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Fugees Family

Sermon: Easter 2017 –The Sacred Thread

Sermon: Easter 2017 –The Sacred Thread

An image of a woman weaving in Thistle Farms'  new social enterprise

An image of a woman weaving in Thistle Farms' new social enterprise

As dawn was breaking on an Early April morning, I was sitting near the windows at the Chapel weaving some of the 1000s of prayer ribbons created by the community of St. Augustine’s. We committed to spend this lent writing prayers on ribbons to hold our thoughts, the names of those we love, the history of our dead and what we long for. For six weeks, acolytes processed torches bearing thistle farms candles tied with our handwritten prayers. As I was weaving, I read the prayers slowly for all sorts and conditions of humanity penned with love. It’s beautiful watching how a single word woven with other words allows a community to pray for the whole world.  It occurred to me how weaving and praying are in communion.  As I picked up a ribbon, I was praying with the child who wrote simply, “my mom." 

I was praying for peace as I read the names of the worn-torn places scrawled onto ribbons interwoven with prayers for strength. As the light grew brighter the weaving was coming to life in the secret hours of the morning. Prayer feels hallowed when our hands do the work so our minds settle to see the sacred threads each day offers.  In such moments we  feel the blessedness that we have woven from the love, longing, and life we have made.

I remember the holy weaving that depicted the resurrected Jesus with a bright green background surrounded by images of the four gospels.  It was a three story high tapestry made by one of the official World War 2 artists, Graham Sutherland. It hung behind the altar in Coventry Cathedral, erected to bring reconciliation after the war dropped a bomb on the original cathedral. During a summer in my early twenties I gave tours in that sanctuary and learned about the amazing tapestry woven by French women who worked 11 years to bring the image to life.  The tapestry took the place of the usual high altar carvings or windows to invoke wonder not just for the image itself, but for the way single strands coming together offer a glimpse of heaven. 

There must have been a thread of hope to lead Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in the story of Matthew to face the soldiers on Easter Morning. The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “while it was still dark." The light has not yet risen on Jerusalem on the Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief as her guide to carry her to the body.  And that single sacred thread is enough to weave together the love story. Such a thread was enough to lead her through despair, to brush aside fear, and to hold onto love.

That thread of hope after Jesus’s crucifixion became the beginning of a story that changed the world. And that story is powerful enough to unravel all the shame and fear that keep us from experiencing hope. It sustained Mary through meeting angels and feeling the earth shake and catches her when she fell at the feet of love resurrected.  That first fragile thread was strong enough for all of that and to lead her to be the first preacher, to offer those threads for generations to proclaim love as the most powerful force that still ties us together.  We still sing of those threads even as we face death: Blessed Be the Tie That Binds, May God Be With You Till We Meet Again.

It makes sense to be drawn to weaving in the face of the despair, such as experienced by survivors of war who have fled Syria and have nothing when they land at beaches in Greece except a few items and a life vest.  And so for months Thistle Farms under the direction of Abi Hewitt made plans with Luma Muflah from Fugees Family, Ann Holtz from Awakening Soul, Rev. Frannie Kieschnick A Thistle Farms Board Member and visionary, and I Am You to begin the first social enterprise in Ritsona with a group of women to weave the life vests into welcome mats. 

Last Sunday, Tara Armistead, Cathy Brown, Ryan Camp, Regina Mullins, Luma, Frannie, Ann and I flew to Greece, none of us sure if the fragile first threads from those vests would be enough.  We didn’t know what we would be confronting and if weaving with the women was going to be possible.  The luggage holding the spools of thread and the shuttles had been lost.  The not for profits who ran the camp were unsure about where to weave and how to help manage a social enterprise that would pay women to weave. It is hard enough to start a business, but to start in the midst of a setting where people walk slowly because there isn’t anywhere to go, where lines of identical boxes form a quarter acre of densely populated sects in the middle of an abandoned and dusty military base, where language barriers flourish, and where lines look like snakes and people in charge have massive key rings, is really difficult. 

