The Rev. Yvette A. Flunder began the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24 worship service in the Amphitheater by thanking the Chautauqua community for the gifts they have given her. The joy and love that she has been experiencing on the grounds has been a balm for her soul.
When she flew in from San Francisco earlier this week, Flunder’s mind was in disarray and she felt stressed and disorganized.
“I have been dutifully un-panickized,” Flunder said. “And I want to say thank you. Lots of hugs, lots of affirmation, just walking up and down the streets and going to the food trucks and shopping and buying needless things downtown. All of it has been absolutely wonderful, and a balm for me. And I want to say back to you: love heals. Thank you so much for loving us and for receiving us.”
The sermon, “Assurance Insurance … The Balm for Our Wounded Souls,” was based on Romans 8:26-28.
Just as the Chautauquans offered Flunder and her wife Shirley Miller the gifts of peace, joy and welcoming, Flunder told the story of a gift that her grandson Ajamu gave to her. The boy was named in a Yoruba naming ceremony, and Flunder and Miller chose the name Ajamu for him, a name that means “peace” in a South African dialect, she said.
When Ajamu was 4 years old, he climbed into Flunder’s lap and they prayed together. They thanked God for rain, for sunshine, for vitamins, family and food, and prayed for children who do not have food. After praying together, Ajamu sincerely offered Flunder a special gift: his prized toy, Roger Rocket. Ajamu solemnly asked Flunder to take good care of Roger Rocket, and she promised she would.
“In my reflection today, and my time making preparations to share it with you, I said to myself: ‘Sometimes during these complicated days we need to offer, and also to become, gifts for one another,’ ” Flunder said.
Flunder feels that sometimes we take God’s love, and the love we share with one another, for granted. Sometimes, we do not know how to love and how to pray. Romans 8:26-28 says that the Spirit will help us in these times.
“The passage in Romans, one that I really love, says, ‘We do not know how to pray as we ought,’ ” Flunder said. “But the Spirit joins our supplication and pleads on our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings, sometimes too deep for utterance. And the Spirit searches our hearts and knows what is in the mind of God, and the Spirit intercedes and pleads to God on our behalf.”
When we do not know how to pray or what to pray for, when our spirits are troubled and we are angered by the chaos and injustice of the world, the Spirit of God is there.
“I allow the Spirit of God to come and level the playing field,” Flunder said, “and not to quiet my anger such that it goes away, but to quiet it so that my compassion and my desire for peace, and my desire for change is not in some way outdistanced by my anger. I know that you know what it is that I’m sharing. And in that time, I thank God for the gift of the presence of the Divine.”
Flunder thanked God for his unwavering presence in the midst of troubled times. She knows that these times beckon us to work and fight for what’s right, and the peace of God allows us to take up those responsibilities.
“We are assured and we know that all things work together, and are fitting into a plan for good for those who love God and those who are called according to God’s purpose,” Flunder said. “There are special gifts available to us that God will remind us of in our times of prayer and meditation.”
Returning to her grandson, Flunder told a more recent story. She was singing in the shower about the grace of God and Ajamu was listening to her sing outside the door. When she got out of the shower, Ajamu asked her what grace was. She told him that grace is the gentle love of God holding us and covering us. Flunder was overwhelmed by Ajamu’s response.
“He said, ‘She does love us,’ Flunder said. “I realized, in that moment, that a whole theology of love just came out of the mouth of my baby grandson. ‘She does love us, Grandma.’ And then he paused and he turned back around and he said, ‘And she is loving us to life.’ ”
Flunder emphasized the importance of living out our authentic truths — our joys and sorrows, our heartaches and triumphs — in front of our children and grandchildren. We must show them the authentic presence of God, she said.
“Because we are people of spirit, we belong to each other,” Flunder said. “If you did not know it, you are mine. And I am yours. There is absolutely nothing you can do about that. We are connected in that way. We are stronger together because we are people of spirit.”
Ajamu and Flunder and Miller belong to one another, and share in the prayer and the gifts of God. Flunder reiterated that the whole congregation, the whole Chautauqua community, belongs to one another.
“We are connected by the cloth that is the grace and love of God,” Flunder said. “And she loves us, and she is loving us to life.”
Flunder left the congregation with a hymn that had been on her heart and mind. Punctuated by hallelujahs, she sang out clear and true.
“Great is thy faithfulness, Oh God, my Father,” Flunder sang. “There is no shadow of turning with thee / Thou changest not thy compassions / They fail not / As thou hast been, thou forever will be.”
The Rev. Natalie Hanson, interim senior pastor for Chautauqua Institution, and co-host of the United Methodist Missionary Guest Home, presided. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, sang the prelude, “The Peace May Be Exchanged,” by Dan Locklair. The opening hymn was “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” by Frederick William Faber. Kriss Young Miller, Friend in Residence of the Quaker House, read Romans 8:26-28. The sermon concluded with the choir singing “Blessed Assurance,” by Fanny Crosby and the postlude, “The People Respond, Amen!” by Dan Locklair. Support of this week’s services is provided by the Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund and the Marie Reid-Edward Spencer Babcox Memorial Fund.