Sermon: Bede’s Sparrow

Let us be clear: there is no magic wand that will make everything in this life better. God is not going to come down and make it as if we – meaning all of us – never made all of the mistakes (and good decisions) we’ve made that have gotten us to this point. We cannot escape responsibility for what we’ve done to each other, or to God’s Creation.

The command to “Love our Neighbor” means acknowledging this, and so embracing compassion for ourselves and others as a way of life. It means conscientiously making room for “The Other” – for those who are different from us. We can begin by opening our minds and our hearts to what they have to say.

“Bede’s Sparrow” by Carrie Wild

This past Friday evening, George Takei was preparing for a performance of his musical which opened on Broadway a few days ago, a very personal story of the terrible price George and his family paid for being of Japanese ancestry and living in America during World War II.

On hearing of the attacks in Paris, Mr. Takei wrote: “…I’m writing this backstage at Allegiance, my heart heavy with the news from Paris, aching for the victims and their families and friends.

Aziz Abu Sarah
Aziz Abu Sarah, Peace Activist

My friend Aziz Abu Sarah, who, like George, spends his life urging peace and building bridges to span the gaps separating people around the world, and whose family has also paid a very heavy price through years of terror and oppression, had this to say: “Two days of ongoing terrible news… From Beirut to Paris, bombs, murder and dozens of victims. Its another heartbreaking day.”

My lifelong “older brother” in spirit, Ahmed, said this in his email to my parents yesterday morning: “We are all distressed as Paris has become our home .… I am flying there on Friday unless the borders are closed. France has been openly at war with Islamists for a number of years and terrorist attacks were expected. But they can never be predicted or controlled. I expect life in France will change following the latest carnage.”

Ahmed’s wife, Lena, who is in Paris at the moment, posted this on Facebook yesterday: “Tears this morning. With a very heavy heart I start the day.”

All of these people have labored their whole lives to bring peace and justice into this world. They’ve all worked diligently against poverty, oppression, despair and injustice. They have all taken firm and often costly stands against the dehumanization of “The Other” that lies at the heart of these attacks. Some of them are hurt and despairing, as you heard. But I think I can give voice to what lies in all of their hearts by quoting this from Mr. Takei’s message:

“There no doubt will be those who look upon immigrants and refugees as the enemy as a result of these attacks, because they look like those who perpetrated these attacks, just as peaceful Japanese Americans were viewed as the enemy after Pearl Harbor. But we must resist the urge to categorize and dehumanize, for it is that very impulse that fueled the insanity and violence perpetrated this evening.”

Now. let’s skip back 1400 years, to a time when England was a collection of little Kingdoms, almost 300 years before they would be united under King Alfred the Great and his heirs.

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Hobby Lobby – a Different Point of View

The Hobby Lobby decision implies that it is OK to treat others differently, and unfairly, merely because our religious beliefs dictate that we should do so. This is the sort of logic used by the religious extremists found in any faith: they believe their faith gives them the right to treat others in a way that is not respectful of them or their humanity.

Hobby Lobby315*304We’ve all heard (and read) lots of angry denouncements of the Supreme Court’s recent “Hobby Lobby” decision. I agree with many of them, especially George Takei’s eloquent statement; but, I’d rather not delve into that right now.  Instead, let’s begin by going in a different direction and ask “What is the decision, really?”

To be specific, the Supreme Court deems that “closely held corporations [shall not be forced to] provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. … regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.”

The court’s decision is also very carefully written to limit its scope and effect, even though efforts are already underway to extend the impact of this decision into new territory.   The justices explicitly state that they did not deem it necessary to address or consider the First Amendment (“Freedom of Religion”) claims of the plaintiffs, since the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) is applicable to this case, and in the court’s opinion, the defense’s case clearly fails the tests imposed by the RFRA, as passed by Congress under President Clinton in 1993.

The justices go on to state: We do not hold … that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” … Nor do we hold … that such corporations have free rein to take steps that impose “disadvantages . . . on others” or that require “the general public [to] pick up the tab.” … And we certainly do not hold or suggest that “RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on . . . thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby.” … The effect of the HHS-created accommodation on the women employed by Hobby Lobby and the other companies involved in these cases would be precisely zero. Under that accommodation, these women would still be entitled to all FDA-approved contraceptives without cost sharing.

So, at first blush this all seems fairly reasonable, and it was such reasoning that helped lead to the end of the so called “Blue Laws” in many states that required businesses to be closed on Sundays. At that time – a generation or two ago – it was determined that such laws proved an unfair burden for – for instance– Jewish small business owners, who were already closing their shops on Saturdays due to their sincerely held religious beliefs.

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