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Recent Sermons

How Can I Keep from Singing?

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
August 27, 2017

A hundred million miracles are happening every day!" This song kept percolating to the surface of my mind all week. So I looked it up on YouTube and found a poignant scene from the opening of the movie "Flower Drum Song"1959 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvLUKmprbSU) that showed a father and daughter, newly arrived immigrants from China,
trying to find their way in a big city. He counsels her not to trust strangers,
and certainly not the police, before they decide to sing this song on a street corner in hopes of making some spare change to get by: "A hundred million miracles.."

Last week while most of us were at Family Camp, Rev. Valerie continued the story of Joseph and his reconcilation with his brothers in Egypt that moved us toward the end of the Book of Genesis. the book of Beginnings.

In the redwood forests surrounding Monte Toyon Camp we spent time resting, playing, celebrating and, after a difficult week, remembering who we are as children of God. A hundred million miracles surrounded us as we slowed down enough to notice them, made new friends, created art, hiked in the woods, had long conversations with old friends got hugs and gave hugs, ate s'mores and sang songs

Now we are back to our regular lives and our ongoing study of the Hebrew Scriptures. We move into the Book of Exodus and hear the familiar telling of the birth and miraculous rescue of the baby Moses. We think of it as a lovely little miracle tale. Perhaps we notice that women are essential to the baby's survival. Perhaps we notice that these women are named, a most unusual detail in Hebrew scriptures. But this story is surrounded by oppression and dread, a people persecuted and feared, condemned for being different than the powerful culture that surrounds them. Is it impossible to simply celebrate this little miracle when so much death and despair surrounds it ? Do we notice "A hundred million miracles..."

Moses' story begins in oppression under the power of a pharoah who feared his Jewish citizens and tried to exterminate them. He survived because his mother prepared a basket to hide her infant son in the reeds on the shore of the Nile, (a miracle) and beause midwives refused to obey the brutal demand to kill boy babies, (a miracle) and because pharoah's daughter felt compassion for the babe she found in the water, (a miracle) and because Moses' sister suggested a nurse maid for the baby that just happened to be his mother (a miracle). Small acts by isignificant women might never have been told if this baby did not grow to be the prophet, teacher and leader of liberation we know as Moses. Were they miracles? We hardly consider the natural love of women for their children as miracles..But it is this love that Jesus constantly lifted up as the one law, essential to being fully human, fully a child of God.

How many insignificant acts by insignificant lowly individuals, both men and women, have gone into the survival of our species? If a butterfly's wing can impact a typhoon across the planet, (and scientists assure us that it can),         how much can the small acts of kindness we do impact our world for the better? Fred Rogers' mother taught him to "Look for the helpers." We need to do that now. And we need to be those helpers now!

The Monday evening following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, we held a prayer vigil at the Notre Dame Chapel. I was surprised to see so many wonderful people gathered together on such short notice (a miracle). Over 75 folks from all the faith communities that surround us were there, and at least 8 of them were from our church.  I was deeply thankful to see you all there. I helped plan the vigil with Diana, the head of spiritual services at NDNU. She brought her interns to the event, most of whom were young people of color. The following morning they debriefed the experience.
The most significant thing to them was that it was the first time in their lives that they had seen a gathering of white folks speak of their white priviledge        and their responsibility to use it for good. They were deeply moved. And so was I!

This Friday evening Jane Fernald and I attended Shabbat services at Peninsula Temple Beth El to learn more about the plight of a minority group of Muslims from Turkey who are being persecuted, jailed, vilified, tortured and imprisoned by President Erdogan. That Muslims and Jews would unite in common cause might seem impossible (a miracle), but Jews know better than most how dangerous it can be to be a minority under an oppressive power. The music they shared was so powerful. Most of the shabbat is led by cantors. We sang in a language we did not know but felt the power and the presence of the spirit as we did. The presentation by a representative of Hizmet Muslim group and by Karen Stiller of the JCRC were clarifying and troubling. As they struggle in Turkey but cannot leave, as we struggle here with hate speach rising. But gathering together with so many faiths in common cause felt so timely!

The Exodus Story is the most often retold story in all of scripture. Jesus was raised on it. It is the central Passover story that would become our Communion meal. It is a story of oppression that leads to liberation. For African Americans it is the central affirmation that God truly is on the side of those who suffer and are oppressed.
 
This poem by the Sufi mystic Hafiz came up in my readings today and resonates with my theme (a miracle?):
                  "The dreams we share of freedom,
                  The dreams we share of love,
                  There is such a unison in our every movement,
                  in our every desire,
                  we are so alike that I cannot tell the difference anymore                             between us."

We all share this longing for true liberty and love. Too often we have been told and too easily accepted that we are all different, that some of us are free and some of us can ignore the suffering of others, but truth be told we are one species needing to learn to relish our diversity and acknowledge that what we have in common is infinitely more important than what separates us.

Moses story, in time of crisis, raises this question for me: Where do you find God in the worst of times? For me, Music has always helped, especially songs from Broadway musicals like 'The King and I.'   

Sing with me if you know this one:  
         "When you walk through the storm
         hold your head up high and don't be afraid of the dark.
         At the end of the storm is a golden sun
         and the sweet silver song of the lark.
         Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain
         though your dreams be tossed and blown.
         Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
         and you never walk along. You never walk alone!"
Besides music, and the wisdom I find in Scripture and other sacred texts there are so many little things that sustain me. (A hundred million miracles).  
Mother Theresa whispers: "Do small things with great love!" Sit by a giant redwood. Hug a child. Let a child hug you! Pray. Play. Read for pleasure. Read to learn. Breathe. Meditate. Be the change you want to see in the world. Stand up. Speak up. Encourage. Believe in yourself. Believe in God. Believe in community. Dance. Be still. Trust. Know with Dame Julian of Norwich "that all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well."

How do we find the Spirit of Love and Unity that is our birthright? The chaos that surrounds us, the busy-ness of our lives, the deeply disturbing daily news. the powerlessness we feel in only doing small things tempt us to retreat into our solitude to isolate ourselves from the needs of others and our own souls. But we are called to remember ourselves, to re-member the community that can sustain us, to re-member that our hearts and minds and souls find their peace in God's presence and in the compassion and caring of loving community.
        
One more song ...(How can I keep from singing?)
         We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord,
         and we pray that our unity may someday be restored.
         They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
         They will know we are Christians by our love.

How can I keep from singing? It is easy to lose myself in the worry of the world, but I am learning to forgive myself for mistakes abundantly made, and to remember God's promises of love unconditional and music that can heal my soul. "A hundred million miracles... are happening every day!"