But on the second day as the sun was climbing on a clear blue Greece spring morning, new weavers and the group from thistle farms gathered in our first circle to welcome one another. One by one the women from the Ritsona camp shared their hopes to help the community, to remember how their ancestors in the middle east wove, to have purpose and meaning, and to help their children. Once they started talking I knew the thread of hope would be enough.  That circle is a circle we know.  We have seen that circle a thousand times; in the hills of Rwanda and the farmlands of Ecuador and right down the street on Charlotte Avenue in our Thistle Farms Circle.  

That circle binds us, even if it is in the face of trauma, broken hearts and inadequate space, and it is enough to start wharfing a loom and weave vests and scraps of cloth. Soon Arabic conversations filled the weaving room as the shuttles from the two looms called out a powerful rhythm.  That beating of threads together on big looms became more powerful than all the other issues, and the mantra for the week became simply, “no matter what, keep weaving." 

Thread by thread we tore and bound the vests that had traumatized so many.  They spoke about the cost of those vests as they ripped them into strips and talked all day about whatever came up. When the first mat came off the loom everyone cheered.  There are another 1000 mats to go. We are committed to helping make this business work since less than .01% of any of the refugee families there will be invited to immigrate.  And while the women of the camp may have fled war, they cannot flee the violence of poverty.  That single thread, woven into a single mat and laid on our altar, is enough to build a community. 

And It has always been that way. 

Like a first ribbon tied, like a thread from a tapestry woven from the ashes of war, or even like a string from a discarded life vest, we are holding on to an ancient hope that binds us together in love. And the Easter story preaches to each of us that when we take hold of that thread, hope can pull us beyond grief itself. The stone has rolled, shroud has fallen and we are free. We are tied to all those we love who have died and live on in love and the memory of God. It binds the wilderness of lent to the garden in Jerusalem in a single band of love. All we grieve is still a part of us and all our hopes are not in vain.

It's not hard to imagine the Magdalene and the other Mary running to the disciples, starting to weave the story together. The meaning still fragile and not accepted easily.  But, Magdalene picks up the the pace as she cannot contain the hope and needs to share it. Let us weave our prayers into the hope fashioned into the first morning of creation. A single thread is enough to bind us to the Easter story.  No Matter What, Keep Weaving.  It means we can live in hope, dedicated to justice and truth, knowing we are connected to all that is love.  The thread is ours for the beholding and allows us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

Read more about The Welcome Project here

Sermon: The Ethic of Love

Sermon: The Ethic of Love

Image Credit: Pixabay

Image Credit: Pixabay

The Ethic of Love: The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount has been discussed by numerous theologians throughout the ages. Many have interpreted the teachings as law, making this reading some of the harshest words Jesus ever spoke to his gathered community of wayward fishermen, dispossessed people, and searching souls. The sermon is generally thought to be gathered isolated sayings from the early church communities. Each is a summary of something, like an original sermon of Jesus or the essence of a piece of his teachings, that could have taken the form of a question and answer. Joachim Jeremias, a German theologian in the 20th century, wrote that when the Sermon on the Mount is read as certain scholars have defined it as law, three understandings follow:               

1. A Perfectionist ethic: Jesus is a Teacher of the Law who tells his disciples what is required of them—perfection. He says he has come not to destroy the law as old vs new prescription is contrasted. You have heard it said, but I say....” He is giving the disciples a clear directive of the will of God.               

2. An Impossible ethic: Jesus is the Preacher of Repentance. When Jesus makes such unattainable demands, we know we cannot reach perfection, so despair at our own efforts sets in. Then guilt awakens in us a consciousness of sin, leading us to repentance and the possibility of mercy.           

3. An Interim-ethic: Jesus is the Apocalyptic Prophet. Jesus was preaching to men who knew they were living in a time of crisis, that there was not much time left. It was a time to love your enemies. Pull yourselves together and live a death-bed lifestyle.              

