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“A Band of Believers”

So, there they were on the morning after, as it were, a tragic ending at the hands of empire, of what is commonly believed to have been about a three-year ministry of one who had risen in their midst with a new twist on old teachings, a presence found threatening by the power structures in place. Charismatic, perhaps, but his insights struck a chord with folks and so they followed along, wanting more or deeper understanding, acknowledgement of who they were at their core, a way of being more conducive to inclusion and oneness.

They were the twelve; a dozen or so primary followers who believed the message from the start and were called to come alongside, to learn and ultimately to share. And not too long after they were given the authority to do so – appointed to teach and to bring about wonder, to heal and make whole, to act on behalf of the Teacher out into the countryside where so much need existed in those times. Off they would go and then return to be refilled. He taught them with stories, riddles almost some of the time, asking them to imagine the unimaginable. All the “What if’s” brought to bear on the culture in which they lived, turning on its head the traditional teachings, a new way to relate to life and people and community. They were not always so quick to get it, and he was sometimes a little impatient with them, but loved them just the same and explained in simpler terms when he needed to.

A band of believers, they were, and most of the time their faith in what they had been taught sufficed. But on more than one occasion they just couldn’t muster it up without him. Twice I read of instances where throngs of people had gathered on a hillside to hear the message he was offering, and the day would grow late and the twelve would suggest that he send the listeners away so that they could get something to eat. And he said to the Band – “You feed them!” I can hear him thinking, “Use your imagination!” “Trust your power!” Flabbergasted by the suggestion – what were they to do – go into town and buy enough for such a crowd – they balked at the idea. So, he has them seat the folks in groups and collect up what little there might be to eat already and bring it to him. And he offered a blessing on what appeared to be a meager amount and sent the twelve out to share it among the people. And there was plenty it turns out.

There is a message in here somewhere about scarcity mentality, but that’s not my purpose today!

Immediately after that, the story goes that the twelve headed out on the water in somewhat rough seas, aiming for the other side while their Teacher dismissed the crowds. And it is said that he then began to walk out to them – on the water – and they were startled by this, thinking he might be a ghost. But he identifies himself and still one of them doesn’t believe it possible and asks to be given the same ability. Once granted he attempts to walk out on the water to meet him and being of little faith, it is said, he begins to fall under and cries out for help. The Teacher takes his hand, the two are transported back into the boat and the seas are calmed. All’s well that ends well!

But in both of these cases I am drawn to the timeline of events and to their placement in the overall stories. Because they had been granted this power and authority completely aligned with that of the Teacher and yet, when things get really tense or stressful or dangerous or seemingly unmanageable – times when it would seem that they need it the most – they forget and turn to this one who has led them thus far to step in and fix it for them. They believed, but it only carried them so far. And now the Christian scriptures tell us they would be on their own. No one to run to when things get rough. It would be up to them and the weight of that was immense, forgetting again that they had this ability to continue the spread of news about a way in the world that was different, mutual, compassionate, and more communally oriented. The gospel stories bring the Teacher back for one last reminder! I think as they huddled together in the aftermath of tragic circumstances, they came to recall what they had been called upon to do and the teachings came alive for them once more. Not a fantastical enough interpretation to carry things forward I guess, but it suits me!

In our reading this morning, my colleague Victoria Weinstein agrees. He’s not coming back, but for our efforts to live into the message and to bring it to bear on our hurting world.

We have our teachers from days of old, those first dissenters who dismissed the idea of a trinity, finding no scriptural basis for it, the original Unitarians from centuries past who, like the Teacher we point to today gave their lives while speaking truth to power. And in the not-so-distant past we look to our involvement in the civil rights movement and the losses incurred at the hands of racist bands married to oppressive truths. And we can’t help but wonder in these fractious and polarized times what evils might be wrought by difference and intolerance, by the emboldening of power over thinking and violent means to ends.

Our faith calls us into the fray, and we have no miracle working teacher in our midst to save the day. This is our task. It is ours to trust what we have come to value as Unitarian Universalists, much of it not a stretch from what that early Teacher professed, to trust its power to heal and make whole. We have our Principles and these underlying values that have been lifted up in the course of study over the past four years. Things like equity – just shy of liberation if you recall an earlier message from this spring – where everyone has the same view over the fence. Generosity – not just the tangible kind although that matters greatly, but a spirit among us that overflows from our center. Interdependence – the oneness of all of humanity, of all that is and the nurturance of sustainable relationships of care and respect and mutuality. Pluralism and the embrace of all points of view as meaningful and possessed of truths. Justice – being in right relationship – standing against oppressions of all kinds. And transformation – acknowledging that all is always in flux, complete and seeking completion both.

We can take some clues from the Teacher whose story we honor today. He brought a new commandment of Love as integral to our world. He traveled among the least of those in the region – the marginalized and oppressed – raising them up – figuratively, if not literally – calling attention to their plight and freeing them from the bonds that held them down. He spoke truth to the powers that be, decrying their methods and pharisaical means. He shared his insights about what he knew as truth and a way forward. Healing, its root in the idea of soundness of body, mind, and spirit, the bringing about of conditions to ensure that for all beings. And those tangible examples of feeding the multitudes, of providing the best at the outset, no holding back from the abundant stores.

We are, in a sense, a modern-day band of believers. They were transformed in that season from being followers, tightly bound to their leader, reliant on the work of his mind and heart and hands, content to journey with him into whatever next iteration of faith that would evolve, to bring up the rear. Transformed into followers in the sense of being adherents and devotees of a cause and its activation in their lives and world.

We have been commissioned by our tradition, by those values that have rooted themselves in our hearts to be followers of the latter kind. The time has passed for us to sit by the wayside and watch. It is not someone else’s responsibility. It’s time to rise up, to be sources of healing, to rage for what is right, to love beyond boundaries. Because we live in such tenuous times where reality is any man’s game to profess, no matter how little of substance or truth it contains. Because our fear of difference has us pitted against one another, forgetting that we all exist from stardust no matter our context and what that has fed us. There is enough Love, the Teacher would say.

This Easter is an invitation to rise up in our world as a people of faith with values that will bring about change that raises each and all to its best and most meaningful existence. It is an invitation to trust what we have come to believe, to seek out means of healing and wholeness, to band together and to bring the good work of Love to bear upon our hurting world. May we be that band of believers, trusting our power. Let’s make it be so and blessed be.

Rev. Tracy Johnson

UUMH Chatham, March 31, 2024



​Unitarian Universalist

Meeting House of Chatham
Sunday Services  10:30 AM

819 Main Street
All MAIL To: PO Box 18​​
Chatham, MA 02633
(508) 945-2075

Serving our Cape Cod Community in Chatham since 1986

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