If you’ve read the Stewardship letter we sent out a couple of weeks ago, you’ll already know that, back in February, I happened across an article in the New York Times by David Brooks. The article was called “A Nation of Weavers.” From the very first time I read it, I felt an immediate connection with our church, and what we’re trying to do here. It just made so much sense to me.
The way he begins is not exactly easy to take. Brooks starts out by talking about pain…
“A couple times a week,” he said, “I give a speech somewhere in the country about social isolation and social fragmentation. Very often a parent comes up to me afterward and says, ‘My daughter took her life when she was 14.’ Or, ‘My son died of an overdose when he was 20.’”
The people who tell him these stories are often inconsolable, and he’s left with feelings of futility. “This kind of pain,” he says, “is an epidemic in our society.”
Now, I know that a lot of us here can relate to this. Many of us have had close encounters with addiction, one way or another. Some of you, like Pam and me, have known people personally who have taken their own lives; their suffering and hopelessness so overwhelming that they simply couldn’t take it anymore. It’s tragic, and, as Brooks said, epidemic.
But though Brooks starts by talking about pain, he doesn‘t end there. He goes on, first, to say where he thinks it’s coming from.
“our lack of healthy connection to each other, our inability to see the full dignity of each other, and the resulting culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, shaming and strife.”
And he refers back to Pearl Harbor: how, on December 7th in 1941, “countless Americans saw that their nation was in peril and walked into recruiting stations.” And then, making the connection to our current times, he said this:
We don’t have anything as dramatic as Pearl Harbor, but when 47,000 Americans kill themselves every year and 72,000 more die from drug addiction, isn’t that a silent Pearl Harbor? When the basic norms of decency, civility and truthfulness are under threat, isn’t that a silent Pearl Harbor?
Maybe you‘re thinking, you know, I come to church to get away from this stuff. There’s plenty of bad news to deal with during the week. On Sunday, I just want to leave it behind for one sweet hour of prayer, thank you very much. I get that. But the truth is, we don‘t just come here to get away from it. We come to make sense of it. We come because we need a place where we can find some context, some meaning, some community, some higher power, so that all the pain and suffering in the world doesn’t succeed in overwhelming us. We come to church to make sense out of it all. And, we come to help. We come to find a purpose, some job to do, so that we can be part of the solution and not just part of the problem.
And that, my friends, makes us weavers. “Weavers” is not a term that we have ever really used to talk about ourselves. But it is the term that Brooks uses to talk about people like us; people who care, people who get involved, people who treat one another with respect and compassion, who honor the dignity of others even when they may have little or nothing to offer us in return.
Brooks talks about meeting these people everywhere he goes.
We traveled around the country and found them everywhere. We’d plop into big cities like Houston and small towns like Wilkesboro, N.C., and we’d find 25 to 100 community “Weavers” almost immediately.
One lady in Florida said she doesn’t have time to volunteer, but that’s because she spends 40 hours a week looking out for local kids and visiting sick folks in the hospital.
One guy in Ohio … began his work by standing in the town square with a sign: “Defend Youngstown.”
And significantly, he writes that, “Being around these people has been one of the most uplifting experiences of my life.”
I like the sound of that, and I know what he means. At a time when so many people are turning away from church, my experience is that church is more and more important. This is the place I go, not just because you pay me to be here, but because I love being a part of the energy and optimism we have together. We can’t solve all the world’s problems, but there are things we can do. We can sing and praise God together. We can help feed and clothe and shelter people. We can lift up and proclaim the values of honesty, integrity and love that the people who are running things too often seem to have forgotten.
And in doing these things, we make ourselves part of a movement that doesn’t seem to know it is a movement; weaving back together the fabric of life in our society. What unites us is more important and more powerful than what divides us. We don’t minimize the challenges that face us, but we would rather light a lamp than curse the darkness.
Now folks, as you know, we are at the beginning of a conversation about our future. Forty-six of us came together a couple of weeks ago to hear the results of our CAT survey. And one of the things we heard is that we have already made a lot of progress. Many of you remember that this church did the same CAT survey five years ago, back in 2014. The results of that survey were very painful. They spoke of a congregation that was very unhappy; dis-spirited, angry, in conflict, not very trusting of one another. That was a hard time for you. When I first started talking about doing the CAT survey again, I heard a lot of stories about how hard it was last time. Understandably, there was a lot of resistance, at first, to doing it again.
But the experience this time around was very different. Your sense of trust and openness to one another has largely come back. Your morale, your communication, your feelings of shared purpose have all improved dramatically in the last 5 years. The results of our latest CAT survey are all very positive and hopeful. That doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do, but we are in a good place as a congregation, and that is a cause for some real celebration.
The question is, where do we go with that? That’s the question we’re going to be talking about this year. It’s not a question I can answer for you, all by myself. As a congregation, it’s time for a little self-reflection. It’s time for us to clarify our mission and our purpose, time to take another look at who we essentially are and what our unique calling is. There was a time when all churches like ours had to do to thrive was to swing open the front doors and allow the community to walk in. Well, it was probably a little more difficult than that. But, as Selma was saying last week, when this church had 500 kids in Sunday School, the problem was not how to get them to come, the problem was where to put them.
These days, things are very different. These days, it is necessary for us to clarify our mission and our purpose so that we can meet the future faithfully as we did the past.
While we’re at it, I’d like you to think about Brook’s notion of weavers. He started out by simply noticing that, in contrast to the bad news that’s splashed across the headlines all the time, real people were often simply going about the business of being loving and compassionate and faithful. He decided to try to make the movement that didn’t know it was a movement, into a movement that does know it’s a movement. He started something called, “Weave: The Social Fabric Project.” I’d be happy to help you look it up online if you’re interested. It’s really something, and we could be a part of it if we like.
In the meantime, I invite you to have an open mind, an open heart, and a genuine respect for how critically important, not just to our church, but to our society, what we do here genuinely is.
And oh, by the way, this is a stewardship sermon. But I don’t need to ask for your money. What I need to do is ask you to consider where your heart is, and what is most important. May God bless all that we do here, and may you know that you are weavers.