This past Sunday, I began my sermon describing this video of Karim Sulayman who engaged in a powerful trust experiment. I encourage you to watch it. Below is a part of the sermon.
As my colleague Rev. Galen Guengrich from New York City notes, “The entire video hinges on a single moment — the moment when someone went first. Someone responded to fear with a gesture of trust. Someone responded to loneliness with a sign of friendship. Someone responded to pain with an offer of comfort. Someone went first.”
My friends, in the coming weeks, months and years, there shall be all sorts of opportunities for each of us to respond to pain, suffering, oppression, and cruelty. Most people who step forward will be people of conviction, compassion, and community. Yes, community. The call for unity and resilience requires community.
This month, we are exploring in my congregation at Unity Temple what it means to be a Community of Prophecy. Prophecy may sound like an odd theme. But in religious discourse, prophecy is all about naming truth that is uncomfortable to those who benefit from the way things are. Prophecy is about naming what corrupts and oppresses, what is cruel and inhumane.
Over 25 hundred years ago, the Jewish prophets of old spoke out against the cruelty, ignorance and inhumanity of their day, calling upon those in power to mend their ways and urging ordinary people to ban together in solidarity. For prophets stand in the gap between the way the world is and the world as it could be, if we human beings were to change our ways. Those who stay the course of sharing hard but real truths despite the consequences, these people are called prophets.
In the 20th century, Martin Luther King continued this tradition in a powerful way. When Dr. King spoke at the national gathering of Unitarian Universalists fifty years ago, he entitled his address “Don’t sleep through the revolution.” He called on the church to lead. "When the church is true to its nature, it stands as the moral guardian of society." He called on the church to be maladjusted to the structures of society that corrupt and oppress. And he finished with a ringing call to commit to building the beloved community.
In his book Strength to Love, Dr. King says, “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of humankind, put your faith in the nonconformists.” The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. This is essentially a paraphrase of our third Unitarian Universalist principle which calls us to promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. So it falls to us to hold a vision for the beloved community. That is our religious work.
When I saw that video of Karim Sulayman standing, silent and unseeing, in New York City with that sign in his arms, four words especially jumped out at me: "I am very scared."
My friends, so many people are so very scared, no matter their political affiliation. Truth be told, I am scared. It is important to admit and to share, for fear shared is fear lessened. Fear too often guides us but it need not if we participate in a community, a community of prophecy. Prophets at all times and places knew fear, but they navigated their fear in relationship with others. Prophets manage to step forward despite their fear.
Dr. King said very early in his ministry, “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”
The first task of a community of prophecy is to build trust, to build trust among its members and to build trust with people who are different. A part of this is to step forward when we see the need. In this era when social media segregates people ever further along ideological lines, we must put down our screens and take the opportunity to talk one on one with others with different life experience.
The central role of a community of prophecy is to cultivate the strength to love, the kind of love that looks like resistance in the face of hate, the kind of love that calls for unity and for resilience.
May we live ever into being a community of prophecy.
Blessed be. Amen.