Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 12/30/12

at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship

It’s not the biggest thrill I’ve known, but for those of us skiers to be one of the first on the lift, and then at the top, heading down the slopes making fresh tracks in the snow calls for serious yodeling.  Speaking of fresh tracks in the snow, Ted Loder wrote “Help me to believe in beginnings … to make a beginning … to be a beginning, so that I may not just grow old, but grow new, each day of this wild, amazing life you call me to live, with passion of you, God, my creator.”

But I especially like Loder’s focus on what you and I are capable of as we enter a New Year …

“Help me to make beginnings:
to begin going out of my weary mind into fresh
dreams , daring to make my own bold tracks, in
      the land of now;
to begin forgiving that I may experience mercy;
to begin questioning the unquestionable
      that I may know truth;
to disciplining that I may create beauty;
to begin sacrificing that I may accomplish justice;
to begin risking that I may make peace;
to begin loving that I may realize joy!”

Help me to make beginnings!

The key to these lines in the starter phrase … help me!

This morning, with the children we connected around the room to demonstrate a big family … all of us willing to help each other.  I don’t know about you, but as I enter the New Year, as I think about all the challenges both personal and national in 2013 … I need you … I need your guidance … I need your wisdom … I need your encouragement … I need your strength … I need your love.  I’m not going to do it alone … help me!

Many of you have seen Steven Spielberg’s phenomenal movie “Lincoln”.  And you saw Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln in 1865, as he fought with Stevens, Bates, Chase, Seward, Blair, Stanton … the members of his cabinet, his team of rivals, fought like hell, fought with every fiber of his being, fought with every promise and carrot, fought with every intellectual and emotional argument at his command, fought every waking hour to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed in the new Congress.

Lincoln’s plea was a simple but passionate “help me … help me pass the Amendment.  The future of our country, the status of the Negro Race depends on your vote … you’ve gotta help me!”

A number of years ago during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 30’s, the leader of the Negro Train Porters’ Union,  their chairman was A. Philip Randolph.  For some time, Randolph had requested a meeting with the President at the White House.  As they finally sat together, Randolph said to FDR, “Mr. President, you have this powerful ‘bully pulpit’ … why aren’t you using it to get legislation for our Negro porters, laws that will provide justice and equality for all of us?”.

FDR responded, “If you’re right in your demands, and I think you are, then you’ve got to push me … you’ve got to push me to get those bills passed”. 

Help me … push me!  And A. Philip Randolph did … and FDR did … and the Negro Porters’ Union won the day.

As Democrats and Republicans and Independents … as Americans, we have the responsibility to work together to push Obama to do what our country desperately needs.

If we want to end the war in Afghanistan sooner rather than later, we’ve got to push Obama.

If we want to see Guantanamo closed and fair trials in civilian courts, we’ve got to push Obama.

If we want to see 12 million illegal immigrants given a chance to earn citizenship, we’ve got to push Obama.

If we want to see a balanced international response to global warming, we’ve got to push Obama.

If we want to see a major shift in national policy to wind and solar and water and other alternate forms of clean energy, we’ve got to push Obama.

If we want to see a just and equitable tax code … clean air and water … quality education … prison reform … women’s rights … negotiation rather than war ... we’ve got to push Obama… and Jeanne Shaheen, and Kelly Ayotte, and Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster .. our elected officials at every level.  We’ve got to push them and help them, with our passion, energies and time!

They are all pleading, push me, help me … we can work together … with a new respect, a new civility, a new collaboration, a new beginning! 

But now back here on the farm … do we really need each other? 

Remember the classic Christmas tale by Ted Loder …

… The sleet has stopped, and the rain was a cold drizzle against my face as I walked down Lombard toward Vince’s Tavern at the corner of 19th Street in Philadelphia.  Somewhere in the block between 22nd and 21st, I came across a row house with a whole front window jammed with a manger scene.  It was something you’d be more apt to see in a department store window than in a row house on Lombard Street.  The painted figures must have been three feet tall, and each was lit from inside with glowing light.  It was truly impressive. 

