According to YellowPages.com, there are 820 listings for Places of Worship in Omaha, Nebraska. When I say, “I’m glad you are here” I mean it. Evidently, you could have worshipped 819 other places this morning. I’m not sure that it’s cost effective in the big scheme of things to have 820 different sites just in Omaha to worship One God of us all, but there’s a good reason for the duplications. Each of those 820 is different. Each of us has our own culture and traditions. Each of us has our own particular areas of mission and service. Each of us has our own way of doing things and ways of seeing things. We all might share some Jell-O recipes and some of us are more alike than different, but we are each unique. I think it’s important for people to find the place that nurtures their spiritual growth and allows each to live out their faith. So, who are we? How are we different from the other 819? What’s important to us?
Social activism, works of justice and mercy is woven into this congregation’s DNA from birth. In 1887, when the Ponca tribe was removed from their land, they walked the Trail of Tears from Nebraska to Oklahoma. When the chief’s son died, he vowed to bury his son on their land. At great peril, Standing Bear and a group of Ponca made their way 600 miles north on foot. They arrived in Omaha weary, hungry with bloodied feet and frail bodies. Henry Tibbles, a reporter for the Omaha Herald, was given inside information as to the condition and whereabouts of the tribe. When he saw their plight imprisoned at Fort Omaha, he ran as fast as he could for help. He ran to the Methodist Church, for he knew the Methodists would help. Those Methodists collected food and clothing and made sure the Ponca Indians received care. When Chief Standing Bear came to trial, the Methodist pastor stood with him advocating on his behalf. Standing Bear was declared a human. This church has continued that fight for 160 years so that all might also be known as fully human. We did so during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s. We did so during the GLBT struggle for equality of this last decade. We continue to work for justice—challenging systems that keep people oppressed. We continue to offer acts of mercy, which provide for people’s basic needs. We feed the hungry because all humans should be fed. We work for ecological sustainability because it’s our privilege and responsibility to care for creation. Social justice is not a naughty word in this church; it’s the expectation of what followers of Jesus do because that’s what Jesus did.
We say and sing, “All are welcome here,” and we mean it. We don’t mean folks are welcome to come here so that we can “fix” them. We mean folks are welcome here, period. We celebrate the diversity of God’s people and believe that full inclusion and greater diversity in a worshipping community is a song of praise in itself.
Our theology is progressive and we don’t hide it. We don’t claim to have all the answers. We don’t claim there are answers; however, we are honored to sit in the questions with one another. We believe God gave us the ability to think and reason and God expects us to use those gifts. There are many paths and we respect all the paths that lead to wholeness and compassion and unity. We take the Bible seriously and explore scholarly interpretation of biblical texts that considers the context of scripture. We value the truths that lie within and behind the historical metaphor in the texts and look for relevance and application for living today. Christian Education is important to this community. It’s important for children to hear about a God that loves them right from the start. It’s important for youth, as each begins to search for their own identity, to have a faith community who will remind them who they are as beloved people of God. It’s important for adults because we need a place to wrestle with the hard stuff of life in the safety of others who can help us find God in the midst of our changing world. We need adult faith learning opportunities so we aren’t trying to face a grown up world with a second grade faith.
You won’t hear much about hell, fire, damnation, and judgment around here. Those things don’t point to a God of love and grace. None of us are perfect; God knows that and loves us as we are, so we love one another.
Music is important to this community. Music enhances our worship experience; it nurtures our spiritual life. Music creates space for reflection and connection. It speaks to our soul; it lingers in our memory after we depart this place; music moves our heart.
Every good revolution needs a theme song. Do you hear the people sing?
Every civil rights movement claims a national anthem: lift every voice and sing.
Every worship service needs a praise song.
We are thankful for our musicians who bring life, sound, and energy into worship. We are thankful for their songs that affirm our theology and reinforce our mission. We are thankful for Mark Kurtz and Marie Meyers. We are thankful for each singer and tambourine shaker and drummer and trumpeter and flute and violin and harp or bell note that sounds.
Hear this bell. When that bell rings, the sound goes on and on. It is let loose into the space, and it travels and reverberates onward. That what music does—vibrates through the universe.
Scripture is filled with songs and the instruction to sing out in praise and thanksgiving. Today’s song of praise was for all creation. It uses metaphors for water, sky, trees, mountains, all sing praise; stars, rain and wind, all sing praise; whales and birds and creatures great and small, all sing praise each in their own way. The trees don’t sing the same as the mountains and the whales don’t sing the same as the birds; each one has a song of praise imbedded in their core. Each one in different ways sings praise.
We all might not sing in the choir, but we all can sing praise in our own way.
In 2006, there was a movie made about that. It starred emperor penguins who find their soul mates through song. All the little penguins learn to sing so they can find their mate, open their heart, and express the song that all hold within. All the little penguins progress nicely, but one. They call him Mumble. When he tries to sing, out comes a screech instead. They say he has no heartsong. That makes him less than. He “just ain’t penguin” as his father puts it. His difference makes him unacceptable, set apart, alone, and rejected; but, as you probably know and the movie reveals, Mumble does have a heartsong. It doesn’t come through his vocal chords like all the others. He sings his heartsong with his feet, his happy feet.
We are thankful for those who literally bring music to our worship. Every one of us here are part of the melody of this community. We share in the music of life and the song of justice. We participate in the vibration of God’s Spirit and the melody of life, and we each do so in our own way.
Community helps us to find our heartsong expression: in Sunday class or small group discussion, teaching the children, in feeding the homeless or building houses with Habitat for Humanity, in serving in Jamaica or just down the street, in cutting the grass, or cooking a dish. We sing in so many ways serving one another and God’s world.
Through all our happy feet, busy hands, quiet souls, and prayerful moments, through our care for one another and all our human family and all the earth, we join our gifts and hearts and make music that touches the world and in our music, in so very many ways, God is glorified.
May it be so.