Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor

 

 

 

Bring It On Home

Sunday, August 12, 2007

 

 

Psalm 126

 

 

My new Metro book is called Faith and Fitness: Diet and Exercise for a Better World.[i]  I bought it while attending my annual conference held a few months ago in Burlington, Vermont.  It’s one of those books that you buy because you think, “Ah, this is just what I need.  I will read this book and learn the ways of the author and I’ll be great.”  I assumed that it was another self-help book for persons who struggle with issues of health and wellness.  This would be the book that would motivate me to get back into the gym and stop exercising vicariously through other staff members who manage to make time in their schedules for a consistent health regime.  This book was not about that.  In fact, instead of focusing on me and my need for health and wellness, it starts with a discussion about community and the book of Acts – even quoting the passage from Acts that our Bishop has asked us to focus our attention on in our work toward being an Acts 2 church:

 

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)

 

The author goes on to review the lives and work of people like Gandhi, King, Tutu, and Mandela and their ministries of community that helped bring about social, economic and political change.  I enjoyed being reminded again of just how important these men and their work of freedom was to the greater good – freeing captives and oppressors alike from the bondage of unjust communal systems.  “It can be difficult,” the author says, “to see our personal roles as Christians in today’s complex and often chaotic global situation.  Because of our fears, we tend to retreat inward and ignore the needs of the community.”[ii] 

 

I began to see his plan in beginning with these stories.  Most books about health and wellness begin with me; they start with reflections about my life and habits and upbringing.  They begin by having me keep a journal of exercise and food and sleep habits.  Instead of telling me I needed to focus on me, the author suggests that the only true way to health and wellness is in community. 

 

During the height of the agricultural age, folks didn’t have to worry about getting exercise.  Exercise came with the production of food.  If people didn’t get out of bed and milk the cows, there wouldn’t be milk.  The better condition you were in, the more ability you had to create food.[iii]  People of the world now exist in a strange and unbelievable dichotomy:  health is elusive for both those who have enough and those who have too little. How is it possible that on the same planet there are those who suffer with the pain of obesity and ill health as a direct result of having access to too much, and others struggle to stay alive because their access to quality sustenance and health care remain well past arms’ reach?

 

The issues of poverty and wealth, obesity and starvation, homelessness and the McMansion / starter castle phenomenon are much more complicated that this.  But they do present to us issues of faith and personal holiness that affect the entire community.  While it may be uncomfortable for us to relate these concerns of our community to our faith, wrestling with these issues offers us insights into our own choices and actions that is integral to the overall health of our faith community.

 

It is so important that we as a church are involved in the concerns of the Washington Interfaith Network and its collaboration with our mayor to provide supportive, affordable, and sustainable housing for people of DC.  Having attended the most recent accountability WIN action at Covenant Baptist Church, I can say that I am hopeful of the possibilities that exist for even the most critically unhoused people in our midst.  The dream that has been laid out before this city, the Network, and our church is a dream that is attainable.  I am encouraged that people of faith are working in new ways (or perhaps old ways) so that we can add to the numbers of people those being saved, those who can have affordable, sustainable homes.

 

At the risk of making any of this all about us - I want to say more about the effects of this kind of work and ministry on our own lives.  Our psalm for today that was read is often called the Pilgrim’s song.  This song prayer was perhaps written in remembrance of the blessings received by the Exiles, or in anticipation of what God will do next in the lives of an uprooted and disrupted people.  The question of “what will God do next,” comes in the form of dreams – often thought to be a mode by which God would reveal future plans God had for God’s people.[iv]  The psalm follows a basic pattern – God’s action, the people’s response.  This is not a song of the victors, though.  It is a song of those who have been uprooted, dispelled, moved out.  Perhaps some of us can relate to this song, but for the vast majority of us, this is not our song. This is the song of the other – the song of the one who is passed by, sleeps on steps, and left out in the heat or cold of the city.  This is a song of the Exiles, not of those who are rooted and grounded in home.

 

Bishop Tutu speaks often about the traditional African concept of ubuntu.  It’s a Bantu word that means that people create identity only in the context of community.

