Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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"Healing the World, Today"

A Sermon Presented by Rev. Dick Dutton

At the Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

On June 11, 2006

 

 Well, every once in awhile we need to go to a high school graduation, not college--they're far too serious and realistic--but to a high school graduation for a true sense of idealism and energy and frequent irreverence and hilarity.

 

On Friday I went to Magbe's graduation at Sant Bani School.  There were thirteen graduates and each one of them spoke about their experience at Sant Bani and their dreams for the future.  There was not a cynic among them.  There were several stand-up comics and some wild and crazy ad-libs.  But every one of the thirteen, which included four international students...one from Okinawa, one from Thailand, once from the Ukrainse, and Magbe from Cote d'Ivoire, every one of them not only expressed gratitude to Mom and Dad for their sacrifices, gave thanks to the school, the teachers and staff, and expressed their love for their classmates, even as they kidded them...but everyone of them expressed their confidence that as they leave Sant Bani and head out into the wicked world:

 

    They will live out their unique dreams...

    They will remain true to nature and to nature's God...

    They will keep coming back by their campus, their home and family at Sant Bani...

    And they will take what they have learned about themselves, and about the culture...

    And with courage and hope they will begin to change the world, to heal the world, now.

 

One of the thirteen graduates concluded his remarks by saying, "Look out, world, here I come!"  This graduation was a powerful and refreshing experience of youthful enthusiasm...committed to the healing of the nations.

 

There is probably not a better verse in all the Old Testament...a better verse about healing, than this one by the prophet Micah..."He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee...but to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly before thy God." (Micah 6:8).  Micah recognizes the primacy of justice in the process of healing...we are called to 'do justice'.  The Old Testament prophets, all of them got serious about issues of justice...their words are not only contemporary but they speak to universal crises...to every religious, secular and humanitarian organization.

 

Listen to Isaiah (Isaiah 58:6-8a)…

 

    "Is not this what I require of you, to loose the fetters of injustice, to untie the knots of the yoke, to set free those who have been crushed.

    “Is it not sharing your food with the hungry, taking the homeless poor into your house, clothing the naked when you meet them, and never evading a duty to your kinsfolk.

    “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and soon you will grow healthy, like a wound newly healed."

 

And Amos (Amos 5:21,24)…

 

    "I hate, I spurn your pilgrim feasts. I will not delight in your sacred ceremonies…

    “Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

 

But there is very little justice in the land...

 

    There is no justice when around the world there are some 35 major civil wars, and ugly massacres, and suicide bombings, and genocide.

 

    There is no justice when 5 million people last year were infected with AIDS and life-saving drugs for many were not made available as they could have been.

 

    There is no justice when in many nations there is no tolerance for racial minorities, for culturally diverse people and for religious pluralism.

 

    There is no justice when world poverty could be eliminated in the next 10 years, but wealthy countries renege on their promises, and fund war instead.

 

    There is no justice when governments and rebel groups continue to practice murder and rape and ethnic cleansing, fueling their oppression.

 

    There is no justice when huge segments of the population can neither read nor write, when prisons are overflowing with men and women never intended to be rehabilitated, and when illegal drugs are destroying entire sub-cultures.

 

    But worst of all, there's no justice when men and women of moral convictions and religious motivations, like you and me, refuse to become involved in the healing of the world where we are.

 

Remember the lines:

 

    "I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. Thank you.

    I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.

    I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

    I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

    I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

    I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.

    You seem so holy, so close to God. But I'm still very hungry and lonely and cold."

 

But you and I know there is another way.  When Tim King organized a 'sleep out' in Chicago last year, 300 students from across the Midwest came to raise awareness of homelessness by gathering  signatures for a petition, holding up signs, and even 'sleeping out' on the Magnificent Mile.  King, a senior at North Park University in Chicago, is part of growing network of students at 'evangelical campuses' who are becoming politically active; they are combating world poverty and hunger, the AIDS epidemic, debt relief, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and global warming.

 

Angered by the Bush administration's domestic and foreign policies, and frustrated by the lack of a strong voice and leadership from their churches...'Students for Social Action'...on many evangelical campuses are taking to the streets, to the halls of congress, and to the media, to turn things around.  There is a place where evangelicals and others across the broad religious and humanitarian spectrum can work together...this place of social action.

