Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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A TEAM OF RIVALS

Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 1/27/2013

at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship

“I was born in the rolling hills of Cornish, New Hampshire in 1808, eighth of eleven children.  My ancestors had lived in the surrounding county for three generations, becoming pillars of the community.  I possessed a restless soul, incapable of finding satisfaction even with my considerable achievements.”

Who am I?... Salmon P. Chase.

“I was born in May of 1801, the fourth of six children, and grew up in Orange County in the village of Florida, New York.  I accumulated a considerable fortune through various employments, as physician, magistrate, judge, merchant, and New York State representative.

Who am I?... William Henry Seward.

“I was born the youngest of twelve children on a plantation called Belmont, not far from Richmond, Virginia.  I left the East Coast as a young man… to go west and grow up with the country… I joined the flood of settlers into the Missouri Territory after the end of the War of 1812.”

Who am I?... Edward Bates.

In 1860, these three self-assured men ran against Lincoln as rivals for the Presidency.

As Lincoln was finally chosen as the candidate of his party, the influential New York Herald on May 19, 1860 commented on his nomination…

“The conduct of the Republican Party in this nomination is a remarkable indicator of small intellect, growing smaller.  They pass over Chase, Seward, and Bates, statesmen and able men, and take up a fourth-rate lecturer, who cannot speak good grammar.” 

Remarkably, after five years in office, and long after his death and his impact upon the nation, the great Russian writer and historian Leo Tolstoy wrote…

“The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar, or Washington is only moonlight, by the sun of Lincoln.  His example is universal and will last thousands of years.  He was bigger than his country… bigger than all the Presidents together… and as with his great ‘character,’ he will live as long as the world lives.”

What happened in between?

The Emancipation Proclamation… the Thirteenth Amendment… the end of the Civil War… the preservation of the Union… but more… the character of the man!

As Doris Kearns Goodwin introduced her book, “This then is a story of Lincoln’s political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities, that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him… repair injured feelings… assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates… to share credit with ease… and to learn from mistakes.”

I want to suggest this morning… two weeks before Lincoln’s birthday celebration… the five primary and essential qualities of Lincoln’s character that you and I might develop or further develop… if we ever want to be President, or even ditch digger.

From reading the book or seeing the movie, or just from your own imagination… what are the five primary marks of Lincoln’s character?

    • kindness
    • sensitivity
    • compassion
    • honesty
    • empathy

Kindness – At the conclusion of the Civil War you remember the iconic scene at Appomattox Court House… Historian Jay Winik wrote, “One general, magnanimous in victory, the other gracious and equally dignified in defeat.”  General Lee put on his best looking sword and his sash of deep red silk and heard the generous terms of surrender.  The victorious North allowed Confederate officers, after relinquishing their arms and artillery, to return to their homes, keep their own private horses, side arms, as well as their private baggage.  And since the captured army was practically starving, Grant responded immediately, promising to send rations for 25,000 men.  Talk about kindness, around the ugliness of war.

In the Bible’s love chapter, in I Corinthians, it states… “love suffereth long, and is kind,” and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says, “Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God has forgiven you.”

I like Rick Reilly’s take on kindness.  He writes…

“Jake Porter is 17, but he can’t read, can barely scrawl his first name, and often mixes up the letters at that. 

In three years on the Northwest High football team in McDermott, Ohio, Jake had never run with the ball, or made a tackle, he’d barely ever stepped on the field.  But even with his mental retardation, Jake, who attends special-ed classes, never missed a practice… or in track, either, or basketball.  It seemed crazy when with five seconds left and Northwest was losing 42 to 0  Jake trotted out to the huddle.  The plan was for him to get the handoff, and then kneel down to end the game.

But when Jake got the ball, he stood up and began to run… he ran in the wrong direction, but the back judge turned him around… and then the Waverly defense parted like peasants before the King, as they all, yelling and screaming, urged him to go on his grinning sprint to the end zone.  In the stands mothers cried and fathers roared.

Turns out that before the play the Waverly coach called his defense over and said, “They’re going to give the ball to number 45.  Don’t you touch him… open up a whole and let him score.  Understand?!”

Talk about kindness.

The first of Lincoln’s attributes is kindness; the second, sensitivity or empathy.

