The Courage to Be

Teaching: Wendy Dorsey

Camp Meeting Weekend
Oct 7, 2018

Texts: Mark10:13-16
           Mark 9:33-37     
           Matt 18:3-5  
           1 Corinthians 1:20-29

Mark 10:13-16    13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Good morning 8th Day!   Today I hope to weave together the lectionary (and other related) scriptures we just heard with the theme of our weekend “The Courage to Be.” At the end of my teaching, I would like to have a brief dialogue in small groups of three on the subject of courage, so listen up so you’ll know how to respond!

In the first passage read, the Gospel for today, Mark 10, Jesus chastises his disciples for trying to keep the parents and their children away from him.  He is “indignant” - a word that comes from the Latin indignus “unworthy, not fitting,” and may be defined as “an anger aroused by something perceived as an indignity, an offense or injustice.” Jesus is immediately aroused by his disciples unjustly keeping the children away, as in that society children were supposed to be seen and not heard.  This, I believe, would be characteristic of Jesus, who was always sensitive to those on the outside of the community, whether they be prostitute or tax collector, leper or Samaritan.  He goes further, though.  He then uses this moment with the children as a teaching moment, saying, “The Kingdom belongs to such as these.  …anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

How then are we to enter or receive the Kingdom of God?  Like a child.  With openness, curiosity, wide-eyed, humble, ready at any moment, mindful of the present moment.  This is how children are.  This is how we are to be:

Mark 9: 33-37 33 They came to Capernaum.  When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”36 He took a little child whom he placed among them.  Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

The second passage from Mark 9 about Jesus and the children is in the context of the disciples arguing about who is the greatest among them.  When Jesus asks them what they were arguing about, they are embarrassed.  Jesus again uses his interaction with a child as a teaching moment, saying ““Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Welcoming one of the little ones is welcoming God.  Notice that in both these passages Jesus puts his arms around the children and lays his hands on them.  How important is touch to every human being, especially the children!   Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to be first must be last and the servant of all.”  Being part of God’s Kingdom means taking the lowest place, being a servant, and welcoming the least significant one to the center of the circle.

Matt 18:3-5 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Again, in the Matthew passage, Jesus says we must “change” (or in other translations, “be converted” or “turn around”) in order to enter the Kingdom or Realm of God.  In the book The Hidden Gospel, Neil Douglas-Klotz comments on the Matthew 18 passage “If we return to a childlike state, we can experience a door opening to an aspect of self that we may have left behind.” (p 92) The word “lowly” (or “humble”) in this passage, in the Aramaic, has the connotation of “melting, bowing down, softening something rigid, an attitude of surrender.” This is the attitude we must take to enter God’s Realm.

1 Cor:1:20-29  20 Where is the wise person?  Where is the teacher of the law?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 

In the I Corinthians passage, Paul, a Jew by birth, a Pharisee by choice and training, and a highly articulate spokesperson and Apostle for the followers of the Way, says,

God made foolish the wisdom of the world….For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

I have to admit that I find these passages quite remarkable.  God chooses weakness and foolish things over strength and wisdom?  God chooses lowly and despised things over the exalted and esteemed?  God wants us to humble ourselves and “turn around” to be like a child in order to enter the Kingdom?  How can we do this?  Does it seem to you as impossible as a camel going through the eye of a needle?  (I remember as a child trying to visualize this scene!)

Now about the “Courage to Be.” As I was thinking about this theme of the Camp Meeting (Gathering) this weekend, I brain-stormed a list of “courage to be….  (blank).” My list included the courage to be creative, childlike, honest, authentic, humble, imperfect, faithful, genuine, a risk-taker.  Courage to be real, to be truthful, powerful.  But what I really have been thinking most about is how we are to have courage to be fully ourselves – both individually and as a human community. 

What can we learn about God’s realm from the children, and from the lowly and despised?  A young child is truly his or herself - open, curious, ready for the new at any moment, grounded, honest, real.  Children have natural curiosity and the capacity to take us into the realm of mystery and wonder.  When we live into our childlike selves we are naturally curious, courageous, open, creative, risk-takers, and we will be able to see and enter God’s realm of wonder, mystery, love and truth. 

I believe L’Arche, with whom we celebrated their 35 years in the DC area last week, is one example of God’s Realm shown to us here on earth.  In this little Kingdom of God on earth, those who are lowly and despised by society are loved and exalted.  They are at the center of the community and each one is valued for the unique and special person he or she is.  Yet, each one is truly a member of a community.  They are valued both as individuals and as members of the group. 

