this is why we gather . . .

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I preached at my church yesterday.

The sermon is short because it was a New Member Sunday and we had twenty-two people join. Here’s what I said.

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There is a tradition in poetry of the “found poem,” which is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as a poem—the literary equivalent of a collage. My message this morning is sort of a found sermon, if you will, pulling together a story, a poem, and a song—all borrowed—that say best what I is on my heart today.

When Ginger asked me to preach as we mark both Thanksgiving Sunday and Membership Sunday, I started thinking about the relationship between gratitude and belonging. What does it mean to be thankful? In our passage for today, Paul said, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” But for what? And how?

The story. Many years ago, my brother lived in Akron, Ohio. His barber was a Lebanese man who had fled Lebanon with his family when it was what Syria is today. They literally fled in the middle of the night with the clothes on their backs. In Lebanon, he had been a doctor. In Akron, he was a barber. My brother said when you walked in the shop and said, “How are you?” the man always answered, “Grateful.”

His gratitude had to do with more than things going well. He had learned that sorrow and joy are not opposites. Grief and gladness are not two sides of a coin. Its all mixed together, woven, one thread over, around, and through the other. We’re not waiting for things to get better so we can say thank you. We trust that God wants to do more than rescue us. We are here to make meaning of our lives, and we do that in deliberate community. We gather together to remember that love is stronger than death, than difficulty, than oppression, even stronger than evil. We give thanks because we are not hopeless. And we are not alone.

Now, the poem–written by W. S. Merwin. It’s called “Thanks.”

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

There’s one line in that poem I want to talk back to.

Near the end he says, “With nobody listening we are saying thank you.” I want to talk back because of you. Because of us. Our faith in Christ and our commitment to one another means we trust someone is listening. That is why we are here today. That’s why we are welcoming folks into our belonging. That is why we are filling out our pledge cards—just one of the ways we make our belonging tangible.

The song. My friend Christopher Williams has a wonderful song called “Gather,” and I want to borrow some of his words.

when we help each other fight the fear
be present with one another
we will find that’s where the life of God is lived
to give courage, to hear it now
we are beloved this is holy ground
I need you you need me
this is why we gather
this is why we gather
to remember why we matter
this is why we gather

One of the sentences that jumped out at me in our scripture reading said, “Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.” Be patient with all of them. I feel like I need to repeat that last phrase over and over until I get it. Be patient with all of them. With all of one another.

My church family, this is why we gather—why we join, why we read historic covenants, why we go to coffee hour, why we sit on committees, why we pledge, why we sing and pray and worship. This is why we gather: to remember why we matter.

Let us be thankful boys and girls. Amen.

Peace,
Milton

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Belonging… the Methodist church we retired from had this slogan, “Belong, Believe, Become” I love that because belonging first is how we become. Thank you for sharing this message with us.

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