Here’s the inspiring and thought provoking message offered by The Rev. Kerrie Perry for our 5th Anniversary Service on November 3. Kerrie was Unity’s first minister.
A little while ago, I read a post on FaceBook from a young friend of mine. It was heartfelt message (shared with permission) that reflected the angst that often fills the teenage years. It was a post that read something like “I wish I could go back and erase my life – do it all over again.” Now they didn’t really mean it, especially not their whole life, but in that moment, it hurt so much to be a human being, that they were willing to rewind the recent past and call a do over. My hurt lurched. I found myself typing “I’m not really sure how I feel about this.” As if I had any right to feel anything at all other than compassion . . .
Of course, my cryptic comment elicited a response – “What do you mean?” And I replied something along the lines of …
We are who we are, and we are who we are becoming because of everything that has happened to us – the people we meet, the heartaches and joys that we have experienced – all of it. When we deny the hard parts or the ugly parts of our lives, it’s like denying ourselves – it’s like chipping out a key component of self identity and wishing it away. We learn – about ourselves, about others and about the world – sometimes the most deeply when our hearts are touched by pain – when disappointment erupts before us – and when we feel pushed beyond what we think we can bear. We also learn from moments of great joy – incredible insight- unbelievable love – but these moments we want to hold onto and cherish. But we do ourselves and the world a disservice when we want to delete the tough stuff. Life is a journey – an epic journey – and it will not all be paved roads, smooth sailing and flights that leave on time – with fancy upgrades to boot.
As I spent time reflecting on this anniversary message – that Facebook post came to mind. We are who we are – and we are who we are becoming because of where we have been, who we have met along the way and the ways our hearts have been touched and challenged. Asaph, the author of Psalm 78, knew this. So did Solomon. Both scripture passages today recount amazing stories of journeys – journeys of the people of Israel – accompanied by God in their shining moments and in their least shining moments. The Sioux people have a saying, “A people without history is like the wind on the buffalo grass”. The people of Israel were a people with a history – a history that allowed them to redefine possible.
There are so many voices in the Bible that speak from the perspective of the wanderer, the pilgrim, the traveller, the sojourner in a strange land. From the first verses of the book of Genesis, as Adam and Eve head East of Eden, to the final chapters of the book of Revelation where multitudes gather from every nation, there is an ebb and flow to the story of humanity. Abraham and Sarah leave their home to dwell in tents, following nothing more than a promise – no one believed they would redefine possible – but Sarai’s laughter taught them differently. Joseph, weighed down by chains, trudges to a future that ultimately leads his family to safety in Egypt – who would have dreamed? Possible redefined. Later, another Joseph and his wife Mary would journey to Bethlehem where the birth of a child redefined possible for the whole world. History has never been the same. When persecution arose in the south, Moses and Joshua were ordained to lead their people up from slavery, across hostile territory, to a land of promise flowing with milk and honey.
Prophets and rulers are depicted withdrawing to mountaintops and waste spaces on the plain, returning at last with a word or vision from the Lord. A dynasty falls, and is carried away to Babylon as Jeremiah laments. After seven decades, we hear tell of the exiles’ return and the restoration of community complete with the journey’s culmination in the building of a house for God – the building of the temple – possible redefined – David’s “no”, became Solomon’s “yes.”
Biblical authors have left us histories, letters, psalms and parables involving long journeys, highways and byways, foreign lands, yearnings for family and visions of a distant home. Jesus and his disciples seem to have walked the length and breadth of ancient Palestine while Paul and other apostles carried the good news of Christ by means of waterways and caravans stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.
One of the earliest confessions of faith in the Bible comes in the 26th chapter of Deuteronomy, begins with these words:
A wandering Aramean was my ancestor;
he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien …
He is our ancestor, too. In us, the saga moves on, the path extends, for each of us as individuals and for us as a congregation. In the grand scheme of things – in the dusty tomes of this ancient story, and equally ancient journey, five years may not seem like much.
Your epic journey did not begin five years ago – it began when the Spirit hovered over the waters of chaos. It began when a wandering aramean listened to the voice of his God.
Your journey trudged onward in the footsteps of the exile, the return to Jerusalem generations later, the ride on a donkey, staggered up the path to Calvary, survived a shipwreck and travelled on down the eons to Ebenezer and Victoria Harbour and Vasey. And five years ago, possible was redefined as three became one.
We are who we are because … This is true for the Hebrew people – and they knew enough to preserve their story and tell it from one generation to the next – to not gloss over the hard parts, the failures, the brokenness. Because despite all those moments – God journeyed with them. God is journeying with them.
You are who you are because of who you have been – 3 congregations with long and faithful histories.
You are who you are because you had the courage to come together – to unite, a thrice bound cord, scripture tell us, is not easily broken.
You are who you are becoming … and you redefine possible every one of the 11 times you have baptized in the name of the Christ –
You redefine possible every time you have shared a meal with others in a church basement, over a table at a community dinner, in the eucharist shared in worship, and the feast of a Godly Play circle – over 1000 times in 5 years.
You redefine possible each time you have mourned the loss of one of your community, each time you have welcomed a new member, each time you have shared the faith with a child.
You have laughed together, cried together, fought with one another, reconciled, and maybe even still harbor a grudge or two here and there …
Suddenly, 5 years does not seem so insignificant.
But do not forget to tell the stories of when you have failed. When you have lost sight of the Pillar of Light that leads you through the darkness. Do not forget the small betrayals, and hearts wounded by careless words. For these too, are a part of who you are, and these moments, have the greatest potential to redefine possible – when forgiveness is asked for, offered and received. When love coats anger. When relationships are restored, when the lost are welcomed home. Thank you. Than you for inviting me to be among you once again – to celebrate this epic moment in your history. Anniversaries are the milestones of our memory. Without them, it would be harder to remember that we are traveling, that our faith needs to develop and our character needs to grow in insight and broadness of understanding.
Your adventure is not over. In fact it has barely begun. You still get to redefine possible! There are still moments to mark along the way, there will be pitfalls to avoid, danger unforeseen and well known, will rear up in front of you, but so to will there be moments of laughter, moments that inspire greatness from you, love so beautiful that it will steal your breath away … and maybe, one day someone will write of your epic journey: Listen, listen, I want to tell you a story of a people …
 This section draws heavily on and is adapted from a sermon given by World Council of Churches General Secretary, Rev Dr Samuel Kobia in Dubai, April 18, 2008
 Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills anniversary sermon for First Reformed Church at Three-Mile Run Church, Johnson Park, Piscataway, Sept. 30, 2012
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