In the book Courage to Be (the inspiration for this weekend) Tillich says,

The courage to be is essentially always the courage to be as a part and the courage to be as oneself, in interdependence.  The courage to be as a part is an integral element of the courage to be as oneself, and the courage to be as oneself is an integral element of the courage to be as a part.” (pp.89-90)

Inspired by Tillich’s Courage to Be, Rollo May in his book Courage to Create maintains that if you don’t become who you are, you will not only betray yourself, but you will betray the community in failing to make your contribution to the community.  He says, “…we must always base our commitment in the center of our own being or else no commitment will be ultimately authentic.” Tillich says that “courage is essential to our being.” The challenge is to be fully ourselves, courageously exercising our gifts as God has given them, as fully participating, interdependent members of the community.

Examples of the Courage to Be

Having the courage to be and becoming our authentic self is perhaps the most important thing we can do as human beings.  But sometimes it comes at a price.  Recently, Robert Kyagulanyi, the Ugandan Afropop singer, otherwise known as Bobi Wine, had become the face of a protest movement representing opposition to the current government in Uganda.  Up until 2016, he was widely known and loved for his reggae music and protest songs, including the popular “Freedom” song.  In 2016, his government tried to recruit him, along with other musicians, to collaborate on a campaign song for the current president, Museveni.  While other musicians agreed to this, Bobi Wine refused.  In 2017 he became an opposition candidate in his district and won overwhelmingly against the ruling party candidate.  He participated in a demonstration in which he was falsely accused of violence, arrested, imprisoned and tortured.  He was so badly injured he was flown to the United States for treatment.  I think most of us at this point would have tried to apply for asylum.  But Bobi Wine went back to his country and is again out on the streets inspiring the young people of Uganda to work for change.  Bobi Wine is an extreme example of the “courage to be himself and the courage to be as a part” of the Ugandan people.

Here I will mention that we have an asylum seeker, Mike, living with us, whose government of Togo similarly tried to persuade him to allow his music to promote the government.  When he refused, he received death threats and had to flee his country.

Rollo May writes in his book Courage to Create,

Artists are the ones who have the capacity to see original visions.  They typically have powerful imaginations and, at the same time, a sufficiently developed sense of form…They are the frontier scouts who go out ahead of the rest of us to explore the future….we will be better prepared for the future if we can listen seriously to them.

Another story of a person who courageously stepped beyond his boundaries because he had a vision of a world where opposites can meet, is the adventure into alien territory by Daryl Davis.  He is a Black jazz pianist and he was telling his story on the NPR program Snap Judgement.  It was a segment on the Klan.  I’ll read the first part of his story in his words as found in an article in which he was interviewed.

I was playing music — it was my first time playing in this particular bar called the Silver Dollar Lounge and this white gentleman approached me and he says, "I really enjoy you all's music." I thanked him, shook his hand and he says, "You know this is the first time I ever heard a black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis." I was kind of surprised that he did not know the origin of that kind of music and I said, "Well, where do you think Jerry Lee Lewis learned how to play that kind of style?" He's like, "Well, I don't know." I said, "He learned it from the same place I did.  Black, blues, and boogie-woogie piano players.  That's what that rockabilly, rock 'n roll style came from." He said, "Oh, no!   Jerry Lee invented that.  I ain't ever heard no black man except for you play like that." So I'm thinking this guy has never heard Fats Domino or Little Richard and then he says, "You know, this is the first time I ever sat down and had a drink with a black man?"

Well, now I'm getting curious.  I'm trying to figure out, now how is it that in my 25 years on the face of this earth that I have sat down, literally, with thousands of white people, had a beverage, a meal, a conversation,… and this guy is 15 to 20 years older than me and he's never sat down with a black guy before and had a drink.  I said, "How is that?  Why?" At first, he didn't answer me and he had a friend sitting next to him and he elbowed him and said, "Tell him, tell him, tell him," and he finally said, "I'm a member of the Ku Klux Klan."

At first Daryl laughed, incredulously, thinking this was a joke, but the Klansman pulled out his official Klan card.  This incident inspired Daryl to go on a 30-year journey of interviewing Klansmen and finding out what made them tick.  He did his research, even attending Klan rallies and cross-burnings.  On the radio show, Daryl also relates how he met the Grand Dragon of the Maryland Klan.  The Klansman was dressed in fatigues, carrying a gun and led into the meeting place by a body guard.  At the first meeting the Grand Dragon remained standing.  However, as they talked, and had more interviews, the Klansman gave up his robe.

