What do you need? - Message from September 26, 2021
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking
Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:9-18
Series: I've Been Meaning to Ask...
Message: Where do you need?
Martin Luther King Jr, weekend, 2015. A critical moment in the new chapter of the movement for Black lives. The murder of Michael Brown had taken place in Ferguson, Missouri just five months earlier, and activists had been in the streets every one of the 150 nights before then.
On that weekend, a group of about 40 college students and their advisors, campus ministers and chaplains from across the Northeast had gathered at the headquarters of the organization I led for three days of movement building and activist training. You can imagine the scene: groups of 4 or 6 students, mostly students of color, arriving at this mansion on the Hudson River in New York, famous for being the site of organizing across decades. The movement for Black Lives was gaining momentum and we were there to strengthen it. In the storied national offices of the Fellowship of Reconciliation where Martin Luther King had been on the board and Bayard Rustin had been on staff, framed photos of King, Catholic Worker founder and activist Dorothy Day, and contemplative monk and activist Thomas Merton looked down from the mantle into the main room.
As the national executive director, I opened the weekend with a welcome and remarks. In describing the training for protests and direct action the students would receive, I said, “How many of you have ever been arrested?” The Fellowship of Reconciliation was known for activism which included civil disobedience. When I interviewed for my position, I was shown several bookcases that held scores of notebooks of the redacted FBI files on the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Being arrested was somewhat of a rite of passage in that community, a mark of commitment to the cause. And yet when I asked the question, the response was not what I expected.
I finished my opening presentation and looked around the room. The open and eager faces had shifted and were now impassive, more guarded. What had I said? I thought back to my words of the last half hour. I know what my intent was, but something I said hadn’t been right.
Have you ever been in this kind of a situation? When what you thought you were communicating was somehow off? In our scripture from second Timothy, the apostle Paul is giving a set of final instructions to Timothy, the young man he has been working with and mentoring. It’s a different voice of Paul than what is heard in Corinthians or Romans or Ephesians. It’s more pastoral and personal, an element that has led some scholars to conclude that the letters to Timothy were not, in fact, written by Paul.
Be that as it may, I want to hold onto the idea that they were written by Paul. As the passage opens, we hear almost a plaintive Paul, “Do you best to come to me quickly,” he tells Timothy. “For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and gone to Thesalonika. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm.” This is not the confident, exhorting Paul we have come to expect, but still, it could be Paul.
Don’t we all have many sides to who we are? Even if what we put forward most often is one side of ourselves, it does not mean that there isn’t more we aren’t sharing. Even the confident and courageous Paul had needs.
I wonder what Timothy thought in hearing these words from Paul. Had he ever heard Paul step back from his driven church planting? Did Paul ever voice his needs so clearly? We know Paul’s work was relentless, his adversaries many. In fact, he is writing to Timothy from prison. But here he is clearly telling Timothy what he needs. He needs his friends, his cloak, his parchment. He needs support. He needs justice in response to the injustice he’s suffered. This is a vulnerable Paul. He may very well sense that he is at the end of his life. And he allows himself the space to say what he needs. He is being not just honest and vulnerable about where it hurts, but what he needs in response to the pain and suffering he is experiencing.
Now back to 2015. Over dinner on the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, our program director came to me and said, “We need to make space after dinner for real talk.” She shared with me that the students and even some advisors had things they needed to say, but weren’t sure if there would be room for what they had to say. I said I’d welcome the chance to circle back, and that I knew what I’d said had not been the right thing.
After dinner, as the group regathered in the large room, our program director spoke bluntly and opened the space for real talk. She acknowledged that the trappings of the large building might communicate that it wasn’t ok to say what one needed. And that the history of the organization, though racial justice had been a strong through-line, was a mostly white organization, that operated from a particular experience, and that focus was on the successes and not so much the pain that engendered the struggle. She said that what the students and advisors heard as we opened may not have matched their experience and their needs, and that activist work comes out of real hurt, and real trauma.
As we all sat in a large circle, one of the advisors, the Muslim chaplain from a college in the Boston area who was also African American, said to me, “You spoke of being arrested as if that’s a good thing. Where I come from, it’s not a good thing. We talk about L’s, “losses”, L’s. When someone is arrested, it’s an L, a loss. We probably won’t see that person for a long time. Probably someone has experienced violence, probably while being arrested. L’s are painful. It was very painful to hear you talk about being arrested in that way. My losses are always with me.”
The chaplain’s willingness to say what he needed, to have his losses and pain acknowledged and respected, opened the whole group up. Other students began to share what they needed from our organization, from the movement, from us. One student said, “You can never know what it’s like to live inside Black skin. But you can try. And your attempts are noted.” In this one statement she voiced her need: for persons who aren’t Black to acknowledge they cannot ever fully understand the Black experience, and yet to still give the attempt all we could. We sat with this real talk late into the night. Sometimes just sitting for long stretches of silence amidst speaking and listening. What was needed was for space to be made to ask “what do you need?” instead of making assumptions about need. Our assumptions, filtered through our grief, shame, fear and brokenness, cannot lead us to the heart of another’s need. We must ask.
