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November 23, 2017
The Reverend George Anastos
Last Sunday during our worship service at First Plymouth, we explored how important are our shared stories. There are the stories of faith that give us a common grounding: the call of Sarai and Avram, the Burning Bush, the Exodus, crossing the river Jordan to the Promised Land. There are the stories of our nation that also give us common grounding as Americans: the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, the Boston Tea Party, Old Ironsides, the Shot Heard Round the World, the Gettysburg Address. When we tell and hold common stories they help form a common bond, shape a common heritage, nurture and nourish common values.
This led us to explore what happens when the common stories do not get passed from generation to generation. Common bonds slip; common heritage is lost; common values become uncommon. What are even more concerning than the loss of common stories are the alternative narratives, based on ‘alternative facts,’ that are chosen to replace them. These new narratives also form bonds, shape heritage, instill values. It is important to ponder, even interrogate the new narratives, the new heritage, and the new values. It is important to understand the ends to which they lead.
This past year in our nation has been a laboratory for studying what happens when common stories are lost and are replaced, not with narratives intentionally designed for the common good, but rather with those that entitle a specific few. That is sin—it is the sundering of the common life God invites us to. We don’t have to look far for the alternative stories. In fact, speaking as a preacher, the problem is choosing which of the myriad alternative narratives will best highlight this phenomenon.
Let’s take Charlottesville as a painful example how twisted and internally violent narratives are usurping our rich biblical and national stories. White nationalists are attempting to replace our Declaration of Independence with Hitler’s Mein Kampf. I swear I am not making this up. Despite the fact that our nation fought the most destructive war in history to defeat Nazism, despite the fact that over six million Jews were “exterminated,” despite the fact that such an ethos is the antithesis of our national and biblical narratives, there are those Americans who would rather practice hatred and prejudice than live in our national freedoms and G-d’s love. Chanting, “you will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us” these White Supremacists are trying to create an alternative narrative specifically designed to create a world view that teaches that unless they do something, the white race is doomed to extinction by a ‘rising tide of color’ purportedly controlled and manipulated by Jews. What an astonishing triumph of fiction over fact. What an astonishing way of calling hate good and good hate.
Here is yet another story that illustrates what I am talking about. In my sermon last Sunday morning I said this:
On the 4th of July every year National Public Radio, in an act of patriotism and to celebrate our nation’s birthday, reads aloud on the air one of our American master stories—the Declaration of Independence. This year, at 148 characters a clip, for the first time they also tweeted the entire Declaration. And rage erupted. NPR was accused of spouting liberal political propaganda. They were accused of smearing our President. They were accused of being the very swamp that the President was elected to drain. They wanted to know who would write such seditious dreck. Then the detractors discovered that this was our nation’s Declaration of Independence, and King George III of England was the target of the document’s polemic. Things went quiet. When we don’t know our common stories, we lose our common grounding, and other stories will take their place.
How are we to respond this rising tide of hatred masked as piety, prejudice as purity, and Nazism as a preferred way of governing in the land of the free and the home of the brave?
We respond by returning to our common stories, telling them over and over again, and living in those values. Way back, oh decades ago now, when I was in seminary they taught us that the call of Sarai and Avram was the beginning of what biblical scholars refer to as “salvation history.” You see, after Adam and Eve fell from grace, we read in the bible how G-d tried a series of top down solutions to try and fix a broken creation. When things were getting out of control G-d cleansed the earth with a great flood and began again with one family (Noah and Namaah’s) hoping that a fresh start would solve things. That didn’t work. When humanity tried to build a tower to the heavens, G-d responded by confusing their language to get them to stop trying to be like G-d. That didn’t work either. Biblically speaking, G-d came to realize that, because God created humanity in God’s own image, humanity is endowed with free will. God realized we humans have to participate in the healing, not have it imposed on us. So rather than top down solutions, with the call of Sarai and Avram G-d began a bottom up model that we refer to as Salvation History.
[G-d] said to Avram [and Sarai]:
from your land,
from your kindred,
from your parents’ house,
to the land that I will let you see.
I will make a great nation of you
and will give-you-blessing
and will make your name great.
Be a blessing!
I will bless those who bless you,
those who curse you I will curse.
All the clans of the soil will find blessing through you!
All the clans of the soil will find blessing through you! This is the cornerstone story for both Jews and Christians. G-d begins with one family, just as with Adam and Eve, and Noah and Naamah. But this time G-d asks this one family to be responsible for forming a nation and participating in the healing creation. G-d promises them that through them all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.
In other words, G-d did not call the people Israel into existence simply because G-d thought it might be cool to make nation. G-d called Israel into existence for the purpose of mission—that through them everyone, all the clans of the soil, would be blessed.
This is the common heritage, this is the common story, this is the common value that Christians inherited from the children of Abraham. This is the common path we walk, the common mission we share. By extension we know that G-d called us—Temple Sinai and First Plymouth Congregational Church—as congregations into existence in order to keep at the work of salvation history until it is done. It ain’t done. If there is one thing that is really clear right now, it is that we need to unite in our common stories, claim our common heritage, and live our common values.
This evening—right here and right now, that uniting, claiming, and living begins with our giving thanks that we exist as sister congregations. Not only do we share the common stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, we share our unique story that we lived together for years under one roof, we wove relationships of trust and nurture, we united as sisters and brothers of the Lord our G-d, who is one.
So to Rabbis Rick and Susan Rheins, to Larry Jacobson, President of this congregation, and to all my sisters and brothers of Temple Sinai, on behalf of all members of First Plymouth Congregational Church I thank you for all these rich years of friendship. On behalf of Christians everywhere I profoundly apologize for the prejudice and horrific treatment of Jews past, present, and unfortunately future. In G-d’s promises we will stand and work together. In G-d’s love we will teach our children and grandchildren our common stories so that they might in turn teach them to their children. In G-d’s future our children’s children’s children will gather here on some distant Thanksgiving, celebrating those common stories, rejoicing in the common heritage, pursuing the common mission that our G-d calls us to, and proclaiming Thanksgiving for the ruach—the Spirit that binds us. Let all the people say, ‘Amen.’
November 12, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Generation to Generation
October 29, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – A New Vision of Old
October 15, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Heaven for the Climate
October 8, 2017 – Rev. Dr. Eric C. Smith – Open and Affirming
September 17, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Nature vs. Nurture
September 3, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Hard Core Reality
August 27, 2017 – Rev. Dr. Eric C. Smith – Who Do You Say That I Am
August 20, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – The Long Journey Home
August 13, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – What We Learn In Childhood / We Practice as Adults
July 2, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – When Hope Despairs / When Despair Hopes
June 18, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Who We Want to Be / Who We Are
June 11, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Farewell
June 4, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Rebirth (Pentecost Sunday)
May 14, 2017 – Rev. Dr. Eric C. Smith – Ways and Dwellings
April 16, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Burying Jesus / Resurrecting the Church
April 2, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – The Lazarus Church
March 26, 2017 – Rev. Dr. Eric C. Smith – Who Sinned?
March 5, 2017 – Rev. Dr. Eric C. Smith – Sermon
February 26, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Making Our Way Down the Mountain
January 29, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Meeting Head On / It Starts With Us / Seeing With New Eyes
January 8, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – O Rest Beside the Weary Road
December 24, 2016 – Rev. George Anastos – The Giver, the Gift, and the Gifted