Harvesting the Hope


Harvest time is an attitude of gratitude for the seeds of our memories and minds that tell us how to be and become; for soil, the accumulation of our lives from which new life grows; for hands and the ability to work the earth and celebrate its plenty; and for the kinship of it all, that singleness, that unity that makes our hearts glad. A kinship we will honor this Sunday with the launch of this year’s Guest At Your Table program.

Sermon, Part One:When you look inside yourself what about you gives you hope?

Today, we are harvesting our hope, making how it moves within among us visible. The word cloud on your order of service helps us. When asked two weeks ago, what about being part of this community gives you hope, most of you mentioned people and the world, the two largest words. I take that to mean that we find hope in how we as a people connect with each other and engage in the world.

I was talking to a colleague about how our theology helps us do this. How we, unlike the churches across the green, look out at the world and see people suffering from not so much from sin, but from a sense of disconnect, from their deepest selves, from life’s abundance, and from needs greater than their own. Our theology invites us all on a journey of connection where we heal and strengthen these bonds and as we do we harvest or make visible hope in the way we live our lives. In this service Britt and I will tell you stories about our moments of connection within ourselves, with life’s gifts, and with needs greater than our own that give us hope and we will invite you to recall moments when you did the same and write a few words to answer the questions in the Order of Service on the colored pieces of paper which we will hang as prayer flags of hope at the end of the service on the green wire in the back. Flags that make visible how we embody hope.

UU Theologian Thandeka says that the primary point of reference for your spiritual journey as a Unitarian Universalist are the moments when you feel at one with the universe. Those of you who are Buddhists may experience this as sense emptiness or a feeling of profound interdependence. Those of you who are mystics, may call this unity, and you who are humanists, may describe this as a moment of infinity full of the universe. Christian theologian Paul Tillich calls this connection the ground of being where the voice of the ultimate is heard. Moments when we let go of fear to trust the affirming presence of creation, a connection vital to our being and all beings. Thandeka says that the interval between this moment of oneness, and the act that it inspires is what we know as divine or cosmic consciousness.

My first memory of this dimension was when my dad was facing serious aorta surgery back when I first started seminary. I remember walking the beach and picking up a smooth, rose-colored stone. Listening to the waves I gave voice to prayers of healing. I remembered that Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen gives prayer stones to people before surgery and I decided to give this stone to my dad. As my family drove me to the airport, I asked each of his young grandchildren to offer a prayer to the stone. They said “thanks for being such a great grandfather, please don’t die and don’t worry, you’ll be OK.” I carried that note and stone in my pocket, until in the predawn hours of admittance, my father, with a sigh and a sagging of his shoulders, let fall his pretense of bravery. As I read the simple words of love from his grandchildren, he sat up straighter, his eyes became brighter, his breath more full, and just as Dr. Remen’s patients had done, he asked for that stone to be taped to his foot during surgery, so that we could all be with him in the operating room. Several hours later, when we were finally allowed to visit him, his first words to me were, “I guess the stone worked.”

Take a minute and think of a moment of deep connection for you. What act did that moment inspire and what qualities did you discover about yourself? My deep connection moment inspired courage, and then clarity of how to help my dad face his fear. Then, take a minute a ponder this question, when you look inside yourself what about you gives you hope? When you are ready write your phrase or few words in one corner of the colored paper.

Sermon, Part Two: How does connecting with the gifts inside me, connect me with the gifts of life?
(part 2 are the words of congregant, Britt Argow)

When I was a kid, a middle-schooler, a man came to speak at our church in the suburbs of Washington DC. He drew the eye as he came up to give the service – – he was gaunt. At first I thought he was a very old man, frail, and stooped, with grizzled hair and a beard that didn’t look very well groomed. but as he began to speak it became clear that he was filled with an almost disturbing intensity of energy, and I begin to pay more attention to what he was saying.

When I was a kid, a middle-schooler, a man came to speak at our church in the suburbs of Washington DC. He drew the eye as he came up to give the service – – he was gaunt. At first I thought he was a very old man, frail, and stooped, with grizzled hair and a beard that didn’t look very well groomed. but as he began to speak it became clear that he was filled with an almost disturbing intensity of energy, and I begin to pay more attention to what he was saying.

