Sermon,  Sermons

Just, Enough

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The civil rights elder Ruby Sales was a teenager when she marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. She says she was motivated to join the Southern Freedom Movement not merely because she was angry about injustice but because she loved justice itself. Her orientation toward envisioning a more just and loving world has sustained her lifetime’s work of activism — and can offer inspiration for all of us:

“Most people begin their conversation with, ‘I hate this,’ but they never talk about what it is they love,” she says in her 2016 On Being conversation, …. “We have to begin to have a conversation that incorporates a vision of love with a vision of outrage. And I don’t see those things as being over and against each other. You can’t talk about injustice without talking about suffering. But the reason why I want to have justice is because I love everybody in my heart. And if I didn’t have that feeling, that sense, then there would be no struggle.”

The non-negotiability of love as a possibility between people was also a source of empowerment for John Lewis, who participated in the marches alongside Sales. “Love is strong. Love is powerful,” he says. “The [civil rights] movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love: that you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you.”

Kristen Lin, Editor, The OnBeing Project

God calls. God chooses. God knows – from the beginning. Before the beginning. Before the womb and in the womb and in the growing. Again. And again. And again. Be encouraged. Be strengthened. You are called.

It’s widely understood that the people who comprised the Corinthian church were wily, stubborn, even. Still, Paul – called “by the will of God” – encourages the people with the greeting, “grace and peace.” And may be asking the question of them, “weren’t you also called by the will of God? Did you forget, maybe? Are you, perhaps, tired? Disillusioned?”

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9, NRSV

Paul addresses the Corinthian church as the “Church of God” and reminds them they are sanctified already – and called to be saints! Not only that, they are called to be saints together with all, in every place! Grace to you and peace from God…

Then he reminds them of some truths of what this actually means: the grace of God is given them. They possess God’s grace. And it is by this grace (profound, unimaginable, more than anyone might consider needing) by this grace, they are enriched in every way: in speech and in knowledge of every kind! Already – because the graces have already been poured out.

And the testimony of Jesus – that others witness those graces among them – reveals an even more remarkable truth – they are not lacking in any. spiritual. gift. They are enough. You are enough. You already contain and are strengthened by the graces of Jesus – will continue to be to the end.

And you are called to be saints, yes. And this calling means you are called into the fellowship of Jesus. Together. With all. In every place.

            So what does that look like?

Andrea Miller started worked on behalf of the ERA in the late 1960s as a middle schooler. At 66, she’s eager to see it ratified.

As an eighth grader in the Chicago suburbs in the late 1960s, helped her mother gather support for the ERA.

And, something happened this week. The state of Virginia held an election. A vote was called to support, as a state, the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which simply states “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” was first called for in 1920 and introduced to Congress in 1923 by Alice Paul, it has taken a century to bring the possibility of validation by our constitution. Congress passed a resolution for it in 1972, but the amendment needed at least 38 states to ratify it.

A deadline of 7 years was given for procuring the 38-state minimum, and by 1980 it fell short with a 35 state approval. There have been some silly haggling over this limit, as it does not pair with Article V which only calls for 38 state’s approval, no mention of time limit (and precedence for other’s taking significantly longer to ratify – 200 years in one case).

When it was proposed in 1972, it easily passed both houses of Congress (84-8 in the Senate and 354-24 in the House) with bipartisan support. Still, our country haggles over whether or not to make sure our constitution protects the rights of women as it does explicitly for men.

How are any of to feel as if we are enough, when our own country does not inscribe in its constitution the worth of the rights for all human beings? Of course, what matters most is that God considers us all as such. Still, if we truly believe this, how can we let inequality persist in our laws and in practice? And if we have eyes to see, we’ll recognize it everywhere there is injustice:

The so-called Brexit issue impacts women, as well. A majority of women in Britain are in part-time or temporary employment and more likely than men to be living in poverty. One reason for this is women are more likely abandoned (in presence or in practice) by the fathers of their children and working to support the family while attending them.  

The EU employs the “Pregnant Workers Directive,” for one, and has been a positive force in promoting equality among workers in Britain. Without such accountability, Brexit will leave women vulnerable.

If we do not understand all aspects of issues and policy, or take (and make) the time to do so, some may suffer – and it is usually the most vulnerable, the ones with no voice, that suffer most.

We are called to be saints together with all, in every place! And we are enriched in every way: in speech and in knowledge of every kind! And we are not lacking in any. spiritual. gift. All are chosen by God. All are created in God’s image – through Christ, our redeemer, sustained by the Spirit. All are enough.

So first, we believe it for ourselves. Next, we are transformed by it. But for that transformation to occur, we must notice and face the truth of all that keeps us from believing it and being transformed by the truth of all that we are because of our created being, redeemed by Christ, empowered by the Spirit – not lacking in any spiritual gift.

            Martin Luther King, Jr. explains:

“For systemic and personal transformation to occur, there must be “an honest confrontation with [the truth] and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it.”

