MARY LEE TALBOT – STAFF WRITER
“I love words, and I told my beloved, Andre, that for my 60th birthday I wanted the abridged Oxford English Dictionary, an etymological dictionary, and several others,” said the Rev. Zina Jacque. She was preaching at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday, July 4 morning ecumenical service of worship in the Amphitheater.
“He was pleased because he thought he was getting off easy,” she said. “He did not know how much those books cost.”
Jacque’s sermon title was “In an Emergent Moment.” The Scripture text was Isaiah 43:1-2,19a and Acts 2:1-3.
Studying words and word origins makes Jacque smile. “I sit quietly to see what rises up,” she said. “And as I did this, the word ‘emerge’ came knocking at the door. To emerge is to rise up or come out of something that conceals, to come forth into the light.”
As she thought about examples of things that emerge, she looked at her bookcase and her eyes fell on the section of Howard Thurman books. A theologian and civil rights icon, Thurman served as the dean of the chapel at Howard University and at Boston University. He formed one of the first multicultural churches in San Francisco.
“His work influenced Martin Luther King Jr., who traveled with his Bible and a copy of Jesus and the Disinherited,” Jacque said, “but my favorite is Meditations of the Heart. I looked through it and found a story about emergence.”
Jacque read a brief meditation by Thurman about the seed of the jack pine. In order for the seed to emerge, its cone must be subjected to sustained and concentrated heat.
It is in the ashes that the secret of the cone is exposed, Thurman said. That which is deepest in the seed reaches out to the deepest in life, and a shoot comes forth and grows into a tall, straight tree.
Thurman said there are deep things in the human spirit that lie dormant. They remain hidden until they are swept by fire.
A whole nation could be involved in the fire, Thurman said, but if something calls to the deepest thing in life, the nation may grow “straight, tall and majestic against the sky.”
Jacque said, “If Thurman is right, we cannot give up our seed unless there is a forest fire. Like the jack pine, we are living through modern day forest fires. We will have to see if these fires are productive, even though they are destructive.”
She named several fires: the fire of not saying the names of the 83 transgender and nonbinary people who have been killed this year.
The fire of climate change where 690,000 acres have burned this year as of July 4.
The fire of the arrogance and power of Canadian authorities after 400-plus graves of First Nations children were found.
“We have not even begun to look in the United States for graves,” Jacque said. Racism and the pandemic have also taken their toll. “Say their names and count the cost.”
She told the congregation, “We need not be afraid of the fire. God has called us by name and said, ‘You are mine.’ Emmanuel, God with us, will not let the fire overtake us because fire has been part of the spiritual life from the beginning.”
Elijah brought down fire from heaven to light a sacrifice to God in front of the priests of Baal. In the Acts of the Apostles, fire came down on Pentecost to mark Jesus’ followers. “God marked them and God marks us as ones not afraid of fire,” Jacque said.
She continued: “If Thurman is right, if this fire is positive, we don’t need to be afraid. The fire releases what grows into something better, more beautiful and more lasting. People of faith, we are jack pine seeds.”
“Is Thurman right?” she asked. “Is something in you released by fire and flood? Is your heart touched by knowing that in some nations, there are many who don’t yet have vaccines?”
We have national hopes and dreams, Jacque told the congregation. When we confront the “ugly lie” that everyone is free, “we are not afraid because we are the jack pine seed, made in God’s image, filled with power. God is up to something new.”
The something new that comes from God “calls to our deepest part that longs for mercy and offers justice,” she said. “This is the God who loves the cosmos. We have to feel the tender roots in the ground of our being and let them take root and grow.”
She asked the congregation, “Will we emerge? Will we accept the call to see the jack pine seed as a new thing? My prayer is that we have a little bit of the jack pine in every one of us.”
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor of Chautauqua Institution, presided. Marnette Perry, vice chair of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees, read the Scripture. Joshua Stafford, the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and director of sacred music, played “Retrospection” by Florence Price for the prelude. Members of the Motet Choir sang “Listen, Sweet Dove,” with music by Grayston Ives and words by George Herbert. The offertory anthem was “I Will Make a Way!” by Tom Trenney, with words from Isaiah 43:19-20 and 2 Corinthians 5:17. The postlude was “Toccato,” from Suite for Organ by Florence Price. The Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund supports this week’s services.