Monday, July 24, 2017

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 23, 2017
Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43
Thomas Saying 57

            I want to start by reading a different version of this parable of the weeds and the grain from the Gospel of Thomas. The version in Thomas is shorter and more cryptic than the more embellished and fable-like version that we hear today from Matthew’s gospel. That, at least, suggests that it is the older version of the story. The Gospel of Thomas is sometimes called the fifth gospel. It does not appear in the New Testament, but there is reason to believe it was created in roughly the same time frame as the canonical gospels. It doesn’t have the status of the four in the Bible, but it is consulted often in comparison with them. If you put yourself back in the first century and imagine an audience of Galilean peasants, like those who lived in the region where Jesus ministered, Thomas’ version of the parable can be interpreted in a way that contradicts assumptions. It allows for the possibility that it’s the weeds that represent the kingdom of heaven rather than the grain that the landowner planted. The weeds are unwelcome, stealthy and persistent in the work of interfering with the plans of the wealthy and powerful one in whose field they have grown. The landowner isn’t certain that his slaves could eradicate the weeds without ruining his crop. In the parable, the wealthy man’s conundrum is that he can’t live with the kingdom but he can’t live without it either. Once God’s domain has entered into time and space, it’s difficult to get rid of. The landowner’s power and the kingdom are incompatible. He can’t see beyond what he already has and realize what the kingdom holds for him and everyone else, but with the weeds and grain left standing side by side in the field, it’s possible that he will come to understand.
            Matthew embroiders the original cryptic tale and gives us something more conventional. The weeds grow alongside the grain, the landowner resigns himself to letting them live until the harvest, but he has a plan for separating out the two kinds of plants and when the time comes, the weeds had better look out. In this lesson we encounter one of Matthew’s favorite expressions, “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Of the seven times it appears in the New Testament six are in Matthew; the seventh is in Luke. We also encounter the motif of Jesus’ followers being separated out from everyone else.
            When I’m driving on the highway I drive at the speed limit and change lanes carefully. When someone goes roaring past me at 85 miles an hour, cutting back and forth across the two lanes of slower moving traffic, I gleefully imagine passing that driver a mile or two down the road in the company of the highway patrol. I imagine honking my horn or opening the window to wave at the miscreant getting his or her just deserts. In several decades of driving, that has actually happened two or three times at the most. And I’ve never honked or waved, but I gloated in a big way.
            Matthew’s image of the weeds going into the fire at the end of the story is a more extreme form of the kind of revenge I imagine for those careless drivers. This separation of the righteous from evil doers is not uncommon in the New Testament and it’s certainly not uncommon in the formal teaching and theological imagination of the church. In the Episcopal Church we don’t really dwell on it anymore, but every once in a while someone says something to me that makes me think the idea is still alive and well among 21st century Episcopalians. That is, the idea that if you believe the right things you’ll be rewarded after you die, but if you believe something else or behave badly you won’t be rewarded, you’ll be punished. Whether we see it that way or not, there are plenty of Christians who do. It reminds me of a graffito my husband described seeing on a wall at the University of Northeast Louisiana where he spent his undergraduate years. It read: “it is not necessary to believe in hell to go there.”
            This idea of reward and punishment for right and wrong religious belief is a curious one. Why isn’t righteous living reward enough in itself? Does that depend on how you define righteous living? For example, is the deprivation and annoyance of having  avoided drinking, dancing, and profanity for all those years so great that whoever undertakes that discipline thinks he or she jolly well better get something in exchange? Is it so frustrating to know that someone got away with being a thief, a liar or worse that a faithful Christian cannot rest without the assurance that the scoundrel will spend eternity in a state of torment? Because, really, we don’t get to decide.
            Human beings want to fix things and the quicker and easier the fix the better. Think of the blamestorms that erupt in departmental meetings or shareholder conferences when something isn’t going right. How are we going to fix this? Whom will we hold responsible and punish because this thing we don’t like is happening?
            You may be familiar with the work of Ronald Haifetz. He teaches in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He has written about two kinds of problems that institutions, organizations and societies deal with. He calls them technical problems and adaptive problems. Technical problems have a known solution. It might need to be discovered, but it exists. Such problems respond favorably to things like good management, adjustment of equipment or calculations or getting people with the right skills to work on them.
