Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
Rather than read the
text for you this morning from Isaiah 58, what I'd actually like to do
is play it for you. From the National Cathedral, where the
National Prayer Service was held Wednesday morning after the
inauguration. The Reverend Cynthia Hale, pastor of the Christian
Church Disciples of Christ in Decatur, Georgia (one of our largest
congregations with about 5,000 members) was the one who read the
scripture at that service Wednesday morning.
[The reading from
Isaiah takes place at the 17-minute mark of the above video clip.
Dr. Sharon Watkins sermon begins at 39 minutes and 37 seconds]
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
Of course, in the front pew at that
worship service was President Obama and the First Lady, Vice-President
Biden and Dr. Biden (his wife), Secretary of State Clinton and her
husband . . . what's-his-name J.
And I love that, just think of the power of that, of reading that
scripture at that service with that audience:
This is the morning after the
inauguration, the first full day of the new administration. And as
my son noted, who was in the National Mall with the Sheldon choir, led
by our own Nancy Anderson and a few others from our church were there
(Patty, Kelsi, Hannah), they and about 2,000,000 other friends, but as
my son said to me: "Dad, separation of church and state?".
There wasn't any evidence of that, even in the inauguration -- it began
and concluded with pastors, references to God, scripture throughout.
I was captivated, as many of you were,
watching history unfold, the first African-American President -- hooey.
I thought the real history was made that evening at the Neighborhood
Ball, when live on T.V. the President of the United States did the
'hustle'! Bumping rear-ends with other dancers. I mean,
who'da thunk it?!
As gifted of an orator President Obama
may be, actually I did not think that the address he gave was the best
of the festivities, I really thought that the one given at the National
Prayer Service was even better.
The sermon is online, that sermon of course delivered by the
Reverend Dr. Sharon Watkins who is the General Minister and President of
the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. It's quite an honor for
us to see her in that role.
Dr. Watkins comes from Oklahoma, and so
she began her sermon with a story from the Cherokee Commission (the
Cherokee Nation is based in Oklahoma). The story is a Grandfather
teaching his grandson about the battles that each of us face, that go on
within us. And he said:
“There are two wolves struggling
inside each of us,” the old man said.
“One wolf is vengefulness, anger,
resentment, self-pity, fear . . .
“The other wolf is compassion,
faithfulness, hope, truth, love . . .”
The grandson sat, thinking,
then asked: “Which wolf wins, Grandfather?”
His grandfather replied, “The
one you feed.”
And then Dr. Watkins, I think in a
brilliant move of rhetoric, likened that story of those two wolves to
the account in Isaiah of the two fasts. The first fast, a fast of
self-righteousness and self-interest that leads only to quarrels and
strikes of the fist, the prophet says. The second fast, the one
you heard read by Dr. Hale, the fast to loose the bonds of injustice and
to feed the hungry.
And then drawing on those two images,
she put forth this challenge to the President of the United States:
In the days immediately before us,
there will be much to draw us away from the grand work
of loving God and the hard work of loving neighbor. In
crisis times, a basic instinct seeks to take us over—a
fight/flight instinct that leans us toward the fearful
wolf, orients us toward the self-interested fast . . .
In international hard times, our
instinct is to fight—to pick up the sword, to seek out
enemies, to build walls against the other—and why not?
They just might be out to get us. We’ve got plenty of
evidence to that effect. Someone has to keep watch and
be ready to defend, and Mr. President—Tag! You’re it!
But on the way to those tough
decisions, which American promises will frame those
decisions? Will you continue to reason from your ethical
center, from the bedrock values of our best shared
hopes? Which wolf will you feed?
In financial hard times, our
instinct is flight—to hunker down, to turn inward, to
hoard what little we can get our hands on, to be fearful
of others who may take the resources we need. In hard
financial times, which fast do we choose? The fast that
placates our hunkered-down soul—or the fast that reaches
out to our sister and our brother?
In times, such as these, we the
people need you, the leaders of this nation, to be
guided by the counsel that Isaiah gave so long ago, to
work for the common good, for the public happiness, the
well-being of the nation and the world, knowing that our
individual wellbeing depends upon a world in which
liberty and justice prevail.
This is the biblical way. It is
also the American way—to believe in something bigger
than ourselves, to reach out to neighbor to build
communities of possibility, of liberty and justice for
What a message for the first day of the
That image of which wolf to feed, which
fast to choose, is a great one not just for the leaders of our nation as
they go about repairing the breach in the economy and restoring the
streets of Baghdad and Gaza, it is also a great image for us as we seek
to be a transforming church which feeds the good wolf in each of us.
That we may in turn do God's work, to break every yoke, to satisfy the
needs of the afflicted, and thereby become, as the prophet says, like a
spring of water whose waters never fail. Or as Amos says, let
justice roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing
Such is the vision that the prophets
give to us for how to be God's people in this world.
Just as the President laid out his
vision for our nation in his inaugural address, on this Annual-Meeting
Sunday I want to lay out for you not just my vision, but I hope what we
believe to be God's vision for us that emerged in the
Vision Process led by Dick Hamm (insiders will remember is the
predecessor of Sharon Watkins as our General Minister and President --
though I don't know that he ever got to preach to a President).