The question for today, and next week, as we continue to explore the series “I’ve Been Meaning to Ask” is, “What Do You Need?” There are a number of reasons we might not say what we need and a number of reasons we might not ask. We might expect people to already know what we need (they usually don’t); we might not want to be vulnerable; we might feel there is a norm in place that suggests, “We are all fine!” and “I am doing well, in spite of a few challenges here and there, I’ve got all the balls in the air and the plates are still spinning.”
And why do we not ask, “What do you need?” Too often we think that that to ask implies that we have the remedy and if we’re not sure we have something to respond to the need, if we can’t fix it, maybe we shouldn’t ask. But this is not the case. The voicing of a need is not a request for a fix. It is first, an act of being human. We all have needs. They are varied and come out of our own unique experience. But the voicing of a need is a request for a response. Sometimes that response only needs to be a clear acknowledgment that the need is real and heard, and sometimes that response invites an engagement toward how the need might be met.
What we are being asked to do is to engage in the real talk of stating where it hurts and what would help. Of asking where it hurts and what would help. And trusting the holy spirit, the great healer and connector, will mediate between us. It is in these moments that we see what grace comes to us when we open to our need, and open to others’ needs.
Hear these words again from Paul, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever.” God is with us and God will carry us in our need. May God give us the courage to ask for what we need. May God grant us the peace and compassion to listen to the needs of others. And may God grant us the wisdom and grace to help us to respond as needed. Amen.
Order of Service
The Community Gathers...
Rev. Jerry Asheim
Welcome & A Covenant of Grace
Rev. Kristin Stoneking, Rev. Jerry Asheim, Cathryn Bruno
Prayer for Illumination
Randall Miller & Glenn Eagleson
Opening Music: "More Love" (comp. Sid Davis)
To Hear the Word...
Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 4:9-18
Randall Miller & Glenn Eagleson
Call to Confession - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
The act of confessing our need, our brokenness and the places where we have fallen short is not simply a recitation of our faults and wrongs, but also an opportunity to receive God’s mercy and share in that abundant grace. Confident of God’s love for us, let us offer our prayers, first in silence
Prayer of Confession -
Voice 1: Holy God, we will be honest: this is really hard. It is really hard to wear masks, to avoid public gatherings, to spend so much time watching screens.
Voice 2: We’re losing patience and we’re losing hope and we’re losing our grip on faith. We’re caught between the selfishness of wanting to do whatever we want without regard for others, and wanting to be helpful and generous.
Both: Please help us.
Voice 1: Help us to lean on you and each other when things get hard and when we get depressed. Remind us every day that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Voice 2: Sometimes, O God, we forget people, or we toss them aside – the difficult ones, the needy ones, the ones that are hard to spend time with, the ones who confront us.
Voice 1: And sometimes when we do things like that, it’s not really about the other people, but about us.
Voice 2: We are uncomfortable, or we feel guilty, or we follow brighter, shinier people, or we worry about what will make us look good.
Voice 1: We are in such desperate need of your forgiveness. We need to be forgiven for our sin, for our mistakes, for mistaking what the world values with what you value.
Voice 2: Help us to be better, and to see more clearly, and to care more thoroughly. Encourage our hearts, and help us to be your people, to the best of our ability in these strange days. This we pray in the name of Jesus, who is with us always. Amen
Words of Forgiveness - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Friends. Sisters, brothers, siblings: hear this good news and see the grace of God:
You are forgiven. You are free to go and live in the light of love.
Thanks be to God. Amen
*Affirming the Peace Among Us
You are invited to turn to the people around you and bow to each other as a sign of graceful greetings this day.
Anthem: "Prayer of Saint Francis (Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace)"
Message: "What Do You Need?"
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
To Respond and Renew Commitment...
Musical Mediation: "I Need Thee Every Hour"
Prayers of the People
Leader: Loving God, People: We lift our prayers to you.
The Prayer Jesus Taught (The Lord's Prayer )
Our Creator (Father/Mother), who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom (kin-dom) come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom (kin-dom), and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Offering Our Resources and our Energy
Give online at www.epworthberkeley.org/donate or, send a text message with the dollar amount you wish to give to +1-833-276-7680.
*Affirmation of Faith
We believe in relationships.
We believe in courageous conversations,
in trusting that we can speak and be heard,
In sharing our deep need.
We believe in listening with grace,
learning with curiosity,
and apologizing with sincerity.
We believe in asking for help,
saying what we need,
and trusting that no degree of vulnerability
could strip us of God’s love.
We believe in trying our best
and offering grace
when our best is not enough.
And we believe that God is in all relationships—
modeling for us the value of community
through the relationships of the Trinity.
So we love today,
and we strive to love
even more tomorrow.
Let it be so. Amen.
To Go Forth with Love and Compassion
Closing Hymn: "Servant Song"
Rev. Jerry Asheim & Eda Naranjo
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Rev. Jerry Asheim
***Special Thanks To:
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking Worship Leaders: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Cathryn Bruno, Glenn Eagleson, Susan Jardin, Judy Kriege, Randall Miller, Eda Naranjo
Ushers: Greg Downs & Glenn Eagleson
Audio engineer: Lloyd Elliot
Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey
Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt & Zachary McVey