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 appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
This post focuses on the founding of Lakewood United Church of Christ in St. Petersburg, FL in 1967. Each year the start of this congregation is celebrated on Charter Sunday in September.
We listen to two oft read Bible stories. From the Hebrew scriptures, we listen to a story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness after escaping from slavery in Egypt. We also listen to a story associated with Jesus about a questionable boss.
Jim Andrews reads Exodus 16:1-15 and Matthew 20:1-16.
Audio from Jim Andrews.
From Elim they set out again, and the whole community of the Israelites reached the wilderness of Syn, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they left Egypt.
They began to complain against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The people of Israel said to them, “If only we had died by Yahweh’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat next to pots of meat and ate our bread till we were filled! But now you have brought the whole community out into this wilderness to die of hunger!”
Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Look, I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people will go out and gather a day’s portion every day, so that I can test them to see if they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they brought in, it will be twice as much as the daily gathering.”
So Moses and Aaron said to the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was Yahweh who brought you up out of Egypt, and in the morning you will witness the glory of God, the One to whom you directed your complaints – for who are we, that you should complain to us?”
Moses continued, “It is Yahweh who will give you meat in the evening for your meal, and all the bread you want in the morning, because Yahweh has heard your complaints. For it is not to us that you are complaining – who are we? – but to Yahweh.”
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole Israelite community, ‘Present yourselves before Yahweh, who has heard your complaints.’”
As Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of Yahweh appearing in the form of a cloud. Then Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the people of Israel. Say this to them: ‘In the evening you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I, Yahweh, am your God.’”
So it come about that in the evening quail flew in and all around the camp. And in the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp; when the layer of dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were flakes of something: delicate, powdery, fine as frost.
When they saw this, the people of Israel said to each other, “What is it?” – not knowing what it was. But Moses told them, “This is the bread Yahweh has given you to eat.”
Now we turn to the gospel of Matthew 20:1-16 and listen to a teaching of Jesus.
“The kin-dom of heaven is like the owner of an estate who went out at dawn to hire workers for the vineyard. After reaching an agreement with them for the usual daily wage, the owner sent them out to the vineyard.
“About mid-morning, the owner came out and saw others standing around the marketplace without work, and said to them, ‘You go along to my vineyard and I will pay you whatever is fair.’ At that they left.
“Around noon and again in the mid-afternoon, the owner came out and did the same. Finally, going out late in the afternoon, the owner found still others standing around and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’
“‘No one has hired us,’ they replied.
“The owner said, ‘You go to my vineyard, too.’
“When evening came, the owner said to the overseer, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, but begin with the last group and end with the first.’ When those hired late in the afternoon came up, they received a full day’s pay, and when the first group appeared they assumed they would get more. Yet they all received the same daily wage.
“Thereupon they complained to the owner, ‘This last group did only an hour’s work, but you’ve put them on the same basis as those who worked a full day in the scorching heat.’
“‘My friends,’ said the owner to those who voiced this complaint, ‘I do you no injustice. You agreed on the usual wage, didn’t you? Take your pay and go home. I intend to give this worker who was hired last the same pay as you. I’m free to do as I please with my money, aren’t I? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
“Thus the last will be first and the first will be last.”
Reflection from Kim on audio
1967. On a Sunday in September of 1967, a small group of people who had been part of the congregation of All Saints Lutheran Church decided to reconstitute themselves as Lakewood United Church of Christ. And so, instead of folding as a church, this group of some thirty souls decided to recommit themselves to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Those were interesting times. There was the Vietnam War and the growing anti war movement. There was the Civil Rights movement. There was Muhammad Ali refusing to do military service. There were race riots around the nation including riots in Tampa in response to the police shooting of Martin Chambers. The gay rights movement and the women’s movement were gaining steam. There were countries all over the world casting off the shackles of colonialism and declaring independence. It was a time of incredible social and political upheaval.
In the eyes of some, things were falling apart. To others, things were being brought down that should be brought down. There was fear. There was idealism. There was division. There was activism. 1967 was a time of foment and passion.
Now, why found a church in those times? What could the church do in the face of such large societal forces? Maybe it was a time to found an anti nuke group or an anti racism group. But a church?
