The air is crisp, the college students have returned, and last Friday was the Fall Equinox.  “Autumn Leaves” – the great jazz standard sung by everyone from Edith Piaf to Bob Dylan – seemed like the perfect way to begin this cold but bright Sunday morning. After the stifling heat and smokiness of early September, this new season has been welcomed with open arms. As the leaves began to turn and the new academic and church years commence, we all look forward to a fresh new start.

“Autumn Leaves”, performed by Errol Garner

What does it mean to live a committed life?  We cannot just feel spiritual and faithful; we need to act in love, and for love.  We must fight together against injustice, against racism, against hatred. “Make Them Hear You”, from Flaherty and Ahrens’ 1998 Broadway musical Ragtime served as the second part of this morning’s prelude, leading us into the service.  Turn-of-the-twentieth-century character Coalhouse Walker Jr. has felt the heavy hand of racism in many ways.  He owns a brand new Ford Model T (at a time when a black man owning a car at all is unheard of), which is vandalized by a cruel gang of white firemen, then pushed in the river.  His wife has been killed by the Secret Service after being wrongfully accused of trying to assassinate the President.  The courts have no interest in justice for a black family.  He decides that he wants an eye for an eye, fighting back with brute force that only fuels the flames between the races.  Finally seeing that violence has accomplished nothing, he agrees to surrender peacefully to the police, and sings “Make Them Hear You”, proclaiming that we must speak out and always continue to work for change and to eliminate hatred in the best way that we can:

And tell them, in our struggle,

We were not the only ones.

Make them hear you,

Make them hear you.

Your sword can be a sermon

Or the power of the pen.

Teach every child to raise his voice

And then, my brothers, then

Will justice be demanded

By ten million righteous men.

Make them hear you.

When they hear you,

I’ll be near you again.

He then leaves the audience’s view, and we hear a gunshot; the police have broken their end of their agreement for peaceful surrender and have shot him.  He dies taking comfort that he tried to fight for justice, and for a better life for his infant son.

As Jill often says, we must let everything we do be in love…if not love, what are we here for?  Today’s music for meditation drew upon the wisdom of the well-loved song “Nature Boy”, since:

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn

Is just to love and be loved in return

In addition to it’s simple but vital message, “Nature Boy” holds special significance in the career of music legend Nat King Cole.  Racial segregation was still a powerful force in the 1940s, and it was extremely difficult for African American artist to cross over into mainstream pop music.  Nat King Cole has been an active performer for over a decade, but it wasn’t until he began performing “Nature Boy” that he began to receive attention from white audiences, which was the beginning of his recognition as a mainstream artist to audience members of all racial backgrounds.  What an inspiring example of music bringing people together, and especially during an era divided by prejudice and ignorant traditions.

Today’s postlude, “Change the World”, is about the romantic love between two people, but oh, how the words could apply to how we live if we decide to be the change we wish to see in the world!  What could happen if we took the love we hold, and use it to add a little more sunlight to the universe?

That this love I have inside

Is everything it seems.

But for now I find

It’s only in my dreams.And I can change the world,

I will be the sunlight in your universe.

You would think my love was really something good,

Baby, if I could change the world.