Worship transcript for July 12, 2020

Opening music

“Yonder Come Day”

Yonder come day! Day is a-breakin’
Yonder come day, o my soul
Yonder come day! Day is a-breakin’
Sun is a-risin’ in my soul!

Welcome (Rev. Tony Coleman)

Good morning, All Souls members, visitors, and friends – welcome to this week’s Long-Distance Worship service. Though we cannot be together in person, we can still gather, in so many ways. All Souls continues to meet for coffee hour; we continue to provide opportunities for our children and families to learn and be together; we continue to offer ways to develop your spirit and grow on your life’s journey. You can check the All Souls website for more information about these offerings and the many others happening throughout the week.

And, of course, these long distance worship videos are a central element of our life together, so I invite you to not only watch this video, but participate in this service—sing with us, pray with us, think and consider and reflect with us. In just a moment we will light our chalice together, so if you haven’t already, you can take this moment to grab a candle or your home chalice to hear the words of our reading and enter into this time of worship.

I also want to take this moment to not only welcome you but to welcome All Souls very own, James Ploesser, our Associate Director of Children and Youth Religious Education, who will be joining us as our liturgist this morning, offering prayers and our benediction.

We welcome you, friends, to this week’s worship, and we thank you again for being with us.

Chalice Lighting and Pastoral Prayer (James Ploeser)

We light our chalice today with the words of Natalie Fenimore:

We are all called.
Called by the wind, the rushing water, the fireflies, the summer sun.
Called by the sidewalk, the playground, the laughing children, the streetlights. Called by our appetites and gifts – our needs and challenges.
Called by the bottle, the needle, the powder, the pill, the game, the bet, the need, the want, the pain, the cure, the love, the hope, the dream.
Called by the Spirit of Love and Hope, and visions of God’s purpose for our lives. We are all called.
What do we choose? How do we answer?”

We have today a couple of joyful announcements in the life of our community:

We join Coco Downey and Eric Swinn in celebrating the birth of their son, Quentin Downey, who came into the world just a couple of weeks ago on June 28.

More prayers of celebration for Henry and Julie Hubbard, blessed by what Henry is calling a doubleheader of welcome news. On June 22, their great granddaughter Kate was born in Richmond, Va. One week later, on June 29, their granddaughter River was born, in Baltimore. All participants are doing well!

And into the space and silence that follows, we invite you to speak the names of those whom today are making your hearts full

Spirit of Life and of Love, God of many names, Great Spirit of the precious present moment…

Be with us in the chaos of these times. In all their messy despair and possibility… in their seeming shrinking of our cause for optimism, and in their countless small acts of defiance that keep the fires of hope alive…

Yes these are difficult and unusual times. And we know that when things are tough, we long for greener grasses, clearer skies, warmer climes.

In the dark of the winter, when the cold winds nip at our faces, how we yearn for the feel of sun upon the skin, or sand between bare toes, or the invigorating mist of a warm rain…

Yet now, in the full heat of the season, the thick of summer bearing down upon us, how often do we lament the power of that same sun, the burn on the bottom of our feet, the heft of the humidity preceding a thunderstorm.

Imagine with me, if you will, that at every given moment, there exists a whole other world – one that we can maybe just barely envision. Though probably similar to ours in most ways, the logic that underlies this world is one of justice… of harmony… of solidarity and respect.

Hidden just beyond an invisible and impossibly thin barrier, it is a world that yearns to become our reality.

Great spirit of life, though we have committed and re-committed ourselves to this better world that lies in wait, and labored countless hours to hasten its arrival, be with us at the precipice, as the less comfortable aspects of new horizons come into view… as the anxieties that accompany even the most healthy and necessary renewal in our communities wash over us…

We are indeed called to embrace the new, more fully realized world that is everyday knocking at our doorways.

Help us, great spirit of life, help us be ready to answer in the affirmative. Helps us to say Yes, and bid it by all means, to enter. Squinting, perhaps at the sun, but facing forward all the same.

May it be so. Blessed be. And Amen.

Music (Amelia Peele, Jen Hayman, and Rochelle Rice, vocals; Gordon Kent, vocals and piano)

“Spirit of Life” (words and music by Carolyn McDade) (sung in English and Spanish)

Fuente de amor, ven hacia mi
Y al corazon cantale tu compassion
Sopla al volar, sube en la mar
Hasta moldear la justicia de la vida
Arraigame, liberame
Fuente de amor, ven a mi, ven a mi

Spirit of life, come unto me
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice
Roots hold me close, wings set me free
Spirit of life, come to me, come to me.

Reading (Rev. Coleman)

“Truth” (Gwendolyn Brooks)

And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?
Shall we not dread him,
Shall we not fear him
After so lengthy a
Session with shade?

