a sermon by Meck Groot delivered at the Harvard Unitarian Church, November 8, 2015
And it’s telling me
That I’m somebody.
There’s a river flowing in my soul.
When I learned this song, I did not know it was written by the first woman
of African descent to become a judge in Alabama. Rose Sanders. When I
learned that, I imagined what might have inspired the song. I imagined
growing up Black and female in Alabama and how hard that might be.
How little validation there might for a Black girl’s inherent worth and
dignity from the dominant culture. How hard Black people have to work to
remember their somebodiness in any state of this Union. I thought about
the love that created this song to help a community remember its worth.
I thought about that term somebodiness – a term I learned from Dr. King.
In his speech, “What is Your Life’s Blueprint,” Dr. King says to Black
Number one in your life’s blueprint should be a deep belief in your
own dignity, your own worth, and your own somebodiness. Don’t
allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel
that you count. Always feel that you have worth. And always feel that
your life has ultimate significance.
I began to wonder how appropriate it is for me, a white woman, to sing
this song. After all, white people hardly need to be reminded of our
somebodiness. Dominant culture validates our somebodiness at every
turn. Maybe we need a different song. After all, in a white supremacist
culture, white people can be like “king babies,” to borrow a term from
Alcoholics Anonymous. King babies are people with a childish ego who
haven’t grown up. They are driven by self-will, forever banging on their
high chairs kicking up a fuss to get what they want.
And then I thought even a child knows our “ultimate significance” cannot
depend on being white. How can the racial group we happen to be born
into determine our worthiness? We know in our hearts that that is shallow.
We know in our hearts that being white does not make us somebodies.
Ditto for being able-bodied or male or wealthy. These realities do not
make us worthy and we know it.
Cultivating an authentic sense of somebodiness is an inside job, solidified
by the love of community that cares about our ultimate significance. That
is why this song is so wonderful. It reminds all of us – of any race, creed,
country, language or gender – that we are already significant.
Systems of injustice – like racism and classism – depend on people with
privilege developing a false sense of themselves. And that false sense is
always at the expense of the people pressed down by the system. It
follows then, that if we develop a strong and authentic sense of our
somebodiness, we won’t need injustices like racism, sexism and systemic
poverty to prop us up and make us feel like somebodies. These injustices
will go away because true somebodies don’t need to make other people
Cultivating that sense of true somebodiness is an important piece of
everything our congregations do: from religious education to pastoral
care, from worship to stewardship, from socializing to social justice.
How do we do that? How do we cultivate true somebodiness? I know one
way we can do this: By delivering our gifts and supporting others to do the
At the heart of your somebodiness is the knowledge that you were born
with gifts that the world needs. That you have a genius – some
exceptionable ability – a great gift by which to serve the community. And
the purpose of that gift is the same for everyone: to bless the world. The
purpose of our genius is to give it away – freely and generously for the
good of community, so that others benefit.
Now, just because we have this genius and these gifts does not mean we
are naturally good at using them responsibly. A lot of things can get in the
way. One of those things is a dominant culture belief that our gift and our
job should be related. Maybe they should be. But I want you to be very
clear: Your genius is not for sale. You don’t get paid to deliver it. It is
something you offer the world despite the return. You do it because it
makes you happy.
That is why Frederick Buechner calls it your deep gladness. Your genius is
the thing you are itching to do. If you can’t do it, you get cranky. If you
can’t do it, you don’t feel like yourself. Even if doing it tires you out, it
never burns you out. It is like a well that may go dry for a spell but the
ground water fills it up again. The gift keeps being replenished as long as
you are alive because it is part of you. It is given to you by life itself, by
Spirit, by God.
Because it comes naturally, for some people doing it is as easy as falling
off a log. You do it instinctually, unconsciously. But that doesn’t mean you
don’t have to practice at it. It also doesn’t mean you can do anything you
want with it. Or that you won’t be tempted to compare it to someone
else’s genius and rank yours as better or not as good.
