Monday, November 19, 2012

Remarks at Installation of the Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson

What an honor it is for me to be here at Magnolia Missionary Baptist Church today for the installation of my good friend and ministerial colleague, the Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson.

Rev. Johnson asked for me to have some remarks here today about servant leadership. Of course, the model that most of us look to for a servant leader is Jesus.  In Luke 22:27, we hear these words of Jesus as he teaches his disciples about servant leadership:

 “Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves?  The one who sits at the table, of course.  But not here!   For I am among you as one who serves.”

Another example of a servant leader is the man you are installing today.  Because he has been serving in this community for many years , many years before being called to the leadership of this church.  And he will also be a model of service for you.

But I want to shift this discussion a little to say WHERE do we serve and WHOM do we serve?

Now, many of you are serving us here today. It takes a WHOLE lot of work to put something like this together.  And we are SO appreciative of the great service and all of the WORK that you all have done.  But I want to share a little story with you about the work of the church.

This story was told by an old preacher who grew up in the big city about a lesson he learned early in life.  As a young adolescent, his parents wanted him to have some time out of the city experiencing life on a FARM - so they sent him one summer to live and work with his aunt and uncle. The Uncle got the boy up before dawn and told him to go out to the wood pile and chop the wood, stack it, and bring some in to fill up the wood bin by the stove. The boy was looking forward to his farm work and enthusiastically completed the job. He was quite tired though as he brought the wood to the house for the stove. So after putting it in the wood bin, he started back up the stairs to complete his sleep since it was barely morning. As he started up the steps, his Uncle pulled on his shirt sleeve and said, "Just where do you think you goin'. You ain't done no work yet."

"What do you mean - I haven't done any work?  I been workin," explained the boy.  "Why I chopped the wood and stacked the wood, and brought and filled up the wood bin by the stove - jest like you said."

"You still ain't done no work yet boy," the farmer said. "Let me 'splain somethin to you.
Any thing you do in the house or around the house or for the house - them there is CHORES. The WORK is in the fields."

Now sometimes after I’ve preached in church or played the piano or perhaps served a greeter or prepared refreshments for the social time, I want to pat myself on the back, and congratulate myself for doing the work of the church.  But you know, anything we do in the Church, or around the Church, or for the Church – "them there's just Chores."   They certainly need to be done. And they are scared and holy chores!  But it's not the real work of the Church.

In John 4:35, Jesus said:
Do you not say, four months more and then the harvest? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest!

And in Matthew 9:35-37, we find Jesus lamenting over the lack of workers in the fields:
It reads:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."

Have things improved or do we still have a shortage of workers in the fields?

Where are the fields?

For some of us it may BE far-away places where we may help with disaster relief. But for most of us, the fields are in our homes, our work places and in our communities – especially among those of great need. Those are the places that we need to be working and serving.  And we are thrilled that this church is already doing that and will do more under the leadership of this great servant, Rev. Francys Johnson.

Now some of us have served in this service today – lots of folks.  And tonight as we climb those proverbial stairs, we may pat ourselves on the back and take pride in the work we've done. But we may just feel that tug on our sleeve and hear an inner voice that says, "Wait a minute Brandon.  Wait a minute Johnny.  Wait a minute Jane!  You haven't done any work yet."  I look forward to seeing many of you in the fields.

But today, I want to extend the right hand of fellowship to Rev. Johnson as he begins his professional ministry in Statesboro.  He’s not new to Statesboro and not new to ministry – but he’s new to professional ministry in Statesboro.  And I’m here to welcome him and look forward to lots of good serving together.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rev. Jane's Election Reflection: The Price of Politics

The subtitle of this election reflection is “The Price of Politics.”  Now some of you may be thinking that I’m going to be talking about how much money is spent on these elections.  And indeed, that figure is staggering.  The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates the total cost of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections will "come close" this year to reaching $6 billion.  Much of that came from “outside funding sources” – rich donors to the superpacs, most of that supporting Republicans.  They bet on buying the election, but it didn’t work.  Karl Rove told the supporters it was money well-spent though, because it kept them close by bombarding Obama and other democrats with negative ads.  And of course the campaigns spent gracious plenty themselves – and many of you probably gave what you could.

