Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs
Providing a Safe Space for All
Psalm 51:1-10, The Gospel of Luke 15:1-10
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Pat and I spent a part of our vacation in Acadia National Park in Maine. One afternoon, when I was sitting on the porch at the bed and breakfast where we were staying, I looked out across the bay. I could see Cadillac Mountain which is part of Acadia. At 1,530 feet, it is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. We had driven up to the top of the mountain the day before and the views had been spectacular.
As I watched it from the porch, I saw clouds form around the mountain, and then, almost like magic, disappear and the mountain be fully visible. Then a few minutes later, clouds would again enshroud the mountain. This happened many times over the course of the 30 or so minutes that I sat there even though the rest of the sky was cloudless. I wondered if people who were up there could see what was happening.
As I sat and watched the clouds coming and going over Cadillac Mountain, I found myself thinking about my last Sunday worship service here in August, which I wrote about in the September Carillon. I think that for just about everyone who was here for that worship service, it was a deeply moving moment, when one of our own stated that her tears when worship started, were tears of joy. She was crying because life had been difficult over the past several weeks and she was so happy to be here at FCC, where she felt safe. She said that this was her safe space. While she stood there, trying to get control of her emotions, others joined her by voicing their own feeling that this was their safe space as well.
As I thought about that morning, the holy and sacred ground on which we stood deeply humbled me. I was profoundly touched by the willingness of our members to claim FCC as their safe space. God used us to help this person re-find God. And, if you think about it, my guess is that you will realize that God regularly uses us to find others, whether that be at home, at school, at work, when volunteering or helping others, God regularly calls upon us to help others.
I was clearly mesmerized by the cloud phenomena, and as I continued to watch the clouds, it occurred to me that sometimes I feel like I can understand my faith as clearly as I could see Cadillac Mountain between the clouds settling around it. And, at other times, my faith is almost literally clouded from view. I feel lost, like the lost sheep that the parable talks about. I feel like I can’t find God or my faith or where it fits into my life. In those moments, I am the lost sheep that the shepherd goes looking for, leaving behind the other 99, who are together and safe.
The person who claimed our worship space as a safe space, was also, in a sense, one of the lost sheep, who had been so overwhelmed with what was happening in her life, that she needed to be found, and was, here in this place – this safe space. FCC is a safe space, whether it be here in our Sanctuary or in Centennial Hall or in one of the rooms that our AA friends use for their meetings, or our children in Sunday School or Play Care. This is a safe space, where all are welcome. And, each of us has worked to help create this space.
Over the summer, about a half-dozen people called or stopped in to see if we could help them. As I sat looking at that mountain, they too came to mind and I found myself wondering, how do they know that FCC is a safe space? Not all houses of worship are open and welcoming. How do they know that they will find in this place, a welcoming community that stands on holy ground, and will not shun them or judge them or look down on them? How do they know?
We are not on the main street in downtown Chappaqua. So, I found myself wondering if our beautiful steeple somehow shines brightly and clearly for those who need to find a safe space. Perhaps it gives off a glow or a beacon that only those who are in deep need can see. I know that sounds crazy, but I can’t figure out any other answer as to how people who are in need find us. How do people know that we are a safe space, a respite in the face of needing food or gas or a place to stop and talk and pray? God somehow helps them find their way to us.
As we all know, today is September 11. Later on, I will be at Gedney Park offering the invocation as we remember all of those who sacrificed their lives that day, and especially honoring our first responders who risk their lives every day for us. Even though it has been 15 years since that terrible day, I can remember my time at the Respite Center at Ground Zero as if it were yesterday. I volunteered for about 3 months as a chaplain. I can remember the smells as I walked to and from the Respite Center for my shift, the thickness of the air, the somberness of the Center where I worked the night shift, talking with police and fire and recovery workers. I could see in their eyes the pain of what they were dealing with. I listened to their stories. I walked with them to the cross – the two structural beams that had been found that had formed a cross amidst the devastation and destruction. I prayed and cried with them at that cross.
It was a time that human beings were creating and providing safe spaces for other human beings to rest, to get a hot meal, to pray, to talk about their friends and loved ones who perished that beautiful fall morning, to read the cards that children sent from around the country and around the world, giving these men and women hope and the ability to go back out onto the pile.
The only good thing that seems to come out of such terrible tragedies is the ability of human beings to support each other, whether it be following 9/11, or the shooting in Orlando, or the flooding in Louisiana or other human caused or natural tragedies in our country and our world. That support can create a safe space. It is ordinary people who create the feeling of being in a safe space.
Think about how ordinary the people were who were representing God in our reading from Luke today. First, a shepherd who is at the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder in first-century Palestine, and second, a woman who has only ten silver coins to her name. In Jesus telling us these two stories, he is reminding us that God often works through ordinary people to do the extraordinary work of helping others to re-find their place in this world or find a place of safety.
God uses us here at FCC. We ordinary, amazing people who are seeking to do the best that we can! FCC made a conscious decision to create space where one can come and know that they will not be judged or rejected. That is what our Open and Affirming Statement is all about – welcoming all. We have created that space here at FCC. As I said earlier, I don’t know how people who are in need know that. But they do. There is something, some aura, some spirit that surrounds this church that lets people know that they are safe and welcome here. It must be God at work through other ordinary people, just like us.
At times of devastation in our lives, the fog lowers on us. When things aren’t going well in our jobs, or in our homes. When we are caught up in situations that seem to have no way out; when we aren’t sure what to do next, when we are grieving the death of a loved one or of a long-held dream or other difficulties and challenges in our lives, that cloud can surround us and even make us feel forgotten and alone.
However, the one assurance we have is that Jesus, our shepherd, will come looking for us. God values and loves each one of us and wants to be in relationship with us. Whether it be through a friend who just happens to call, or someone who offers us a ride or a grocery card, or a tank full of gas, or is willing to say, “Yes, this is a safe space for me, too” – The clouds may surround us, but they will not stay. The love of God will burn them off from around us because God regularly uses ordinary people like us to find others and create hope and acceptance and share God’s love with all with whom we come into contact.
Our worshipful work this year will deepen and widen this safe space, this holy ground, providing hope and sanctuary to a wide variety of people. We will welcome the Community Synagogue of Pleasantville to worship in our space for the High Holy Days. We will host a concert to remember the victims of gun violence. We will welcome youth from the area and volunteer organizations who will try to entice them to volunteer. We will have our fall tag sale and we will host the Chappaqua Interfaith Council Thanksgiving Service and Dinner. We ordered more Christmas trees to sell, and will have a wonderful Advent Workshop and hopefully welcome the Farmer’s Market back. And of course, Advent and Christmas will be beautifully holy times here. It is up to us to continue to share the love of God with all of those who come through our doors, to continue to welcome everyone.
Dear friends, I pray that you know deep within you that this space, this sacred and holy ground, is here for you, all the time. It is not just for strangers who walk through our doors. The doors of this church, our church, are doors that are open for you and for all. Together, we will continue to bring hope and healing to all who are in need, including ourselves and will stand up and say, “This is my safe space too.”