Monday, 14 January 2013 00:00

"Podemos", January 13, 2013

Isaiah 43:1-7
A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Douglas M. Donley
January 13, 2013
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

I want you to know how profoundly grateful I am for all of the good wishes you gave me these past two weeks. I considered taking you up on your offer to not have me preach again this Sunday.  I considered staying in Cleveland a bit longer this week. But as much as I loved being with my mom and the rest of the family in Cleveland, I missed my family back here, I missed my home and I missed you. I felt like I needed to come back and be with all of you as I try to put my life back together after this surreal week and a half.  I am profoundly aware that none of us heals by ourselves.  We always do so in community.  So this word, Podemos, “We can”, is a word I need to share with you today as I take another step on my healing process.  I hope as you listen to these words, you might find ways that you can consider solidarity as a spiritual practice.

Hear these words from Isaiah 43.  Isaiah penned these words when the people were in exile and it felt like hope was a scarce commodity.  They are good words to hear when your life seems to be falling apart.

“Be not afraid, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name and you are mine.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk though fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am YHWH, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…Do not be afraid for I am with you.”

I have heard these words on a deeper level this week.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.


When you are in deep water, they shall not overwhelm you.

When you walk through fire, you will not be burned.

Because you are all precious in our sight and we commit to doing everything we can to keep you safe and to help you live into your calling.

The scripture doesn’t say “keep out of the waters,” or “avoid fire.”  It doesn’t even say “if.”  It says when you do these things, you won’t be alone.  “I know who you are,” says God.  “I know your flaws.  I know your demons. I know your doubt and I love you anyway and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

I think we often see solitarity, making it on our own, pulling us up by our bootstraps as the highest Christian ideal.

We get into this solitary thinking that faith is a love affair between me and God.  If I love God enough then God will bless me with riches and friends and success.

We sing songs and talk about our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

We live in a culture that says I can do it.  The Nike commercial says “just do it” and it shows a picture of a single athlete doing the high jump or crossing the finish line at a track meet or a basketball player making a dunk.  It’s a wish that we could do everything by ourselves.  We only have ourselves to blame if we don’t achieve greatness.

We devote ourselves to our purpose our individual success, our development model.  It works for a lot of us, but not all of us.  It seldom lasts.

But can we ever do it all by ourselves?

Many of us are under the false impression that salvation is something that we earn by our own personal confession and saying a magic phrase.  While that is a part of it, we have received the information about that from others.  We have been nurtured by a spiritual community that has implanted these thoughts and convictions into our souls. Into this fertile ground does the Holy Spirit then work on our hearts and convict us of the truth of the Gospel and the call to commitment to a new way of life.

And once we recognize that salvation for ourselves, we can’t help but impart that word to others.  I think that God is interested in corporate salvation more than individual salvation.  I think that God wants redemptive communities, redemptive institutions, redemptive movements more than redeemed individuals.  God wants people to move beyond the idea of Puedo “I can”, to Podemos “we can”.  Not simply puedo hacerlo—“I can do it”, but podemos hacerlo—we can do it.  God wants solidarity not solitarity.

It’s like our president said on the campaign trail: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business—you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

It’s not only a fallacy; it’s a heresy that we can do all by ourselves.

Ask any marathon runner at mile 23.  Can you do it by yourself when your body and your mind say stop?  No.  It’s only by the cheers of others that we continue.  If you want to be a good marathon spectator, place yourself in the last five miles, where the runners need you the most.

Ask any team if they can win with only one star.  Someone needs to feed him or her the ball.  Someone needs to set the pick.  Someone needs to block out the other players and get the rebound.  And when the team has multiple athletes working in sync, watch out.

Ask any victim of abuse who tries to forgive and forget all by themselves.  Only a good therapist and supportive friends will help them put their lives back together.

Ask any recovering alcoholic if they can stay sober without the group and the program, or a power greater than themselves that can restore them to sanity.

Ask anyone in active grief if they can make any logical decisions by themselves.  Ask them if they know what day it is or how to take care of themselves or how to wrestle with the demons that awake them in the middle of the night.  They get through because there are people who recognize that we can’t do it by ourselves.  But together we can wade through the murky waters of grief and emerge somewhat in tact.

