Rev. Martha Jacobs
Together We Can…
Psalm 133, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Sunday, November 12, 2017
This morning, before I begin my sermon, I need to pause to comment on what happened at the First Baptist Church in Southerland Springs, Texas, last Sunday. It is beyond my comprehension how anyone could walk into a place where people are as vulnerable as we are when we come before God with our hearts and minds open, and destroy that sacredness.
Stephen Curry, a United Methodist Pastor, serving a church 7 miles from First Baptist, wrote the following in a NY Times editorial this past week. “The idea that such a thing would happen in a sacred space, a place where families are supposed to be safe, has angered many people. Churches are places where the spirit of God is felt, where the presence of God is very real. The church is where we, with all our faults and failures, come into the presence of the divine to find grace, to find peace, to rest in the arms of the Lord. The church is a sanctuary in the literal sense of the word, set apart, safe, protecting. All this was shattered last Sunday.”
For me, this brings to mind the importance of our church family and the preciousness of life and those within our own community who are struggling with loved ones who are very ill or have recently died. Each person’s grief is its own path of pain and sadness and suffering when their loved one dies. So, while I grieve for what happened to the community in Texas, and in Las Vegas and in all the other places where gun violence has taken the lives of people, I am also deeply aware of our own losses and pain and grief. One can’t compare griefs – each has its own set of feelings and fears and anger and pain and, of course, love, all mixed into one, as we mourn the loss of our loved ones.
Dear ones, here in this place, may we find sanctuary, may we find comfort and may we find peace surrounding us as we seek to help those who are in need and may we continue to support each other through the ups and sometimes very difficult downs of our lives. Amen.
Now, I could not figure out a way to lead from what I just said into our message, so I’d like us to take a moment – perhaps close your eyes and take a few deep breaths – as I am about to do – and then we will hear what God put on my heart for us to consider today.
On Thursday afternoon, I was having lunch with a friend who is Muslim. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that their mosque had no heat due to work that was being done on their building in Thornwood. She was lamenting that this was happening just when it was going to be the coldest it had been all year. The heat would not be back on the next day, which I knew was when our Muslim friends have a major worship service at 1 PM – called Jumulah. So, without even thinking about it, I offered them the use of Centennial Hall for their prayer service. I could not imagine them worshipping someplace where they would be distracted by it being so cold, which Friday’s weather forecast predicted it would be.
She called the leadership of the mosque and they accepted my offer. We made arrangements for them to use Centennial Hall on Friday, and early Sunday morning, when a small group of men traditionally get together for Morning Prayer and then coffee. And, we talked about helping them in the near future as they seek a new place to worship. They will be here today for prayers as well.
On reflection, I realized that I had not thought twice about offering them the use of our facility. I was so humbled when I realized that I could just say, “of course you need a warm place to worship – our doors are open to you.” In fact, I could envision telling you about this and, had I not invited them in, being asked why I didn’t offer them a warm place for their worship services.
As I pondered why that was, I realized it was because over at least the past 4 years, this church have been sowing seeds in this community. We have been sowing seeds of acceptance, of forgiveness, of openness to all people, of support for those who are struggling, of welcoming the stranger among us.
Many of our seeds have borne fruit. One of the earliest seeds that grew in which I participated, was welcoming our friends from LCOR to move their church into our facility, occupying the Memorial Room, and that has been beneficial for both groups. Another example – our annual youth volunteer fair which has grown each year.
Another seed we sowed was welcoming the Pleasantville Community Synagogue to use our Sanctuary for their High Holy Day services, being willing ourselves to worship elsewhere so that they too could plant seeds in the Jewish community.
You have encouraged me to become involved in the workings of the wider community. That has, in turn, enabled us to become more of a place of gathering for meetings and events. That too is another sown seed.
We are continuing to sow seeds, moving out more into our community, literally practicing what we preach here – that all are welcome, no matter what others may think of those who are on the margins of our society. Our doors are open to all, which means that our hearts are also open to all.
So, we have sown many seeds, and thankfully, they have mostly fallen on fertile ground. Sometimes it is about the seeds, but, sometimes it is about the sower. What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes, we need to worry about where the seed falls. But, we also need to remember to focus on the sowers of the seeds.
That means that we also have to tend to ourselves. We cannot sow seeds if we don’t take care of ourselves spiritually. If we don’t nourish our own souls, we cannot spread healthy seeds. As I have learned over our years together, we each nourish our soul in different ways here. Some of us do it by coming to worship services on Sunday mornings. Some are nourished by helping with our growing Sunday School. Others are nourished by helping set up for coffee hour, or working on the Barn Sale or Tag Sale. Some of us are nourished by walking into the columbarium to stay connected to one we loved whose remains reside there. Some are nourished by singing in our choir. We offer so many ways for our souls to be nourished and all are good.
God comes to us in so many different ways. For me, most recently, it was my Muslim friend, who without knowing it, enabled me to practice my faith by welcoming her and her worshipping community into our dwelling place.
You may not realize it, but you empowered me to do that – you taught me that being open and affirming doesn’t only apply to people like me, who are LGBT. Being open and affirming also means welcoming the Community Synagogue into our worship space for their High Holy Days. It means being able to provide resources for someone who has a need, either in this congregation or to a complete stranger who walks in the door. It means being able to offer free goods to those who are in need at the end of our Barn Sale and Tag Sale. It means truly welcoming all to this holy place. While we may not agree on everything, we do have a unity of Spirit where all are welcome here at FCC.
Dear ones, how good it is when we can live in unity not only as a church family, but by opening our doors and our hearts to the strangers among us. Together we have made this happen. Together we have struggled and worked and questioned and pushed our boundaries and pushed our comfort levels and pushed God and pushed and tested our faith. Together we have supported members of our community who are grieving, whether it is the loss of a spouse, a family pet, a child going off to college or getting married, or when members of our church divorce.
Together we have grown as a church family. Together we have stepped into a new place, where new seeds are being planted all the time and we hope and pray that they take deep root and grow and enrich our community and the wider community. We are a busy church, we are a healthy church. And, as Keith reminded us when we had our dialogue in October, we are a healing church. We are a place where we can name our worries, name those for whom we need and want prayer, trusting that we will hold and support each other. Dear ones, together we have made a difference and will continue to make a difference.
In the parable of the sower and the seed, it ends with a miracle. The seeds that have been flung without care, bear fruit and yield, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. The miracle is that the sower and the seed actually work together with God to produce a good harvest. Just as we do. We help each other to understand what God is up to here at FCC, and from that harvest we reap amazing rewards of grace and love. And, yes, miracles do happen here at FCC.
I ask that as you prayerfully consider your pledge for this coming year, that you will pledge not only your financial resources, but also pledge to continue to be open and willing to scatter some new seeds around you so that your faith will grow, the roots of your faith will take hold more firmly in the ground, and you will blossom anew as together we can continue to make a difference in our world.