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Sermons at First Parish Church

Sunday, October 8, 2017
Rev. Elea Kemler
First Parish Church of Groton

Thought As the Service Begins

When the world falls apart, look for love among the edges of our shared chaos. It’s there, waiting in the frayed spaces where fear loosens its armor, waiting for us to knit our tired hands together and say yes. (Miranda Hersey)


Benediction For The Heavy Heart by Mason Bolton

Good morning. I missed your “good”
because a plane, because a truck, because
a gun, (because a cop, because a government)
because a people suffering, because too many
people suffering, because war, because famine,
because some mornings it is so hard
to rise, to wake, to be a self.

There is a pause here. There is a deliberate
cessation. I want a cessation to the noise
in my head, to the ache in the collective
heart of this world…

I want to write about butterflies, about
the cracked edges of tree bark pressing
like a holy mother into palms. I want to write
about the joy of children’s cries, about birth,
about the arch of your smile, how I could
lose myself in the corners of your
sweet and grinning mouth. This you is
you reading this.

I want for your joy… I want your
mornings “good,” your evenings “good,”
all the late-nights and sunrises and afternoons
and moments pressed against the ticking
glass of your life “good.”

Breathe. For yourself. For each other. Let
us breathe in when others cannot. When we
can do nothing else. Let us stretch ourselves
open to embrace our friends, to extend
our bodies open to anyone willing to meet us,
or even to meet those we think may not. Let us
hold each other for this moment. For this
blink of human existence.


Breathe. For yourself. For each other. Let
us breathe in when others cannot. When we
can do nothing else…
Let us hold each other for this moment. For this
blink of human existence.

Here in this strong old house where so many generations have gathered in prayer, let us hold each other in love for this moment

Let us hold in love the joys and sorrows of this congregation, this gathered people, those spoken out loud today and these joys and sorrows which have been entrusted to us:

Miranda Hersey wrote this week: When the world falls apart, look for love among the edges of our shared chaos. It’s there, waiting in the frayed spaces where fear loosens its armor, waiting for us to knit our tired hands together and say yes.

And so we say yes again, yes to living from a place of love and generosity and gratitude, in the week ahead of us, we say yes to love again.

Let us sit in quiet and listen to the sounds of morning and pray the prayers of our own hearts.

Sermon: This Tender Thread

I ran out of words this week. I think I ran out of feeling too. I actually googled the sentence, “What to do when the minister runs out of words…” It yielded nothing helpful. When I heard the news of the shooting in Las Vegas, when I heard about the senseless, needless terror and trauma, the grief and loss of life, 59 dead including the shooter, 489 hurt, all of those wounded people, the thousands of their worried and grieving loved ones, I felt numb. I was utterly unshocked, unsurprised, despite the scale of the tragedy and the loss of so many lives, each one precious, unique and beloved. I felt only numbness threaded through with cynical despair, wondering how long until the next shooting, trying to imagine how much death will be enough death to bring about reasonable and sane gun legislation in this country.

I heard an interview on the news this week, a dad whose daughter was wounded in the shooting. Thankfully, she is going to be okay despite now having a bullet lodged near her spine, but she is going to recover. Her dad, who works as a prison guard in Lousiana, is so grateful for that and he sounded like a wonderful father and a good person too — caring and thoughtful. The interviewer asked him if he thought differently about gun laws now, after what happened to his child, knowing he was a gun owner and NRA supporter. “Not at all,” he said, “I am still against gun control in any form. Guns did not do this to my daughter, a person did.” His answer made me feel hopeless. How and when will the violence and terror ever end?

Where do we find our strength? Where do we find our hope when the world seems to be breaking into pieces like shards of glass? How do we keep our hearts open, our eyes open when there is too much too see? How do we keep our faith — in humanity, in goodness, in love when there is so much contradictory evidence?

