Sermon January 23 2022 Ubuntu ICor12:12-26 Rev. Betsy Hogan
Here's a project that will take you all day. Pausing to consider everyone who contributed to your day in various ways.
Which may not seem like such a big deal. Like a practice of gratitude. In my case, for example, today being a Saturday when I pretty much had to focus on producing a sermon, there's not apparently been much in the way of exciting contributions to my day from other people.
David brought me coffee, one of my kids called, and the cat meowed quite a bit trying to get me to contribute to HER day. Apart from a few emails and a tweet or two, that's apparently been the size of it.
Except that, as I'm sure you're already thinking, not even close.
Because even just that cup of coffee – sure it landed in my hand because David brought it to me, and yes, the practice of gratitude –
But the fact is, there's no cup of coffee if clean water didn't come out of the tap, if someone at Halifax Water hadn't done whatever it is they do. There's no cup of coffee without the clerk at the store who sold us the bag, or the employee who took it off the truck, or the trucker who drove it here, or the worker who roasted and packaged the beans, or whoever it was who picked those coffee beans in the first place. Or tended the plants. Or put them in the ground in the first place.
And even then, there's no cup of coffee if the power's not on -- thanks to someone at NS Power, or a linesman, or maybe whoever it was trimmed our street trees last summer –
Which brings me to the coffee machine. And another store clerk, another employee, another trucker, probably a whole ship's worth of crew, more trucking, and eventually at the end of that very long chain -- a factory worker. Who put pieces together that someone else made. Out of plastics someone else entirely produced. And metals yet another someone else entirely mined.
And I haven't even gotten to the cup. Much less the milk. In fact, if I wanted to be mindful of everyone who's contributed to my day, I've already written a page and I'm still on that first cup of coffee, and I've barely skimmed the surface.
The degree to which we're all intertwined, the degree to which we depend on each other and NEED each other – we know intellectually how enormous it is. We've LONG known intellectually how enormous it is. And if that intertwinedness has become far more intensely global than it was, say, a century ago for most of us – it's still always been real.
Even cultures that held themselves to some degree separate from outside incursions in past centuries, feeding and clothing and housing themselves by their own labour, they still each reflected within community a diversity of responsibilities and gifts that were necessarily shared as contributions to the whole.
That interdependence, that intertwinedness, it's an essence of our humanness.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in trying to describe this southern African concept of ubuntu – I am because we are, we are all connected – he notes that even things like speaking and walking, we learn these by imitating other people. Relationship and connectedness, they're essential to – they're the essence of, the heart of – how we learn to be human. How we learn humanness.
And we're made that way. Dependent on our shared humanness to become fully human. Created as a relationship embodied – not one but two, in the language of Genesis.
Created AS connectedness and FOR connectedness with one another. And so deeply that we recognize that others' brokenness HAS to be something we care about because our real well-being depends on their well-being.
Because we might imagine that we're perfectly fine, regardless of their brokenness, but at a fundamental human spiritual level, in fact we're not.
Our well-being isn't actually full, isn't actually real, when others are broken. There's an injury to it, a bruised place – and we can feel it hurt when we hear of someone's sadness. That's how deeply we're entwined – and the African concept of ubuntu that Archbishop Tutu raised up in so much of his teaching and activism is about shaping our living to be an expression of that connectedness.
Which is really, metaphorically, exactly the same thing the Apostle Paul tries to do for the people in his church in Corinth, and for us, in the piece of his First Letter to the Corinthians that we heard earlier.
It's actually a tiny bit ironic, to look to the Apostle Paul for a concrete or at least metaphorical example of someone else's conceptual philosophizing – but in this case, at least, the Apostle Paul has managed to leave off his OWN conceptual philosophizing long enough to give us a metaphor that's actually remarkably useful.
Each of us, and all of us, our own unique selves with our own unique gifts, responsibilities, capacities – but bound together in the utter interdependence of all the bits and pieces that make up one body.
Each of us separately necessary to the functioning fullness of life of the body, but also – by virtue of being all one body -- each of us affected by how each of us might be doing at any given time.
It's such a straightforward and accessible metaphor. Like, my foot can't hear, because it's not an ear – but if I'm walking along listening to someone tell me a story and I stub my toe, I can tell you for free there's going to be at least a second or two when my foot may not be an ear but it sure is affecting my hearing.
Yes, it sure is, Paul would say. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.
Yes, they sure do, Archbishop Tutu would say. Ubuntu – we are all connected.
And if that means ways of being with others, which obviously it does – embodying our connectedness with hospitality and warmth and sharing and also fierce solidarity and compassion and support –
It can also just mean, at a very basic level, practicing a kind of constant mindfulness. That project that if we let it, it'd wind up taking us all day.
Calling to mind, in the experiencing of something as ordinary as a morning cup of coffee, each of the ways in which someone has made a contribution to its appearance.
Because if we're going to learn to embody the orientation we were made for – the ubuntu of one body, many members, and we are all connected – this is actually a really good time to start.
Because we've kind of been getting forced into glimpses of this orientation throughout the pandemic. We've noticed what's essential and what isn't. We've noticed things missing, things delayed, "supply chain issues", not enough workers, spaces not getting filled, people burning out –
And that's forced us into a more live awareness of who grows our food and who do we depend on and who keeps things functioning than we may ever have previously had. At a local level AND a global level.
And it's a start. I think we're seeing each other as a full human family better than we had been. And it's a start. The Apostle Paul also famously told the early church to "pray without ceasing". Maybe it's because he knew that if they wanted to give thanks for everyone who contributed to their day, it'd pretty much TAKE all day. Amen.