Though we have wept for him,
Though we have prayed
All through the night-years—
What if we wake one shimmering morning to
Hear the fierce hammering
Of his firm knuckles
Hard on the door?

Shall we not shudder?—
Shall we not flee
Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter
Of the familiar
Propitious haze?

Sweet is it, sweet is it
To sleep in the coolness
Of snug unawareness.

The dark hangs heavily
Over the eyes.

Message (Rev. Coleman)

One of my favorite moments in any day, when I can muster the strength of will to wake up and witness it, is the sunrise. It’s a magical moment, isn’t it, when the brightest light in our galaxy, the source of all life as we know it, peers over the horizon and splashes into our world, announcing—with majesty—the beginning of the new day. When I can catch those moments, I savor them with much joy.

And it is for this reason, because I find and experience so much magic and pleasure in the sunrise, that Gwendolyn Brook’s poem stops me in my tracks. For Brooks the moment when sun comes is not an occasion which she suggests we meet with joy, but, instead, it provokes dread. The sun stokes fear; it makes us shudder. What Brooks describes is a moment of sun that is a far cry from the magic and majesty of some romantic dawn. What Brooks describes here is, in fact, a crisis. She writes, “And if sun comes, how shall we greet him?…Shall we not flee/” she asks, “into the shelter, the dear thick shelter of the familiar propitious haze?” For the sun not only comes, but it hammers fiercely with its firm knuckles hard on the door. The sun’s arriving is not a welcome moment of repose and reflection. It is, again, a crisis.

That word, “crisis,” feels like it’s everywhere now, doesn’t it? In news headlines about the coronavirus, in talk radio conversations about race in this country, in twitter feeds, facebook posts, and so on—the word “crisis,” seems to be everywhere.

If you’ll indulge me a moment, I want to talk a little bit about this word, a little bit about its history and its original meaning. According to etymologists, the word “crisis” first made its way into the English lexicon in the medieval era, and folks typically used the word to describe a medical phenomenon. A “crisis” in medieval times was the moment in the course of a person’s illness that was considered a turning point. The “crisis” in the course of medical treatment was the time in which either a person would get better or that person would die. A crisis, then, was not just an important time, it was, in fact, an ultimate time, a moment in which the course of a person’s life would turn in one direction or another.

Knowing this history a little might make our common use of the word feel a little cavalier. In the medieval sense, it isn’t, in fact, a crisis when Netflix stops streaming your favorite show, though you may feel devastated. It isn’t, in fact, a crisis, even, when your car battery dies one afternoon in a D.C. summer. It isn’t a crisis, in a medieval sense, just because life disappoints you in the course of living it.

With this medieval definition in our brains now, we might even think that “crisis” might not quite be the right word for what Gwendolyn Brooks describes in a poem called “truth.” Again, she writes, “And if sun comes/how shall we greet him?/Shall we not dread him?” In other words, is the kind of moment of truth that Gwendolyn Brooks describes, that time in life when the sun comes to the threshold of our lives and knocks hard on the door, is that, in fact, a crisis?

I would suggest to you, friends, at least in some cases, it absolutely is. When you come to the realization that your relationship is in shambles, when you recognize that white supremacist culture lives everywhere—including inside you, when you come to the conclusion that some dimension of your life is in desperate need of change, when the bright light of the truth arrives at your threshold and knocks hard on the door, the choice is almost always, nothing short of “life” or “death” at the level of our souls.

On June 28 I invited you to think with me about the role of “brave silence” in the process of change. I suggested to you that whether we are engaged in transforming ourselves or our society, bravely entering into silence is the very first step. From that place, I suggested, we need to listen and discern what’s true about where we’ve been and where we are. This morning, I invite you to think with me about the next step, that moment after the silent twilight when the sun comes and demands we open our eyes to it, the crisis that the truth has a way of provoking. I want to invite you consider that step between discernment and decision.

So many of us are desperate for change. So many of us are tired of the same painful dynamics persisting in our lives. So many of us are tired of the ways in which white supremacy persists all around us. So many of us are starving for change; ready to do whatever is necessary to make the change. We’ve done the discerning, we’ve read White Fragility and How to Be an Anti-racist; we’ve gone to the trainings. When it comes to improving our relationships or our work lives or our community, we, some of us, feel as though we’re just as ready for that change, too; I’ve fully considered all the dynamics at play and planned out all the work to be done. I’m ready for change, and I can see at least the possibility of its light on the horizon, in fact. As Gwendolyn Brooks writes, we have wept for it, prayed for it, all through the night-years.