Last year, during the week of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, which seem like so many tragedies ago, one of you said to me “I think people are getting worse not better, I think evil is winning.” And then the person asked, “Do you think evil is winning?” I thought about that question a lot this week, one of the most fundamental questions of human existence.

How do we make sense of the horrible things people do without giving up hope in humanity? How do we believe in human goodness, much less the goodness of anything larger such as God or a Spirit of Love holding us all together, in the face of destruction and devastation and willful violence? When the person asked me this we were on our way out the door at the end of a meeting and it was already late and the lights were being turned off. I did not have time to think, so I answered with the first two things that came to me. And though they were not particularly elegant or articulate, they were true then and they are still are true though I forgot them this week. I said something like, “I think we need to try to take a very long view.”

It helped me to remember that this week because I have been forgetting to take the long view, forgetting to try to see humans the way I imagine the God of my understanding sees us. And I imagine that God sees us with a perspective far vaster and larger than anything we can see. And in that vast perspective, in that longest possible view, I believe human beings are early in the process, with so much to learn about justice and compassion and living together in peace. We seem to learn very slowly. But I believe we are learning. And I believe that every so often a great leader or teacher is born, someone with intense moral wisdom and courage: people such as Jesus or Buddha or Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela or Malala. These people are revered but they are also usually feared, and often killed because they are so far ahead of their time. But some people recognize their wisdom and some try to follow their teachings and so we move a little further forward and that progress is countered by fear and resistance, and then eventually we move another step forward. This is our job as humans and it is one of incredible gravity and responsibility — to try to move our species along, to help us become more ethical, more peaceful, more compassionate, more wise. I am certain our survival depends upon it and of course we don’t know how things will turn out.

We don’t know whether or not we will figure out how to live on this small planet with one another. We don’t know if we have enough time to learn it — if we can save ourselves from destruction, if the planet can even heal from the damage we have done. But I know I want to be with the people who are trying. As my colleague and friend, Lee Bluemel puts it, we don’t know for certain that love wins in the end, but I am certain that love is the side I want to be on.

So taking the long view is the first thing. The second thing is to remember to follow the simple but profound wisdom of Mr. Rogers, who told generations of children what his mother told him: that in a time of crisis or fear or pain or emergency, look for the helpers. “You will always find them,” he said. This is true. In every trauma and tragedy there are people who run toward the trouble. There were people who ran toward the finish line at the Boston Marathon, who ran toward the towers on 9/11 even as they were still falling. There were teachers who threw themselves in front of the children at Sandy Hook to try to save them and this time in Las Vegas it was the same, people lay down on the ground on top of their friends and loved ones and even strangers to try to protect them from the bullets.

I heard a story on the radio of a couple pulling a wounded young man into their car to take him to the hospital. On the way they used the young man’s cell phone to call his mother — they told her, we have him, we are taking him to the ER, we will stay with him — total strangers, it did not matter. It is clear that humans are capable of great destruction but I choose to believe, and I do believe that even more of us are capable of great love and that love shows up. Love always shows up. It isn’t usually heroic or dramatic. More often love show up because people like us bring it, along with the warm blankets and casseroles and rides to the hospital. People bring it when they gather for vigils in public parks after horrible things happen and light tiny candles against the dark.

One of you told me this week, “I am collecting stories of love and healing right now. I am on the lookout for them.” That helped me too. Be on the lookout for stories of love and healing. Collect one this week. See if you can become part of a story of healing and love — put yourself in a story like that if you can.

I got to be in one this week, driving home from picking up my son at school in CT. It wasn’t big or dramatic, in fact it was quite small and undramatic. We were in the line at the Subway Sandwich shop at a rest stop to get Caleb a soda. It was taking forever because there was a small huddle of people at the cash register who turned out to be a couple of customers along with the young Subway Sandwich employee and they were all trying to help a woman who was lost.

