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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Small Pass-Overs, Little Resurrections

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Ken Redd, Worship Associate, and the Choir

Small Pass-overs and Little Resurrections

Two homilies preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

March 31, 2013

Small Pass-Overs

Perhaps, my Passover homily should have been called “Small Liberations” so that it would exactly parallel the “little resurrections” in the title of the Easter homily.

But, I called it “small pass-overs.” Do you recall how the observance got its name?

I’m indebted to Rabbi Arthur Waskow in his book Seasons of Our Joy for this telling of the story, as it has come down through scripture.

At first the small Israelite clans that came to Egypt under royal protection prospered and multiplied. But when Pharaohs came to power who feared and despised them, the Israelites were subjected to forced labor and then to a concerted attack on their high birthrate:  all their boy babies were to be killed at birth.

But midwives – whether Hebrew or Egyptian or both is not quite clear – refused to murder babies. Even an Egyptian princess conspired with Israelite women to save a baby boy. He, of course, eventually became the rebel leader, Moses.

Moses fled Egypt the first time in fear of his life after he killed an Egyptian overseer. He married and lived for years as a shepherd and political refugee in the nearby wilderness. It was only after the birth of his child that he experienced the mysteriously burning bush and received God’s charge to return to Egypt to lead his people out of the hell they were living and toward their liberation.

With the help of his siblings Miriam and Aaron, Moses challenged Pharaoh to let their people go, and when he didn’t comply, they invoked ten disastrous plagues that finally shattered the Egyptian tyranny. The last of the plagues was the death of every first-born in every Egyptian household. But what about the Israelites living in Egyptian households? To be sure that the plague of death would pass over their own first-borns that night, the Israelites smeared lamb’s blood on the doorposts where they lived, a sign for to pass them over. The next morning, they fled.

So that is why the liberation celebration is called Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew. There are many threads of meaning in this tale of mythic proportions, which of course doesn’t end there but continues on to the Exodus. However, today I want us to reflect on the act that kept the Israelites from harm that night and so saved them for their liberation.

What did they do? They marked their doorpost with a sign of their identity. It was the act of declaring their identity that saved their own first-borns from the plague of death.

Has it ever happened to you that declaring your identity was the very step you had to take to escape an undesired fate, to take a step toward your own liberation?

No one escapes depression without declaring themself depressed, for example. I remember facing yet another disappointment in a job search years ago. I was working two part-time jobs and I really wanted to focus on just one full-time position with benefits, but none was coming my way. One morning, I showed up at the desk of my supervisor, who knew about these disappointments, and surprised myself by saying, “I feel kind of flat.”  She didn’t bother with sympathy or questions, fortunately. She simply said, “Yes. You’re going to have to pick yourself up.” Obviously, it wasn’t clinical depression, because her little kick in the pants was all it took. Even so, in that moment my liberation started with me, declaring my identity.

Similarly, friends and family members can cajole, confront, threaten or even withdraw, but until the heavy drinker declares, “Hello, my name is…. I am an alcoholic,” in most cases there is no hope of freedom from the addiction.

We may know, or even be, people whose frequent feelings of hurt expressed as anger seem misplaced or overstated. It is possible that he or she has still not sufficiently identified the original hurts and so they fester. Without a declaration of identity and subsequent healing, their reaction to subsequent slights and injustices may be over-amplified.

Has it ever happened to you that declaring your identity was the very step you had to take to escape an undesired fate, or to take a step toward your own liberation?

In the last week, with marriage equality on the docket of the Supreme Court of the land, we’ve heard a lot about the so-called “sea change” in popular opinion and how the nine justices ought to ride that wave. Surely, this is not because lots of straight people all of a sudden brought their homophobia out into the light and zapped it away. Rather, it’s the direct result of a lot of gay people coming out, bravely declaring their identities to their loved ones, some good number of whom accepted, or came to accept, the whole person before them, and now want them to enjoy full protection under the law.

When have you had to mark your doorpost with your true identity in order to be passed over by trouble? Or be saved for liberation?

Passover is a joyful celebration of freedom. True, the Seder ritual acknowledges that we are never completely free from internal and external oppressions. True also, it powerfully sets apart this time of year for remembering the freedoms that have been won, declaring hope for the future, and singing songs of praise.

