Sermon June 7, 2020    “  A New Lens”    by Rev. June Fothergill

Scriptures:  Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Matt. 28: 16-20

   I celebrate zoom worship today!  I really like the cartoon of the woman in her pj’s and slippers walking down the aisle at a worship service.   It is good to laugh at ourselves, is it not? Like only last week I forgot what day it was- oh the confusion I can sow!   Yet this past couple weeks has also had its tough times. Besides the restrictions of dealing with a pandemic, we saw another killing of an African American man George Floyd by police and the protests and anger that ensued.  Today I want to talk with you about seeking a new lens for our ministries.   What do I mean by a lens?  Well, a lens is that we use to see our world and what we see guides our decisions.   I want to share a couple examples.

    You may have noticed the quilt hanging behind me these past few weeks.  It is a quilt that my son Joe received when he worked at Suttle Lake UMC camp.  When I was a youth church camp gave me and many of my generation a new lens on the meaning of church.  At camp we had a new experience of Christian community that we didn’t get at home church or school.  This experience gave me a deep sense of belonging and an experience of truly being made in the image of God.   I and many others received a new lens for what church could be.  

  Another example for me is the experience of zoom worship.  I started out thinking that the lens of my computer screen was adequate.   Finally, I have realized that what I see on my screen is not nescessarily what others experience.    I have now a new zoom lens! ( tee hee) 

    This idea of changing lenses is one that we see many times in scripture.  In fact the Genesis poem of creation we read today is one of those times.

        For the people of Israel this poem of creation gave them a new lens on the meaning of their lives and faith.  It connected them with all of the creation as a good work of God the Creator.  It told them that they – both male and female-were made in the image of God the creator and God saw and proclaimed that this was good!     This lens opened the door to new more equal relationships between men and women.  It provided a way to celebrate the connection between themselves and the rest of creation.  It was a poem that gave them assurance of their own worth and relationship with their creator.  All of these continue to resonate today as we seek to understand our relationship with God and each other.  It is a foundation for the work of justice and the fight against oppressive structures and institutions that I think the Hebrew scriptures gifted to the world.

   This week I listened to a Webinar from our NW Area of the UMC about the sin of racism.  Last Sunday, we talked a little bit about the vandalism done by some folks during the protests in Eugene and other places.  What this webinar did was invite me to listen to the experience and pain of five African American colleagues from our NW Area.   So I tried to listen with curiosity and openness.    One of the things I heard was the idea that we as the church need to have a new yet actually old lens for our ministries.  That is the lens of the experiences and needs of the people on the margins of our society, the poor, forgotten, discriminated against,  discounted, and those harmed by our culture’s attachment to whiteness as somehow “ better”.   

     Genesis creation poem shows us that this equity/ anti racist lens we are challenged to acquire is rooted in our scriptures and the best of our judeo christian culture.    We don’t work for a more just and equitable culture and society just because someone today says it’s a good idea, we work to understand and do it because it is at foundation “ who we are.”  People male and female, all of us made in the image of God our creator. What would it mean for our church to seek to learn how to have this new/ old lens?  Old because it is the lens of the Hebrew prophets  and Jesus concern  for those on the margins and New because it means turning away from our business as usual  white mostly middle class ways of thinking and acting.  What would it mean for our church to seek to learn how to have this lens? 

  1. I invite us to understand that this new lens is not about judging anyone as “ good” or “ bad”. It is not about making moral judgments about who is racist and who isn’t. Rather it’s about looking at culture and institutions and ministry through a new lens, in new ways.
  2. This new lens starts with listening. Listening to the experiences of people on the margins and to how they experience our own culture and institutions.  This can mean reading books like White Fragility or How to Be an Anti – racist.  It can mean stepping back from talking and listening instead, especially when in  groups that include people from the margins.  It can mean listening to our own experiences of our culture and becoming more self aware.   For example some/ many of us have messages from childhood that taught us to fear people of darker skin color.   Becoming aware of such messages helps us to make choices about them.       
  3. A new lens means pondering. Taking time to think about what we are doing in our ministry together and how it affects the people on the margins around us and those we cannot or do not yet see. For example, my friend Lynn Swedburg who works with disability rights in our UMC sent to me several articles that can help us understand better how what we do  and say can affect persons with disabilities.  I have to admit that reading them over made me ponder about some of my own practices and what I might be willing to change. 
  4. Finally, a new lens invites us to act in new ways. This is not always easy but after we have listened and pondered, it is time to try something new.   For example, I serve on the Board of CALC. One of the actions we decided to make was to have the majority of our Board members be people of color.  I believe it is an important action for CALC to commit to and work on as we seek to become an anti racist group.

     In my experience action means that we will make mistakes, we will run into what I call cultural bumps  or conflicts.  As one panelist in the webinar said, it is messy!   Yet, we know that learning new things takes practice  as Royce so wonderfully  said about our zoom worship.  

     For our congregation one of the marginalized groups we now interact with the most is people who struggle without housing.  We have acted by providing meals and before the pandemic restrictions, some safe community. Yet, we know that truly making their lives and concerns and perspective the lens for our ministry decisions is challenging. 

     Yet, to be honest I think that sitting down to eat with people in this situation almost every week for the past eight years has changed my lens.  When I see people living in the concrete colverts in the vacant lot across from my housing complex, I am glad they have a place out of the weather.  When I go to City Council meetings, I watch what they do with the housing crisis in mind.  We started Ann’s Heart because we heard the cries, quite literally of homeless women.  The difference is that my lens today sees homeless persons as persons with stories and gifts and ideas and foibles and a culture different from my own.    Has the ministry with unhoused people changed our lens at Ebbert?  How is God challenging us to keep learning and discovering the new / old lens of equity and justice?    

      I want to close remembering Jesus and another example of a new lens.  In  Matthew 28. Jesus says,  “Go therefore to all nations teaching them all that I taught you and baptizing them. And low I am with you always till the end of the age.”   Jesus said this to all his disciples even those who doubted.  How patient he was!   He told them that the good news of his resurrection and his teachings, his baptism was for all people- there was no privileged group or any group to be left out.  From the beginning the church was given an equity lens!  His teachings were about love of others and even enemies, his actions were  to welcome and include even the outcasts of his society, his death was for all of humanity, his spirit connected disparit people together, overcame divisions of society, and creates a new beloved community.  In the midst of troubled times, in the midst of all our differences, Christ invites us to let the Spirit lead us and show us the new/old lens for our ministries together.     

       Finally,  I have a photo from National Geographic of Bamiyan in Afghanistan.   Some of you may remember that  there used to be a large statue of the Buddah in a grotto on carved into the side of a hill.  Some years ago the Taliban in a fit of fanatical rage destroyed the Buddhist image. It was an act of hatred that destroyed a priceless piece of religious art.  It was an image I was supposed to visit when I travelled in Asia in 1978 but was unable to visit. Now I will never see it.   So why did I keep this picture in a frame and hang it on my home office wall?   Well for me it is an example of a new lens.   The emptiness of the grotto could be and is a reminder of hatred and the violence it can inspire.  But the grotto is now empty and for me this also inspires other thoughts. This place remains a sacred spot. Because the grotto is empty it reminds me of the emptiness of  Christ’s tomb which brought resurrection. It reminds me of the emptiness of detachment from hatred  that in Buddhism brings enlightenment, it reminds me of the emptiness of a heart which surrenders only to Allah in Islam which brings compassion.  In other words the empty grotto is a new lens for me.  It reminds me that the way we overcome hatred and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves is by being open to seeing, pondering and acting a new.  To let a new lens  Ok a new old lens from God teach us the way.

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