Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
For a number of reasons, we’ve focused a lot of energy internally over the last couple months. Naturally we want to show our appreciation to departing staff members who’ve served us well. We want to celebrate little ones being baptized and offer blessings to families moving overseas. We want to direct attention to kids learning about the importance of the Lord’s Supper and to friends experiencing illness and loss. We’ve welcomed new faces recently too; it’s a joy to invite you to be part of our community. All these things are not only appropriate but important in the life of a local church, and as a small church we’re especially well-suited to caring for each other one person at a time. It matters that we do these things and that we do them well.
At the same time, we know we haven’t been observing each of these local church occasions in a vacuum. There’s been an awful lot happening outside these walls this summer too. Even as we do our best to be faithful in caring for one another, we also want to listen for God’s call to be faithful in the world in which God’s placed us. So on this Communion Sunday as we gather for what is on one level a family meal, we also want to make sure we’re panning back far enough to see well beyond our dinner table here. When Jesus meets us in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper what is he feeding us for?
Even a cursory glance at the news can leave us overwhelmed by the enormity of need around us. We may wonder where on earth to begin, but we can’t afford to let the scale of it all freeze us into inaction. Especially when it’s not so much a matter of where to begin as it is a question of how to continue and expand the good work you’re already doing as individuals and as a congregation.
For instance, I’m sure we could talk for hours about the epidemic of homelessness right here in our own city. Rather than throwing up our hands in defeat, let’s be sure we’re grabbing hold of any difference we are able to make in the lives of those most affected. What can we do? Beyond sandwich building and lunch bag decorating for our local Tiny Cabins village – which I hope you’re all enjoying on these first Sundays of the month – where else can we step up? Some of you are contributing to a second meal for that same Tiny Cabins community every month. Maybe there are more of us who could do likewise. As I mentioned earlier this morning, I’ve also got copies of a letter ready to go for any of you willing to sign it, a letter urging the Port of Seattle to allow that village to remain where it is rather than making them move. What a waste that would be - not only of the physical infrastructure but of the sense of community and stability that’s been so carefully cultivated there by those finding their way out of homelessness. So there’s another concrete way to help. Pick up a copy of that letter on your way out today, sign it, and mail it. Perhaps in the days ahead we’ll find other ways, too, not only to lament, but to step up and act in the face of this epic battle to adequately shelter our fellow children of God here in Seattle.
Or panning back still farther to our country as a whole, what is our role as Christians in the face of escalating gun violence? Or in the face of escalating racism and xenophobia (fear of the other) in the United States? What do followers of Jesus have to say to those who demean, dehumanize, and destroy the lives of others because of the color of their skin or because of their religion or because of their country of origin?
“Ever wonder what you would have done if you were living in the South during the Civil Rights movement? You’re doing it now.” That’s the bold challenge I heard from a colleague recently. Wow. Think about that for a minute. We don’t have to wonder. We’re doing it now. Meaning for many of us comfortably well-off white folks – I know it’s true for me – we’re not actually doing much to step up or stand up for those coming under attack. That gets right to the heart of privilege, doesn’t it? That I can make it through a week without giving much thought to racism, to anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, to immigration status? Or for that matter that I can make it through a day without wondering how I’m going to feed my kids or whether I need to flee my home? That I have the luxury as a pastor, that we have the luxury as a congregation, of focusing so much of our attention on lovely, gentle things like baptisms and communion classes and goodbye parties? That we can do this in 2019 in the world in which we’re living, that’s an incredible degree of privilege.
And it’s not because we’re more deserving than those who’ve been born into different lives and different stories. I’ve long been struck by a line in Psalm 16 that reads: “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6) So much of what I take for granted – my financial resources, the way I’m treated by others, my relative freedom to determine the course of my own life - boils down to just that: “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” The circumstances into which I was born - my nationality, my race, my socioeconomic status, my majority culture and majority religion – these things have made my life so easy in comparison with so many. There’s a line in an old U2 song that speaks to a similar point: “Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.” We know it shouldn’t. And we know how often it does. So what am I going to do with the gifts I’ve been given? My time, my voice, my vote, my dollars? How can I channel my unearned privilege and power for good? For God?
I don’t have answers ready made for you today. I’m trying to figure this out too. But I’m more convinced than ever that we’ve got to ask questions like these regularly and seriously. We’ve got to listen together for God to offer us direction. And we’ve simply got to get ourselves out of our comfort zones long enough and often enough to make a difference.
There are so many ways we could step up and step out in faith. I’ve only named a few areas of challenge today and we know there are countless more. We can’t possibly take them all on. But surely each one of us can find our particular part to play. So I’m going to invite you in a moment to use the index card you were given with your bulletin this morning to write down one area of need to which you’ve been feeling drawn. A single problem about which you want to do morethan worry, lament, and pray. A single issue – local, national, or global – about which you’re feeling called to act even if you don’t yet know what form that action will take.
We heard inspiring words today from the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Let’s commit ourselves to moving beyond those beautiful words to the hard work that may be required of us to take that call seriously.
Does it make us squirm to think too long about the problems in our world? Of course it does. Would it be nice if we could simply avert our eyes and stay in our little church bubble and enjoy each other’s company? Naturally. The strange truth of the matter is that we could actually do that here in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle. We’re a privileged enough community that we could choose to stay silent. We could remain relatively tucked away and protected from the life and death struggles faced by so many others and not do a thing to help. But is that really an option for us as faithful followers of Jesus? We know it’s not.
We may not always get it right. We may not know quite where to start or how best to engage. But let’s at least gear ourselves up for a fight. Even when it feels like a losing battle sometimes, let’s take meaningful stands on the right side of history. Let’s go down swinging with all our might against injustice and against racism and against poverty and hunger and against the dehumanization and demonization of our fellow children of God. Let’s “be doers of [God’s] word and not merely hearers who deceive [ourselves].” (James 1:22) Let’s heed the prophet Micah’s words to do justice and do kindness every chance we get.
Surely, we’re fed and nurtured at Christ’s Table so we can move out into the world carrying with us the vision and energy, the hope and the love we’re given here. So where are we being called Beyond the Table?
We’ll take these next few minutes to listen for particular areas of need God is placing on our hearts. Write down on your index card one local, national, or global problem about which you feel called to act even if you don’t know how to do so just yet. God can be trusted to equip and connect those he calls, so who knows what might come from simply naming that call?
I’ll pray as we conclude our time of reflection, and then you’ll have an opportunity to place your card in a basket at the front of the sanctuary later on when you come forward for communion…
Thank you, God, for calling each one of us to address important needs in our hurting world. Receive and honor these intentions we offer you this morning, Equip us with the creativity, the courage, the connections you know we’ll need to put our intentions into action. Move us out beyond this table, in the name of the One who promises to nourish and strengthen us for the work ahead, Jesus our Lord. Amen.