"Unity, Harmony, Peace" - January 17th, 2021
"Thus says the LORD: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed."
- Jeremiah 22:3
Message of Stewardship from Laura Hall
This pandemic has shaken up all of our lives. I can't remember a time when pretty much everyone has had to rethink what normal is. Who could have ever guessed a year ago that wearing masks, standing six feet apart, and not hugging each other would be the new normal?
It's been a difficult and isolating time for a lot of us. We felt separated from friends and family, traditions have been changed...look how different Christmas was this year!
Some businesses have thrived during this time. Some surprising ones like puzzle making companies and craft supplies. And if only we'd invested in Zoom a year ago!
But other businesses, many others, have struggled and shuddered. Especially small restaurants and stores. And many of us have experienced huge economic insecurity.
This has continued on longer than I think most of us expected. We are now experiencing what psychologists call pandemic fatigue. And even though we're tired, I try to do my best to remain hopeful and positive. I feel like in this process, I've learned to be more resilient, more grateful, and to rely on my faith.
I have new found appreciation for the important relationships in my life, and many of those relationships have come out of this church. Not only has this church been my spiritual home for many years, but I've met some of my dearest friends here.
And even in the pandemic, the church continues to minister with these weekly online services, the food pantry serving our community, the preschool that just reopened, and even the ways that as a community we ministered to each other during these difficult times.
We're all doing our best to get through this, but as always we do better when we do it together.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."
Pastor Michael's Sermon - January 17th, 2021
When I was a child, I remember watching the television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and my favorite part of the show was when the toy train came through the tunnel and into Mr. Rogers living room. Now, of course, it was just a small little train, no problem with the train coming into the living room! And then the train would take us to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe where there lived an array of puppet characters including King Friday the 13th and Lady Elaine Fairchilde. I know, I can't believe that I remember the names either!
Anyway, there was also a time when we were in the real world and that usually meant people visiting Mr. Rogers at home. People like Mr. and Mrs. McFeely, and Lady Aberlin, and then there was the police officer. His name was Officer Clemmons and he was played by an actor named Francois Clemmons.
Francois was really a singer that Fred Rogers had heard sing at a church that they both attended, and he asked Francois to be a part of the show. Now, once he was added to the cast, Francois became the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children's television show and he remained on the show for 25 years!
With such a long time being on the series, he was on many, many episodes and he made many, many appearances. But there was probably one scene that Francois did with Mr. Rogers that he is most remembered for.
It originally aired in 1969...the scene opened with Fred Rogers sitting outside on a chair on the front lawn of his house. His pant legs were rolled up and he was cooling his feet in a child's plastic pool. Officer Clemmons came by and said hello to Mr. Rogers and he greeted him back, and then Mr. Rogers invited Clemmons to put his feet in the water and rest with him a bit. So Clemmons took off his socks and his shoes and he sat in a chair next to Mr. Rogers and they both chatted and cooled their feet together in this plastic pool.
This was a huge deal at the time.
Across the country, there were still pools who were refusing to integrate. Black and white people were not allowed to swim together.
This small act of producing a scene on a television show with a black man and a white man sharing a pool, even if it was only with their feet, was making a tremendous statement and most importantly, it was making that statement to children.
This image of two men of two different skin colors sharing something was normalized to millions of children who were watching. But then there was more to the scene...
When they were finished with their chat, Mr. Rogers offered to dry Officer Clemmons’ feet for him and he did just that. One foot at a time, Mr. Rogers toweled off the officers feet, allowing children and adults to not only see a white man sharing with a black man, but they also saw a white man serving a black man.
And to those of us who happen to be Christians, the illustration was even deeper
because we were reminded of the story of Jesus Christ washing the feet of his disciples. Right there, millions watched as Mr. Rogers humbled himself, reflecting an act of Jesus Christ.
This weekend as we celebrate the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we are reminded once again of Dr. King's legacy of peace. We are reminded of a man who humbled himself. We're reminded of his ministry and his message.
We’re reminded of how he used the message of Jesus Christ to help people understand the importance of equality. How he used the message of Christ to remind people of how God intended for us to treat one another. And although we have made great improvements, this past year the Black Lives Matter movement has reminded us that we still have a lot farther to go.
We have a lot farther to go when it comes to equity for African Americans and we have a lot farther to go when it comes to equity for all of the groups of God's people who are being discriminated against, treated unfairly, and oppressed.
As people of faith, I believe it is important for us to be taking direction from Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons, and we do this by setting an example. We set an example of what harmony looks like!
I believe that as Christians, we need to lead by example much like Fred Rogers did that day in 1969. And the reason we need to do this is because our living in harmony and in equity is fully the intent of God.
It was fully the intent of God when God created a world and the people. And how do we know this? Well, we know this because the word of God was sent to us through the message of God's son, Jesus Christ.
And that message was one of love.
That message was one of compassion.
That message was one of care.
I've looked pretty closely at the message of Christ and as far as I can tell there isn't anything that says thou shalt stereotype those who look, believe, or love differently than yourself.
There is nothing that says thou shalt spout hateful language in person and on social media about races that are not your own.
God never asked us to attack and oppress those who don't fit into the mold that we deem to be a worthy person.
Christ's message never said build your own privilege and turn your back to those without it.
Indeed as part of repairing the social injustice of all the oppressed groups in our country and in our world, we need to begin to pay attention to where we have privilege and where we don't. To where others have privilege and where they don't.
If you have never been shopping in a store and been followed by security because of the way you look, you've been privileged.
If you're able to walk down the street holding the hand of someone you love without fear of someone shouting hate speech at you or causing you harm, you've been privileged.
If you've never had to worry about being paid less than your male co-workers, you've been privileged.
If you've never been at the bottom of a flight of stairs in your wheelchair wondering how you're going to get to the top.
If you've never had 911 called because you're walking down the street.
If you've never been asked to show your green card, even though you were born in Pasadena.
If you've never stood in line at a food bank, and if you can walk into your house or your apartment at the end of the day, lock the door, and have a roof over your head,
you've been privileged.
When we acknowledge where we have been privileged and others have not, we can begin to build the equity that was intended for God's creation. We can begin to see the world as it was Illustrated through the message of Jesus Christ.
Living in harmony with one another means living in community. And as I said a moment ago when I read the passage from Romans, we should be rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and weeping with those who are weeping. Being at one with the lowly and not claiming to be above anyone. Living in harmony, living peacefully.
We need to continue being an example of harmony, being an example of peace. By the way that we act, by the words that we use, and how we live.
And even if it feels sometimes like people aren't paying attention, even if it feels like we aren’t making a difference, we need to have faith that we are even if we can't always see it.
In an interview with Francois Clemmons, he once said at the end of each of the shows, Fred Rogers would take off his sneakers, and he would hang up his sweater,
and he would say, "You make every day a special day just by being you,
and I like you just the way you are."
Clemmons said one day, “I was watching him and the show and I was looking at him as he said those words, and when we finished taping I said, ‘Fred, were you talking to me?"‘ and he said, 'Yes, I've been talking to you for years, but you just heard me today.’”
People are watching us. People are listening to us. Let's let them hear us today.
Let's allow others to know the message of Jesus Christ and to let them know that that message is one of love. It is one of unity. It is one of harmony. It is a message of peace.
God of love, help us to find ways of becoming a more unified people. Allow us to share your love with others as your love has been shared with us through your son and it is in his name we pray.