He was Mitch Snyder, an activist for the homeless. He looked sickly and old because he had damaged his body with a hunger strike in order to force the federal government to create a homeless shelter at an abandoned federal building downtown. He was an interesting speaker – – at times I wanted to cry because of the incredibly sad stories he was telling people dying in the cold on Washington DC streets – people like the homeless that I had witnessed myself on the rare evenings when we had gone downtown in the chilly winter early darkness to an event. They were homeless all over Washington DC back then. Some of them were aggressive and rude, but most were just silent and…there. They were a constant reminder of want and need, right in our nations capital. I remember an early Saturday morning visit to the Lincoln Memorial, my favorite, when I ran inside to see old Abe and was startled by bodies slumped in the lee of the columns. On a school field trip, I had tried to give an apple and my PB&J sandwich to a homeless person, who had cursed at me and throwing them back at me. I was afraid of the homeless.

Listening to Mitch Snyder that morning at church, I had to think about those people differently. His stories renewed my sense of them as people, some good, and some rude or not quite right in the head – – but most of them just people. People with a lot more struggles than I had faced. Not everything Mitch said that day resonated with me. At times as he spoke he seemed almost angry at the people he addressed – – his rage at the injustice matched my younger idealism, but I felt very uncomfortable seeing it in an adult up at the pulpit at the front of the church. His anger, his rage, seemed out of place – I didn’t understand why he seemed so mad at us. Didn’t we all went to help? Wasn’t it why someone had asked him here to speak about the creative community for non-violence? I left that service with a lot to think about, and when my youth group met the next week we agreed that we wanted to try to do something about the terrible problem of homelessness and hunger in DC. For several years I had already been involved in the Walk for Hunger, but this no longer seemed like enough. Our youth group began to help, just a few times a year, in the DC churches where they gave out food and organized supplies for people to sleep at night. We didn’t do much, but we did something. We wanted to be part of the solution. Out of the despair and even rage that I witnessed that Sunday morning when Mitch Snyder spoke to us, we wanted to build some hope. We didn’t solve the problem that day. But just as city reach doesn’t end homelessness, just as our walk for hunger doesn’t end want, nevertheless these actions make a difference. They make a difference own selves, and our souls, and our communities, and in the world. To see the problems and be willing to work towards a solution is not nothing. Our youth go to Boston to witness homelessness for themselves. They see the problem. We see the problem. And we commit to working towards a solution, in whatever way we can. The Dalai Lama says, “To remain indifferent to the challenges we face is indefensible. If the goal is noble, whether or not it is realized within our lifetime is largely irrelevant. What we must do therefore is to strive and persevere and never give up.” My perseverance helped me to change my perspectives. Out of scarcity came abundance. Out of despair, came hope. We witness, and recommit ourselves again.

Sermon, Part Three: How does connecting with the needs beyond your own give you hope?

Margaret Wheatley, a warrior for the human spirit says that hope and fear are a single package bundled together as intimate, eternal partners, where hope never enters a room without fear at its side. Stepping into that place of fear with my dad made it easier to do it again. I remember a patient I saw as chaplain during an early morning pre-surgery visit. His eyes drew me in as I introduced myself, eyes that said, “I’m scared.” His wife rocked on her feet at the end of his bed, pushing her body against the curtain, wanting to flee. Right hand in his, I stretched to hold hers, drawing her oh-so- gently to his side opposite me. His eyes held fast to mine, like a boat to an anchor, as we wove a prayer about their life together, their love and memories. It was just a few minutes, but when I visited them later that day, his wife welcomed me as if I was the doctor responsible for the successful surgery. I felt their hope as profoundly as I had felt their fear, a hope that is still with me.