S0, six billion dollars – and what do you get --- the same president, a senate with a democratic majority, but not the magic # of 60, and a house with a Republican majority.
Sound familiar – yep, that’s what we’ve got now!

Now that’s not saying that I’m not pleased with the outcome of the election.  I’m just sayin’ – Six Billion Dollars???!!!  But that dollar figure is not what this sermon is about. I took that subtitle, “The Price of Politics” from the title of Bob Woodward’s book that I completed reading recently.  And if you take the time to read even some of this book, you understand that the price of politics is more than money.  Indeed, it could be the very heart and soul of this nation – my words not his.

Woodward’s exhaustive book “focuses on ‘the struggle between President Obama and the United States Congress to manage federal spending and tax policy. And the bulk of its narrative is devoted to behind-the-scenes negotiations that took place in the summer of 2011, as the country teetered on the brink of a potentially catastrophic default over the federal debt ceiling.”   It’s ugly folks.   But then, we don’t just come to church to hear pretty stories, do we?

When I was a little girl attending First Baptist Church here in Statesboro, I heard lots of Bible stories.  Some of them delighted me.  Others disturbed me.  There was one especially disturbing story in 1st Kings 3.  It was shared to show how wise Solomon was.  In case you did not grow up hearing these stories or have successfully forgotten them, I’ll refresh your memory.  It goes something like this.

Two women – (some translations call them prostitutes) were brought before the king so that he could be the judge in their dispute.  The guard also held a baby.  The first woman said, “Oh my King, I had a baby boy born last month. And two days after this other woman also had a son.  We were kept in the same quarters with our babies.  One night I woke up to feed my son – but the baby was dead.  When I looked at him in the light, I saw it was not my son.  My son was with the other woman – she had taken it and put her own dead baby in my bed.”

The second woman said, “No this live baby is mine.  She rolled over on her baby and smothered it and now she wants to take mine away.”

And they argued back and forth in this manner.

King Solomon said to the guard.  “Bring the baby to me and fetch me my sword.  We will cut the baby in half and give each of them half of the child.”

The second woman said, “Yes, we shall divide the child.”

But the first woman said, “Oh, no my lord, do not kill the child.  Let the other woman keep him and let him live.”

Of course King Solomon said, “Give the child to the first woman – she is the mother.”  And all marveled at his wisdom.

Now, why have I told you this “lovely” Bible story?  Because that is the analogy that our President used when describing to his inner circle his need to give more than democrats wanted to give on these negotiations as they neared the deadline for our nation defaulting – and perhaps driving us into complete chaos and depression.

As retold in Woodward’s book, President Obama explains: “We have to acknowledge we’re governing.   It’s like King Solomon. We just have to accept we’re the mom who’s not willing to split the baby in half. And we’re not going to have as much leverage.”

Using a scene like that – and a gut-wrenching analogy like that – is indicative of the price of politics.

Here’s how a New York Times article published in September describes the public’s reaction to that infighting and gridlock.

“As a plethora of election-year polls and surveys indicate, Americans are fed up with a deeply dysfunctional Washington paralyzed by partisan gridlock and increasingly incapable of dealing with the daunting problems facing the nation: a White House plagued by infighting, disorganization and inconsistent leadership; a Republican Party bent on obstruction and increasingly beholden to its insurgent right wing; and a Congress driven by party rivalries, intraparty power struggles, petty turf wars and an inability to focus on long-term solutions instead of temporary Band-Aids.”

Indeed, the words of that New York Times article are reflective of the feelings that many of you shared with me.

And leading up to the election, the ads, the debates, the talking heads on both sides were damaging to everyone.  It became a pissing contest, and we all were drenched.

My *second* favorite economist in the world – Robert Reich – had this description in a recent blog:

“The vitriol is worse than I ever recall. Worse than the Palin-induced smarmy 2008. Worse than the swift-boat lies of 2004. Worse, even, than the anything-goes craziness of 2000 and its ensuing bitterness. It’s almost a civil war. I know families in which close relatives are no longer speaking. A dating service says Democrats won’t even consider going out with Republicans, and vice-versa. My email and twitter feeds contain messages from strangers I wouldn’t share with my granddaughter.

