Matthew 5:14-16, 25:31-40
The Rev. Tom Herbek
July 1, 2018
We are called to be the “light of the world,” to care for “the least of these.” Yet on this 4th of July holiday, I am concerned that we are not paying attention to the fabric which is meant to bind our society together. In 1862, in his annual message to the nation, Abraham Lincoln said: “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” It seems that our society today faces another occasion piled high with difficulty, and as God’s children, as bearers of light, we must also rise with the occasion.
I was re-reading Marianne Williamson’s book, written 20 years ago, entitled: The Healing of America. She writes: “The American dream, when best understood, is not a material thing. Rather, it is the fact that we have the right to dream at all. It is the right to expect that our talents and abilities and diligence– not the prejudices of others– will determine the nature of the lives we live. Our right to dream whatever life we wish for ourselves, and our responsibility to respect the dreams of others, is the philosophical fulcrum of the American ideal.” She goes on to say: “None of us ultimately wins in America unless all of us have a chance.”
And we, as Americans and as followers of him who calls us to care for “the least of these,” must find a way for each one to have a chance. Williamson wrote in 1997: “The fabric of American society must be rewoven one loving stitch at a time: one child read to, one sick person prayed for, one elder given respect and made to feel needed, one prisoner rehabilitated, one mourner given comfort.” These words are just as relevant today as they were then.
We, as religious people, as people of faith, must do what we can. Someone once said that “it is the role of religion to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” So let us both comfort and afflict.
A man named Alexander McClean, a lawyer, founded the African Prisons Project. He visits the prisons in Africa, and he does what he can as a lawyer to help win the release of those who are in prison, some of them there for years without ever being charged with a crime. He says:
The lowliest-looking person is filled with gifts and talents beyond your imagination. Love such people as yourself. Those living on the margins of society do not need to have their problems solved for them; they just need to be given the opportunities to solve them themselves. And in doing so, they will often solve the problems of others.
-If I Could Tell You Just One Thing
Who knows how many people living on the margins of society, are just looking for someone to allow them the opportunity to solve their problems for themselves. Each of us in this society needs that opportunity, and each of us needs to keep our eyes open for challenges and joys around us.
Harry Belafonte has some suggestions for living. Richard Reed interviewed him for his book, If I Could Tell You Just One Thing, and writes about him:
Like many remarkable people, he claims his life has been shaped by such moments of happenstance- those chance events none of us has control over. He advises making the most of them.
“The greatest force in my life has been coincidence, and having an openness to receiving whatever the people I met offered and wanted. Due to this, my life opened up into a whole set of challenges and joys that I would not have had otherwise.” He summarizes this into one of his main philosophies for living: “It pays to always answer the knock at the door.”
So, given all that he has stood for, fought for, and seen his friends die for, it makes sense that his greatest piece of advice is this:
“Discover the joy of embracing diversity. When people become more open to the strange, to the unusual, to the radical, to the ‘other,’ we become more nourished as a species. Currently our ability to do that is being manipulated, diversity is being looked upon as a source of evil rather than as a source of joy and development. We must recapture the profound benefits of seeing the joy in our collective diversity, not the fear.”
And so, may we be people who celebrate our collective diversity!
May we all do all that we can to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
And let us do our part to reweave the fabric of American society– one loving stitch at a time. May we think anew and act anew. May we be the light of the world, as we care for the least of these around us!