These past two weeks, I was floundering around, not thinking straight, going from numb to a drippy weeping mess and back again.  All the while thinking that I needed to be there for my family, the one here and the one in Cleveland, Ohio.  It was a hard juggling act.  I went into crisis management mode.  I tried to do it all by myself. I tried to offer the right words, the right kind of presence.  But I was not completely myself.  I was operating under the fallacy of solitarity, the guilt-laden yo puedo, I can meme.  Then came all of you to hold up a mirror and show me the light.  You stepped in with words of comfort, offers of help, prayers, wisdom and just plain presence.  I began to realize that I can’t do anything by myself.  It’s all about what we can do.  If we are successful at all in ministry it is because of what we can do together.  Podemos is what the church is about.

At the Cleveland Clinic, I watched hospitals pull together their surgical teams.  They gave specific roles and instructions to all.  There were people caring for the anesthesia.  There were nurses monitoring blood flow.  There were doctors taking out vein grafts, teams opening and closing.  There was Amy the wise chaplain who asked the pressing question, “What broke your heart?” to my mom as she got ready for surgery.  There are things that don’t show up on the monitors that need to be addressed. She got to the heart of the matter.  There was the prayer shawl knitted by her granddaughter.  There was the prayer circles of several congregations holding not only my mom, but all of us.  The surgeon gets the credit.  But the surgery is only successful inasmuch as the rest of the team pulls together.

ABC Pastor Cheryl Thomas wrote on my Facebook wall: “Communities of love really are the most important part of healing, aren't they?”

Adrienne Rich said:  "What would it mean to live in a city whose people were changing each other's despair into hope? You yourself must change it...though your life felt arduous new and unmapped and strange what would it mean to stand on the first page of the end of despair?"

It’s not how I can do something.  It’s how we can do something.  Podemos hacerlo—We can do it.

Podemos.  We can do more together than any one of us can do by ourselves.  A single bell player is good, but a dozen bell players can create a symphony of sound.  Podemos.

Each of us can give a gift to a mission, but we can pull together and bring it down to Nicaragua.  And whether you are part of the team or part of the prayer and financial support of the team, we are doing this together. Podemos.

Podemos is like the Bantu term Ubuntu:

There’s a popular story that an anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe found himself surrounded by children most days. So he decided to play a little game with...them. He managed to get candy from the nearest town and put it all in a decorated basket at the foot of a tree.

Then he called the children and suggested they play the game. When the anthropologist said "now", the children had to run to the tree and the first one to get there could have all the candy to him/herself.

So the children all lined up waiting for the signal. When the anthropologist said "now", all of the children took each other by the hand ran together towards the tree. They all arrived at the same time divided up the candy, sat down and began to happily munch away.

The anthropologist went over to them and asked why they had all run together when any one of them could have had the candy all to themselves.

The children responded: "Ubuntu. How could any one of us be happy if all the others were sad?"

Ubuntu is a philosophy of several African tribes that can be summed up as "I am what I am because of who we all are."

My friends, the word for today is podemos.  We can.

Remember that

When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.

In the midst of tribulation, stand by me.
When the hosts of hell assail and my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle, stand by me.

In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me.
When I’ve done the best I can and my friends don’t understand,
Thou who knowest all about me, stand by me.

In the midst of persecution, stand by me.
When my foes in war array undertake to stop my way,
Thou who saved Pau and Silas, stand by me.

When I’m growing old and feeble, stand by me.
When life becomes a burden, and I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O thou Lilly of the Valley, stand by me.


Precious Lord, Take my hand.  Lead me on let me stand.  
I am tired, I am weak I am sore.  
Through the storm through the night, lead me on to the light.  
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.


Remember that we walk by faith together. Podemos

Remember that we are in this together. Podemos.

Hear this.  We are to spread the gospel, not to grant salvation to other individuals.  Only God can do that.  We spread the Gospel to keep us mindful that we can be too concerned about ourselves.  Podemos.

So when you think you are on your own, remember that the Gospel is always about podemos.

The church is about podemos.

People of faith live their lives by the practice of podemos.

People heal or put their lives back together after tragedy when others remind them that when they can’t see the light, we can podemos.  We can and we hold that light until the grieving ones can stand alongside the gathered community, taking their place in lone and beckoning to the next one, si no puede, podemos—if you can’t, we can.  
Thank God.