"What’s going on? Yes, we’re divided over issues like the size of government and whether women should have control over their bodies. But these aren’t exactly new debates…. And we’ve had bigger disagreements in the past – over the Vietnam War, civil rights, communist witch hunts – that didn’t rip us apart like this.”

Yep -- If you use social media like facebook or twitter, you know what Reich is talking about.  Most of my facebook friends, thankfully, have views that are similar to mind – or at least they don’t attack my views with the kind of ugliness that Reich describes.  Yet there are some who do – and they come from folks who had been very close friends with me at one time and I’ve been hurt with their comments.

One of you expressed your frustration before the election with these words:
“I just want it over & I just want Obama to win; & I want everybody to be kind to one another! I keep going back to when my son was 5 &, with others that age at the end of Vacation Bible School, and they were was asked to give a favorite Bible verse.'God is love,' 'Bless the little children who come unto me,' and others were given.  Then my son stepped forward, and with his ever-present smile said, "BE YE FRIENDLY!"Of course everybody laughed, but they were also nodding their heads as though to say,
"Well, it isn't in the Bible, but it should be."

Yes, the interactions on television, on social media, and even around our own family tables have been difficult and depressing.

And yet….
On election night, as I sat watching the results come in….  I don’t know about you, but something happened inside of me.  Something good was rekindled.  It started slowly as I watched images of folks still standing in long lines in many cities, waiting, waiting, waiting, in bitter Philadelphia cold or in strong Miami heat - for a chance to cast their ballots.  And yes, Mr. President – we do need to fix that.
But as the night moved on and I watched results come in, my enthusiasm began to spark up and rekindle that flame.  And it wasn’t just a ballgame kind of “we’re winning” enthusiasm.  What was being rekindled within me was HOPE…Yes HOPE - that all was not lost, that folks could still remain committed to making this nation and world a better place.  And here’s what some of you shared with me when I asked for your feelings and ideas.

One of you said:
“I'm glad to know that the presidency stayed with Obama. I am hopeful that the take away message for the Republican party will be that they need to take their party away from the Tea Party control and move back toward the "center" which hopefully will move them a LONG WAY toward the LEFT.  Who knows, maybe with a little luck, they will push the Democrats a little further to the left too.  A girl can dream!”

Another wrote about a real dream she had:
“Mitt Romney was in the middle of a crowd and his opponent, who looked like Peter Falk's Columbo, was dancing around the edge of the crowd, chanting dancing gathering the attention and support of the crowd.  At the end, Romney was disappointed, frustrated, nearly weeping  and the crowd had chosen the dancer who called to everyone.”

Others expressed their happiness and joy that America had done the right thing, with virtual chants of “Four more years, four more years!”

Others expressed more cautious hope --- realizing the challenges ahead with a divided electorate and a divided congress.

Now in my little survey over the internet, I got no responses with disappointment in the outcome of the election.  Though we are diverse in theology and along many other variables, many of us do lean politically in the same direction.  But I will not make the assumption that everyone in this congregation voted for the same people.  And we welcome all in love, of course.

Many of us, though, did join more than half of America in voting for Barack Obama.  And even right here in our own little neck of the woods, John Barrow was re-elected.  Of course that’s probably more attributable to his endorsement by the NRA (“ain’t gonna take away my guns”) than from his identification as a democrat.   

Nevertheless, the people have spoken!  And that is important.  Because, you see, if you go back to the president’s Bible Story analogy, you have to ask – WHO is King Solomon in this story?  Who is the judge?  And the answer is WE ARE!  Over half of the American people --- and states representing 332 electoral votes basically said,  “We have looked at the evidence and the credibility of the two before us and have decided that Barack Obama is the real mother of this child; and therefore we are returning that child – our nation – to him; while at the same time hoping that the other mother, the one who sleeps in that same room, will help to raise that child.”

Is it possible for democrats and republicans to raise that child together?  Let’s hope so – because the fiscal cliff is straight ahead.  One of my and Greg’s favorite journalists is Fareed Zakaria.  In a Time magazine article that came out last Monday, he provides some evidence that demonstrates that this really IS doable!

