"Living Outside the Margins" by Rev. Mark Windham
This morning, we find ourselves in the second Sunday during the season of Lent. Just like our altar is stripped to austere simplicity during this time, we’re given the opportunity to strip our lives down to a similar austerity – to spend time in reflection of our relationship with God and with others.
I had a moment of inspiration while sitting in this congregation on the morning of February 20th during Sheila Sholes-Ross’ sermon entitled “Our Purpose Must be Greater than Our Fears”. A statement made by Rev. Sholes-Ross at the beginning of that sermon was significant to me: “… there may be some – or maybe not – discomfort for you relating to your work against injustices on behalf of marginalized people …”. That statement, along with – using her term – nuggets gathered throughout that sermon, served as the catalyst for this morning’s sermon.
We hear the terms “marginalized people”, “marginalized populations”, “marginalized groups” often. In my professional healthcare and support services work, I frequently hear the terms “marginalized” and “underserved”, but you can also associate the words “disregarded”, “ostracized”, “harassed”, “persecuted”, “sidelined” – and the list goes on.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “[m]arginalized communities are those excluded from mainstream social, economic, educational, and/or cultural life. Examples of marginalized populations include, but are not limited to, groups excluded due to race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, language, and/or immigration status. Marginalization occurs due to unequal power relationships between social groups.”
Who are we talking about when we talk about people who are marginalized? While there’s no comprehensive list that could possibly capture all the marginalized groups in our disparate society, here’s a good starting point:
Children and Youth
People who are Developmentally Delayed or Physically Disabled
People who have Differing Political Views
People of Differing Religions
People of Differing Sexual Orientation or Sexual Identity (LGBT+ community)
People with Little or No Education
People who are Immigrants, Refugees, and Migrants
People who are Incarcerated (and their Families) or who have been Recently Released from Incarceration
People of Low Socioeconomic Status
People with Mental Health Issues
People of a Particular Ethnicity/Country of Origin
People who have Substance Use Issues
People who are Unemployed
People who are Victims of Human Trafficking
Women and Girls
The simple definition of marginalization is to treat a person or group as unimportant, insignificant, or of a lower status. It’s the ages-old story of the power dynamic – you have a person or group who is in the position of power, and they say, “I’m the one in power, and I’m going to push you to the side – push you outside the margins, because you don’t look like me. You don’t sound like me. You don’t think like me. You don’t worship like me. You don’t have resources like me. Because you’re not like me, I don’t want you to have a seat at the table, because your ideas, values, and things you hold precious don’t match up with mine.
Northminster Church, too, can to a certain extent be considered a marginalized group. We don’t think like other churches in our area; we don’t worship like other churches in our area; we don’t look like other churches in our area. But that’s a good thing.
Northminster is at a precipice, and Lent is a good time for the people comprising Northminster Church to be taking spiritual stock. Are we reaching the people we need to reach? Are we embracing the people we need to embrace? Are we living our best self? Are we concerning ourselves with the strengthening of the body of Christ? Are we busying ourselves with the busy-ness of church or are we busying ourselves with bringing people into the fold and tending to the flock? Are we “doing church” in a way that’s glorifying to God and building people up? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not throwing out accusations – I’m just encouraging you to prayerfully think and reflect. We’re preparing ourselves for the arrival of a new pastor in the (hopefully) near future. Now’s the time for us to consider what can we do differently to help that new pastor to feed and lead the Northminster flock?
I want to go back to the concept of marginalization. As difficult as it is to admit, our society has subtly numbed us to the term, but when we look at it in its raw form, marginalization is exclusion. But I want you to look at marginalization through a different lens as it relates to our ministry at Northminster.
