Trustworthy

READING      “In Memoriam, Canto 54,”  Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

READING  “Trust,” by Thomas R. Smith  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50109/trust-56d22ce3845d0

SERMON

Sometimes we do sense “how faithfully our lives are delivered, even though we can’t read the address.”  Mostly, I think, we take it for granted.. 

Think about how much of your daily existence, how much the fabric of your life,  is based on trust.

We trust the laws of Newtonian physics:  Up is up and down is down.  The sun will rise in the morning and set at night, at predictable times and in reliably consistent places.  Solid objects do not appear and disappear at will. 

We trust our institutions. The dollar we earn today will be accepted as legal tender when we go to buy groceries tomorrow.  The public schools will educate all children, 180 days a year.  We trust social norms. When we schedule a meeting, the people we expected to be there almost always show up.  And we trust, for the most part, that when people speak they are telling the truth. 

Institutions and social norms and our fellow humans aren’t always completely trustworthy, of course.  Our story this morning is about a little boy whose family are refugees from a war zone.  He was going to have to relearn to trust. 

And I doubt there is anyone anywhere who always, always tells the absolute truth about absolutely everything.  But truth-telling is important; it’s part of the bedrock of human societal existence, one of the Ten Commandments:  “Thou shall not bear false witness.”  In my experience, most people are honest about most things most of the time.

When our institutions fail us; when someone we rely on is discovered to have lied about something that matters, we feel it as a breach of trust.

I’m a knitter.  One of the mistakes that happens in knitting is a dropped stitch – a loop that falls off the needle and for a time evades recapture.  Left to its own devices, it makes a hole that starts a cascade of holes down the length of the piece.  It’s upsetting, and it weakens the fabric.  Like a breach of trust.

Experienced knitters can usually undo the damage of a dropped stitch without going back to square one.  Some can make a repair even when they are working on a complicated pattern where the cascade of holes has wreaked widespread havoc.  That happens in lace pattern.  Lace knitters are advised to put in something called a lifeline, a strand through a row of stitches every few inches.  The lifeline stops the unraveling – it sets a limit on how far the disaster can travel. 

With a lifeline, most of the work is saved, the breach repaired, and the rest of the fabric can be remade.

Who or what is your lifeline?  When in your life have you felt like the spiritual we sang earlier, a long way from home?  When have you needed a lifeline?

On Wednesday I was at First Church in Amherst with other area clergy for a service co-led by its pastor Vicki Kemper, by Margaret Sawyer of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, and by Lucio Perez, the Guatemalan man who has been in sanctuary there for nearly 17 months.  Lucio is a person of deep, deep Christian faith who puts his trust in God.  Lucio is a preacher; his prayers flow on and on.  I don’t speak Spanish, but I can catch some of the words – Dio gracias – he prays, over and over and over.

For someone like Lucio, for many people, God is a lifeline – one that is threaded not just across one row, but through every stitch of the fabric.  A force in which to put ultimate trust.

Some of us have a sense of a higher power – a force for good that we may or may not call God.  We may or may not be sure that the word ‘trust’ applies to our relationship with that force.  We may not even use consistent language when we think or speak about it. 

And some of us put our trust in reason, and scientific knowledge, and ethical wisdom that has stood the test of time.

Tennyson suggests that there are no guarantees in any of this. 

I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

We make a choice – to “trust that good shall fall,” that things will work out in the long run.  We make a choice to trust our partners, and the people who accompany us through our life journeys.  We make choices to trust one another, and to be worthy of one another’s trust.

Congregational life in our tradition is based on trust.  What binds us together is not a creed, or shared a set of doctrinal beliefs.  What binds us is covenant, a spirit of “mutual trust and support.”  The concept comes from our Massachusetts Puritan roots – and it is based on the notion that in community we belong to, and are responsible for, each other. 

Some of the committees here – the Board, the Coordinating Council – read statements of covenant at the beginning of every meeting.  Being in covenant doesn’t mean that we will always, each of us, be 100% trustworthy.  It does mean that we do our best, and that we stay in relationship and work on forgiveness and repair when we disappoint one another or when trust is breached.

Some of you may have read my note in this month’s Pioneer.  Others of you I’m guessing have not.  Most of us are bombarded by way too many things to read and attend to.  I hope, in the spirit of covenant, that you’ll forgive me if you think I’m cheating by borrowing from myself – but I want to share, and expand on, some of what I said there. 

