Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Together to community: Strong communities work together


Our friends from the National Movement Against Sweat Shops and the SWEAT Campaign joined us for worship

This is the weekend New York City celebrates labor. And so will we. Today begins a new series on Together to Community. And today’s theme will be a strong community works together.

Right before the service, Sean wheels up in front of the church. Apologetic. He’s called BRC to apologize. Apologized to Danielle the social worker. Doesn’t want to lose his placement. Looking for another chance. Today he just wants to swap out some clothes. A fresh change.

I talk about our history of honoring labor. And how our first conversation about community will focus on working together. And we’ll start with some words form Jesus in  Matthew 18: 15-20.

15If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Today we’re talking about work….and working together….and later, when we come together for our communion, we will lift  up and give thanks for our work…

These next few weeks, we will be talking about what makes for a healthy community...what our church can be…and today we’re talking about working together. I’ve learned over the years that we will disagree with each other. And anger each other. And hurt each other. What can make it different is how we deal with it. And Jesus lays out an early step by step process…

1     1.   Start with one to one. Go directly to the person who you are upset with. Share your concern.
2     2.  If that doesn’t work, take 1 or 2 others with you …to listen, hear, help communication. To make sure that each party truly understands what the other is saying. All too often we respond before we’ve really heard what the other is saying. We talk right past each other. Another person is a witness, not against anyone, but to listen. Make sure the other has heard.
3    3. We have learned a process through the Mennonites that can be used to resolve conflicts, so long as the parties want to resolve the conflict. That is the critical point.  It’s rooted in this process outlined by Jesus. We can commit to using that process here.
4    4.   Ultimately, If one party refuses to enter into reconciliation, fellowship is broken.  The only way we can be a strong community and work together is if we are committed to resolving our issues as a community.

Imagine, if to become a member of a church, you would promise to resolve all issues through a community, accountability based process…and we kept to that commitment…no talking behind anyone’ s back, no strategies to defeat one another…. What might happen? That is the beginning.

What about loosing and binding?…I believe that what Jesus  is saying here is that what we do has implications….and consequences….what we let go of we will be freed from, but what we hold onto, what we bind to ourselves, will continue to go with us…stay with us…

And we have this…   19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

Do you believe that?  This is working together….If even 2-3 people are of one mind about something, the possibilities open up.

John R is quick to point out that it needs to be in the right spirit. In the wrong spirit, even 2-3 agreeing together can cause a lot of damage. It’s the spirit we’re talking about here, shared values and commitments. When we disagree, we need to continue the conversation until we find that deeper place where we are in the same spirit. My friend Father John and I disagree on  public policy regarding abortion. But when we go one level deeper, we can understand how in the same spirit, shared values and commitments can lead us to different conclusions, limited human beings as we are, and we can continue to work together .

Finally, We often  worry about numbers but there is this …20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them….where we find God is in the intersections between us, in that Venn diagram of shared spiritual space. With more and more intersections, the power begins to grow. That’s where it begins…2 or 3, in agreement, mutually accountable…working  together, anything is possible…

As part of our preparation for communion, I explain how our neighbor congregations agreed to work on food justice as an issue of shared concern. One that can be entered into at so many different levels.  First, production…migrant workers in the farms and fields of Long Island and Jersey and Upstate. Distribution, undocumented workers in the back of our kitchens, on delivery bikes, in service lines. Consumption, what we choose to eat, where we buy it. And so today,we have as our guests friends from the SWEAT campaign.
Our guests come to us from Fujian province China. And Oaxaca, Mexico. And Chiapas. They share their stories of exploitation. Of fear. And then of resistance. Coming together in unity. And of victories won. Boycotts and picket lines work.
Boycotts brought Domino's to a successful legal conclusion. And as John R says, even now that it’s settled, it will be hard to go back to Domino's. We remember the farm workers. And table grapes. And lettuce. And the Nestles boycott.  And the Department of Labor only took notice of their unconscionable backlog of cases when we put upon the picket line in front of their midtown office.
Our friends share their campaign goals of closing the loop holes in enforcement.
As we prepare for communion, I ask that we reflect on how many people, how many hands were involved in bringing to our table this small loaf of bread, this small carafe of unfermented wine. We are somehow in communion with all those laborers as we share in this meal. And we bring our own work as med techs, salesmen, workers in the pharmaceutical industry, nurses, artists, caregivers, pet care takers, we bring all this to the table. Some of our friends join us in the breaking of bread.  
In our final circle, we bless our friends in their work.  We join hands. We say Amen.

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