Shrugging stereotypes to see God in each other frames Sunday Synod worship
Written by Micki Carter
July 1, 2013

Hundreds of UCC members from the Southern California Nevada Conference filed into the Long Beach Convention Center Sunday afternoon to celebrate worship with General Synod 2013 delegates and visitors — and to see God in each other.

The theme for the third day of Synod, “Everyone mirrors God,” set the stage for spectacle in diversity that included mimes, costumed Samoan dancers, even an aerialist who climbed crimson strips of cloth that hung from the beams of the center. But it was the preacher, the Rev. Martin B. Copenhaver, senior pastor of Village Church UCC in Wellesley, Mass., who challenged the worshippers to describe what they saw in that reflection.

In the story of Simon the Pharisee and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50), Copenhaver focused on the question that Jesus asked Simon, “Do you see this woman?”

“It’s not a simple question,” Copenhaver said. “It’s a probing question.

“Sometimes people choose not to see. There is, of course, a cost in seeing. If you actually see this woman, you might have to relate to her as a person, one soul to another soul. You might have to respond to her with compassion. You might even see that she mirrors God.”

To be seen, he said, is a basic human need. “When you truly see them, you find their note, their connection with God, and you dance with them right there.”

Shedding cultural filters to see one another and see God in each other provides challenges for all of us, but Copenhaver described an encounter that changed his life.

“On another occasion, I stood at an enormous front door waiting to be let in. The house was a bit like a proud dowager who’s now a bit down on her luck. From the house, there was a view of the Hudson River.

“Finally, someone dressed in a uniform summoned us inside. We were asked to sign an enormous guest book with yellowed pages that must have gone back years. We were frisked and asked to walk through a metal detector...

“It’s not only hard to get out of Sing Sing Prison; it’s also hard to get in.”

He and his co-author, the Rev. Lillian Daniels, were there to speak to members of a class of prisoners who were studying to be ministers. “I tried not to have too many preconceived notions, but I expected that the men in that class would be scornful or cynical about these two suburban pastors who were coming to talk to them.”

But those preconceived notions disappeared almost instantly, he said. “The first question for us was what is the basis of pastoral authority. You might have thought we were in a class at Yale or Andover Newton.”

But Copenhaver said he may not have had a “well-informed understanding of our penal system. But this, at least, I know: It was this picture of Jesus that I carried with me, smuggled in with me. I couldn’t have left it behind if I’d tried. Jesus was asking, ‘Do you see this woman?’

“Can you clear away the stereotypes, the preconceptions and the condemnations long enough to see this man?”

And see the reflection of God?



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