Sunday, November 6, 2016 – All Saints’ Sunday
Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14 Psalm 149
Saints, and Cubs, and Candidates; Oh My
So how about those Chicago Cubs? (okay so this is a Red Sox hat – but it’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?) Not the same team, but you and I know what they feel like, don’t we? We know this story. And when they do all those stories on ESPN about generations of fans, and talk to someone in their 90s who simply wouldn’t go until they saw this day… We KNOW this story, their story, because we’ve been there, we’re Red Sox fans.
Don’t let the last few years fool you – if you’re a real Red Sox fan, somewhere in your DNA there is a strain of loveable loser, a heartbreak case, a ‘you can’t make this up’ hard luck story, and you know it. So we can identify completely with the fans of Chicago’s Cubs.
Before the final game of the world series one of the sports commentators said how unfortunate it was that one team had to lose.. but of course one did, that’s how it works. In order for us to have winners, we have to have at least an equal number of losers (though to get to a championship, we have to all but one, don’t we?). That’s a lot of losers and a lot of losing – You’d think we would be better at it.
But we’re not good at it; and our current political climate is rife with the fear of losing, and it is about to get worse. The “us against them” of it all is about to come to a head, and my fear is that we have only just begun to see the fall out of really awful behavior. Because it feels like there’s so much at stake, for everyone involved.
When Ken and I were in rural Pennsylvania last week, we saw so many political placards, and so much poverty. Which was heartbreaking – as if any candidate at any level of government were going to make a significant difference in the lives of these people who are living right on the edge. The fact that they believe it so desperately speaks to the deep need in this country to address how wide the economic divide is becoming, and how bleak the realities for those who see themselves permanently on the ‘wrong’ side of it.
And in the midst of all of this angst and rhetoric, we would glimpse a horse and buggy of the Pennsylvania Dutch, or see them working their farms. They seemed like people out of time. Beyond all that was going on around them, or just ignoring it as if what was happening in the greater community and nation had no bearing on their lives.
I have to be honest with you, it looked tempting, the idea of stepping out of this mess. But we can’t, that’s not how we understand our baptismal call to live in this world. While we believe
that this world is not all there is, we also believe that God sent God’s son to be incarnate, to be in and with and for this world; to transform this world. And our call is to follow Christ’s lead, to be in and with and for this world. And in so much as we are able, to transform it by loving God, and our neighbors as ourselves. Loving this world enough to transform it – that’s going to be a tough slog from here.
How do we move forward into the fray of next week and beyond? Because this will not end with Tuesday – because there will be a loser, not because the election is rigged, but because there are two parties involved and that means someone is going to lose. There will be losers at every level of our elections: local, state and national. And those people who voted for them will be losers too – and that’s a lot of losers. That’s not all that will be hard, for below the ballot are the issues that feel so critical to us. The way we perceive our realities, and our fear of change.
I would suggest that, as people of faith, we in the church could help with that, but on the whole, we aren’t very good at change – because it feels like we are losing something. Yet here’s the problem – everything changes…. When we come together to celebrate All Saints and the saints in their generations we are in fact celebrating the passage of time and tradition, the handing on of all that to the next generation… which we can do graciously or not, but is ultimately better than the alternative which is extinction.
We celebrate those who have come before us, not because the past was so much better than the present, it rarely is, (generally, it was harder than the present in many ways) but because we appreciate those people and all they have done, large and small, wins and losses, upon which we now build the foundation of our lives and communities. We are, because they were. We can be better here in the present if we are willing to learn from the past, and we might be better people in this age, if we can learn from them in their own day. Perhaps in our current mess, it’s helpful to remember how much the saints before us had to endure, how hard won the blessings we have are.
This has been a difficult election for the half of our population who are women – we have had our eyes opened to the fact that the world hasn’t changed as much as we would like to believe it had, and we are not valued by much of our culture still. It is helpful to me to remember how hard won so much in my life is: my right to vote and to run for office, even my ability to serve the Church as an ordained priest. And from that place of gratitude for those women who have come before me, I can claim the higher ground of my better self, while firmly and fiercely claiming the God given right to full humanity that is our due, even though we are female – because our gender is a gift from God’s self, and She is not amused by the nasty and vulgar behavior recently on display in this country.
It has been a difficult election cycle for many minorities, for similar reasons. The rhetoric and behavior has been demeaning and negating of them as human beings, and as full citizens of this country. In many counties across this country they will encounter difficulty at the polls. They have been systematically disenfranchised, their names removed from the rolls… they will have to be firm in their insistence that they be allowed to vote, and that their vote be counted.
Reclaiming the footsteps of those who have gone before them. And those of us who are able, are called to be witnesses to the vote to ensure their right to be counted. (Election Protection has recruited more than 5,000 volunteers to assist at polling places where they anticipate problems.)
How do we walk the days ahead? Luke tells us pretty clearly in his sermon on the plain: by paying attention to the blessings and the woes. Blessed are those who don’t have: and woe to those who have more than enough. Luke says: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. GIVE to others in need. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
God is always on the side of those in need, and we should be paying attention to that – and if we are to be the people of God we will jump in and participate with God’s desire to level the field for them. These losers are God’s favorites – they are the people with whom God’s heart is most concerned, and so should our own hearts be. David Lose, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, writes:
“God always reserves God’s most acute attention for those in need, those left behind by the powers that be, those left out of the lavish bounty of the world’s produce. Sometimes called God’s preferential treatment of the poor, at other places epitomized by recognizing that God is always on the side of the underdog, God’s unfailing and unflagging concern for the losers of this world is etched across the pages of Scripture in letters deep and clear enough for anyone willing to read.”1
And there’s good news here – God’s heart is with the losers, all of us. In our brokenness and our losses, in our heartache, in our struggle with all that is happening in our culture, God is right there.
The way forward for us through next Tuesday to what is beyond it – is wrapped up with our inner strain of loser, that place where we understand how vulnerable we are, how we are dependent, needy, broken, and human. And from that place we empathize with one another – in that place of loss and heartache… we are all the same. We know what it feels like, even if we don’t agree with one another, even if your opinion is offensive to me personally, I know what it feels like to lose. To feel that loss of dignity, to be afraid of what this loss means. THERE, in that place of understanding – that’s our common ground. That’s our way forward together. We need to be willing to see the fear and the issues underlying the fear, and be willing to address them, or we will never really get out of this place, we will just spin here wondering why ‘they’ don’t get it.
I believe that the church is the place we can begin to address the huge breaches in our culture, the chasms of fear… right here. Where there is always enough. Enough grace for all. Where God loves the least of us more than the rest… where losing is a win. Where being broken is the only entrance exam… where forgiveness overflows… right here. Where everyone is valued, where dignity is honored because it is God-given to everyone. And where we attempt by word and deed to live that out in every way possible… by feeding those who are hungry, and sheltering
those in need of a place to call home, and providing clothing to those who are naked, and advocating for those who are in prison, and protecting those who are threatened… because they are God’s own. They are God’s favorites actually. And on good days, when we are honest with ourselves, we recognize ourselves in them. And on our best days, we recognize Christ in them, and see them as the blessing that they are.
God loves a loser most. And so should we… in the days ahead there will be a lot of losing and fear and upset. And we will need to be paying attention to those around us who may be in need of some pastoral care, some extra consideration, some help facing the changes that they are finding difficult to confront, whatever they perceive them to be. May we give them a chance to reclaim their dignity, to find a safe place within the greater community – it is not us against them. We are all in this together, we always have been. And God loves us all, loveable and often not so loveable losers all. Thanks be to God.
1David Lose, “Losers,” Craft of Preaching, Working Preacher, October 28, 2013