            Adaptive problems are not so straightforward. They are things like poverty, systemic racism, institutional change. They arise when our values are at odds with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. They require people to take a hard look at the mismatch, examine their values and often adapt them to fit better with changing circumstances. You could say that Jesus invited the society in which he lived into this type of process. He challenged an economic system that put 98% of the resources into the hands of 2% of the population. He challenged a culture of pervasive violence that glorified domination. Like other leaders who have brought adaptive problems to the attention of the societies in which they lived, he was murdered by those who benefited from the existing system. More recent examples are Martin Luther King, Jr., Harvey Milk and Mahatma Gandhi. Such leaders are not always killed, but they can be dealt with harshly. Think of Margaret Sanger or Galileo. Dealing with adaptive problems is difficult and dangerous. Even when the consequences are not so dire, the people faced with such a problem tend to look for a technical rather than an adaptive solution. Think of “just say no” or “broken windows” policing.
            This story of the weeds and the grain has meaning that is grounded in the first century with Jesus’ earliest followers and it touches on the revenge narrative that figures in the theological imagination of the church, but I think it has another dimension as well. Sometimes the problem you’re dealing with is complex enough that you just have to watch and wait for a solution to emerge from the process. Human beings want the quick fix. That’s as true of the church as it is of secular organizations and communities. That desire for the fix leads us to operate from a point of view of anxiety. All of Jesus’ talk about lilies of the field and birds of the air goes out the window when the air conditioners needs repairs or we have fewer people in the pews on Sundays. This landowner in the parable has something to teach us.
            The church is living through one of those times when our values and our circumstances are at odds. We have, in the last few centuries valued wealth, possessions, buildings and large numbers of members. We have traded on a position of automatic respect that society accorded the church. Things are different now. Among younger generations of Americans there are fewer people who identify with organized religion. The church has dabbled in politics and misused power in ways that motivate distrust of institutional religion. People who want to be church members often haven’t been brought up within a particular religious tradition. Theological brand loyalty is a thing of the past. Church members choose churches on the basis of convenience or what it offers them rather than what they believe. The church is under pressure to satisfy consumers rather than making disciples. Religious institutions are inherently reluctant to question their own values. We ask ourselves: If we do that, what do we really stand for? If our values change, does that mean we were wrong before? One method of dealing with the mismatch between values and circumstances is to develop a parallel culture. You know of churches that have their own schools, family activity centers, gyms and coffee houses. They give people a way to live in the cultural bubble without facing the mismatch. The Episcopal Church hasn’t done that. We value the goodness of the created order which includes the quirks and foibles of human history and culture. We look for ways to live the life of the spirit in the midst of the real world, but that regularly brings us face to face with the mismatch between who we have been as a church and how we fit into the larger world that is changing around us.
            Here’s one simple example. Think about the check out counter of a supermarket. How do people pay for their purchases? With cash? With checks? With credit or debit cards? How many times have you wept and gnashed your teeth at the end of a line behind someone who is writing out a paper check? It’s been that way easily for ten years if not twenty, but throughout that time churches have fought tooth and nail against receiving payment of pledges and other contributions with plastic. Trinity has finally made that leap for some things but we have not made it entirely convenient. Our big hang-up and that of many other churches is that payment processing costs money. Some churches still refuse to accept payment electronically. We have an entire generation or two who pay almost exclusively with plastic, but the church is still fighting it. Our values in conflict are our genuine desire to have younger members participate fully in the life of our congregations, and our determined frugality that fights spending money for “frivolous” reasons. The technical part of the solution to that problem is to establish electronic payment that is easy  and convenient to use. The adaptive part of the solution is to rethink how we match our resources to our mission and broaden our thinking about how we really welcome a diverse group of members into Christian community.
            These complex, adaptive questions are what I’ve asked the vestry to deal with. In the last 2 ½ years they’ve worked hard at changing the way they work, shifting from day to day details to the big picture. It is human nature to want to avoid the tough questions and look for easier problems to solve. We can’t turn our backs on the technical problems, but we can’t hide behind them either. If we imagine the church as the landowner in this parable a technical approach to the problem would be to delve into finding a method for pulling weeds that didn’t harm the grain. We could put all sorts of time and energy into teaching people how to tell them apart and how to pluck the weeds safely out of the ground. There’s a problem with doing it that way that goes back to Thomas’ version of the parable that I mentioned earlier. It’s likely that the weeds represent the kingdom of heaven. If that’s true, their presence is incomplete without the grain because building the kingdom is not yet finished. Better to let it all grow, cultivate it and watch the transformation take place before our eyes. When it’s ripe, whatever we don’t use immediately, we won’t throw onto the fire, but onto the compost heap. It may well come in handy later on.