Joachim questions whether Jesus was any of these. He concludes that we are called to read the Sermon on the Mount not as law, but as Gospel. Another theologian of the 20th century Howard Thurman who was a peace activist and mystic, wrote about the Sermon on the Mount as Gospel. He was one of the fathers of the Civil Rights Movement, who influenced Dr. King so much that he carried Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited, with him in his brief case. It was Thurman who wrote in the 1940s in the South under the oppression of Jim Crow that when we read the Sermon on the Mount as Gospel and live it out, “We are free at last.” The Sermon on the Mount explains an ethic of love that calls us to radical freedom. In an ethic of love, Jesus is the embodiment of the Sermon in deeds. As long as we see it as a legal prescription, something we have to live out as an obligation, we become slaves to it. But living into an ethic of love, we glimpse at the miracle of the haunting words, Don't worry about what you are to eat or what you are to wear, Take neither walking stick nor traveling bag, “Love your enemies,” Do not return evil for evil, Proclaim good news to the poor.              

When Thurman describes this ethic of love, he begins by talking about loving people where there are rifts in our own world—the people we are close to in our circle. But then he talks about rifts in a separated world. These are the “others” and it is where people live in fear, shame, anger, and cynicism. For example, how the people on the hillside listening to Jesus might feel towards the tax collectors, their oppressors. This ethic of love does not ask us to condone the act, but the act does not cause us not to love. It’s not condemning the enemies’ actions; it is penetrating their thickest resistance so that we can all lay bare our interior walls and get to the heart. This person or group of people you consider an enemy is what holds you back from the altar and this person or group still belongs to God. When we awaken this gospel understanding in us and in our former enemies, change is possible. We all know that enemies of religious or political nature, can derail any of us. But politics are not our religion. Take Rome, for example, from the perspective of the occupied people in Jerusalem. Jesus lifted individuals out of that general classification and saw them face to face as equals—willing to teach, heal, and comfort them. It doesn’t mean there is not accountability, resistance, or that it doesn’t come at a great cost to the individuals stepping out of their bounds. But it means we change the balance of love in the world in the most powerful and poetic way. It means we reexamine our own prejudices and live as freely as possible with this guiding gospel.              

This week I spent 4 days in LA as part of the CNN Heroes Award given to Thistle Farms. We were there to learn more about running not-for- profits and hear from the other nine groups that also won the award. CNN touts this award as ordinary people doing extraordinary things. As I sat and listened in light of this Gospel, I heard stories of communities wounded and underserved and realized the award should really be about extraordinary people who do ordinary things. I heard the story told by Luma Mufleh who began her talk with, “I am an immigrant, a Muslim, a lesbian, and I serve refugees. I guess you could say I hit the jackpot.” Luma founded the Fugees Family. The Fugees Academy (6- 12 graders) she heads has a very successful football (soccer) team. She told the story to a tear-filled circle of friends about an extraordinary thirteen-year old who was a refugee from the Congo. He had witnessed the death of his father, the rape of his mother, and experienced the hard journey refugees make to our country. Luma described this young man’s anger and how he hit another player on the field. She ran out onto the field and was herself struck. She then embraced the young boy and held her hand over his heart and kept repeating in Arabic, breathe. He placed his hand over her hand, so they were both holding his heart as he began to calm down. Slowly and surely over the next several years, he began the journey from woundedness and anger towards a world of enemies into becoming a passionate student and healer who has gone on to earn a full scholarship to college. It all began simply by holding his heart in an ethic of fearless love. 

We all heard other stories of extraordinary people doing ordinary things: a young cancer survivor taking a kayak ride, a foster youth who aged out of a system and got his own apartment, a child with cerebral palsy riding a horse, a survivor of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction taking her first cruise, and a young man from public housing learning to ride a bike. Extraordinary people doing ordinary things not because they followed laws, but because they were casted out and then loved. An ethic of love can overcome any barriers, any divisions as we live out this Gospel in fellowship. Every time we walk out onto a field, take a hit, and then put our hand over a heart in response, every time we step out in love, every time we forgive what we once thought was unforgivable, every time we love an enemy, we are extraordinary and doing the most ordinary thing we were created to do… love. Love. Love.              

What is it that still makes you read this Gospel as a perfectionist law we can never attain? What is it that you think you cannot forgive? Who is the enemy who prevents you from loving? That is a good place to feel the freedom embedded in these strange and compelling words. We hear these words, and then step out into a pretty harsh and scary world and remember the common worth and value of every single person we meet, in our circle and beyond our circle. The calling of this Gospel is not to condemn, but to free us.