Monday, November 7, 2016

Sermon - for All the Saints/ Pre-election

Psalm 149
Luke 6:20-31

            Today we celebrate All Saints day.  And in that, it is a time of remembering, it is a joint, church-wide celebration of the lives of those who have gone before, a rejoicing that those who have passed are with God, a reminder of the vast gifts their lives have given and passed to us, and, honestly, an invitation to be open once more with our grief at the loss of those we have loved.  But most of all, All Saints Day is a reminder that in God, we have nothing to fear.  Even death has been overcome, our Saints, our loved ones live on.  We celebrate their continued living with God this day.  And we celebrate that as we are called to live bravely, with only love and faith as our shield and fortress, we will follow God’s will most closely when we can let go of our fear. For as Yoda said it, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.  We’ve seen exactly how true that is over the last few months and as we edge towards Tuesday.  This is the most fear driven election I have ever witnessed.  And in that, in that it is a fear driven election, it is also the least Godly that I have ever witnessed. 
            But it is in the midst of this angst that we are experiencing as a country, this fear that we feel as Tuesday approaches, that we are reminded that we have nothing to fear, not only by the declarations of the angels, “Be not afraid!” but by the celebration of All Saints Day itself.  I don’t say this with levity.  I need to be clear about that.  I am not saying it is an easy thing to put aside our fear and choose love.  It isn’t.  It’s the hardest thing in the world to do, especially when it comes to the fear of death.  As part of my job I have had the deep privilege and honor of walking with people in their last weeks and last days.  And it is common for even people of the deepest faith to have fear as they approach the unknown that is death.  We feel that fear from both places: both feeling afraid of our own deaths, but also the place of fearing the loss of those we love.  Last night at the Chromatica concert that took place here, there were two pieces that really “got” to me in the way of moving me to have a hard time not weeping as I listened.  The first was one of the “Children’s Letters to God” in which the child asked what it was like when you die and then said he/she didn’t want to.  In the middle of it was the noise of the question coming from many voices all being raised to God at the same time (or at least that was my interpretation).  And I felt it.  I felt the fear that even our children, perhaps especially our children, have of death.  A fear that is so intense, so real, so DEEP that it influences and guides so many of our decisions.  The second was Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, which I had never before known was written for his child who had died at the age of four.  Just that realization was beyond me.  I know some of you have lost children.  And I tell you, the fact that you continue on each day shows to me an amazing strength.  I’ve been through a lot, but I do not know how a person walks through the loss of a child.  And the terror of that, the terror of my children dying is overwhelming for me. The terror of my kids being hurt and in particular right now, honestly, of my girls being treated as less than fully human, of being molested, attacked, abused because of their gender terrifies me. I will own that many of my decisions, therefore also come from a fear that stems out of very specific love for very specific people, rather than being based on the love for all people that we are told must be the heart of all we are, including our decisions.
            But again, here we are on All Saints Day.  And we are called to remember that those who pass are with God.  We stand on the angels proclamation to “do not be afraid” again and again.  We lean on scriptures that tell us that the only thing we are called to do: the great commandments we are called to live by are loving God and loving all those we encounter.  ALL those we encounter.  The heart of what I am saying is this: Love is supposed to make our decisions for us, not fear. 
            Today’s passage from Luke reminds us that in the face of all of our loss and grief there is comfort.  We are also reminded that what we believe to be true will be turned on its head.  Once more we are told it is the poor who are rich, the hungry who will be made full, the grieving who will be comforted, and the weeping who will laugh.  When we rest in God, even when we are in pain, even when we are struggling, we will find what we need, we will find the hope, the peace, the laughter, the comfort.  Therefore we do not have to fear doing what God asks us to do: loving others, giving to others, sharing with others, welcoming others.  Because it is in our sharing and giving only that we will find we have enough.  It is in our loving that we will find ourselves loved.  It is in our seeing each other human being as a child of God that we will come to know ourselves as children of God.  We know that nothing stays the same, and that God is the God of change.  We also know that our faith boosts us up and keeps us strong no matter what we are going through, what we are feeling.  God stands with us when we are down, and God strengthens us for the times to come when we are joyful.
Death is scary.  Death creates loss and pain for us.  But this year especially as we look at the election about to take place in two days, as we see a country torn with fear, anger, and hatred, we must, as we look at death, the most feared thing there is, especially, rest in the truth that our faith teaches us we do not have to be afraid.  The bottom line in everything is to choose love over hate, choose hope over fear, and choose compassion over judgment.  We are never called to see others as anything besides our brothers and sisters.  We are called to love even those we consider enemies.  Always.
So on this, All Saints Day, and also “two days before election” day, I have two charges for you. First, be of comfort.  Know that God is with the Saints and that God is with you.  Know that as we rest in God, our fears will be eased, our struggles will be made into something good, and our pain will be transformed into life.
But second, do not vote out of fear, or anger or, worst of all, hate. Do not live out of fear, anger or hate.  If All Saints day is about anything, it is about trusting that as the Saints live on, we, too can live as God calls us to live, with love, with trust, with hope and with compassion. 
I want to share with you two writings. 
The first is a poem by W.H. Auden called “Better Fears”
O God
it is so easy
to be afraid
to be made afraid.

Demagogues of every sort
have always counted on our fears
to scare us into submission.

Politicians and preachers
commissars and evangelists
make people afraid—
afraid of what will happen to them
afraid of death
and therefore of life
afraid of differences

The fearmongers are so successful
because they find in us
such willing subjects.

But the gospel of perfect love
comes to us
to cast out fear—
from our beginning.

Some of us
have never affirmed
our first birth—
have never said 'Good!' to our emergence
'Very good!' to our creation.
Be midwife to our self-respect
and mother to our growth.

Perfect love
will cast out fear
and when You are through with us
we will be fearless.
in the mean time
at least help us
to move from petty fears
to better ones;
from fears of hell
to admissions of joylessness;
from quaking before opinions and modes and fashions
to fearing
loss of our integrity
and untruth in our very souls.

We would say 'Bravo!'
our birth
our re-birth
Your will that created us
our choice to be
and to become.


Let go of fear.  Remember that the thing that is most feared, death, ends with life.  God is with us, making those we have loved, those we love still, into the Saints that remind us of the value of living but also the value of remembering what they have been, what they have given us, who we are called to be.
This second poem I want to share with you is called “life Unbroken”. It was written by Harry Scott-Holland in 1910.
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room. 
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

We can feel safe in the assurance that our loved ones still exist, that they are with God, that our love for them still matters, and their love for us is endless.  We honor the Saints by living in the love God calls us to extend to all creation.  Amen.