Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 8, 2020
“Thank You for Voting”
Joshua 24: 14-25 – New Revised Standard Version
“Now therefore revere the Lord and serve in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. The Lord protected us along all the way and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, our God.”
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, a holy God, a jealous God; who will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then God will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve God.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve and obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
You know what this election means? As Van Jones said tearfully on CNN, it’s easier being a parent this morning because I can tell my kids, being a good person matters. Telling the truth matters.
The margins may seem razor thin because of the electoral college, which, we remember, was born out of the wishes of slaveholders; yet, despite every voter suppression tactic and literally the risk of death, the margin really was 4 million. Not a few thousand but over four million more Americans voted to save the planet,
With record turnout, Americans voted to constrain white supremacists and denounce so-called “very fine” neo-nazis and stop the chaos, corruption, and greed. To save democracy.
This morning, we can finally stop holding our breath and exhale, because:
As Yascha Mounk said in The Atlantic, “Although the nation’s deep problems won’t vanish, the next president will undoubtedly work to tackle those problems rather than downplay the danger still posed by the global pandemic, to improve rather than imperil the lives of immigrants and minorities, and to unite rather than divide Americans.”
That’s because you did your part. Voting in Colorado might not quite feel like we did a lot to tip the national scales, but we will now have paid family and medical leave for everyone in the state.
I’m grateful we could support another to enact the faith of progressive Christians. Let’s be clear: Not to elect someone from one party over another, but to seek more compassion by whatever means available to us. An act of faith, a means to bring more justice. More kindness, generosity, and love.
And I’m grateful that we could support one another through our Park Hill 2.0 congregation that extends to Wisconsin and Texas and South Carolina and Florida and Alaska and Iowa and Ohio and Arizona and Montana… And the Western Slope. The first text I received on Saturday was from our member Lori Fell who lives in Pennsylvania. Perhaps you felt like a very small dot in a vast ocean, but you are an island of welcome and reprieve and for that we say, thank you. We are grateful to be on this journey together.
So, to everyone, thank you for voting. Thank you for sitting at your kitchen table and reading those voluminous blue voter guides to offer a reasoned response to every ballot question. And around the country, thank you to all who stood in long lines, insisting and resisting attempts to suppress the vote.
Thank you to members of our congregation, like Eileen McCarron who was a precinct captain in charge of motivating people to vote.
And canvassers like Sarah Johnson who spent the better part of their days knocking on doors, texting, and calling to encourage people to vote. She told everyone, I don’t care who you vote for, just vote. And had some interesting conversations along the way about exactly that.
Thank you to Laura Harris and Kat Gaskins and Sue Wofford and more of you who wrote hundreds of postcards.
Thank you to poll workers and election judges and volunteer attorney’s like Lily Alves Bane who juggled her already full plate of kids at home from school and full time employment to provide legal services to ensure fair elections.
Many more of you spent your last few days, weeks, and months doing exactly the same. Really, for four years. Remember all those Indivisible meetings? The Women’s Marches, March for Our Lives, March for Science, the march down Colfax where we were drenched in pouring rain after Charlottesville. Thank you.
Thank you to 144,963,305 voters and still counting – a remarkable increase of 16 million voters from 4 years ago. And that is thanks to heroes like Stacy Abrams, the daughter of two Methodist preachers, whose life-mission has been to enfranchise voters, one by one, until she could build a coalition large enough so that people who assumed they had little or no power could speak truth.
Stacy was walking in the shoes of Shirley Chisholm and Fannie Lou Hamer. At the time their candidacies were likened to a joke. But as one meme has captured so beautifully: Rosa sat so Ruby could walk so Kamala could run. Kamala, a black woman, graduate of Howard University, a daughter of immigrants, a daughter of the West Indies, a daughter of Tamils from India. A woman. Finally, a woman.
Heaven gained a cheering section this year that included John Lewis and C.T. Vivian and Joseph Lowery and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That great cloud of witnesses cheered on and reminds us, as John Lewis said, "Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part."
And that is the basic question of Joshua. Choose this day whom you will serve. Not just today, but with your life.
I’ll be honest, however, that earlier in the week I was really disappointed that the election hadn’t been a complete blow out. A thorough repudiation of the reckless immorality and gleeful cruelty of the past four years. And I have some residual feelings about that this morning too. But sticking to the wisdom of John Lewis, he said: “Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, hold only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won." Think of John Lewis, skull cracked crossing the Edmund Pettis bridge for the right to vote. Those are his words. Release hate, division, revenge, and bitterness.
