“A Wider Vision”
May 15th, 2022
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
When I was a little girl, one of my favorite activities was singing in the children’s choir at Nassau Presbyterian (my home church). I believe our choir director’s name was Anna Royer who somehow inspired a pack of squirrelly little elementary kids to memorize the songs we then sang in church (to the delight of the congregation). My favorite, since it’s the one I remember, was “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
Years before James Herriot and BBC/PBS made the words famous, I learned “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.” Just like the hymn that many of us learned, “Jesus loves me,” “All things Bright and Beautiful” teaches us an important lesson about God.
Lessons that we sometimes forget as we get older. So, today I invite you to remember that “the Lord God made them all.” I know we make fun of creations like the aardvark or the platypus. I know we wonder why God would make spiders or snakes or rodents or bees (and, of course, there are all sorts of food chain reasons). I know we sometimes focus on the bright and beautiful, the wise and wonderful, the great and small, and forget that “the Lord Got made them all” also includes the dim and homely, the not so intelligent and repulsive.
We humans are an easily sidetracked bunch. And often we make ourselves feel better by assigning some to the bright and beautiful crowd and others to the reject pile—and then magnify our divisions by giving it the express approval of God! One such division was the dietary laws found in the book of Leviticus that show up in our Scripture today.
Leviticus is where you find prohibition of eating anything from the pig (including bacon). This is where anything that does not have fins and scales, like lobster, or mussels, or clams, or crab, or shrimp, is prohibited. Some of this makes good medical sense—under-cooked pork can give you trichinosis; Shellfish can make you ill. But then we humans go overboard, and start to insist that not only are the foods clean or unclean, but the people who eat the foods are clean or unclean.
This was one of the big conversations of the early church. If you were a Gentile, if you didn’t abide by the Levitical food laws, could you become Christian, could you share in communion (which was often around dinner tables, with shared food)? Or did a Gentile have to first be “cleaned”—to become Jewish in every way--before becoming Christian? This is a major part of the story of the book of Acts—the tussle between Paul (apostle to the Gentiles) and Peter (the head of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem).
God had a wider vision and such a sense of humor. When whispers or shouts don’t get our attention—God might show up as a blinding light on the road to Damascus (subtext: Note to Paul: “you are the one who truly doesn’t see!”) Or God might have to show up in your dreams like with Peter, and give you a message not once, not twice, but three times, to get you to see God’s point! No food is unclean. Underscore the point by having Gentile people show up, go to their house and before you can baptize them, the Holy Spirit descends “just as it had on us”—(subtext: They are already clean, just like the food, in case you didn’t get it!).
Truly, The Lord God made us all!
Now before we get all proud of how we eat bacon and lobster (or at least crab legs), let’s take a closer look at ourselves. Can we honestly say we have never divided people into “us” and “them”? Can we look God in the eye and spout that we have always acted as if “the Lord God made us all”? (and I would add, “And it was good, very good.”). I thought so. See now Peter’s dream begins to seem subversive, and challenging. “Ah,” says God, “you mean now Peter’s dream becomes exciting and innovative. Remember, a new heaven and a new earth.”
As I was musing about these texts this week, what came to me was the movie “The Truman Show.” In a brilliant performance, Jim Carey plays a person who has been the focus of a reality TV show called “The Truman Show”—except that he doesn’t know he is surrounded by TV sets and people faking living their lives around him. Until one day, a light, one of those big, powerful, theater lights, falls from the (make-believe) sky. And suddenly Truman begins to notice that there is something off in his world. Eventually, he escapes from the bubble he has been living in, and goes out into the wider, beautiful, more complicated, world.
I think that is the message for today. God didn’t mean for us to live in a sanitized bubble. God doesn’t want us to cut down the invitation list. We need to have a wider vision. We need to open our eyes so that we can see what God is doing in our world. We need to be ready to have God jolt us away from what we thought we knew of God’s ways in our lives. We need to expect that the new heaven and new earth that Revelation talks about will require us to give up something. For if there is new coming, the old will need to be reduced, reused, and recycled.
