Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We plan to continue to post these weekly until we are able to meet again in person for worship. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
We start by listening to a scripture lesson from the book of Acts17:22-30.
Then Paul stood up before the council of the Areopagus and delivered this address: “Citizens of Athens, I note that in every respect you are scrupulously religious. As I walked about looking at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ Now, what you are worshiping in ignorance I intend to make known to you.
“For the God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesn’t live in sanctuaries made by human hands, and isn’t served by humans, as if in need of anything. No! God is the One who gives everyone life, breath – everything. From one person God created all of humankind to inhabit the entire earth, and set the time for each nation to exist and the exact place where each nation should dwell. God did this so that human beings would seek, reach out for, and perhaps find the One who is not really far from any of us – the One in whom we live and move and have our being. As one of your poets has put it, ‘We too are God’s children.’
If we are in fact children of God, then it’s inexcusable to think that the Divine Nature is like an image of gold, silver or stone – an image formed by the art and thought of mortals. God, who overlooked such ignorance in the past, now commands all people everywhere to reform their lives.
To an unknown God. As we are told in this story, people have a natural pull toward the holy, the transcendent, to a reality beyond yet within ourselves, and some call this God. In our tradition, this God is not unknown. Yes, this God is characterized by mystery, but this God is not unknown to us.
In the Christian tradition, we believe that we come to know something of this greater reality through Jesus. A reality of love, acceptance, forgiveness, awe, wonder, and mystery. In story after story, Jesus demonstrates what life is like when you revere the holiness in each and every person. In all of life. Jesus specializes in showing us a God that is concerned about all people, especially those made poor, those who are sick, those who are abused, and those who are ignored. In Jesus we see not just “do no harm” but do the good. Make the effort, take the initiative. To help. To love. To care. With words, with deeds, and with prayers. So that our joy and the joy of the world may be complete.
In a social Zoom gathering that I was part of a couple of weeks ago, we were commenting about this corona time. Yes, time. It’s gotten out of kilter, have you noticed? What day of the week is it? Is your sleep disrupted? What time of day is it? Do you want to go back to bed at 11:00 am not pm? And do you get up to finish a project at 3 am? Yup. Time is askew these days. Thankfully my week is anchored by the labyrinth walk on Wednesdays and being at church on Sunday mornings. If I didn’t have that, I know I would be even more disoriented as far as time is concerned.
One of my friends on the Zoom call commented that it feels like Groundhog Day. That’s the 1993 movie with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. The main character is a cynical weather reporter who is covering Ground Hog Day, in Punxsutawney, PA. He gets stuck in a time warp. The same day repeats and repeats and repeats until he gets it right.
The term ‘Groundhog Day’ has come to be part of common conversation. We know what we are saying when we say Groundhog Day. The same thing – over and over, and over. Wikipedia describes the Groundhog Day concept as a “monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation.” Let me say that again. A “monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day_(film)]
Time issues aside, this Corona pandemic is actually exactly like Groundhog Day. A ‘monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation.’ The death rate is greater among people of color. Exactly. Just like it has been. Largely due to economic and health care issues. Which are the consequences of racism. People of Asian ethnicity in this country are afraid not only of the virus but of being targeted by violence during this pandemic. Racism. Racism. Racism. We are seeing the ugly, ‘monotonous, unpleasant, repetitive situation’ of racism play out over and over and over again.
The Corona situation has led to increasingly inhumane treatment of immigrants and those
seeking refuge in this country. Yes, this ties into racism. But we in the US like to think of ourselves as a welcoming country, a melting pot, since most people of the dominant group are descendants of immigrants. But this country also has a history of treating immigrants, outsiders, people who come from other places, as ‘less than.’ Immigrants have been tolerated when labor is needed. And taken advantage of. And treated in an inhumane manner. I know this from my own family. My mother’s parents came as immigrants from Germany, the evil empire of much of the 20th century. And my father’s parents came from the lazy, crime ridden reaches of Italy. In fact, my Italian grandfather, ran a mission in New York City helping immigrants from all countries as they faced abuse and discrimination. So today we see the anti immigrant bigotry of the past repeating again. The same “monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation” is playing out again during these corona days.