 

"What is good and what doth the Lord require of thee...but to do justice, and to love mercy."   To love mercy. Justice is never enough, is it.  Justice fulfills the law, but mercy goes beyond the law.  Mercy really represents our sense of humanity in relationships.

 

Remember the terrible joke about the bride, bitterly disappointed in her wedding photos, who said to the photographer, "These pictures don't do me justice".   And the photographer responded, "Lady, you don't need justice; you need mercy".  Bad.  It's more profound than a joke isn't it!  We all want more than justice...we want mercy, compassion, forgiveness, healing.

 

This is a remarkable story that came out of World War I.  In the year 1918 Winston Churchill stood looking out his window toward Trafalgar Square, meditating on the cost and consequences of the Great War that has just ended.  His wife arrived and proposed that they go to Downing Street to congratulate Lloyd George, the Prime Minister.  Other politicians and members of the Cabinet joined them there and they began to discuss the peace terms that were being dictated to the Kaiser.  The 'fallen foe', Churchill later wrote in his memoirs, was close to starvation, so Churchill proposed immediately rushing a dozen great ships crammed with provisions to the German port of Hamburg for distribution to the starving masses.  His generous proposal, however, fell upon deaf ears.

 

At the same hour that Churchill's magnanimous suggestion was being rebuffed by his less merciful colleagues, a twice-decorated German non-commissioned dispatch runner, who had been temporarily blinded during a heavy gas attack on the night of October 13th, sat in a Prussian military hospital and learned of Germany's plight from a sobbing Lutheran chaplain.  Six years later that soldier wrote down a description of his reaction to the news, "I knew that all was lost.  Only fools, liars and criminals could hope for mercy from the enemy.  In these nights hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible for this deed.  In the days that followed, my own fate became known to me, and I resolved to go into politics."  That German's name, as you probably guessed, was Adolph Hitler.

 

What might have happened if those politicians in Downing Street on that fateful night of 1918 had been infected by the largeness of heart and the mercy and compassion of Churchill's vision.  Germany might have been brought again within the fold of nations and averted the great economic and social disaster that it soon suffered.  The whole history of the twentieth century might have been different.

 

Is there a place for mercy on the world stage?  Is there a place for mercy on our national and local communities' level?  Is there a place for mercy among our friends and with our families?

 

"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before thy God".  Humility may be the hardest thing we do.  As Americans we are so darn arrogant.  Yes, we are able to handle justice...we are able to handle some mercy...but can we do anything about 'walking humbly before our God'?

 

William Ernest Henley wrote in the last century:

 

    "Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole,

    I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced, nor cried aloud.

    Under the bludgeoning of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears, looms but the horror of the shade,

    And yet the menace of the years, finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll;

    I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul."

 

The ultimate arrogance...but it didn't work for Henley.  A few years later midst his darkness and pain, he committed suicide.

 

I think so many times of 'the accident of birth'.  We were born into unbelievable privilege...in the U.S. rather that the Sudan, children of freedom rather than oppression, unlimited opportunity, rather than slavery.  What right have we to be arrogant for who we are, and what we have.  No other people no other nation in the world has received more in terms of blessing and opportunities...what right have we to be arrogant.

 

The next time you drive down the NJ turnpike, near Bordentown, and pass Plaza 7, think about your preacher this morning.  Back in the early 70s I was doing graduate work at Princeton Seminary and I was working at Howard Johnson's there on the turnpike, from 11 at night to 7 in the morning.  I was standing behind the counter wearing a white jacket and an orange and white cap, serving coffees and ice cream, all 29 flavors.

 

People would walk up, and say, "Hey you; can you speed it up...is that the best you can do...c'mon I'm in a hurry".  At 2:00am in the morning?  And all the time I was thinking to myself, "You don't know who I am! I'm a college graduate...and a Seminary graduate...I've got a Masters in Theology...you don't know who I am!"  Well there I was at Howard Johnson's; performing servant acts, but I had no servant attitude...just a little arrogant.

 

In the greatest picture of the man Jesus, in all the New Testament, the most profound, is that of Jesus washing the disciples' feet.  And he expands upon that picture with these words: "If I then your Lord and Master, have washed your feet...you ought also to wash one another's feet."

 

Can we do that?

 

"What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly before they God."  Now.

 

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