During the war, General McClelland was appointed by Lincoln General-in-Chief of the Union army to succeed retiring General Scott.  Now McClelland no longer had the general to blame for his failures, so as the war generated huge losses, he shifted his censure to Lincoln, who had just appointed him.  He called him the “original gorilla” and “ever unworthy of one holding his high position.”

Still remarkably sensitive to McClelland and the needs of the country, Lincoln ignored McClelland’s repeated insults and insolence… Lincoln said to friends… he “would hold McClelland’s horse, if a military meeting could be achieved.” 

Talk about sensitive.

We are becoming a desensitized nation… a nation of individuals…

so polluted by sound… we can’t hear a bird sing

so inundated by words… that we can’t hear a cry for help

so overwhelmed by images… that we can’t see the face of a friend

and so dominated by the social media and the lightning changes within our culture that we can’t find a ‘standing place’ that promises us security!

I’ve shared with some of you an excerpt from Richard Selzer’s book, Mortal Lessons.  Selzer is a gifted surgeon who is also a gifted author.  He writes: 

“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies after the operation; a tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth had necessarily been severed.  Her face, her mouth, was twisted.  In order to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room.  He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to gaze at and touch each other so lovingly, so beautifully.

The young woman speaks.  “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.  “Yes,” I say, “it will because the nerve was cut.”  She nods and is silent.  But her husband smiles.  “I like it,” he says.  “It’s kind of cute.”  And then he bends down to kiss her crooked mouth, and twists his lips to fit hers.  “You see, honey, our kissing still works!”

Sensitivity still works!  And empathy.

Compassion – February 20, 1862.  Willie, Lincoln’s son was stricken with typhoid and died.  Mary Lincoln was inconsolable.  While Willie’s body lay in the Green Room in the White House, Nurse Rebecca Pomeroy tended Tad whenever possible.  When she was first received by Lincoln, the President asked her about her family.  She explained that she was a widow, and had lost two children.  Her one remaining child was in the army.  Hearing her painful story, he began to cry, both for her and for his own stricken family.  “This is the hardest trial of our lives”… words of a compassionate father and the President.

The word compassion, of course, comes from the Latin, and means to “suffer with,” com, passion.  Karen Armstrong suggests that compassion is the one word that all religions can agree on.  She has been working the last five years to bring together world religion leaders… to refuse to engage in war… and to commit themselves to the work of compassion.

This past Monday, a week ago, at the Inauguration, I thought how two compassionate heroes were brought together symbolically… Lincoln’s Bible, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Bible… and then the words of Obama, who from Afghanistan to Newtown called us to “suffer with” as President of the United States.

We can all hear those words of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta…

“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I want you to be able to say that I did try to feed the hungry.  And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked, to visit those who were in prison.  I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.  And that’s all I want to say… if I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, than my living will not be in vain.  If I can spread the message as the Master taught, then my living will not be in vain.”

Talk about compassion.

Kindness… Sensitivity… Compassion… and Honesty!

Now you’ve “stopped preachin’ and started meddling,” as they say.  Honesty… we don’t need to hear that.  Let’s just talk about ‘Honest Abe.’

Well, you all remember the famous story about Abe chopping down the cherry tree… No?  And his father asking him… “Abraham, did you cut down the cherry tree?”  “Father… I cannot tell a lie…”  Have I got them mixed up!

O.K.

As a practicing lawyer, Lincoln relished the convivial life he shared with the traveling lawyers as he traveled across the state… those who battled one another fiercely during the day only to gather as friends in the taverns at night.  One of his associates in those days was Circuit Judge David Davies… He wrote of Lincoln’s exceptional skill in addressing juries… but a lot of his ‘warm-hearted’ nature and his exceeding fairness and honesty.

Honesty is not merely telling the truth, even ‘telling it with a slant’ as Emily Dickinson writes… but for Lincoln, honesty was all about living his life… fully developing his intellect… working harder than everyone around him and… fulfilling his potential with his many gifts from God… Being honest… accomplishing totally what he was capable of… that’s ‘honest Abe’… that’s commitment!

Hear King’s words, memorable at the end of his life –

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness.  And all of the other shallow things will not matter.  I won’t have any money to leave behind.  I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind.  But I just want to leave a committed life behind.”

I just want to leave a committed life behind… a life of honesty!

Kindness… Sensitivity… Empathy… Compassion… Honesty.

Now what about your life and mine?

 

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