Seasons of the Spirit suggests that our focus for self-reflection and action this week be anti-racism. Isn’t that what we pray for in a new heaven and a new earth, I hope! That’s at least what I pray for—and pray for the energy, intelligence, imagination and love that it will take to do my small part! But a wider vision isn’t something that we can just assume is what most people are hearing from the church. In fact, this week, as Ann Marie and I were driving around, I saw a parked car that had a message for people. It said “Escape the Inferno” in Spanish in large letters, along with “Jesus is Lord.”
What part of “all things bright and beautiful…the Lord God make them all” is that? What part of a wider vision is that? What part of a new heaven and a new earth is that? I don’t hear the good news of the gospel being one of fear: “escape the inferno.” But as we have seen in recent years, fear does seem to motivate people. It just doesn’t mean it is right.
I sometimes think that fear is at the heart of our stubbornness in holding onto what has been. We worry, if we change, what will I have to give up? We worry, if we change, what will become of what I love? We worry, if we change, what will become of me? All that fear paralyzes us, and so we drag our feet at doing anything. But we are told that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
I think what that means is we hold onto the fact that Jesus loves us and the fact that the Lord God made us all so tightly that we are willing to make small steps for change, right here, right now. One of those steps we are inaugurating today—what we are calling the Spiritual Royalty Program.
We know that this country was built with the unpaid, forced labor of African-American slaves. We know that untold wealth was accumulated because of others bondage. We know even after slavery was outlawed redlining kept African-Americans from buying homes in certain areas, and that is the way most people elevate their financial position. And that’s not even scratching the surface—that’s not discussing the suppression of African-Americans at the ballot box, or the exclusion of African-Americans to use front doors, or certain bathrooms, to get hired at certain companies or belong to certain clubs.
We still live in a world where some parents have to have “the talk” with their kids and others don’t. We still live in a world where if you are black and driving back from a college lacrosse tournament (or any other sports event), your bus might be pulled over by the side of the road, and your luggage and belongings rifled through, for no legal reason. I see the world we live in—but I don’t know the micro-aggressions that happen every day to some because I’m not black. But I do know we need to have a wider vision, we desperately need a new heaven and a new earth.
How do we go about repaying that debt? How do we tackle such a vast problem? It is being talked about on many levels and there are many suggestions. Is it something we start as individuals? As corporations? As states? As a country? As a world? How and where and what and who, all come into play. Ann Marie, who diligently reads the news out of the Presbyterian Church (national) saw a story about a Boston church who had decided to make a dent in working towards a new heaven and a new earth with a project collecting money for the spirituals they used, and brought the idea to our Micah Project discussions. And our Spiritual Royalty Program was born.
We know that the spirituals were songs born out of faith, and hope, and grief, and the beseeching of God. We don’t know who created them. Those composers and lyricists were almost never credited, and never received royalties. But we have all benefited from their God-given gifts. We can pay them back by paying that debt forward. We can acknowledge their anonymous genius each time we use their works, not just by putting “spiritual” in the royalty line, but by setting aside a monetary amount, so that our paying forward isn’t just in name, but in action. And we can direct that money from our budget to go to help a next generation in getting a boost up to share their gifts, to produce music, or art, or dance!
This year, we have partnered with ACCA Creates “Arts, Culture, and Community Activism” in Newark, NJ. Run by Dr. Marcia Heard, ACCA Creates brings opportunities to Newark youth to have a place where the arts are valued. ACCA Creates provides space for kids during the year, especially during the summer where they can express themselves artistically. (And Dr. Heard will talk more to us about this a little later in our service). ACCA Creates sounded like exactly what we were looking for as we try to pay back by paying forward.
We are challenging the congregation to add to our pot of Spiritual Royalty money and create a scholarship position for a child for their summer program (which costs $1000). We are also going to create a “wish list” of supplies (because I know some of you like to shop).
This is one baby step we can make in seeing a wider vision for ourselves and those around us.
This is one action we can take to say we believe in a new heaven and a new earth.
This is one way to show that we promise to live what we sing, that “the Lord God made us all” and “Jesus loves us,” each and every one.
May it be so. Alleluia, Amen.