She was seriously lost in the way that those of us who have spent a lot of time seriously lost can understand. She had an address scribbled on a piece of paper and she suspected she was going in the wrong direction and she did not have a cell phone or even know how to use one so the Subway worker was searching for the address on her cell phone while another man was looking things up on a paper map he had found in the store and a trying to explain where she was. When google maps finally pronounced that the woman’s destination was still 1 hour and 43 minutes away in the opposite direction she started crying, overwhelmed. “I will never get there,” she said. The subway young woman told her, “Just let me get these people their soda and then I will write down the directions step by step.” “And I can show you on the map,” the man said, “Let me just buy the map and I will mark it.” I couldn’t help with the cell phone or the map because I am terrible with both of those but I did hand her a napkin to wipe her eyes and told her with complete truth,” I have been hopelessly lost more times than I can count, I know it feels terrible. But you will get there.” “You will definitely get there!” echoed the Subway woman. “Of course she will get there,” said the man with the map. In that moment it was as kind as anywhere I have ever been, that rest stop on route 395.

Because I ran out of words I went looking for the words of others to share. My colleague Rev Robin Tanner wrote some words that helped me this week. She is a minister, social justice activist, poet and a mother of two very young children. She wrote this essay called A Tender Thread. It reminded me of what I believe in, of who I believe in.

5:00 am. A child is stirring… and up. Now I am, too. We call out to one another in the dark hallway. Call and response, we find one another. She crawls into our bed babbling about a turtle, then requests Cheerios. My phone buzzes with alerts. I pick it up, forgetting myself as I tell my wife, “There’s been another shooting. Twenty dead. A concert.”

She replies, “Oh God.” Then a little voice asks, while crunching Cheerios, “Who’s dead?”

We tried to sleep but I knew: The number of dead would climb (I was shocked when I got out of bed an hour later and it more than doubled). Calls for gun control and prayers would battle it out on social media. We would sputter facts about mass shootings…

Can I tell you about the world I long for? It does not include mass killings at concerts or schools, or black bodies riddled with lead all year long. It does not include lone wolves who seem a part of a larger pack. It does not include wondering “Who’s dead?”

I want instead to live in the early hours where we find one another without knowing how, and crawl into warm beds with Cheerios and stories of turtles.

I don’t want to be right or smarter. I just want the slaughter to end.

The tender thread that pulled us together before daybreak led me all day long—fragile as it may be…. The tender, fragile thread.

I call the names into the dark hallway, whispers into desperation. Who is dead? I call the names of those with power to change this. I call my own. We, the willing, follow the threads to one another; past rightness and quips and tweets. We will find one another and persist past sunrise.

We, the willing, follow the threads to one another. We will find one another and persist past sunrise. In order to persist, in order to keep taking the long view, in order to keep believing that love shows up and in order to be among the helpers, to be among those who show up with love, however small or simple that act may be, we need to take care of our souls, to rest them. Otherwise we get numb, overwhelmed and cynical as I did this week. We begin to believe, as I did this week, that suffering and violence and injustice are just the normal way of things. And our world, our country, desperately need people who insist on compassion. It is tiring, even exhausting to care deeply, to really take in the suffering of people near and far, to try to figure out how to be among the helpers, to hold onto hope, to insist that love and justice will overcome in the end, and if it does not, love and justice is still the side we want to be on. Sometimes we need to rest.

It has been another hard week. Go home and have a gentle afternoon. Stop at a farm stand on the way home and get some apples so you can bake a pie and fill your kitchen with the smell of apples and cinnamon. Take a nap or a walk or maybe both. I have been spending a lot of time sitting on our front porch, watching the neighbor boys race up and down the street on their bikes, and I am trying to really notice the trees as they turn, and the beautiful October light and the stories of love and healing happening all around.

Miranda Hersey writes, “When the world falls apart, look for love among the edges of our shared chaos. It’s there, waiting in the frayed spaces where fear loosens its armor, waiting for us to knit our tired hands together and say yes.” And so let us say yes again.


3 Powderhouse Road … Groton, MA 01450-4700 … 978-448-6307 …   …  

Most recently updated 2017-10-09