ON LINE WORSHIP: All Of Us Need All Of Us – Rev. Lyn Cox and the UUCSS Racial Justice Task Force

During stressful times, we may be tempted to retreat into notions of “us” and “them,” yet liberation and spiritual growth ask us to think about the inter-relatedness of all people. In the words of the Rev. Theresa Ines Soto, “all of us need all of us to make it.” This on-line worship draws from the parable of the Good Samaritan and the story of Parting the Sea, explored through a lens of dismantling white supremacy culture.

Reflection: Mary Beth Lerner

I’m Mary Beth Lerner, a member of the Racial Justice Task Force. 

All of us need all of us. 

I need all of us because finding the strength to keep going is hard. 

I read the news and feel the creep of despair in my chest washing over my shallow breath, my lips pursed and jaw locked. I worry for my children and my 98 year old mother and my body hunkers down, curling in on itself, in protective stance. No place I can flee to so I remain frozen in space. 

Flight is not an option. 

I want to fight. To point out the yawning injustices that this virus has magnified tenfold. Fight for the brave medical professionals, doctors, nurses, technicians, assistants who are on the front lines combatting this lethal virus. 

Fight for the working poor, the low wage earners who are cleaning our hospitals, delivering our food, keeping our grocery stores open, filling and packing our Amazon orders, loading and driving the delivery trucks, taking care of our elderly and infirm. 

Fight for the poor, who live in what Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor calls, “the intimacy of American poverty” – in the places where the corona virus thrives: homeless shelters and encampments, overcrowded homes, prisons and jails and immigrant detention centers, clinics and emergency rooms. 

Fight the system that refuses to recognize the people who need access to medical care and shelter; the system that creates enormous structural disparities that exist for people of color, for immigrants, the poor, the homeless. 

Fight people who suspect giving unemployment insurance to low wage earners will encourage them to not look for work; who believe that if those people took better care of themselves, they wouldn’t have diabetes or other underlying conditions that makes the virus more lethal to them. 

And oh boy, do I want to fight those elected officials who have failed so egregiously to protect the lives of our peoples, who have relinquished responsibility to mobilize every possible resource to fight this virus so that they may gain political advantage. 

Yet I remain frozen. 

Until I remember that I’m not alone. I remember the power of people being vulnerable together, letting the stories of our lives disarm racist and classist ideas of us and them. When we listen to one another, believe that people are the authors of their own stories, believe in the shared humanity of our neighbors, then I move closer to understanding that All of Us MEANS All of Us. 

Personally, when I begin to dig deep and interrogate myself about my complicity, unintentional or not, in my power and choice to rob others of their stories, that frozen part of me begins to melt and thaw. In particular, I struggle to do this as a white person because I am so immersed in my privilege. For all of us who have privilege by virtue of being white, being heterosexual, being male, being able, being educated – it is up to us to believe the experiences of people who do not share those privileges. 

All of us need all of us. All of us need all of us. I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz repeating, “there’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Can those words bring us home? Let’s give it a try. And with three clicks of our ruby slippers, maybe all of us will be home, together. 

Reflection: Eli Briggs & Al Nathan

I’m Al Nathan, member of the Racial Justice Task Force. To frame our reflection today, I want to share the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller, which were widely quoted during the 1930s:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I’m Eli Briggs, also a member of the RJTF.

When I was thinking about our theme for today, these words of Pastor Niemoller came to my mind. Not in a transactional “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” way, but more like “we are all together in this and our liberation and freedom and safety are bound up together.” 

This idea is echoed in many places where we might take inspiration. According to the research tool of Google, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jewish activist Emma Lazurus both are quoted as saying “No one is free until we are all free.” And in the book of Matthew, Jesus says “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

What this all suggests to me is that until we are all safe and free from violence and fear, none of us are really safe and free. 

So while I may be safe today, because I have economic security and I am not a person who is targeted because of my race or sexual orientation or other characteristics, I am not really safe until everyone is safe. 

When people of Asian descent are targeted because of the false belief that they are responsible for the coronavirus, I need to respond. 

When people who are incarcerated are at higher risk and are being ignored amid the spread of the virus, I need to respond.

When Jewish people and African Americans are being targeted by members of hate groups taking advantage of this crisis, I need to respond. 

So, you may be thinking, if none of us are free until all of us are free, that is a pretty daunting prospect. How will we get to that place when there are so many forces pushing in the other direction? That is where community comes in.

We are part of a community of people, not just at UUCSS, but all over this country and the world, who are pushing for the liberation of all people who are marginalized and oppressed. 

Even now, especially now, there are movements to take care of people and make sure that no one is left behind in this crisis. 

There are many resources you can find, but I’ll offer a couple of suggestions. Our own UU Service Committee has information on Protecting Human Rights During the COVID-19 Outbreak. In addition, I have found  colorofchange.org to be a useful resource. Maybe other folks can offer organizations that they would recommend in the chat box. 

It is a daunting time to be sure, but I take comfort knowing there are so many people working in so many ways for justice and safety for us all.