But, here’s the thing, when sun comes, it doesn’t shine abstractly; it doesn’t bear its light in only the ways we anticipated or predicted. It gets personal and specific and real. When the light of truth comes, it comes for you, for me, for us, right where we are. Sun comes and says the problems about which you care most about don’t simply require you to fix them; they require you to fix, to address, to heal, to work on yourself. It’s so easy in our culture to locate the source of the problems we care most about outside of ourselves. This church needs to change, we say, or this country needs to change or this relationship needs to change or this culture needs to change, but, in all of these cases, we, ourselves, are at least some part of what needs to change.

That’s the crisis. When we realize, after the moment of silence and in the moment of truth, that we are a fundamental dimension of the failed efforts we seek to fix, “shall we not shudder?” Gwendolyn Brooks asks. For some of us, when the task is fixing somebody or something else, then we’re ready. We are well equipped and well prepared to let folk know how and what they’re doing wrong. The police need to be defunded; these policies need be adopted or abolished; my spouse needs to listen better; my children need to respect me more; my boss needs to lighten up. And, it may be the case, that all of that is true. But, what Ms. Brooks is talking about is that moment in the process of creating change, at almost any scale in almost any way, that implicates “I,” me, you, and us. What she’s talking about is that moment when the light dawns not on the horizon of our self-righteous certainties, not the light that shines bright to prove us right. What she’s talking about is that other sun that comes and makes us squint in the harsh glare of its presence, that sun that presents us with two choices: turn toward the dark we’ve grown familiar with or welcome the light across the threshold.

What truth is knocking at your door, friends? What light are you afraid to greet after so long a session with shade? What change is asking to work itself inside you, right here and right now?

The temptation of course is to shy away from getting personal. The temptation is to ignore the truth of how our impact intersects with the problems we identify. “Sweet is it,/sweet is it/To sleep in the coolness/Of snug unawareness,” Ms. Brooks writes.

And, again, that’s the crisis; that’s why this moment when sun comes, when truth arrives, is a turning point, because, ultimately the choice is this: do we persist in the dark, the familiar propitious haze, that denies the ways in which we participate in the problems we seek to upend? Do we accept the dim stagnation that ultimately leads to a kind of soul death, or do we welcome in the sun, that source of new life and choose to not only work for change but, as brother Gandhi said, be the change?

“What if we wake one shimmering morning to hear the fierce hammering hard on the door?” What will you do, friends, as we continue to face the many crises that have come to define our lives? Will you turn over, pull the covers over your head and seek the familiar haze, the dark shelter, the coolness of snug unawareness? Or, will you choose the sun? Will you welcome the power and source of new life bearing down on the threshold of your heart?

I hope you do. I hope you choose life. I hope you choose light. And, if you do, know that you will not be alone. If the silence of your discernment brings you to a moment of truth, know that there is community to be found in that vulnerability, in that shuddering, in that fear, if we can be honest and open and compassionate as we share in each other’s journeys. Make no mistake, friends, we are at a turning point; we are, indeed, at a crisis. We are poised to journey towards life or to descend into death. So, I invite you to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

Let us then, friends, choose life, and let us have it abundantly.

Music (The All Souls Bluegrass Band)

“The Weight” (The Band)

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?
He just grinned and shook my hand, “no, “ was all he said

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me

I picked up my bag, I went lookin’ for a place to hide
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side
I said, hey, Carmen, come on let’s go downtown
She said, “I gotta go, but my friend can stick around”

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me

Go down, Miss Moses, there’s nothin’ you can say
It’s just ol’ Luke and Luke’s waitin’ on the Judgment Day
Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee
He said, do me a favor, son, won’t you stay and keep Anna Lee company?

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me

Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog
He said, I will fix your rack, if you’ll take Jack, my dog
I said, wait a minute, Chester, you know I’m a peaceful man
He said, that’s okay, boy, won’t you feed him when you can?

Yeah, take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me

Catch a cannon ball now to take me down the line
My bag is sinkin’ low and I do believe it’s time
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she’s the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me

Offertory/Benediction (James Ploeser)

Friends, thank you for joining this week’s distance worship service. Though our building remains closed, the church remains very much open. Its work, our work together to step each day into a new and better future, is as necessary as ever. Please consider donating to support the vital, transformative possibilities at the core of our mission. All the ways in which you show your generosity to this community are truly appreciated.

And as we extinguish our chalice today, let us depart with increased willingness to leave behind that which we no longer need, to take on with open hearts that which we do not yet fully understand, and to find it in ourselves to be thankful for all that has brought us to this blessed moment of continued becoming…

Go in peace. Amen.

Music (Rochelle Rice and Jen Hayman, vocals; Janelle Gill, piano; Romeir Mendez, bass; Dante Pope, vocals and drums)

“I Remember, I Believe” (Bernice Johnson Reagon)