In April of last year we welcomed Irida as our sanctuary guest.  The previous December, we had voted to offer sanctuary to an immigrant facing deportation, should we be asked.  We had planned and prepared.  We had done research and had written policies and procedures, including a procedure for determining whether or not to accept a guest.  We knew the path ahead was uncharted.  We didn’t know what we didn’t know, but we didn’t let it stop us.

We trusted each other to do the best we could.

Irida came to us through the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, days from a deportation hearing for which she had been told to come, passport in hand.  Lauren Burke, the immigration lawyer who was then associated with the Workers Center, had interviewed Irida.  She thought there were approaches to get Irida’s legal case reopened and favorably resolved.  More than a dozen of you were here to meet with Lauren and Margaret on a Monday night in early April.  Margaret assured us that the Workers Center would help find someone to take Irida’s case.

Laurie Loisel, Craig Dreeszen, Cathy Lilly and I were the team designated to “qualify” a prospective sanctuary guest.  The next day, a Tuesday, we met with Irida in her home in Westfield. Then we drove the short distance to Cathy’s house.  The hypothetical had become suddenly real.  What were we getting into?   We hadn’t imagined hosting someone who had young children.  We certainly hadn’t talked about that with the congregation.  What would it mean? 

And what was the alternative?  How long might her stay with us last?  The congregation’s trust – your trust –  was in our hands.  We sat and talked.  We were quiet.  We looked at one another and spoke some more.  We had consensus.

Nearly a year later, Irida is still with us.  Our partners at the Workers Center did find her a good lawyer.  It has taken time to compile the documents the lawyers feel will give her a strong case.  They are getting close. 

We, and she, don’t know what the timing or outcome will be.


We and she worry about that outcome.  We and she worry about the unceasing need for contributions of time     and money     and forbearance,     about the strain on our spirits and will. 

We and she can feel, at times, like infants crying in the night, crying for the light, with no language but a cry.

And we know that Irida trusts us to continue to care and to hold her in her uncertainty and fear – the unthinkable strain on her spirits and will.

We, and she, need to live with the uncertainty.  It’s not easy.

What can we trust? 

We can trust the power of the commitment we made and are keeping. 

We can trust that when one of us is tired and needs respite, someone else will step forward.  It happened a few days ago when people’s lives got disrupted by downed trees and power outages.  A couple of accompaniment volunteers needed to cancel.  Others stepped forward.

We can trust that our community partners and supporters who are in covenant with us will be there.  It happened a few days ago when Reverend Sarah Buteux of First Churches offered to organize Wednesday’s prayer vigil.  Michael McSherry, the pastor at Edwards Church, was right beside her. 

It happened when we raised over $1,800 through the fundraisers organized by David Wick last weekend.  Last month one of our partner churches sent us over $2,000 from their outreach funds, and we recently received a $5,000 donation from an anonymous friend.  Irida is determined to build up her catering and pierogi business to do all she can to support her family.

What else can we trust?

We can trust our values and principles, as people of faith.  We can trust our passion for justice.

I wrote and I believe that this work has strengthened us as a congregation.  I know we can trust our strength.

You, we, and our community partners are Irida’s lifeline.  We have helped impose a limit on how far the disaster can travel, at least for now.  For now, the fabric of her family’s life is built on their trust in us.  We won’t breach that trust.

I didn’t know – none of us knew – that this is some of what offering sanctuary would be about.  We are still trusting each other to do the best we can.  As we are doing the best we can.  In sanctuary and in so many other ways.


I am proud and awed to be your spiritual leader.  As Jon said earlier, we are wrapping up our stewardship campaign in the next few weeks.  I am grateful for the generosity and commitment you have shown through your responses this year. 

I am proud of and grateful for the incredible generosity you and we have shown in so many ways – grateful for our gifts of time and money and care.  I’m grateful for your work for immigration and racial justice, your support of refugee families, and your passion for saving our planet.  For showing up on Sunday mornings to worship and to greet, usher, sing in the choir and serve coffee.  For teaching and mentoring our children and youth, and offering meals and rides to those who need help.  For serving on committees and teams, even those whose work can occasionally feel like work.  And for creating joy and grace-filled moments while doing that work.

We belong to, and are responsible for, each other.  Our covenant is mutual trust and support.   We are a place where no one need leave their cares at the door, and where those cares are lightened, where we know we are not alone.