Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
October 7, 2018
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost,
World Communion Sunday
Psalm 104; John 1:1-5, 10:14-16, 17:20-23
Thomas Friedman of The New York Times wrote this week, “I began my journalism career covering a civil war in Lebanon. I never thought I’d end my career covering a civil war in America. We may not be there yet, but if we don’t turn around now, we will surely get where we’re going — which was best described by Senator Jeff Flake on Monday: ‘Tribalism is ruining us. It is tearing our country apart.’”
Freidman continues, “In a tribal world it’s rule or die, compromise is a sin, enemies must be crushed and power must be held at all costs…. Flake, the departing Arizona Republican, called this out this week: ‘We…have given in to the terrible tribal impulse that first mistakes our opponents for our enemies. And then we become seized with the conviction that we must destroy that enemy.’”
Think Rwanda. Think Stalinist Russia.
The tribalism in America divides along lines of two radically different political, social and religious cultures and their opposing world views. This is the line where World Communion Sunday takes its stand. World Communion is all about the oneness Jesus prayed we would have. The problem is that one tribe defines oneness narrowly, thinking it means being one only with people who see the world as they do, who worship and vote and look and act like them. This is the ethnocentric tribe.
The other tribe is world-centric, it believes that oneness means all people, and that the force of love and life and light in the universe created us all as one. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, “All [people] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…. This is the inter-related structure of reality.” King used the term Beloved Community to describe the ideal society that would live as one.
I circulated over the internet this week an extraordinary film called, Earthrise. The title refers to one of the most famous photographs of all time, a picture of the earth rising over the surface of the moon taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders in 1968. That was the first time any humans had gone far enough into space to see earth as a whole planet. The three astronauts came away from the experience with a unified message for the Earth.
Frank Borman said in a speech to Congress in 1969: “So the one overwhelming emotion that we carried with us is the fact that we really do all exist on one small globe.” The astronauts saw that all people on earth truly are brothers and sisters.
But now, fifty years later, Anders looks back and says, “I don’t think the Apollo program…brought as worldly a view, interlocking view, to humankind as I had hoped.”
James Lovell saw that Earth is really a small spacecraft, like Apollo 8, sailing through our little corner of the universe, and we are all astronauts, and whether we like it or not, we have to work closely together in order to accomplish our mission. Lovell says, “Down here [on Earth], we seem not to be able to do that.”
But Borman says that the image of that “beautiful, little blue marble in the middle of all that darkness” helped. We still have the Earthrise photograph and the wisdom of its perspective. As Borman says, “At least for an instant in history, I believe that people looked upon themselves as citizens of the Earth.”
The astronauts were hoping that seeing our reality in the universe could lead to a new level of human consciousness that sees all people as one. We need that new consciousness desperately now not just to avoid the approaching civil war in the United States, but to address imminent threats to human civilization and the planet.
Tribalism is powerful, yet the good news on this World Communion Sunday is that a powerful counter-force is rising to move us toward a society more like God’s realm.
We know more than ever before about how to live together in unity, equity and sustainability, thanks to the development of nonviolence and healthy communication and contemplative spirituality, and evolving environmental, economic and community models. A new level of consciousness is growing. More people see how we have to change.
This consciousness has its roots in the scriptures.
Psalm 104 envisions a world created and sustained by a force of love and life and light, a world of sufficiency and shalom.
The first words of the Gospel of John echo this vision. What comes into being through this all-creating force is life and light, and it is for all. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
Jesus says that God is in us all, and we are all in God. We are one because we share this small blue home in the middle of endless space, but we are one even more because we are connected to all creation by the one Spirit that flows in us and in all things around us all the time. That Spirit, flowing through Christ, is our good shepherd. It will guide and empower and save us if we align with its sacred way.
This congregation’s Future Directions vision is a result of that Holy Spirit speaking through us. Our vision is to be a Beloved Community embracing other cultures and traditions and accepting our differences. It says, “We want to create a safe forum where we can consider big questions and controversial issues, sharing with healthy communication, where we can disagree and still get along, listening humbly, openly and with fairness and compassion to others with differing views.”
This is the opposite of tribalism. In fact, this is the only way I know that can create oneness with people who are divided along tribal lines. Miracles happen when communities become skilled in the techniques of healthy communication.
We saw this on a global stage in the restorative justice process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Bishop Tutu. If ever there was a tribalistic society, it was South Africa during apartheid. President Nelson Mandela and other wise leaders saw that their only hope for healing and moving the nation forward was to establish oneness by speaking courageously and listening compassionately together.
It did not erase differences, but it created bonds of oneness across existing divides. A black woman came before the commission to engage with the white policeman who brutally tortured and killed her husband and her grown son, her only child. The woman and policeman each spoke the truth of what they had experienced or done, and when the commission asked her what she would like to see happen, she told the policeman that she had no one left in the world, thanks to him. What she wanted was for him to come and be as a son to her.
I have seen this same force at work in churches like ours. A congregation found themselves on the brink of reopening a painful division at a church council meeting. It threatened to destroy an already severely diminished church. Tempers were rising, anxiety was rising, voices were rising, no one was listening, and then someone skilled in healthy communication asked everyone to stop and take a deep breath.
Then they started again with new ground rules, acknowledging that everyone in that circle wanted what was best for the church. They agreed to listen with compassion and not interrupt, and speak in turn around the circle. They did not change their viewpoints, but by the end of the meeting they had agreed on a plan for how to go forward as one. People were crying with relief and hugging their opponents and saying how much they valued and admired one another’s gifts and dedication to the church.
Can you imagine that happening in Congress? Maybe not today, but look at what happened in South Africa. Miracles occur when we start to act as if we believe in our true oneness. Miracles occur when we have the courage to try to find underlying oneness with those who seem on the surface irreconcilably different.
Our congregation dreams of such miracles happening here. This dream comes not from us but from the Holy Spirit speaking through us, the force that created the universe that made us one and wants us to evolve to a stage of human consciousness that allows us to live as one.
Humanity needs to learn how to be the Beloved Community and walk and work together in order for civilization and our species to survive. The Spirit is guiding us to learn how to grow closer rather than more divided. It is asking us to be a model and inspiration of oneness in our homes and towns and nation.
We have this hope, and we have the greatest force in the universe that will work with us as we go forward on this path, so let us trust that even today, even in our divided nation, even under the gathering storm clouds, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
Let us pray together in silence…