The Rev. Lauren Lyon © 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Zechariah 9.9-12
Psalm 145.8-15
Romans 7.15-25a
Matthew 11.16--19, 25-30

It seems to be human nature when we find ourselves in a time of loss or hardship or dramatic change to look back toward a golden era when everything was supposedly happy and complete. For those of you who remember the TV show All in the Family, recall the opening song by Archie and Edith Bunker, [two members of the GI generation trying to raise baby boomer children.] Their song extolled the glory of Glen Miller, gender role stereotyping and the staying power of the LaSalle automobile. You see the same idea play out in American politics with claims for the incomparable leadership and accomplishments of Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy. In Iowa, we exalt the heyday of thriving small towns before the arrival of industrial agriculture and big box stores. Today’s lesson from the prophet Zechariah offers us an image from a similar golden era, the king modeled after David. Zechariah was one of the spiritual leaders who guided his people through the years following the end of the Babylonian exile. You’ve heard of it, but if you don’t know how it happened, here’s the short version.
Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (which is in modern Iraq) besieged Jerusalem in the year 605 BCE and demanded payment of tribute. The king of Judah paid up for three years, but in the fourth he refused. Nebuchadnezzar attacked the city and destroyed everything in it, including the temple of Solomon. The king died in that assault along with his sons. His successor and others of the city’s upper classes were captured and deported to Babylon. Successive groups of people, mainly the wealthy and powerful were captured and deported in subsequent Babylonian raids on the kingdom of Judah ten and fifteen years after the initial assault. Together the deportees amounted to 25% or less of the total population. During those attacks, additional towns were destroyed and other inhabitants of Judah fled to Egypt and nearby countries as refugees. Many towns were left unharmed, but Judah ceased to exist in any unified way. About 70 years after the initial assault on Jerusalem, three generations or a little more, Cyrus, the king of Persia conquered Babylon and declared the release of the captives.
The Old Testament accounts of the exile are expressions of terrible sorrow. Psalm 137 begins with the familiar words, by the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept. These stylized interpretations and the archaeological record give us all the information we have about the exile. There are, for example, no first person diaries or extended eyewitness accounts of it.
Zechariah and his prophetic colleagues are spiritual leaders of a community reshaping itself after a catastrophic event that occurred 70 years in the past. In some sense, all of those affected have done a fair amount of reshaping already. We think of them as returning to a homeland, but among their numbers, those still alive who could actually have lived there would have been elders whose memories of life in Judah were formed in childhood. Most of the returnees would have been born and raised in exile. Their idea of Jerusalem is built on the longing and reminiscences of their elders. In the return to Judah, the younger generations will leave behind the only place they have ever lived along with the graves of their ancestors. The archaeological records indicate that some chose never to return, but remained in Babylon.
On the other side of this great repatriation we have the people who never left.  Jerusalem was completely destroyed, but the land of Judah was not entirely depopulated. What was it like when the exiles began to return? How does a nation rebuild community across this gulf of time and experience that lies between its people? The later Old Testament prophets, Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi, Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of this time.
As we read [REED] of the return in the Old Testament, we might think of hundreds of people flocking back en masse and plunging into the effort to rebuild. In fact, they returned a few at a time, traveling a distance of about 500 miles. The prophet Ezra’s account of the journey says that he traveled four months to get from one place to the other. The new temple they built was smaller than the original. Some parts of Jerusalem lay in ruins for another 70 years after the end of the exile was declared.  The return from exile and rebuilding of Jerusalem were slower and less orderly than we have been led to believe. Whatever else might have brought the people together to rebuild, the idea of Zion and image of the ideal king that Zechariah calls us to imagine in this passage from chapter 9 are recurring themes that the Old Testament books return to across centuries. The idea of return to Zion has been and continues to be an element of the history and politics of Palestine and now Israel for centuries. US politicians seeking a foothold with conservative Christians have introduced it into discussions about our country’s policies. These are ancient ideas that have become iconic. The instances of their realization in time and space are limited if not nonexistent, but the ideas persist. On the occasions when we have seen or at least claim to have seen them realized, the reality has been far more complex than the ideal and the rough edges that were polished off in the icon’s creation have returned full force. Such ideals offer sustenance in times of hardship. They provide continuity through times of uncertainty and offer guidance for those who are called to bring about change. They have the power to inspire people to greatness. They also hold up a standard of perfection that is unattainable through human endeavor, divine providence notwithstanding.
A counterpart to the ideals of Zion and the Davidic King for Christian churches in the 21st century is the church of fifty or sixty years ago. It’s a step or two down in grandeur from the hope of Zion, but it’s closer to home and within the scope of memory for a lot of people here. In the 1950s and 60s, church membership was normative as was weekly attendance on Sundays if not more frequently. Parishes outgrew their buildings and Sunday schools were jam packed. Volunteers always materialized when we needed them to teach children, organize potlucks, staff committees, take care of the building and look after the sick, bereaved and newborn. Gossip moved at the speed of a telephone call or a walk to the back fence. Churches and the opinions of their leaders were considered sources of moral authority, automatically worthy of respect. References to the Bible were commonplace in popular culture and everyone recognized and understood them. There were bestselling novels and major motion pictures about religious topics. It’s a far cry from our era of spiritual but not religious, declining membership and contempt, all too often justified, for the hypocrisy of religious institutions.
Whether or not we believe we could actually do it, the question in the back of people’s minds is “how do we get back there?” Why can’t church be the way it was then? Before you assure yourself that’s the question we really need to be asking, recall a few things about those years: like how strictly the churches of that era were segregated racially. Our racial divisions are still painfully obvious on Sunday morning, but we have, at the very least, gained some level of understanding about how wrong that is, that we did not have sixty years ago. Imagine that question “why can’t we go back” coming from a gay or lesbian couple, a single mother or a young woman who senses a call to the ordained ministry. Imagine a survivor of clergy sexual abuse asking that question.
I do not mean that we have nothing positive to remember from the mid-century church. It formed the faith of many of us who are in this room in a way that has stayed with us over decades. The culture assured the church committed membership and a position of respect. But the church in that era had its problems. If it looks like a golden era it’s only because we aren’t in the midst of it, struggling to deal with the challenges it posed. The more time we spend looking back at that time that never was, the less able we are to deal with the challenges before us now.
I’ve returned in the last few days from a training conference for work in young adult and campus ministry. Some of you know that Trinity has received a grant for collaborative work with Geneva Campus Ministry, our tenant in Trinity Place. The vast majority of attendees at this conference were Episcopalians age 35 and younger. I learned that they and their peers are targets of relentless messaging from products, organizations and other offerings like campus and young adult ministry, trying desperately to get their attention in a barrage of electronic communications. The most hopeful message I took away from this conference was: If you’re trying to figure out how to do young adult and campus ministry, keep trying new ideas but don’t even imagine anyone really knows how to do this anymore. There is no simple answer. There is no - thing we can do - that will fix our problems and take us back to a happier time. Anxiety is futile. Let’s let it go.
         The people who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild under the spiritual leadership of Zechariah and his colleagues kept trying. There was no grand plan for the future when they returned from Babylon. They knew that their ancestors had kept the faith in the face of catastrophic loss, both in exile and at home. The vision of King David’s descendant and that golden era of the kingdom’s greatness remained alive in their imaginations as it had in the minds of their forbears and those who would follow after them. But it has not yet ever been fully realized in the way they imagined.