We have been holding our breath for so long, let’s take another deep breath. And another. And shake it off. Not shake it off as in get over it, but shake away the stress of waiting. Of four years waiting for another shoe to drop. Another tweet.
What are you feeling? Relief? Perhaps still disbelief. You may still feel like crying this morning. You may felt have like shouting hallelujah yesterday. Frustrated that you couldn’t rush downtown to scream, rejoice, and dance.
Some of you may point out that there is a lot of work to be done. That there will be no easy transition. That without the Senate, little will get done. So on and so forth. True. It’s OK to be equally hopeful for the future as well as frightened for it this morning.
But first, just give yourself permission to rest, to not feel ready to engage new battles yet. One day again we will. But first rest. We will rise with a renewed sense of purpose and hope. But today, it’s OK to sit a little deeper into your chair. Relish the results of the work you did. The sacrifices you made. The money you donated. The time you spent.
To reflect on Joshua. What did you choose?
To follow the God of love, not vengeance, retribution or violence.*
To cast your lot and your vote,
with the poor in spirit, and those who mourn,
with the gentle, and those who hunger for righteousness.
To stand with the peacemakers and those who are persecuted.
To follow the one who fed all who were hungry,
who healed all who sought healing,
and welcomed all who were pushed to the margins.
To strive to speak only truth, and only lovingly.
To examine, confess and resist our own complicity in systems that harm, and surrender what we can so that our lives are a blessing for the poor.
To accept the power God gives us
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves.
To live with hope and gratitude, with courage and generosity and kindness.
Joshua said, choose this day whom you will serve.
And friends, through your civic duty, you have done so. Thank you for voting.
* Adapted from a prayer by Steve Garnaas Holmes in UnfoldingLight.net
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 1, 2020
“We’ll Get There”
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12 – The Message
Moses climbed from the Plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah facing Jericho. God showed him all the land from Gilead to Dan, all Naphtali, Ephraim, and Manasseh; all Judah reaching to the Mediterranean Sea; the Negev and the plains which encircle Jericho, City of Palms, as far south as Zoar.
4 Then and there God said to him, “This is the land I promised to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the words ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I’ve let you see it with your own eyes. There it is. But you’re not going to go in.”
5-6 Moses died there in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of God, just as God said. God buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth Peor. No one knows his burial site to this very day.
7-8 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eyesight was sharp; he still walked with a spring in his step. The People of Israel wept for Moses in the Plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.
9 Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. The People of Israel listened obediently to him and did the same as when God had commanded Moses.
10-12 No prophet has risen since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face. Never since has there been anything like the signs and miracle-wonders that God sent him to do in Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to all his land—nothing to compare with that all-powerful hand of his and all the great and terrible things Moses did as every eye in Israel watched.
On the night before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to the hopes and dreams of striking sanitation workers in Memphis – mistreated and underpaid, working for 65 cents an hour with malfunctioning equipment that had just killed two fellow garbage collectors. The city treated these men like they were expendable. They responded by marching with signs that read “I Am a Man.” By marching with them, King was accused of muddying the waters, diluting the cause. Why are you standing with striking workers when racial justice is still such a pressing issue? He responded: what good is the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford the cost of lunch.
On that April night in 1968 before he was killed, Dr. King ended his speech by invoking the vivid imagery of Moses standing on the mountaintop. Moses was 120 years old, looking over the land that he and the wandering Israelites had been seeking for 40 years. In Memphis that night, Dr. King wasn’t even 40 years old when he spoke these haunting words:
VIDEO – Watch clip of MLK’s Mountaintop speech on YouTube.
(Here are the words if you prefer: "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.")
“I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will” get there. It is, of course, eerie, knowing Dr. King said those words on the eve of his murder. And so fundamentally unfair. Unfair that Dr. King wouldn’t live to see more progress toward his dream. Or maybe he wouldn’t have wanted to see how much has not changed. In some ways, the issue he addressed that night, economic inequality, and the racial wealth gap, is even worse.
I could quote all kinds of statistics, but one line stuck out from 2014: The average employee "needs to work more than one month to earn what the average CEO makes in one hour." Legend has it that Jeff Bezos makes $150,000 a minute. Whether that’s true or not, we have certainly heard billionaires complain that unemployment benefits for minimum wage workers are too generous.