This business of gifts is slippery and we can have a lot of delusions about it
– especially in a world set up to exploit or ignore them.
So this morning we have three stories. Each story anchors us in a truth
Let’s start with “Spoon.” Spoon gets distracted by the gifts of Fork, Knife
and Chopsticks. Spoon feels bad because her gifts seem plain and
ordinary compared to those of her fellow utensils. Instead of noticing what
she has to offer and the joy of her own experience, she focuses on the gifts
of her friends. She compares and feels bad.
When it comes to your gifts, friends, do not get distracted by comparing
and contrasting them to someone else’s. Your gifts may not win you fame.
They may not be needed in all times and all places by all people but rest
assured that they are needed by some people sometimes. So it is
important that you know what they are and that you are prepared to
deliver them when they are needed. Find Spoon’s mother in yourself: the
wise adult who reminds you about the wonder of your own gifts and the
joy you get from using them.
In our second story, we see how someone uses their gift in service to their
values. An unnamed white woman decides to practice brotherhood as she
calls it. So she spends time learning about the realities faced by Black
people. Then she spends time discerning what she can do. She could have
joined protests or written letters. She could have donated a little money.
But she hits on a remarkable plan: she takes what comes naturally to her
and begins there.
She has the ability to strike up conversations with strangers. People she’s
sitting with on the bus or shopping with in a store. She enjoys doing that.
And she begins conversations sharing facts she has learned. She is not
intrusive or discourteous. Respectful. And through one such conversation,
she inspires a businessman to use his influence to change hiring practices
in his company. Did she know that would happen? No. She did not set out
to change this man. In casual conversation, she simply shared what she
had learned. She delivered her gift and he delivered his.
Frederick Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place
where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This
unnamed white woman found that place. It brought her joy and it made a
In our third story, we hear from Bernice Johnson Reagon – an African
American woman who founded the musical ensemble Sweet Honey in the
Rock. Her genius is song leading. She was called on repeatedly to lead
singing in marches and demonstrations during the Freedom Movement of
the 50’s and 60’s. Notice however that even with years of practice, she
doesn’t get to the fullness of her gift until she encounters trouble. Until she
went to jail, she didn’t know how large her gift was. Knowing your gift and
what you are capable of takes time and experience and enough hardship
that you meet the rest of yourself. So don’t assume that you already know
what you are capable of. You probably don’t. Stay open to the possibility
that there is greatness in you that is still untapped. And don’t shy away
from trouble. Trouble may be the very thing that releases your full
The intersection of our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger isn’t
necessarily a cake walk. But it is worthy and enlivening.
What is your deep gladness? What deep hunger does your gladness
meet? These are not small questions. They are vital questions.
I am mindful that I am preaching at the Harvard Unitarian Church where
you literally address the world’s hunger in several ways. Every month you
donate food and five times a week you rescue food from farmer’s markets,
farms and grocery stores. Your GLEAN program is your practice of
When I was reading about this program on your website, I was struck by
the testimony there that doing this work brings you joy. Believe me, I don’t
remember reading such a testimony on any UU website before. The idea
that doing social action or social justice can be joyful work does not
typically come up. Clearly, at Harvard Unitarian these ministries are one
place where your gladness meets the world’s hunger.
Friends, this is what justice looks like: each of us moving into the place
where our deep gladness meets the world’s need. Injustice is anything that
stands in the way of that. If you can discern your gladness and take it to
the place where it meets the world’s deep need then you are – by
definition doing justice. You are, by definition, resisting injustice.
How deep do you want to go? Are you going as deep as you can? Do your
ministries tap the wealth of gifts gathered here in this sanctuary this
morning? What gifts are still untapped? Whose gifts are still untapped?
Are there other deep hungers that you have not yet encountered or
learned of that await your gifts?
Are your ministries here challenging you as individuals and as a
congregation to meet the rest of yourselves and the fullness of your
Please friends, do not squander your gifts. Do not take them lightly. Do
not imagine they are small or insignificant. Live into your genius. It is what
justice requires of us.