Many of us are readers – some of us voracious readers. Some of us read books of intellect, others read books of social justice or spirituality, others read literature, and there are the people like me who read murder and spy novels! From time to time, I participate in the readings of our Northminster book club. It’s interesting the things you learn about people in groups like a book club. For example, I know that Miranda will come to book club with her book in hand and you’ll see sticky notes sticking out of the pages and copious notes she’s written in the margins – it’s almost like she’s been studying for a test! I admire this, because it makes me think back to the days when I was in high school and college – I’d take a highlighter and a pen while I was studying, and I’d mark passages in the text and make notes in the margin.
A couple of weeks ago, I went home to Concordia Parish for a funeral. The father of one of my dearest childhood friends – the man who also happened to be the pastor who baptized me in November 1981, had passed away. He was a much-loved pastor and several ministers associated with the church he planted spoke at his funeral service. More than one of them stated that, in preparation for the service, they flipped through their Bible and found notations in the margins where Brother Lester had preached on a certain passage or topic, and they’d made notes of things significant to them.
We all know we call these notes and symbols in the small white expanse surrounding the book text the marginalia – like Rev. Sholes-Ross says, those “nuggets” that are important to us. This is the stuff we want to discuss in the book club. This is the stuff we want to remember for the exam. What I’m getting at is that the good stuff is often outside the margins! When we take notes in a book, the stuff we want to remember is written outside the margins, the asterisks and arrows directing us to the things that are important to us. The people who should be important to us are often outside the margins, too. We need to highlight, and asterisk, and point arrows toward them, highlighting them. These people are important to me! These people need to be remembered! These people are the good stuff and deserve a seat at the table, too, and their voices should be heard loud and clear.
In February 2008, author and comparative religion scholar Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize and, in her acceptance speech, she called for help in creating, launching, and propagating a Charter for Compassion based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule – treat others in a manner you want to be treated; an even more interesting way to look at this statement is, “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you”. People of all faiths, nationalities, and backgrounds submitted ideas on what the Charter include. The Council of Conscience, a multi-faith, multi-national group of religious leaders and thinkers, then met in Switzerland to craft the final Charter for Compassion, which was unveiled by Armstrong and the Council of Conscience on November 12, 2009, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
As many of you will be able to relate, it came as no surprise when I discovered that our very own Welton Gaddy not only interviewed Ms. Armstrong on his State of Belief radio show in December 2008 when the Charter for Compassion was in its developmental stage and on at least two more subsequent occasions, but he was also a participant in the Compassion Working Group for a 2012 paper authored by Karen Armstrong entitled, “Compassion: An Urgent Global Imperative”. I encourage you to visit www.charterforcompassion.org to learn more about this fascinating and refreshing movement.
There are 12 Sectors of the Charter for Compassion:
· Gender Partnerships
· Religion, Interfaith, and Spirituality for Everyone (RISE)
· Restorative Justice
· Science and Research
· Social Justice
· Social Services
For obvious reasons, the sector I want to focus on this morning is Religion, Interfaith, and Spirituality for Everyone (RISE). With compassion lying at the heart of all religions, ethical, and spiritual traditions, the people who contributed to the Charter for Compassion made a specific call to all people to do these five things:
1. To restore compassion to the center of morality and religion
2. To return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred, or disdain is illegitimate
3. To ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions, and cultures
4. To encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity
5. To cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
So, according to the Charter for Compassion, what does a compassionate place of worship look like?
1. The Golden Rule is at the core of teaching and practice.
2. Strangers are welcome and all work to heal the world.
3. The Community cares for the poor, homeless, hungry, sick, and grieving.
4. Justice is imagined and created through public advocacy and practice.
What’s written outside the margins of Northminster’s book? What are the things – who are the people – important to us? Where are those arrows pointing? What are those asterisks highlighting? What can we do as a church family to be compassionate place of worship?
Our purpose must be greater than our fears; Rev. Sholes-Ross’ sermon title should be Northminster’s marching orders. Use this Lenten season to ponder this – what is our purpose? What are our fears? What can we do as individuals and as a congregation to affirm the first and dispel the latter?
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh-- my adversaries and foes-- they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.