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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Social Service - Social Action

Sermon for Unitarian-Universalist Church of Marin
San Anselmo, CA
Sunday, May 25, 2008


When I fed the hungry, you called me a saint.
When I asked why are people hungry, you called me a communist.
-Dom Helder Camaro

So last Sunday I preached at Trinity Church, San Francisco on the Trinity. This week I speak to the Unitarian- Universalists, who years ago gave up on the Trinity in favor of the Unity.

It is my pleasure to be here and I thank Joan Nelson, therapist and friend, who thought my peculiar slant on things would be of interest to this congregation.

In the fifty-two years I have been ordained a priest of the Episcopal Church, I have often regarded myself as a high-church Unitarian. I do love the smells and bells, the mystery and majesty, music and melody of Anglican and Episcopal worship.

Like most male Episcopal priests I like to be called Father and dress like mother. Just kidding. I like to be called by my Baptismal name, which is Robert.

I have a simple Christian belief. I am a follower of Jesus. Not the Jesus of complex Trinitarian theology, stained glass windows and getting hung up on the cross. I follow Jesus the Revolutionary.

Jesus the revolutionary taught ideas that still need to be heeded today. Jesus was a healer. We need universal health care for all in our country today.

Jesus the revolutionary fed the hungry. The people going hungry in our country and in our world increases every hour.

Jesus the revolutionary called for loving our enemies. The United States goes to war and tortures our enemies.

Jesus the revolutionary said, "Blessed are the poor." People with little or no money in the US and in the world need massive aid for food homes, education and health care.

Jesus the revolutionary said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." We live in a country and world that profits from weaponry and war.

Jesus the revolutionary said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted." The US and the world need men and women who are willing to be persecuted for healing those in need and not bask in cushy jobs and fat salaries.

Unitarians are famous for social service programs like feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless, have a great program of sex education for teens, ordaining women, gays, and lesbians. They did that far sooner than most denominations Unitarians are strongly anti-war and accept all people who wish to join in the congregation.

Most churches have programs to help those in need. At Trinity, SF, we had a living room for people with AIDS to come and read rest, play cards and meet others. We had a shelter program where we sheltered 75 homeless men in the church rooms for a month each rainy winter for the past fifteen years. We allowed fifteen AA and NA groups to use the church rooms each week. We too did lots of social service.

But I want to make a distinction between social service and social action. Social service is feeding the hungry.

Social action is asking the question, “Why are people hungry, homeless, poor, having no health insurance. Why is there such a gap between the rich and the poor?

I think the brilliant men and women who are devout capitalists need to look at our system of government and economics to see how we can adjust the system so people do not go hungry and have no health care. I do not think we need armed revolution. I think we need people of good will to look at the system and make adjustments.

Rich, my Republican friend, and I were both born in Brooklyn, New York. He loves and respects me because I helped him understand and love his brother who revealed that he was gay and had a lover. It was hard for Rich to understand that. He came around and was reconciled to his brother. When it comes to the poor, he donates lots of money to feeding programs, soup kitchens, and hospitals. But when it comes to suggesting that capitalism as we know it leaves too many people poor and hungry, Dear Rich says, “Leave capitalism alone, don’t change anything. Just let things be.”

I think we in the religious, the faith community need to call on our leaders to fix the system so that so many people do not end up in poverty.

Many capitalist counties flourish with low poverty rates and good health care. Sweden, Ireland and Germany come to mind. Of course, they have very high tax rates. There may be other adjustments that smarter people than I can discover to change the system.


Let’s take a specific example of social action. We all know our health care system leaves many people with little of no health care. Why is that? Most people in the US when polled want vast improvement in the health care system. Our government does not want to do much about guaranteeing better health care for all. What can we do?

We can take on social action. Organize.

There is little a parish church can do to change the health care system after stating loud and clear for all to hear that the church stands for health care for all.

But think of the power of many churches gathered together to work for health care and other issues.
Community Organization has been going on for many years. Right here in the Marin County Organizing Committee has been gathering churches and synagogue and foundations to work on specific needs and goals they jointly decided upon. Mental health, shelters and toxic waste sites have found solutions as groups banded together to bring about change.

The Bay Area Organizing committee has been working in San Francisco in the Ingleside and outer Sunset to work on common concerns like parks and recreation centers.

Community organization is hard work. Gaining consensus on goals and plans of action are difficult. But that’s what politicians do. They organize and get laws past. Church groups can organize and bring pressure of money and vote to bear on legislators to make sure we have adequate health care for all.

That is social action, that is what will change things for real healing in our society.

Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr. were not organizers. They were inspirer-ers, they inspired people to action to bring about change. Jesus needed Paul to spread the church. MLK needed Lyndon Johnson and the Congress to pass laws ending discrimination against African Americans. Real Change comes through social action and the organizing of good people who care deeply about others.

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