Sermon “The Dream Shall Never Die”

“The Dream Shall Never Die”

A Sermon for Christ Reformed United Church of Christ

Shepherdstown, West Virginia

Rev. Gayle Bach-Watson, Pastor

The Third Sunday after Epiphany       January 22, 2017


In the Fall of 1692 Giles Corey and his wife Martha Corey were accused of the crime of witchcraft during the Salem, Massachusetts witchcraft hysteria. The community was surprised to see Martha Corey accused, as she was known for her piety and dedicated church attendance. She had never shown support for the witch trials, since she did not believe witches or warlocks existed. She was outspoken in her belief that the accusers were lying, and upon hearing this, two young girls Ann Putnam and Mercy Lewis promptly accused her of witchcraft. Her husband Giles was arrested along with her.

After being arrested, Giles Corey refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. He was subjected to execution by pressing, a slow crushing death under a pile of stones in which a plank of wood was placed on top of the victim and large stones were placed on top in an effort to force him to plead – or confess — the only example of such a sanction in American history — but instead of confessing he died after two days of torture. He refused to undergo a trial and was executed by pressing, a slow crushing death under a pile of stones. The main reason usually cited for his refusal to be tried or to say yea or nay was to keep his estate from being confiscated from his heirs. When the sheriff asked how he would plead, he responded only by asking for more weight. He died on September 19, 1692, three days before his wife Martha was hanged. Corey is believed to have died in the field adjacent to the prison that had held him, in what later became the Howard Street Cemetery in Salem.

Martha Corey came to trial in September 1692. She was unaware of the level of paranoia in the village, and when she went to trial, she was simply truthful about her innocence and never doubted she would be exonerated. As the girls testified against her during examination, Corey asked the judge not to believe the rantings of hysterical children. The girls in question revealed outlandish and graphic accusations and stories which was enough evidence to persuade the jury of her guilt. She was hanged on September 22, 1692. She was 72 years old.

Mary Dyer was an English and colonial American Puritan turned Quaker who was hanged in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony. She is one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs. Because Quakers were considered among the most heinous of heretics by the Puritans, Massachusetts enacted several laws against them. When Dyer returned to Boston from England, she was immediately imprisoned, and then banished. Defying her order of banishment, she was again banished, this time upon pain of death. Deciding that she would die as a martyr if the anti-Quaker laws were not repealed, Dyer once again returned to Boston and was sent to the gallows in 1659, having the rope around her neck when a reprieve was announced. Not accepting the reprieve, she again returned to Boston the following year, and was then hanged to become the third of four Quaker martyrs.

During the latter part of the 1980’s to the early 1990’s neo-pagan women, also known as Wiccans, were persecuted in the United States. Often confused with witchcraft, women who practiced Wicca could have their children removed from their homes because judges deemed that their practice of their chosen religion made them unfit mothers. Stores run by Wiccans were fire-bombed in New England and California.

We Americans pride ourselves on our history of the freedom of religion and our tolerance. However, that has not always been the case, nor is it today. We must always fight for the freedom of all Americans to worship in their own way.

Yesterday I attended the Women’s March on Washington. Over 500 thousand women, men, and children thronged the streets of Washington, D.C. The authorities were prepared for the worst based on rioting on Friday, Inauguration Day. The gathering yesterday was extremely well-behaved and patient, standing calmly while audio-visual problems were diagnosed and solved, while speakers ran over their allotted time, and while we waited for the actual march to begin. There were glitches in planning and implementation, but the attendees took it all in stride.

As my friend and I were leaving the march route we passed by a man, standing in the middle of the road with a bullhorn. He was a street preacher of the gloom, doom, judgement, and hellfire variety. He shouted, screamed, and castigated all who walked by him, and he seemed particularly incensed that we had attended the March. He railed that God would consign all of us to eternal torment in the fires of hell.

These are not words from God. This is not a message from Jesus. God’s desire for us is growth, justice, compassion, and love. God always wants the very best for us. Jesus called his disciples and he calls us. Jesus ate with sinners, prostitutes, and tax-collectors. He turned away no one. He touched and healed lepers and the demon-possessed. He calls us to do the same. God calls us to meet every person where they are, but God also calls us to see the potential in every person and when we cannot see it ourselves, we are called to look through God’s vision to see the world and everyone in it not as they are, but as they could be.

Most of you know that I am fighting cancer. What you may not know is that I have my health insurance through the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare. Yesterday, as part of his first day in office, our new president signed a number of executive orders as well as cancelled a number of executive orders that had been signed by our former president, President Obama. I am distressed. I am frightened. I am disgusted. Politicians in Washington are endangering my health and my life, as well as the health and lives of millions of other Americans. It’s tragic. It’s personal.

I have never before spoken of political matters from this pulpit, and it will be a long time before I do again. During the election, religious leaders are prohibited by federal law from endorsing any candidate for public office. To do so is to risk the church’s tax-exempt status.

However, I want and I need you to understand what is at stake in these political actions. In West Virginia, the cancellation of the Affordable Care Act would mean that the ranks of the uninsured would rise by 208%, more than twice the national average, from 88,000 if the ACA were left in place to 272,000. These are people who get sick, hurt, and bleed just like you and me.  These are your neighbors and your co-workers. Is it kind or just that they be stripped of their access to decent and affordable health care?

In today’s Gospel Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, and James and John. He calls their names and, without nary a backward glance, they walk away from their livelihoods and follow Jesus. Away from their boats and their nets, away from their father, away from everything they had known and walk with Jesus into the future. You and I are called to do the same. Every day we are called to consider a new and different future than the one we have planned for ourselves. We are called to work for justice. We are called to be more than we are today. God’s call upends our beliefs, our opinions, and the very way we view ourselves as we walk into a future side-by-side with Jesus.

God calls us to dream dreams and to see visions and to follow through on those dreams and visions. They may lead us to change our minds, to change our beliefs, to change our very lives to the service of the God who calls us.

I marched yesterday in support of the dreams we still hold: a bright future where all persons are regarded with dignity and worth, where excellent and affordable health care is available for all, and where our world and all its inhabitants are regarded as something to safeguard and treasure.

I close with the thoughts of former Senator Ted Kennedy: “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”  Amen.

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