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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Turning to Peace

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with John Sebastian and Ken Redd, Worship Associates; Erica Shadowsong, Director of Religious Exploration; the Choir and the Chalice Dancers. Plus a solo dance performance by Sharon Werth, Director of the Chalice Dancers.


Our World, Since Then

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

On September 11, 2011

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

On the Friday morning after the attacks on Tuesday, September 11th, ten years ago, I was driving to work when I heard on the radio that President Bush had asked that Americans go to a house of worship on their lunch hour that day, to pray. I thought to myself, “uh-oh, then the houses of worship better get ready, including ours!”

So, I painted two big signs for the lawn out front of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church in Canton, Massachusetts, proclaiming “Open at Noon.”

Then I cleaned up after the rental the night before, straightened the pew cushions, set out memorial candles for people to light, put a plant on the altar table, lit the chalice, and opened the meeting house doors wide. People trickled in, sat in the silence, maybe lit a candle, and eventually left – maybe fifteen all tolled by 1:30 in the afternoon.

I remember one young woman, a stranger to me, who sat longer than the others. I spoke with her as she got up to leave. I asked her if someone she knew had died on Tuesday or was still missing. She said, “No, I just feel so sad for all those people and their families. It’s so terrible.” Her eyes welled up, and she wiped away the tears. She went on to say, “We’ve had it too good here, compared to the rest of the world.” “Yes,” I responded, “and we’ve been smug in our false sense of security.” She nodded. I waited. “Sitting over there,” she concluded, nodding toward the pew where she had sat, “I realized I really have to work on it. Or the anger I feel will win out.”

On Sunday, two days later, I shared that story with my congregation. I added, “If we didn’t know it before, we surely know it now; we all have spiritual work to do, of one kind or another. Our religion provides the support community for that work, and the ideals to guide it.”

I ended the sermon by saying, “The events of the past week have shown us the worst – we hope it’s the worst – of what humans can do. But, we’ve also been shown how the worst can bring out the best in compassion and self-giving. We can’t forget the horror of this week, but we must remember the good. And we must do what humans can do when bound together – grow our souls and make the world a more just, and safer, place for all.”

Have we grown our souls? Have we made the world a more just, and safer, place for all?

Back then, I hoped that our new-found anger would energize us—as a nation and as individuals—to take action toward justice.  I believed the attacks called for two kinds of justice, a two-sided sword of justice:  both retribution and re-distribution.

“On the one hand,” I said in my sermon, “I believe our country should seek retribution, taking reasonable and decisive action against what appears to be a network of terrorists both here and abroad determined to undermine our security as a means to their larger aims.” That was one side of the sword.

“The other side of the sword,” I said, “is distributive justice, a re-distribution of the goods and benefits of civilization that Americans have enjoyed far in excess to what we really need, compared to impoverished people in the Middle East and elsewhere who lack even the minimum food, shelter, health and education.”

Ten years hence, we Americans were effective and not effective in wielding that two-sided sword. It has taken ten years just to make a dent in that terrorist network, in large part because our attention and resources were diverted to Iraq, I believe. And though Al Queda may seem to be headless since the recent assassination of Osama bin Laden, it persists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we plan to pull out anyway. But the good news is, there have been no subsequent successful organized terrorist attacks in the US.

As for distribution of the world’s resources, it remains imbalanced. Credit Suisse Research Institute in Zurich recently published a global wealth tally, current into 2010. It says the world’s 4.4 billion adults now hold enough in total wealth to guarantee every adult $43,800 net worth. But of course, the world’s wealth is not evenly divided. Half the world’s population holds under 2 percent of world wealth, while the world’s richest 1 percent hold 43 percent of the world’s wealth, all by themselves.*

And in the US? According to an article in Vanity Fair last May by the Nobel Laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, “The upper 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth… While the top 1 percent has seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall… All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top.” Actually, it is the top one-thousandth that is gaining the most, and are fantastically rich.

Indeed, a New York Times article last April reported the enraging news that the median compensation for CEOs at 200 major companies was $9.6 million each in 2010 -- up by about 12% over 2009 and generally equal to or surpassing pre-recession levels. *** Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is now 9.1%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You expect to get these facts from your news sources, so why are they important in a sermon? They raise spiritual issues, at least three:  greed, power, and peace.

Greed. It’s one of the seven deadly sins, remember. It’s a poison, toxic to the greedy individual and toxic to the common good. (What does someone DO with nine million dollars? Even Warren Buffet says he and his peers should pay more taxes). This pernicious philosophy of greed, this evil sense of entitlement and hoarding by the very wealthy, has to be called out for what it is:  antithetical to every faith perspective I can think of, a violation of a basic truth of all religions:  we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and stewards of the earth!

Power. Wealth disparities cause power disparities, now more than ever, because of the landmark 2010 “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision. It declared “corporations to be people, too.” So, these same wealthy Americans, earning a median $9 million each, have been granted the right to contribute to election campaigns through the corporations they run, own or are directors of - in addition to contributing their personal and foundation dollars. This overwhelming influence, I believe, insures that our elected officials will not act for the common good. Ours has become a government by the 1%, for the 1%... of the 99%.

 

On and immediately after September 11th, 2001 our initial shock and horror brought us together as people and as Americans – Muslim, Jew, Christian, UU, and others/white, black, Asian, Latino, and others… But the shock and horror has rightly receded.  Many of us are more compassionate and more tolerant since then. But we are no more organized now, probably less. Unions are diminished, non-profits are struggling, community organizations have been under attack and some, like ACORN, were killed off, and even memberships of traditional Jewish, Catholic and Protestant denominations – who could be expected to preach against greed - are declining. And discord seems rife.

Now it is a longing for peace and justice that can bring us together. We need to organize, call out greed for the evil it is, and gain power if we still want to “make the world a more just, and safer, place for all. ” Our longing for peace requires it. And the transforming power of our faith gives us hope. Amen.

*http://www.alternet.org/economy/148549/new_tally_of_global_wealth_illuminates_staggering_disparities?page=1

** http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105

***http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/business/10comp.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

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Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church • 3215 Powder Mill Road • Adelphi, Maryland 20783-1097
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