January 16, 2011

First Congregational Church

Speaker No. 4 – Dianne O’Connell


Anchorage, Alaska, 2011

            Our speakers today have honored three human rights workers of our past – a Native Alaskan woman, a Caucasian woman, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We all know that there are many, many others who have walked this walk – sometimes at great personal risk -- and we honor them today, as well.  They are men, they are women, they are persons from every time and every nation.

            Barb Widtfeldt sent me information on Chiune Sugihara. I was going to tell you about Sugihara, a little known Japanese consul assigned to Lithuania at the beginning of World War II.  Sugihara was credited with saving the lives of six thousand Jews who were trying to escape Nazi Germany, by providing entry visas, in direct violation of orders by the Japanese government. 

            I was also going to talk about the Anchorage School District in the year 2011.

            Gail Johnson reminded me a few weeks ago that there 87 different languages spoken in the Anchorage School District. And minority students now comprise more than fifty percent of the student population.

            I was going to talk about the incredible opportunity for our children and our grandchildren to interact with peers from many different backgrounds, to expand their knowledge of other cultures and to prepare for life in a global society.

            When I started to write these words two weeks ago, before I left for vacation, I was going to compare the Tower of Babel story with the story of Pentecost.  I was going to say that at Babel, God chose to confound our ability to communicate with one another by establishing the diversity of languages in the world; but that on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit reversed this and enabled the disciples to speak to the people each in his own language. In other words, God chose to maintain our cultural and linguistic diversity but set the stage for us to understand one another nonetheless. I was going to talk about how promising, how wonderful this all was.

            Then on January 8, a week ago yesterday, a 22-year-old man shot nineteen people at a Tucson, Arizona, supermarket, leaving six people dead, and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head.  Friends, I fear we’re not making any progress at all.

            The Arizona dead and injured were attending a down-home American, Constitution-protected, meet-and-greet political event. One little girl was nine-years-old.  One older man was an Arizona judge. One was Congresswoman Giffords, a gifted young woman, interested in issues from solar power to immigration reform.  She is also the only member of Congress with an active duty military spouse, Captain Mark Kelly, a Navy pilot and NASA astronaut.  It is a mystery to me why anyone would target such a person either metaphorically or in reality. 

            I’m not going to re-preach all the sermons you’ve already heard this week. We are recognizing the past work of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Maggie Kuhn, and Elizabeth Peratrovich. We pray to the Lord to raise up and protect future young religious, political and community leaders to help them to teach us how to love one another, how to live with one another, despite our differences. And Lord, we pray for ourselves and our Beloved Community right here in Anchorage, Alaska.

            Would you join me in Hymn No. 677, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”




Brothers and sisters, who we are, and are yet becoming, as individuals manifests God’s presence in the world. That divine presence is reflected even more fully, powerfully, as we unite in Beloved Community. Let us bring ourselves, our gifts, and our resources together that God may be glorified.



O God, we commit to use all our gifts --wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, administration, hospitality, and finances-- in the service of acting as co-workers with you and each other for peace and justice to flow like a mighty stream.




We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather how well we have loved and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others. Barak Obama, January 12, 2011.


Go forth and love one another. Amen.


Prayer of the People


O God, all people are your Beloved,

across races, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations,

political philosophies,

and all other ways we try to emphasize our differences

from one another.

We are all manifestations of your image.

We are bound together in an inescapable network of mutuality

and tied to a single garment of destiny.

You call us into your unending work

of justice, peace and love.

Let us know your presence among us now:

Let us delight in our diversity

that offers glimpses of the mosaic of your beauty.

Strengthen us with your steadfast love and

transform our despairing fatigue into hope-filled action.

Under the shadow of your wings in this hour

may we find rest and strength, renewal and hope.


Thank you, God, for forgiving us our slow action, our silence and our weariness,

for empowering our work and inviting us once again to create with you the Beloved Community you long for. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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