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.