Most people only know the last two minutes of the Mountaintop speech, as it’s known. Lost in the eloquence of its ending, King’s speech was about economic justice, personified in striking workers, part of the lead up to the Poor People’s Campaign a month later – a broad coalition across races. A movement that faltered without him. Why couldn’t he have lived to keep leading the people, pursuing the dream?
The same with Moses. Why was Moses, of all people, not allowed to enter the Promised Land? This has been argued for millennia, debated by scholars for centuries. He deserved that and much, much more. A gold watch, a parade, a cake for his retirement from 40 years as a chauffeur for a complaining, rebellious people. It’s such a bewildering end to the Great Liberation Narrative.
As we heard Karla read from the Book of Deuteronomy, God told Moses, “I’ve let you see it with your own eyes. There it is. But you’re not going in.” And then, Moses died there, a place where no one knows, “just as God said.” That’s how the Message translates verse 5. Other translations say, Moses died there, “at God’s command.” Like a takedown ordered by a mob boss, Soprano’s style? Which makes it sound like just more of God’s erratic, irrational behavior as of late, to which Moses had recently told God to calm down. But, on behalf of Moses, may I just say: That’s not fair.
Many sermons have been preached about Moses’ miraculous birth and rescue from the Nile, his call from a burning bush, his demand to Pharaoh to “let my people go,” his hand causing the sea to part and water to come from a rock… Many sermons have been preached about Moses carrying the Ten Commandments down from the mountain and how he had to put up with the constant bickering and complaining of the Israelites. But then, just as he peered into the Promised Land, the end? At God’s command?
So, is it possible that we think it’s unfair because we think this is a story about Moses? The Great Liberation Narrative really started when God heard the cries of the Hebrews from their slavery. Moses was called as an instrument of their freedom, but Moses didn’t free them. It wasn’t Moses’ power that scared Pharaoh. It wasn’t Moses’ arm that caused the sea to part. It wasn’t Moses who turned bitter water sweet.
It’s easy for leaders to think their accomplishments are about them, but the best leaders know it’s not about them. It’s about participating in a dream bigger than themselves. Dreamers like Dr. King and Moses are instruments of the dream but not the dream itself.
It’s God’s dream for the people. Like the prophet Jeremiah said, The Lord declares, “I know the plans I have in mind for you; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.” Plans for peace. A future filled with hope. Sit with that a minute…
God’s hopes and dreams are for a world that is more generous, loving, and kind. Or as we describe it – a world that is open, inclusive, just, and compassionate. I want to participate in that! I don’t want to be consumed with anger, frightened, filled with a desire to retaliate with bad behavior for bad behavior. I want a future filled with hope.
Dr. King said, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” The liberative dreams of Dr. King and Moses did not die with them. That’s part of what we celebrate when we remember our loved ones on All Saints Day. So long as we live, they too shall live. For their deeds continue in us.
Many explanations suggest that Moses died in an unknown place so that no one could set up a shrine to him, to honor his life instead of giving thanks to the giver of his life and the liberator of theirs. It still doesn’t seem fair to Moses. But the Great Liberation Narrative, which began before Moses, lives beyond Moses. And continues today. Pharaoh wasn’t a once and then. Pharaohs still try to rise and must still be confronted.
Dr. King had a lot of Pharaohs to confront. So, how could he have said, “I’m happy tonight? I’m not worried about anything.”
Not worried? Well, I know many of us are feeling a little worried this morning, worried about the outcome of Tuesday’s final day of voting. But not only the outcome. The potential for chaos and conflict. A protracted period of uncertainty and civil unrest. People taking up arms. And God forbid, violence.
Unfortunately, whether or not we can breathe a sigh of relief or we find ourselves unable to breathe, so overwhelmed by grief and terror, choking back tears… Regardless of the outcome and the aftermath, we know the forces of greed and hatred will not lay down defeated. White supremacy will not say, OK, the country voted. We concede.
No, no matter who wins, we must remain equally determined instruments of liberation, participants in the ongoing Great Liberation Narrative. We must be equally determined instruments for a future filled with hope, whether we celebrate the results or despair because of them. We must be equally determined instruments of light, no matter how dark the days get – whether it’s for the next few days or weeks or for years to come.
Just remember, however, the God who provided manna and quail and water from a rock while the people stumbled in the wilderness, that God of liberation and hope and light will stay with us as we journey onward too.
Watch VIDEO clip again
 Full text: https://www.afscme.org/about/history/mlk/mountaintop
I love being the