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Look Down at Your Feet

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 13th of Ninth Month, 2020

Speaker: Jon Berry

Scripture: Acts 7:30-34

When my mother’s father was a teenager, he ran away, and

joined the army, and was sent to France to fight in World War I.

It wasn’t that he was idealistic. He didn’t want to work in the

coal mines in the small, poor Appalachian town where he was

born, and didn’t have family he could turn to. He had run out of

options. So he enlisted and went to the front.

One day, according to the story that my mother told years later,

he was sent out of the trenches to go down to a stream in no-man’s

land to fill the troop’s canteens with water.

After he’d been at it awhile, he looked up from his task and

looked straight into the eyes of a young German soldier sitting

across the stream from him doing the same.

For a moment their eyes locked. They reached down toward

the rifles laying by their side. They were at war, after all – a

war that, by its end, took 20 million lives.

Then my grandfather and the German soldier looked at each

other again. I’m not sure how they communicated it – with a

nod, or smile, or what. But neither picked up their gun.

They returned to filling their canteens, and when they were

done, made their way back to their respective sides.

For this moment, in this day, they would not fight.

I’ve been thinking about that story. We are again, just over a

century later, in momentous times and facing the question he

faced: how will we respond?

In less than two months, we’re having an election that, I’ve

heard many say, will be the most important of our lifetime.

We are in a pandemic that is showing no signs of going away –

a pandemic that has revealed the inequities in our society on

who gets access to health care, and all of the things that

support good health – access to food, education, work, a living

wage, good housing, safety – with the toll falling most on

people of color, the old, the poor, and those working in poor

conditions like meatpacking plants.

We are witnessing the continued, shocking violence

perpetuated by our society on people of color, with each new,

terrible act, traumatically, triggering the past: Jacob Blake.

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice.

Philando Castile. Trayvon Martin… With it there has been a

growing outcry: No more.

This week, the West is on fire, years of neglect of our warming

earth turned all too real, with skies turned orange, and gray, as

millions of acres burn, an area, by my calculations this

morning, the equivalent to a quarter of Indiana. Imagine

everything south of, say, Liberty, on fire.

It a