The words of the prophetic oracle that surround the lesson appointed for today speak of warfare, the victory of Zion over its neighbors. But the king who is to lead them in that day ultimately commands peace not war. At the end of the passage we hear today he names his audience “prisoners of hope.” Peace, hope and faithfulness are the ideals that the people of God have carried through the ages. We are distracted by anxiety over what we have lost or what we might lose. For the church in the 21st century that’s frequently membership and along with it money, power and possessions. The community that Zechariah inspired had lost all those things but they never ceased to be a people of God. At our best we hear the words of Zechariah ringing in our ears rejoice greatly. God remains faithful, and hope holds us captive.

Lessons and Songs for Independence Day

This is a long post.

In the parish I serve presently and the one before it I've introduced a liturgy of Lessons and Songs for Independence Day on the Sunday closest to July 4. The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton originally developed this idea as far as I know. The lessons and music change from year to year as our attention is drawn to new ideas and points of view. Here is the basic liturgical framework along with this year's selection of lessons and music as offered at Trinity Episcopal Church, Iowa City.

This year we traded out the Declaration of Independence for two excerpts from the pamphlet war between Alexander Hamilton and Samuel Seabury. The change was motivated by interest in the musical Hamilton. In it, Seabury, who was a British loyalist, is portrayed as a buffoon. In fact, he was a respected and influential clergyman in Connecticut who was considered one of his era's finest prose stylists. He published three pamphlets criticizing the revolution under a pseudonym to which Hamilton responded. Their exchange played out over 1774-75. When Seabury's identity was discovered, local supporters of the revolution wrecked the shop and printing press of the tradesman who had published his pamphlets. Seabury himself was jailed for six weeks and forbidden to return to his parish following his release. He obtained work as a chaplain to the British forces. After the war ended, unlike many British loyalists, Seabury became a citizen of the new United States and was instrumental in the survival and growth of the Anglican Communion in the new nation. His brother David, one of the 60,000 refugees produced by the war, moved to Canada. In the text below you'll find that we have maintained the 18th century spelling of a word or two from Seabury and Hamilton's writings.

