With a Little Help: New Member Sunday*

With a little Help

Sermon Offered for New Member Sunday Spring 2017

I think it is a tremendous act of courage to walk in to a Sunday worship service.  It takes even more courage to come back every Sunday or come back from time to time, and then join our merry band of spiritual seekers and justice makers.  In this hyper-active individualist age, it strikes me as counter cultural to join a religious institution. Why does anyone do it?  I suspect it has to do with society as it is, and the realization that none of us want to be and act alone during these demanding and difficult times.  Poet and writer John O’Donohue tells us that “most people are enduring a marginalized isolation.  One of the great obstacles to modern friendships is the ‘religion of rush’.  People are rushing all the time through time.  Friendship takes time.” He reminds us that ”to be human is to belong.  Belonging is a circle that embraces everything; if we reject it, we damage our nature.”

Friendship is in our nature, and it does take time.  And a lot of leaps of faith.  We must assume good and kind intent from one another. As the children’s book makes clear, we are going to make mistakes.  But what do we do about them?  How are we treated because of them?  The answers to these questions are what creates the foundation for a beloved community.  This act of faith and trust in each other-the confidence that in community, each of us will become better people is what Rev Forrest Church spoke of in the Call to Worship—it is very important to us.  We come for one another as much as we come for anything else: the praise of God, or what is of ultimate and lasting value to us, the hour of quiet, the potential of finding like-minded people in a conflict riddled universe.

We come for friendship and that’s what we find.

We come for support and we find that too.

We come to fight the good fight, while doing it with friends and like-minded visionaries.  We see a beloved world that is possible and work to make its reality closer at hand.

In these demanding and difficult times, where so much is asked of us, we need all the help we can find to do the right thing, to step up when we have to, and to step back when we have to.  If we are called to fight for racial justice, justice for immigrants, environmental protections and sustainability, education and health care opportunities for everyone—however we are called to do this work, by God or by our own moral compass, we simply cannot do this work alone.

It is too hard and too risky.  A lot is being asked of us these days. Too much. The information coming at us is more than we can absorb.  If you find yourself reading or watching the news and wondering what bizarre movie you have just stepped into, know you are not alone.  Those of us who think of ourselves as progressive, liberal, open-minded, loyal to democratic process and the rule of law—We need a lot of support these days as the responsibilities to ourselves and to our country seem to multiply.  How best to do the work of justice? Two versions of Moses at the Burning Bush present two different ways of thinking about justice work.

In the first version, from the Hebrew Bible, God makes the bush burn to attract Moses and when Moses is close enough, God speaks to him and tells him to remove his sandals for he is on holy ground.  God then tells Moses that he needs to go talk to the Egyptian pharaoh, who is enslaving the Hebrew people and treating them terribly.

Perhaps knowing how difficult this task is going to be makes Moses hesitant. Moses tries several times to convince God that he is not up for the task.  “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”  (Ex 3: 1 ff) God’s promise to Moses that God will be with him doesn’t convince Moses.  He demands God to tell Moses his name so that no one will think Moses is crazy. Even after God tells Moses his name, and gives some more direction, Moses is still trying to reject the proposal.  God performs two magic tricks—one with his staff and one with his hand.  But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” 13 But Moses [still!!] said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. 16 He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him.”

No matter what God says and does, Moses, as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible does not want the job that God has created for him!  Finally, God is really angry and tells his unwilling prophet to get his brother Aaron to help him. Moses has assumed that he will have to do all that God has requested by himself, and he is completely overwhelmed and under enthused.

If we compare the Moses at the Burning Bush story as portrayed in the Quran, we get a very different reaction from Moses.  The story starts out the same, with Moses noticing the burning bush.  But Moses in the Quran is a more willing prophet.  God tells him: (20:24) “[And now] go thou unto Pharaoh: for, verily, he has transgressed all bounds of equity. Moses reacts: “O my Sustainer! Open up my heart [to Thy light], and make my task easy for me, and loosen the knot from my tongue so that they might fully understand my speech, and appoint for me, out of my kinsfolk, one who will help me to bear my burden: Aaron, my brother. Add Thou through him to my strength, and let him share my task, so that [together] we might abundantly extol Thy limitless glory and remember Thee without cease!  The Quran actually tells this story in three different suras, adding more and more details in each subsequent telling. But the point I am trying to make clear is that the Quranic Moses knows he will need help in this task.  Not only does Moses ask God for help in making Moses a clear and accessible speaker of God’s will, Moses also suggests that he needs help to do this work well.  How about my brother Aaron? Moses knows that more can be accomplished with two than one.  As my friend and mentor, Carl Scovel suggested in our reading this morning, most religious wisdom does not come from solitude.

Whether you come here for comfort, and quiet reflection, education, or opportunities to engage in social action, know we will not be suggesting you do these things alone.

To join a congregation means you will have a little help from your friends.  And small groups of people can make large changes.

Let us follow the direction of the Islamic Moses rather than the one described in the Hebrew bible.  Let us know that we can always become more diligent in our loving, more devoted to our fellow humans and creatures we share the planet with, more self-aware of our prejudices and privileges, but let us also know that we don’t have to do anything by ourselves.

The Unitarian Universalist faith tradition may not accept the answers other religions offer—but as Rev Church pointed out, the questions remain the same.  He goes on to say that “whether or not we set aside time to address them can make a profound difference in our lives, and in the lives around us.”

In many ways, we need our tribe more than ever, as our world gets colder, even as it is getting hotter.  We all need a tribe and I am so glad to be part of this one.  Welcome to the newest members! Please know that we will not only get by with a little help from our friends, we will flourish, and grow and help make this world friendlier to all. May it be so, and Amen.

Rev Susan A. Moran ©

28:34 (Asad) And my brother Aaron – he is far better in speech than I am. [32] Send him, therefore, as a helper, so that he might [more eloquently] bear witness to my speaking the truth: for I fear indeed that they will give me the lie.”

28:35 (Asad) Said He: “We shall strengthen thine arm through thy brother, and endow both of you with power, so that they will not be able to touch you: [33] by virtue of Our messages shall you two, and all who follow you, prevail!”