Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 10/28/2012

at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship

Welcome class, to History 101.  Three questions for today’s quiz… first, and this will have different answers…

Who was President of the U.S. when you were born?  How many others?

Name together the Presidents since JFK… Kennedy – Johnson – Nixon – Ford – Carter – Reagan – George H.W. Bush – Clinton – Clinton – George W. Bush – Bush – Obama…

Now together the first seven… Washington – Adams – Jefferson – Madison – Monroe – John Q. Adams – Jackson…

On January 20th, class, the inauguration of the 45th President will take place at the capital in Washington, D.C. … and Chief Justice Roberts will correctly instruct the President to say these words…

“I do solemnly swear:  that I will faithfully execute the offices of the President of the United States of America, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States… so help me God.”

Never, in our lifetime, has there been a Presidential election with greater significance for the future of the United States, than this one! 

Never has there been a Presidential election that could affect the international community with more positive or negative impact than this one!

Never has there been a greater difference of policies and goals and strategies and perspectives than those between Obama and Romney!

And therefore, never has there been a more essential need… for you and me to vote… and to make sure that everyone we know votes too!

I admit that I am scared… but we feel better, don’t we, when we have gotten involved… and so in the immortal words of Mayor Daley of Chicago… “I urge you to vote early, and often.”

In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew in the New Testament… there is a wonderful universal parable or metaphor… fundamental truths reflected in every major religion… from Christianity, to Judaism, to Islam, to Buddhism… and even among moral non-believers.  In the parable of the final judgment the sheep are separated from the goats, the good guys from the bad, and here’s the basis for their judgment… Jesus says…

“I was hungry and you gave me food… I was thirsty and you gave me drink… I was a stranger and you welcomed me… I was naked and you clothed me… I was sick and you took care of me… I was in prison and you visited me… Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it unto me.”

I want to suggest this morning that the Presidential candidate that most completely fulfills those needs… these universal needs, in America and around the world… this candidate we desperately need to be elected President in 2012!

“I was hungry, and you gave me food… I was thirsty and you gave me drink…”  Right now, around the world, there are 1 ¼ billion people living in absolute poverty… which means the deprivation of human needs… food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care, education… 1 ¼ billion people out of 7 billion in absolute poverty… and in the United States, 15 percent of Americans in ‘relative poverty’, living on less than $2 a day… in the richest country in the world, 45 million people living in poverty!  63 percent of the cuts would come from poor programs.   And this policy says in one budget proposal, we should cut this year food stamps, reduce subsidies for the poor, and stop welfare programs because those government handouts simply make the poor more dependent… they say!

“I was hungry, and you gave me food… I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” 

But then there’s Ana Garcia-Ashley, whose parents came from the Dominican Republic.  Ana has been involved for over 30 years in ‘community organizing’… in fact, she’s the first woman of color to lead a national community organizing network across the United States.  Her faith-based group, known as Gamaliel, emphasizes systematic change, engaging congregations in the work of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and sheltering the homeless… but also in the work of transforming the oppressive systems that leave so many people without food, health insurance, or homes, in the first place.  “To me,” Ana says, “there is only one way to be a person of faith, and that is living out our compassion in the public arena.”

“I was hungry, and you gave me food… I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” 

Vote for the Presidential candidate who is committed to those who are hungry!

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me… naked and you clothed me…”  We have a lot of strangers in the land, don’t we… refugees, immigrants, native born, various racial and ethnic and religious minorities… those with different sexual preferences… various groups that are powerless and in the shadows.  Some would say that the strangers and naked among us are men and women who simply do not look like us… the White majority!  What are we to do with them?  There are 12 million illegal immigrants in our country… there are millions of African-Americans and other minorities who are intentionally being deprived of the right to vote… there are 10 percent of the U.S. population who are gay and lesbian… ostracized strangers… there are millions more outside the Judaic-Christian majority, who are targeted for hatred and isolation in community after community even within sight of the iconic Statue of Liberty.

            “I was a stranger and you welcomed me… naked and you clothed me…”

This summer during our marvelous week at Chautauqua we heard from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim pastor of Cordoba House in New York City at ‘Ground Zero.’  Imam Feisal received a unanimous approval from the New York Community Board for the establishment of his community center in lower Manhattan.  Then, as he said, “the firestorm hit the newspapers… and Islam-phobic bloggers and right-wing media began a vicious campaign, calling us ‘insensitive to losses of 9/11 families’… when we were trying to do the very opposite… building Cordoba House to help heal the wounds of 9/11.”

The good news is that in the following weeks, New Yorkers throughout the city hosted candlelight vigils and walks for religious tolerance… and non-believers met to plan support for the center.  And Mayor Bloomberg said at a national news conference, “There is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy.”

Whether a religious minority or a man of different skin, or a woman of unique voice… “I was a stranger and naked and you welcomed me.”  I urge you to vote for the Presidential candidate who is committed to welcoming the strangers.

Finally, “I was sick and you took care of me… I was in prison and you visited me.”  I’m sure that many of you this morning would say the same thing with me… “During sickness and major or minor surgery… if I hadn’t had adequate medical insurance coverage, I would be totally bankrupt, our house would be lost, and our family would be practically ‘out on the street’”… Without adequate medical coverage.  And now to celebrate that 35 million Americans have a new hope for their future… given new medical coverage… Put yourself in their place now, and in their future!

Sadly the United States has more people in prison than China and Iran and India and Russia… more incarcerated men and women than any country in the world… and those in prison, the number has quadrupled since 1980 with the ‘War on Drugs,’ with a vastly disproportionate number of minorities and the poor.  Two million two hundred sixty thousand adults in prison, one out of 100 Americans behind bars, and 71,000 juveniles.  What began in Pennsylvania as ‘penitentiaries,’ places for penitence, confession, and forgiveness… have become warehouses for hopelessness, men and women hidden from society, left to mentally and physically wither and die.

Although we are seeing signs of prison reform and occasional resourceful strategies for rehabilitation, the overwhelming picture is one of a ‘forgotten’ and hopeless population.

“I was in prison and you visited me…”

What are we doing as a nation about our sisters and brothers in prison and on release?

Some of the scenes from “Dead Man Walking” are indelibly etched in my mind.  Matthew Poncelet, as you remember, has been convicted of the brutal murder of two young people and the rape of the young woman.  There is nothing in Poncelet’s attitude that calls forth any sympathy or mercy.  In the prison where he is held, he is visited by a Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean.  Over and over he refuses to talk with her, curses her, pushes her away.  But she persists until he begins to break down, and Sister Helen is able to be there, not for him, but with him as a caring friend.

In the final scenes, Poncelet comes through the door of a prison holding cell, and the guards begin their chanting, “Dead man walking. Dead man walking.”  For a moment Poncelet falters and slips to his knees.  Sister Helen kneels with him.  She says, “When you go into that death chamber keep your eyes on me.  I want the last thing you see to be the face of love.  I will be the face of love for you.”

Talk about the gift of being present.  Can we do that?  Can we be that for another?

“I was sick and you took care of me… I was in prison and you visited me…”

I urge you then next Tuesday to vote for the Presidential candidate who is deeply committed, to the needs of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and the imprisoned…

Jesus and the leaders of all the world’s religions would all say the same…

“Inasmuch as you did this to one of the least of these who are members of my family… you did it unto me.”


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