For the first time this year our service included equal numbers of lessons drawn from the writing and oratory of women and men. The research for lessons revealed that women made few recorded speeches in the 19th century. We included the Seneca Falls Declaration for the first time this year. Its form follows that of the Declaration of Independence. The women's rights convention at which it was presented was organized primarily by women affiliated with the Society of Friends. Its meetings were one of the few venues in which women of that time were permitted to speak publicly.

All of the previous versions of this liturgy in which I've participated have included the Gettysburg Address of Abraham Lincoln. This year we traded that for a letter written by Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, to her cousin on the eve of the second day of the Battle of Fredericksburg. As the record of the Civil and Crimean Wars and the Vietnam War reveals, nurses offer a unique voice to the account of warfare.

Many Americans are familiar with Helen Keller's extraordinary accomplishments in the face of adversity. Fewer are aware that she was a socialist. For several years I've looked for a uniquely American take on the nation's participation in World War I, but never found quite the right source. Her speech to American workers is remarkable in its scope and fervor. 

In previous years this service has always included the "I have a dream" speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, the order in which lessons were discovered and added suggested that we find a woman's voice from the Civil Rights Movement. I was astonished to learn that history has recorded so few speeches by women in that cause. There's a gap of twelve years between Fannie Lou Hamer's speech to the Democratic National Convention in 1964 and Barbara Jordan's keynote in 1976. Both of these speeches are closely tied to the events of their respective conventions and were not a great fit for this service. It turns out that one woman spoke at the March on Washington: entertainer and French Resistance veteran Josephine Baker. Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson sang, but Ms. Baker was the only woman to give a speech. We excerpted her address which is informal and deeply personal.

As we have for three years now we concluded with Justice Kennedy's eloquent opinion in Obergfell v. Hodges. In prior years I had included Hillary Clinton's UN speech on gay rights in this liturgy. The Obergfell opinion was published only a week or two before the liturgy and it was a perfect addition. 

Here are the lessons and songs for 2017.

Song: Blue Book 719  O beautiful for spacious skies

A Bidding Prayer

Celebrant        As Christians who are Americans, we gather this day to thank God for the gifts of our freedom and liberty, to honor those whose vision, wisdom and sacrifice secured these “unalienable rights” for us and every generation, to confess that while we believe that all are created equal, we have not always allowed others to enjoy that freedom or those rights; we ask God’s forgiveness and call upon God’s unconditional love and boundless mercy to grant that we may be given the strength and courage to live more fully into our faith and beliefs.
Celebrant Let us pray.
O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.

All Lord, keep this nation under your care.

Celebrant To the president and members of the cabinet, to governors of states, mayors of cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.

All Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

Celebrant To senators and representatives, and those who make our laws in states, cities, and towns, give courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.

 All                      Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

Celebrant        To judges and officers of our courts give understanding and integrity that                human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.

All                      Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

Celebrant        And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy name.

All For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Amen.

Celebrant Let us now remember our history, that our past may inform our future.
All sit for the Lessons.

Lesson I : Excerpts from the “Pamphlet War” between The Rev. Samuel Seabury and Alexander Hamilton

A reading from Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress by The Rev. Samuel Seabury, Rector of St. Peter’s Church, West Chester, New York, 1774.

