary in Romans 8, I notice that in these fours verses that the word Love appears three times and the word separation twice. In between these words there are various lists of situations that apparently could potentially work against our communion -our uniting bond- with the Divine. I say “apparently” because what Paul says is that any of them have the power to do so. And in fact all of them do indeed exist in our life.
But he also says that the love of Christ who loved us, and the love of God in Christ, is greater than anything else named here. The word used in this text is Agape, which usually describes the unconditional Love of God towards humanity, the reciprocal love we feel towards the Divine, and subsequently the unconditional love that we feel or should feel towards one another. In this way is the beloved community created.
There are different words to describe love in koine greek, the language that was used to write the books of the New Testament. For example, when Jesus asked Peter if he loves him, Jesus uses the word Agape. Peter responded with the word Philia, which also means affection but more like that in a friendship or with a brotherly fashion, but it doesn’t have the same connotation of the strong unconditional love expressed in Agape. That is why it makes sense that Jesus asked Peter the same question more than once! He was asking: Do you agape me Peter, (that is Do you love me unconditionally) and Peter repeatedly said: Yes, I philia you Jesus!
Basically he was either lying about it, or he knew that the implications of loving unconditionally were too risky. So Peter did want to express his affection, but in a less binding declaration of love.
But Jesus didn’t give up and every time he answered back saying: “Feed and take care of my sheep”. That Agape, which is God’s love for us, can’t be disconnected from a community. That reciprocal Love back to God has to be shared, demonstrated, and lived amidst a community. Agape is not only God’s love to us and our love towards God, it is also our love amongst ourselves.
The passage tells us that this kind of love, this kind of deep relationship with the divine and with our brothers and sisters is not affected by “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword”, neither “death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation”.
We can love unconditionally and we are more than conquerors in doing so. What does this mean?
The word here for the phrase more than conquerors is hypernikáō, which appears only one time in the whole bible. Hyper means over, above, or beyond. The word “super” in english comes from it, for example in the word “supermarket”. And, nikao comes from the greek Goddess named Nike, which means victory.
So, for me the idea of being hypernikáō, being beyond or above victory, isn’t a blanket promise that have success in everything in this world. It means actually that my reality as a child of God doesn’t depend on any victory, that I might not even win every challenge that I face, that I can actually lose and lose many times, that I might actually can go through all the situations and calamities described here– that I can be naked, exposed, or homeless, I can be in the uncertainty of the present and suffering the scary future, I can be flooded by debt, struggling with fears inside, I can be facing isolation or solitude, but even in those situations we are so beyond the simple idea of winning because we are LOVED.
And that divine love is experienced for us in the love that we show to one another because that is the only way to have the strength to continue our journey.
Going back to the hope presented by that UCC commercial from 2005, and my tattoo reaffirming my place in the kin-dom of God, I would say that it is true that “No one will snatch me out of Jesus’ hand”. However, the reason I believe that it is true is because my beloved community uses their own hands to make sure I am in his hand.
 The Mechanics and Meaning of That Ol’ Dial-Up Modem Sound by Alexis C. Madrigal http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/06/the-mechanics-and-meaning-of-that-ol-dial-up-modem-sound/257816/
 UCC Vimeo http://vimeo.com/10409336
 John 21:15-17