You know -We chanted YES WE CAN in 2008 --- but then stopped when we became discouraged.  We need to once again revive the spirit of YES WE CAN!

It IS a new day!  Although the congress and presidency looks similar in numbers, we saw things happening on Tuesday – even with all the money used to defeat them – that gives progressives and those standing on the side of LOVE great hope.

First of all – Tuesday night was Ladies night!  There will now be 20 women in the U.S. Senate; 16 democrats and 4 republicans.  Some of these women won in races where they were heavily outspent.  But their opponents dug their own graves with their weird rhetoric about rape.  And I was thrilled that one of the new senators is Elizabeth Warren.  She’s fantastic!  Hawaii elected its first female senator and she’s also the first Buddhist in the senate.  Meanwhile, fellow Hawaiian and Iraq War veteran Tulsi Gabbard was elected to the House of Representatives, the first time a Hindu has served in the Congress.  (YES WE CAN)

Gay rights activists and allies can also celebrate victories:  Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington affirmed marriage equality at the ballot box – the first states to gain marriage equality through direct votes.  (YES WE CAN!)  Minnesota became the first state in the country to reject writing discrimination into its state constitution.  Wisconsin voters elected Tammy Baldwin--the first openly-LGBTQ American, and a woman of profound integrity.  And folks winning seats in many state races assured that marriage equality would be on their agendas.  And of course the first president to advocate for marriage equality was re-elected.  (YES WE CAN!)

And there is more for progressives to celebrate: 

Standing on the Side of Love Activist Dan Furmansky gleefully announced in an email to supporters these results:
Voters in Maryland became the first in the nation to ever vote on a DREAM Act measure at the ballot, signaling resounding approval for providing in-state tuition to undocumented residents. (YES WE CAN!)
Minnesota voters rejected a regressive voter ID amendment. (YES WE CAN!)
And voters in two states--Colorado and Washington--said yes to the legalization of marijuana. And hopefully, this could indicate a shift in our national conversation about a failed drug war that disproportionately affects poor communities of color.” (YES WE CAN!)
Plus - My friend Willie Nelson probably is happier today.

In any case it seems that we have seen a progressive turn.  One of our members gleefully expressed it this way:  “Welcome to Liberal America. We have our Reagan. The hippies have won. Ponytails for all.”
Well, we’ll see!

A couple of weeks ago when I was thinking about this upcoming sermon --- I was actually going to name it “The Demons in Democracy.”  But I threw that title away.  I have a new faith in our democracy.  I believe we can make it work.  Harry Reid said they are going to change those Senate rules – (YES THEY CAN) -- -and he’s invited Mitch McConnell to dance with him.  Let it be a dance – Harry and Mitch!  John Boehner has said he’s ready to work with the President and to even consider raising tax revenues – so long as they are not targeted to just the wealthy (poor things).  Okay John – you can raise mine some too if it helps.   (YES WE CAN).

So the politicians are hoping to work together.  But what are we going to do about those divisive situations in our own communities, in our own families, at our places of work and play.  I say – perhaps we liberals need to be the mother; the one to give a little.  Our conservative friends and neighbors are hurting right now.

Thursday morning I went on to my ultra conservative friend’s facebook page and wrote her a thank-you note for her continued friendship and love.  And she loved me back.  Another well-educated conservative friend made some comments on one of my postings Thursday.  The first two were kind of negative.  In fact she responded to some of my liberal friends by saying, “Bless your hearts” – which is southern lady speak for ….  (I can’t say that in the pulpit.)  But then she came back after one had posted something about “liberty and justice for all” with this remark. Listen... 

“Yes, liberty and justice even for us conservatives. Cannot have it both ways...the liberal is correct and the conservative is just so slightly inferior in all things that require cogitation and critical thinking. That's where I get very weary of being marginalized.”

I think she may be right.  We liberals probably are somewhat hypocritical.  We talk of openness and diversity – yet she feels marginalized by us.  We all need to take that little boy’s “Bible verse” to heart – and “Be Ye Friendly.”  Do you think we can?

Yes --- we can!

President Obama thinks so.  In his closing remarks of his acceptance speech, he said:
“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America.”

May it be so.