On Sunday, June 21 the Hingham Singers came to Broad Bay. As they were just off a concert tour focused on the music of Peter, Paul and Mary, I focused on Bob Dylan’s song, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It was part of a series on Renouncing Violence. What do we do when we feel surrounded by violence and in the desert of dry bones? See sermon below.
Singer song writer Carrie Newcomer, said, “I am not part of the resistance. I am part of creating a kinder and gentler world.”
Pete Seeger’s bango said, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”
The music of Peter, Paul and Mary opened hearts in a time of national conflict, crisis and change. Vietnam, civil rights, Kent State, the draft. Churches were split. Families split. Leaders assassinated.
Peter, Paul and Mary and many others sang. They brought us together to sing.
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man/woman turn his/her head
And pretend that he/she just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind. Bob Dylan
“How long, O lord?” the psalmist cried.
“How long, O Lord?” the prophet cried.
“How long, O Lord?” the people cry.
“How long, O Lord?”
The answer is blowing in the wind.
So often the wind is where we glimpse God—in that which is felt but unseen, through the Holy Spirit the third person of the trinity.
Sailors learn to read the wind by looking at the waves on the water. Their ability to arrive safely at their destination, is dependent of their ability to read the wind. We know God by the signs we see as the winds of the spirit blow, as the spirit does her playful and creative dance.
These days, as I read the paper (no, read my phone) and pay attention to the news, my heart breaks and I don’t know how to find the way forward. It is so tempting to rage. There is no five point plan to bring love and justice and mercy. There is showing up and looking for an answer in surprising places.
Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8
We know the places of dry bones. As churches decline and become less relevant in the wider culture, it can feel like we are surrounded by dry bones. But we know we are a resurrection people.
We know the place of dry bones, a place of fear or helplessness from which there is no way out. And yet… we are a resurrection people.
We know the place of dry bones—where violence is everywhere. Where our rhetoric is disrespectful at best, and hate-filled and inflammatory at worst.
We know the place of dry bones and we are resurrection people.
Perhaps my greatest qualification to be your pastor in this time and place is that I spent two decades before I came here working with folks on the edge in the valley of dry bones: homeless women, psychiatric patients, families with a child at risk of removal. At first I was green and had no idea of what to do. Later, I still had no idea of what to do but learned to lean in to the unknown and look for the glimpses of hope. When anger or violence reigns, when tempers are high, when people are hurting and discouraged, when people have come to expect the worst, when trust is broken, ordinary resources do not work.
The only tool I had when a drunk angry woman was pushing another, was companionship. A conversation, a joke, a cup of coffee.
Working with families at risk, problems were seldom solved by focusing on the problem. Why is Johnny so upset with his parents? Focusing on the misery of the situation, the precursors to the outburst, is important but often leads to more misery. Instead it is more effective, or at least more rewarding, to throw caution to the wind and search for the times/moments when Johnny was calm. What was happening? Is there something to be learned from a day that went well? Listen and watch for the sounds of laughter. Listen and watch for times of cooperation.
It may feel like all sense of civility and decency has left our politics. When tempers are this high and positions dug in this firmly, I despair. When tempers are high and accusations running hard, it seems that violence or words with hard edges are the only way; And yet, does that help?
The non-violent civil rights movement found a way.
The arts lead us in other ways.
The Holy Spirit invites us to keep our eyes open for changing conditions, for a new way to our destinations.
Caring for a special needs child, an adult or elder with a chronic illness, resolving intractable societal problems, or any other challenge, demands that we follow the God who is in the winds.
There is an old hymn:
Give to the winds thy fears;
hope and be undismayed.
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head. Paul Gerhardt, John Wesley, trans
Our fears of the unknown can paralyze us from seeing other options, other strengths, other paths.
Whenever we find ourselves in the place of dry bones: Watch. Wait. What is the wind doing?
Help or grace or comfort or God will appear from some unexpected place.
The answer is blowing in the wind. Amen.