Work with others to subvert power, build new world, Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson preaches

“The music has been a balm on my heart this week, starting with the Christmas in July service on Sunday evening. Today we walk through the valley in peace,” said the Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, July 26, morning ecumenical worship service in the Amphitheater. 

Her sermon title was “Journeying Together,” and the Scripture reading was Luke 24:13-18.

Jordan-Simpson began her sermon reading the poem “Blessing When the World is Ending,” written by United Methodist minister, artist and writer, the Rev. Jan L. Richardson: 

“Look, the world / is always ending / somewhere. / Somewhere / the sun has come / crashing down. / Somewhere / it has gone / completely dark. / Somewhere / it has ended / with the gun, / the knife, / the fist. / Somewhere / it has ended / with the slammed door, / the shattered hope. / Somewhere / it has ended / with the utter quiet / that follows the news / from the phone, / the television, / the hospital room. / Somewhere / it has ended / with a tenderness / that will break / your heart. / But, listen, / this blessing means / to be anything / but morose. / It has not come / to cause despair. / It is simply here / because there is nothing / a blessing / is better suited for/ than an ending, / nothing that cries out more / for a blessing / than when a world / is falling apart. / This blessing / will not fix you, / will not mend you, / will not give you / false comfort; / it will not talk to you / about one door opening / when another one closes. / It will simply / sit itself beside you / among the shards / and gently turn your face / toward the direction / from which the light / will come, / gathering itself / about you / as the world begins / again.”

In the Scripture reading from Luke’s Gospel, two disciples leave Jerusalem after the world ended, “after the worst thing happened to their friend and Messiah, executed by Rome,” said Jordan-Simpson. “What do they do now? What do you do when the worst thing that could happen, happened?”

On Sept. 11, 2001, Jordan-Simpson had dropped her eldest daughter at school for her second day of junior high school. The school was two miles from the World Trade Center. Jordan-Simpson drove to the Upper West Side and was in her office when her husband called to tell her the news of the two planes hitting the towers.

“I don’t want to tell you what it took to get back downtown when others were fleeing in the opposite direction. I still don’t have the words,” she said. 

Her daughter was safe, and they drove home to Brooklyn through Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens; they arrived eight hours later.

“I will never forget what I saw after I had my daughter safely with me. Instead of screaming and fleeing, people were walking together. Groups of people who did not know each other were walking together, holding each other up, holding hands, finding water and wiping each other’s tears,” Jordan-Simpson said.

She continued, “I think about that day often. What does it mean to experience tragedy, but we don’t take the time to exegete the Scriptures we write together that should become our sacred text? When the worst happens, all we have is each other, and the best we can do is walk with each other.”

In the weeks after 9/11, life was still not normal in Jordan-Simpson’s neighborhood. Muslim women were harassed as they walked to the store to get groceries for their families.

“Neighbors harassed neighbors and made life difficult for women who just needed to get groceries, to get food in peace,” Jordan-Simpson. “But neighbors who were not Muslim walked with the women to the grocery stores. They journeyed together.”

The disciples in Luke’s Gospel set out to walk the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were more than despondent. The worst had happened — an innocent Jewish man had been executed.

“Power never gives a good reason for its acts of abuse,” Jordan-Simpson said. “Imagine a world whose source of strength is God.”

When the worst things happen, people are called to share the road together.

“The worst things keep happening, and some are more affected by it than others,” she said. “We breathe the same air; injustice here affects justice everywhere. With all our military might, we could not close our borders to a virus, and people in nursing homes were dying.”

We could not avoid death and pain, Jordan-Simpson said. 

“We can’t insulate ourselves from death, tragedy or sickness,” she said. “I don’t want to live in a world where we ignore bullying religion and ideologies that make our neighbors expendable. I don’t want to live in that world, and it is not the legacy I want for my children. I don’t want that for you or for your children.”

In a world where the worst happens, “we are measured in our solidarity with the poor, immigrants, women, to be conspirators in the struggle,” Jordan-Simpson said. “We should not cooperate with power, but subvert the world order to make a difference for our neighbors.”

“This is not just a nice thing, a charity; it is how we must journey together, live together,” Jordan-Simpson said. “Today it is me (they come for), tomorrow it is you, then everyone. We come to the river to plot, plan and scheme, to build a far more loving world than the one we have now.”

Jordan-Simpson quoted her husband, that the most radical thing is to stand with someone as a friend. She urged the congregation to pray that people will make room for others, so that they would hunger for the unusual thing.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus were so traumatized they could not see the forest for the trees. They walked with and listened to the unusual, Jordan-Simpson said. 

“In their grief and trauma, they made room for someone to journey with them,” she said. “Make a vocation of being unusual; find ways to walk with people.”

She said her ancestors sang songs not because they were happy or religious. 

“These songs were about defiance. They were meaningless to those in power but were signals, directions. ‘Walk and don’t get weary, there is a great camp meeting in the promised land.’ These words helped people plot and scheme for their liberation, to get to the North, a free state, Canada,” Jordan-Simpson said.

She told the congregation, “You don’t know what songs you sing will go across the land to people who need your songs.”

It was illegal in some places for enslaved people to walk together. They sang to signal their commitment to someone else’s freedom. 

“Our Supreme Court has made known to us its plans for our neighbors who are not white, male and of a certain religion,” she said. “You need a song to sing where you have influence.”

Jordan-Simpson urged the grandparents in the congregation to call their grandchildren and ask them about the world they envision. 

“Then make a commitment to make it come to pass. Your grandchildren dream of a much bolder, freer world,” she said. “They have learned how to walk and sing with their neighbors.”

She continued to urge the congregation: “You must do something. But not only you. If we are to build a world that is worthy of our songs, that is worthy of our children’s hopes, it is because we have made the decision to walk together. May God bless us with discomfort, frustration, anger, resolve and with peace. And may the Spirit walk with us.”

Deacon Ray Defendorf, co-host at the Catholic House of Chautauqua, presided. Joanne Sorensen, a member of the Motet and Chautauqua Choirs and a retired nurse executive, read the Scripture. The prelude was “Adoration,” by Florence Price, played by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Stafford, sang “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace,” a traditional spiritual arrangement by Moses Hogan. Stafford played “Tuba Tune,” by C.S. Lang, for the postlude. Support for this week’s services is provided by the Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion. Unless otherwise noted, the morning liturgies are written by the Rev. Natalie Hanson, interim senior pastor for Chautauqua. Music is selected and the Sacred Song Service created by Josh Stafford.

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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.