April 17 Sermon

A reflection by Rev .Dr. Thom bower
For April 17, 2016 Fourth Sunday of Easter
Based on Revelation 7:9-17

In the past week here at Lyonsville I have been aware of a number of conversation about how we talk with one another. Last week the book Club reviewed the book Quiet, discussing patterns of introversion and the beneficial qualities introverts bring to group dynamics. Yesterday 16 people gathered for Boundary Training, discussing healthy ways to address unhealthy communications. We admitted that in this congregation we have experienced manipulation, bullying, parking lot politics, triangulation – and those who gathered yesterday began to learn how to interrupt those patterns.
This morning I want to talk about a different sort of conversation: creative collaboration. Focusing on this type of conversation was inspired by one repeated word within our passage from Revelation:
“Blessing and
glory and
wisdom and thanksgiving and
honor and
power and
might be to our God forever and always. Amen.”
There are seven “ands” in that sentence. Seven is a good biblical number. God created the earth in 6 days: “AND on the seventh day God rested.” Seven is a symbol of things being complete, being the way they are intended to be.
“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and always. Amen.”
“AND” is a basic premise of improvisational theater. It is usually taught as the basic response to what another actor has said, mostly by using the phrase “yes, and…” In these two simple words an actor accepts what a companion has begun and then contributes to it. “Yes, and …” is the basis for collaboration.
I was reminded of the power of this basic premise several months ago by an episode of radio show This American Life telling the story of two actors, a wife and husband. Because the wife’s mother has Alzheimer’s-related dementia, she has moved into this couple’s home. The episode relates that people with dementia often confuse facts.
When someone is wrong, our impulse is to try to correct them. When that is done with someone with dementia, the conversation ends up going something like this:
“I want to go home.”
“But mom, this is your home.”
“This is not my home. My home has blue walls.”
“Yes, mom, the home you used to live in had blue walls. But this is your home now, and it has white walls.”
“This is not my home. I would never choose to live in Illinois, and I would never choose to live in a house with white walls.”
Now you have confusion and resistance and more intense emotions and a fight.
So this radio show follows how the husband stopped trying to correct and instead began using that basic improvisation theater premise, “yes, and.”
“I want to go home.”
“Yes, and what would you do there?”
“I would paint the walls yellow.”
“Yes, and why would you paint the walls yellow?”
“Well, I like yellow. It is so much better than blue.”
My favorite example from this episode goes into one of the more heartbreaking aspects of Alzheimer’s: in their dementia, people can begin to experience things that have no basis in reality. In this case, the mother states “There’s monkeys outside the window.” The daughter wants to say “No, mom, there’s no monkeys there. Monkeys do not live in Illinois.” But the son-in-law uses “yes, and” from improvisational theater:
“There’s monkeys outside the window.”
“Yes, and it is pretty early in the season for monkeys. Maybe we should catch one.”
And the mother says “Oh, well if you are going to do that, we need to make sure they wear pants in the house.”
The episode expands on how challenging this is for the daughter. And I have to admit, using this principle can be challenging, because it invites going into what is absurd and even unreal. In improvisational theater, this is called “entering into their reality” – meaning we enter into the situation the other person has begun so we can go with them.
Jesus says “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.” No, wait, the Kingdom of God is nothing like a mustard seed. Mustard is a weed that no one would plant. Even though it is found everywhere, no one uses it for anything. You can’t even feed it to goats.
Who is my neighbor? A Samaritan who stops to help the victim of a robbery laying by the side of the road that no one else would help. No, Samaritans cannot be our neighbors: we’ve worked so hard to not interact with them for centuries. They must be the except to the rule “Love your neighbors as yourself.”
“Samaritans are your neighbor, yes, and Syro-Phoenicians, and women, and fishermen, and tax collectors, and prostitutes, and lepers and …“
Start reading the gospels for evidence of the ways Jesus uses this principle of “yes, and” to affirm and collaborate with others and as a way to use absurdity to make a point about the vastness of the kingdom of God.
“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and always. Amen.”
In upcoming weeks and months, Lyonsville is going to have to collect some ideas on how to do things different. You have already experienced the results of doing things exactly the way you have been doing them: this sanctuary is a lot less full than it used to be; your income is less than it used to be; your Sunday school attendance is much less than it used to be. The only way you are going to change that is to start doing some things differently. You are going to be asked to collaborate and imagine new ways to be the church, new ways to be Lyonsville Congregational church, new ways of being a community of faith that attracts new people who will also be asked to collaborate and imagine new ways to be the church.
I’ve begin to ponder what could happen if we used this “yes, and…” principle as a practice of faith? What if we made “yes, and…” a principle of interaction at Lyonsville? We might change this congregation if we alter out first response to an idea from “We haven’t done that before” or “When we tried it before it failed” and instead we responded with “Yes, we could do that, and “
What if we contacted a local elementary school and asked how we could help their most needy families? Yes, and we could plan to collect Christmas gifts for them. Yes, and we could invite them to join us on game nights. Yes, and …
What if we held a carnival in our parking lot? Yes, and we could sell hotdog and cotton candy. Yes, and we could invite Westminster to help us park cars. Yes, and we could ask the golf course if we could use some of their property for the day. Yes, and we could ask the police department to close Joliet Road for the day.
Two important points here.
First, “yes and” is great for creative collaboration; it is not a good reply to conversations of manipulation or bullying. Abusive communication needs a different response.
Second, I’m not suggesting you sanction every idea proposed in the guise of “being creative.” Some of them could be very offbeat. For example, I keep suggesting in Leadership Council meetings that to attract families with young children we should paint the sanctuary walls florescent green with pink polka dots. I know the answer you want to say is “No.” But you can use “yes, and…” to let me know that is an idea you are not in favor of.
“What if we painted the sanctuary walls florescent green with pink polka dots?”
“Yes, and we could replace the chandeliers with mirrored disco balls.”
“Yes, and we could replace the pews with bean bag chairs.”
“Yes, and we could also let a bunch of monkeys loose in the building.”
“Yes, and we would have to teach them to wear pants.”
“Yes, and we could train them to be ushers and sing in the choir.”
You can use “yes, and…” just like comedians do and make the situation so absurd that it is unbelievable so that the first premise is forgotten. Even in making something absurd, by using “yes and” you are affirming not only the idea and also the idea maker – and you are affirming your willingness to collaborate with that person, to keep the conversation open. That I think is the greater power of “yes and”: it opens the door to further collaboration.
The UCC has begun a new identity campaign called “Be the Church.” This does not replace “God is still speaking.” It is meant to go along with it: God is still speaking AND be the church.” You’ve seen the banners we have outside and in the fellowship hall. This, too, is an express ion of “yes, and.”