Please find #280 in the gray hymnal and raise your voice if not your body to sing Haleluhu, the words “Praise God with the loud, high-sounding cymbals. Let all who have breath praise the Lord. Hallelujah.”


Little Resurrections

Today, Christians celebrate the miracle of their risen Lord, who died a gruesome death, whose body was laid in a tomb and later discovered missing; who was subsequently seen alive and well, spoke to his followers and even had something to eat. Thus, they believed he was resurrected, as many Christians do, still, today. Another tale of mythic proportions.

For us, “This is the message Easter brings:  from deep despair and perished things a green shoot always, always springs, and something always, always sings.”

Well, I don’t know. The earth is, literally, heating up, drying up in some places, flooding in others. There may come a day when there is no spring as we know it here. This year, it came in mid-January – the daffodils came up and the so-called Lenten roses bloomed, and the goldfinches started to gain back their yellow. But then spring went away. March was so cold, they had to postpone the cherry-blooming-prediction-date. Thankfully, spring tried to reappear again yesterday. The weather is going crazy.

Something always, always sings? Who knows for sure?

Never say never - you’ve heard that before.  I say, never say always.

Maybe I’m feeling curmudgeonly. Though I can’t complain. I’ve got a job, which I love. Yesterday one of you federal employees told me you are facing a 20% pay cut for the next bunch of months. Another of you got laid off more than a year ago and only gained employment by taking a job in sales at a clothing store.

But other people are suffering more than does anyone here, as far as I know, though of course I don’t know the circumstances of all of you. But, whatever they are, you’re here, which means you are free to be here. On Friday I met a woman who was brought to this country by a diplomat’s family to serve as their live-in maid and nanny, then was abused by the man of the house. No English, no papers, no money (she got paid in room and board), she was trapped. She got out somehow, a Passover story, and now she’s organizing domestic workers like herself through CASA de Maryland – but there are thousands like her in our area, and many more domestic workers cleaning the homes of very diplomatic, non-diplomat, people like me – what do they get paid? What are their hours? Do they get benefits? Our state law provides no protections at all for domestic workers.

So life is tough, more so for some than for many. Plenty reason to be curmudgeonly, just look around, like the late UU minister Max Coots did in his poem:

It’s the little deaths before the final time we fear.
The blasé shrug
That quietly replaces excited curiosity,
The cynic-sneer
That takes the place of innocence,
The soft-sweet odor of success
That overcomes the sense of sympathy,
The self-betrayals
That rob us of our will to trust,
The ridicule of vision, the barren blindness
To what was once our sense of beauty –
These are the deaths that come so quietly
We do not know when it was we died.

But my friend and colleague John Gibbons – who spoke here wonderfully, though brazenly, on the occasion of your installation of me as your settled minister – John Gibbons who famously said one Easter, “Rising from the bed matters more than rising from the dead ” – he turned that curmudgeonly poem around, saying “What I propose this Easter is that we invert those words like this:

It is the little resurrections before the final whoosh and rapture we yearn for: 

the excited curiosity that replaces the blasé shrug;

the innocence that replaces the cynic-seer;

the sympathy that replaces the odor of success;

the vision, the sense of beauty –

these are the little resurrections that come so quietly

we do not know or care if or when we were born again.”

“The little resurrections that come so quietly.” That’s what Ken Redd, our Worship Associate, spoke of today, saying, we might have to die a little to make room for the little resurrections to happen. 

I wish for you:  excited curiosity, a bit of innocence, lots of sympathy, mighty vision and, a “note of hope” that will encourage your little resurrections and “lift you on wings of praise,” as the choir is about to sing.

A note about their song. It is the fourth piece from “Sources: A Unitarian Universalist Cantata,” and it honors the fourth of six Unitarian Universalist  sources, which is “Jewish and Christian teachings that call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.” Very fitting on a day when we honor both Passover and Easter. The choir will be performing the complete Cantata with orchestra for their annual choir service, this year on June 2nd.

Closing Words

May you know many small pass-overs and many little resurrections, and may you take the time to stop to smell and see and touch the flowers blooming now and in the coming months.  Amen.

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