Some of the most hopeful words for me in the Bible are those of Proverbs eight where Sophia, the voice of wisdom, stands in the crossroads in front of the city gates and calls out “does not wisdom call, does not understanding raise her voice?” Standing in the crossroads is for me a practice of hope. Two years after hurricane Katrina, I stood in the crisscross of the roads that were the only visual signs of what remained of a once bustling community. Despair, fears’ close cousin was replaced with hope as I got to know the people who knew this place as home. A few years after that I traveled to Tucson Arizona and witnessed all the brokenness of how we treat people from Central America seeking safety in this country. But as I got to know the generosity of the migrants, the abundance of their spirits, I couldn’t help but become part of their story, and opened my heart to their plight. Two years later, I opened my home to Iris and her daughter Meyli fleeing the violence of El Salvador.

As thousands of migrants arrive in Tijuana this week, the UU Service committee is asking you to open your hearts, and metaphorically your home by inviting migrants to be guests at your table this holiday season by getting to know the stories of people like Valentina Mejia who traveled over 3,000 miles from her war-torn country to ask our government’s permission to live here in peace. But our government treats her and thousands of others as criminals. She was put in detention with a bond of 15,000 dollars. Thanks to an organization called Freedom for Immigrants, a partner of the UUSC, people from our churches across the country helped pay her bond and found her a home where she lives now. Valentina says “we know that unity makes power and we ask all of you to stand in solidarity with us.” Unity also creates hope and I invite Glenn Frederick our UUSC representative to tell us more about how we can connect to the needs of Valentina, and others seeking safety now. To tell us how we can become part of their story.

Glen Frederick – UUSC Guest at Your Table program

Thank you Jill for the opportunity to say a few words about the UUSC. A few years ago Pam and I were searching for some involvement that reached beyond our privileged and well-endowed surroundings. That search led us to the UU Service Committee and it has become a significant part of our lives. It is an organization that operates in 32 countries to advance human rights and social justice. They will work only where they can develop local, grass roots partnerships to create sustainable and highly effective social justice programs.

Pam and I saw that model in action on our trip in February to Nicaragua. Being on the ground with people struggling against oppressive and often violent conditions was eye opening. These people, most often women, have incredible courage and determination. Just imagine meeting women who will walk miles to catch a bus to town and then walk more miles to their UUSC supported cooperative where they are learning to raise crops to sustain their family and sometimes have extras to sell in a local market. It is this kind of local, eye to eye partnership that makes the UUSC model hopeful and sustainable. To see what just a little bit of encouragement, education and support can do to dramatically change whole family’s lives was inspiring.

Today we launch the Guest at Your Table program to support all of these efforts. We have boxes available in the back of the church and they will also be in the Fellowship Building. To get the kids started, we have some boxes with coins already in them. The boxes will be collected at the Christmas Eve service and also the following Sunday.

As an added inducement, Pam and I will match every dollar raised by our congregation. In addition, donations of $125 or more will be matched by the UU congregation in Shelter Rock, New York, effectively quadrupling these donations. Please pick up your collection box today and join in the fight for social justice for some of the most marginalized people around the globe. Pam and I are happy to answer questions or provide more information after the service. Thank you for your support.

Closing – Rev. Jill Cowie

In the end,” says Thomas Merton, “it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.” Telling my stories, I realize that standing in the crossroads of fear with other people connects me with a sense of oneness with universe, and from that moment comes a feeling of humility, and of possibility that relationships can be restored. I invite you to ponder now the third question, how does connecting with the needs beyond your own give you hope and then when you are ready, write your answer in a corner of the paper. Margaret Wheatley says “we are hope, it’s always right here in our very beings.” As UU’s we embody hope by listening to our deepest selves (hand on chest) opening to life’s gifts, (open wide to world) and serving needs greater than our own.- hands out. I invite each of you to share with a partner or in groups no larger than 3 your answers to one or all three of the questions. If you struggled with one answer, that may be the door to strengthen hope in your life. As your partner begins, say to them, “Your gifts of hope are welcome here”

Poem from the Youth

Hurry up hope.
help us lift our heavy burdens.
heal our hearts and our hurts.
hurry us home.
Hurry up hope.
Hold our helplessness and grief.
help our hands to reach out to all humanity. Bring happiness and health.