Homily: All Of Us / Rev. Lyn Cox

Thank you, Deborah, for creating and leading that song, and thank you to everyone who helped bring that memory back to the congregation. For all of the gifts of time, talent, and financial support that sustain this community, and for the mission and values that unify us and help us find meaning, we are truly grateful. 

I don’t know if the story happened exactly this way, but I believe it’s true. Jesus and his friends had been traveling all over the country. They healed the sick, blessed the children, told great stories similar to the “Who Is My Neighbor” story we heard earlier, and helped people feel close to God. It was getting near the time of Passover. Passover was not celebrated the same way then as it is now, and we can talk about that later, but it was an important holiday for Jewish people. 

Jerusalem was crowded in anticipation of the holiday, and people were anxious. The Romans occupied their land, and a lot of people felt that the way the Romans did things was unfair. They hoped that someone would come along and make everything different. And some thought Jesus was that person. 

Jesus approached the gates, riding on a donkey that his friends had borrowed. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the palm trees and spread them out on the road. They shouted “Hosanna!” because they thought Jesus would be the hero they expected, and that he would be their new king. Everything did change in their society, but not in the way the crowd might have imagined. 

Jesus had a very busy week in Jerusalem. He got so angry at the way the poor were being treated in the courtyard in front of the Temple that he turned over the tables of the money changers and drove the merchants away. The rest of the week, Jesus continued to teach, to pray, and to heal people. He knew that he didn’t have much longer to do his work, and so he needed his friends to be ready to continue the work without him. He brought them together, reminded them of what he had taught them, and he said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” 

We’ll talk more next Sunday about this story, but the part I wanted to highlight is that Jesus learned from his tradition that the people who are marginalized matter, that we should speak up for justice when people who are poor are being treated unfairly, and that caring for and healing others is worthwhile. The short way of saying that is that we should love one another. 

In Jesus’ place and time, everything was about to change, and the way it was about to change was beyond what anybody imagined. They were on the threshold of something new, and there were some terrible things that happened during that transition. For the hard times ahead of them, what Jesus asked his friends to hold on to was love. Empowering the people most impacted by oppression is a form of love. Caring for one another is a form of love. Remembering that all of us means all of us is a form of love. 

Another story that we remember this week is the story of Passover, when the Jewish people came out from Egypt. We say Egypt, but that might get confusing between the ancient place and the modern place. In Hebrew, the country that the people came out from in Exodus is called Mitzrayim, which literally means “the narrow places.” It was a place they had been stuck. I think a lot of us can sympathize with being stuck. Let’s call the place Mitzrayim in this story.

I don’t know if the story happened exactly this way, but I believe it’s true. The Jewish people had been a minority population in Mitzrayim for four hundred and thirty years. Their ancestors had originally come during a famine, and their ancestor Jacob had been a valued leader in government, but after some time, their position fell. 

The leader of Mitzrayim, the king, was afraid of the Jewish people. Even though his ancestors and their ancestors had been neighbors for over four hundred years, he thought of the Jewish people as a “them,” other, not “us,” not entitled to freedom or dignity. He set task masters over them to oppress them with forced labor. Even in their oppression, they grew and thrived. The leaders of Mitzrayim made the lives of the Jewish people bitter with hard service, and were ruthless in dealing with them. 

The process of bringing the people out from Mitzrayim was difficult. There were plagues, there were retaliations against workers, there was the time when the people had to cross the sea, and God parted the waters so they could walk on dry land. The Jewish people were on a threshold to a new era of their history, a new relationship to each other and to their faith. It would be different from what any of them could imagine. 

We will talk about it during our virtual Passover seder on Thursday at 5pm; please email seder@uucss.org to get the link so you can join us. 

Although the transition from Mitzrayim to their new way of life was hard, one of the important things they learned is not to treat other people the way they had been treated. Even before they left, God told them that, in the future, when they celebrated Passover to remember how they reached freedom, everyone was welcome; “there shall be one law for the resident and for the alien who resides among you.” 

Once they were finally free, when they received the Torah, right along with the Ten Commandments, God told them: “You must not wrong or oppress the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Mitzrayim.” The same thing was repeated later: “When a stranger comes to dwell in your land, you must not oppress them. You will love the stranger as yourself, because you were once strangers.” God went on to say right then that they should not abuse widows or orphans, and that they should not exploit the poor. They knew what it was like to be oppressed, stuck in the narrow places, and nobody should have to be in that situation again.

In both the Palm Sunday story and the Passover story, all of us means all of us. We cannot be people who value these stories and who simultaneously uphold a society where some people are regarded as disposable or unworthy or other. All of us need all of us to make it.

Mary Beth and Eli shared reflections earlier about what it means to them that all of us need all of us to make it. We practice community care and work toward collective liberation not only because it is the right thing to do, not only because all of our spiritual and ethical traditions tell us to, not only because our eventual survival depends on it, but also out of love. Love for other humans, love for our planet, love for the source of blessing as we understand it to be; all of these lead us to love the stranger as ourselves, because they are ourselves. None of alone can save the world, yet we can each be part of an interdependent web that hums with love. Join your voice. Love one another. All of us need all of us to make it. 

So be it. Blessed be. Amen