Don’t worry, work at obligations, play role to make world better preaches Karyn Wiseman

The Rev. Karyn L. Wiseman, pastor at the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, opens her Week Seven sermon series on Sunday in the Amphitheater. Dave Munch/Photo Editor

Column by Mary Lee Talbot

The Rev. Karyn L. Wiseman, chaplain at Chautauqua for Week Seven, stood in front of the pulpit and looked at her watch. She looked around at the congregation, looked at her watch and said, “Eight seconds. A baby is born every eight seconds in the United States. To beat the bull in bull-riding, you have to ride at least eight seconds.”

Wiseman preached at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service Thursday in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Gilded Lilies,” and the scripture reading was from Luke 12:22-31.

She continued the statistics theme: There are 8 billion people in the world. Just 8% of the landmass of the United States is coastline, but 40% of the population lives on the coasts. There are 400,000 acres of land polluted or ruined by pesticides and in Latin America 100,000 acres are deforested every year. 

“The perfect weight is 8% body fat,” Wiseman said. “I could lend you some of mine. We worry about stuff that will happen anyway, no matter what we do. We worry way too much.”

During the pandemic, Wiseman went to see her therapist to talk about her anxiety. The therapist suggested Wiseman keep a “worry journal” for a month as a way to help her focus on her worries. “I threw it away, it caused me too much anxiety. I could not figure out if what I put in the journal was something I was really worried about or I was just trying to impress my therapist,” she said.

Jesus, in the passage from Luke, tells his listeners not to worry about what they would eat or drink. Wiseman said the lecturers on Tuesday had to worry about food and water as they walked through the Grand Canyon.

“But do we worry about the people around us who are food insecure, who don’t have clean water?” she asked the congregation. “I would say about 8% of us worry about them.” 

Two thousand years after Jesus, we have to worry because “there is no planet B,” she said. “This is the only one we’ve got and this is what we have done to it.” 

Jesus said no one would gain an hour by worrying. “Jesus said not to worry, but some of our siblings don’t have enough clothing in sub-zero weather. Don’t worry about our trans children who get tripped and beaten in the bathroom at school. Don’t worry about the lesbian couple who were beaten to a pulp in a public restroom.”

She continued, “Don’t worry about the Black and Brown people, especially men, who have to worry about their safety in public. Don’t worry that most Black kids don’t know how to swim because white people closed public pools. Don’t worry that our school classrooms don’t have enough resources to intellectually nourish our children.”

Jesus was a bit of a trickster, Wiseman said. “Jesus told us not to worry about things we can’t control but we do have obligations, we have a role in the world, and it is probably not bull-riding,” Wiseman said. “There is much to worry about but we can do something about the world.”

The morning lecturers provided stories that give challenge and inspiration. “If our brain is not connected to our heart and hands and feet, how will this place stand?” she asked. “Remember the Bobby Ferrin song, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’ We can’t be happy all the time.”

Wiseman continued, “When I weep in the depth of my soul, who am I weeping for? I am cautious when I go into a restroom in jeans, a hoodie and a ball cap. I weep for the trans women of color who are murdered at a high rate; (I weep) about creation.”

Many people, she said, worry about the church and wish it would go back to the “way it used to be. It can never be what it used to be because it was not adequate for then. In the seminary, we realized we were preparing people for the church of the past, not for the future. Every day, 93 churches close.”

Jesus wanted his followers to be wrapped in the possibility of living in the moment, but it is hard when there is so much to worry about. “Jesus said don’t worry needlessly. There are many things we can change. Worrying about my son getting a job won’t change his search, but I can pray about it.”

She continued, “I can use a reusable water bottle. I can put the kinds of plants in my yard that are sustainable. I can use investment strategies that benefit the world. I can tell you one thing not to do: Don’t write a 30-day worry journal. What can you do? Leave no footprint that will harm others.”

Wiseman urged the congregation to get the basics — like food, water, clothing — done and then move forward. “There is no planet B. This is the only planet with enough water.” She sighed. “How much change can you make in the world in eight seconds? A lot. As you move from Chautauqua back into the real world, eight seconds is a lot of time. Amen.”

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, senior pastor for Chautauqua Institution, presided. Jim Evans, a member of the Motet Choir who plays the tuba in the Thursday Morning Brass, read the scripture. The prelude, written by Joseph Musser, was a trio for flute, clarinet and piano on “When Morning Gilds the Skies.” Musser played the piano; Barbara Hois, the flute; and Debbie Grohman, the clarinet. The Motet Choir sang “O How amiable,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The choir was under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, and accompanied by Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, on the Massey Memorial Organ. The congregation joined in singing one verse of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” as the last part of the anthem. For the postlude, Stafford played “Processional, Op. 47, No.1,” by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Support for this week’s services is provided by the Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy and the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy.


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.