A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
Here, in this place, around this table we remember, we celebrate and we believe.
Here, in this place, we bring our sorrows and joys, our pain,
our deepest griefs, our wildest hopes
dreams we dare not even voice except perhaps to you, O God, in prayer
wrongs we dare not even face except perhaps with you, O God, at our side.
We gather here tonight, a people weary with the weight of our world,
a people numbed by the headlines of the week:
“Grieving Parents Join in March”
“‘I Am Trayvon’ Thousands Say”
“Soldier Charged in Afghanistan Murders”
“Three Plead Guilty in Death of Black Man”
“Verdict in Rutgers Case”
“Slain Teen’s Friends Say He Never Picked a Fight”
We wonder what is happening in and to our world--
a world marked by fear and violence and disconnectedness from one another
and from you, O God;
a world where children die at the hands of elders holding guns;
a world where kids are bullied into suicide;
a world where an honored soldier turns to murder;
a world where a homeless man finds his wallet stolen by police.
Twenty-six hundred years separate us from the prophet Jeremiah and the people to whom he preached. And yet I wonder, “Are our worlds so far apart?”
They, too, lived in a time marked by fear and the violence fear begets.
They, too, lived in an era marked by an indifference to the needs and longings
of those the powerful often overlook.
They, too, watched children die and folks avert their eyes.
To the remnant left in Jerusalem beleaguered, besieged and soon to be defeated, the prophet Jeremiah speaks the word of God:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the
covenant that I made with their ancestors...a covenant that they broke....
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will
be their God, and they shall be my people.
The Torah, the law, written on the hearts of God’s people, woven into the core of their being.
There is a story often told about Rabbi Hillel, a great Jewish teacher and philosopher who lived fifty years before Jesus. A heathen came up to Rabbi Hillel and said to him, “I will convert to your religion on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Hillel answered, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah... “
That’s what God writes on human hearts: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That’s the covenant God makes with us: “Love you neighbor as yourself. In doing so, you love me as I love you.”
And yet we live, you and I, in world of walls. Walls that divide neighbors from one another. Walls erected out of fear and envy and hate. Walls built with the bricks of othering. Othering people on the basis of their race or their sex or their gender identity or even how they part their hair or laugh or cry or love or do their homework. Othering—it is the very denial of neighbor and of God in neighbor. Othering—it’s a breach, a breach of our covenant with God and our covenant with one another.
And yet we all do it—sometimes in big ways but most often in small ways—a joke told or laughed at, an insult ignored, a wrong unprotested, a law unchallenged, silence in the place of witness, a pattern overlooked, a behavior dismissed with the words, “They’re only kids” or “Boys will be boys” or “Girls can be so mean.” Our corporate sin buttressed by our own individual sins of omission and commission, of things done and of things left undone.
So we, like the psalmist, cry to God,
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
That’s what God does as God, again and again, writes the law of love on our hearts.
That’s what God does as Jesus invites us, time and again, to follow him into a life of radical neighborliness, a life where we, with God, begin anew the work of healing the world from the wounds that othering inflicts, the work of building God’s reign with the bricks of love of neighbor.
So we gather at this table bringing with us the hurts that we absorb and the hurts that we inflict on one another. We eat the bread, we drink the wine and we remember our oneness with God and one another.
We remember, we celebrate, we believe.