 

A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed and diminished, when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.[v]   

 

Nelson Mandela also used the concept to bring about even more social change after the official end of apartheid in South Africa. “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to improve?”[vi]

 

The Psalmist reveals that the saving of a nation – the bringing together of a people in a place of stability and home – is the work of God.  “God was wonderful to us.” But we know that people and circumstances were instruments of change as well.  We know the more famous names:  Moses, Miriam, and Aaron.  As a community, the nation called Israel had to come together and bring all they had to the new land and the new way of life.  While most were indeed slaves, they brought what they could.  Some may have had some livestock, some had grain, some had squirreled away a whole host of necessities that the entire community would need in the face of such change and disruption.  And people had to give up what had been their comforting items, their own possessions, in order to make their way together to another place where freedom was the norm. 

 

So what is it we bring, as a community of faith and as individuals, to this need?  How are we enriching the community around us to help create home for others?  How is it that this place – this church – is a place of home, not only to us but also to others around us? I believe this is the perpetual question facing faith communities.  What is it we bring to the table when we are co-creating with God?  How do we sustain and nurture ourselves and reach out to others in the world, outside of the church?  What is the balance?

 

I’ve never been a part of a church that didn’t struggle with the tension of self and world, of “us and them.” I had a conversation recently with Kelly Fryer, a consultant in the area of evangelism.  She said that she thinks one of the problems with evangelism and mainline churches is that we in the church have been conditioned to believe that God resides in our place – in our home – and not so much outside. We sing songs about the church being the people that are INSIDE, but do we emphasize that God is loose in the world and doing great things out there as well. Washington Interfaith Network is a great example God being loose outside the bonds of a church.  WIN has created a vision of home that surpasses the notion of buildings of brick or stone.  It is a vision that invites everyone into a setting and circumstance that nurtures and supports and welcomes. 

 

What is our vision, our dream? We are committed to the welcoming of all persons into the life and ministry of Foundry, but what more of God’s dreams for community here in DC can we be a part of?  How can our church cast a vision of home with those who still feel exiled because of their sexual orientation, their skin color, their economic status? During one of the house meetings I attending a year or so ago, someone remarked that what they missed most at Foundry was the time when homeless people worshipped with presidents and senators.  It’s not that they can’t anymore; they just don’t.  In our changing economic situation here in Dupont Circle, it is good for us to have WIN and others remind us that we ought not feel so at home when there are others who don’t have a home.  As a congregation that is nationally known for its dedication to full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people into the life and ministry of the church universal, we have some clout, not just here but outside of this city.  (see Statement of Reconciliation) We lived into that vision set years ago, but we have more living to do. The Psalmist says, “and now, God, do it again…”[vii] How else can we create home for people?  We can wait for “the rains to our drought-stricken lives” or we can do rain dances to bring on the rain.  That’s what WIN is doing.  They are dancing for the lives of those who need homes. They are working with Mayor Fenty, with the community, with God, co-creating an environment for justice and mercy and home to happen.

 

The psalmist again: “So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest.  So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.”[viii]  Ubuntu – the welfare of the community is interconnected.  The joys and disappointments of community are experienced within and by the community.  Those who offer what they have are not disconnected from those who receive, and blessing flow both ways.  Nelson Mandela has this example:  “A traveler through our country would stop at a village, and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him.”[ix] It is not a law of the land; it is a law of the heart.  As we continue to shape who we are as a church and what God is calling us to do and be, let us be ruled not by the what we have to do, but what we are called to be – a community of faith offering home for the weary and haven for those who are oppressed. 

May it be so.

 

 

 

                 

www.foundryumc.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[i] Hafer,  Tom P., Augsburg Fortress Press: Minneapolis, MN, 2007.

[ii] Hafer, p. 20.

[iii] Hafer, p. 23.

[iv] Miller, Patrick D., "In Praise and Thanksgiving," Theology Today, 1988.

[v] Battle, Michael, Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu, Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1997.

[vi] Nelson Mandela on “Ubuntu” on YouTube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx0qGJCm-qU

[vii] Psalm 126:4 from Eugene Peterson’s The Message.

[viii] Peterson, Psalm 126:5-6

[ix] Mandela on YouTube