    I stopped to look at it more closely.  There it all was:  the coteries of shepherds, the three wise men, a full complement of angels, a number of assorted animals.  They were all gathered around Joseph and Mary, who were side by side, looking … actually just about where I was standing.  That was strange. 

    I stepped closer and examined the scene more carefully.  My first impression had been right:  There was no manger, no infant Jesus in the window! In effect, the street was the manger, and I was standing in it.  That night, that old story was being told differently.  This time the silent, lighted figures were looking expectantly out on the street for the Christ child, out on the street where the beasts are motorized now, and people like shepherds sleep on steam grates, and people like wise men dish out food in soup kitchens – or work in political movements or churches, to change things, so someday there might not be homeless people or hungry children or lonely parents.

     I stood there with tears in my eyes, with a force that lumped in my throat, I realized that just where I was standing, the Christmas miracle happens.  In the street, where human traffic goes endlessly by … in the street where men and women and children live and limp and play and cry and laugh in the street where we love and fight and worry and curse and pray and die, just there, in the street.  Christmas keeps coming silently, insistently, mysteriously. 

And there we desperately need each other … in the street.   As the late Howard Thurman, Chaplain at Boston University, wrote …

“When the song of the angels is still,
  When the star in the sky is gone,
  When the kings and princes are home,
  When the shepherds are back with their sheep…
  The work of Christmas begins …
       To find the lost,
       To heal the broken,
       To feed the hungry,
       To release the prisoner,
       To rebuild the nations,
       To bring peace among people,
       To make music in the heart.”

Together in the street and yes, for all that, we really do need each other … especially when it comes to making new beginnings!

As we approach 2013, just 2 days away, many of us will use the New Year as a point of departure for a series of essential goals in our personal pilgrimage, and an opportunity for new beginnings that will shape our lives for the future … that we must do and that I certainly applaud. 

However, there is one new beginning that might shape or reshape, all our lives, throughout the year … it’s simply about building bridges!

In her book on the world’s most famous and historical bridges, Judith Dupre writes

“Since the first log fell across water, people have been fascinated with bridges and their power to bring together … people … and families had been separate.”

Most of us are in awe of the engineering, but also the artistic design of the world’s historic bridges … from the simple Roman arch … to the three tiered Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard in Spain … to the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, a suspension bridge, completed in 1883 … to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Cornwall-Windsor covered bridge over the Connecticut River … to the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina … to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence … to the longest bridge in the world, with trestles, bridges, and causeways, the Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, some 23 ½ miles long.

The metaphor of a bridge, physically and spiritually, bringing people together remains a powerful challenge.  And as a new beginning for us in 2013 … it might mean building bridges

between children and parents,
between brothers and sisters,
between disparate family members,
between former close friends,
between fellow employees
between racial groups,
between political parties,
between religious sects and extremists,
between economic and class groups,
between ethnic communities.

I can see KUUF as another engaging center for dialogue … a kitchen table, where people with opposing views sit down together, and with mutual respect and the ability to listen … begin to build bridges in our own community. 

Maybe that’s what ‘peace on earth, goodwill towards men’ is all about!

The City of Mostar is a major town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the bridge called the ‘Stari Most’ or old bridge, is the only bridge straddling both sides of the Naretva River.  A masterpiece of Ottoman engineering, a single arch stone bridge designed in the 16th century for the emperor Suleiman the Magnificent.

Mostar’s mosques, synagogues and churches all located within close proximity to one another – stood for centuries as a visible sign of the intermingled lives of its various communities.  

Then the brutal war between Serbs and Muslims literally ripped the city in two.

The ‘Old Bridge’ was bombed and destroyed by the Croats after 427 years in the name of ethnic cleansing, along with irreplaceable architectural treasures in the Balkans in an attempt to eradicate a culture by destroying the very place where diverse peoples had gathered to live their lives. 

But thrillingly today, if you visit the city of Mostar where the war ended in 1995, you will see the architecturally beautiful ‘Stari Most” old bridge rebuilt, stone by stone over three years by Muslims and Serbs working together … as they rebuild relationships family by family, still with deep hurting from over the years … but building their bridge together!

Help me … “Help me to make beginnings … to begin risking that I may make peace … to begin loving that I may realize joy!”  Help me, to re build bridges …


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