And we look at things today. Certainly it is once again a time of major upheaval and transformation in our society. There is the economic crisis. There is the environmental crisis. There is the COVID crisis. There is the racism crisis. There is the political crisis. With things falling apart at the seams, why bother with church?
The founders of LUCC in 1967 can probably explain it. Here’s how I see it. When things are turbulent, unsettled, in a state of upheaval, in your personal life or in society, or both, that is when you really NEED the church.
The church provides a vision of how things can be. Of the lion and the lamb. Love your enemies. Diverse people living together in mutually supportive communities. The church gives us Divine dreams for life on Earth and beyond. The church gives a vision of Eden – harmony in the web of life, a garden of peace and plenty. Church is about a comprehensive vision for the well-being of all of creation. When life in society is upsetting and disturbing, church gives us a vision of a future worth hoping for and working for.
Why church in troubled times? Church also gives us teachings and stories that lead toward reconciliation and transformation. We can move forward together toward something new through listening, sharing, understanding, and forgiving. The church gives us tools for pursuing right relationships with others, even those who have been wronged and those who have perpetrated wrong. This is important in our social context as well as in our personal relationships. Things happen that are bad. There can be a way forward. In times of upheaval, a spirit of reconciliation and compassion goes a long way. So when things are turbulent, it is very important for us to remember that church helps us navigate the changes in ways that are creative and constructive, not destructive.
Why church when things are stressful and uncertain? Our religious heritage is rich with the complaints, laments, and grieving of those who have gone before us. Church gives us a place to express our sadness, our loss, our anger, our frustration, in ways that are appropriate and that do not hurt others. Church provides a context for the healthy unburdening of the spirit. We heard about that in the story from Exodus. The people complain. Church is a place to complain, to let it out, and know that it’s ok. In church, we free the soul from what is negative and hurtful in a space where there is love and grace to renew us.
Why start a church in times of turbulence? The church is a community of sustenance. It feeds us. The faith community provides support and nurture. We support one another with the strength and perseverance needed to face uncertain times. The church helps us to persist in our work of creating a world of peace. We are supported and sustained when our voices of compassion and justice and truth are needed in the wider society. We can persist in our witness thanks to the support of our faith community. A church provides the spiritual sustenance necessary for envisioning a different world and having the emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical fortitude and persistence for doing the work. So that’s why you found a church in the middle of a social revolution and that’s why you found a church now.
Why do we need the church in times of upheaval and turbulence? Even in times of struggle, we need the church to remind us to celebrate. To find joy. To give thanks. For all that we are being given. For all that is provided for us. For the grace of each and every breath. The church helps us to celebrate the abundance of life and the goodness of creation in spite of the problems we are facing. Simply appreciating beauty can be an act of resistance. We need the church to invite us to celebration and joy.
Why found a church in a time when things are falling apart? The gospel gives us a way of looking at reality that is non transactional. The love of God is non transactional. You can’t earn it, merit it, buy it, or sell it. It is given. To everyone. Period. The story of the laborers in the vineyard makes it plain. We live by grace, constantly given to us and everyone else regardless of situation or condition, and whether or not we realize it. Every day in our world we are confronted with a reality that uses an economic system to assess value. And this value system is not only applied to things, material objects, products. It is also applied to people. The church gives us an alternative reality to be part of that values all of life in its glorious interdependence and diversity. Every life sacred. Every life beloved. Every life cherished. The church invites us to be part of a different reality. The church helps us to navigate the times with values that are timeless.
A time of struggle, turbulence, upheaval, and change is the perfect time to start a church. It’s the right time to plant, nurture and foster hopes and dreams of a new reality of peace. The church helps us to live into that kind of reality. When times are tough; that’s when people need spiritual support. That’s is when you found a church.
And our beloved Lakewood United Church of Christ was founded in 1967 so that it would help people through those difficult times. And so that it would be here for us today in these times of struggle and change. Supporting us. Helping us to navigate our circumstances.
At a doctor’s appointment recently, we spoke of Covid 19 and the toll it is taking on people. The doctor told me flat out that the patients who are most steady in this storm are the ones who are part of a faith community, who have religious ties.
May we be grateful to those who have nurtured and supported Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1967 to provide for this and every time of need. Amen.
As you listen to the music which follows, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings that arise for you.
(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)