Dick led that process, and you'll recall that in that process we engaged
in a 10-week prayer, in 27 triads (groups of 3 members). And then
we further refined the vision that emerged through the prayer triads of
this past summer, reading the book by Diana Butler-Bass "Christianity
for the Rest of Us". And they provided input to our Vision Team,
and our Communications Task Force, and our task force for Spiritual
Direction. And those groups are still hard at work refining that
vision and implementing it through our strategic plan.
To use the Cherokee image, this then is
our plan for feeding the good wolf. Or in Isaiah's words, the fast
that will cause our light to break forth like the dawn, to be a
transforming church: transforming lives, Christianity, and our
strategic plan, we have set forth 6 goals:
The first goal:
Our Vision Team has
developed that in a statement that we put out at Christmas, and is
being refined, that we strive to transform lives:
describing who we seek to be, the type of church we are, is still a
work in progress -- if you have input, suggestions, or comments, we
The second goal:
In that sermon Dr.
Watkins gave Wednesday morning, she said to the President and to the
nation, she called on the President to stay true to his ethical
center, and she said the values that have guided us in the past are
values that empowered us to move through the perils of earlier times
and can guide us now into a future of renewed promises.
And so our Vision Team
described our core values in this way: we are a community that
believes that our continuing vitality is dependent on investing our
resources in issues of social justice for our community and our
world, while also investing our resources in the spiritual lives of
our members and friends, and the spiritual life of our church.
The third goal:
If you saw our Future
Story video (and we have copies if you missed it), you will recall
the scene in the park when Nancy and Sarah, talking over the noise
of a lawn-mower in the background, talked about all the groups in
the church. And Nancy then invited Sarah (they were playing
characters by the way, don't take this literally) to join her in
forming this new group called "Walking the Talk Group" in their
neighborhood. The idea being that our ministry is not
contained in these walls. That we are a church that
intentionally seeks to be out in the community, visible.
Already we have three
of our morning groups that meet in a local coffee house, Theos.
The fourth goal:
This is the goal that
gave birth to our life-changing ministry guide. By the way,
this is not one of those tired "time and talent" surveys used in the
past that many of you filled out, but rather a whole process of
study and reflection leading to a discovery session with a trained
Elder of the church to help every member discover the ways in which
God may be calling you to use your unique gifts to further the work
of God given to us.
So we encourage
everyone to make use of that guide, and if you did not receive one
this past Fall, or you lost yours, let us know, we would be glad to
provide you with one. And when you have completed that
booklet, please call Dick Busic or call the Office to schedule your
discovery session with an Elder.
The fifth goal:
To this end, we are
offering two new opportunities during Lent, and "Introduction to the
Bible" class in two sessions. The first session during the six
weeks of Lent, on how to read scripture using a wonderful new
resource written by Dr. Sharon Warner, Phyllis' daughter, Marilyn's
sister. And then the second session, after Easter, a 10-week
overview of the entire Bible using Marcus Borg's book "Reading the
Bible Again for the First Time".
These classes are
especially good for anyone new to the faith, new to the church, or
who just wants to learn more about our approach to scripture.
The second opportunity
will be a small group experience in the way of prayer, which will
explore a wide array of methods prayer including praying by heart,
praying with music, praying by (I love this one) gazing -- if you
think that person is daydreaming, perhaps they're engaged in prayer.
Praying with our bodies, praying using scripture in contemplation.
And so for anyone who
struggles with the meaning of prayer, how to pray, or would just
like to deepen their prayer lives, we will have this opportunity.
Both of these will
begin on Shrove Tuesday, also known as the Mardi Gras, February
24th, when we'll have our own little Mardi Gras with a pancake
dinner here at the church.
The sixth goal
(by the way, this is the result of all the other stuff that
we are doing):
To do that, the
Strategic Plan calls us to shift from a "Pastor-Centered"
congregation as we are now, to a "Program-Centered" church.
And so we will be adding a second, full-time Minister to our staff
this summer to make that possible. You'll hear more about
those plans this afternoon at our Annual Meeting.
Isaiah laid forth a
vision for rebuilding not just a city or a nation but a people.
At a time when war had consumed critical resources and the economy
was in a shambles -- sound familiar? The tendency in such
times, as Sharon Watkins said, is to think of 'me first'. To
take care of our own, shore up our defenses, protect ourselves
against any and all threats at all costs.
Isaiah comes forth to
show us that the way forward, the way of God, is not to retreat into
our protective shells, and it's not to feed the vengeful wolf.
The way that God wants
us to live, the way that Jesus showed us how to live, is to be the
good wolf. To believe in something bigger than ourselves, as
Dr. Watkins told the President and the nation, to reach out to
neighbor and build communities of possibility of liberty and justice
In her poem that was
written for the inauguration, I think lost in all of the excitement
afterward, Elizabeth Alexander asked: "What if the mightiest
word is 'love'? Love beyond marital, filial, national, love
that casts a widening pool of light".
What if, indeed.
Which wolf will we
To be a transforming
church is to make that "what if?", those communities of possibility,
here and now.
May it be.
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