Protect the environment
Yes! AND
Care for the poor
Forgive often
Reject racism
Fight for the powerless
Share earthly and spiritual resources
Embrace diversity
Love God
Enjoy this life.
These are not either / or statements. These calls to being the church complement one another: in order to protect the environment we must also care for the poor; in order to reject racism we must also forgive often; in order to love God we must embrace diversity and fight for the powerless. That is why it is important to raise up Earth Day AND strengthen the Church AND Neighbors in Need AND the installation of John Dorhauer AND the retirement of Jonathon Knight.
The world is interrelated: what occurs in one part of it affects all other parts of it, more now than ever before. And the church as a called body to care for the world is affected more now than ever before the many needs of the world. This list of injunctions calling us to be the church address some very large systemic injustices in our society AND they are invitations to greater faithfulness.
And this list is incomplete:
Protect the environment AND Care for the poor AND Forgive often AND Reject racism AND Fight for the powerless AND Share earthly and spiritual resources AND Embrace diversity AND Love God AND Enjoy this life AND what do you think needs to be added to this list? What needs to be added to this list for Lyonsville to be a church where God’s grace is more evident, more available, more easily accessed? where people come not because others are nice but because Lyonsville is a place of healing and spiritual growth? Those are the creative collaborative ideas we will be focusing on.
“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and always. Amen.”

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