And, we see what we have seen before, the inadequacy of the health care system in this country. People with low incomes get less healthcare or no healthcare. Period. It might be somewhat better than it has been but the same syndrome is playing itself out again. As one cartoon portrayed it, You want to get tested for COVID-19? Spit in the face of a rich person. With healthcare tied to employment and unemployment reaching record highs, how are people supposed to access healthcare? Instead of trying to buy votes by providing people with a check for $1200, I would have preferred that the government give every person in this country universal access to world class healthcare. Period. No exceptions. Instead, we see the same “monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation” playing out, yet again around healthcare.
And then, who is at risk in this crisis? The essential workers. Yes, the low paid clerks and care takers who are necessary for the functioning of society. Miners who are crammed together and cannot maintain social distancing. Healthcare workers. People in food production. And transportation. Workers who are largely unseen and ignored and undervalued. Forced to work by financial necessity and societal need. Put at risk. Putting others at risk. The expendables. Dying. Again. “The same monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed to us the realities of global climate change and the effect of human activity on the planet. We see the clear skies and the sparkling water in this pandemic and are confronted with the truth that we already knew. Scientists have been talking about this at least since Alexander Von Humboldt in the early 19th century. Other scientists in the 1950’s sounded the alarm. Scientists for petroleum companies knew what was coming decades ago. We have been in the same loop, continuing to ignore or minimize the destructive environmental impact of human activity. Even during this pandemic, the government has been easing environmental restrictions and protections. We continue to abuse Mother Earth. The same “monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation.”
So, to me, we do seem to be caught in a Groundhog Day loop – replaying the same situations again and again and again – not because we have no events to punctuate our calendars but because we are continuing the harmful patterns of injustice and abuse that have marked and marred our nation’s history.
In the movie, “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray lives the same day over and over and over until he gets is ‘right.’ And gets the girl. It is Hollywood, after all. In this pandemic, we are playing the same situation over, and we knew it was coming, and it came. Now, what are we going to do to get it right?
In the sermon we heard from Acts, Paul tells the people, “While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, nowGod commands all people everywhere to repent.” [Acts 17:30] The word repent means ‘turn around.’ So, what we may not have known in the past, what we may have overlooked, what we may have been blind to, what was too ugly to see, or what could be kept on the down low before social media, is now exposed. We cannot claim ignorance. That we did not know. But we can repent. We can change direction. We can turn around. We can choose to create a different future, one that does not repeat the “monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive” situations that we have seen over and over and over again. We can get out of that loop. We can change those dynamics.
That’s what our faith is all about. Transformation. Change. Hope. New beginnings. Creating a new future. The commonwealth of God. Paul tells us we are God’s offspring. Capable. Of so much more. It will take time to end the pandemic. To come out of this. And it will take time, energy, creativity, and grace to get out of this bad loop, this time warp, where we see the same injustices play out over and over and over. We need to develop new strategies and methods to produce social change.
Wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever our circumstances, we are having an impact on the present and the future. We can choose to perpetuate the status quo. We can be part of repeating the Groundhog Day scenario. Or we can be part of getting out of the loop. Creating a different future.
Look at how fast we have adapted to the new conditions created by this virus. Everything changed. Virtually over night. This shows us that we are capable of making drastic social changes in a hurry. From the perspective of the Gospel, there can be no going back. We cannot claim ignorance.
I don’t know about you, but I am longing to see restaurants, movies, parks, concerts, museums, airlines, non profits, businesses, government, healthcare, and, of course, faith communities re-open safely.
But I want to see racism, bigotry, healthcare inequity, income inequality, and global warming shut down. For good. Amen.
As you listen to the music from Hilton which follows, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you.
(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)