May change bring growth, may growth bring love, may love bring change. AMEN!
In the last two weeks we’ve seen a lot of political violence: Shots fired into a Republican Party office in Florida, 14 pipe bombs sent to former presidents and other high profile individuals.
Thanks be to God…for whatever reason…none of those bombs detonated.
But two shootings, one in Louisville, the other in Pittsburg left
· Maurice Stallard,
· Vickie Jones,
· Jerry Rabinowitz,
· Cecil and David Rosenthal,
· Rose Mallinger,
· Bernice and Sylvan Simon,
· Daniel Stein,
· Joyce Fienberg,
· Richard Gottfried,
· Melvin Wax and
· Irving Younger…dead.
I’ve included their names because their names are important.
They are important.
They are beloved children of God whose lives were cut short by the actions of confused and angry men. And now they have joined that cloud of witnesses that we acknowledge on All Saints Day.
In response to that wave of violence, on Wednesday I heard a story on the news that was analyzing whether there was a threat of civil war in the US.
A Second Civil War! In the United States! We are actually talking about this.
I don’t know about you, but these last weeks, on top of all the hateful, hurtful and divisive things I’ve seen from our politics and our society has left me anxious, depressed and, at times …well…hopeless.
Where are we to look for hope?
Some hope and pray that a “blue wave” is going to sweep the Democrats into the House and maybe, even the Senate.
Others hope and pray that the Republicans will hold on to both houses.
Now I’ve got no desire to argue with you about which is more desirable (and Kathy REALLY doesn’t want me to go there).
But I’m here to tell you that, despite the $5 Billion (that’s Billion with a B) that we have spent on political advertising this year, no matter what happens November 6th, on November 7th, the anger and divisiveness will still be there and I don’t see anything that either political party is doing that is going to fix it.
Don’t get me wrong…I’ll vote Tuesday morning and I urge you, and all registered voters to do the same. It’s just that the underlying issues are still there…the hate and fear remain.
So are we witnessing the death of American government and society, as we know it?
Is there no hope?
In our Gospel passage today Jesus arrives to find his friend Lazarus dead.
This was no parlor trick…Lazarus was dead.
Deader than a doornail.
You see Jesus had intentionally delayed in coming to Bethany when he learned Lazarus was ill. By the time he arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days.
And those four days were significant. Jewish custom was that burial would take place the same day as death, but there was a belief that the soul lingered near the body for three days.
So being dead four days was REALLY dead.
Those of us looking for tangible, or at least olfactory, evidence that Lazarus was deceased, would find our proof with our nose. There was a stench coming from the tomb.
Lazarus’s body was decomposing.
In the words of the Coroner of the Munchkin City, “He’s not only merely dead; he’s really most sincerely dead.”
But that didn’t stop Jesus.
And Jesus, too, was hopelessly dead when his body was laid in a borrowed tomb.
His disciples retreated to their houses, anxious, depressed and hopeless.
Three days later, Mary Magdalene found that tomb empty.
Her hope was restored when she recognized her once hopelessly dead and now resurrected rabbi.
The mystery of death and resurrection is at the heart of who we are as a people.
These resurrections are not all about eternal life. Sometimes they are about God finding a way to redeem even the most hopeless of situations in this life.
Nadia Bolz-Weber observes:
The Christian faith… is really about death and resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small.
These graves we dig for ourselves can be in the form of substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, anger, resentment, jealousy.
They can be as small as a petty argument or as big as a life threatening addiction.
But then Jesus shows up (often disguised as a friend, family member or even a stranger) and directs that the stones to our tombs be taken away and then tells us in a loud voice to “Come out” and then unbinds us and sets us free.
So Jesus gives us hope, a chance to walk out of these graves, just like Lazarus, but it is up to us what we do with that chance.
We, as a people, can dig ourselves a societal grave.
I would argue that we have done just that—a big, ugly one constructed of fear, hatred and division and, at times, the situation seems hopeless.
So as we stare over the precipice of this big ugly mass grave, what are we to do?
Well, I’m going to turn to two people, two of my role models, for advice. The first, is a guy by the name of Michael Curry.
Presiding Bishop Curry has proposed a model for living the Way of Love. You are going to hear a ton about it over the next couple of months, but I’ll cover it very briefly here.
He describes a number of practices that compose this way of Love.
They are to Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go and Rest
Turn: Pause, listen and turn to follow Jesus
Learn: Reflect on Scripture each day, especially Jesus’s words and teachings
Pray: Dwell intentionally with God each day
Worship: Gather in community weekly to thank, praise and draw near to God.
Bless: Share faith and unselfishly give and serve
Go: Cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus
Rest: Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace and restoration
A lot of this “way” is about working on ourselves.
But there are two of these practices that are about how we interact with the world. These are, by the way, the practices that I, as a deacon am most focused on. And I believe they are Michael Curry’s answer to my question, “What are we to do about this big societal grave.”
We are to GO out into the world and engage and we are to BLESS by loving our neighbors unconditionally, no matter how objectionable we find them.
The other role model that I look to for answers is, of course, Jesus Christ.
And what did Jesus do when he walked up to Lazarus’s tomb?
· First, he commanded that they “Take Away the Stone”. Tombs are scary, dark, dirty and smelly places. We need to find those places and bring a crow bar and a flashlight. Pry our way in, “GO” in there; and then shine a light in those dank, dark corners and find out what’s crawling around in there.
· Second, Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and then “Unbind him and let him go.” We must “BLESS” people by inviting them to come out of the graves that they have dug, and offer them the freedom of life in Christ.
So returning to the question, “is there hope for our society?”…
The answer is, “Of course!” We need only look to the great cloud of witnesses to see examples men and women of faith have led society through crises of all sorts.
Whether it was Martin Luther and a cloud of witnesses, fighting the corruption of the central church gone astray, Martin Luther King and a cloud of witnesses fighting on the streets of the US to make a nation free, or Mother Teresa and a cloud of witnesses fighting for the poor and the sick of India.
The Saints of God have come through again and again.
I believe they…
I believe we will come through again.
Don’t get me wrong, these are troubling times. Our society is struggling through crises in which it really NEEDS the Church. At the same time, the Church is at a low ebb for attendance and resources.
But we are still here, and we have something to offer that no hate group, no social group, no self help group can.
We can offer the light of Christ’s love.
And that love of Christ, unleashed in the world, has the power to drive out the fear and division and hatred that is out there…
We only need to carry that love out of our sanctuaries and into the public discourse.
We need to Go and Bless.
This is the challenge of our time and the opportunity of our time. An opportunity to make the Church relevant to the majority of people once more.
This is our time!
THAT is the hope. THAT is the good news.
You see our hope lies in Jesus Christ and in the Body of Christ here on earth.
It lies in the Saints of God.
God help me to be one too.
 John 11:4-6
 Harper Collins Study Bible Revised Version, HarperCollins: New York, 2006, p. 1836,