Permit me to address you upon a subject, which, next to your eternal welfare in a future world, demands your most serious and dispassionate consideration. The American Colonies are unhappily involved in a scene of confusion and discord. The bands of civil society are broken; the authority of government weakened, and in some instances taken away: Individuals are deprived of their liberty; their property is frequently invaded by violence, and not a single Magistrate has had courage or virtue enough to interpose. From this distressed situation it was hoped, that the wisdom and prudence of the Congress lately assembled at Philadelphia, would have delivered us. The eyes of all men were turned to them. We ardently expected that some prudent scheme of accommodating our unhappy disputes with the Mother-Country, would have been adopted and pursued. But alas! they are broken up without ever attempting it: they have taken no one step that tended to peace: they have gone on from bad to worse, and have either ignorantly misunderstood, carelessly neglected, or basely betrayed the interests of all the Colonies.
Shall we attempt to unsettle the whole British Government--to throw all into confusion, because our self-will is not complied with? Because the ill-projected, ill-conducted, abominable scheme of some of the colonists, to form a republican government independent of Great-Britain, cannot otherwise succeed?--Good God! can we look forward to the ruin, destruction, and desolation of the whole British Empire, without one relenting thought? Can we contemplate it with pleasure; and promote it with all our might and vigour, and at the same time call ourselves his Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects? Whatever the Gentlemen of the Congress may think of the matter, the spirit that dictated such a measure, was not the spirit of humanity.
Can we think to threaten, and bully, and frighten the supreme government of the nation into a compliance with our demands? Can we expect to force a submission to our peevish and petulant humours, by exciting clamors and riots in England? We ought to know the temper and spirit, the power and strength of the nation better. A single campaign, should she exert her force, would ruin us effectually by the same Navy that she keeps in readiness to protect her own trade.
Your Representatives know perfectly the state of the unhappy breach between our mother country and us. They want no information in this point. The more you trust them at this time, the more you will put it in their power to serve you; and the greater obligation you will lay them under to serve you faithfully, and effectually. Only beseech them to heal this unnatural breach; to settle this destructive contention; that peace and quietness, and the firm protection of law, and good government, may again be our happy lot. Would the several counties, or towns in the province, conduct themselves in this manner, God, I am confident, would bless, and give a prosperous issue to so good a work.
A reading from A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, by Alexander Hamilton, 1774.

It was hardly to be expected that any man could be so presumptuous, as openly to controvert the equity, wisdom, and authority of the measures, adopted by the congress: an assembly truly respectable on every account! But, however improbable such a degree of presumption might have seemed, we find there are some, in whom it exists. Attempts are daily making to diminish the influence of their decisions, and prevent the salutary effects, intended by them.
The only distinction between freedom and slavery consists in this: In the former state, a man is governed by the laws to which he has given his consent, either in person, or by his representative: In the latter, he is governed by the will of another. That Americans are entitled to freedom, is incontestable upon every rational principle. All men have one common original: they participate in one common nature, and consequently have one common right. No reason can be assigned why one man should exercise any power, or pre-eminence over his fellow creatures more than another; unless they have voluntarily vested him with it. Since then, Americans have not by any act of their’s impowered the British Parliament to make laws for them, it follows they can have no just authority to do it.
The evils which may flow from the execution of our measures, if we consider them with respect to their extent and duration, are comparatively nothing. In all human probability they will scarcely be felt. Reason and experience teach us, that the consequences would be too fatal to Great Britain to admit of delay.
She must either listen to our complaints, and restore us to a peaceful enjoyment of our violated rights; or she must exert herself to enforce her despotic claims by fire and sword. To imagine she would prefer the latter, implies a charge of the grossest infatuation of madness itself. Our numbers are very considerable; the courage of Americans has been tried and proved. Contests for liberty have ever been found the most bloody, implacable and obstinate. The disciplined troops Great Britain could send against us, would be but few, Our superiority in number would over balance our inferiority in discipline. It would be a hard, if not an impracticable task to subjugate us by force.
I caution you, again and again, to beware of the men who advise you to forsake the plain path, marked out for you by the congress. They only mean to deceive and betray you. Our representatives in general assembly cannot take any wiser or better course to settle our differences, than our representatives in the continental congress have taken. If you join with the rest of America in the same common measure, you will be sure to preserve your liberties inviolate; but if you separate from them, and seek for redress alone, and unseconded, you will certainly fall a prey to your enemies, and repent your folly as long as you live.
May God give you wisdom to see what is your true interest, and inspire you with becoming zeal for the cause of virtue and mankind.

Song        Let tyrants shake their iron rods
Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav’ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.
Howe and Burgoyne and Clinton too,
With Prescot and Cornwallis join’d
Together plot our Overthrow,
In one Infernal league combin’d.
When God inspir’d us for the fight,
Their ranks were broke, their lines were forc’d,
Their ships were Shatter’d in our sight,
Or swiftly driven from our Coast.
The Foe comes on with haughty Stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their Vet’rans flee before our Youth,
And Gen’rals yield to beardless Boys.
What grateful Off’ring shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us Sing,
And praise his name on ev’ry Chord.

Lesson II
 The Seneca Falls Declaration of 1848 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Coffin Mott
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course. 
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. 
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. 
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. 
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice. 
 He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners. 
Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. 
He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns. 
He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming to all intents and purposes, her master--the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement. 
He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women--the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands. 
After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it. 
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known. 
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her. 
He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic  authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church. 
He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals
for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man. 
He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God. 
He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject  life. 
Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation--in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States. 
In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.

 Lesson III
A letter from Clara Barton to her cousin Vera on the eve of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 12, 1862.
My dear Cousin Vera:

Five minutes time with you; and God only knows what those five minutes might be worth to the many-doomed thousands sleeping around me.