MLK, March 14, 1968.

Difference  What’s most evident is the outward appearance. And we make assumptions on that appearance.

Legal scholar, Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, also has a study guide for practical, active contemplation – For those who weren’t here last week, I mentioned that, in the Hebrew scriptures, the words justice and righteousness nearly always appear in proximity to one another, one necessitating the other. They qualify each other. That is, justice – a system of community wherein all members have all that they need – and, righteousness – that, if things aren’t just, the community works to make things right. It is not enough to recognize injustice. We are called to righteousness – to make it right – to be active in making things right.

So, Michelle Alexander brings to light an aspect of our legal system that requires justice and righteousness, and is working toward that end. She teaches:

“Under Jim Crow laws, black Americans were relegated to a subordinate status for decades. Things like literacy tests for voters and laws designed to prevent blacks from serving on juries were commonplace in nearly a dozen Southern states.”

We may think things are different now, but “many of the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the mass incarceration of black Americans in the war on drugs. She says that although Jim Crow laws are now off the books, millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens.”

“Our criminal justice system today is like a bicycle stuck in one gear: the prison gear.” The Sentencing Project. The National Research Council study concludes: “Because recidivism rates decline markedly with age, lengthy prison sentences, unless they specifically target very high-rate or extremely dangerous offenders, are an inefficient approach to preventing crime by incapacitation.”

That is, when super long prison sentences are applied to young people for minor offenses, we effectively incapacitate these young people. It is certainly not a rehabilitation effort. And it does not address the heart of the issue – a systemic one. Why are these youth using and selling these minor drugs in the first place? What support mechanism is missing that exist in other communities to promote successful completion of education, and a possibility for jobs that support a healthy economy? There’s no easy answer. And there’s no one right answer.

Martin Luther King, Jr. suggests that the project of making things right requires both Reflection and Recalibration and is marked by the “3 Cs” characteristic of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s approach:

Courage to see, speak, and hear the truth; Creativity to chart the needed, often unseen course; and Compassion for ourselves and our companions along the way.

The project of making things right – It is mindful. It is at once, patient and potent, a meditation and a movement.

Maya Angelou said,

“We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate – thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising.”

– Maya Angelou, Voice of the Day, Sojourners.org, 1/13/2020.

God, uproot guilt and plant forgiveness with us. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Sprout hope and sow resilience. Amen.

            It is often painful, and usually uncomfortable.

            As Frederick Douglass explained,

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are [those] who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

– Frederick Douglass

Today Human Relations Sunday:

On Human Relations Day, we join other UMC congregations in a special offering to support neighborhood ministries through Community Developers, community advocacy through United Methodist Voluntary Services and work with at-risk youth through the Youth Offender Rehabilitation Programs.

And everyone is welcome to consider making an offering to this special UM fund… still, our church is struggling to pay its bills. And there are many ways to contribute to these efforts to make things right in these rehabilitation programs, and to making things right in the justice system, in general. One way is to pay a few dollars to see a film that tells an historical narrative that you may not have heard about. Join the Rockton UMC to see:

Just Mercy, with Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan:

After graduating from Harvard, Bryan Stevenson heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or those not afforded proper representation. One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian, who is sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite evidence proving his innocence. In the years that follow, Stevenson encounters racism and legal and political maneuverings as he tirelessly fights for McMillian’s life.

This afternoon at the Classic Cinemas Beloit Theatre at 3:45 pm. Tickets $6.

Deborah De La Torre “wrote, produced, performed and released [her] first album of original Latin-Classical-Jazz music in 2018 at age 54, followed by two singles, now [her] next full album is in production this year.”

Deborah represents the range of prejudices that often conspire against a majority of us: ethnic minority, female, and over 50! My hero! As we play this music video, would you please allow the images and music to move you. Consider. Notice. Invite the Spirit of God to expose you to truths – or, at least, an openness to be willing to admit the truths of our prejudices and apathy and fear. To uproot guilt and plant forgiveness with us. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Sprout hope and sow resilience. It’s about 4 minutes. Listen. Reflect. Be transformed.

¡Coño! (But With A Swing) – La Cocodrila

Visit: www.lacocodrila.com . Composed, arranged, produced and performed by Deborah De La Torre aka “La Cocodrila.” With Ron Bland (bass) and Thomas A. Blomster (percussion). Also with Patricia Surman (flute) Jake Boldman (trumpet) and Gabe Mervine (trumpet). Live performance at La Cocodrila’s Album Release Party on October 5, 2018 at Rocky Mountain Recorders in Denver, Colorado, USA.

We are called to be saints together with all, in every place! And we are enriched in every way: in speech and in knowledge of every kind! And we are not lacking in any. spiritual. gift. All are chosen by God. All are created in God’s image – through Christ, our redeemer, sustained by the Spirit. All are enough. Just, Enough.

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MANY THANKS, IN ADVANCE!