This story made me wonder, would I ever have the courage to do anything like what this Black musician did?  What gave Daryl the courage to face a terrorizing enemy historically, without a gun or body guard, just being who he is?  It was the qualities he embraced of curiosity and a desire to understand the other that got him doing the interviews with the Klan over the period of 30 years - which eventually led to a book.  As a result of this process, 200 Klansmen have given up their robes, and apparently the Klan is now all but non-existent in Maryland.  Wow!   The courage to be – just who he was – open and curious!

Examples of the Courage to Be – closer to home

As I think about the “courage to be,” I remember how as a 25-year old I decided to leave my family and community of origin in upstate New York and come to DC and the Church of the Saviour.  I realized the community I grew up in was too narrow for me to thrive in, and I had to leave in order to become who God intended me to be.  I found a home here and a place to discover and share my gifts.  I am sure there are many other stories of people in our community who courageously stepped out beyond their comfort zone to follow God’s call on their lives. 

In fact, this is our universal human story.  Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden as soon as they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  As we grow, we have to step out of our old skin, our cocoon, in order to become the authentic person we are created to be.  We have to take risks like Bobi Wine to fight oppression and promote freedom.  We have to allow our curiosity and creativity to lead us, like Daryl Davis, crossing barriers of race and clan, and ultimately forge our own path to where and who God is calling us to be.  Now, I am coming to another crossroads in my life.  Will I again have the courage to leave the familiar path and step into a new calling?  I wonder if there are others of you wondering about your calling? about a change or transition in your life?  Where will your courage come from?

Examples of this in our little community: I think of Jennie Goshé taking a ship into northern Russian waters with her camera poised, as she passionately follows her call to save the polar bears and the planet!  I think of Marja, bravely standing on 14th Street every Friday with her small band of intrepid followers protesting the banks’ taking over of private prisons.  I think of Michael Schaff stubbornly trekking up to the 8th Day service every Sunday and back home, one step at a time.  I think of Gerald, guiding One Voice One Sound to have their voices heard world-wide; and Mary Brown, who we heard last Sunday, doing the same for the boys in Life Pieces to Masterpieces.  Speaking of courage, wasn’t the testimony from Tray-L and from our very own Benjamin absolutely riveting?  Their passion, courage, and commitment to the journey was moving and inspiring!   A hard act to follow!

Community Re-formation

I have spoken about the need to be courageously, fully ourselves, exercising our gifts as individuals in service to and with the support of the community.  However, I’m wondering if a community like 8th Day needs the courage to be itself as a whole.  Does 8th Day have to transform, consciously turn around, change, and re-learn how to live openly, with curiosity and creativity to allow the Spirit to work? 

I’ve been reading a little about Martin Luther, who sparked the historical reformation in the church, which led to the birth of Protestantism five hundred years ago.  In the Fall of 2017 the Plough (a publication of the Bruderhof) put out an issue on “Re-formation: The Church We Need Now” which included several articles on new forms of church.  One of the examples, the “Church of All Nations,” founded by Korean-American immigrants, draws young people – 2/3 of the congregation are 20-40 year-olds.  They have identified what young people are looking for in a church:

  • They are looking for a calling.
  • They are seeking healthy, meaningful relationships.
  • They want a family, enduring intentional community.
  • They are looking for “stability in a highly mobile world, and concreteness in an increasingly virtual and socially networked existence.”
  • They desire authentic faith, which they are mostly not seeing in the mainline churches.

Does this sound a bit like us?

Another article is about a large Brazilian church started in the 90’s as a “seeker-sensitive church” which grew rapidly in a “whirlwind of enthusiasm,” but then realized there was something wrong - that “it was all about us.” They decided to ask questions of themselves and ended up downsizing drastically.  They found that God led them as they “responded to the unexpected.” They unplugged their services and moved to meeting in homes.  They deeply examined their programs and if Jesus was not at the center, they closed the programs – ninety percent% of them!   They went out on the streets and built relationships with the people they had been serving.  They began to serve God and the community by tending a garden.  They said, “We rediscovered the church as a place where the foolish can gather.” They asked, “Are we obeying the Lord, and, if not, where should we start?”  Perhaps we need to think about some of these questions also.

One article states that authentic reform means recovering some aspect of the church that has been “lost, marred, misconceived, or even forgotten.  Authentic reform means reaching back and bringing into the future something that has been lost in the church’s present.” This reminds me of Gordon’s question at various stages of Church of the Saviour’s development: “What is the essence of the Church of the Saviour” that we want to preserve or renew?

So now I want to ask you to gather in groups of three or four and discuss one or both of these questions:

  1. For individuals: Are you wondering about your calling?  about a change or transition in your life?  Where will your courage come from?
  2. For our community: Where does 8th Day need to re-form?  What movement are you sensing in our community?  How do we need to be open to courageously stepping out of our comfort zone and being open to the unexpected?