Stand By Me
The Rev. Arianne Rice, 10/31/21
Hesed is a word I remember learning in seminary. An ancient Hebrew word of the Old Testament that means – steadfast faithfulness.
Professor Corney – bless his soul – stood leaning on his cane trying to emphasize how unique – how special – how important this word was to our understanding of the nature of God from the Judeo side of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Perhaps you too have memories of learning that gave you the feeling of worlds being opened. Not just new awareness bursting forth in your intellect – but the experience of resonating with wisdom - learning something that in your heart of hearts you already knew to be true.
Learning about hesed was such a moment for me. Professor Corney told us – we don’t really have a word like this in English – steadfast faithfulness is the closest rendering we can do. He emphatically explained – that this understanding of God – God who would stand by you no matter what – who you be with you no matter what – who would love you through no matter what – such a personal relationship with God – was revolutionary – theologically speaking.
Yes – it was. Yes – it is. What I continually discover is the most revolutionary about it is when people – regular people – are so filled with hesed that they embody it.
No matter what – they are steadfast in their promise to be faithful – to be the person who will be there – take care – and provide the blessing of assurance – no matter what.
Ruth – in the opening chapter of the book of her name – is that for Naomi.
“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried.”
Why does Ruth make this promise - why is she so determined? We don’t really know. As with most promises you and I make to people – I’m sure she has more than one reason – steadfast faithfulness is built on many things. Our faith - our beliefs - our ethical understandings of our responsibilities.
Last week, I went down to the afterschool program at SLYC – St. Luke’s Youth Center. I hadn’t been there since November of 2019 for afterschool – and probably December 2019 for the Christmas Café.
When I had been there in 2019 there were plenty of extra tables for us to hold our board meetings or planning meetings because there were maybe 10 or 15 kids.
The undercroft was packed. There are at least 35 kids at the program regularly. Amanda Talbot – the Director – told our board – there are 50 kids enrolled. For the majority of those kids – the parents are actively involved in donating time and talent – and treasure when they can – to maintain and grow the program.
This is unique. Parental and community involvement is something most of us, I believe, take for granted when it comes to raising our kids. Of course our network of support will be there for us when we need it. Of course our community cares about our kids. This is so unique that next week – some SLYC board members and I will be meeting with a group of directors from the School of Social Work at The University of Maryland – who may be able to partner with SLYC in a reciprocal support kind of way. And who may be able to bring the institutional support funding from the University.
An afterschool program is one thing – a Christmas event a Thanksgiving event – both great things – but what is different about SLYC is hesed – a steadfast faithful and enduring network of relationships between the families and that community of West Baltimore.
It was also great that afternoon to see two of our parishioners – Dorsey Campbell and Mary Ellen Gervais – surrounded by kids teaching math in that undercroft – every week they are there – ask them about it maybe – they looked to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The energy in that undercroft was alive and beautiful and boisterous.
Amanda and I went upstairs to the nave. It’s probably three times the size of hours – but the windows – the altar – the side altar – are absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking. The pews are covered in plaster dust – huge swaths of plaster on the ceiling and walls are bubbling and peeling from water damage.
I believe with all my heart that Jesus cares more about the goodness – the love of neighbor as self – that is happening in the undercroft of that building – way more than Jesus cares about the nave, upstairs.
Church – which from the Greek to the German to our English – means household – the household of SLYC – the family that has been brought together by God is what matters. Please know the family of Good Shepherd is a primary reason that has happened.
It is hesed – the steadfast and faithful presence – the steadfast and faithful sharing of time – talent – and treasure – that SLYC has grown and is strengthening. Yesterday I was here with the Board for a half-day retreat – our founding board is changing – as of Jan 1st Amanda Talbot will be full-time staff as Executive Director.
Ms. Darlene and Ms. Jackie – now part-time staff – because part of the mission of SLYC is also to create employment opportunities for the community. This has happened because we have grown the partnerships, the support, and the budget.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because most of you got a letter from me and the Sr. Warden this week – asking you to prayerfully consider your pledge this year. The time of year when all of us are asked to contribute to our church. Pledging is a promise - it is a symbol of hesed steadfast and faithful support.
So, I want you to know more than just the sentence that could fit in that letter about SLYC – about how connected and involved we are. When it comes to SLYC my friends - we are Ruth for the to their Naomi.
When it comes to SLYC we are living what Jesus commends the scribe for articulating - – God is God and we gotta love God – but – to love one’s neighbor as oneself – this is much more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.
At our retreat yesterday with these scripture readings on my mind - I jotted down that institutions - like University of Maryland – or the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland – may make promises – but it is people who keep them.
People like you and me with our time, talent and treasure – embody the gospel ethic stressed this morning – love, hesed, steadfast faithfulness. Thank you for the generosity of time, talent and treasure - it matters - I think sometimes more than we know.
Bishop Curry – in his book – “Love is the Way” writes -
It is impossible to know, in the moment, how a small act of goodness will reverberate through time. The notion is empowering and it is frightening—because it means that we’re all capable of changing the world, and responsible for finding those opportunities to protect, feed, grow, and guide love.
May we keep feeding and growing and guiding love - in our household - and the many households where Good Shepherd has faithfully been steadfast.