Rev. Ashley Harness
Sacred Texts: Stone Soup Folktale and Psalm 65
Welcome to stewardship season, which is the season when we do our annual fundraising campaign to support all the ways we will live out our mission of deepening faith in community, living progressive Christian spirituality, and embodying God’s justice and love so we can change the world for the better together. This is the time we recommit ourselves and our resources to the Holy One who is the source of the sustenance that waters the earth and our souls.
Let me back up. I may have gotten to the punch line a bit too soon.
“Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,” says the beginning of our scripture this morning.
In a little bit, we are going to welcome new members into this community. They are awesome humans. We have a dad and daughter pair with matching ringlets – I mean, how much better can it get? We have a baby we got to baptize already. We have a brilliant scientist, a wizard cup-cake art maker, a web designer, a wise story teller, black lives matter activists, a union organizer, a sexual assault advocate, analytical consultant thinkers, deeply dedicated parents, lovers of the outdoors, courageous questioners of their childhood faiths, loving humans seeking a living, breathing, growing and grown-up faith.
This morning, they will offer their vows of membership to this community. And we will offer our vows of support and welcome. These are covenants of our commitment to each other, to the God of our understanding and to living lives in service of the good in this world. Vows or covenants are our beginning together in community, in marriage, in baptism, in confirmation, in so many rights of passage of life together.
But vows and covenants are just the skeleton of our lives together, necessary but weak without the muscle of the regular practice of gratitude and praise. As romantic and powerful as wedding vows often are, for example, they are not enough to sustain the day-to-day life of marriage. We have to recommit to them every day. Marriage is a practice, not an event. Same with belonging to a community of faith. We join once. But we have to choose to practice that belonging over and over. Integral to that choice is the practice of radically abundant (but also authentic) praise and thanksgiving. The vows are one line of this Psalm. The rest is all that practice of joyful praise and thanksgiving.
“You are the God of our healing… You are the hope… You make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.”
As you sit here now, I want you to pause. We are going to practice some abundant and yet authentic gratitude with each other. I know. You thought with an introverted pastor, you wouldn’t have to do this kind of thing anymore. But I want you to turn to somebody next to you. And I want you to tell them three things you are grateful for about them. If you don’t know the person next to you, that’s OK. Tell the other person three things you are grateful for about any person you love.
And now we get to practice gratitude, round two. Fellow introverts, you are in luck. This round is going to be silent. Make a list in your head of three things about this community of Lyndale UCC that you are joyfully grateful for. If you are a newcomer among us, you are more than welcome to notice things you already enjoy. Or you can meditate for a moment on another community in your life for which you are grateful.
Let me tell you a bit about what I’m grateful for about this community. I’m grateful for a spiritual community filled with people whom I love. I have been here long enough now not just to love the idea of this progressive, spirited, justice-seeking community, but the particulars of this group of quirky and beautiful humans. Because I couldn’t think of another way to do this without leaving people out, I’m going to tell you about the three Marys and why I love them because picking a name was an easy way to narrow you down. I love Mary Martin because the way she listens during worship on Sunday mornings and in church business meetings feels the same. She listens with deep, loving reverence and deep rebellion all at once. I love Mary Vanderford because she ministers through getting stuff done no matter what life throws at her – from planting flowers in the garden to taking somebody to the doctor at the last minute to showing up as the lone Lyndalian at a protest to being the first to sign up to bring one of us a meal when we’re in crisis and the list goes on. I love Mary Lewis because when she sings she is a portal for the Spirit’s voice, right here, right now and when she laughs it’s just the same.
I am grateful also that you are a community that seeks to do justice in the world with real commitment and authenticity. You are not about justice for show or PR. You are about justice for real. When I started hanging out at the 4th precinct last winter and grappling personally with how to be a better white person in the midst of the epidemic of police brutality in our country directed at black and brown bodies, it wasn’t enough for me to be there alone. You wanted to be a part of what was happening. We didn’t always agree. But we stayed engaged with each other and we kept trying to love each other better. And we ultimately formed a racial justice taskforce lead entirely by you – not me – to figure out our authentic path forward together because we know this work matters, we know our liberation is bound together across all our differences. We get that proverb – if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.
I am grateful finally that you understand that my ultimate job description is to be a mirror, reflecting back the Divine presence I experience in each of you so that you can see Her more clearly in yourself, in this community and in the world and move towards her Love. And honestly, whether its about sitting in the midst of death and grief, holding vigil at the police precinct, or launching a stewardship fundraising season, the ultimate work is the same. It’s all about making room to notice the Holy’s love in our lives and where that love is leading us – whether it be to tears of grief, shouts for justice, or poetry of thanksgiving. Each can teach us about the source of the water that sustains us.
For all of this and so much more, I am grateful for you, Lyndale and I am grateful to the holy source of this community I call God. And it feels good just to sit with that gratitude, flexing that muscle.
Ultimately, stewardship season shouldn’t be any different than any other season of our year together. We should always spend time reflecting on the source of our being, giving thanks and giving back to that source by giving to the people, organizations and communities where we see God at work. But we mark this season because being good stewards of our resources, flexing those gratitude muscles, is actually work, both spiritually and mathematically. The bible calls us to give back 10 percent of what we are given, reminding us that all that we have is not ours but merely passing through our hands from God as tools to love and heal ourselves and the world.
We have this season because, as the writer Ursula Le Guin once said, “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” Or perhaps, it has to be made like stone soup, one lonely carrot, potato and pea at a time. So this week, as you go back home and rummage through your proverbial refrigerator of resources, ponder your veggies. Remember where they came from. Imagine what they might make not alone in your lonely veggie drawer where they might have been sitting too long. But let yourself dream about what delicious soup they might make together, in generosity, in the spirit of gratitude and joy.