It is the night before a battle. The enemy, Fredericksburg, and its mighty entrenchments lie before us, the river between - at tomorrow's dawn our troops will assay to cross, and the guns of the enemy will sweep those frail bridges at every breath.

The moon is shining through the soft haze with a brightness almost prophetic. For the last half hour I have stood alone in the awful stillness of its glimmering light gazing upon the strange sad scene around me striving to say, "Thy will Oh God be done."
The camp fires blaze with unwanted brightness, the sentry's tread is still but quick - the acres of little shelter tents are dark and still as death, no wonder for us as I gazed sorrowfully upon them. I thought I could almost hear the slow flap of the grim messenger's wings, as one by one he sought and selected his victims for the morning. Sleep weary one, sleep and rest for tomorrow’s toil. Oh! Sleep and visit in dreams once more the loved ones nestling at home. They may yet live to dream of you, cold lifeless and bloody, but this dream soldier is thy last, paint it brightly, dream it well. Oh northern mothers wives and sisters, all unconscious of the hour, would to Heaven that I could bear for you the 
concentrated woe which is so soon to follow, would that Christ would teach my soul a prayer that would plead to the Father for grace sufficient for you, God pity and strengthen you every one.

Mine are not the only waking hours, the light yet burns brightly in our kind hearted General's tent where he pens what may be a last farewell to his wife and children and thinks sadly of his fated men.

Already the roll of the moving artillery is sounded in my ears. The battle draws near and I must catch one hour's sleep for tomorrow's labor.

Good night near cousin and Heaven grant you strength for your more peaceful and less terrible, but not less weary days than mine.

Yours in love,

Song            Mine eyes have seen the glory

   Lesson IV
A reading from Helen Keller’s speech to the Women's Peace Party and the Labor Forum, January 1916

The future of the world rests in the hands of America. The future of America rests on the backs of 80,000,000 working men and women and their children. We are facing a grave crisis in our national life. The few who profit from the labor of the masses want to  organize the workers into an army which will protect the interests of the capitalists. You are urged to add to the heavy burdens you already bear the burden of a larger army and many additional warships. It is in your power to refuse to carry the artillery and the dreadnoughts. You do not need to make a great noise about it. With the silence and dignity of creators you can end wars and the system of selfishness and exploitation that causes wars. All you need to do to bring about this stupendous revolution is to straighten up and fold your arms.
We are not preparing to defend our country. We have no enemies foolhardy enough to attempt to invade the United States. The talk about attack from Germany and Japan is absurd. Germany has its hands full and will be busy with its own affairs for some generations after the European war is over.
Yet, everywhere, we hear fear advanced as argument for armament. Congress is not preparing to defend the people of the United States. It is planning to protect the capital of American speculators and investors in Mexico, South America, China, and the Philippine Islands. Incidentally this preparation will benefit the manufacturers of munitions and war machines. Our flourishing industry in implements of murder is filling the vaults of New York's banks with gold.
Every modern war has had its root in exploitation. The preparedness propagandists want to give the people something to think about besides their own unhappy condition. They know the cost of living is high, wages are low, employment is uncertain and will be much more so when the European call for munitions stops. No matter how hard and incessantly the people work, they often cannot afford the comforts of life; many cannot obtain the necessities.
All the machinery of the system has been set in motion. Above the complaint and din of the protest from the workers is heard the voice of authority. Will the workers walk into this trap? Will they be fooled again? I am afraid so.
The clever ones, up in the high places know how childish and silly the workers are. They know that if the government dresses them up in khaki and gives them a rifle and starts them off with a brass band and waving banners, they will go forth to fight valiantly for their own  enemies. They are taught that brave men die for their country's honor. What a price to pay for an abstraction - the achievement and inheritance of generations swept away in a moment--and nobody better off for all the misery!
The kind of preparedness the workers want is reorganization and reconstruction of their whole life, such as has never been attempted by statesmen or governments. It is your duty to insist upon still more radical measure. It is your business to see that no child is employed in an industrial establishment or mine or store, and that no worker in needlessly exposed to accident or disease. It is your business to make them give you clean cities, free from smoke, dirt and congestion. It is your business to make them pay you a living wage. It is your business to see that this kind of preparedness is carried into every department of the nation, until everyone has a chance to be well born, well nourished, rightly educated, intelligent and serviceable to the country at all times.
Strike against all ordinances and laws and institutions that continue the slaughter of peace and the butcheries of war. Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought. Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder. Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human being. Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction. Be heroes in an army of construction.

