Updated: May 16, 2020
The Rev. Bob Holum
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
What song will you sing? Will you squawk like a crow? Whirrr like a hummingbird? Scatter liquid notes like a robin? Some of you know that we said goodbye to two long-time members of our lakeside community this week, Marty Starr and Percy Chappele. There aren’t many left of people born before WWII, those I think of as the great-grandparents, or as the adults in the room, so who’s left to tell us what to do. Yikes! One thing for sure is that those of us in the Baby Boomer generation don’t have a clue. We’re the ones who gave you global warming, enough single use plastic to gag every whale in the sea, and a political system so polarized it can’t agree on the facts of our current crises long enough to define a problem, let alone fix it.
Fortunately, as I’ve been reminded this week, there are a host of smart, humane, self-disciplined and creative people populating generations X, Y, and Z, those of you born after 1964, and it’s especially to that group we need to be addressing the question, “What song will you sing?” The WWII generation sang songs of thrift, hard work, and loyalty to family, church, community institutions and political parties. Baby boomers sang songs of liberation, empathy for the oppressed, self-expression and purchasing on credit, holding politicians to a higher standard and criticizing parents, church, community organizations and political parties. Baby boomers also sang songs of my country, right or wrong, love it or leave it, honor the flag, fight communism in Vietnam or fight it in California, and keep the U.S. Christian. Those conflicting Boomer songs have turned into unpleasant shouts and insults, which creates a lot of static and room for unscrupulous leaders. Yikes!
What song, Gen X, Y and Z, will you sing? One good thing is more of you are playing the ukulele and singing songs instead of just parking your butt in the audience and listening to someone else. I’m hoping you will sing songs of participation: getting involved and taking responsibility for affairs beyond your own narrow survival. That’s where Jesus was going when he sent his students out into the world instead of just sitting at his feet and listening. The Kingdom of God - what some have called utopia, or the Beloved Community - means having a vision for a better world and doing what you can to bring it about. It’s good to vote, it’s better to register voters or drive infirm people to the polls. It’s good to contribute to a cause, it’s better to take your turn staffing a phone bank. Learn the chords, learn how to pick a melody and how to harmonize. Participate in creating the song, don’t just buy a ticket and listen. “Find and participate in a higher cause” is the spirit song I hear Jesus teaching us today.
Emma Lazarus is singing us another spirit song in the first reading that Winslow read. She contrasts that image of military might, The Colossus of Rhodes, a symbol of forceful conquest, with the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of welcome for the outcast: “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land; here at our sun-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightening, and her name, Mother of Exiles.” My own great-grandparents came to the United States from famine-wasted Norway in 1879, and I understand this to be a nation of immigrants and exiles, so I like to sing that compassion and liberation song. “Keep, ancient lands your storied pomp…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.” One candidate for song of the future is Lady Liberty’s tune, “Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Songs of participation, from Jesus, songs of compassion and welcome, from Emma Lazarus, what song will you sing?
Then there’s that third song, which I both love, and also find infinitely troublesome: This is my song, O God of all the nations, A song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is, here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine. But other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine. I love that valuing of mutual loyalty and mutual ambition. I love reminding myself that the struggling people of war-torn Sudan and famine ridden Somalia and at our southern border have the same dreams and the same claim on divine blessing as we in our land of relative plenty. BUT Whatever we mean when we name the name of God must be big enough to encompass the hopes and the needs of all earth’s critters, human and nonhuman alike. Whatever we mean when we say the word “God,” must be a God worthy of bearing as many names as there are flavors of religious belief, spanning the range from humanism to fundamentalism.
We have to admit that murder has been done to native Americans and to Hindus and Buddhists and Jews and Germans and to women and many others in the name of God, and is being done today, and, therefore, when we sing songs of multinationalism and religious pluralism, we must do so with the fearless awareness that we are in over our heads: “So, hear my prayer, O God of all the nations, myself I give you, let your will be done.” As Luther put it, “If we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.” In other words, if we want to learn to sing like a hermit thrush, we need to find an eagle to ride. I loved that at the end of Marty Starr’s celebration of life yesterday Will Starr asked us all to observe a period of silence in honor of the Quaker tradition. There are many ways to climb on the Eagle’s back, and silent contemplation is one of them. Corporate song is another way, and thus we give thanks and bless our Sheerin memorial hymnals today. Many eagles. Find the one that YOU can ride to find YOUR song.
There is a natural human tendency, when things get tough, when the human house is on fire, to look for someone to blame. Governor Wallace blamed outside agitators, called Martin Luther King a communist when Black people tried to claim their rights. Northern liberals blame southern conservatives, rural conservatives blame coastal elites, hippies blamed the soldiers coming back from Vietnam, veterans blamed the pot-smoking radicals, and, to some extent, the battle lines of blame drawn in the 60s continue to fuel the polarization we experience today. Therefore, when looking for an eagle to ride, when choosing a community of shared value to help you find your song, look for one that encourages humility, mutual accountability and forgiveness. What song, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, will you sing? We can’t wait to hear! Some thoughts from us crusty Boomers, hints for your consideration. Songs of participation, songs of hospitality, songs of pluralism, songs of forgiveness. Take a walk in the morning. Listen for the hermit thrush.