Song: Blue Book 597                                                               O day of peace that dimly shines

Lesson V
A reading from Josephine Baker’s speech at the March on Washington, August 1963

Friends and family…you know I have lived a long time and I have come a long way.
When I left St. Louis a long time ago, the conductor directed me to the last car.  And you all know what that means. But when I ran away, yes, when I ran away to another country, to France, I didn’t have to do that.  I could go into any restaurant I wanted to, and I could drink water anyplace I wanted to, and I didn’t have to go to a colored toilet either, and I have to tell you it was nice, and I got used to it, and I liked it, and I wasn’t afraid anymore that someone would shout at me and say, “go to the end of the line.”   
After a long time, I came to America.  When I got to New York way back then, they would not let me check into the good hotels because I was colored, or eat in certain restaurants.  And then I went to Atlanta, and it was a horror to me.  And I said to myself, My God, I am Josephine, and if they do this to me, what do they do to the other people in America and that made me mad.   
And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth.  And then look out, ‘cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world. So I did open my mouth, and you know I did scream, and when I demanded what I was supposed to have and what I was entitled to, they still would not give it to me.   So then they thought they could smear me, and the best way to do that was to call me a communist.  And you know, too, what that meant.  Those were dreaded words in those days, and I want to tell you also that I was hounded by the government agencies in America, and there was never one ounce of proof that I was a communist.  But they were mad.  They were mad because I told the truth. And when I screamed loud enough, they started to open that door just a little bit, and we all started to be able to squeeze through it.  Now I am not going to stand in front of all of you today and take credit for what is happening now.  I cannot do that.  But I want to take credit for telling you how to do the same thing, and when you scream, friends, I know you will be heard.  And you will be heard now.  
I am not a young woman now, friends.  My life is behind me.  There is not too much fire burning inside me.  And before it goes out, I want you to use what is left to light that fire in you.  So that you can carry on, and so that you can do those things that I have done.  Then, when my fires have burned out, and I go where we all go someday, I can be happy. You know I have always taken the rocky path.  I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path, and I tried to smooth it out a little.  I wanted to make it easier for you.  I want you to have a chance at what I had.  But I do not want you to have to run away to get it.   
Ladies and gentlemen, my friends and family, I have just been handed a little note.  It is an invitation to visit the President of the United States in his home, the White House.   I 
He am greatly honored.  But I must tell you that a colored woman—or, as you say it here in America, a black woman—is not going there. It is a woman.  It is Josephine Baker. This is a great honor for me.  Someday I want you children out there to have that great honor too.  And we know that that time is not someday.  We know that that time is now.   I thank you, and may God bless you.  And may He continue to bless you long after I am gone. 

Song: Blue Book 599              Lift every voice and sing 

Lesson VI  

A reading from the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in the matter of Obergefell v. Hodges, delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy

The constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex. 
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. 

Song : Blue Book 603                                                   When Christ was lifted from the earth 
The Gospel                 Matthew 10:40-42 

The service continues with The Peace, The Offertory Anthem, Lady of the Harbor by Lee Hoiby, and the Holy Eucharist. 


“Let tyrants shake” (tune: Chester): Words and Music by William Billings (1746-1800). Chester was a popular song during the American Revolutionary War. Billings was the first notable American composer.

“In unity we lift our song” (tune: Ein Feste Burg). Words by Ken Medema. Music by Martin Luther (1483-1546); harmony from The New Hymnal for American Youth. This version is from The Faith We Sing. Words: copyright Briar Patch Music, 1994. Permission for use has been requested.

“Mine eyes have seen the glory”: Text by Julia Ward Howe. The tune is of 19th c. American folk origin. The text and tune are in the Public Domain. Reprinted from “Hymns of Promise: a large-print songbook” (Hope Publishing Co., 2015)

“This is my song”: Text: Stanzas 1 and 2 by Lloyd Stone (1912-1993), © 1934, 1962, Lorenz Publishing Co., stanza 3 by Georgia Harkness (1891-1974), © 1964, Lorenz Publishing Co. Tune: Finlandia by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Reprinted under #A-703440. All rights reserved. From Gather Comprehensive, G.I.A. Publications, Inc., 2004

“Lady of the Harbor”: Words by Emma Lazarus. This text is in the Public Domain.

“Let streams of living justice flow”: Words by William Whitla, 1989. Words copyright © 1998, Selah Publishing Co., Kingston, NY 12401, reprinted under #A-703440. All rights reserved. Music: Thaxsted, by Gustav Holst, 1921. Public Domain: reprinted from Sing Justice, Do Justice, a songbook published by Alternatives for Simple Living, 1998.